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The Death of Innocense

Chapter 1

Time: The Enemy
Check it.
Watch it fly.
Feel it drift away.
See it drag on.
Recognize its passage in the eyes of your children.

Hate it.
Love it.
Need more of it.
Dream of stopping it.
But know the danger of time and place, off track.

Philliono Talligio, Colonel
CENSI, Paloma, Spain
2001

Chapter 1

XXSusannah was totally, gianormously, megaseriously pissed at herself as she sat dejected and miserable in the webbed seat of Chopper 2. Why was it that everything she touched, did, said, even thought turned to total goat shit in a heartbeat? Susannah kicked the weapons pack that lay at her feet. Damn it! The Vamp Squad existed because of her, her father’s way of keeping his “unique” daughter safe and protected, but WTF? The sum screw-up of this mission was that same daughter-come-operative.
XXXSusannah fought to contain the tears but one somehow slipped through despite the effort. She let her long blonde hair fall forward covering the lapse in professionalism and the red smear on her cheek. Another slip up - emotions were unacceptable on a mission. An operative was supposed to be focused, ultra competent, an expert at the tasks assigned. She kicked the pack again and drew a cold stare from Colonel Maddox… Colonel Daddy. The tears threatened with renewed fervor, creeping ever closer.
XXXWhy did her father treat her like a child, exposing every slip-up, every mistake, each misstep as if he were disciplining a three-year-old? He did not treat the other operatives like he did his daughter. She drew in a deep breath and held it, focusing on suppressing her misery. Susannah knew the answer to her mental question. The others didn’t mess up on a regular basis or cause a team member to be hurt, that was why.
XXXWhat was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she get it right? She’d been a vampire for almost five years now and the future stretched before her like an open wound that would never heal. It seemed like the harder she tried the more she screwed up. Susannah hugged her arms to herself feeling like a lost soul adrift in a universe, the entire population of said universe scrutinizing her every move. God she wanted to be a hundred! But right this minute she wanted to be with Uncle Rob at the hospital where they’d left him in the care of the doctors and surgical team. His condition was totally her fault and everyone in the squad knew it. Worse yet, she knew everyone knew it. Worser yet, if that was even possible, she knew it from the depths of her soul to the tips of her fangs. And if she was human, it probably would have killed her with grief. Those hateful tears surfaced despite her will to squelch them and she hung her head to cover the emotional lapse.
XXXThe chopper descended to the landing area near their covert headquarters at the Maine farm and it was time to face the music. Susannah wiped her tears away as a reassuring hand landed on her shoulder.
XXX“Captain Devlin is a very strong man. He will be fine, daughter.” Elizabetta spoke over the engines as they landed emphasizing her verbal statement with a mental nudge. “And so will you.” Susannah felt a light kiss on her smeared cheek as the coven Mistress stood to deplane. “Head up, young lady.” A chuck beneath the chin did little to raise Susannah’s spirits.
XXXDeep beneath Olney Farm the Vamp Squad stumbled down the shiny corridor and through the huge imposing steel doors. Susannah was aware of their silent closing only by the subtle shift in air pressure in the subterranean complex as she followed a few steps behind the group.
XXX“Stow your gear in the armory and get your butts to the training room, ASAP!” Colonel Maddox stormed across the lounge toward his quarters as he shouted the order. “No exceptions, and I do mean ASAP!” His angry words hung in the air long after he stomped down the hall toward the human quarters at the opposite end of the facility. She could tell her father contained his anger through a thin veil of professionalism. It seemed to Susannah it had always been that way with him.
XXXSusannah turned toward the vampire quarters. The huge complex beneath the ground was an amazing feat of subterranean construction. It sprawled like a giant octopus. The lounge and kitchen were the main body of the beast, human quarters in one tentacle, the research lab and exercise gyms in another, the vampire quarters directly across the lounge from the human wing and the Operation Command Center opposite the labs. Camouflaged by the barn above, the motor pool and armory connected to the complex by a passageway large enough to drive a bus through with room to spare. The seemingly decrepit barn and cozy farmhouse above effectively disguised the enormous facility below.
XXX“Merde, he is in a… how do you say? Smit?” Monique brushed red-brown dirt from her Kevlar vest.
XXX“Snit, Monique, snit. And yes he is. Puh-leese! I need a bath and a manicure before I will feel even close to human. But daddy is daddy and I’m just some fuck-up.” Susannah whispered to her coven sister. The humans would not hear but her vampire family couldn’t miss the words despite the whisper.
XXX“You are not human or even close to human AND your father’s temper is on your shoulders, young lady. I suggest you do exactly what he says and as quickly as possible.” Elizabetta, the coven Mistress as well as leader of the Vamp Squad commented as she and the rest of the Squad headed for the armory dragging their weapons and packs. A familiar humming rattle sounded throughout the installation signaling the departure of the two helicopters above ground.
XXX“There goes any hope of escape.” Susannah’s comment told more about how she really felt than her tear-stained face and hunched shoulders.
XXX“Dev’s in the hospital and you crack jokes? Not cool, Suze.” Head hanging, Sergeant Miller stumbled after Elizabetta dragging a rucksack containing the left-over explosives and detonators. Yuri quietly took the sack and slug it over his shoulder, lending a strong hand to the human sergeant who struggled on the verge of exhaustion. They were all tired but the fatigue showed more in the human contingent of their squad.
XXX“You don’t think I know that? I know it was my fault Capt. Devlin got shot. I got it. I’m sorry. I know I screwed up.” Susannah stood in the lounge watching her squad moving away. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I tried to …” Her words trailed off. No one was interested in hearing her excuses at that particular moment.
XXX“Humans don’t heal the way we do, Susannah. We need to protect them, not carelessly expose them to danger. You should have followed protocol.” Natalia commented as she pushed by to catch up with the others, leaving the young operative alone in the lounge feeling the deep hurt in her soul, way more than miserable… if that was possible.
XXX“Apparently I am the only one who ever makes mistakes in this group. Do you really think I let Capt. Devlin get shot on purpose?” Ten heads swiveled and stared at the young blonde from within the dim hallway; five human and five vampire. No one spoke. “I made a mistake. I always seem to make mistakes. I’m a lousy operative!” Susannah flapped her arms in frustration.
XXX“Susannah, we’re all dirty, tired and worried about Capt. Devlin. For the moment, let’s just take care of business.” Elizabetta’s comment calmed the scene as she led the group toward the armory in silence, leaving a frustrated and tearful Susannah to follow.
XXXThe mission in Somalia had gone well until the last day. During the team’s extraction, Capt. Devlin and Susannah had been late to the rendezvous point. Overrun by guerilla fighters before the entire human team could be hoisted into their hovering choppers, Devlin took three hits, one bullet entering his left lung causing internal bleeding and collapsing the lung. Medics worked feverishly to save his life as they sped toward safety. Now laying in a bed at Walter Reed Hospital in the capable hands of some of the best doctors in the world, his prognosis still remained unknown.
XXXWithin minutes a somber armorer had checked and accepted their weapons and then hurried them on toward the training area. Practically everyone in the facility had heard the news and the Colonel’s loud command upon the Squad’s return. All eyes watched his daughter with interest. Most of them had been witness to how hard the young woman worked to overcome her inexperience and adjust to life as a vampire. It was abundantly clear that in a very short period of time, in vampire life anyway, she had come a million miles. But everyone agreed she seemed to walk beneath a Polly Anna curse. She tried hard to be as good as any of the other squad members but most times with very different results. Most things she touched turned to dog shit despite her best efforts and Elizabetta’s steadfast tutelage.
XXX“How long do you think he’ll keep us?” Sergeant Jonathan Azuel, better known to the squad as Blue Boy whispered to MorningStar as they headed for the gym. His blue eyes sparkled knowing full well every vampire within yards could hear his whisper.
XXX“As long as it takes, sergeant.” The statuesque Native American vampire responded in her calm, even manner.
XXX“As long as what takes?” Blue knew what she was referring to but played along for effect.
XXX“Teaching his daughter to be on time, of course.” MorningStar let out a long breath, for effect as well since as a vampire she did not usually breath at all. It was as close as the serene vamp came to displaying frustration. She did however, smile when a huffing sound was heard from the trailing Susannah. While MorningStar’s comment was intended to be good-natured teasing, Blue’s words generally had a sharp edge that was almost always aimed at Susannah and the youngest member of the squad knew it well. Susannah slogged along feeling the weight of her mistakes as if she carried ten tons of twisted metal and stone.
XXX Reassembling in the training gym next to the complex’s research laboratory, the vamps paired up with each other while the humans did the same. The team was ready. All except Susannah who stood in the entryway with her back against the door jam, without Devlin, her wounded partner. Half hoping someone in the Squad would notice her misery and do something to make her feel better, she watched beneath lowered lashes feeling lost and dejected.
XXXAwaiting the appearance of the colonel, Susannah agonized over the near miss in Somalia and placing her human team members in harms way. Without really watching, she instinctively knew where the team would stage themselves. They had done this a million times before the mission. Blue Boy stood shoulder to shoulder with Maxwell next to the mission obstacle course, his arms casually crossed, a nasty twinkle in his eyes. She could feel his increasing hunger and exhaustion. From across the room Susannah could hear his stomach growl. Fascinated with all paranormal things from the very beginning, Blue had hacked into classified intel and found out about vampires as well as the special anti-terrorist squad Colonel Maddox had assembled. He virtually jumped at the opportunity to join the special unit called the V-Force without a second thought. Susannah wondered how he felt now in light of this last mission.
XXXNext to Blue, Max’s posture was much more telling. He leaned against a post, his head hanging, hands in his pockets. She could read exhaustion in his posture and feel the disgust even though he tried to hide it from her. Sgt. Maxwell Boreman had been an Army Ranger before joining the Vamp Squad’s V-Force. Sgt. Miller came across Boreman’s profile while researching paranormal events within the armed forces while looking for prospective recruits. Max was doing time in a psychiatric unit at Ft. Eustis in Virginia after reporting he had been attacked by a vampire while on a sniper mission in Honduras. Joining the Vamp Squad literally saved his life and his sanity.
XXXThe huge Army Specialist Greg Heightner, nicknamed Bear since the second grade, enlisted in the Army with his best friend, right out of high school. Having signed up through the buddy plan with Trevor ‘the Tank’ Canfield, he automatically got every assignment his buddy did, including the Vamp Squad’s V-Force. Bear and Tank lounged on the floor mats patiently awaiting the colonel’s appearance, tired to the bone but true soldiers in every sense of the word. They had always treated Susannah with respect and often helped her with difficult combat moves. She could feel Bear’s warmth a mile away. The man was a virtual furnace and his nickname suited him well. Tank was the brother she lost, along with her mother all those years ago. He nodded toward her with a wink. It felt good to have at least two allies on the human side of the squad..
XXXSgt. Miller lay sprawled behind Bear and Tank, his eyes closed, showing white circles where his night vision goggles had kept most of the dirt off the top part of his face. Susannah knew the sergeant could have cared less about soldiering and military bearing. His partner, Lt. Previn stood straight as a rod near the entry. Never had there existed two soldiers with more opposing bearing and character. Previn would have stood at attention had he been half dead and mortally wounded. He probably lay at attention when he slept, Susannah thought with a restrained grin. She disliked Previn with a passion but shared a kind of “outsider” persona with the ever-ready-to-scam Miller. Miller was one of the original team she had first seen when she “awoke” to her new existence. Thank God Elizabetta was waiting and ready to teach her a new way of life.
XXXNatalia and Yuri leaned against the back wall, arms wrapped around each others waists in a casual embrace. Prior to the emergency mission in Somalia, the two lovers had been knee deep in wedding preparations, which of course had come to a screeching halt with the squad’s hasty assignment. Now with the wedding just two weeks away, it was clear to everyone Yuri and Natalia were meant for each other as a mated pair, a very rare thing in the world of vampires. It was the root of Susannah’s little green monster that hid at the back of her brain when it wasn’t parading out front for everyone to see and hear. Every time she looked at the lovers her emotions spun out of control, frustrated by what they seemed to have… and she did not.
XXXThe little green monster squirmed in her mind as Susannah heard Elizabetta across the gym, perched on a stack of mats next to the gracefully posed MorningStar discussing the up coming nuptials in a low voice. Monique slouched seductively along the wall eyeing Bear’s massive frame with interest, as usual. The French vampire lived for all things sexual and Bear exuded masculine mystic without even knowing it. Something about his six foot eight frame and XXXL shoulders that just screamed come to me baby. Love did not really exist for Frenchy but desire and passion were ever present in her mind. Susannah had formed a close sisterly bond with Monique and the two shared their most intimate secrets with each other. The up-coming nuptials were simply a prelude to great sex, at least to Monique. But more than that, Monique never tired of listening to Susannah venting her frustrations and always had a sympathetic shoulder to catch the bright red tears of her younger vampire sister. Of all the members of the Vamp Squad, Monique seemed to understand Susannah the most and provide the unconditional love that pushed Susannah to try just a little harder, move just a little faster, learn just that touch more. And when things went down the toilet, Monique was there with a hug, a bag of spiked synth-blood and some old corny video they could watch together and laugh their heads off.
XXXSusannah shifted from one foot to another. Despite her incredible strength and enhanced senses, she was tired and heart sick. She had known Capt. Devlin since her human childhood and was having trouble swallowing the bitter reality that she was truly responsible for his injuries. Medivac’ed straight to Ramstein Air Base, before being transported to Walter Reed Army Hospital, Devlin’s condition was critical.
XXXShe flinched and took a deep breath preparing for the assault to come. From the sound of stomping footsteps in the hall, her father was on his way. She stood a little straighter and moved off to one side, out of the blast zone.
XXXMiller struggled to a sitting position. “Ten-hut.” The military contingent stood at attention. The vampires simply looked up but remained where they were.
XXX“At ease.” The colonel motioned to his men. “Operation Sierra Storm was successful but with casualties. That is unacceptable.” The colonel paced across the floor, his hands clasped behind his back. Susannah pictured MacArthur addressing his men after an unsuccessful beach assault. “We will re-run the last phase of this mission until it is flawless. Practice makes perfect and permanent. Take your places. On my mark and by the numbers. Count and mark by increments of?...” The glowering colonel looked at his daughter who had taken up position in the corner behind him.
XXX“Five,” she answered just above a whisper.
XXX“What?” Blue snickered and nudged his partner. He was the best of the V-Force humans at pushing her buttons.
XXX“FIVE!” She spat at the smirking soldier.
XXX“Five. Roger that. Every five seconds.” The colonel repeated for the human contingent. “Take your places.” Susannah felt the brunt of her father’s punitive orders. The team was dog tired and he just had to press the point. They had done everything correctly. Didn’t he understand that there was no reason to punish the team. It was her fault and the punishment should be hers and hers alone. He was making it harder for her by torturing the entire squad to punish her. Or was that his goal knowing the outcome?
XXXThe group assumed their positions on the obstacle course that had been constructed to represent the building they had used at the extraction point. Susannah was the last in place as she tried frantically to catch Elizabetta’s eye without success. The coven mistress was a mother to her and had been since her awakening as a starved, half-crazed animal in a cement cell. Right now Susannah desperately needed a little mommy intervention. She had no watch. She’d lost it in Somalia; hence the botched extraction. She tried a mental nudge with no results. Elizabetta was focused on the team and the op. Then it was too late.
XXX“Mark.” The colonel shouted and the entire squad sprang into action moving like a well-oiled machine despite their exhaustion. Air currents drifted and swirled with their silent moves as Yuri and Natalia v-ported from the make-believe street to the fabricated roof with their simulated satellite fuel component while Monique and MorningStar flew recon above the simulated building. Bear and Tank perched on a small platform near the top of the gym symbolizing their position in the helicopter that would transport the first component. Susannah carted the second component with the missing Devlin imaginarily attached to the opposite side. A cable and carabineer dangled to the ground from the second imaginary helicopter with Max and Blue on a platform above. Susannah strained to see the clock above the door of the gym watching for the exact second she was to attach the canister to the cable to be drawn up. Timing was crucial since both helicopters operated within a few inches of each other’s rotors. The plan called for Devlin and the canister to be raised together.
XXXShe glanced at the clock one more time and reached for the carabineer. Her hand came away empty. She could hear Blue’s quiet chuckle above her.
XXX“VS5, report.” A large vein protruded from the colonel’s forehead as he shouted at his daughter.
XXX“What?” Susannah shouted as she spun to see the cable several feet above her reach.
XXXColonel Maddox jumped down from the scaffolding. “Can you or can you not tell time? It’s not a difficult task. Everyone here seems to be capable of it. What is your problem?” He was not losing his temper, he’d already lost it somewhere in the hallway. “Oh, that’s right! Mickey doesn’t have a third hand does he?” Maddox loomed over his daughter screaming the insult as Elizabetta floated quickly and quietly to stand beside him, a restraining hand landing solidly on his shoulder with vamp strength.
XXX“It’s not my fault. I had to watch the clock up there.” Susannah stomped and pointed at the clock on the wall above the door. “I couldn’t do both things at once!” She shouted right back at her father in the same tone.
XXXElizabetta shot Susannah a stern look and sighed. Susannah was definitely the colonel’s daughter and the coven mistress was not willing to let this unfair punishment continue. Elizabetta securely cloaked her own thoughts on the matter and sighed again. To give Susannah her due, her father was not exactly acting like a professional soldier either. Neither Maddox was at their best at the moment and it was clear to everyone in the room. She moved to intervene and ducked the colonel’s flapping arms.
XXX“Why not? You can listen to your pod thing, watch TV and paint you toes neon orange at the same time. But you can’t seem to hang a canister on a hook with both hands in a timely manner. I don’t understand what your-” Elizabetta made her move.
XXX“Excuse me, Colonel?” The practice session was in danger of turning into a father-daughter knockdown drag-out in front of the entire installation. When it came to Susannah, Elizabetta knew Maddox would not hold back. She laid her hand on his shoulder. The colonel drew in a deep breath to continue but the coven mistress increased the pressure of her hold to the point of pain, gaining his attention quite rapidly as was her intent. He fell silent. With a wince…
XXX“Susannah, where is your watch?” Elizabetta spoke in a calm modulated tone.
XXX“I lost it in the desert. I was looking for it when Capt. Devlin said we had to go. It was my Corum Trapeze that mom left me.” Her attempt at a little pout was lost on her father. Elizabetta was sure Colonel Maddox didn’t know a designer, diamond-studded watch from a kitchen appliance. “The turquoise one she loved.” The young girl whispered, a tear forming near the corner of one eye. Elizabetta could feel the colonel gearing up for a real blow-out and increased the pressure of her hand once again but refrained from breaking the human’s fragile bones. It would not due to have two of the team in the hospital at the same time.
XXX“You did not feel the need to let someone know before the exercise began?” Again, her voice was calm and steady.
XXX“Elizabetta, I tried to get you to notice, but you were more concerned about the stupid wedding. All anyone wants to talk about is Natalia and Yuri and that damn wedding. Like it was the only thing that mattered. I-” Susannah’s explanation trailed off knowing it fell on the deaf ears of the coven mistress. Elizabetta was very much aware of Susannah’s little jealous streak. They had talked many times about Susannah’s self control and romantic desires. In the long run, Elizabetta understood. Susannah should be a beautiful twenty-three year old experiencing life and love and anything else young people did in a world of excitement and possibility. Instead she was starting her life over as something very different from that, a vampire, under strict controls and rules that did not come close to squelching her blood lust and developing desires that so outweighed anything a human could comprehend. Elizabetta understood Susannah’s emotional turmoil but did not condone her surrogate daughter’s disrespectful and often childish behavior. Like any girl growing up, Susannah would have to learn. Unlike any girl growing up, it was imperative for the young vampire to learn self control much faster since human lives were at stake.
XXX“That is enough, young lady!” The colonel’s voice boomed, echoing through the gym increasing the sound by three fold.
XXXThe combination of guilt and anger threw Susannah over the edge and right into deadly territory. She could feel herself slipping and on some level she was aware that she should just shut her mouth, but her human teen immaturity rose to the surface and spilled right across the gym engulfing her father in a wave of verbal self-righteousness. “What are you going to do Daddy, send me to bed without dinner? Why can’t anyone treat me like an adult? I’m just as much a part of this team as any one of you. In fact more so because without me, you all wouldn’t even be here.” She rounded on her father. “You would not have your precious squad of vampire operatives, and I would be dead and out of the way, right?” The tears had begun to flow. Streaks of red marred the beautiful young woman’s perfect skin. “No stupid little blonde girl to worry about. You’d prefer that wouldn’t you? Me out of the way so you can be the lone hero in the family? So you don’t have to do anything but be what you want to be, some super soldier changing around saving the world. Well, you couldn’t save me so you got Elizabetta to do it for you. And you’re not even happy with that.” An emotional tsunami flooded Susannah’s mind and heart as she let fly with the canister in her hand just missing Blue who had jumped down from the platform out of the way.
XXX“Hey, careful with the tantrum. I break.” He effectively dodged the metal container but landed on his backside flipping the young vampire off with a flourish.
XXXShe’d had more than enough from Blue. Susannah closed the distance between them with vamp speed, grabbed Blue by the shirt and lifted him to his feet. Her fangs descended and she hissed, pulling his neck close.
XXX“SUSANNAH!” Both Elizabetta and Monique screamed simultaneously.
XXXSurprised and embarrassed at the extent of her loss of control, Susannah dropped Blue to the floor and fled from the room.
XXX“Well, I guess that ends our little practice session. I don’t know about you all, but I could use a hot bath, a good meal and a soft bed.” Sgt. Miller swung down from his position on the scaffolding, swiped a lazy salute and sauntered past a speechless colonel. “Later folks.”
XXXOne by one the team members made their excuses and departed leaving Elizabetta still holding the colonel’s shoulder, with a little less strength in her grip.

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