XV. The Dogs of War

Previous Next

"Calm down! What do you mean vampire doggy? Julia, use your words!" Jessica searched her sister's tear-soaked eyes.

"Vampire doggy took Bruno!"

Jessica took a deep breath, her own heart beating a bit faster. "There are no such thing as vampires, okay, sweetie? Look, he probably just ran around the side of the house. I'll call him in, okay?"

Julia's tears turned into screamed protests. "No! Don't go! It'll get you too!" The little girl's fingers turned white on Jessica's arm.

The sounds of the front door opening and their mother's voice came down the hallway. "Julia? Sweetie? What's wrong?"

Mara rushed into the room to see her youngest clutching her teenage daughter, bawling.

"She says she saw something out there take Bruno. Probably just amped up from the sugar and the movie," Jessica said unconvincingly.

Mara knelt in front of Julia. "What happened?"

Julia sniffled and hiccuped, her mouth twisting. "The v-vampire came and took Bruno."

Jessica reluctantly interjected. "He, uh. He was barking at something and I didn't see him out there. He's probably just around the side of the house, though."

Mara's expression was strange for a moment before she smoothly reassured her daughters.

"I'll get Bruno, Julia. Jessica, warm up some milk for your sister and keep an eye on her in the kitchen for a minute." She locked eyes with Jessica, and the teenager shivered involuntarily.

"You got it, Mom. Let's go, sweetie. Mommy's got this."

She gathered up the hiccuping mess of her sister and carried her into the kitchen, grabbing a napkin to wipe at the little girl's snotty nose.

"Blow, sweetie," she said, and Julia blew. Jessica wiped the boogers away, then bounced the little girl once in her arms.

"Ewww, gross!" She lightheartedly teased her sister with the sticky blobs glistening in the tissue, and the little girl's whimpers turned into squirms and giggles.

She finished cleaning up her sister's face, washed her hands, then poured some milk into a saucepan, gently stirring it with a wood spoon while keeping one eye on her sister.

The little girl had momentarily been distracted from the problem of the missing dog, but Jessica's neck prickled as long minutes went by.

A slam came from the back door.

Their mother entered the kitchen, the strange look back on her face. "Jessica, lock the doors. Only open for me or Daddy. I'll be back. Keep your phone on."

Jessica's hands involuntarily made fists. Her guts felt icy. Julia started to wail again.

Mara knelt, radiating reassurance and brushing curls out of the little girl's face.

"Stay with Sissy, ok? Everything's gonna be ok, sweetie. Bruno probably just jumped the fence. I'll go get him back."

She left the room heading for the front door, just a little too urgently. From her seat at the kitchen island, Jessica could narrowly see her mother go to the closet by the front door and take something out of it.

Mara looked up and caught her eye. She smiled tightly.

"Be right back."

Jessica noticed the smile drop off her mother's face as she closed the door.

Mara was dialing before she had reached the sidewalk.

"Sally? It's Mara. Listen. Somebody broke into our back yard and took our dog. They busted in our fence and it looks like they hurt him."

She was jogging faster now, her eyes scanning the deepening shadows of dusk. The well-manicured little neighborhood was dead quiet.

"I'm running out to see if I can see anybody or get some plates. If you could-- yes, please, directly. I'll... hold on."

A sound rang out through the stillness of the night air.

A bark. Then a strangled yelp.

"Hold on. I hear him." She lowered the phone from her head and poured on all her speed, cutting across a neighbor's lawn, directly in the direction of the dog's bark. Toward the beach.

Mara gritted her teeth and pushed herself harder. Sally was saying something, but Mara just gripped the phone more tightly to keep from dropping it as she pumped her arms.

She swiveled her head as she moved, straining her hearing and looking for any sign of the family dog or his attacker.

There. She blinked several times as she saw the larger dog that was dragging Bruno's limp form.

No. Not a dog.

Her heart began to beat faster. She lifted the phone.

"Sally, it's some kind of animal. I'm at Wells and Lake. I'll try and scare it off."

Mara raised her weapon and sighted. "Hey!"

Eyestalks swiveled toward her.

The red sportscar's engine roared. Victor did not stop at a single stop sign in his neighborhood.

The sportscar surged into the driveway, leaving long skidmarks as it screeched to a halt.

Victor crossed the yard in three long strides, and climbed the front steps in one.

He burst through the front door and tore from room to room. "Mara? Jessica? Julia?"

He rushed into the living room and saw Jessica hugging Julia, who was hugging a bloodied but intact Bruno. The golden retriever's tail thumped weakly.

"Girls! What happened? Where is your mother?"

"Admiral Mercury! The doctor is back there with the, uh... body." The deputy looked over his shoulder, pale-faced, unrolling black and yellow police tape.

Victor ran past the law officer.

He saw a lumpy shape under a blue police tarpaulin.

She was speaking animatedly on her phone, standing a few feet away from it. She waved as she saw him arrive.

"Yes. The admiral just arrived. No. Yes. Let me know as soon as you have anything concrete." She ended the call and looked up at him.

They embraced silently.

Too soon, Mara broke away and reached down to pull away the tarpaulin.


The thing was limp and still. It wasn't a dog. It was... a giant crab, or some arthropod. Except its face had tentacles growing out of it, and it had a maw full of needle-sharp teeth. Its lolling tongue had glowing patches.

It was definitely an ASTRAL LARK.

Commodore Omar narrowed her eyes. The dogfight continued, although at this point it was less of a fight than a slog. The massive thing had been pushed away from the bridge by the first air-to-air missile attacks, but the thing was slowing rather than accelerating out into the bay.

She gave a curt order to the analyst sitting in front of her, and she examined the images he directed onto the monitors.

High-speed footage and wide angles of the surface of the ASTRAL LARK. Places where long, ropelike appendages had anchored the thing to the bridge before it had been pushed back, or reached down into the water to anchor somewhere beneath the surface.

The recognizable form of the thing that had attacked the Nevada, hanging from the bottom of the amorphous mass, had receded into the shapeless bulk once the F-35s had engaged.

Jagged pockmarks from the first high-caliber rounds in the earliest shots from the battle. Mild discolorations as a result of the same attack a few minutes later.

The skin of the creature just before and after the impacts of air-to-air missiles. When the first missiles had struck the creature, it had torn gaping holes in the greenish-black shape.

As the missiles continued to strike it now, the high-speed footage in slow motion showed that the skin darkened in the instants before the missiles were about to strike. Darkened, shiny spots that dissipated after the missile struck, leaving the surface intact.

Her eyes flicked to the big screen where missiles continued to hammer the shape. The missiles' explosions were visibly muted. Then she saw a missile strike the surface, only to be somehow absorbed harmlessly.

Her eyes widened.

"It's adapting."

She took a breath and began issuing orders. In a moment, she was handed a handset.

"Mastiff Five, this is Omicron Actual. Get in as close as you can and double up on the missiles, one-two punch. Over."

"Solid copy, Omicron Actual. Coming in for a low yo-yo."

The F-35 screamed into a tight turn as it passed the creature. Its nose pulled up and it slowed until it stalled, dropping through the air tens of meters in front of the bulbous creature.

Commodore Omar didn't blink as she watched the missiles impact. Her eyes shot over to the high-speed replay. The first missile was absorbed, but the second one left a jagged tear that began closing itself immediately.

Her mouth tightened. "It's not enough."

The young officer strode up and saluted. "Sir, Admiral Mercury for you on the secure line."

She nodded and lifted a handset.


"Status report."

"The bridge is in bad shape, but holding for now. Mastiff squadron has pushed ASTRAL LARK away from the bridge. However, it appears to be rapidly adapting. Missiles are now doing only minimal damage and are no longer effective at corralling it. Your orders?"

"Get a chopper to my location. Call the Joint Chiefs then call me back and conference me in if I'm not back before then. What's the ETA for the Abraham Lincoln and the Theodore Roosevelt?"

The commodore glanced down at a monitor and pressed buttons to display the GPS coordinates of the inbound aircraft carriers.

"Two hours and three hours respectively."

The admiral didn't curse. It wasn't a becoming habit in an officer, especially one of his rank.

"Call Lemoore. Get everything we've got into the sky. And order the Nevada to ready cruise missiles. I want a firing solution ready as soon as we have signoff from the Joint Chiefs."

Sarah was yelling at the man sitting in the boat. Adam kept looking back and forth from the altogether-too-small boat, the hulking shape being pummeled by the fighter jets with ear-splitting explosions that echoed across the bay, the teetering suspension bridge, and his producer, who didn't seem quite human at the moment.

"I will BUY this boat from you, RIGHT NOW. I have four hundred and thirty seven dollars in cash here, or I can send you as much as you want on TransactionBuddy, or--"

"I dun' care what yer sayin'! I'm not goin' anywhere near that thing, and neither is my boat!"

Sarah looked ready to scream. Then, to Adam's surprise, she actually did, throwing her head back with her hands clenched into fists.

"You are not LISTENING to me! I will drive this boat myself if you are not man enough to do it! Name your price! I will take this boat if I have to leave your cooling body on the shore to do it! HOW MUCH MONEY WILL IT TAKE? Tell me a number, RIGHT NOW, for the LOVE OF GOD!"

The man shrank back, but only for a moment. He jutted his jaw out, his fingers fumbling at his belt, trying not to flinch at the echoing explosions.

"Uhm.. you... three thousand dollars."

Boats were expensive, but even taking that into account, Adam was privately of the opinion that three thousand dollars was a ludicrous price for the tiny, rickety, weathered craft in front of them.

"Done. How do you want it? TransactionBuddy? Credit card? Check? I'm in a bit of a hurry."

The man narrowed his eyes. "How'd I know this isn't some kind of scam? Who's to say I won't see that my funds are locked, or--"

Sarah grabbed the man by his shirt and screamed, again, directly into his face. He blinked rapidly, opening his mouth to say something, when she whirled on the harried news crew.


Adam blinked at her uncomprehendingly as she dug in her purse. She raised her voice.

"WALLETS! NOW! ALL OF YOU! Let's go!" She pulled electronic devices and a pad of paper out of her purse then shoved the purse at the dumbfounded owner of the ramshackle motorboat.

She snapped her fingers insistently in the faces of her blinking colleagues. "Am I the only one here trying to report on the biggest story of our lives? Give the man your wallets. Now."

They reluctantly did as they were told, piling their wallets into the arms of the spluttering boat owner.

Sarah snapped her fingers again at the quailing production assistant. "Keys!" When he blinked, she suddenly modulated her voice into a calm, patronizing tone that was frankly even more terrifying.

"Jason. Give the man the keys to the van."

He did. The boat owner finally found his voice. "I don't-- what are you giving me all of your wallets for?!"

Sarah smiled sweetly, and that was most terrifying of all. "Now you know we're coming back, you know who we are, you have our money, our identification, and our vehicle, now if you would, kindly, please step out of my boat before I am forced to remove you from it piece by piece."

She spun on the newsmen.

"Get. In."

Previous Next