Chapter Ninety-Six

Arklight Camp

Outskirts of Tehran

June 16, 3:27 a.m.

“Vox and Nicodemus are related,” I said. “That’s it, I’m going home.”

I expected Church to looked rattled by the news, but he stood there, slowly nodding to himself.

“What?” I asked.

“Pieces are coming together.”

“Making what kind of a picture?”

“I’m not entirely sure yet, but let me ask you this, Captain, do you feel that we’re at war with the Red Order?”

I thought about it. “Actually, even though this thing is tied to them, I… I really don’t see how. We’re at war with someone.”

“Are we?”

“The nukes.”

“The nukes are in play, but we haven’t yet cracked the logic of their placement. There have been no threats, no demands. Nothing in the case files on the Red Order suggests an anti-American agenda.”

I thought about it. “Y’know, I kind of have the same feeling about Rasouli. I mean, he kicked this off by giving me the flash drive, but the drive itself is sketchy, and he’s been totally off the radar since it began. Granted, that’s not even a full day yet, but Rasouli feels like a day player. A walk on.”

Church shook his head. “He’s more important than that, otherwise the flash drive would have been sent anonymously through the mail. No, Rasouli and the Red Order are in this. I’m simply not convinced we’re at war with them.”

“They sent a Red Knight after me.”

“Someone sent a knight after the drive. Not the same thing.”

I grunted. “What about the Sabbatarians?”

“They’re independents. They hunt the Upierczi, which means they don’t work for the Red Order; and they are fiercely Catholic, which means that they aren’t acting on behalf of Rasouli.”

“The question, then, is who pointed them at me?”

“Captain-take yourself out of the equation. They were pointed at the knights, who were in turn pointed at the flash drive. You… got in the way.”

“Ah. I guess the villains just aren’t that into me.”

He manfully refused to smile.

“Okay,” I said, “I’m going to nominate Vox as the bad guy. Who else has ‘criminal mastermind’ on his business cards?”

“Vox alone?”

Interesting question. “Nicodemus?”

Church shrugged. He left to make a few more calls.

I saw Echo Team standing apart from the activity, looking like a biker gang that had crashed a women’s empowerment meeting. I gestured for them to follow me to the far end of the warehouse.

“Good job tonight,” I told them. “I was listening and I still never heard you on my six.”

“Kinda the point,” said Lydia. “Clumsy soldiers don’t get Christmas bonuses.”

We stood for a moment, each of us looking back at the cluster of Arklight women as they continued arming for war. I saw Violin sliding loaded magazines into slots on a bandolier. She saw me watching and gave me a brief nod that I returned. We turned away at the same moment.

“Top,” I said, “get back to the other warehouse and get everything ready. Finish modifying our equipment, but don’t use all the garlic. Church will have some kind of transport here soon. As soon I talk to the Big Man again I’ll come back for a mission briefing. Everyone eat some food, hit the head, take your vitamins. Finish that special project I gave you earlier from those notes Circe got from that folklore professor. Looks like we’re going to need it. We need to be ready to rock, and who knows how long this will take. Bring as much extra ammunition as you can carry.”

“Boss,” said Bunny, “what that woman said? That’s all true, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

He shook his head. Bunny was no naive kid, but this was all a long, long way from Southern California.

Khalid looked concerned. “There’s a question we need to ask these women here,” he said. “If garlic hurts the vampires, is it safe to use around the… um… what was the word?”

“Dhampyri.”

“Yes.”

“Good question. I’ll ask. In the meantime, let’s hustle.”

“Hooah,” they said, and I watched them vanish through the back door, silent as ghosts.

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