Dark Hunger

Page 34

Flashing red and blue lights glared in his eyes, and in the rearview mirror he saw a highway patrol car speeding up behind him. Quickly he groped through the pile of empty wrappers beside him, found and stuffed two king-size Snickers bars into his mouth as he pulled over onto the shoulder, and put the SUV in park. He ate another four while waiting for the trooper to walk up to the driver’s-side window, which he rolled down.

“What’s the problem, Officer?” he asked.

The trooper’s silly hat tilted down as he peered inside. “Have you been drinking tonight, sir?”

“Only some Pepsi.” Enjoying himself a little, Lawson held up one of the empty liter bottles. “I might be on a sugar high, but I don’t believe that I was speeding.”

“Can you tell me your name?”

Now that he had been transformed into the first true superhuman, he could never answer to the name Bradford Lawson again. He needed a new title, one that would tell this ignorant mortal and the rest of the mortal world what he had become.

“Apollo,” he said. “I’ve become the god of the sun and light.”

The trooper put a hand on the hilt of his service weapon and shuffled back. “Step out of the vehicle, please, Mr. Apollo.”

Lawson opened the door, releasing a small flood of candy wrappers and chip bags onto the ground. They crackled as he stepped on top of them.

“I have the worst case of the munchies in history,” he explained. “Not because I’ve been smoking pot, of course. A god doesn’t need that sort of thing.”

The trooper nodded and pointed to the front of the car. “Place your hands on the hood, Mr. Apollo, and spread your feet apart.”

Cops these days simply didn’t have a sense of humor, Lawson thought as he assumed the position. When the trooper moved to stand directly behind him, he threw his head back, smashing it into the man’s face. By the time the trooper uttered his first howl of pain Lawson had picked him up and tossed him over the hood of the SUV. He sailed fifty feet and landed with a thud, rolling until his body lost momentum and flopped over onto his back.

Lawson picked up the flashlight the trooper had dropped, and switched it on, focusing the beam toward the spot where the mortal had landed. As he moved past the shoulder, his left foot plunged down into a hole in the ground. An angry buzzing exploded all around him, and a swarm of furious bees engulfed him.

Not bees, he thought as they zipped past his eyes, and he saw their distinctive colors. Yellow jackets.

“Get off,” he shouted, swatting and whirling as he tried to get away from the stinging insects. Their tiny bodies bounced off his face, neck, and arms; they burrowed into the openings of his shirt and trousers to attack the rest of his body.

Lawson hated being stung, and began to sob as he fell to his knees. He toppled over and lay there for some time, his entire body ablaze with hot, needling pain. Things grew fuzzy, and then dark.

Sometime later he came to and sat up. Dead yellow jackets fell from his shoulders onto the ground, and he smashed them with his fist. There didn’t seem to be any more of them flying around him, but there were countless tiny, still bodies covering the ground.

He struggled to his feet. The transerum had protected him again, and he breathed in deeply as he felt no pain from the thousands of stings he had sustained. He kicked at the dead insects, grinding some of them to mush under his heel before he staggered over to see to the trooper.

He looked down at the cop’s ruined face. “I wasn’t …” His blood pounded in his ears, hot and heavy, and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. “Why did … you … pull me over?”

The trooper turned his head and coughed out more blood.

Humans could be more annoying than yellow jackets, he thought as he lifted his leg and rammed it down on the man’s right knee. The resulting scream didn’t entirely drown out the satisfying crunch of bone. “I can break … the rest of your bones … easy.” Why was it so hard to remember words? “Why … did you … stop me?”

“Weaving,” the cop choked out. “Weaving all over the road. Can’t drive like that. Hurt someone.”

Hurt someone? The words buzzed around his head like the yellow jackets, tiny and mindless and stupid. But they also cleared his thoughts and calmed his labored breathing as they reminded him of who he was now.

Why would he care if he hurt anyone? A god did not have to concern himself with the inherent weaknesses of mortals. He was stronger than them, ten times more intelligent, a new and vastly superior life-form. No one would ever again cause him pain or humiliation the way Jessa Bellamy had.

He could see her in his head so clearly now. Every detail of her treacherous, beautiful face, every arrogant look she had given him. She would never be satisfied with her attempt to cripple him, he knew, especially not now that he had ascended to a new level of existence. No, in her jealousy and ugliness she would want to harm him again—even try to kill him—as soon as she could.

“She sent you after me, didn’t she?” Lawson bent down, seized the man by the throat, and lifted him off the ground with one hand. He bit the side of his neck, digging his teeth in deep before he ripped out of a chunk of flesh and spit it out. “The lying bitch swore out a complaint against me.” He shook him a few times. “You were going to serve me with another restraining order? Was that it?”

The trooper didn’t answer, his head lolling back and forth over his left shoulder.

“I never touched her.” Lawson licked his lips and tasted the man’s blood on them, and felt a new sensation surging through him. “I wanted to, but I couldn’t. She’d have seen. All my secrets.” The sound of his own voice crooning comforted him as he put the limp body on the ground and straddled it. “Couldn’t have that.” He ripped open the front of the trooper’s uniform shirt and tore away the front panel of the protective vest beneath it. “The old man hates me for being young and strong. She’d go to him. Make him fire me.”

Sometime later Lawson rose and walked over to pick up the flashlight he had dropped by the yellow jacket nest. He switched it on, but the bright beam of light hurt his eyes. He tossed it away, and then felt pain in his hand. Two bone shards were embedded in his palm, and he plucked them out before he walked back up to the road and got in the SUV.

Things had changed again, but he felt at peace with himself. Without saying a word, the trooper had explained everything that had gone wrong.

Now it was right. So right that it filled him with an indescribable emotion. All the work he had done at GenHance had been noble, and his heart had been in the right place, but ultimately the scientists had failed. All of their theories and conjectures had been wrong. Lawson wondered what Genaro would make of it when he told him.

The transerum contained no flaw, but rather a new imperative, one that had caused the final transformation of the mortal who had been Bradford Lawson, and the sacrifices that would have to be made to his glory.

Now he was truly Apollo, the god reborn to walk among men.

By the third day of her captivity, Jessa had determined three things: She apparently wasn’t in any immediate danger, it would take weeks to completely search her prison, and Matthias and Rowan weren’t going to be as easy to dupe as she’d hoped. As much as she wanted to escape and find some way to disprove the murder charge, she also knew she couldn’t escape without first discovering what Matthias did or didn’t know about the Takyn. If she didn’t, he might try this again with Aphrodite, Vulcan, Delilah, or one of her other friends.

For his part, Matthias generally treated her like a guest instead of a prisoner, seeing to her needs and comfort without complaint and talking to her courteously. He watched her closely, however, and always seemed to be waiting around the corner whenever she walked through the tunnels.

Rowan’s attitude toward Jessa gradually became less hostile, although she remained mostly distant or sarcastic, depending on her mood. Jessa quickly learned to avoid the girl when she was working in the communications room or cooking in the kitchen, the times when her temper was prone to flare fastest. She also refrained from asking questions or becoming too personal with the young housekeeper. She did refuse to let Rowan continue to wait on her, something she thought at first might provoke a confrontation. Yet when she told Rowan she didn’t want breakfast brought to her room, all Rowan did was produce an old battery-operated clock radio and tell her to be in the kitchen at six a.m. or make her own meal. Jessa immediately tried to listen to the radio—a local broadcast would tell her where she was—but the small speaker produced only crackling static.

Matthias didn’t bring up the subject of vampires again, which was a relief, as Jessa didn’t know how to respond to his wild conjectures without further insulting him. Instead he allowed her to use his computer equipment whenever she asked, delivered a stack of paperback novels (none of which was newer than six months, she noted) to her room, and otherwise left her alone. When she asked whether she should return the books to him, he told her they belonged to Rowan. Later she saw him reading one of the books from the collection in the children’s library room, and caught the faint movements of his lips as he silently sounded out some of the words.

Why would a grown man, even one who couldn’t speak English perfectly, collect and read children’s books when he owned one of the finest private libraries she’d ever seen?

Although he knew about her ability, Matthias didn’t try to avoid having physical contact with her as Rowan did. Each day he seemed to find some excuse to touch her casually, whether it was passing a dish to her at the table or taking her arm to guide her in a different direction while walking with her in the tunnels. For the first couple of days Jessa stiffened each time, anticipating a return into the shadowlight, but no matter how prolonged the contact was between them it never took over her consciousness. Instead, something else invaded: an unfamiliar but pervasive blend of warmth and comfort that danced along her skin and brought all of her senses to an acute state of awareness.

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