Dark Whispers From Beyond
Worry about Kaia, her family, and the future of the project had kept William awake throughout the night.
Kaia and her family were being forced to rush into life-altering decisions that might either kill its older members or grant them immortality. And if that wasn’t enough, Gilbert and Karen’s relationship could suffer irreparable damage.
Karen was running out of time, and even though it was easy to understand her preference to wait for Gilbert to transition first so he could induce her, she might not have the six months it would take for his fangs and venom glands to become fully functional. Karen needed to choose an immortal male to activate her dormant immortal genes, but even though her survival depended on it, she and Gilbert might not be able to get past that and continue as a loving couple.
The continuation of the project was less troublesome, but it had many moving parts, and assembling them into a workable solution had also kept William from getting any sleep.
They had only scratched the surface of Okidu’s journals, and there was still a lot to be deciphered before William could dismiss the rest of the team and continue just with Kaia. In fact, she would have to do the heavy lifting because he needed to go back to work on the other projects he’d put on hold.
Last night, after they’d made love and Kaia had sailed off on the wings of euphoria, William had called Marcel, and they’d discussed the progress that had been made so far and what Marcel would do with the team in William and Kaia’s absence.
The project would continue with them working remotely from the village and Marcel supervising the team of bioinformaticians, but before William introduced his replacement to the team, he needed to discuss with Marcel a few things about managing humans.
Marcel was a sharp guy, but his people skills were even worse than William’s, and the guy hadn’t dealt with humans since his days as a student at Caltech. That was why William was picking him and the pilot from the airport instead of just sending a driver for them. He and Marcel needed the time to go over the rules of conduct and what was okay to tell the team of humans and what was not.
It was time to leave, but that was easier said than done.
Standing at the foot of the bed, he gazed at the sleeping beauty sprawled over the covers, his eyes fixed on her gorgeous face and his feet refusing to move.
William would have liked to believe that Kaia’s blissed-out expression was his doing, and that she could sleep so peacefully despite yesterday’s shocking revelations because he was such an incredible lover, but he knew it was the venom’s lingering effect.
Would she be as relaxed when she woke up?
Probably not. As soon as memories of yesterday’s events rushed in, she would without a doubt be stressing over her impending transition and the decisions her family was facing.
With a sigh, William forced his eyes away from Kaia and walked toward the door.
“Where are you going?” she asked sleepily.
William turned around and smiled. “I’m going to pick up Marcel from the airport,” he reminded her.
Kaia spread her arms. “You can’t leave without giving me a kiss.”
He couldn’t refuse an invitation like that.
Walking back, he sat on the bed and leaned to lightly kiss her on the lips. “You don’t need to get up for another two hours. You should go back to sleep.”
She yawned. “I want to call my mother and hear her impressions of your village. Do you know if Marcel gave my family new clan phones? If he did, I need their numbers.”
“I’m sure he or someone else from the lab took care of that.” William cupped her warm cheek. “I’ll get the numbers and text them to you, but it’s five in the morning, so your mother is probably still asleep, and you should be as well.”
Kaia covered her mouth with her hand and yawned again. “No wonder I’m so sleepy. I hope that Cheryl can download Instatock on her new phone. If she can’t check her stats every five minutes, she’ll get panicky, and she’ll demand to leave right away.”
That was an unhealthy obsession, but if her mother didn’t object, it was none of his business.
“Cheryl can download any application she wants.”
“What about your security? All those apps follow people around and record everything they do on their devices.”
“Don’t worry about that.” He leaned and kissed her forehead. “I designed them in a way that makes it impossible for apps to track anything other than what’s necessary for their operation.”
Kaia grinned. “My genius boyfriend. But out of an abundance of caution, I suggest that you check this particular app.”
She shrugged. “Instatock is only six or seven months old, and it’s sweeping an entire generation of teenagers without monetizing a thing. There are no advertisements, nothing to buy, and the application is free. I’m suspicious of its motives.”
As his chest swelled with love and pride, William grinned. Even when her body was still mostly asleep, Kaia’s mind was fully awake.
“I’ll check, but I doubt any application can break through my defenses.” He kissed her cheeks one at a time and then added one more to her forehead. “I need to go. Max is waiting for me on the bus.”
The Guardian had informed him yesterday that he would be tagging along on the trip to the airport to pick up Marcel and Morris. Unsurprisingly, Kian or Onegus had left instructions that William shouldn’t be allowed to leave the safe zone without a Guardian escort.
Kaia pulled the blanket up to her chin. “Text me when you get there.” She turned on her side and closed her eyes.
“I will.” He forced himself to get off the bed and walk out.
He found Max waiting for him outside his bungalow.
“Good morning.” He gave the Guardian a tight smile. “Were you afraid I’d give you the slip?”
Max shrugged. “I could have waited here or on the bus, but I knew the driver would already be there, and he would have expected me to chat with him. I don’t have the patience for idle chit-chat, and besides, I prefer not to spend too much time with humans if I don’t have to.”
William arched a brow. “You didn’t mind spending time with Darlene.”
The Guardian shrugged again, but William caught the wince he’d immediately replaced with an impassive expression. “She’s a confirmed Dormant and a god’s granddaughter. She was definitely worth my time.”
William wondered whether Darlene’s lineage had been Max’s main motivation to pursue her. If so, he was glad that nothing had come of it. Darlene deserved to be desired for who she was and not for who her grandfather was. But if Max’s feelings had run deeper, he felt for the guy.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out between the two of you.” William fell in step with Max. “I hoped that Darlene would dump Eric after the weekend and fall straight into your arms, but now it seems that he’s a Dormant as well, and they seem serious about each other.”
Max’s brows dipped so low that they formed a V. “Even if Eric transitions tomorrow, he can’t induce her for another six months. She shouldn’t wait so long.”
William put his hand on the Guardian’s shoulder. “She’s a big girl, and she makes her own choices. Being Toven’s granddaughter helps her chances, so she’s not overly concerned.”
“Still, it’s not wise for her to wait for Eric to transition.”
Detecting real concern in the guy’s voice, William was inclined to believe that Max cared about Darlene. “Eric might not transition at all, and then she’ll have no choice but to turn to you or another Guardian.”
A hopeful smile bloomed on Max’s face. “That would be unfortunate for Eric, but I can’t say that I would be sorry if he turns out to be just a human. I plan to stay very close to Darlene, so if she needs to choose someone else, I’ll be the obvious choice.”
“How are you planning to do that from here?”
“I’m not.” Max grinned conspiratorially. “I’m way ahead of you. I asked Onegus to reassign me to the village, and he approved my request. I’m coming back with you and Kaia.”
Kaia stretched like a lazy cat after an afternoon nap and took a deep breath. She’d fallen asleep right after William left for the airport and had dreamt wonderful dreams about life in the immortals’ village.
Could it be as beautiful in real life? Would the immortals be as friendly and smiley as they had been in her dreams?
It was time to find out.
Hoping that William had sent a text with her family’s new phone numbers, Kaia reached for her phone.
She hadn’t spoken with her mother since her family had departed Safe Haven yesterday afternoon, leaving their phones behind as Kian had demanded, and she couldn’t wait to hear everyone’s impressions of the village.
After finding the text with the numbers, Kaia rushed through her morning routine, made herself a cup of coffee, and sat on the couch to make the call.
“Good morning.” Her mother sounded cheerful.
“I hope I didn’t wake you up.” Kaia picked up her coffee mug and took a sip.
“I wish. Your brothers wake up bright and early no matter when they go to sleep. I’ve been up since six in the morning, but I don’t mind. I like to start my day early.”
Kaia didn’t. She loved lazing in bed. “How is the village?” she asked.
“Beautiful, but we didn’t get to see much of it yet. When we got here, we were shown the café so we would know where we could get food, and then we were escorted straight to the house that we’d be staying in. Ingrid, the lady in charge of housing here, was kind enough to take a grocery list from me, and this morning, I found everything I asked for on our doorstep.”
“Did she get it for you?”
“I don’t think so. I think it was one of the Guardians, or maybe Kian’s butler. In any case, it was very nice of whoever did that.”
“How is the house?”
“It’s cute. Much smaller than ours, but Gilbert is happy. He says that everything is built to the highest standards, and he’s especially impressed with the soundproofing. It’s incredible. Once you close a door, it’s like you are in a recording studio. Complete silence. I’m glad that we brought the baby monitor with us so I can hear the boys.”
“Did they get their own room, or are they sharing with Idina?”
“There are only three bedrooms in the house, and from what Syssi said, that’s the largest model available at the moment, so it’s not like we can get something bigger. Idina and Cheryl are sharing a room, which Cheryl isn’t happy about, but Idina refused to sleep in the same room as her brothers. When Eric arrives, he will have to share a room with the twins or sleep on the couch in the living room. I hope he can stay with Darlene at her place, but I overheard her say something to William about there being complications. She might have a roommate that is not comfortable with Eric being there.”
“I can’t imagine Eric separating from her. If Darlene has a problematic roommate, she should ask for a house of her own. William says that they have plenty available.”
Kaia had never seen Eric so taken with a woman, but then he’d never brought any of his post-divorce girlfriends home for the family to meet. Perhaps that was how he’d acted with all of them, but she doubted that he’d regarded any of the women with the same adoration as he did Darlene.
“I’m sure they will find a solution. He’s really into her.”
“I know.” Her mother sounded excited. “I’m so happy for him. I’m crossing my fingers that all of this comes to pass. It would be very disappointing to find out that we went through all this hoopla for nothing.”
Kaia’s gut squeezed painfully. “I’m crossing my fingers as well.” She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. Forcing a cheerful tone by faking a smile even though her mother couldn’t see her, she asked, “What else? Did you get to meet anyone other than Ingrid?”
“Not yet. Syssi promised to introduce us to Nathalie, who has a daughter Idina’s age and a brother who’s a year younger, so they can play together.” Her mother chuckled. “Just to clarify, the two-year-old boy is Nathalie’s brother, not her son. These people are something else.” She paused and then asked in a worried voice, “Is your phone secure?”
“I didn’t get a new one if that’s what you’re asking, but William said that they reroute all communication from here through their servers and encrypt it. Just to err on the side of caution, though, we should talk around the topic of you-know-what.”
“Right. So, it’s a little strange how they all look so good. Anyway, later today, we are meeting with Doctor Bridget. I hope she can test whether Gilbert and Eric are related to Syssi.”
“Kian said that she can perform basic tests, and William told me that she checked the maternal lineage of other newcomers, so I assume that she can determine whether they are related or not. She probably has the equipment needed for checking mitochondrial DNA. It’s a much simpler test than the more robust DNA mapping test, and what’s needed to conduct it is not expensive.”
“It would have been interesting to get more detailed information on their genetics, and I suggested for the three of them to send swabs with their saliva to one of those genetic testing labs, but it would take too long to get the results back. They quote six to eight weeks, and none of us wants to wait that long. Anyway, Kian said that he was not comfortable with sending Syssi’s biological information to an outside lab. I get it, but on the other hand, I can’t understand why they don’t invest in a proper lab of their own. Having access to that kind of information could be crucial for their survival, and it’s not only about finding relatives.”
Kaia picked up her coffee mug and leaned back. “The equipment needed for mapping an entire DNA sequence is not cheap, and it requires training that an internist doesn’t have. But if they are interested and don’t mind spending the money on the equipment, I can help them build a lab. I’m not a geneticist, but I’m sure I can find instructions on the internet for what’s needed.”
These days, one could build a nuclear reactor from instructions available on the internet. The tricky part was getting enriched uranium, and even that wasn’t impossible to procure for the right price.
“It doesn’t seem like they lack resources,” her mother said. “I’m sure they have the money to purchase the equipment, and I have no doubt that they have the know-how as well. Kian told us about some of the cutting-edge technologies they are working on, so I’m sure they have what it takes to build a proper genetics lab.”
Kaia sighed. “The problem is motivation to make the investment. Syssi was the first carrier they discovered, and that was only four and a half years ago. After her, additional carriers were found, but they were few and far between. William told me that Bridget suspects that they are not going to discover anything anyway, and it will be a waste of time and resources. When you meet her, ask her why she thinks that.”
Her mother chuckled. “I wouldn’t understand her explanation. I’m a system administrator, and I know my way around hardware, but all that genetics stuff sounds like a foreign language to me. When you get here, you can make an appointment with Bridget, and the two of you can talk it out to your heart’s content.”
“I have a better idea. Can you postpone the meeting with her until William and I get to the village? We can all talk with her together.”
“I’ll ask Syssi if that’s possible and if Bridget won’t get upset with us for changing the appointment time. As far as our family goes, right now she’s the most important person in the village, and I don’t want to alienate her from the get-go.”
“We wouldn’t want to do that.” Kaia did some quick thinking. “William is a council member, which I’m sure gives him considerable clout. If he asks to be present at the meeting, Bridget won’t object.”
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||Epub||August 23, 2022|