Chapter 2

Mark looked at the Synthetic he had experimented on. It was now well and truly, dead. During the interrogation internal organs had been cut out, samples taken while it was still conscious and screaming for mercy. When the screaming had become annoying, he had just broken the things jaw again. The Synthetic had died with eyes full of fear, glad it's dead, as if the walking toaster knew it would be the final death. Mark had learnt that Synthetics without form, ones existing on the internet or networks were called Sentients. Mark was not one hundred percent convinced about machines believing in any kind of god. The number of times he'd heard that same excuse, 'god commands you to kill', what bollocks! It had always been a way to command the fearful masses into obedience, fear of damnation or whatever!

Mark sat and thought things were getting seriously surreal at the minute having encountered the 'Sliders', inter-universal travellers about a week ago- a strange event in itself. They had even asked for his help in modifying their 'timer', a device that allows travel between universes. How was he supposed to help with this? Mark had never really believed that kind of travel was possible, but as Horatio once said about "Heaven and earth" and all that jig. He considered going into the 'Hollow Hills' and asking for help there, but decided on going to the Bazaar for information, technological contacts there are usually very hard to find, although he did know one Deveel willing to share their expertise. He concentrated, closed his eyes letting the electric charge, or his Quickening, within cells build, until it could be contained no longer; visualised where he wanted to go. Teleportation like this felt almost like being underwater without the need to breathe, of being submerged within a huge ocean and riding the currents to your destination.

He arrived! All Mark could see were tents everywhere, of varying sizes, as he began to walk slowly examining the sights before his eyes. This part of Dimensional Market was populated by large amounts of Deveels who generally never fail to impress those new here, being almost six to seven feet tall, all had dark skin of varying hues different builds. Most had two horns on the top of their head, sharp canine teeth and two feet that possess large claws. It was easy to confuse Deveels with Satyrs, a mistake he had made the first few times –except Satyrs have the hind legs of a goat. Some of the Deveels he knew, nodding to them as he went. Many were conducting business transactions with dozens of races and beings he had no idea about. Onward he walked, eventually reaching Shazaars tent. Who as Deveels go was slight of build, exceptionally pale with a slight scar down his left cheek-which if Shazaar had told the truth had got fighting several Orcs, a rumour backed by others. He was currently wearing what appeared to be a very upmarket business suit.

"What brings you here?"

"Is that a Savillle Row suit?" inquired Mark, a slight hint of mischievousness in his eyes.

"Er….er…yes"

"Shopping a little far a field nowadays"

"Do you expect me to dress like you in BP vests?" retorted Shazaar. Mark was about to answer, his mouth began to open for a snappy remark.

"Nah, don't bovver answering that!" remarked Shazaar quickly, scratching his chin thoughtfully. "Well ya know, may as well look like a professional business consultant. Most of the others are dressed in usual breeches and fine silks- thought I'd step up my game"

"I've not seen you in a few years though". Far too long!

"Where else will you get others offering my kind of expertise around here" he exclaimed breathing deeply, expanding his chest proudly, briefly straightening a non-existent crease with a long claw. Mark knew technological or magical expertise was easy to come by here, but trustworthiness; like anything else that was a commodity here.

"I need a few things"

"Urgently?"

"When do I ever not?" Mark replied sarcastically. The Devil in question, sorry Deveel looked on expectantly as Mark reached into his coat and pulled out Quinns 'timer'.

"What is that?" he exclaimed wonder on his face.

"It's a device that opens wormholes to other universes"

"I've heard and seen a few things like this, nothing this antiquated" Shazaar stuttered slightly, obviously trying not to offend.

"Okay here's my list of requirements. One; I need you to set up some extra controls so that there is more control of destination, and produce a copy for me" Stated Mark, as the Deveel nodded his understanding. "Two; I also need to know where the planet Kobol is. Three if I give you some samples, can you tell me if there are any others tests I can do to determine whether human or not" he finished pulling a small black packet from a backpack.

"Jesus, Mary & Joseph! You don't fucking want much!" Shazaar shouted, incredulity in his voice- showing his set of perfect white canine teeth. His tongue started to rub against his teeth, slowly drawing blood. Mark had never seen Shazaar do this before, a new mannerism.

"Twenty million in diamonds". His immortal intuition had guessed at about twenty three million, which he had removed from safe. No blood wonder I don't come here very often at these prices! Mark removed a pouch from his inner pockets and tipped out the agreed sum.

"How the fuck did ya know what I were gonna charge?"

"How long?"

Mark also had no problem in giving them Quinn's device either, Shazaar was trustworthy, in the sense that he was completely mercantile and it all came down to money, or in the case of regulars like him- sometimes favours! He'd been told to come back in ten hours, and took a short walk to a nearby inn. Like all inns, hot running water and showers were available. The inn was called the Deveel's Pitchfork, one of the better places to stay. Mark noticed it was full of rowdy types most of which were getting completely drunk and decided to order a room and go straight upstairs out of the way.

"Can I have a single luxury room please?" Mark asked the female Deveel behind the desk.

"That'll be one gold coin" she remarked. Mark reached into another pouch and removed one giving it to the Deveel exacting the exchange as she gave him a key. "Room 4".

"Thanks" he murmured and went upstairs out of the way as the last thing he wanted was a fight. As he got upstairs he got another key out of his pocket, it was attached to a red leather strip stating 'hotel' on it. He'd used it once and it opened onto a strange room that was not there before and emerged miles away. Another item he would have to investigate. His mortal tiredness took over and for the first time in weeks he'd had no dreams about the usual dark arachnid asking him what he wanted.

While asleep he did have a revelation about Molly Caffrey and her mystery fractal pattern in Threshold. As each of the three curving lines made it's way inwards towards the centre, place a small circle on each turning it into a six and you got '666', the devil? Maybe this is where the symbol came from? Shazaar had supplied him with two 'timers', one was a spare. Quinn's device had been modified to allow the destination to be set, and any place visited stored in memory, where the energy came for all of this who knows? This could prove useful though, travel into other universes. Intriguing! The Deveel had also told Mark about the 'Lords of Kobol', and whereabouts it was located- "not in this galaxy!" He had also requested confirmation of his test on Synthetics, having developed a test that would confirm human or not by key enzymes in brain matter. It was possible to blood test for a 'normal' preternatural, what an oxymoron, and if it was a negative proceed to the brain. The other plan Mark was working on a plan to kill the Sentients by isolating the network, destroy any transmitters and use EMP's

"Shazaar I have one last question"

"Another!"

"Look this fractal pattern" explained Mark as he drew his shoto. The Deveel looked alarmed at this, as he drew the shape it on a bit of wood with a shoto and upon completion Shazaar went completely white. "If I add this" he said finishing the pattern, "I get, 666". Mark noticed his friend just put his head in his hands and sighed really loudly.

"The original pattern refers to a race so ancient they have no name! The second part is just how the original has been altered by your scholars over the years. If you're fighting them may as well kill yourself now!" and with that the Deveel stood and ran off. Fucking brilliant, now he's scared shitless! What should he do next?

A plan was slowly forming. One of the future crew of the space shuttle Odyssey, Angela, had told of a government Project called 'Bright Sky' which had determined the next target. Senators he could influence or kill; and it wouldn't be the first time for that either and certainly not the last- unless the world explodes. Mark had made the request directly to the President, Jack Ryan, about 'Bright Sky', all he would tell him was controlled through a medium sized company called Bright Sky Farms, not mentioning who the parent company were. It was unlike Jack to withhold information like that. Why won't he tell me? What does he know that I don't? Mark set all his resources to work on the 'holding company' while taking a drive to the Headquarters for Bright Sky Farms, which took a sedate three hours through some of the night while making and receiving a few calls.

It was just after some breakfast, about 10am that they all arrived. Mark drove, with the passengers Chuck and Neil Taggart, Angela, and Kurt

"You would be better waiting here as there will be security"

"Fat chance of that happening" remarked Kurt.

"You know me too well" stated Chuck brusquely exhaling cigar smoke while in the process of getting out the car. Brilliant! It's going to bad enough trying not to get myself shot.

All of them started walking towards the entrance of main offices for Bright Sky Farms which looked like any other modern company building; all glass and steel, tinted windows. Nothing special, but that's what you expect at a government facility, seemingly ordinary. Mark surveyed the area, and could see their own security, and noticed two of the idiots were currently watching them at the minute -talking into their small microphones. Mark walked into the reception area, with his reception committee, opening the door and produced his DoD badge to the very attractive bleach blonde who had lovely blue eyes that sparkled with an inner humour. She's stunning! Concentrate and went to business. He doubted it would be a walk through, and knew the likelihood of having to scare or intimidate innocents into capitulation would be high, he hated doing that, and occasionally went to their homes to apologise wracked with guilt. He didn't detect or notice any hidden agenda or 'tells' when she said this while looking at her name tag covertly, her name was Anne-Marie. Very beautiful.

"I'm here to see the CEO, where is his office?" he asked, although Mark already knew the answer. Be polite.

Anne-Marie, saw this guy walk through the door. He was quite about 5'10", quite a large build that moved with the grace of a dancer, or an Olympic athlete. She walked him, she really liked him, as she felt her face flush. Her relationship with her boyfriend was not going well; and she suspected he might be cheating on her. Maybe she should ask him out? His jacket covered looked similar to the kind the DEA, or FBI would wear, am I in trouble? She kept looking at his face and how gorgeous he was.

"I'll have to ring it through to his secretary" she answered automatically. Several people came through after him, one looked older with a brown leather jacket with a NASA insignia- didn't she recognise him? The younger boy, looked like this older man, father and son? The other man and woman both had similar coloured hair. She recognised both of them! One was the novelist, Kurt Mendel, who was the other?

"Sure" he said, "I'll wait. Can you mention it is urgent though?" Her blonde hair swung across her face, she was conscious that her slightly puffy eye might be visible; Ian had hit her accidentally last night, bastard! She moved her hair back in front of her face, covering the swelling, the bruise was invisible with lots of makeup and concealer.

"Valerie, Martin Cartwrights' secretary"

"Hi, it's Anne-Marie; I've got someone from the Department of Defence to see Martin. He says it's urgent"

"I'm sorry Martin is in meetings all day, I will ask Martin to call him back if the DoD representative will leave a card"

Mark saw the swelling around her eye, and her sheepishness that it might be visible. He could not right every wrong in the world that was for someone greater than him & used his Quickening to increase his senses, feeling his eardrums widen, and re-align so as to be able to hear Anne-Marie's conversation with a secretary, and the response.

"He's currently in a meeting" Anne-Marie said repeating the response. Mark knew that was a lie, but one told by the secretary on the other end not the receptionist.

"Pass me the phone, and I'll speak to his secretary" Chuck growled impatiently.

"I can't, it's not allowed" she replied a little sheepishly.

"This is a National Security issue, now pass me the damn phone" Mark soothed, answering in slightly hushed tones so as not to attract security. She tentatively gave him the phone.

He had always thought it amazing how many patriots there are when you say those two magic words, 'national security'; that or usually in fear as stories abound of those failing to comply, he certainly did not want to debunk the stories as fear can be a very weapon.

"Now Valerie, I intend to see the Martin right now, and any other senior directors. This is a matter of National Security. Do you understand what this means?" She took a deep breath, he could hear security starting to approach from both the external door and internally. Mark hadn't seen or heard the receptionist trigger any alarms, it must have been Valerie. Horseshit!

Mark saw the internal security guard check behind him that the two external 'backup' was in place and approached.

"I don't know who you are but you are going to have to leave or come back here with a warrant" His two associates were halfway to drawing their pistols. Mark wore gauntlets

covering the outside of his wrists, used nowadays to block knife attacks just in case someone caught him unexpectedly; better that than heal right in front of someone. Concealed under the gauntlets were seven shuriken that looked like sturdier versions of a nail which were usually thrown or inserted into a target. He'd had far too much experience doing it. He threw two, in the direction of those about to draw, straight into their gun hands, while the one behind never had a chance either. Mark struck him in the stomach with an elbow using a little enhanced preternatural strength and down went another. The two guards with shuriken in their hands were trying to rise, so Mark hit the first with a thumb strike directly to the temple, and the other got a two fingertip strike to the forehead. Three unconscious guards, and a very frightened receptionist. Fighting always got Mark horny, part of him wanted to fuck the receptionist. He enjoyed the thrill of blood pumping and the adrenaline.

"I'm not going to hurt you Anne-Marie, but go home now". He noticed that she nodded her head and dashed straight out the door in fear. He hoped she wasn't too scared.

"Jesus" moaned Chuck in the background.

"Was that really necessary" asked Chucks' son, Neil irritably. Mark walked through the internal doors towards the offices, and followed the directions of building blue prints he had examined and memorised only hours before. He knew exactly where the directors' offices were, but did not want to engage in a full frontal assault just in case there was no evidence of anything untoward, he dint want to look a prick in front of Jack Ryan, and might get into trouble. He hoped it wasn't going to be the latter and walked towards another security guard who stepped to block their way.

"I need to see your pass.." was all the guard got to say before Mark knocked him unconscious with a punch in the jaw. His immortal intuition was on fire with possibilities, something was very wrong here, and he had had the same feeling when walking into the building. He hoped it wasn't wrong. Mark walked around another corner to find yet another security guard being complacent and not looking his way. He approached him stealthily as he'd been taught by the ninja hundreds of years ago; feels like yesterday and used a thumb strike to the cerebral cortex, compressing it enough to temporarily effect vital function. Careful any harder would kill him and the body collapsed in his arms as he gently lowered it to the floor.

The XO of this company was an ex-CIA Black Ops killer, and he had enjoyed his job. At least until he's heard from his secretary that someone from DoD had barged their way in, and all this was very suspicious, plus one of his contacts had informed about weird things conspiring of late. So, trusting his instincts, he'd decided to start liquidating all his files, and anything incriminating, best be sure. Martin had just started to run a removal program of all data on his laptop, unrecoverable, and pull files from cabinets that would need destroying. He looked at the first file while turning on the shredder, and definitely need to get rid of this, and inserted the whole file.

Mark knew the XO of this company, an individual called Martin Cartwright. While he still had some of his build from his military training, he had aged, now in his forties, albeit balding and still a very shady character. Mark had helped train Martin when making selection to Delta Force. He had over the years trained quite a few killers, or was in turn known and feared by them and opening the door to find Martin stuffing a file into a shredder.

"Martin, sit down, and let me see your hands; now!" Mark said very slowly, trying to emphasise & hoping to avoid any conflict. Martin turned and blanched a very nasty shade of pale, and Mark concluded that he'd been recognised.

"You look just like someone I knew" Martin replied, colour returning to his face, flushing as he started to relax.

"Martin it's me, Mark. Now sit the fuck down or I will throw you into a nasty broken heap"

"It's not possible, you haven't aged" Martin commented, his hands beginning to shake. He's really lost it! As Mark walked towards him, causing Martin to blanche once more, looking more like a ghost by the second.

"I need all papers and files relating to the Project Bright Sky. Complete access no restrictions or I will rip your face off and leave you die" Mark commented pleasantly, noticing that Martin hands were trembling uncontrollably. The last time Martin had seen Mark rip some unlucky bastards face off, he'd stood next there watching and almost gagged as the prisoner slowly died. Mark could remember it like yesterday, the other prisoner told everything just for swift and merciful end; which he obviously obliged on. Almost twenty years ago, all the dead since then.

"Here's the files you wanted" Martin said, reaching into a filing cabinet and handing over several large manila files full of paperwork.

"What about project files & updates, objectives; personnel involved. Who you report to, that kind of shit?" Mark inquired, using his immortal senses to increase his hearing.

"It's all in these files" Martin replied. Mark heard his heart flutter and speed up, liar! He observed the pulse on his neck mirror the beat inside his body, and smell the change in pheromones.

"Now…Now Martin" Mark grimaced knowing what he was going to have to do, slowly undoing his jacket drawing a Shoto. "You know what happens when you lie" as Mark sliced off Martins' thumb, before he could move it away.

Martin knew he had lied. But who was this guy? Claiming to be someone he knew twenty years ago. This couldn't be Mark, he hadn't aged! Martin knew his life was probably going to end today, usually he had never feared in it. He thought again about the family, the one he could've had. If only he had taken a chance with that woman, he let this job get in the way too often! Please God don't let him die. He hardly made a sound as Mark cut his thumb off, blood spraying all over his desk, Martin slowly reached for hanky, applying pressure to staunch the wound. He will not give Mark the satisfaction of hearing him scream.

"Martin, what is missing from these files then?" Nothing, or no one could protect him, not from the people he was dealing with. That was why he gave up Becky, couldn't stand the thought someone would use her to get to him. He was expendable.

"Just research, budget details and emails off Senator Perry". Martin watched him reach inside his jacket, waiting for Mark to download his computer contents. He's dead either way. He wondered whether the Pete would talk, but he was an inhuman son of a bitch anyway. He'd met Pete's dad, who was about as tight lipped as a man co0uld be about to have a root canal at the dentist without anaesthesia.

"Who the hell do you work for anyway?" he asked quite aggressively, "where's security? Or are they all dead?"

Mark got what to a casual observer looked like an IPOD from his jacket, he knew it was specifically designed to be plugged into, or held next to a computer, enabling the gadget to download the contents. Sometimes these things take forever. Mark ignored the question, was that choking sounds from next door, and suddenly turning punched Martin in the jaw, watching as his ex-friend fell to the floor unconscious. Mark walked to the next room, and was confronted by a sight. Kurt was in a choke hold by a total weasel of a man, one of those growing old and refusing to age gracefully types. What little hair remained was all slicked back, obviously trying to obscure a bald patch with a ponytail, his eyes showed that he was nobody's fool though, taking in every detail and stared directly at Marks' BP vest and that he was armed.

"Where's security?" he asked a little nervously now.

"Let him go" requested Neil. It looked like this guy might actually break Kurts' neck.

"The ones I came across are now unconscious" Mark replied, taking a deep breath, "there's no help coming; now just relax" trying to keep his hands in sight. The last thing he needed was to escalate the conflict. He had memorised the names of major directors, managers with the descriptions in the files.

"Me or him" Kurt screamed in alarm, "you're not the one who might get their fucking neck broken"

"I'll kill him. I swear to fucking Christ I will"

"Then you'll lose your bargaining chip" Mark threatened. Kurt was not liking this one bit, it's his bloody life!

"There's no reason for anyone to get hurt, just let me out the door"

"No way compadré" exclaimed Chuck, exhaling smoke from his cigar. "You ain't going nowhere"

"Let him go, or he'll kill me" screamed Kurt.

"Let him go dad"

"No way" said Angela who already drawn her gun, pointing at the director.

"Don't shoot, you might hit me!" as Pete moved him in Angela's line of fire. Shit! Slowly the choke tightened, I can't breathe, as his struggling slowed.

"Lea…" as he coughed "….ve….hi…" another cough "….m…..let…." as Kurt tried to take in oxygen, half inhalation…followed by more coughing….

Neil noticed that Mark hadn't drawn his gun, but a short sword; some kind of Japanese affair. Presumably it was too risky to take a shot? Mark walked nearer to the director holding Kurt. Neil was getting worried his friend was going to die. Everybody close to me is at risk. Unsure what to do, whether to approach and wrestle him away from Kurt, hoping he wasn't synthetic, otherwise it was a strength contest Neil would lose.

"Let him go, it's not worth it"

"No way junior"

"Dad, he's killing him" he said pointing in Kurts' direction.

"I'm taking the shot" stated Angela. They were looking at Kurt's semi-limp form, noticing the pressure was still on his neck. He's killing him.

"No wait" exclaimed Chuck. Neil could not see Mark anywhere, and certainly had not seen him leave the office, where was he? "Put down the gun" suggested Chuck to Angela.

"You've got to be joking" she replied, slowly beginning to lower the firearm. All of a sudden Mark was behind the guy strangling Kurt, short sword at his throat almost cutting through skin.

"Let him go now, or it's all over". Neil saw their opponent start to lower Kurt, and then hoist him higher nearer his own body.

"Cut me and he'll die". Neil saw defiance in the directors' eyes, if he was going to die, someone would go with him. Shit and did the only thing he could; looked into his dad's eyes- understanding passing between them. Both dived at the same time.

Chuck saw the look in his son's eyes, Kurt is going die and we have to help him. It was almost like telepathy, but different. Maybe it was a bond between father and son, perhaps more; and it didn't matter. Save their friend and both ran at Kurt's assailant, at the same time. They'd seen the Earth destroyed, his wife killed before his eyes. Paige. Hopefully they hadn't brought the timetable of Earths destruction forward. Too late now! His friend was virtually unconscious, and if they didn't do something he would die. He saw as Mark pushed his short sword through the directors' throat, white 'goo' spraying across the blade. Synthetic! And he looked at Neil, his eyes pleading for his son to have seen the danger.

"Neil! No!" he shouted and saw the surprise in Marks' features as the creature ignored the blade in its throat, and dropped Kurt. It turned and with contempt grabbed Mark by the jacket and lapels of his BP vest, throwing him at a wall. Crack was all Chuck heard as presumably Marks' head impacted with a solid object, another dead. Utter dread was in Chucks' eyes, it had Neil by the throat, and simultaneously kicked Angela's hand; knocking the gun away. He looked briefly at where Mark hit the wall, he was still standing. There was a massive dent in his forehead, the bleeding had already stopped. Shock registered on his face, as the dent repaired itself, wound healing- little flecks of lightening beneath the skin.

"What the fuck" he mouthed, but no words emerging. His shock so evident it caused the synthetic to look. It all happened so fast, as Angela scrabbled for her gun.

Usually Mark would have sensed the attack, his years in the martial arts had granted him something called zanshin, an awareness, almost like a sixth sense. Some martial arts would still test its use today- a person would kneel and someone would attack from behind, the aim to roll away sensing the intent. As it was he felt nothing, saw no 'tells' to even give the attack away. He was thrown at the wall, cushioning most of the impact with his hands and arms, the strength of his assailant shocking him. Why did he not sense it the attack? Does it not work on them? As he felt his head impacting with the wall & legs buckling beneath his weight. Are they alive? He fell to his knees and letting his immortality take over, vampire side aiding in the healing process. Slowly he stood, fully healed, allowing his Quickening to flare. It sparked enough energy to certain genes; need the speed of a leopard. Mark moved preternaturally fast grabbing the synthetic by the throat, hardened finger tips, hands and nails through years of conditioning-squeezing; exerting greater than human pressure, his other hand grasping the synthetics arm that was holding Chucks son.

"Let him go or I'll rip it out" seeing shock register on the synthetic, surprised by his burst of speed, and squeezed some more, more white blood oozed over his fingers.

"I thought you were human" Mark said, fully healed.

"What the hell are you" it asked. He needed more strength, Quickening flaring, strength of the bear and struck it full in the face. The synthetic reeled, immediately let go of Neil, as half its face fell on the floor; the other half a complete mess.

"BANG…BANG…BANG" as Angela shot it three more times in the head, the synthetic finally collapsing to the floor with a meaty thud. Mark got his phone out of his pocket, shaking his head, looking for something to wipe his fingers on.

Kurt slowly began to awake, "My head" he exclaimed.

Angela heard employees rushing about everywhere, the gunshots had obviously panicked many of them. Shit, hope the police don't come, again! She really did not know what to make of things at the minute, not only were they trying to stop an unknown from destroying the Earth, but they had uncovered another faction, Cylons who did not seem to be working with the sentients/synthetics, allegedly. What a mess Angela thought to herself, as she helped Kurt to his feet. Kurt seemed a bit wobbly on his feet, so she decided to keep a hold of his arm, just to stop him collapsing again and slowly walked towards the desk, letting it take most of his weight. Angela noticed how pale he was.

"Maybe I should take him outside?"

"He'll be fine in a minute"

"Maybe you could shoot out a window, make some more noise"

"I didn't have a choice"

"Lets get everybody here sister. Have a party"

Mark was listening vaguely to this interchange, something preternatural was approaching. Familiar somehow, as his senses exploded into awareness. Power approached. He had no time to warn the others, and immediately set himself for the worst.

A well dressed Chinese man walked around the doorway, dressed in flowing robes. He appeared to be in his mid twenties to Kurt & Neil, while to Angela & Chuck his appearance was of a venerable sage with long dropping moustache. The woman that accompanied him on the other hand was a stunningly beautiful Chinese woman, wearing form fitting trousers, long dark silken hair with piercing emerald eyes.

"Who the hell are you?" inquired Kurt, "and like wow" he finished looking at the beauty.

"I wouldn't"

"Chian-Ku, Mei Li. What brings you here?"

"Stunning would be my word"

"I wouldn't, she's a dragon"

"What a terrible thing to say. No woman is that bad"

"No, she really is a dragon"

Mei Li heard that last comment from Mark, and felt a little hurt, or what equated for such in her species. Her irises went an even more piercing green as a single solitary tear escaped from the corner of her eye.

Chian-Ku looked at Mark, "How long have you known?"

"Since about 1920"

"What the hell are you both talking about?" asked Kurt.

"May I introduce the venerable Chian-Ku. And of course Mei Li, one of the last known existing Chinese dragons"

"You're actually fucking serious bout this?"

"Fraid so. Just to let you know guys. If you piss her off she really will eat you alive"

"Fucking hell"

"What's next, the Easter bunny?" retorted Chuck sarcastically.

"Is it just you two?" inquired Mark, with a worried expression on his face.

"I brought a couple of friends along" remarked Mei Li.

"Excuse the question, but are they dragons too?" Mei Li ignored Chuck's rather insensitive question, and wiped the tear from her eye catching the fluid on a perfect nail.

"Dad. Now look what you've done. You made her cry"

"Ah…shit! I'm sorry honey. I didn't mean to"

Chian-Ku steepled his fingers, "As a matter of fact one is a vampiress; head of her own bloodline and the other, a hybrid"

"I'm sure I speak for all of those that don't understand vampire politics, but what does that mean exactly?"

At this point in time, they were all busy looking into every 'nook & cranny', searching for information. Kurt had found a door that required a key code, so in order to get in Mark, had placed his hand against numbers, and the door had opened.

"How the hell did you do that?"

"Magic".

At this point in time, he was almost ready to believe such existed, if only he could, there must be a rational explanation and walked through opening. Kurt could see some stairs that lead down, of modern design being made of metal.

"Follow me"

"What does that make me, Tonto?" remarked Kurt. "Actually on second thoughts, don't answer that" and followed Mark down the stairs. He was not really prepared for what he saw, but then, the former novelist, potential future astronaut and hopefully one of saviours of the world had changed quite a lot of late- his attitude had become less selfish; most of the time, but no one's perfect.

"Why the hell are they caged?"

"Cos' they're not human anymore"

"Why don't you cut out being cryptic and give me….a straight answer…for once"

"Er….sorry Kurt. I'm just under a bit of pressure at the minute. They are 'improved'"

Kurt watched as Marks' hand rubbed against the metal, what is he doing?

"Mmmmm, Kurt feel this, it doesn't feel like any metal I've come across"

"Is it safe?" Kurt really hoped the answer was a yes, but nowadays having seen the Earth destroyed the only certainty was death at some point.

Mark was in some kind of basement with Kurt, and the metal was not of human origin and he could say this as inside were two 'improved' human specimens who had either not tried to escape, or had been unable to. He was slightly concerned about fighting 'improved', and despite his ability to heal, it did not make them invulnerable; he'd heard of 'improved' humans using feats of strength that were beyond any vampire or immortal. So far, his immortal system had proved immune to infection, but would it last? What was worrying was that these alien hybrids seemed to intent on infecting the rest of the world through whatever means necessary. He liked the world, although not those that ran it. There was no way Mark was going into that cell if he didn't have to, not without backup; is this fear? Terror? It's been a long time since he'd felt out of his depth. Sweat began to break out on his brow.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm f..f..fine" Mark stuttered in reply. He'd be glad when today was over, and watched as Kurt made his way over to a computer.

"Mind if I examine the computer files?"

"S….s…..sure "

Kurt was a little bit concerned, and watched a trickle of sweat run down the line of Marks' face, down his chin and onto the floor. Something is bothering him, and slowly began to try to hack into the files and watched helplessly as Marks' legs gave way and he collapsed to the floor.

"Shit. Are you okay" he asked looking down at the seemingly unconscious form of their would-be helper.

"A little help down here. Help!" screamed Kurt and ran up the stairs. "Help here dammit".

Minutes later, Chuck, Angela and Neil looked at Mark lying unconscious on the floor.

"What's wrong with him?"

"I'm no doctor! Maybe the Chinese fella here knows" said Chuck pointing his cigar at Chian-Ku.

"What are you looking at?" asked Neil of Mei Li.

"Oh, nothing" she replied looking from the corner of the room back to supine figure of Mark. Then slowly his body became transparent, and slowly faded into nothing leaving an empty space, and a pile of weapons upon the floor.

Watching in corner of the room unknown to everyone, except the two new arrivals, was a Fire Lord; having no spare energy to help as it watched helpless.

Weeks later, Mark had followed Senators Perry's car, as it stopped very briefly before a massive steel door. This door opened and his car drove into a specially designed lift and as the doors shut, Mark used magic to keep himself invisible; using what some martial artists would refer to mystical invisibility, a talent reserved for aged masters, he had been a practitioner of the ninja arts for almost 600 years, and had had quite a lot of practice. Waiting and watching as the car descended, in the military lift which finally came to a halt several floors down. The doors opened and stayed ajar; as two soldiers walked in and opened the door for the Senator who walked into the room with three people who were sitting at a large table waiting. The guards took up positions on either side of the lift, and Mark slipped by them unnoticed. He was more interested in the people waiting for Senator Perry; Caitlin Scott who was Chuck's boss at NASA and judging from the stripes on the army office that was certainly a General sitting there, one Mark was not familiar with and had not met before. This is getting seriously freaky.

"Well?" asked Senator Perry.

"We count 22 Sentient hives" said the unfamiliar General as lots of red clusters appeared on the large screen behind them.

"Plus, we believe that Chuck Taggart is currently working with them, because of his sabotage of the 'Bright Sky' probe, designed to destroy them". Mark could not believe that revelation, their sabotage had possibly doomed them all.

"I'm sorry we cannot locate your daughter yet Senator"

"Keep looking".

Mark observed this exchange, standing near the Senator Perry, and took his moment to drop his magic; and to the others watching he would appear to shimmer and appear out of nowhere.

"Guards!" shouted Senator Perry.

"Don't bother" remarked the General, "they won't do any good"

"You know him?" inquired then Senator.

"Is he one of them?" asked Caitlin

"No. The President was supposed to have steered him away from this" stated the General, and turning to look at Mark, "So you found out then?"

"Did you doubt otherwise?" Mark replied contemptuously.

"You're the reason my daughter was kidnapped!"

"If you incompetent dicks had let in on this big secret I would have helped you earlier. Prevented all this catastrophe" Mark replied waving his arms in their direction.

"Maybe we didn't want your help, whoever you are" Caitlin remarked, venom in her tones.

"As the General here seems to know me I'm sure he can verify my statement. My name is Mark Sabat and I have been helping Presidents of the USA since Thomas Jefferson"

"You can't seriously expect us to believe that!" shouted Senator Perry and Caitlin in unison.

"General"

"As far as we can tell it's all completely true! There are portraits of him, or someone identical to him with every President up to Truman. Why it stops there we don't know"

"Impossible! What are you? A machine? Alien?" asked Caitlin.

"That's not the question you need to ask. What you should be asking is how Chuck Taggart knows about Sentients"

"Probably a pawn, or been bought off" answered the General.

"Wrong…wrong….wrong! His story is an interesting one really; would you like to know?"

"Enlighten us" remarked the Senator, tiredness in his tones.

"Well the story starts five years in the future. Chuck, his son Neil and his new friends were; will be; this where grammar gets mixed up" stated Mark, looking in the corner of the room and seeing the Fire Lord that had been watching him all these years for the first time. For once in his long life he understood and saw the 'big picture', about the gods and the Planetary Dragon. He smiled.

"You make it sound like time travel"

"It is"

"Oh come on. This isn't a sci-fi novel"

"You see in five years time they saw the Earth destroyed, everyone and everything annihilated; gone"

"Then what? They worked out time travel?" answered the General sarcastically.

"Nope. An alien Artificial intelligence that had seen this happen on forty different worlds caught their shuttle just before air ran out. Unable to go back itself, and physical time travel impossibility, it catapulted their minds back five years-in the hope they could save us all"

"That's a fairy tale"

"I'm sure the General knows my reputation; I'm not lying"

"So what now?" asked Caitlin.

"We bring Chuck in on this" Mark stated.

"Absolutely not. He's a liability, from what Caitlin has told me"

"His wife died because of a synthetic you wanker! Right in front of you" Mark shouted pointing at the Senator.

"We knew she died, but not the causes"

"She was controlled by a synthetic that was going to kill you Senator, and Chuck risked all to stop it; and lost his wife in the process"

"Shit! I never knew" Senator Perry replied, his tones shaky.

"So I'm going to tell Chuck whether you like it or not"

"Not if we don't let you leave" stated Caitlin.

Mark concentrated for a brief second, and let his Quickening flare activating the magic inside him; and turning his attention to the soldiers, directed his will at their firearms, do not work, do not work, "Shoot me then". He saw the general just shake his head sadly, almost as if he knew something would go wrong.

"Shoot him then!!" screamed Senator Perry.

"Sir, you're going to have to come with us" remarked a soldier, gun levelled at Mark's midsection; while his colleague did the same.

"No" and Mark walked towards the soldier. Already he could feel the air down here had gone a little bit stale and almost hot, thick with his power, that's magic for you.

"Freeze! Don't come any closer or I will shoot you"

"What do I have to do for you to shoot me? Go one you cowardly fucker, pull the trigger". Mark watched as one of the soldiers faces' contorted in rage and pulled to trigger. Nothing happened. Finally his face turned to bemusement, back to anger as he drew a sidearm and tried to shoot again. His colleague pulled the trigger on his machine gun, again nothing!

"Right, glad we've got that out of the way. Now Chuck is brought in on this, or does anyone want to argue with me"

"What do you think he can do? How is he going to help?"

"Right now, he is after a bit of moon rock"

"Fuck. Stop him, he doesn't know what he's doing"

"Yes he does. And he had backup from an associate of mine. Now I expect to be kept fully updated on events. You need my expertise" said Mark drawing his gun, "now my firearms do work, or does anybody want a field test?" He asked pulling the trigger as one of his bullets punctured the Senators tires. "Now we do it my way"

"What are you going to do, shoot us?"

"Actually no" replied Mark, holstering the weapon, "it was just to prove that I have unique skills, you need"

"Just do it" said the General, "it's the best way. He knows what he's talking about"

"So who is he?" inquired Senator Perry.

"Let's just say that there's a picture of him standing with Lincoln before he was shot. And it's not a fake, we tested" replied the General resignedly.

"Impossible, no one lives that long"

"Actually Senator, that's not quite true. But to all intensive purposes he has survived and worked with just about every President since Lincoln, working with others to protect not just this country. At least as best as we can tell"

"This is fairy tales!" Shouted Angela's father, "how can you allow this?"

"He is capable of doing things that other soldiers cannot," said the General, rubbing his chin obviously searching for the right word, "for example get in here undetected despite the surveillance. His immune system seems to be able to repel any infection, virus, or injury without ill effect. We've studied his tissue and whatever it is, is beyond us at this minute"

"So you're saying that we can trust him"

"Implicitly Senator, if anything more than anyone. He has not one ounce of interest in politics and couldn't care about your policies. As long as what you do does not put people in danger"

"So what if I believe you"

"You don't have to, ask the President"