Contagion - Book Two

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Chapter Seven.

Alex looked across to Peter. “It’s started; they have made contact.” Peter smiled.

“My they certainly took their time, we shall have to proceed very carefully my friend, it would be a shame, or should I say a catastrophe if we were to reveal our hand in this global charade.”

Their thoughts were interrupted with a videophone link illuminating on one of the inner walls.

“Excuse me sir; the people that you were waiting for have arrived. Shall I escort them in?”

Peter hesitated; he had not seen his mother other than on the videophone for some years, and he had not realised, but the thought suddenly occurred to him that while she was here, that he was no longer technically the head dog. The vast empire actually belonged to his mother, at least that was, as long as she was still alive.

Peter admitted to himself, that since he arrived here all those years ago, she had left him to his own devices, and only passing opinion when advice had been sought. Yet this still was her business, her baby, and her vision that had been nurtured and allowed to grow into a vast empire with Peter at the helm.

The humble guard on the outer parameter had not realised the older lady sitting in the limousine was actually the person who paid his wages.

“If you have verified their identity and are absolutely sure they are who they claim to be, then I suggest you had better…if not you will find yourself out of a job.”

The joke was lost on the guard; he was simply carrying out his orders and had never even heard of, let alone seen this lady before. It took a further twenty-three minutes before the vehicle slowed to a halt outside a ringed area fence, and again under armed guards who patrolled this inner parameter. This time identification was electronically verified before the vehicle had even stopped.

Quietly the electrified gates opened allowing the car-unhindered passage; and within the sight of the checkpoint were various outbuildings that hid a wealth of modern surveillance equipment. A few minutes later the vehicle entered into one of a cluster of these buildings, and momentarily the car slowed; as two large barn size doors opened. A few seconds later the vehicle entered what appeared to be an apparently empty building. After the car effortlessly drifted with silent ease into the room, the outer doors closed.

The passengers with their blacked-out windows, had not realised that even now they were descending some fifteen levels into a vast sub-terrain complex. As the wall opened in front of the vehicle it revealed a different world to that of the one outside.

It took a further thirteen minutes of travel, before the passengers were asked to disembark from the vehicle and were then escorted under constant surveillance into a private inner sanctum away from the military.

At every stage of their journey, Peter had remained in telepathic contact with his sister, reassuring her at every moment that she showed even the slightest of apprehension.

“Listen sis, it will be a few minutes yet before I shall be with you, the room you are about to be shown into is actually a secret lift. It will bring you down a further five levels to where I work,”

Christine had never stepped foot into this establishment before, yet she knew intimately every detail, having seen them over the years through the eyes of her brother.

As for Elaine, the complex had changed out of all recognition to the one her mother had known and purchased over thirty years earlier. It had originally been a military missile complex that had been decommissioned some years earlier, and when Christine senior had shown an interest in acquiring the site, land was incredibly cheap and readily available. In truth the United States government had been only too pleased to have found someone to take the complex off their hands. Christine been gifted with astute business sense, had seized the opportunity and negotiated with the military, and later had handed the entire empire over to her daughter Elaine.

Peter never once became involved in this side of the family business, and his mother had given him freedom of passage in his line of research, and now with the military connection; the family secured an almost bottomless budget, and they had become a force of immense power.

Meanwhile back at the Farmstead, Michael had succeeded in eventually paring up with Mary Jane; his brothers had by age and strength, managed to sort out between them who among them, were to take a human partner.

The fall had started early; and it was in fact only a matter of weeks after their arrival. The attack by the bear had been brought on by the beast seeking an easy meal, it had been desperate to have put on extra weight, and as if it had somehow, even unexplainably of known the coming fall was to be extreme in its harshness.

The family had been wise and had stockpiled an ample supply of wood for their winter fuel, also their root cellar had been well constructed, but was sadly depleted in its stock. The flu pandemic had taken the family, or the illness as they had called it, and it was only thanks to young Jamie, and his skill with a gun, that the family had managed to survive. He had recently made some good sustenance kills, and the family had some venison that had then been cut up and smoked.

There was additionally a quantity of wild Salmon, squirrel, and rabbit and even bear meat. All had like the venison, even if it had been smoked and preserved for winter usage. Young Isaiah had wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps but had almost died after contracting the strange illness which had devastated the family and had left him greatly weakened.

His stature as a result had been stunted; Michael had seen the child’s pain and mental torment. So, he resolved to reach Mary Jane’s heart through the child; and he would take care of the child and teach him new skills, within two months the child could read and write and had learnt how to maintain and look after the family’s one and only vehicle.

Graham who was one of Michael’s brothers, had left the homestead for a few days, only to return with a military flatbed pickup, along with a mechanical cultivator and a selection of tools. There was a quantity of munition, and tin and dried vacuum-packed food and also construction material.

Michael had sent him on a scavenger hunt, knowing they would need to update their equipment if they were to make the homestead a viable project.

“Heck Mr, why have you all this ammunition, Pa and his brothers used to make their own?”

Graham looked over to his brother and raised his eyebrows, “Well let’s just say these are rather specialised, and not really the sort that you and your family have used before.”

As the child opened one of the munition boxes he stepped backwards, there within the container was a quantity of grenades, tools and other devices that he had never seen before. In one of the boxes he could see what looked to him like extra-long bullets, approximately seven to eight inches long.

“Good lord Mr, what in hells name are you hoping to kill with one of those?”

Graham laughed.

“That my friend is not for animals, it’s designed especially for the military to penetrate through armour plating.”

“From the look of things, I would say you had a successful hunt, are you sure you have left no way that they can trace you back to here?”

It amused him the way this family openly spoke what it had thought. Graham admired his brother and like any pride, he knew his place. Mentally he spoke to one of his brothers.

“Fear not my brother, mother taught us well, I came across a small arm dump some ninety miles west of here, and it was only guarded by five-part time soldiers, and two who were on gate duty, the remaining three were in the bunk house. I have cut up their bodies and placed their meat among these food packages.”

He paused as some of the children walked past him, once they had cleared the immediate area, he continued.

“I took only what I thought we could use, then left the area open and exposed to the wild elements. I had noticed a hungry female bear with three cubs some two miles outside the parameter. The smell of blood will bring them there long before any replacements arrive, and it will take weeks before they realise anything is actually missing.”

Michael was impressed at his brother’s ruthlessness, yet astute shrewdness.

“Well done, ensure the family do not get to see or eat the human meat, it should not be difficult to keep it hidden for our use only.”

The entire conversation had taken only a few seconds, and was done through telepathy. Michael chose the best of the material and gave it to Mary Jane, yet ensuring his family had ample choice, and that they were more than satisfied with the pickings.

He had learnt from his mother, far more than from Robert, he was a good father but in the early days was always away a lot working. The daily duties of bringing up the children had been left to Juliet, she in turn taught them well. It had been greatly increased by the fact that each child was born with the said knowledge of its parents, Juliet’s job was to cultivate it and bring it into the open. Teaching each new cub as she liked to call them, how to control their strength and develop their mental abilities.

Mixing with humans had to be learnt; as in the earlier years it had even presented her with some considerable problems, which was to be eventually resolved by Juliet employing Mexican peasants that had wondered into the area trying to steal from the ranch?

If the conditions were right, Juliet would offer them work, knowing they would be fortunate if they lasted longer than a few weeks. On several occasions in those earlier years, one or more of her cubs had for some reason been angered by something and not realised their strength. The human bodies were easily disposed of, as they offered an excellent meat supplement.

Later as the family grew and in time acquired some human partners, her task became considerably easier. Her daughters soon took on the task of baby-sitting and quickly learnt to control any possible mishaps. By the seventh year there had been no further accidental deaths, humans were respected, and her cubs were taught to be cautious and had learnt the value of not drawing unnecessary attention to them or to other members of their family.

It had not taken long before word had reached all local residence, that the area was privately owned and largely under police control, there had been the occasional opportunist or passing travellers that sort after an easy meal, or were tempted by the remoteness of the site; and only once did one such young woman ever find her way off the property, she flagged down an approaching vehicle, and managed to escape capture, never to be seen in that area again. Unknown to Robert and his family, it was this very person that had in time alerted the interest of Mrs Undraus.

Michael took his responsibilities with great pride; he knew that survival of his kin took precedence, and that he had somehow found a golden opportunity for their survival, and that if handled with care they would secure his bloodline and that of his family.

“If we are to survive this coming fall, we must then secure a further supply of food,” said one of Michal’s brothers.

Andrew looked up at his brothers.

“Would you allow me and Graham to take care of that?”

Michael nodded. The two men made the necessary preparations and then departed taking young Jamie with them.

“Jamie do you remember you told me of some Moose that you and your Pa shot last fall?”

Jamie smiled.

“I Shaw do; would you like me to take you to the general area?”

Graham nodded indicating yes. Already there was a thick layer of snow on the higher peaks; the fall had started several weeks earlier than expected, and some of the animals had been caught out and were not fully prepared. In the distance the three could hear a pack of wolves warning them they were approaching onto their territory.

That night the three made camp, then set out early before the morning sun could even give minor relief from the bitter cold. It was Andrew who noticed that they themselves, were been stalked; from the vantage point of a high ridge, the three viewed an old grisly slowly following in the distance.

“He’s been injured; can you see how he limps slightly on his rear left leg?”

Jamie observed quietly.

“That’s old Minstrel, he killed my uncle and two of his kin.”

Then undoing his shirt, he reached his left hand towards his neck and lifted an object to show his companions.

“Here look, this is a claw that I took from him.”

Both Andrew and Graham could hear the pride, yet also see and sense the hatred within the young man’s voice, yet even then they admired his strength of spirit, especially for one so young and small.

“It was me that gave him that limp, I sank three shots into his hind, but he was so strong that he kept running until I could no longer reach him. My third shot made him stumble and hit his paws against a large boulder. Such was his rage that he thrust out and split the rock but lost a claw in the process.”

The grin on his face told a story by itself.

Jamey continued talking.

“Please be careful, he’s an astute one and knows full well we are here, my Pa would say he’s bidding his time, and just waiting for one of us to lag behind or make a mistake.”

“We will deal with him later my little one, for now let’s find were these Moose are holed up.”

It took a further three days before the group came upon two Magnificent Moose and had quickly made a kill. Jamie had been given the honour of firing the first shot, dropping the Moose with a single shot. Both men knew how to win the child’s friendship and trust; they had treated him as an equal and had shown confidence in his ability as a hunter and marksman.

Also, neither had forgotten how when they first came upon the family that they had been taken by surprise and had not even known of their presence until it was too late.

Soon the animals were skinned and sliced into various packages; the group was acutely aware of the wolves and decided to leave a quantity of bones and meat to feed the pack. By the next day they had acquired a further two Moose and had similarly dispatched them.

Jamie had enquired as to how they were to carry all this new meat back to the farmstead. Unknown to him they had already informed the others of their success and had asked for a further three adults to assist in their return. Graham had warned them of old Minstrel, stating that he was by far the largest bear that he had ever seen, and had given strict instructions that he was to be avoided, and to be left for the boy.

On their way back their progress had been hindered by the vast back packages that both Graham and Andrew were carrying along with laden snow slays that they had made and were pulling. Graham abruptly stopped; Andrew looked at his brother.

“Good lord man they are going to attack.”

He had hardly uttered those words when a pack of savage and hungry wolves appeared over the brow of a small hill, and which was only a few yards ahead of them, it was as if they sensed something unnatural about them, and that combined with their hunger, had drove them on.

Incredibly Jamie’s reflexes were impressive, and he had downed three of the leading wolves before the pack had reached the group. Even laden down by the back packs, both Graham and Andrew moved with incredible speed and physically fought off some of the animal, giving Jamie the opportunity to down the Alpha wolf and his female. The pack suddenly dispersed as quickly as it had attacked.

“Good lord did you ever see anything like that?”

Jamie smiled.

“It’s the fall; they are desperate and saw us as an easy meal.”

Both men looked across to Jamie; he was already skinning the lead wolf and had been excited by the suddenness of the occasion and the kill.

“That lad is a formidable opponent; his bloodline would benefit the pride.”

Michael back at the homestead had picked up their thoughts; he chewed over the incident in his mind and that of his brothers’ views. He decided to later bring up the subject with his new wife.

“Mary Jane, tell me what you think of letting young Jamie marrying Evolin?”

Evolin was one of Michael’s sisters; she and Ann had followed along with their brothers when they left the security of the ranch. Jamie had not been shy in showing his interest in Evolin; also, his actions had not gone unnoticed by Michael and the others.

“We need to rebuild this family, he has proven his ability as a man and a provider, and I know this will sound harsh but if we are to survive, we need to grow in number.”

“Shush man, how is it you always seem to read my thoughts?”

Incredibly Mary Jane had wanted to pair the two together but had not been sure how Michael and the others would take to the idea.

“I know city folk don’t agree, but us hill folks, kind of marry early and look upon life, as…, well sort of different. Heck it’s hard enough as it is to live here, without having to worry about city folk’s opinion; the two would make a fine couple, and with luck bring up some fine and healthy children.”

As for the demon, it had taken three months to make its way from the UK to New Mexico, it had considered leaving the host body, but had soon realised its superiority in strength and intellect. This animal that it had acquired was like nothing it had ever experienced before.

Hiding itself in the hull of a cargo ship had been easy. After a few days the dog had been discovered and adopted by one of the crew. Killing rats on a regular basis had impressed the ship captain, and within a short time the animal had been given free movement of all lower decks.

However, when the ship was due to dock the animal had quietly made its own way to dry land, it had then been a matter of finding its way to the Institute, and after several days the dog had reached the outer perimeters, and observed the movements of various personnel, along with the numerous security dog handlers.

Unexplainably one of the military dogs had been found with its throat ripped out, the handler had as usual, secured the animal in its holding pen as soon as he had gone off duty, only to arrive the next morning to find it lying in a pool of its own blood.

Later that day, by what was thought to be a chance meeting, the handler had noticed a beautiful animal, and looking as if it was hungry and dirty, and scavenging for food among some shop bins. After a few days he had decided to try and win the animals trust, and to see if he could capture it. Within a further two days the animal lay quietly washed and fed in the guards handling pen, which he had used for his previous dog. It was soon realised that the animal was intelligent and very capable of replacing his lost partner.

After undergoing an intense training routine, the animal had been vaccinated and passed for military use; and by the seventh week of having allowed its new owner to capture it, the creature was patrolling the outer sanctum of the Institute.

It had observed that every three days the guards were rotated and given duties in one of the inner sanctums, before been sent back to the outer parameters. When it came to the guards turn to patrol the inner sanctum, the creature had acquired as much intelligence as it could find, even reading documentation and wall plans. On the third day its handler was discovered, he appeared to have died from unnatural causes.

The autopsy was to later show that his heart had been impounded with such force that he was killed instantly. The dog was never found and had somehow disappeared into the background. The incident had been brought to Peter’s attention, making him aware that the demon was now closing in.

Elaine had settled, and she knew it was really her that the beast had wanted, and that it would also attempt to destroy her family in its crazed effort for revenge.

Her knowledge of the Institute had surprised even Peter, as unknown to him the military had honoured their agreement with Elaine and had kept her fully updated with the internal layout of the site. Meticulously she had studied every new blue print, until she was sure in her mind, that had it been necessary, then she could walk those corridors in the dark.

The military were aware of the impending visitor and had received strict instruction from the joint chief of staff to fully co-operate with Mrs Elaine Armstrong. She in turn had thought over the issue of how Adam had been stopped and prevented from harming her.

In those early years after her father’s death, and as her adult-hood had approached, a vision had come to her one night in a dream, where she thought she saw her father and Amanda, running along the beach. Adam had been chasing her, then he changed direction and headed straight towards Amanda, and at first, she had not seen her father; but then slowly he materialised from a mist and became part of the scene.

In her mind she could see the memories from her mother’s dreams, Adam’s bike somehow skidded and he had fallen onto the wet soft sand; and the bike seemed to be sinking slowly, but had gone unnoticed by Adam, as it had been much heavier and in that area, the sand had not been able to support its weight.

Elaine could see in her mind, Adam as he chased after Amanda, and was ignoring even Peter, and then incredibly Adam had become trapped, and his legs had sunk into the soft sand; already it had reached above his knees. Peter and Amanda seemed unaffected, and almost appeared to be tormenting him, as well as teasing and provoking him, and then Peter took hold of a gun and shot Adam at almost point-blank range through the head.

The first time that Elaine had experienced that dream, she had awoken screaming and covered in sweat, the next night she had the same dream again; only this time she found the strength to see it through. Incredibly Adam never died; he simply healed over as if the bullet had never passed through his skull.

In later years she was to remember that dream almost as if it had been trying to inform her of something. Then only five months ago, just days before the police had informed her of the demon creature that was stalking the land, the dream had returned. But this time she could hear the words been spoken, and of how her father had informed Adam that he knew of the demon that was inhabiting his body. Also, of how it would keep him alive, regardless of the eternal torment that he was to suffer been entomb in his sandy grave.

Now as she lay on the bed in her new room, and within the confines of this vast sub-terrain town, she knew exactly what was required of her to ensure this beast never again tormented her family. She had given instruction to the military, to have certain equipment shipped from one of her founder companies and had ensured it had been fully installed and tested long before her arrival.

Only three people had been aware of the purpose of this equipment other than herself, all were now fully off the site and unreachable by the creature. It was now a question of time; and she knew the inner most sanctums were staffed fully by those under Peter’s full control.

All telepathically linked and acutely aware of even the slightest of changes, which was because of their animal instincts. That combined with the highest quality surveillance equipment would have made it impossible for even a flea to cross the border areas that surrounded the lower and innermost sanctums.

All who wanted access, were forced to enter through a huge bombproof door, capable of withstanding a nuclear blast, or even an underground tremor caused by an earthquake. The floor walls and ceilings were all lined with touch sensors, and it took thirteen minutes for a human to walk from one door to the opposite doors, and these in turn would not open until the first set of doors had been fully closed. The entire complex had been cut from solid rock and in truth was almost impregnable, Elaine knew better than to say it was fully impregnable, as even she realised that not every variable could ever be taken into consideration.

Robert shifted in his seat, Juliet could sense his unease, and that he had been uncomfortable with the feeling of helplessness. Whatever happens here, he knew it would affect his family’s future, what concerned him even more, was if he had the strength to negotiate such an agreement, and that would benefit both parties.

He knew they also needed him, and without their help the world would never reach into the Portland Institute, as only he and Juliet had the key knowledge and ability in giving them the information they required; or at least that’s what the Undraus family thought, and in truth Robert had no intention of telling them otherwise.

However, what the Undraus family had not been aware of, was each child had been born with the knowledge of its parental donors, as a result there was not a single hybrid in Roberts family that was not fully aware of the layout of the old institute, and of the work been carried out there.

Peter had developed a method of shielding certain information thus preventing the new-born siblings from accessing that area of memory. However other than that any one of them could have given them the information that they had required.

Mr Undraus spoke. “It is our concern that the Portland Institute is developing a breed of human hybrid’s, who it would appear are immune to the viruses, and which we firmly believe they have been developing, and in time they intend to release them into the world. We are also acutely aware of your own formidable physic and mental abilities; in truth unless we act soon, we fear the world will be colonised by a new breed of humans, and who will use us mere mortals as slave labour, or even possibly, for food.”

It was those last words that brought a small smile to Juliet’s face.

“What is it then that you require of us?” enquired Robert.

Andrew Undraus took in a deep breath, exhaled and then spoke. “In truth we would rather you and your fellow hybrid family never existed, but then that is not the case; you are here, and that is an unavoidable fact, and from our observations you have cut yourselves a comfortable life style; and in your own right you have proved your desire to survive and to live in harmony with fellow humans.” Andrew pause a few seconds then continued.

“In truth many of your human colleagues have spoken very highly of you, we are even aware of some inter-marrying, clever, very clever of you to have realised that to blend into society that you needed human assistance, and help in keeping the genetic blood line alive.”

Robert was becoming angry and wished he would cut the crap and simply state his case; Andrew paused as he lowered his head slightly, listening to instructions from Mrs Undraus.

“Ah I have been informed you are uncomfortable with my babbling, I’m sorry you feel that way; however, it is imperative you are aware of the situation you are in, and that we have the upper hand.”

That was a mistake, Juliet leapt from her seat travelling some fifteen feet in a single bound. Andrew found himself pinned to the floor helpless and unable to move from the shear strength of this woman on top of him.

“Juliet no, it will do you no good to kill him, he is a weak mortal and only a puppet doing his masters bidding.”

Juliet grudgingly moved away and returned to her seat, as Robert spoke.

“I don’t think you realise just how much you need us, and if we are to give you the assistance that you require, you will not only need our knowledge but also our strength and co-operation.”

Andrew took some seconds to regain his posture; he had never faced such a formidable opponent before. It was Robert who took over the talking.

“It is to my family’s advantage to work with you, and we have already weighed up what is required. You see while you have been talking and making arrangements to have my wife and I brought here, we have been acquiring some insurance policies of our own.”

Andrew looked concerned; he had not anticipated this and had felt sure his family had covered all possible variables.

“You are aware of my family, yes, even by now many of those members in various positions of power.”

Robert paused, breathing in slowly and keeping the suspense time, to just linger for a few seconds more.

“However, I assure you there are others, and they are unknown to you, unknown even to the society that they inhabit, it’s what I believe your society term as sleepers.”

There was stillness in the room, so Robert continued talking.

“They have the ability to walk among you humans unrecognised and mistaken for mere mortals. Since we became aware of your involvement these people had been instructed to activate a long-planned operation and put into place a certain insurance measures that you humans have no defence for.”

His words truly scared Andrew, and he could be visibly seen to been updated by those talking to him.

“I have here a small sample of what I am talking about.”

Robert had been searched before he had arrived at the complex, yet in front of Andrew a small container appeared in Robert’s hand.

“I don’t understand where you acquired that from?” enquired Andrew. But before Robert could answer, Andrew fell to the floor grasping at his head, it was evident that he was in incredible physical pain.

A voice was then heard coming from what was some kind of built in speaker.

“Please forgive my sons rudeness, I had thought that he understood my instruction, sadly he is under the impression that he can override even my direct orders, either that or he chose for whatever reason to express his personal opinion, and ignored all that he was instructed to do and say.

Robert turned his head and looked at his partner; together they grinned, and simply looked back at Andrew without answering his question.

“I would strongly advice you not to open this container in an unsealed room”; answered Robert, “it contains a species of the flu virus that originally destroyed your world, only your scientists have not seen this particular strain before.”

Their heightened animal instincts could already feel the fear as it grew from within the building.

“It will need to be examined in a vacuumed environment and once confirmed destroyed.”

He paused for a mere second.

“That is…if you wish to stay alive.”

He smiled, as he now knew that he held the upper hand, and then continued talking.

“In case that is, or should I say, that it somehow accidentally contaminates its environment. I have no need I am sure to warn you; that should it escape, that then the world would be almost certainly destroyed, that is before your scientists found another vaccine.”

As Andrew recovered, he staggered holding his head, and then humbly apologised. “I was out of line in my rude outspoken comments, and for that I truly apologise, I have been informed as to your conversation.”

He was cold blooded and precise in his words, Andrew could see Robert meant exactly what he was saying, even if the apology had been forced upon him.

“So, may I ask then what your terms are?”

Andrew had recovered and had been instructed to stop been such an ass, and to treat his guests with equal respect. The instruction had come straight from Mrs Undraus; and he knew better than to ever, even once disobey her commands a second time.

“I apologise for my son’s rudeness; he is young and still has much to learn. If I may, I shall have my son take that from you and have it analysed, I’m sure your words are correct, and I shall continue if I may with that now in mind?”

Robert smiled, “You may.” Robert looked across to his wife, he could sense she was enjoying the thrill of the hunt, and it was as if she had been playing with her victims and stalking them in readiness for the kill.

“Should I fail to contact my family within the next twenty-four hours, then this vile and three other different strains shall be released in Twenty-four different cities across the United States and New Mexico, including Canada. You will have no way of discovering where they are, or of knowing for sure that I am telling you the truth, but then I know the moment that vile is verified, that you will have no choice than to accept what I am saying.”

Andrew had already heard from Seth, and that a slide taken from the vile had been analysed and confirmed as positive.

“The simple truth is, I do not wish to work with you people, but then you in turn have the ability in destroying my wife and I, and those of my family that you are aware of. I however could instigate the certain destruction of every person in this building and possibly the world.”

This statement alerted Seth, informing Andrew of the possibility that either of them may have further vials in their possession.

“I believe this is what you humans’ term as a Mexican standoff, and I have no wish to die, but I am fully prepared to carry out my threat, especially if it means preventing you from destroying my extended family.”

Andrew could feel his body and mind, screaming to escape and to get as far away from both Robert and Juliet as possible.

“Yes, some will die, but then there will be others that will live, it will be those along with the hybrids that you despise in the Portland institute that will survive. Personally, to me it would be wiser to accept my terms and work with us.”

“And your terms are?” Asked Andrew.

Robert paused for some seconds, he had not been sure that he could have pulled off this stunt, and it had taken even him a few seconds to adjust.

“Simple, we work as equals; you need us as much as we need you. I propose a mutual working partnership; the details can be arranged later, and for now it is merely a matter of your considering my offer and accepting it. If not…well I’m sure you are by now fully aware of what will happen, I am sure the computer that you are using is vastly advanced to any in public service, and it will have already verified the accuracy of my statement, and have read our bodies vital signs. It will also know we are telling the truth and that you have but only two choices, to either accept or ignore us.”

Many miles away, the brothers had regrouped themselves, and Graham pulled the backpack back into place; the wolves had put up an unexpected fight, and Andrew had been badly wounded and was losing a considerable amount of blood. Jamie on seeing his friend stumble, put down the wolves’ skin, and ran over to offer assistance.

“Gosh Mr your hurt really bad like, my Pa taught me what to do, if you will let me, I can stop that bleeding?”

Graham raised his eyes indicating yes to his brother. “Heck son if you could, I would sure be grateful, and in truth I’m not so sure I will make it back to the homestead.”

“Aar heck Mr, you have no need to hide your abilities in front of me, we all know you are different to us hill folks, as to why and how, we are still unsure, but as for that injury, as bad as it is, you know full well, that you will survive. I’m no fool, and in truth I don’t really know just what you and your kin folks are, but I do know you’re many times stronger than us hill folk, and that you have some sort of strange powers. I also have noticed that at times you don’t even have to talk, it’s almost as if you can hear each other’s thoughts.”

Andrew laughed.

“Heck son I think all this excitement has gone to your head.”

“No Mr, I know I’m right, but then so does Mary Jane, and she has said its ok, as you saved our life’s’, and even put yourselves in direct risk in doing so, saying any one that would do that, cannot be all bad.”

Within a few minutes some of the injuries had been cleaned, one however was deep and severe.

“I’m going to have to cauterise that one Mr, my Pa did it to me on more than one occasion, and I’m not going to be kidding you, it hurts like hell.”

Andrew looked across to his brother; they knew Jamie’s words to be true.

“That’s ok son you do what you need to,” Said Andrew.

Jamie quickly gathered wood and lit a fire, he had cleaned all the other wounds and dressed them, using his own shirt that he had removed and torn into bandage strips. After several minutes the fire was well alight, Jamie placed his much-prized hunting knife into the flame, allowing the blade to turn almost white with the heat.

“You are going to have to hold him firm like Mr; I don’t want him hitting me in a rage of pain.”

“Don’t worry son, I will ensure my brother does not move nor harm you.”

Jamie took the knife from the fire and walked over to where Andrew was sitting, he had been stripped down to the waist so as to have the various wounds washed and dressed. Even in this bitter cold, he sat there brave like and seemed uninfected, the truth was he was cold, bitterly cold, and even at that point scared.

Yet the family was in mental contact with him, giving him the strength, he needed to draw on, and to face this ordeal. Jamie took hold of his left shoulder and pause before he placed the blade into the man’s skin. Looking up at Graham he waited for him to give a nod of approval, then thrust the blade in so quickly that it took Andrew some seconds to realise he had already withdrawn the blade and placed it into the cold snow.

Andrew let out a deep growl like shout, which thundered deeply into the surrounding forest, never before had the animals heard such a cry, and for some seconds there was complete silence until wolves howling broke its way back to their ears. Jamie fell backwards almost afraid by what he had just heard.

“It’s all right son, he will not harm you”.

Andrew shook himself free from the grip of his brother and shuddered momentarily bracing himself and fighting off the pain. Then turning to Jamie, he spoke.

“Gad son I’m not going to say that didn’t hurt, it sure bloody well did, and you say your Pa did the very same thing to you?”

Jamie grinned; he was relieved that his new friend had reacted in such a non-aggressive way.

“Yup three times, when we get back to the homestead, I shall show you where.”

Andrew had realised the bleeding had stopped; Jamie walked back over to him and finished dressing his wound. What amazed the men was that they had collectively assisted their kin in mentally controlling his fear; and in Jamie’s case he never had such a luxury.

The men could sense that they were been watched yet were unable to see from whom or where.

“That will be old Minstrel, I told you he is a cute old beast, and he knows exactly where we are, and is simply observing and biding his time.”

Andrew looked down at Jamie.

“Tell us how you knew that was what we were thinking?”

Jamie smiled.

“Oh, heck Mr, it’s no secret or magical trick, I could sense his presence myself, and I could see from your body language that you are both unsettled. Hell, if I can sense that old beast then I’m darn sure you both can.”

Andrew smiled, the young man’s logic was astute and correct; and he could see why Mary Jane held him in such high regard.

“Tell me son how come you never became ill with the rest of your family?”

Jamie paused, while reflecting back on some past memories.

“I can’t Mr; the truth is I don’t know why, some of my aunts and sisters were also unaffected by the illness. My Ma became ill like, but only mildly and recovered in a few days.”

It was those words that gave them their answer, Jamie’s mother had somehow a basic resistance within her immune system to the virus, somehow in certain family members the genes responsible for developing a cure or resistance in their anti-bodies, had been passed down to various members.

In Jamie’s case, he had acquired the ability in developing an immune response to the virus; it was possible however that he had also become one of nature’s carriers.

“We have visitors.”

Jamie looked up then across to the direction that Graham and Andrew were looking.

“Where Mr, I don’t see anyone?”

Andrew smiled.

“I know son, let’s just say we also have certain gifts, in many ways like you have in your ability to hunt and survive in this harsh environment.”

That was something Jamie understood, and he shook his head.

“We informed our brother that if we had not contacted them in four days that we would be in need of some help. I guess they must have gotten concerned and set out earlier and somehow followed our tracks.”

Jamie knew even he could not have followed tracks in this weather. After each new storm any old tracks were fully covered and made it near impossible for a human to follow, it was only the animals that had acute senses that could sniff the very air and find there pray without the need for footprints.

“Heck Mr I’m no fool, even I could not find you in this weather, I don’t know how your kin did it, but in truth I don’t really care. I know you will not harm my family or me, and I sort of have this feeling that you need us as much as we need you.”

Graham smiled.

“My little one you’re certainly very clever for such a young head.”

“Not really sir, I learnt much from my Pa and from Mary Jane, the rest I sort of just put together myself.”

“Well however you learnt it, you are right, and I apologise if we treated you with disrespect, yes we do have certain skills, you see we were born different to that of you and your kin folk.”

Jamie looked upwards in deep interest.

“You see we kind of have different parents than most people, yes we are born in the same way as you were, and even needed a mother to carry us and to feed us. But some very clever people thought it would be interesting to see if they could intricate or mix some animals into that of a human. I won’t pretend that it happened overnight, heck no; it took many years. But then one day a certain man succeeded and developed a huge old grisly along with a human, and a woman sort of gave birth to him.”

He knew this sounded unreal yet sensed his words were being accepted as true, and that he had the young man’s full attention.

“He looked no different at first to any other baby, but soon, very quickly in fact grew into a huge man, even taller than us and many times stronger.”

Graham was going to stop, but could see young Jamie had taken it all in.

“Well this man gave his new creation a name, and called him Alex, soon they worked together and had developed ways of including other animals, we were born from a strain of a beast named a lion. Have you ever seen one from any of those books that you have in your room?”

Jamie smiled.

“Yeah of course I have, I have read that you are regarded as the king of your domain and very strong, I’ve never been up close to one, but then if I had to, I’m sure I would find a way of defending myself.”

Andrew and Graham had every reason to believe he would do just that, he had proved to be a very formidable human.

“Now I can see why you are so good at hunting,” said Jamie, “I tried once to cross a wolf with my dogs, and at first, I failed, but then Pa kind of showed me how to go about it. After a few attempts this female wolf gave birth to pups, and Pa let me keep one of them. He was almost wild like a wolf, and would only listen to me and my Pa, it was he that helped me track old Minstrel that day when I almost killed him.”

Incredibly Jamey had accepted without even blinking, all that Andrew and Graham had told him, and in one way they were pleased, as it had concerned them that to keep the charade going, as they had to always be so careful.

“I get it, so that’s how you know your kin folk are not too far away and how they sort of found us?”

“Yes son.”

Just then in the distance the group could make out some movement, from among the thicket some twenty yards away a group of some seven female elk emerged from the brush. Jamie had already reached his rifle and had downed two of the rear elk before either Andrew or Graham had responded.

“Gad man that kid is something,” They thought between them.

By downing the two rear elk it stirred the remaining five to turn in the direction of the hunters, and within a few seconds Jamie had dropped his third Elk, leaving Andrew and Graham to finish off the remaining animals, who had been taken by surprise and were bewildered and confused.

“Ma is sure going to be pleased with us; she hates Moose as it’s so tuff, but Elk that is another thing.”

Graham laughed; he could see the sheer joy in Jamie’s eyes. It was not that he hunted for pleasure, it was a matter of survival, and in this cold in-hospitable terrain, it was to kill or be killed, and there was never any room for compromise. By the time the family members arrived the meat had been cut into movable packages, more snow slays had been made and the skin had been used to cover and tie down the food.

It was Jamie again that requested that some of the meat and bones, be left on the animals for the forest wolves and their likes. “They have to eat just like us” was his words.

The brothers respected his wishes and even though the wolves had tried to kill them, he refused to hold it against them.

“We are the ones that have entered onto their territory, they never invited us here, and Pa said every animal has the right to life.”

Graham found himself wishing he had met this man; he had brought up his family well and had even educated young Jamie in the skills of reading and writing.

The illness had taken hold of the family, before he was able to pass those skills onto Isaiah, however he was sure that had he lived that Isaiah would have followed in his father’s footsteps.

That night in the heat and warmth of the campfires, the group talked and ate well, they had collected enough wood to surround their small encampment, and had made several fires in a circle, and placing their group in the security of the middle. They were also aware old Mistral was still out there along with the wolves, and possibly even the odd mountain lion. They had no wish in making it easy for such creatures, to try and pick them off one at a time.

“Tell me Jamie you said you would show us where your Pa had healed you, like you did to Andrew here,” asked one of the visiting brothers. He had said the words before he realised what he had done, and that there would have been no way in him having known that, as he was not present at the time. Andrew looked across to Graham then back at his brother.

“It’s alright Sam, we have explained in some detail as you already know, and Jamie is aware of what we are,” He looked over to Jamie.

“We have one other ability that I had not informed you of, you see I was unsure of how you would take it. We have the ability to communicate in what is called telepathy; it simply means we can hear what each other think.”

Jamie thought it over for a few seconds.

“Gad Mr I’m not too sure I would like that,”

“Why” Asked Andrew,

“Well what if I was thinking kind of rude thoughts about someone I like, I would not want my kin folk kind of knowing about that.”

The group laughed.

“Yes we know just what you mean and have learnt that for ourselves, and in time we came to agree to block out certain thoughts the moment we become aware of them. It does not always work, but most of the times we have learnt to respect each other’s privacy.”

Jamie could feel himself blush a little.

“Now how about showing us where your Pa healed you?”

Jamie stood up and proceeded to remove his thick topcoat until he was dressed in just his vest and breaches. Then lifting up the vest he revealed a huge scar across the length of his back.

“It took my Pa four attempts to seal all the bleeding, three times he had to dig the knife deep like I did to you, the fourth was not so bad, but gad man those other three sure hurt.”

Then he lowered his britches and on his inner thigh he revealed a ring of scars that had been made by the teeth of a bear.

“That was old Minstrel, it was the first time I had ever seen him, and he came up one night when Pa and I were out hunting,”

The child stopped, pausing for some seconds as he remembered the series of events that had took him to acquiring these injuries.

“Old Minstrel had knocked my Pa to the ground, and then took a swipe at my back as I was reaching for my gun, and then as I fell he sank his teeth into my leg and lifted me from the ground as if I was a rag doll.”

Jamie paused some seconds thinking of the attack, and then continued talking.

“My Pa managed to regain his posture and lunged on him with his hunting knife; it took him several minutes to get the bear to drop me. All I really remember after that, is I found myself lying next to my gun, and must have raised it and fired.”

There was stunned silence from within the group, who were listening to his every word.

“Pa said he saw the bullet hit the beast square in the chest; and old Minstrel well he reeled backwards then got up and ran away. I guess that’s another four shots I have plugged into that old monster and still he haunts me.”

“I’m not surprised he is keeping his distance; he must be aware it is you, and he can only remember that each time you have caused him nothing but pain.”

The party of men laughed, yet there was not a single one among them that did not hold the deepest of respect for that young man in their mist. Basically, in their eyes he was still a child, they matured so much quicker and had the advantage of a considerable genetic defence. Yet this small human among them had none of these advantages, yet he survived to laugh at his ordeal and to tell the tail.

Andrew felt himself drawn to young Jamie; as he had experienced for himself the severity of the pain that he had endured when the knife was placed into his shoulder.

“I know one person that will be impressed by your valour, that is young Evolin, she has the hots for you, you know that don’t you? And among our kin folk we regard such courage in very high esteem.”

Jamie could feel himself blushing.

“I think this young man is pleased we cannot read his thoughts, yes.” Said Andrew.

The group laughed, Jamie had re-dressed himself, and then he continued to explain that he was not really so brave.

“Heck no you have it all wrong, I had to have a shot of Pa’s home brew before he put that knife of his into me. In truth it hurt more when he poured it into the wounds than when the knife went in. all I know from what Pa told me that after the third incision he said I almost passed out.”

Andrew could feel himself flinch; it had been nearly more than he could bear to have the blade inserted into his body only once.

“Tell me son what do you feel about getting together with Evolin, you would make a good couple, I know Michael will approve as I’m sure will Mary Jane?”

Although Jamey felt a little uncomfortable, he had grown to regard these men as his kinfolk and had fought for his very life alongside two of them.

“Well I have kind of spoken to Mary Jane already like, you see us hill folk sort of marry young. My Ma said she was thirteen when she and Pa had me.”

The group listened with interest leading him gently into the idea of joining his bloodline to that of their family.

“What did Mary Jane say?” Asked Andrew, Jamie looked up and smiled.

“She asked me like if I had already bedded her, but I said no,”

The men laughed.

“Well after she learns of your strength and courage, I have a feeling it will not be that long before your one step closer to your full manhood.”

Jamie felt pleased, he liked her very much, and had often lay at night thinking of her. To him it was a bonus to of had her brother’s approval, and it meant something, as in his community the hill folk’s brothers sometimes caused considerable difficulties if they ever took a dislike to a would-be suitor who was after their little sister.

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