Stay of Execution, Book Four in the Superhero Urban Fantasy ONSET Series, part of the ONSET universe, release date: January 23, 2018
The Vampire War is over.
The United States is reeling.
The Masquerade is fragmenting.
The Apocalypse is here…
The long and bloody war with the vampires in the United States has finally ended, thanks to the efforts of the vampire Arbiter and ONSET Commander David White—and a nuclear explosion on American soil.
The final battle proves harder to conceal than hoped, however, and a series of high profile incidents end any chance of hiding the supernatural. Suddenly the world is faced with the fact that it is both more wonderful and more terrible than humanity ever realized.
But as the US Government struggles to adapt to this new reality, old enemies have set into motion plans that could render humanity’s struggles irrelevant. There are those beyond the Seal who were once Gods…and they want their planet back!
The advantage of literally superhuman hearing was that Commander David White could hear his phone ringing even on a firing range with full safety gear. Given the degree of control the stocky cop-turned-supernatural-SWAT-commander had over his hearing, he probably didn’t even need the ear protection.
As a team commander, though, he had to set the example. His people’s supernatural powers allowed them to ignore a lot of standard precautions if they needed to, but getting into that habit was just stupid.
He fired his last two shots downrange, emptying the magazine of the heavy fifty-caliber pistol he was shooting. He quickly ejected the magazine, cleared the chamber and safed the weapon before returning it to the holster on his hip.
The firing range was underground in the center of the Campus, the fortified headquarters of the United States of America’s Office for the National Supernatural Enforcement Teams. He didn’t need to be carrying a loaded firearm, and again, it was a good example.
He left his team continuing their training and stepped out of the range. The heavy sound-sealing door closed behind him and he removed his ear protection—and his phone started ringing again.
That was probably not a good sign. It had been a bad few weeks for David. For ONSET. For the USA.
A lot of people had died when North America’s Vampire Familias had thrown a last-ditch assault at their own breeding creche to stop the US government from controlling their future. The vampires had failed, and the remainder of that grotesque parahuman subspecies had come to a compromise.
Thousands of people had died along the way, many of them at the hands of the vampires themselves. Many more at the hands of David White and his people.
He answered the phone.
“David, it’s Warner,” Major Traci Warner snapped at him. The Mage was ONSET’s second-in-command and the woman who ran the Campus. “Are you near a TV?”
He glanced around.
“I think there’s one in the range waiting room; why?”
“We got five fucking minutes’ warning that we were about to be fucked,” the Major told him. “Get to a TV and turn it on. CNN, BBC, doesn’t matter. The idiots are being carried live across the planet.”
David stepped out into the plain waiting room and found the remote for the TV. Flipping to CNN, he found himself staring at a relatively standard press conference in front of a seemingly familiar symbol of a stylized eye.
A dark-haired Indian woman was speaking, and the banner under her told him what the problem was.
Dr. Elizabeth Gupta was one of the monitoring seismologists for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The people who used seismic tracking to identify nukes.
“Dr. Gupta!” a reporter shouted. “Is it true that your team has been investigating the Crater Lake explosion?”
David shivered. On the phone, Warner dissolved into repeated cursing.
“We were,” she responded in softly accented English. “We have contacted the United States government for clarification, but given the number of questions and the lack of said clarification, we have called this press conference.”
“Do you have a statement?” another reporter demanded.
“If you will allow me to get to it,” Gupta said dryly.
The reporters slowly quieted.
“In the aftermath of the Crater Lake Incident, many questions have been asked over what kind of weapon was detonated by the terrorists there,” she told the reporters and David sighed. “Our American friends have told us that a conventional bunker-buster weapon was stolen and detonated when the plane carrying it was shot down by the US Air Force.”
David’s phone was silent now. He wasn’t sure if Warner had hung up on him or just stopped swearing, but he was fixated on the screen. The CTBTO received most of its funding and resources from the USA. They couldn’t possibly be…
“Our analysis suggests that if this was a conventional weapon, it was of a type and force that the US military had never confessed to existing,” Gupta noted. “Fallout and other scans suggest a conventional weapon, yes, agreeing with the official announcement.
“But the seismic data does not.”
“What do you mean?” one of the reporters demanded.
“The seismic data shows that the explosion at Crater Lake was equivalent to sixty thousand tons of conventional TNT,” Gupta said precisely. “In common parlance, a sixty-kiloton nuclear bomb. We are unaware of any conventional weapon capable of that magnitude of force that could be carried on a single plane.
“The CTBTO has no choice but to conclude that the United States has developed—and either deployed or had stolen—a new form of clean nuclear weapon. We have asked for clarification on this point but it has not been provided.”
The reporters exploded in questions and David turned off the TV.
“Major?” he asked.
“I’m here,” she said flatly.
“What happens now?”
They’d done everything in their power to conceal that a nuclear bomb had been detonated. They’d used magic to contain the radiation, focus the fireball. They hadn’t even thought about the seismic monitoring systems.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But three new Code Reds just flashed up on the map, and we’ve run out of active-duty teams.
“Get your people suited up, Commander. We may not know what’s coming, but I guarantee you that demons popping up in urban areas is a bigger immediate problem!”
David put the ear protection on for long enough to enter the range and hit the buzzer that flashed a brilliant light and noise to declare “range safe.” His people laid down their weapons and turned toward him.
Theoretically, an ONSET strike team was made up of six supernaturals rated as “combat-capable” by ONSET’s analysts. In practice, the largest ONSET Thirteen had ever been under his command was four, and it was currently only three.
His two subordinates doffed their hearing protectors and turned to face him. Shevon McCreery was a lanky woman with a shaven head, an Empowered with superhuman vision and kinesthetic sense. She was the team’s helicopter pilot. Chris “Stone” Johnston shared McCreery’s height—both towered six inches above their Commander—and David’s bulk, making the big man the largest member of the trio by far. He was also Empowered, stronger and tougher than a human normally and able to convert portions of his body to granite to absorb impacts or attacks. He was the team’s gunner.
Given that Stone also shaved his head, David was the odd man out on the team to still have hair at all.
“What’s up, boss?” Stone asked. His voice was oddly pitched, a strangely high sound coming from so massive a man: the legacy of a long-ago throat wound.
“Short-term, we’ve got more Code Reds popping up,” David told them. “We’re being called out to deal with one.”
A Code Red was a major supernatural incident, a demon-summoning portal or something big and nasty waking up. Before David had joined ONSET, a Code Red had been a once-a-month occurrence.
“With what’s up on the board now, we’re on seven in the last week,” he continued grimly. “The teams on active duty are swamped, so we’re being called back to the fray earlier than anyone would like.”
“Are we getting any kind of backup?” McCreery asked. “I mean, the three of us will take on the damn world if we need to, but…three Empowered against a Code Red?”
“My impression is that Kate is getting called up, same as us,” David replied. Kate Mason was the commander of ONSET Fifteen, the other team that had been sent on leave after Crater Lake.
The third team that had been at Crater Lake, well…they weren’t in a state to be deployed again yet.
“Once I’ve had the target confirmed, I’ll see what I can coordinate with local resources,” he concluded grimly. “We’ll need at least a Mage, if we can find one.”
Local resources were, if they were lucky, the already-deputized Elfin Warrior paramilitaries. If they were unlucky…he could end up drafting a local civilian Mage or, worse, vampire assistance.
“We’ll find out before we’re in the air,” he promised them. “But we need to get moving fast.
“If we’ve already got a Code Red on the board, people are likely to start dying—and it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen!”