Chapter Four - The Kings In Peril

Lucien Lacroix, as he was now called, did not like being caged any better than the next man. In fact, he liked it a great deal less. He was a being of great power and dignity, and generally someone you did not wish to cross, unless, of course, you had a Cross--and the faith to wield it properly. Lacroix was King over his respectably-sized vampire clan. He pondered all this as he sat in his cage, wondering how on Earth a group of mortals like the scientists at Project: Immunita had managed to catch him. It was a humbling and even terrifying experience for one so used to being absolute master of his own fate.

"The rats have me, Nicholas. Where are you in all this? I call to you, and yet you are not there. For all your proclaimed hate, would you truly leave your poor father to them?"

A voice came out of the darkness.

"I would, Lacroix. I told you I'd get even, monster. You killed the woman I loved."

"Sir, I do not know you, nor do I know the crime whereof you speak. Release me now, and I will let you live to tell of how you trapped one so high above you."

The man stepped forward, into the light.

"My name is William Gunther, now. But when the Moors threatened France, off I rode to do battle. I was killed, and rose as an Immortal Of The Sword. Then, I was known as--"

Lacroix nodded.

"Willem Kunthar. Now I remember. It was your 'borrowing' of Jeanette's inheritance that drove her into poverty, and then into prostitution. In a way--you gave me my beloved daughter. For that, I again offer you your life for my release. Take note - I shall not make this offer a third time."

Kunthar/Gunther smiled and shook his head.

"It was my gadgets that helped catch you, monster. They disrupted your sense of smell, your internal clock, your motor skills--try and use your strength now. Oh, and certain wards I've researched will prevent you from calling on any member of your clan. In 1500, when I finally returned, you told me to stay away from my Fair Blood Lady Jeanette. You threatened my head. Now, you are but a caged animal, Lacroix. When you are done--I will find my lost love-and we will be together. Eternally."

Lacroix flew towards the cage, and was hurled back by megavoltage. It could not kill him, to be sure. But as a villainous Djinn once said, one would be surprised what one could live through. Gunther laughed, then walked out. In 32 years time, he would make good his threat on Jeanette--at least in part.

When Lacroix's vision cleared, a striking, long-legged, tall redheaded woman wearing a stereotypical white lab uniform. Her facial structure suggested a woman who would keep her striking looks well into old age. In fact, this would prove to be the case for a descendant of this woman's sister, a 24th-Century Doctor named Katherine Pulaski. But looks and technical brilliance were all these two time-lost relatives would ever share. This woman would say her many-times niece was flawed, held back as she was by ethics and conscience. Doctor Dorian Taylor was burdened by no such flaws.

"Mister Lacroix, you can't overload these bars. We have a large, advanced generator that is protected from enemy fire. If you go and burn yourself up, we won't have enough source material for Project : Khan. I'd really like for you to be a part of it."

Lacroix knew that her tone of voice was one she would also use on a chimp of above-average intelligence. Still, he played the game, and kept his vast rage in check. It would not serve him, now.

"Madam, whatever do you mean by 'Project : Con?' How can I help in the implementation of some grand confidence scheme?"

In fact, Lacroix's keen ears had picked up the subtle inflection in Doctor Taylor's voice. He knew she was talking about a ruler. But he also knew that one sure way to defeat clever people was to make them feel even more clever. Another was to get them to talk about themselves--and how clever they were.

"No, Mister Lacroix--not a simple 'Con'. No, I refer to The Khans, as in Genghis and Kublai. Would you say that most of mankind is sheep?"

"Oh, Indubitably. That notion is my stock in trade, after all."

"Exactly. Mine too. Now, don't sheep just wait to be herded?"

"Oh, please tell me there's no wolf analogy in here, Madam. Even I let that one go."

"Exactly. They are either herded, or taken by wolves."

Lacroix looked up, and rolled his eyes.

"So you see, Mister Lacroix--what we at Immunita are attempting to do is special."

"She's going to lapse into the new humanity routine."

"We are building--a new humanity."

The caged man put his hand on his chin, predicting again what his chatty captor would say.

"And a leader to lead them."

"But not just that--- we are also creating A Leader, to lead this new humanity. We Can Rebuild Mankind. We Can Make It Better Than It Was Before. Better-- Stronger --Faster. We Can Make The World's First Directed Species!"

Lacroix's head was spinning from the rhetoric stream.

"Madam--have you considered writing for Television? I can see it now--Lucy wants to improve humanity, but Ricky is against it, feeling she shouldn't come down to the Lab."

"I'm surprised, Monsieur. You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"

"What is your name?"

"Doctor Dorian Taylor. I run Research and Development, here at Immunita."

"Ah. Doctor Taylor--I have heard ever word you've said. In fact, I've been hearing your words for going on two millenia, now. Did you know that Augustus wanted to catch the Teuton leader Arminius and marry him off to his daughter? There was a belief that half-Roman Half-barbarian warriors would breed a better Rome. The Angles forced themselves on Britonic women, and Normans on Anglo-Saxon women. Then of course, there was that little corporal I so wisely chose not to bring over."

"Your point?"

"Humanity is not a great mass of sheep. They are what I must feed upon, when I must feed. Beyond that, they have their lives, and we have ours. They do not hunger for the leader you will craft. They hunger for food, or for companionship. The efforts of those who would control them show chiefly the shortcomings of the would-be master planners. My only real problem with humans is their bigotry--and the fact that my son wishes to become one. Other than that---Well, someone has to handle the theater, and it may as well be those selfsame humans. They're deucedly good at it."

"I'm not amused, Mister Lacroix."

"I shouldn't expect you would be, Doctor. As my ex-wife Endora once put it, 'Some mortals are just born without any funnybone at all.'"

Taylor smiled, though, and Lacroix actually felt a nervous twitch, which he hid.

"Endora--would she be the witch? We know about ALL the hidden races, Mister Lacroix. When the time comes--your cooperation can have your clan spared the roundup."

Lacroix ignored her veiled offer, and took in a whiff of something.

"What is that--odor?"

Taylor held up a flask with a ghastly greenish liquid.

"The secret of the new humanity, Mister Lacroix. Tell me, did your planners and alchemists have any of this?"

Lacroix nodded.

"The Spore Of Ghidorah. Yes, Doctor. Very potent stuff. In the weak-willed or confused, it magnifies evil. In the strong-willed and clear of mind--it grants godlike power."

Now Taylor was on a hook, and Lacroix pulled it unmercifully.

"The Spore Of--Who?"

"Don't know your old legends, Doctor? Never heard of how The Earth's Guardians bested The Ancient Destroyer?"

"No--I don't know."

Lacroix sat down.

"Then I shall be happy to be the one--who does Not inform you. Good day, Doctor."

"Don't play with me, Lacroix!"

"Or what? You'll do to me what you've apparently done to poor, gibbering Sherman Potter, in the cage next over?"

Taylor shook her head.

"That man is not Potter--although our recon people say the resemblance is uncanny. No, that's General Bartford Hamilton Steele The Third. The man who did that to him--his own son--the man who now runs this project. You'll deal with him now, Lacroix. He's a deadly sort--you won't like him much."

"While you, Doctor Taylor, have been ever so charming."

"Talk big, bloodsucker. But consider this - I myself have taken that serum and become much stronger as a result."

"Perhaps your evil side had already won out. I think perhaps that is the case."

"I'm a biophysicist. I don't believe in good or evil."

Lacroix put down his head to rest.

"Then, Madam--You Are A Fool."

Dorian Taylor then left.

But as Lacroix went to his own brand of sleep, another voice came out of the darkness.

"I can't free you. But I've reduced power on the device that keeps you from calling your clan. Hope it helps."

"You have my gratitude, sir. May I ask who my benefactor is?"

"I'm from The 1701st Evac. Colonel James T. Kirk. I have to go. Good Luck."

"To you as well."

Lacroix only caught a brief glimpse of a man who appeared to sparkle out of existence.

"A mystery, then, for another day. But I still cannot call my clan. And calling another would be folly, if it were the wrong clan."

The 'Flipping General' caught wind of this, and spoke up.

"Heh. Jus call Transylvania 6-5000, and ask for Count Dracula! HAH!"

Lacroix smiled.

"A brilliant idea, General. I haven't spoken to Vladimir in ages."

Using a means only a vampire would understand, Lacroix called to the fabled Count Dracula. At his home in Southern California, Count Dracula heard.

"By the ancient code, Lacroix shall not be imprisoned long!"

The vampire-king told his daughter of his quest, and then left to find his helper. His helper was his daughter's own husband, a dead hulking thing revived by lightning. But that didn't mean he wasn't one hell of a nice guy. Count Dracula summoned the revenant experiment with a few piercing words.

"HERMAN, YOU LUNKHEAD! C'MON! We--are going to Korea."


As evening fully descended, Nick Knight went to see Colonel Potter in his tent. He had some ideas about the odd nature of Pierce's blood. But it was not Potter who answered the knock on his door. It was Frank Burns.

"Sergeant Knight--get in here--now!"

Nick looked around. Pierce and Houlihan were there, and so was Sherman-- handcuffed to his tent post with an MP standing guard. He looked lost and defeated. Of the three, Pierce looked the most regretful, Houlihan after him. Burns looked in his glory, the ambition of his dark side winning out almost entirely.

"Just what the hell is going on here? Why is my Uncle Sherman under arrest?"

Now, Pierce's face drained of sympathy.

"Actually, both you and your Uncle BARTFORD are under arrest, ghoul-o-mine."

Nick looked at him, and shook his head.

"This is absurd. What are we supposedly charged with?"

Burns went to speak, but Houlihan went first.

"You two are 'supposedly' under arrest for conspiracy in the murder of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, this camp's former Commanding Officer!"

Nick was dumbstruck.

"Henry--Braymore Blake? No--he was such a good--My God. The treaty that he and Lacroix negotiated meant peace between our---Not Henry."

Pierce doubted his convictions for the first time, then. The look at Nick's face then was a mirror of the faces in The OR when Radar brought the news of Henry's death. But he said nothing, for now. With the MP outside, the three inadvertent mutineers left the tent. Houlihan was still torn by all this, and Pierce now had serious doubts. Only poor lost Frank felt good in this awful moment. He looked around what he saw as 'his' camp.

"At last!"

In The Swamp, Hawkeye looked for anyone to talk to.

"BJ? Listen, I know I've been acting secretive, but----"

Hawkeye saw that all of BJ's possessions- -were gone. He read a note from Hunnicutt, and shook his head.

"My God. You poor homesick fool. You'll never make it."

Inside Potter's tent, Nick and Sherman both felt lost.

"Nick--you better get gone. I'm in deep enough, without dragging you in with me."

Nick shook his head.

"I've been accused of disloyalty to my Father, Sherman. How much worse, then, if I desert my brother?"

Sherman allowed a hint of a smile.

"Mother always did like you best."

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