The Thirteenth PROLOGUE

Bermuda---Seventy-two hours after the battle in Washington, D.C., BBC World News has just learned that the USS Ronald Reagan, one of the United States' nine most significant supercarriers, is en route to the Atlantic Coast to take a position that will enable strategic air strikes on U.S. soil for the first time in military history.

The USS Ronald Reagan is a ninety-seven-thousand-ton, twenty-story supercarrier, with state-of-the-art hospital facilities on board. Normally stationed by Korea, and boasting a six-thousand-member crew, it mil now moor in the deep Atlantic waters just beyond the Chesapeake Bay.

Following the collapse of the Washington Monument, the still incalculable loss of human lives, the destruction of countless Washington, D. C., city streets, and a major section of the Metro subway network, the United States of America is under martial law. The decision was based on the inexplicable attack that left unfathomable structural damage to the White House as a result of the catastrophic blast that toppled the Washington Monument and sent it spiraling like a pike to pierce the iconic building from a source that has still yet to be determined.

The world is watching to understand what vast implications all of this will have on the global economic front, and non-ally countries around the world are bracing for a potential military backlash from the threatened United States. America's closest neighbors, Mexico and Canada, are also reeling from the tragic events.

Both Mexico's and Canada's national leaders had entered into what was then coined the "North American Union" during a closed-door pact with the president of the United States on March 23, 2005, in Waco^Texas. Without needing to go through Congress, the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America was announced, inextricably linking the three nations through a proposed new currency, the amero, which- will effectively blend the struggling U.S. dollar with the peso and the Canadian dollar in the near future.

Likened to the African Union, Asian Union, and European Union, the newly formed North American Union, which seeks to evolve to one currency and to have several laws transparent to its trilateral agreement, will now also feel the violent shock waves of the recent terror attack throughout the three linked nations. World economic and military experts suggest grave consequences ahead for this pivotal collaboration.

American, Mexican, and Canadian borders have been shut down, all civilian planes grounded, and a massive military offensive is under way to sweep the area for potentially deadly bio-hazards that could have been released in the blasts. White House spokespersons have issued a short written comment: "The nation is doing everything possible to analyze and contain the pale cloud that eyewitnesses saw rising from the site--which may have merely been debris, dust, and vapor from the multiple explosions. It is too early to tell whether the United States has also been the victim of bioterrorism."

Rider got up from the bamboo-framed sofa not even looking at the team', and simply turned off the television set in the large villa living-room suite they occupied.

"Thanks," Carlos said, his tone flat and hollow. "I was sick of hearing that shit anyway."

Rider glanced around at the exhausted team and then at Carlos, who was sitting on the floor with his elbows resting on his knees, head hung low with fatigue, clearly heartsick. "Don't mention it," Rider muttered. "Face it. We ain't getting out of this bull called life alive anyway."

Yonnie pounded Rider's fist as he passed. "It's a damned shame to say it, but I know more people dead than alive--so hey."

"Please don't be so cheerful on my account, gentlemen," Marjorie snapped, losing patience. "I'd hate to have something crazy like hope ruin our morning."

"Sorry, fresh out of hope this early in the day. Will pick some up along with a carton of fairy tales when I make a supply run," Yonnie said, staring out of the wide sliding glass doors that led to the deck. He spat the toothpick out that he'd been gnawing on, watching it disappear before it hit the floor, and walked to the doors to stare out at the ocean. "Ya think they let out the old-fashioned bubonic plague or smallpox with the pale horse or some zombie-making bullshit, C?"

"Five bucks says all three," Big Mike said, shaking his head.

"I'm waiting for the locusts, myself," Rider said sarcastically while rubbing the stubble on his jaw. "I'm so disappointed in the darkside's lack of creativity this time out. Anybody got a cigarette? Rhetorical question."

"Your attitudes are pissing me off," Marj snapped, her gaze deadly before seeking Marlene's for support.

"It definitely is the end of days," Rider said, his voice hardening with additional sarcasm as he flopped down in a chair. "Finally pissed Marj off ... so you know if Miss Mary Sunshine is losing it, then what chance do the rest of us poor bastards have?"

"Oh, just--" Marlene stopped midsentence and stared at the door with the rest of the team seers.

The sound of a golf cart pulling up, the engine being shut off, followed by slow footsteps drew everyone's attention. They quickly concealed the weapons they had been holding.

Daniali and Carlos gave each other a look as Dan nervously approached the door. Seers nodded and he finally turned the locks and swung open the door.

"May I help you, Mr. Fontaine?"

"Uh, yes. Good morning, Mr. Weinstein. I'm so sorry to trouble you so early in the morning. May I have a word, er, in private?" The hotel manager's cultured voice wafted through the hostile vibes in the room and his dark walnut-hued face seemed to flush as his gaze briefly slid away from Dan's. His crisply starched, white, short-sleeved shirt and khaki Bermuda shorts seemed to wilt under a fresh rush of perspiration. "It is regarding a delicate matter best saved for a more discreet conversation."

"We don't do 'private' on group expeditions," Rider said, folding his arms.

The hotel manager peered around, seeming more nervous than Dan as his wide brown eyes assessed the team. Every seer in the room tracked his thoughts, feeling the immaculately dressed, highly cultured man make a decision about whom to approach with the embarrassing news he held. '

Mr. Fontaine glanced around the room and a dull ache began to throb in his temples as hard-set eyes stared back at him.

Clearly something tragic had happened to these people and he felt awful having to bring them bad news this morning. Maybe they'd lost loved ones or colleagues in the Washington disaster?

But perhaps the most disturbing of the group was the young dreadlock-wearing woman who sat yogi-style on the coffee table, her gaze so distant that she seemed to be somewhere else. Yet her eerie serenity drew him, as did her peaceful brand of beauty. He knew her face from somewhere, the recollection probing at his mind, but he continued to draw a blank. Then she looked up at him and he felt positively spellbound. The most serene, gorgeous face held his breath within his lungs as a pair of large brown eyes held him entranced. He took in her cinnamon skin that seemed to radiate from an inner light and watched it cascade over her pretty locks.

"He's cool," Damali said calmly. "Don't kill the messenger."

Immediately the man's hand went to the door frame to steady himself as unbeknownst to him each seer released his mind. Gasping and suddenly afraid, he thrust a thin black leather portfolio at Dan.

"It didn't work. Your credit card didn't accept the charges. Oddly, it did when you initially checked in, but when we began adding incidental charges, everything simply reversed. All charges, including your initial fees, canceled out. We're not sure what happened, but I'm sure your tour group has the resources... for such accommodations; however, you understand that our establishment must have some guarantees." The manager dabbed his forehead with the back of his wrist and looked around. "We ran the card several times, sir. You understand our predicament." '

"We do," Dan said coolly. "It was my error. We were rushed and hadn't had time to transfer monies from our London account to cover balances from our last travel junket. We'll make arrangements. Just give me a few hours to do a wire transfer from Great Britain."

"Thank you, thank you, sir. Again, my apologies for bringing you such inconvenient news this morning." Mr. Fontaine nodded, seeming relieved that there was a reasonable explanation and peaceful conclusion, and hurried away from the door. Dan shut the door and waited until he heard the golf cart roll down the gravel driveway. "Fuck me." Dan closed his eyes.

"Couldn't have said it better, Danny boy," Berkfield muttered, and stood. "The darkside screwed our accounts or what, Carlos?"

"That is so cold, yo. Half a billion dollars that I'd been moving lovely on the market up in fuckin' smoke," Yonnie said, shaking his head. "I cannot believe it. But, then again, yeah I do."

"Whatchu talkin' about, man?" Juanita yelled, jumping up and beginning to pace. "All of our money is gone?"

"Don't play."

"It was their money, girl. Easy come, easy go. I ain't with them no more, so ... my vamp three-card monte got busted. Ask Tara," Yonnie said coolly, watching the group blanch.

Tara nodded and looked at Berkfield. "Back when I found Yonnie and we hooked up to locate Carlos, we found out the feds only gave Carlos a pittance for his work with Berkfield. Yonnie sent him a hundred million to match whatever Damali had, like a safety net."

"That was a far sight better than what I could wrestle out of the authorities for the man," Berkfield said, shaking his head. "Damn."

"You know I was taking care of your shit, right, C? Had everything offshore in Swiss accounts, Cayman Islands, you name it. But it was still vamp illusion. Guess they took issue with how we've been on their asses and finally siphoned their cash back, huh? It was good while it was good, but damn." , "I know, I know, man," Carlos said, closing his eyes. "It's just the timing is so fucked-up. But then how else is it supposed to be, coming from them?"

"Maaan, you ain't said a mumblin' word," Mike muttered, releasing a hard breath of frustration.

"I don't know why I was even surprised," Marlene said flatly. I've been skating on grace a long time with those re-trees."

"But what the hell about whatever I was working on Wall Bet from the Warriors of Light?" Dan's eyes held Marlene's.

"Those earnings weren't illusion and didn't belong to the darkle!"

"It doesn't matter," Damali said in a weary tone. "Whatever wasn't vamp illusion that was ours, the Warriors of Light, has probably been seized by Homeland Security now. Every credit card, bank account, asset of any kind is on lock in the system. I'm sure the darkside saw to that in order to make up for the hundred million dollar loan from them that Yonnie and Carlos took out for the last coupla years, then grew to a half billion on the market. So now they've led the feds to everything we had in order to freeze our accounts worldwide."

"Ain't no getting around that shit, either," Shabazz said, standing and raking his dreadlocks. "First thing they've gotta do is starve out what they think are potential terrorists, which unfortunately, in this case, seems like it's us. We got played by the darkside, once again. They do the dirt, we take the weight."

"At least when the Light delivered us here, they made humans unaware of who we are," Tara said in a far-off tone, looking toward the door where the hotel manager had been. "You could see him struggling to remember, trying to put the pieces together."

"But how long's that gonna last?" Rider shook his head. "Like all we need is for some human with darkside leanings to be able to see through that veil or to get accidentally tracked somehow and it's over people." He looked at Marj. "Now you see why I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? I had my reasons."

"Rider's got a point," Shabazz said, his gaze raking the group. "Check it out. Radio frequency chips are now in the new passports, new money, and after this last disaster, you can bet U.S. citizens are gonna have to carry a real ID card, or get stopped and hassled. The same GPS chip they want everybody to embed in their bodies, just in case there's another catastrophe."

"The mark of the beast, bro," Jose said, nodding. "We gotta go off the grid."

"I've gotta get to my baby girl and my momma," Inez said in a quiet, urgent tone.

"We will," Heather said, taking up one of Inez's hands. Jasmine nodded. "Remember what the teams that met us in D.C. said? They were sent to protect the unborn. Dragon Rider said, 'I'm your new nanny.' Remember?"

"Yeah, but we've gotta get back to the States to recon with the teams there and pray our contacts didn't get blown away," Bobby said, panic lacing his voice. "They took a goddamned fallback position in Atlanta to get away from the plagues about to hit and all the military roundups, and a twister ... a freaking twister, hit downtown Atlanta for the first time in history? Be serious. How in the hell can we expect Carlos and Damali to do an energy pull through the fucking Bermuda Triangle with everybody's wife pregnant, huh? Or even risk trying to pull little Ayana and Mom Delores through that? The only reason we got here was because the Light shot us here--which I still haven't reconciled in my head. And we're talking about going off the grid, which back home and with stupid resources was possible . . . but how far off the fucking grid can you go on an island when you owe people two grand a day in hotel fees you can't pay? How long will it be before they round us up, fingerprint us, then it's ball game!"

"The young blood is panicking, C. Got any remedies for that? I don't, -'cause as crazy as his ass sounds, he's speaking truth." Yonnie sighed and continued staring at the ocean through the door. "We have just officially become America's most wanted, like it or not. Maybe the world's most wanted, who knows."

"Maybe the angels will continue to conceal our identities long enough for us to find our hidden warriors? Uriel said to wait for word . . . we must abide the archangel's command to the letter," Val said, her worried gaze traveling around the group. "We cannot be outlaws. But for now, no matter the truth, we are blamed for the tragedy."

"That is so not right!" Krissy said, excited. "We didn't kill all those innocent people that got hurt during the battle--we tried to avoid that! The darkside did it, not us. Didn't the people see the angels; didn't they see how we were blowing away demons? How come none of that hit the news? What's wrong with people!"

"They didn't see it, baby," J.L. said quietly. "Council Group Entertainment is spinning what's on the networks and what eyewitnesses took into their minds that day. So, people saw fear, pain, blood, explosions. Everything was masked by dark illusion. They saw cops getting shot and choppers getting blown out of the sky by shoulder-launched rockets coming off our man, Big Mike--not him blowing away clouds of demon bats and Harpies, trying to give the choppers aerial assists. They saw what the darkside wanted them to see. They saw us."

"But that's just not fair. . . ." Krissy's voice trailed off in a horrified whisper.

Carlos just looked at Krissy in disbelief for a moment, ignoring the way Damali shook her head. "We were on the scene when the freakin' White.House got skewered by the Washington Monument. . . y'all didn't figure there'd be consequences? Being broke is the least of our worries. Fair ain't nowhere near a rule in this game."
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