The Other Half Ch. 01byMazuri©
Huge thanks go to Mokkelke for her role as editor and brainstorming sounding board, as well as her encouragement to finally submit a story.
Thanks tons! Maz
AN: - The military acronyms used are for the US Army. My husband is in the USAF so, while I'm very familiar with that branch, it didn't suit the purpose of Kris' squad. I greatly apologize to any Army troops or their spouses/dependents if there are major errors.
* Glossary of Terms/Acronyms:
**Reveille -- morning wake up, usually a really annoying recorded bugle blared over loudspeakers
**ACUs -- Army Combat Uniform, the new camouflage uniform.
**GI Bill -- plan a military member pays into that, after serving a specified number of years (usually 4), pays a very large percentage of college tuition. All monies are forfeited if a person is discharged prior to fulfilling their obligation.
**NCOIC -- Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge. The enlisted soldier in charge of a smaller squad within a platoon. Usually a Staff Sergeant (E-5)
Five years ago...
"It's 5:15am on a cool, fall Friday morning. Today's forecast is for clear skies with intermittent clouds and highs in the upper 80s. Tonight's low should be a comfortable 65° for all going to the high school football games. Traffic on the major highways are steady with no delays. All in all, a great lead into the weekend.
In international news, the Reveal of powerful, mythological beings walking amongst us still has the world in a state of shock. Their demands that the warring nations declare a cease fire immediately has caused outrage on all sides of the ocean as many are wondering just what lies in store for mankind..."
With a groan, Kristiana Latimer hit the button to turn off her cell phone's alarm and flopped back onto her bunk, wondering again why she kept it tuned to her home town's radio station. The temperature this morning was definitely not that cool nor would it stop at the high 80s. If she was lucky, the weather would stay below 120° and the wind would keep the flies away.
A year ago, her squad had arrived at the front line in preparation for a push into enemy territory. After over six months of planning by the majors and colonels who knew war strategy and tactics, and political ass-kissing by generals who rose in ranks in such a way, the reconnaissance squad was prepped to infiltrate the surrounding countryside to gather information. Their mission would have ensured their fellow soldiers could make a strategic strike against the enemy with as few friendly losses as possible. But that was before the Reveal.
The world's political structure had been crumbling for years as small offenses incited larger retribution. Every insult, every demand for concessions, every sanction soon spiraled into a series of skirmishes that led to minor raids that led to larger battles that eventually carried the world to the very brink of a third World War.
On the eve of the battle that would have launched the end of life as everyone knew it, the paranormal races threw off their policy of noninterference and forced a compromise. For millennia these beings of myth and nightmare -- the vampires, elves, shifters, dragons, and more -- had watched the fledgling human race hurtle head-long towards self-destruction and, ultimately, extinction.
While regrettable, few would have really mourned the loss if not for the technology currently available to mankind. No longer would a large-scale war affect only the humans; if either side introduced nuclear weapons, the destruction would have impacted all the races. This had been the final impetus for the Reveal and so they arrived at the battlefield, surrounding it in magic while the leaders for all the Other races stopped the escalating hostilities. It was also rumored that certain safeguards had been put into place to ensure things would never reach that point again, though none have confirmed nor denied it.
The first few months saw the human leaders fluctuating between acting like petulant children who'd had their favorite toy taken away to rebellious teenagers doing anything just to annoy the parents. Rumors began of assassination attempts by terrible creatures followed swiftly by each country accusing the others of genetic experiments and human rights violations.
When the truth leaked out to the general public and caused a panic, all sides accused their enemies of using scare-mongering in order to create unrest in the home countries.
After nearly six months of negotiations, and several abrupt changes in human leadership, things began to settle down. The Others, as they were being called, assured the humans they weren't looking to rule the fragile race of man...they simply wanted peace. Within another three months, the conflict which had been on the very edge of blossoming into the third World War was suddenly halted with a cease fire and tentative treaty.
No one knew how it had been reached though rumors were plentiful. No one knew when the squads on the front lines would be sent home either. It was as if everything regarding the war was in a state of suspended animation while the rest of the world carried on. The lack of information from the government was causing unrest in the ranks as tales of mind-control and doppelgangers began to grow in popularity.
Kris ignored most of it as she understood the Others better than some. Rising and dressing just minutes before the tinny notes of a fake bugle blared out reveille, she hoped it would all settle soon. She was getting awfully tired of sand.
Going through her morning routine on auto-pilot, Kris remembered her own mini-Reveal years ago.
She'd been just fifteen years old when she and her older sister, Shaela, had met Keith Leroux. The large, amiable red-haired man had worked as a volunteer instructor for the state park giving classes on everything from recognizing animal footprints to primitive camping to how to navigate out of the woods using only the stars and plants.
To this day she remembered that moss grows thickest on the north side of trees and the difference between a wild hog's and a deer's tracks but mostly she remembered Shae's reaction to their guide. And his reaction to Shae. They'd arrived a bit late since Shae'd had to get off work in order to drive her the Girl Scout meeting at the park. She'd planned to drop her younger sister off and then go hang out with friends but that changed the instant Keith arrived.
He'd stiffened the moment the wind shifted and he caught Shae's scent while she'd been instantly smitten with his toned physique and rugged good looks. Kris had been unsurprised when they exchanged numbers and started dating though she had been surprised when Shae revealed that Keith wasn't fully human and that she was his mate.
The pack hadn't been happy that Keith, heir to the Leroux Pack Alpha, had found his mate in a human. They'd been even less happy that Kris had been told of their existence; usually human mates 'died' to their families when they joined the pack. Shae had broken all the rules and Keith had backed her fully, finding the pack's rules heavy-handed and outdated.
Over the next four years, Shae's family had kept their secret. Keith was now the Alpha and Shae had given birth to a pair of beautiful, fraternal twins: a boy and a girl. Kris wondered briefly how the pack had reacted to the Reveal but knew that Keith and Shae had things well under control.
Morning inspection came and went and the day promised to be as uneventfully routine as the last. The squad was gathering around an area map planning an exercise when a grey-haired colonel entered the tent. Every soldier jumped to attention until given leave to relax; every soldier wondered just what brought the bird to their squad.
"Latimer, front and center!"
Jumping slightly from the gravelly command, Kris swiftly moved to the center of the tent and stood ramrod straight, staring forward. A trickle of sweat ran between her shoulder blades as she wondered if she'd royally screwed up while day dreaming.
"Intelligence reports that you had prior knowledge of these Others before the Reveal, is that correct?"
"Sir, yes, sir!" Fuck. How'd they find out about Shae?
"You didn't think that knowledge might be useful to your superiors, private?"
The colonel circled the lone soldier, sizing her up. She was slightly taller than average for a girl at 5' 7" and in prime physical condition. Her upper body strength would never rival a man's but she was agile and quick and had endurance in spades. She kept her light brown hair cut short so she'd not have to bother with pins to keep it in regulation and, after a year in the desert, her tanned skin showed off her bright green eyes. She wasn't super-model beautiful but had nothing to be ashamed of though her ACUs hid a lithe yet curvy frame.
"Sir, I was sworn to secrecy. I couldn't betray my sister, her mate, or their pack."
"Not even for your country, private?!" By this time, the colonel was back in front of her, mere inches from her face.
"Sir, with all due respect, neither the citizens of the United States nor their government are in any danger from the Leroux Pack. Sir."
Kris had the sinking feeling that her time with the military may well be over and in a not-so-nice way. She'd been hoping to serve her time, use her GI Bill for college, visit her sister and her pups, and go about her life as normal. Now, she feared there was at least a dishonorable discharge in her future; that was only if they didn't classify this as some sort of treason.
The atmosphere in the tent was tense as everyone waited. Not a soul moved, afraid to divert upon themselves the wrath of the high-ranking officer from the lone female. Beyond the fear of official retribution, all in the squad were shocked that Kris was aware of the Others but had kept the information to herself. It wasn't so much that she'd not told her superiors but in their close-knit squad, to keep such a massive secret made them all wonder just what else she might not be telling. When the colonel finally broke the silence, it was like the final nail into a coffin.
"Pack your gear and come with me."
Kris smartly executed an about face and walked to her bunk to stuff the few personal items she carried into her duffle bag. Her laundry bag followed, then the pillow and finally the rolled up sleeping bag. The members of her squad parted like the biblical waters when she went to unplug her phone from the single outlet allowed in the tent.
No one spoke but their looks of sympathy mixed with shock and suspicion threatened the tears she was determined not to allow to fall. Soldiers don't cry over their own fuck ups, she lectured herself as she heaved the duffle over her shoulder. Taking a deep breath, she nodded to her former NCOIC and rejoined the colonel at the front of the tent. Without a word, he turned and walked out and she had no choice but to follow.
Standing under the steady spray of the shower, Kris wondered why that particular dream had shaken her from her slumber. It'd been years since she'd thought about her days with the Army and remembering now didn't bode well for the events of the upcoming week.
Finishing up her morning grooming, she threw on her normal work uniform of khaki tan slacks, royal blue polo bearing the hotel's logo, and comfortable shoes. Low quarters, they'd called them during her days in the military. She wasn't certain what the civilian world called them other than ugly. Scrunching some gel into her shoulder-length hair kept the waves under control without her having to spend too much time with it and, forgoing make up, she declared herself dressed.
As a member of the hotel security team where the 5th Anniversary Human-Others Summit was to be held, she was more concerned with the state of her training, not her hair. Glancing at the clock, she raced from her apartment. If she could get there early enough, she'd grab one of the coveted security monitor spots instead of walking the floor or, heaven forbid, babysitting the protesters.
As she caught the nearly empty bus, she sympathized with the sentiment behind many of the organizations that protested these meetings even if she couldn't agree with their methods. Their tactics were reminiscent of the more violent eco-terrorist groups and Kris wondered if they'd ever realize that they were undermining their own missions. She could only hope they remained peaceful during the week.
Sending a representative to the Summit would have been the best course of action but she knew the leader of the largest of the groups and knew he'd dismiss the meetings as political rhetoric and ass-kissing. While that may be true, his cause would be better served had one of his followers put up with the bullshit in order to calmly lay out their concerns. They weren't without cause after all.
Almost on autopilot, she exited the bus at the proper stop and purchased her morning coffee from the stand just outside the hotel. Knowing Ricardo made his living off that stand and at that street corner, Kris had paid his exhibitor's fee without his knowing and given him the 'complimentary' pass for his stand. They exchanged little more than pleasantries on most mornings and sometimes less than a sleep-filled grunt on others yet they had developed a mutual admiration for the other based on work ethic and loyalties.
Kris passed many coffee shops on the way to work, some with cheaper coffees or more exotic flavors, yet she continued to buy from Ricardo. He rewarded her by charging her the same price as he had when she first came to work at the hotel even though the economy had forced no less than three increases in his prices in order to make a profit. It hadn't really been a conscious decision for either of them but they were quite happy with the arrangement.
In the faint predawn light, the lobby of the exclusive hotel was already a hive of activity. Tables were being set up near hotel check-in and quickly covered with boxes containing pre-registration packets, pamphlets and the useless trinkets donated the local sponsors. Just beyond the front desk, others tables were covered with equally useless magnets and stress balls, ink pens and water bottles, and the other items brought as a marketing ploy for this service or that product; the usual swag for a large convention such as this.
Kris noticed the hotel manager walking from table to table, checking the exhibitor badges as well as their items on offer, to ensure that nothing was made available that could be deemed offensive to their supernatural VIPs. One table was instructed to remove buttons with the logo "Mates > Marriage" from his booth, much to the displeasure of the vendor who immediately protested the command. Just as Kris was about to offer aid, Walter Andrews, Head of Security seemed to appear from nowhere to handle the confrontation. Satisfied it was beign taken care of, she returned to watching the preparations with a mixture of curiosity and dread.
She'd worked as a member of hotel security for nearly two years and they'd never hosted any kind of conference even close to this in size or scope. The sheer logistics of making it work was fascinating. It was like watching ants in an anthill bees buzzing around a hive; every person seemed to be wandering aimlessly and yet, upon closer inspection, was entirely focused on their particularly duty. Normally, she'd be right in the middle of the chaos but a glance at the list of security personnel had shown one name to be missing: namely, hers. Something told her that she'd be working outside her job description for this week.
And...there is was. The call she'd known was coming but was hopeful she would be proven wrong. The one that would put her into far closer contact with the Others than her lowly job title of security grunt should allow. If her sister wasn't so disgustingly happy with her Shifter mate, Kris would cheerfully kill the both of them.
"Yeah, boss, what's up?"
Turning to face the head of security, she wondered not for the first time just who, or what, Walter Andrews was. At a few inches shorter than her, he was slowly growing to be quite a rotund man and few knew how he managed to move around the hotel as quickly as he did. The hair he had left was still a russet brown but was quickly receding and, Kris thought with amusement, he would not be one of those men who would be attractive or sexy once fully bald. It was the eyes, however, that captured your attention even when you wished they hadn't. A normal brown shade, they nevertheless could stare a hole in you and turned particularly icy when the big man was angered. The meaty hand that rested on Kris' shoulder bore more strength than she expected and she began to rethink his apparent lack of physical capabilities.
"I'm sure you know where this is going, Kris. Can we just accept that you'll bitch and I'll pull the 'boss card' and move on? I really don't have time for this bullshit today."
"Alright, Mr. A., but I reserve the right to piss and moan later."
"Understood. Now c'mon." Kris thought she detected a slight note of humor in his voice as she followed her boss to the service elevators. Watching the muscles play along his back and thighs and seeing the lightness and agility evident in his step, she knew for certain it was time to reassess the boss man. He'd always practically waddled around the hotel before but now, with the Others about to converge onto the hotel, he seemed a different man...and that concerned her greatly.
"Who am I babysitting this time?"
"Not sure, actually. Got the call a few minutes ago from their security team requesting you. Not someone from my team but you. By name. Wouldn't tell me why, neither, and I don't like it."
"Fuck." Kris groaned softly, running a hand down her face in frustration. Oh, this day was just getting better and better. "You don't think it's a repeat of that wereleopard last Christmas, do you? Shae's gone into heat so Keith can't come pull his Alpha mojo this time."
"Dunno, but great timing. Tell Shaela to plan better next time,."
"I'll pass along your disapproval." Her dry response was accompanied by the closing of the elevator door.
Six months ago, several regional leopard prides had rented three of the conference rooms at the hotel to celebrate the mating of their king to a newly turned human female. While shifters could metabolize alcohol faster than any human, the party had been going for three days and a strong metabolism can only do so much.
Kris had responded to a disturbance at the indoor swimming pool only to find herself face to face with a wet, naked, very aroused leopard in human form. After several words, a few punches, and a taser to anything that dangled below his waist, Kris managed to escape the encounter intact. In his inebriated state, the leopard was convinced that she was his soul's mate and requested her from the security team to be his human liaison.
Once she'd arrived at the guest's room, he attempted to pull her into the room to consummate their mating; she, in turn, pulled the taser yet again and bumped the charge up a notch. Kris managed to escape his attentions but his Alpha was quite upset with the treatment of one of his cherished Betas by a mere human female.
Keith and Shaela had come to speak on her behalf and, by that time, the shifter in question had sobered up and released all claim on Kris.
Still...the experience made her wary of all future requests for a human liaison. Especially those that requested her by name. But there'd be no rescue this time if the Other had devious designs as Shaela and Keith were secluded on his pack's compound while he tended to her during Estrus. From what she'd been told about this time in a female Shifter's cycle, Kris wasn't sure even the threat of a nuclear war could pull a mated pair apart during this time.