Given the fact that the last general who had entered Authority headquarters never appeared again, General Glenn Michaels brought with him several soldiers—all armed to the teeth.
I couldn’t blame the man.
Of course—even if their guns were all loaded with wooden bullets—they would be no match for the vampires in the room if we actually decided to attack them, but it was good for the general to feel “safe.”
“General Michaels,” Nora said in a friendly manner, even as she got up and greeted him with an outstretched hand. The human gesture was lost on no one in the room. “It is good to see you again, though I wish it were during less,” she paused, “troubling times.”
“Agreed,” General Michaels said rather stiffly.
Like the general I’d killed, this one had on a uniform full of medals. Unlike the previous, however, this one seemed to have a twinkle in his eyes; hopefully, he had a sense of humor.
“Just so you know, this location is going to be obliterated by smart bombs, including bunker busters, if I do not leave as scheduled,” the general said.
There was a twinge of mockery to his tone. I already liked him better than the last one.
“Good to know,” Nora said. “And understandable.” She gestured toward the end of the conference table.
The general sat down and took out a device that would record the conversation we had. Likely, it would also transmit the conversation to government officials who were listening carefully.
The general looked at Nora almost defiantly, gauging whether she would object to the device. Wisely, she did not.
“Let us begin with introductions,” Nora said congenially. “To my right,” she gestured, “are Chancellors Isabel Beaumont, Travis Marrone, and Ian Bowles. To my left is Chancellor Moira Pace, Eric Northman, and Susanna Simpson.”
Sookie pinched my knee when Nora used the alias for her. However, there was no way in hell that I wanted the name “Sookie Stackhouse” on any government radar—not with what she could do. Even letting her sit at the table had been a “compromise,” but a necessary one. Simply put, we needed Sookie’s telepathy to know where we stood with the U.S. government. I had no doubt that they had next-generation anti-vampire weapons stockpiled. After all, that’s how the government operated: be prepared in case shit happens.
And shit had most definitely happened at the Authority during the previous week!
However, we needed for General Michaels to leave convinced that working with us and keeping the peace were in the country’s best interests.
“I recognize you,” the general said to me, “from those cheeky vampire Public Service Announcement knock-offs. My granddaughter likes you,” he added sourly.
“Well—she is safe from me. I am off the market,” I smirked, gesturing toward my bonded.
The general seemed to really look at Sookie for the first time.
“You are human!” he exclaimed.
“I am,” she returned. I felt her lie through the bond and smiled a little. Sookie no longer viewed herself as just human, and she no longer felt any shame at the notion of her otherness either.
So much fucking progress!
“What are you doing here?” the general asked my bonded.
“General, Miss Simpson and Mr. Northman are engaged to be married. They are the perfect example of how vampires and humans can coexist,” Nora responded.
“So they are what?” the general asked a bit sarcastically. “Diplomats?”
“Of a sort,” I responded with a smirk. “Actually, I am now the oldest of my kind in the state of Louisiana.”
“So you are representing this state?” he asked.
“My fiancé and I are representing the state,” I corrected.
He looked at me and Sookie through narrowed eyes, but—clearly—Sookie didn’t mind what she was picking up from his thoughts.
I hope it stayed that way.
“As you know, General,” Nora said, taking control of the conversation again, “the Authority is composed of a Guardian and seven Chancellors. By tradition, we set forth rules to govern other vampires. Before we made ourselves known to humanity at large, these rules were designed mostly to ensure our secrecy.”
“I know all this,” General Michaels said a little impatiently. “Don’t forget that I worked on the mainstreaming implementation with Roman and General Cavanaugh.”
“Of course,” Nora nodded respectfully, “but I was not sure if you were privy to vampires’ power structures beyond the Authority.”
“What? Your kings and queens?” he asked. “Your sheriffs? Yes—Roman told us.”
“Good,” Nora said. “That will save us time. Mr. Northman is a sheriff, but—given the unrest in this state—the former king, Mr. Compton, abdicated and has gone into seclusion, for he was too young to keep order. Mr. Northman will be acting as Louisiana’s king until the New Authority finds a permanent replacement. Susanna will be aiding Mr. Northman and acting as a liaison between vampires and humans.”
At that, I felt a little anxiety from Sookie as she was reading the General’s thoughts.
She squeezed my knee under the table as if keeping herself steady.
General Michaels looked around the table. “Well—now that all the introductions are done, let’s get to it. You said on the phone that you were going to offer explanations and solutions for the clusterfuck you vampires have caused.”
“Yes,” Nora said.
“Why don’t you start by explaining how Russell Edgington is alive when we were assured that he’d been eliminated?” he asked gruffly.
“Russell Edgington was eliminated—or so the Chancellors had thought,” Nora explained. “Without telling us, Roman had Russell buried in cement as punishment for his crimes against humans and vampires,” she continued, mixing some truth into the lie. That was always best if the lie was to be successful.
“Cement?” General Michaels asked.
“Yes,” I said. “It is a very painful kind of punishment. A vampire’s body won’t be fully crushed, but he or she cannot move, and it should have taken centuries for a vampire—even one as old as Russell—to breech the cement. And—even then—he would have been too weak to feed himself or to seek help.”
“Roman stationed a guard at Russell’s burial place, nonetheless,” Nora added.
I nodded. “Indeed, our previous Guardian truly thought that the Russell problem was solved—that Russell was eliminated for all intents and purposes.”
“Why didn’t Roman tell the Chancellors of this?” the general asked.
“He felt that one of the Chancellors might be a spy from another faction of vampires—the Sanguinistas,” Nora said.
“Sanguinistas?” the general asked.
“They’re basically a group that wants to treat humans as food,” Sookie chimed in. “Like a crazy religious cult,” she added in her charming way. I couldn’t help but to squeeze her knee affectionately.
“And they are most certainly against mainstreaming,” Isabel added.
“It turned out that Roman was right about having a spy,” I picked up. “And, sadly for him, the leader of the Sanguinistas was his consort, Chancellor Agrippa. Roman eventually shared with her the true fate of Russell Edgington, and she killed the guard before digging Russell up. Then she helped him to heal.”
“While Russell was strengthening, Chancellor Agrippa misled Roman to believe that Chancellor Drew was a Sanguinista, so he was killed. Eventually, Salome snuck Russell in here, and he killed Roman,” Nora explained. “After that, she used him as her guard dog, and any of the Chancellors who went against her were killed.”
“How is it that you are the last one standing?” the general asked.
“Mr. Northman is my vampire brother,” Nora explained. “I reached out to him covertly and asked for his help.”
“Which I gave,” I said.
“And Russell?” the general asked. “Where is he now?”
“Dead,” I said. “For real.”
“Explain,” he ordered.
“Eventually Russell turned on Salome. You see—he was older, more powerful, than she was. And he got tired of following her. He thought that the religious aspects of her philosophy were a waste of time, so he killed her and then went after Eric,” Nora responded.
“Why you?” the general asked me.
“Eric was the one who caught Russell last year,” Sookie informed.
“I delivered him to Roman in silver chains,” I lied. “I, like most everyone else, assumed that Roman had killed him.”
“Russell came after Eric when he was at my house,” Sookie paused and blushed, “visiting. Russell threated to burn down my home if Eric didn’t come out. So Eric did.”
“I will admit that he did get the best of me in our fight at first,” I conceded. “I caught him last year only by luck, and he is much stronger than I. However, my fiancé saved my life.”
“You?” the general asked me skeptically.
“Yep,” Sookie returned pleasantly. “Like with humans, vampires come in good and bad varieties. And Eric encouraged me to get things to protect myself in case any bad ones came my way. Well—I went to one of those redneck shops? You know—the ones run by humans who want nothing more than to kill all vampires?”
“I am aware of such places,” the general said dryly.
“Well—I got some silver spray and a silver net, and between the two of them, I was able to help Eric,” Sookie said.
“Because of Susanna’s help, I got the upper hand on Russell,” I said honestly. “And this time, I didn’t merely capture him. I staked him.”
“How can I trust that you aren’t lying to me?” the general asked.
“Well—I’m a witness. And Steve Newlin witnessed Eric killing Russell too,” Sookie explained.
“That is another thing!” the general said. “On television last night, Newlin shifted into a woman! And now I’m dealing with a shit-storm from the two-natured. We can’t let them come out in this period of unrest!”
“That broadcast can be explained as the Fellowship of the Sun using special effects,” Nora volunteered.
“And the woman? The shifter?” the general asked.
“Dead,” Sookie said sadly. Indeed, she’d learned of Luna’s death when she’d talked to Merlotte a few hours before.
“Not surprising,” the general said somewhat coldly. “We know that the very few that can shift into other humans don’t survive long. That’s the only reason we don’t see them as threats against the government. Still,” he paused, “I don’t believe the Newlin mess can be swept under the table. Even if I believed you about Edgington, the video of him and Newlin eating their way through a Frat house has now surfaced on the Internet.”
“Steven Newlin was brought in by Salome—after she had Nan Flanagan killed,” Nora lied. “She manipulated Roman to put Newlin in place as Nan’s replacement. And then, after Russell was resurrected, he and Newlin became lovers.”
I could see the conservative general cringing at that thought.
“The Newlin situation is now under control,” I informed.
“What do you mean?” the general asked.
“He is, even now, in a jail cell in this building. And we are prepared to hand him over to you so that he can be tried for his crimes. In fact, we can ensure that he will plead guilty and take responsibility for all of his actions as long as you can ensure that he will not be given the true death,” I said.
“Just think of it,” Isabel said, “all of those life sentences lined up in a way that truly mattered. The families of those young men could know that he’d been in prison for thousands of years.”
“We are also prepared to offer restitution to all of the victims’ families,” Nora said, “and we are prepared to offer vampire guards to supplement the security of the facility you put Newlin in.”
“All that we ask in exchange,” Ian Bowles added, speaking up for the first time, “is that you make public vampires’ role in Edgington’s death and Newlin’s capture, as well as our offer to do what we can to compensate for the terrible loss of life.”
I nodded approvingly in the direction of Ian, one of my contributions to the New Authority. I’d known the Irishman for the majority of my thousand years. Though he was younger than I, we shared similar codes of honor. I’d been happy to fight alongside of him more than once. Ian was a successful New York businessman, who got along well with his queen—though she was younger than he was. In fact, he was well-liked among most vampires, his natural charm making him many friends during his 650 years. The last time he and I had talked, Ian had mentioned the he hoped a new challenge would present itself to him. He jumped at the chance to join the New Authority and had immediately arranged to be flown to the nearest airport in his Learjet. He’d barely made the meeting, but I was glad that he had.
“And the TrueBlood factories?” the general asked after taking a moment to consider Ian’s words. “What is your solution for the loss of those?”
“I have already spoken to my contacts in Japan,” Nora informed. “We will be working with them to convert old soda bottling plants into TrueBlood factories. The first of these should be operational in two weeks’ time.”
“Is that practical?” Michaels asked. “I mean—are there enough such facilities?”
“We’ve already placed bids on closed or struggling plants in Istanbul, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Seattle, and San Antonio,” Nora answered.
“And in the meantime?” the general asked.
“A donor program,” Sookie responded to him.
“What do you mean?” Michaels asked warily.
“Well, though some humans don’t want to give blood to vampires, there are others who do,” Sookie shrugged. “And when it’s consensual, then it’s not against the law.”
“Fangbangers,” the general scoffed.
“Before all this mess with Salome and Russell occurred, Roman and I were developing a plan that would make a donor program more legitimate,” Nora explained. “Given all the pre-planning, it would be easy for our monarchs in each state to implement. Donors would be well-compensated for their service.”
“No,” the general stated summarily. “We’ve rejected such plans before because they would lead to fewer people donating blood to hospitals.”
“Actually, we have considered that concern,” I assured. “Vampires, as you know, are immune to most human ailments. However, in a large-scale donor program, we would need to screen the blood of donors for Hepatitis-D.”
Again, I felt some alarm in the bond I shared with Sookie, but she squeezed my knee to signal that I should go on.
“Of course, blood with Hep-D would be destroyed, and the humans would be informed that they are carriers. Blood with other diseases that would usually be discarded by your blood banks would be used solely by vampires. And half of the remaining healthy blood would be donated to area hospitals,” I explained. “Given that we would pay more for blood than humans, we would get more donations, so I imagine blood banks would soon be quite full.”
“All of this would be done under government oversight, of course,” Isabel said.
“And donations would be limited to one per week, per donor,” Ian added.
“And this unfortunate situation could simply be a trial for the program,” Nora guaranteed. “We can reassess the situation once the TrueBlood shortages are taken care of.”
“What of all the recent turnings?” the general asked.
“Like blowing up the TrueBlood factories, the increase in turnings was one of Salome’s mandates. However, as of tonight, this Authority has put a halt on turnings. After six months, we will reinstate the previous policy: that a turning can occur only by the human’s permission—permission which is confirmed by an Authority official in order to ensure that glamouring hasn’t occurred.”
General Michaels contemplated for a moment.
Sookie tensed next to me. “Listen,” she pled, “I know that—given what has happened in the last week—it’s hard to trust vampires, but not all of them are the same. The vampires in this room are worthy of the opportunity to prove themselves to you. You might not be the biggest fan of vampires, but I can tell that you are fair and good at what you do. And you know that a war between vampires and humans would just lead to more bloodshed.”
“We have given vampires a chance already,” General Michaels returned. “How can we trust that more humans won’t be killed if another rogue group takes over this New Authority?”
“The Sanguinistas have been put down,” Nora averred. “Their leader is no more. Roman’s flaw was in not telling you about the threat they posed to us. You could have helped him.” She paused. “You and I both know that Roman was a visionary, but he was also an arrogant asshole.”
The general chuckled. “No doubt.”
“I am ambitious, but I do not have the kind of arrogance Roman had,” Nora said. “This Authority will have more transparency. Every one of the new members is committed to mainstreaming. I hope that you give us the opportunity to fix what has been broken between humans and vampires—to regain the trust that was lost. And—in addition to that—consider all the jobs that the new factories and the new donor program will create. In these times, any boost to the economy is good for this country.”
The general rose. “I will make my recommendation to the President and contact you tomorrow at sundown. If we agree to your terms, Guardian, I will collect Newlin tomorrow night as well.”
“Of course. Thank you for listening, General Michaels,” Nora said, rising and going to shake his hand once again. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, but—in the meantime—know that the monarchs and sheriffs will be hard at work tonight ensuring that hungry vampires have access to our stores of TrueBlood, which are kept on hand for emergencies. Each monarchy has some blood on reserve, and now that Salome’s orders to feed from only humans have been countered by the rules of The New Authority, any who feed on the unwilling will be dealt with decisively.”
The general nodded and walked away. As planned, after he had left the building, Jessica took the new Chancellors, other than Isabel and Ian, to their new quarters. Isabel had, of course, already known about Sookie’s telepathy. And I had decided to tell Ian about my bonded’s secret and her pregnancy as well. Though older than Nora, Ian was content to defer to her as Guardian. However, I counted the Irishman as a true friend—and, in that moment, I trusted him more than Nora. Thus, I had asked him to keep an eye on my sister for the time being.
Nora, Isabel, Ian, Sookie, and I went to Roman’s old quarters, which were soundproof and sans surveillance equipment. There, we would discuss what my bonded’s telepathy had told her about General Michaels and his agenda. Given the changes in the bond throughout the conversation, I knew that not all of the news would be good.
A/N: Hello all! I hope that you are having a lovely week! This story isn’t going to delve too much into the New Authority because—honestly—Eric wants out of it. (This is why not all of them are “casted.”) However, I could certainly see Eric trying to help put things back together again after Billith was dead. He still supports his sister, and one of her past goals was eventually to be the Guardian. In my mind, pragmatic Eric knows the need for an Authority (preferring it to the alternative of vampire anarchy). I hope you liked General Michaels. I didn’t think it was too out there to imagine that the U.S. government would send another envoy, despite General Cavanaugh’s disappearance.
Up next: We’ll find out what he was really thinking.
Until next week,
I hope you have checked out my new “SHORT.” It will be only 10 chapters, and 7 are already available. I’m offering a chapter a day until it’s done. The story is called Every Contingency.