Bat and the Blitz by A. Gregory
Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
I force a few more gulps of air into my lungs, but I’m not calmer.
If anything, with every puff, I’m more agitated.
It’s got nothing to do with the air quality in the house and everything to do with my sister’s stifling presence. Poor Vera doesn’t even know she drives me nutso bananas. But she does.
I suppose it’s a typical way for little sisters to feel about their perfect big sisters.
This is way more intense, though.
We passed good old sibling rivalry a decade ago. Maybe even two.
Not that the competition between us is fair or right.
There’s no contest. I’ve never had a chance of winning. Not against Perfect Vera. My sister’s only flaw is that she cannot stand the sight of blood. It was the one thing I could do better: be a better vampire bat than her. I leaned on it hard growing up.
When I got a bad grade — rather, when I got a lower grade than the standard Little Miss Perfect set up — it was much easier for me to cope with my parents’ disappointment if they were also let down by Vera’s inability to drink blood.
Is that nice? No.
It’s petty as hell, but a bat’s gotta do what a bat’s gotta do.
It’s basically the only way I survived in my high-achieving family. It’s not my fault I don’t have the kind of brain that wants to sit around and read a whole bunch of theories and write long briefs or do long math equations.
Sitting still is not my jam. I much prefer action.
That’s why I applied to the Furry United Coalition Newbie Academy. I was basically killing my soul, trying to complete a university degree in criminology.
It was interesting enough, but a three-hour-long lecture?
No, fucking thank you.
I didn’t know how to be motionless for that long. I went on so many panic flights halfway through those interminable classes I had to drop it from my schedule.
After discussing this with my older and very wise cousin Mila, she suggested that I apply to FUCN’A. As a forensic anthropologist and sometimes teacher at the Academy, Mila was in a great position to tell me what to expect. She helped me along the application process in secret. I figured I’d only break the news to my parents once I was accepted. It was the responsible thing to do, but it was also self-preservation.
If they didn’t know I applied, if I failed, they wouldn’t need to know.
Of course, it wasn’t that easy.
Before I even got into the Academy — before I could tell my family I had applied – Vera announced that she was leaving her job as a fancy lawyer to join FUCN’A.
Read that three times over, and don’t you dare judge me for going a little nutso bananas. I got a cool Bela Lugosi tattoo out of that major freak-out, so I suppose it could’ve been much worse.
Without telling anyone, least of all me, Vera got into the Academy.
I almost withdrew my application when I found out, but Mila convinced me to give it a shot anyway.
“Who cares if it might look like you were merely following behind Vera? You made the decision long before she announced she had been accepted. You know, and that’s all that matters.” Mila’s words were comforting enough in the moment, but they’re little comfort right now.
Vera graduated from FUCN’A ahead of me after one hell of a first mission. Not to say that the competition between us is more aggressive than ever, but it sort of is. How can I prove myself better than her now?
I can’t even lord Vera’s aversion to blood over her anymore.
All because of that silly pumpkin head scientist boyfriend of hers. Vera doesn’t even need to drink blood to survive anymore. Jack made her some kind of plant-based supplement.
I would be pissed off if it wasn’t so damn sweet.
I love my sister. I do. I don’t want to see her fail, nor do I wish her a miserable life. I like her fine, but she’d be a hell of a lot more likable if she wasn’t so damn good at Every. Little. Fucking. Thing.
Even the dish she brought over to Mila and T-Bone’s place for our potluck dinner is better than the store-bought dessert I grabbed. Did I spend hours making something? No. Instead, I hit the gym. I don’t regret my choice, but my brain can’t help but compare Vera and me.
It’s basically how my brain is wired.
In fact, I’m so caught up in my own damn thoughts I lose track of the conversation.
Tuning back in, it takes me a few moments to realize Mila is trying to pry information out of Vera about her latest assignment, namely tracking a woman who was either the mastermind in Vitality Holdings’ whole immortality quest or a victim of the shadowy and unknown leaders, Hera and Zeus.
“You’re on my husband’s task force,” our cousin Mila grunts, wrangling her squirming baby into her arms. “You can tell me everything. I’ll claim that T-Bone told me during pillow talk.”
Vera blushes deep. “Oh, no. You know I can’t. I’m not at liberty to divulge anything I’ve learned during my stakeouts of Lisbeth Bannon.” She sighs dramatically like she doesn’t absolutely adore having sensitive information.
Mila clicks her tongue. “I’m on maternity leave. Bored out of my skull. Give me something. An exciting tidbit. I beg of you.”
Tiny little Bettina coos up at her mother, and immediately, Mila, the badass, melts away. Her gaze brims with love as she grins down at her offspring. “You’re the cutest baby bat ever, Bettina Thrussel. Yes. You are.”
My sister smirks at me. It’s the kind of conspiratorial look siblings give each other, and I almost don’t return it. I do, though. Because if there is one amusing thing in life, it’s that Mila Starling, the daughter of the infamous prolific serial killer known as the Bloody Doctor, has a daughter of her own.
Before Bettina was born, I never would’ve guessed that Mila would settle down and have kids. But, seeing her holding her kid, big moon eyes shining with happiness, it’s clear that my cousin is batshit in love with her child.
Oh, Mila still rocks really funny, albeit borderline-inappropriate shirts and her firetruck red hair. She’s also one of the best moms out there. She literally knows exactly what not to do.
Like don’t kill hundreds of people to learn the secret of immortality.
That’s hardly a good way to do some mother-daughter bonding.
“Did you hear that? I think Jack is calling me.” Vera hastens to the kitchen, undoubtedly uncomfortable with the thought that she couldn’t fulfill Mila’s desire for information.
As soon as my sister disappears into the kitchen, Mila switches seats and comes to sit beside me. “Okay, sour bat. Tell me what’s wrong,” she commands, bouncing a gurgling Bettina.
“I’m fine.” I’m not, but I’m not going to unload on Mila. She’s got a screaming bundle of joy to tend to. I’m not going to pile on my drama. It wouldn’t be right.
“You’re not fine. I can see that vein in your temple about ready to explode.” Mila holds Bettina with one arm to poke at the vein that is indeed popping out of my temple.
I hate that it does that. It’s one of the reasons why I always leave my hair down and wavy. It hides The Vein. It’s no fun having a clear physiological sign that tells people exactly how you’re feeling. It gives them an unfair advantage.
Knocking Mila’s hand out of the way, I tug at the lapels of my leather jacket. “I’m just waiting for my first mission right now. I’m antsy.”
Mila gives me a knowing look. “This is about the task force.”
“Shh.” I crane my neck to look toward the kitchen, but Vera is out of earshot, talking with T-Bone and Jack.
“Oh, come on, Raya. It’s not so bad. I’m sure you’ll find a way to leave your mark on the Academy.”
I snort hard. “Sure. Because lightning strikes twice in the same family.”
She shrugs. “It does in ours. Think about it. When my mom escaped from prison, I was pulled into the mission to bring her in. We all thought that would be the end of the Bloody Doctor and her super-nasty research. Then? Your sister is sent to be Jack’s bodyguard. Boom. He’s involved in a whole thing with sketchy people who want the key to immortality, too. There’s a whole task force dedicated to finding anything and everything we can about any and all immortality chasers out there. If you want, I can ask T to pull you into one of the teams.”
I shake my head. “Not a chance.”
“Stop being like that. You could do some good out there. You know all about the Bloody Doctor and this whole Vitality Holdings, Lisbeth Bannon, Hera and Zeus thing your sister uncovered.”
“Well, sure. Because of course my sister would discover this huge plot to take over the world during her first mission.”
Mila waves me off. “Point is that you have a chance to be part of the task force, too. You could even uncover the real identity of Hera and Zeus while your sister is tailing Lisbeth Bannon.”
Her words don’t sit well with me. In fact, I get the distinct impression that she is keeping something from me. I narrow my eyes at her, pursing my lips as I read her face. Her brows are puckered together with a tiny bit of stress. There’s a slight edge of panic wafting off of her that has nothing to do with the baby in her lap.
I gasp and hit a hand to my knee. “No fucking way.”
“Don’t yell,” she chides. “You’ll scare Bettina.”
The child hasn’t budged. She’s still sitting there, looking as pleased as the queen of everything, as cute as a button.
“Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to warn me about something? If you tell me T-Bone asked Director Cooper to put me on the immortality chasers task force, I’m gonna make ground beef out of your husband.”
Mila laughs. “Sweet mother of echoes. T didn’t request you. Alyce gave him a list of agents to assign to the task force. Your name was on it with an asterisk. The boss lady wants you on this. That’s a huge compliment.”
The bottom falls out of my stomach, and the blood I had for lunch races back up to burn the back of my throat. “No.”
Her apologetic smile twinges. “This is good. It’s a good assignment for you.”
I inhale long and deep, my hands fisting at my sides.
I should’ve known that I would be in Vera’s shadow in FUC, too.
How in the hell can I make a name for myself now?