Lost in Shadow 3: Dream's Reality
A Gone From Daylight Spin-off
No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
To sage or poet these responses given:
Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,
Remain the records of their vain endeavour:
Frail spells whose utter'd charm might not avail to sever,
From all we hear and all we see,
Doubt, chance and mutability.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley; (from) Hymn to Intellectual Beauty
That evening, in the safe house when I began to wake, we were still like that--facing each other, Orion lying with his cheek on my shoulder, to my right and partly on top of me, holding my wrist in his hand.
I was slower than usual to shake off the vampire sleep. Perhaps the injuries that had blocked most of my memory caused it, or perhaps worry had woken me before my body was ready. I felt made of iron: heavy, and stiff in position. Someone outside my body might be able to move my arms or legs or my neck, pushing strongly enough to crumble what felt a soft layer of rust immobilizing my joints, but I myself couldn't do it yet.
In my pre-wakeful state, I could feel, though seemingly not move.
I didn't open my eyes to see Orion, but in imagination I saw how desirable he looked as I felt his skin touching, weighing all along mine. My mind's eye looked him over, perving happily on his sleeping, innocent, sexy beauty. A person in the room with us would have seen us together, a pair of teenage boys--as we appeared to be and as Orion, in fact, still was. I was fifteen when I became a vampire; and my body renewed each time I slept, exactly as I had originally been the night I changed. I would become like that again every evening--for eternity if I continued to so desire, or until someone killed me. Orion was really fourteen, not just in his body but by the calendar. He'd only been a vampire for--what?--just a few weeks. He hadn't hunted yet, and the blood in him was his own, from when he was alive.
Where Orion's hand caressed it, my wrist was circled by a pattern. Such markings can be caused when a human is made a vampire and is in love with the vampire who makes him. If they want to pledge themselves to each other, each first puts on a bracelet--an 'eternity band.' They make love together, and at the moment of orgasm the vampire bites the other one. Then, as the transformation to vampire takes place, the two bracelets change, turning into flesh, displaying a design that symbolizes their love. This doesn't always work--if the love between them isn't deep enough. Many couples, wanting to be in love but not really having it, or more interested in some prestige supposed to attach to the markings than in love itself, are disappointed to wake afterward, both now vampires, but wearing merely two metal bands.
I had those markings, so there must be--or there must once have been--a vampire who had created me in love. Who was that vampire? And where was he now? (I was sure it must be a "he.") These memories were most important among those blocked out from me. I simply didn't know.
Normally, the perceptions I got would be enhanced by my extra. My physical touch could reach out, so hypersensitive I could feel in detail not only what I touched but indirectly everything touching it--the vibrations of sound waves on surfaces, the warmth of radiation that fell on them, anything that disturbed them however slightly. From the changes in my own sensations, I got a clairvoyant picture of everything surrounding me, even at a distance or hidden from sight. My extra was what gave me early warning of danger. But, sanctuaries like the one we were in had ways that they cloaked extras, to keep them from attack.
It may have been nice that this safe house would protect Orion and me from vampires using their extras against us, but it still made me nervous, acutely anxious, not to be able to use my own extra. A feeling of menace ate away at my happiness, the temporary peace that came from lying with Orion, half awake and unmoving, enjoying him and not asking questions, waiting for him to wake up.
With no extra, and with my eyes still not opening, my senses of hearing, taste, and smell were working overtime. Orion stirred in his sleep; I felt the shift in his weight on my body and heard the scratch of the bed sheet where his foot brushed it. He sighed; I smelled his sleep-breath and felt its moisture, and I pushed my head forward to kiss his lips. Interpreting data was a trained reflex with me. Part of my job as a hunter and team leader was to use my talent to make enemy profiles. Now, though, that need to interpret was starved for raw material by the lack of its counterpart: the use of my extra to bring data in. I tuned hungrily to my other senses to make up for it. Not to mention that I was especially interested in Orion. And worried how we could survive Katrina's vendetta against us.
The pattern on my wrist was warm in Orion's hand. I focused on that warmth, carried along by the other sensations saturating me.
Perhaps I drifted back to sleep.
The hand holding my wrist was no longer Orion's. Its wrist had the same pattern as mine.
I knew the answer to my earlier question. He was lying next to me. We were not in the safe house.
He was called 'Signalman.' He had been born just over 100 years ago. He was 16 years old, blond-haired, blue-eyed, lithe, and beautiful. He had needed to get out of his parents' home young, so he lied about his age to enlist in the US Army in World War I. The army didn't care much: they wanted boys to put in front of the enemy's cannons. They assigned him to the Signal Corps. The men in the units he served with were smart enough to know he wasn't the age he claimed, but they needed him. As a signalman he supplied their communications. His graceful, agile, energetic young body was able to dart and slip unscathed across battlefields, in and out of trenches, and through barbed wire. They could never be inadequately supported, or cut off, or left behind as long as he was there with his assortment of signal flags, flares, wired telegraphy units, and even early radiotelephones. They felt safer. In the blood-soaked mud they needed his cheerfulness. Plus, I'm sure, the men just liked looking at him.
One night, on one of these missions, he was finally captured--not by the enemy but by a vampire with a taste for gay boys.
And so, now a vampire himself, he went through time since then unchanged. I came into the world several decades later.
"I had to stick around and stay good-looking," Signalman joked, "for you. I was waiting for you. How come it took you so many years to eventually decide to get born? You gotta learn to think faster than that."
I was reassured somewhat, at least to remember who my lover was. How soon would more shreds of memory return to me? Where the hell was Signalman now? What was I doing snuggled cozy in bed with another boy, a different blond? How could I possibly plan my actions if I didn't know who I was or what I wanted? It's hard enough to win in this world, but how dangerous was it if you didn't even know what you were playing for?
For a moment, it was Orion again I was lying next to. He'd moved in his sleep.
Then I was back with Signalman.
He said, "You've got to stop worrying so obsessively, boyfriend. You'll get old before your time. Stay calm--and more effective."
He kissed me, and I felt better.
Signalman taught me everything, before my specialized hunter training. I mean, if anyone, it's your sire and his friends who teach you how to be a vampire, and probably how to control your extra. It can take months, as you feed for the first few times and your body changes over. But my lover was dedicated to doing more than that, to developing everything I could be.
He made me learn to interpret the data that streamed in from my extra, or from anywhere else. His own extra was different and he couldn't do what I could, but somehow how he knew how to teach me. For a long time, he'd lead me blindfolded on field trips to some scene or other that I'd have to describe without seeing it. Eventually, he'd set up these situations so they were interactive scenarios: I'd have to take some action that would alter part of it, then I'd intuit the resulting changes, then see how to make the next adjustment he asked for . . .
At first I'd only be baffled. So much data would flow in that I'd be overwhelmed. No clear idea would emerge and I'd think I saw nothing. Signalman patiently held my hand, caressing it, and calling softly, "What do you see, Adam? What do you see?"
Gradually I learned to trust the apparently fleeting sensations that washed through me, to respect them, to bring them into stable patterns that made sense.
"Good," he said proudly when I'd gotten a part of it; and he came closer, touching me as I tried to organize my impressions.
I was still blindfolded, searching with my mind. I answered him.
He said, "Good response! Now, boyfriend, what does that mean?"
I replied, and Signalman pressed on, crooning, "What else can you see? What are you missing?"
How was I supposed to figure it out when I couldn't see anything? How was I supposed to be able to think rationally when the sexiest sixteen year old on the planet distracted me by nuzzling into my neck and covering my cheeks with feathery-light angel kisses? Perhaps he did it to encourage me, to cheer me on. Or perhaps he hoped, by pouring in more data when I already had too much, to make me focus my sensations clearly.
"You don't 'figure it out.' You recognize it--in whole chunks. What do you see, Adam?"
I loved him desperately. That made it even more impossible to ignore him and concentrate on my task. But I wanted so much to live up to what he asked of me--and I believed in my ability to do it.
As he thought I was coming to understand most of it, his touching intensified. His hands, and nose, and lips strayed further down my body, making it harder for me to think. He turned it more and more into foreplay, but I stood and answered his questions.
"Good!" he kept saying.
Finally he felt that I'd succeeded in seeing the scene whole, that I'd completed my assignment--and he performed a ritual we used. He nuzzled behind my ear and then moved his nose forward across my earlobe, folding it over and releasing it to fall back again. His lips came to my ear and he whispered, "I love you, Adam."
That was the trigger that released me.
I threw off my blindfold. In a frenzy, I started returning his caresses--unstoppable now until we both had orgasm.
Afterward, satisfied, I lay there listening, and feeling him next to me--the sixteen-year-old boy who'd pledged himself to me 'forever.' Among humans too, lovers say that word--even though they will die. They know they can't live forever but still it's in their power never to betray each other. The reality of their love makes it a permanent fact, outside the meaning of time, with a value proportional to its truth. Armed only with their mortal, easily injured bodies, these humans trust themselves against the inevitable pressure of time. This poetic indirectness makes their word 'forever' poignant and more important than if meant literally. Who would care if someone's love simply was able to go on endlessly--if they didn't already care about the quality of it as it is now?
Even though vampires can in principle live forever, in practice few are very permanent at all. They can be killed by stopping their heart. They can choose to die voluntarily by returning to the sunlight. In the end, their promises to love 'forever' mean much the same as those of humans: they're factually false but morally unbreakable.
My gaze went to the pattern on Signalman's wrist, the pattern that symbolized our pledge. I stared at it and daydreamed.
Eventually, I wasn't looking at his wrist but at the similar graffiti on the front of the sanctuary where Orion and I rested.
I tried to work out the significance of that similarity. Was there a connection?
The graffiti didn't look quite the same as they had this morning, just before dawn. They were visually identical, but my impression of them was different, distorted. I searched through my own reactions and then I understood. The graffiti looked different because I was looking at them now through someone else's eyes--Daniel Gray's eyes.
Daniel Gray was watching the front of the sanctuary.
I knew the accident I caused to his motorcycle wouldn't keep him out of action long. But I'd hoped he'd be distracted enough to lose our trail and it'd take time to find us again--and meanwhile I could get back more of my memory and formulate some plan. No such luck. Daniel, or someone helping him, had tracked us.
To hell with it. Let him look at the safe house all he wants--as long as he can't enter it. When we get ready to leave, I'll avoid him--or I'll deal with him. It's so much more complicated when I'm also responsible for the safety of the newbreed Orion.
Again I ignored that feeling of menace that bothered me all along.
I opened my eyes at last to find Orion looking at me with an amused smile on his face.
"So you think I'm funny, huh?" I said.
He laughed. "How could I help it?"
It was good to see him happy.
"What's up this morning?" he asked.
"Possibly a lot. Don't worry about it yet."
"If you say so."
"You trust me?"
"If we were boyfriends, we could spend the morning productively."
I laughed. "I didn't mean you should go that far in not worrying. Worry a little."
"Certainly." He smirked.
"Look, what I really need is to go through the material we stole from Katrina's--try to absorb what it means so we can formulate a plan."
"A plan? We run away--like the demons of hell were after us."
"We couldn't run far enough. Somehow we have to rehabilitate ourselves with the elders. It's the only way."
"Sure. They'll believe us instead of Katrina."
"I repeat: It's the only way. If the elders decide to eliminate us, they'll find us wherever. I'm a hunter; I do that for a living. No matter what it costs, we can't let them make that decision."
"I repeat: Sure."
"We've got this," I said, holding up Katrina's file and displaying it, like I was orating to my audience of only one. "There are people on our side. Liam and his brother are searching for information. Rachael is looking out for us--and Freak and even Tariq. Dutch is a fair enough guy, and he's too smart to take Katrina on faith."
"We're more popular than I thought--that so many people will risk their lives for us when it comes down to the crunch."
"They will. They're sticking by us." I wasn't as sure of this as I sounded--but it was easy to tell Orion, and necessary--or so I probably guessed. "Could you please just give me a few moments with the file, to think?"
"Okay, I can make myself invisible. I'll just sit here and enjoy watching you."
I chuckled and turned my attention to the file. I went through it--over and over again--laying its contents out on the bed, arranging and then rearranging the pictures and documents in different possible patterns.
After I'd worked for a while, Orion stood up. He moved around the room and got dressed, never taking his eyes off of me.
No matter how I laid the file out on the bed, I didn't like what I saw. "There's more."
Orion knelt on the bed and slowly sat down.
"What do you mean?"
"This is only part of the picture. There's another file."
"How do you know this?"
"I've got a hunch. I get hunches. It's my job."
"What we've got isn't good?"
"It's good, but it needs too much filled in by the imagination. Its logic is incomplete. There's more in Katrina's office. We need that more if we want to shake Katrina's position with the elders and go back to leading useful lives."
He groaned. "It might as well be on the moon--for all we'd be able to get it."
"We'll go back to her office again and steal it."
"Oh, I see now," he said. "That hit you took on the back of your head cost you your memory--and now you've gone completely insane." He watched me steadily, with quiet compassion, a deeply concerned expression in his eyes. "She'll just kill us."
"She wouldn't think of looking for us there. We've been there, done that."
"I wouldn't imagine us there, either."
"She'll work to find us somewhere else."
"And you theorize she'll conveniently be so distracted she won't even notice as we tiptoe into her own apartment?"
"I can do it."
"You're the one with the expertise here. . . . I mean, we're gonna die in this anyway. So . . . "
"Look, kid, that isn't even our main concern. Immediately, there's the fact that Daniel Gray is outside this sanctuary waiting for us."
"I won't ask how you know."
"Nice of you to mention it at last."
"There was no point in telling you earlier. Why worry you?"
"Is there anything else I'd probably definitely undoubtedly maybe like to be aware of?"
"Maybe you could go downstairs and hunt up that old woman while I get dressed and follow you. Then we could talk to her about potential exit strategies."
"Huh. You're not completely irrational," he agreed.
He took off rapidly out of our room and down the stairs without indulging himself in more of our leisurely verbal repartee. Actually, I liked the repartee; I was grateful for his calm--and his courage.
Orion was only gone a few moments and I was almost dressed when I heard him yell from far below, with fear in his voice: "Exile!"
With one shoe on, I zoomed out the doorway. Since waking I had felt separated inside my body--like it was a large mechanical outer shell and I was a little man inside, in charge of running up and down stairways and across catwalks to move the switches and levers that actuated the larger man's movements, peering out occasionally through his eyelid windows and trying to see enough outside to make out what was really going on. Now, in an instant, that illusion stopped. I was identical with my body, a body of flesh and blood, not machinery; and it took only a ghost of my wish and I was already in rapid motion.
I flew along the sanctuary's third-floor passageways and leapt through the open archway to the landing at the top of the stairs.
Orion was at the landing below, pointing to something next to the archway, behind me on the landing. He was yelling, "Watch out!"
I started to turn to face whatever it was--and Daniel Gray came into the corner of my vision, holding a long, thick iron bar above me. If I'd had the use of my extra I would have seen him first, back when I was still in the room.
How the hell did he get into the sanctuary?
I tried to turn faster, in a twist that would throw me back and send my arm out to bat him away. But he was already moving quickly himself--bringing the bar down.
He connected with the back of my head and I went tumbling forward. I had enough presence of mind to tuck my head under and to somersault as I went down the stairs, protecting my spine by letting it roll over them instead of colliding directly. And I was also able to ricochet off the wall at the turn near the bottom and to take a few extra rolls across the second-floor landing.
I came to rest half-upside down in a disordered heap against a wall, with Orion standing next to me.
I needed to get moving!
The place in back of my head where Gray hit me with the iron bar was the same where I was already injured. And the damage was much worse this time. I hadn't lost any more memories but, no matter what, I couldn't move--or at least my hands and feet weren't progressing any faster than one inch per minute.
All the time I'd been falling, I heard the feet of Daniel Gray thud down the stairs under his stone body only a few steps behind me. I needed to protect Orion. I wondered where Gray was, but it took a minute or two before I succeeded in moving my head into a position where I could see him. He was standing patiently at the bottom of the landing, holding the iron bar and watching us.
Need to move fast!
Orion squeezed my hand. "I'll stop him," he said.
A newbreed, Orion couldn't handle killing a human yet, much less Daniel Gray.
I gasped out, "You got real guts and I love you for it, but I want you to promise me something."
Orion wasn't looking at me or paying much attention. He was staring at Gray with fear, and determination.
I put all the energy I had into squeezing his hand back, until he looked down at me. "Promise," I said.
"Whatever happens, don't interfere."
He looked at me uncomprehending, slowly shaking his head. I was still frantically trying to figure out how to reprogram my nerves to get my hands and legs moving at speed. I was pretty sure I could still manage it--if the breaks just went with me.
I repeated: "Promise?" I pressed his hand harder and he looked into my eyes.
Finally, he whispered, "Promise."
Now to deal with Gray. He seemed not discontented with the situation, still standing and watching, in no hurry.
We heard sharp footsteps coming up from the first floor. The old woman?
Gray ignored them and spoke. "Well, this is convenient, having you two together like this."
He came closer to us. I still wasn't moving much. But I was almost ready to start, I was sure.
The old woman appeared on the landing and walked between us to face Gray.
She pointed at him and said, "You won't be harming anybody in my sanctuary today."
Gray looked astonished at first and then gave an indulgent chuckle. He hefted the iron bar. "I won't be needing this." He tossed it lightly to a corner of the landing, where it thudded and bounced.
He raised his arm and opened his huge hand. He lunged to grasp her outstretched arm that still poked her finger at him.
The skin of her arm was old and liver-spotted. It hung, slack and wrinkled, off bones that must be brittle. Gray piled into her with a force that would easily shatter the arm, and collapse her whole body down after it into a pile of dried sticks on the floor.
But, instead of opposing Gray's strength with a stiffness that would let him crush her, she surrendered her forearm completely. It swung there free as he held it, while the rest of her stayed still . . . and his momentum carried him onward, faster than he anticipated. He wore an expression of surprise, holding her limp arm that must now seem of little use to him.
Letting him control the forearm, she stepped in closer to him with the remainder of her body, pivoting effortless around the still loosely rotating joint in her elbow. Her body mirrored his movements now, like a dance partner.
Somehow in the changing geometry of their limbs, he lost his balance and started to fall.
She gently held him--using his own grasp that still clutched her arm. She allowed his upper body to move backward and she enabled him to descend gracefully to the floor.
His right leg, about to become twisted and to snap under his falling torso, shot out in front of him.
She picked up her own leg next to it and stomped her heel down on his knee before his leg could rest flat on the floor. The force of her whole weight, though small, was concentrated in that one point: his knee. It bent backwards. We heard the crunch of its breaking bone.
A broken kneecap wouldn't slow a fighter like Daniel Gray as much as you'd hope.
With a roar, he used his left leg and his right arm against the stairway railing to push himself upright. The piston of his left arm shot a punch at her head.
Again, she didn't do the slightest thing to oppose him directly. She did raise her arm up next to his. Her arm allowed his to brush alongside as it passed. She only deflected the angle of his trajectory by a few degrees, but it was enough that, over distance, his fist went just wide of her face and whisked harmlessly past.
She responded to his look of frustration by holding her offending arm up in front of him. He reached for it. She pulled it back smoothly so he didn't contact it immediately. She still held it there, inviting, as if graciously offering him the means to destroy her. He reached farther for it. She pulled back slightly more so he had to increase his reach.
He came off balance on his remaining leg. This time he fell forward, following after her offered hand. The good left leg remained out behind him as he went down on his face. She stepped gracefully back to his foot. Again she stomped downward with her foot, this time on his heel. The toes pushed outward and the ankle bent the wrong way and its bones shattered. He screamed.
Gray was still lethal. He could launch himself at you with his arms and he could do a lot with them once he got there. But with his right knee and his left ankle useless, he couldn't move all that far that fast.
She looked over at him and repeated, "Not in my sanctuary."
Eventually she turned to me. "Imagine you'd be up to killing him yet?"
After doing something so nice for us, I'd kind of expected she'd transform into a white-haired, friendly grandmother type. But, I was wrong. She was as emaciated and sarcastic and cold as I'd remembered her.
"Eliminate him," she said.
"All right," I agreed. I was feeling better after my few minutes of rest, and I slowly got myself up on my feet and pulled out my shiv.
I staggered toward Gray.
He lay there, seeming to accept his fate, docile. "Go ahead, kill me, hunter," he said--with a sneer on the word 'hunter.'
"Right," I said obligingly and kept limping to him.
I looked down on him, wanting to savor my full sense of who the vampire was that I was about to terminate--the enemy who'd tried to kill me and to kill Orion. I hated him. Even injured, he was impressive in his deadliness, but he didn't amount to much that I myself could respect or regret that the world would lose.
I felt the shiv in my hand, and I satisfied myself that I knew how to dive in for the kill while preempting any last minute surprise effort he might make at me with his arms. I reviewed my plan in my mind.
"Trying to get your courage up?" Gray said. "What's the wait?"
He disgusted me. He was an insect masquerading as a person. You'd slit him open and there'd be nothing but nasty insect goo inside.
I wanted him dead. But, as I stood there, I couldn't understand why I should be the one responsible for removing him from the planet. His life wasn't something of mine--that I could just take or give. Who was I to do it?
"Hurry up," he said. "I've got to catch a bus afterwards and you'll make me late."
My unforeseen objections were a little weird--coming from someone who, as a hunter, had already killed 39 vampires. Not to mention I'd fed by killing lots of humans: one about every month. Of course I'd killed the 39 vampires under orders from the elders. You might ask whether it was okay for the elders to order me to do that and whether I was okay to have followed them. But, that's a different argument. The fact remained that now, for the first time in my life, I was about to end a vampire on my own responsibility. Gray was no longer an immediate threat; it happened to be more safe and convenient, for me personally, to see him die.
Gray piped up again. "What would Signalman think? He'd be ashamed. You need an old woman to cripple your kill for you--and then you don't even have the balls to finish me off mercifully."
"Yeah, he was a good guy, Signalman. I knew him; all the guys."
Why was he using the past tense? I replied, "You know Signalman?"
"Sure, we were pals. Of course, it was all a lie about the way they said he died. They kept spreading that rumor that the elders had him hunted down and killed, but that never happened. Everyone knew he got tired of life and went on a sun quest. Because he was a pussy--an ineffectual pussy--just like you are."
Rage boiled behind my eyes. My palm quivered around the handle of my shiv.
Gray went on, "See, you're a pussyboy. Show me otherwise."
Then, I didn't care what he thought. I said, "It won't be me who kills you, Daniel. Not tonight." I turned away from him and returned to the old woman and Orion, and I stood there dizzy.
Signalman was dead?
He went on a sun quest?
Signalman wanted to die more than to stay alive and be my boyfriend?
Hold on! Wait a goddam minute! Gray was a pathological liar who'd say anything to taunt me.
But the alternative was that the elders, the ones I now worked for and whose orders I followed, had hunted down my lover.
Wait a minute again. Who's to say that those are the only ways Signalman could have died? Just because Gray said so? Actually, who's to say that Signalman is dead at all? I should believe Gray? The whole thing could be false. My boyfriend might be alive!
Anyway, what could be known about Signalman's whereabouts that Gray felt confident he could trip me up by telling his lies? There's a scary thought: what if Gray, and therefore Katrina too, knows I've lost my memory? Or, Gray's ravings might be just a shot in the dark. No, that wouldn't be true. Everything he'd said was too calculated to achieve his end. The more he'd goaded me to kill him, the more impossible he made it for me.
Whatever the truth might be, Gray's words were designed to hurt. But, otherwise, there was no way to make useful sense out of them--they were a deadly tangle of possibly some truth and definitely a lot of falsehood--and the more thought and turmoil I gave them the more I was doing what he wanted.
Orion looked at me confused.
The old woman looked baleful. "Well, that wasn't much."
"I'm a hunter, a professional. I kill under orders from the elders. Right at this moment, the elders are a little concerned about my professionalism."
"And so you made a supposedly informed choice not to kill him?"
"Supposedly. Reliable information has been in short supply lately."
"Since they cleaned off your memory?"
What? Who was this woman? What did she know?
She laughed at me.
Still, she seemed somehow to be on our side, whatever 'our side' might mean--but at least starting with Orion and me. She'd fought Gray for us. And there was the probably meaningless coincidence of the resemblance between the pattern on my wrist and the graffiti on the front of her sanctuary.
I said, "It's difficult when I don't know who the players are and what I'm trying to accomplish."
"That the way Signalman taught you?"
Apparently every second person I met knew more about my boyfriend than I currently did. How did she know? Who was she in the scheme of things? I suppose by now I shouldn't be surprised at anything--just plunge on in. "What do you mean?"
"Well, when you couldn't interpret what you saw, did Signalman teach you to go off and look for additional information?"
"No," I said. "No, he didn't. He always taught me to look deeper into what was in front of me--until I knew what it meant."
"Good, Sonny Boy. And, back when you were with him and you had your memory--in those days did you know who the players were, and what was right and wrong, and what the Big Plan was?"
"Since I don't exactly remember, I can't be sure--but I guess I never did."
"Did you think that Signalman knew the Big Plan but just hadn't gotten round to telling you? Or that the elders knew but hadn't divulged it to him?"
'Did you even think that there actually existed any Big Plan, anywhere?"
"I had no evidence of one."
"So, there you go, Sweetie. If you didn't know then, why all the sudden urgency now? What's your prob, exactly?"
Wow! What was I supposed to think?
"You're defeating me as easy as you just took Gray."
"No." She laughed her dark laugh. "It's different. In your case, you're ready for it. You're open. You're trying. You made the right choices in not killing him. So, the effect is to just help you rebuild. But, for Daniel Gray, he's closed. He came in here wanting only one outcome. What I did means he'll just keep cycling. For him, it's a defeat."
However strange and unsympathetic she was, I was flooded with gratitude. I stammered, "Look, I really want to than--"
She interrupted, "Anytime you and the blond cutie here are looking for your exit strategy, the front door is right at the bottom of the stairs."
"Okay, I'll just go up first and retrieve my other sock and shoe."
"Knock yourself out." She smirked.
Orion and I walked a city street leading to Katrina's. The air was exceptionally clean, and the gibbous moon cast a light that seemed unrealistically clear.
Orion smiled to me gently. "You seem sad."
I returned his smile. "Well, I did kinda just get my ass handed to me back there."
"What do you mean?"
"C'mon, Orion, you know."
"Oh, you mean our team doesn't win unless you personally score every one of the baskets? We got out of there alive and whole. We're on our way to Katrina's for what you say is an indispensable step to having our lives back. In what way could that amount to getting your ass handed to you?"
I should shut up before I got my ass handed to me yet again--this time, by the newbreed I was supposed to be sheltering.
One big fact was that at least now I had my extra. As we left the old woman's, the first thing I did was a detailed search for the enemy. There was no one. This time we weren't followed and we were in the clear. I meant to keep it that way.
I was so happy to be functioning right--in at least that one respect--that I cheered myself up by playing games with my extra as we walked. I felt along the soles of my feet and, through my shoes and the ground, I sensed a couple in a basement rec room sitting on a couch, eating pretzels and watching a sitcom rerun. She had a purple top and a green print skirt that he was eyeing. He was geeky and had his shirt collar and sleeves buttoned up and he liked her and thought the sitcom was funny. I touched a mailbox as I went by and, in the house, my hands saw a guy taking a piss behind the frosted-glass window of the second-floor bathroom and yelling through the closed door to his kids to shut up and get to sleep. He wasn't careful about shaking off and a few drops added to the yellow stain on the front of his white briefs.
Probably, I could have been more gracious in answering the attempt Orion just made to encourage me. I mean, here he was, on his way to an adventure that any rational person would regard as certain death. He was doing it because he believed in my judgment.
I turned to him. "Thanks."
He brightened up, and I continued. "You get a special award, you know, as 'Newbreed of the Year.' If I had to pick my choice of any companion to be with me now, on the run from the elders, you're the one I want."
"I didn't do anything."
"You've contributed your share of ideas and initiative all along, here. You're instinctively calm under fire. You don't stampede."
"I was scared back there, facing Gray."
"You better have been." I laughed.
I reached to touch his shoulder and comfort him. I used my extra, and one thing I sensed was a dryness in his mouth that I didn't like. To make sure, I kept my hand on him and waited. From time to time I felt a little tremor go through him.
Caressing the shoulder, I said, "You're getting hungry. You need to feed, probably best in the next few nights."
"Look, discussing this is embarrassing. It's like having your dad give you 'The Talk' about sex."
"You mean you already covered feeding in health class at vampire school so now you don't need any instruction at home?"
I continued, "You have to take it serious."
"Sex is optional, at your discretion. But feeding is mandatory--so you gotta face up to it."
He giggled again. "I didn't think sex was all that optional."
This made me laugh too.
After he calmed down, he gave a little shrug and said, "I've been thinking it over. I'm simply not going to feed--ever. I won't do it." Then, with an air of finality, he turned forward and walked faster.
I caught up with him. "Orion, you--"
"I will not murder." He was angry--surprisingly so.
"Your biology won't give you a choice. It's not murder. You must survive."
"I have to? I have to kill innocent people--so I can stuff my face? I don't think so." He was less angry now, but still passionately eloquent.
"Orion! Orion, if you don't feed, the things you'll do in your hunger--blood lust--are way worse--much more evil."
"Yeah, they tried to scare me with that: Murder--but do it nicely and then it's okay. You're weird, Adam, to suddenly get all on me to forget my feelings and learn pragmatism. You're the one, just a few minutes ago, went all too dainty to kill Gray, the vampire who's actively trying to kill us. Which the hell is it? Am I supposed to respect life? Or not?"
I had to love this kid. He's too beautiful. I had to love him.
It was important to calm myself before answering, and I hoped to draw him into being more calm too. I took his hand and kneaded it softly in mine as I started us walking again, slowly.
I asked, "Is that what you saw just now with Gray--that I backed off from killing him?"
"Well, like, Duh. You wanna go back and ask the old woman, to check my memory?"
"Your memory is correct--but it's only the surface. Look deeper. I didn't kill him--but what's important is I went through a process to come to that decision. I thought it wasn't necessary--but if I'd thought it was then he'd certainly be dead now and I wouldn't grieve over it--or rejoice either. It isn't like always kill--or always be merciful. We operate within the bounds of what we have to do--and what we're able to do. You're a vampire now, and you have to feed because it's necessary for your survival. If you were someone else--you might not."
"Oh, wow! that's soooo convenient. Anything I happen to want, I just reclassify it as 'necessary' and then it's perfectly okay."
"Feeding isn't something a vampire just 'decides' is necessary. It objectively is necessary--to be able to live."
"So it's easy then, according to you. Things aren't either right or wrong. Nobody can check up--hold you responsible."
"It isn't easy, Orion. It's hard. Every situation, you use imagination to reach out and go through the process I did with Gray--and whatever the outcome is, you have to admit it and follow honestly."
"I'm sorry, Exile. I avoid murder. It's not just a good idea: it's the law."
"Following rules is what's easy--you just meet the written requirements and then you can sleep peacefully, no matter how much other people are hurting. Their hurt wouldn't be any problem of yours--because you followed the rules and you got a star on your report card. Just forget anyone else. You're clean--an example to your community."
"No, Adam. If there's no way to know what's right then everyone can do whatever--they can take, they can hurt, they can kill."
I was still holding Orion's hand as we walked. Now I used it to pull him to a stop. I spun him around to face me. "Don't ever say that!" I looked into his eyes. "Is that what you see the world is like? Don't ever think that!"
"What do you think, Adam? People are mainly made of greed--and hate. They'll do anything they can get away with. What the hell are you talking about? You're a professional killer, and you haven't noticed people are greed and hate?"
"No," I said.
"Yes," He laughed. "Look around you."
"Open your eyes. Look what Katrina did to me. She made me a vampire for her pleasure. Do you know she tried to use the eternity bands? She thought the markings would make me her very own toy forever--or as much of forever as she felt like. How would she have gotten rid of her markings after, so she could move on to her next toy? The bands didn't transform. She never wondered or cared if I'm gay."
"Orion, there are plenty of examples. Plenty. As you say, I've killed vampires--39 who were as bad as it can get."
"Exactly. You ought to know."
"But everyone isn't like that. You're not like that."
"I'm not perfect."
"You mentioned Katrina."
"Yeah?" he laughed. "Tell me."
"No, I'm not saying Katrina has untapped depths of goodness. But look at you in that story. If you wanted the road to wealth and power, then it was with Katrina--a princess. What could I offer when you came for the conversations we had? Were you trying to 'get' something from me? What? You just wanted to share with me--friendship or love or whatever. Am I a monster of greed and hate too? Is that how you see me? Why did you risk everything to be with me? How am I better? People aren't the way you say. Some are--many are--and probably all of us have some greed and hatred. But many of us have got other things on our minds."
He sighed. "Adam, I could fall so much in love with you."
"We're getting ahead of ourselves. We don't know each other much, but I'm on the way to loving you. However, there's Signalman--and no one can make me betray him--not even you."
"Speaking of right and wrong and following the rules."
"No. Speaking of existing reality--following my heart. I love Signalman. I'm wearing his eternity markings."
We obviously weren't going to agree. We laughed and then went on, holding hands.
Eventually we arrived at Katrina's. We slipped silently up into the shadows on the wall next to the back door we had come out that same morning.
Orion whispered, "I'm going in with you."
"I know. You'll have to. It's dangerous and unnecessary. But it's worse for you out here; if anything happened, I might not be able to get to you fast enough."
"I want to stick close to you."
I placed a hand flat on the door and did a mental walk-through. There was no alarm on the back door. Pounding noise of music and people came from the club in front. There were guards on the far side of the door from the club to Katrina's apartment and office. Someone, a woman in a lycra cat suit, was walking inside the apartment, patrolling, inspecting everything. Above Katrina's desk, there was an old-fashioned skylight--really just a flat, multi-paned window in the roof. It was propped up on a metal strut that held it open. The woman looked up and thought about it before moving on. I sensed she was finishing and would leave.
"Wait," I told Orion.
After several minutes, the woman went through the front door, locked it with a key, and spoke to the guards. The elevator took her and she was gone.
"There are guards outside the front door. We have to be absolutely silent."
Orion nodded his head wordlessly. Using a tool to jimmy the heavy lock, I opened the back door and led the way up the stairwell.
Once inside, I kept checking. It was strange to be alone and stealthy in the large, still, silent apartment that was enveloped outside by the throbbing energy of the dance club.
I listened for the regular breathing of the guards right outside the door. One of them had sinus congestion and the drip from it had accumulated in his throat, where his breath whistled softly passing the constriction. His lungs felt wet and heavy. But neither guard made any move aware of our presence.
Some of the clear moonlight from outside shone through the skylight and was our sole, eerie source of light; and air came from the wind that rustled in the tips of the high branches of the trees. It gently stirred the soft hairs on my forearm, and it smelled clean.
Orion squeezed my hand silently and smiled.
I let his hand go and walked toward the desk area where we'd found the file last night. He followed, like a cat. I searched through the material there, as carefully as I dared, always listening. I came across many interesting tidbits, but not what I wanted--the things I'd sensed were missing from the evidence we already had.
I glanced around the room to look for other places material might be. We went to a bookcase on another wall.
Suddenly, there was someone scaling the outside wall to the roof.
I froze and put my hand on Orion's wrist in warning. I motioned him to flatten himself and blend into the darkness along the wall.
The intruder wasn't the woman who'd been inside before. It was an Asian boy, late teenage years, dressed in black. He reached the roof, and I was lost in admiration of the way he moved. He was deliberate, and duly cautious, but showed no hesitation. He glided, leaving almost no detectable trace. Though his build was sturdy enough, there was no sense of weight impinging where he touched the roof.
He came to the skylight and looked in. He was barely a shadow. His presence changed in the flow of air in the room below.
The shadow waited, watching--for long minutes. I still touched Orion's wrist, and we outwaited him.
He angled through the skylight opening and dropped to the ground, soundless. Again, he stood listening. Again, Orion and I waited for him to move.
The shadow went to the desk where we'd just been and picked up some folders.
It seemed logical that he, like us, was Katrina's enemy. But that didn't necessarily make him our friend. I needed to know more. I studied him as he sorted through the files. His body was tall, very slender, and strong, but there was no definition to his muscles. Everything was streamlined, flat, built for lightness and speed. I preferred younger boys, closer to my own age of fifteen. But I still badly wanted this boy, more like nineteen. Below his belly button, pressed now between his shirt and the skin of his abdomen, there was an irregular line of brown hair.
Trying not to let my apparently insatiable horniness distort my judgment, I had to make a decision.
I motioned Orion to stay where he was, and I stepped forward into the filtered moonlight from the roof. I said softly, "Hi."
His head whirled toward me, but he didn't otherwise move. He looked into my eyes, still holding the files. The expression in his eyes as he searched me was beautiful. Then he replied, "We perhaps have similar plans here."
"That's what I'm beginning to think."
"I know who you are, Exile. Word is out to look for you."
"I can imagine."
The shadow resumed looking through the folders. "They say to be careful of you. I work for a man named Soren. He's a fight promoter."
"And what would a fight promoter have to do with Katrina?"
"Oh . . . well . . . they met . . . and they found common projects to work on together."
"But Soren would nonetheless like to make sure he knows what she's up to."
"That would seem to be a careful choice. It must be a little dangerous to tangle with a woman who's so well connected with the elders and who has hunters working for her."
"Hmm. Yes, the hunters are formidably talented--and extremely well fight-trained according to military commando doctrine."
Suddenly a voice came from behind me. "But there are limits to everything."
This time it was my turn to whirl my head. There in back of me was a second Asian boy-shadow, a duplicate of the first--also holding a set of file folders. . . . No, that was too improbable. I looked back at the desk. The first shadow was gone. . . . There weren't two of them. The original one had moved past me with incredible speed. I replayed it in my mind. I couldn't say the time lapse between when I saw him in front and then heard him behind was identically zero--but it was vanishingly brief.
He was now between Orion and me. Did he know Orion was there, against the wall? Could he smell the human blood in Orion's veins, like I could?
The shadow made a gesture indicating he meant no harm.
He said, "Soren has made many friends. And, being around fighters, he's found some who have useful and unorthodox extras."
He picked one folder and handed it to me. "This one may be what you want. Please accept it as an earnest of Soren's friendship."
"Thank you." I immediately sensed it was the right one. I put it in my bag with the other.
Finally, the shadow made a small ceremonial bow and smiled warmly. "My name is Natpea."
I copied the bow he made. "I'm pleased to meet you."
In a blur of motion, he leapt up to the skylight and vanished through it.
I held Orion and placed my cheek against his. Then we left down the back stairs.
Outside, Orion asked, "Where to, now?"
"Don't know. We'll need to make sure of a place to sleep for the day until we can go through the material we've collected and get in contact with Widow."
"I know a place."
I smiled. He was always so well-informed. "Lead on."
Again, we walked. So late at night now, the sidestreets were deathly deserted and their emptiness seemed to fill with our presence, though we tried to be quiet.
As always, there was a normal traffic of vampires crossing our path, mostly at a distance. But they had their own business. Gradually, however, I began to detect some who seemed too aware of us--and they became more frequent. I sighted one in a third-floor window, observing. Another pair were on a rooftop, apparently doing nothing, but they noticed us and said something to each other.
Orion saw my reactions to them and started looking around. He said, "They're after us aren't they?"
I wished I could tell him he was being paranoid.
A tall male vampire appeared a few blocks ahead, walking toward us. We were about to cross a street. Instead, I grabbed Orion's arm and rushed him down the side street. After a few blocks we came to a main street just in time to jump on a bus.
As the bus pulled away, two vampires trotted up and missed it. One of them was Rat, a woman from another of the hunter teams based at our facility. We'd gotten away for the minute, but if a hunter team was after us they'd know where the bus was headed, and pick us up again soon.
I didn't know what to do. With the newbreed Orion to protect, I wasn't exactly about to run rooftops or to jump off the bus as it went over a bridge.
Also, ideally, I didn't want to kill any vampires--so that my actions couldn't be portrayed later to the elders as an irresponsible rampage. I couldn't even cause much mayhem. That might be a short-term solution but, long term, it was the way to extinction.
I stretched the limits of my extra as far as I could--in order to construct a map in my head of all the vampires in the vicinity. Most of them were random noise, unconcerned with us; but, against that background I could sense a number whose movements were more purposeful. They seemed to converge on us from all directions, but there was one street where their coverage was light. Maybe we could make a dash down that street, brush those few aside and then be in the clear until--until what?
"Be ready to go," I told Orion as the bus came to a stop.
We dashed out the door and ran. Immediately, several vampires appeared, chasing us. As I'd predicted, though, the opposition ahead was light.
One vampire behind us was fast, nipping at the heels of the slow-moving Orion. Finally, I had to pause and stop him with a backhand across the face. His legs shot out ahead and he fell, sliding on the back of his head.
The few vampires coming from in front were getting closer. I watched them carefully, trying for a trajectory where only one at a time could intercept us. In the distance ahead of us I sensed a car with three vampires heading straight in for us. I started to wonder if I could steal a one of the cars we were passing before the pack could descend.
Then I used my senses more carefully. The vampires in the car ahead were my teammates, Widow, Hell Razor, and Freak. We just needed to get to them before the others surrounded us. We ran.
The car pulled up to us with the doors already opened. Freak and Hell Razor were out of it before Widow stopped it and came out of the driver's seat. The three of them surrounded Orion and I, facing outward, with the car behind our backs.
The vampires chasing us, expecting the people in the car to be reinforcements who'd bring us down, were surprised to be facing them instead.
Hell Razor, holding his bo lightly in front of him, looked around at them and asked, "Is there something you people would like?"
There was no reply.
Rachael turned to me and said softly, "It's gonna be okay. Freak worked out this whole plan for us."
Then, the crowd parted and Katrina came through.
Widow moved up to meet her. "Good evening, Katrina." Widow had her blades on her fingertips and she made a graceful, feline gesture in the air with one hand that left no doubt what the result would be if she lazily dragged those blades across someone.
Katrina seemed unintimidated. "Report back to the facility, you three. Exile and Orion can come with us."
"Not really. Not tonight," Widow continued.
"Are you defying me?"
"You could say that."
As they argued, I sensed in the distance a vampire walking toward us--slowly.
Katrina puffed herself up. "I have another hunter team here and more at the facility."
Widow inspected her metal fingertips. "Perhaps. You know, you arranged those little ways for Exile to get accidentally killed by the enemy in the line of duty. That would be easy for you to regretfully explain to the elders. But how could you explain a supposed accident--with only friendly forces around--that just happened to wipe out all four members of a hunter team, plus Orion. Wouldn't that be a little embarrassing?"
"And, anyway," Widow continued, "if you were to try anything tonight then we guarantee you there'll be one big, wet, juicy, messy, ugly, spectacular fight here. Kinda hard to hide. Who knows who'd even survive such a melee, much less what anyone could say to the elders about it?"
By now, the vampire walking steadily towards us had come close enough that he was apparent to several of us. As they noticed him, people turned to watch him approach. Others saw this, and they too paid attention to the newcomer, who had a moustache and reddish brown hair.
"It's Dutch," Widow said.
Katrina sneered, "And you dream that he would help you?"
Dutch came up; and he stood in a position between us but off to one side. His body language clearly offered no support to either group, no sense of membership.
Katrina said, "I hope, Dutch, for your sake, that you're not supporting them."
"I'm an observer, Katrina. I support only the elders. I work for them and carry out their orders when they give them."
Freak stepped forward to face Katrina. "That's my point, exactly."
Her voice was calm, condescending. "Your point, ugly one? You possess the capacity to think?"
Hell Razor, in his mask and cape, came to Freak's side and stared at her. Hell Razor and Freak were each, in their different ways, so deformed that combined they were terrifying in the enormity of their grossness and the perceptibility of their physical power.
Freak ignored her taunt and continued reasonably, "Suppose the elders had an objective report of the fight you'd like to start now?"
"There are elders who are committed to me, in any case."
"And some who aren't. They'd decide together--combining their different viewpoints--depending on what you'd done, on what they knew, and on what their overall object is."
Smiling and stepping back, she said. "Well, I'm not sure about that, Freak--with a group of vampires rebelling? . . .That's what they call you, isn't it: 'Freak?'"
She made an expansive gesture. "Anyway, what makes you imagine I'm spoiling for a fight? There won't be any fight tonight."
Her troops around her relaxed and looked something between dismay and relief.
Katrina basked in the center of attention.
Then she singled out Orion standing next to me. In a commanding tone, she told him, "Come, my little love."
Without moving a muscle, he spoke quietly, firmly, a single word: "No."
Katrina started to reply to him but then didn't.
Last, she turned her gaze toward me. She took a few steps closer and smiled--a radiant, confident smile, like a vampire about to turn a donor into slag.
She said, "Exile, my dear, this is only--"
I interrupted, "I know."
In her soothing voice, she replied. "Yes? What would you know?"
"Katrina, this is only the beginning."
This is a round robin story, with multiple authors.
You can write the author of this chapter at wpc (at) wpc-words-pictures (dot) org.
(He is called "Bill" by his friends.)
More of his stories, including Alone in this room . . . are at
It's Only Me from Across the Sea and at the Nifty Archive.
His essays and photographs are at WPC - Words/Pictures.
Return to Lost in Shadow.
And if you're looking for more vampire fun,
"Lost In Shadow" is direct spin-off of the vampire world created for the story
"Gone From Daylight!"
So feel free to check out the story that started it all,
either on the Shack Out Back, or on the Nifty Archive!
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