As we stood watching the retreating backs of Katrina and her men, Orion pressed his side against mine.
Dutch was pacing around, muttering to himself. “I tell him to stay away from the kid. I tell him to keep out of Katrina’s way. I tell him to keep with the flow, not disrupt anything. So, what’s he do?” He turned to Tariq and Rachel. “What’s he do? He grabs the kid, gets on Katrina’s personal hit list, and, in perfectly clinical terms, disrupts the ever-loving fuck out of everything.” He sighed. “ Dixon’s not going to like this one bit.”
“It’s not his fault,” Rachel said. “He can’t remember anything, so-”
“Yeah, he can’t remember anything, but,” He turned to me, “He can probably guess what happens to trained hunters who go rogue. Right?”
“Nobody’s going rogue.” Freak said.
“No? Sure looks like it. A whole team leaves the compound and openly defies their boss? Katrina’s connected, Freak. Not just to criminals, but to the Elders. They consider her to be their field agent. When you go against her, you’re going against them. And let’s not forget him.” He pointed to Orion. “He doesn’t exactly make your little club here look any less dangerous.”
“Me?” Orion squeaked. He was obviously intimidated by…well, by everyone here but me. Katrina had always kept him sheltered, to the point that I was the only one he had ever talked to.
“Him?” I asked. “Orion’s not dangerous. He’s…”
“I know what he is.” Dutch waved dismissively. “Doesn’t matter. He’s a newbreed. Do you know what kind of people collect newbreeds?”
I shook my head.
“The wrong kind of people. Insurgency groups, organized crime, scavenger gangs, you name it. They pull them off the street, sweet-talk them away from their sires, sire new ones themselves…anything. They keep them around long enough for their extra abilities to take shape. Yours hasn’t come in yet, has it?”
Orion shook his head.
“Thought so. Anyway, if the newbreed’s extra is nothing they see as being worthwhile, they kill him. If it is worthwhile, something new that they can use to keep one step ahead of the hunters, the elders, the other gangs, they’ll get the newbreed to teach it to them, and then they kill him.”
“Nobody here’s collecting.” Tariq said.
“I know,” Dutch said, “But what do you think it looks like to the Elders when four big-name killers take a newbreed away from his sire and run off together? Just Orion and Exile disappearing was bad enough, but now…” He turned to Freak. “This stand-off…your idea?”
“Thought so. You realize the position you’re in now, don’t you? If you five take off on your own, the Elders will see you as rogues, and you’ll be on the hunted list in a matter of hours. They don’t take chances when it comes to that. Too much potential disaster. So, you can’t leave the installation, or you’re going to be dead.” He shrugged. “Now, here’s the tricky part – openly defying Katrina in front of her subordinates like that is something that she just can’t tolerate. She’s going to want every one of you dead, and most likely has every goon in her goon squad memorizing your pictures as we speak. If you stay in the installation, it’s only a matter of time before a few of her guards ‘accidentally’ leave a door open and somebody slips in and perforates you.”
“So, what you’re saying,” Tariq said, “Is that if we go back, we’re dead, and if we stay out, we’re dead.”
“Right.” He nodded.
“So what can we do?” I asked.
“Well, as it stands right now, you’re going to be hunted down by both Katrina’s underground connections and by the Elders’ hunters. Now, think. Is it at all possible for you to smooth things over with Katrina?”
“No.” I said, glancing around at the others. They were shaking their heads. “No, she wants us dead, and that’s it.”
“Right. But is there a way to smooth it over with the Elders?” Dutch asked.
“I don’t know.” I looked around again.
“Oh.” Freak spoke up. “The Elders are only afraid that we might turn against them. The only reason they’ll be mad about us leaving Katrina is that it means we’re leaving their direct line of influence. Sound about right?”
“So, what we need to do is break ourselves off from Katrina and declare ourselves as an independent hunter team. Still loyal to the Elders, but under new management.” Freak concluded, nodding.
“So, we’re just going to tell Katrina that we’re giving her two week’s notice?” Rachel asked. “She’s the mob. You don’t just leave the mob.”
“She already wants us dead. What’s the difference? Either way, she’s still going to be after us, but this way, the Elders will be on our side.” Freak said.
Dutch nodded. “Right. Now, tonight, you’re going to have to find somewhere safe to stay.”
“Well, we stayed at a sanctuary yesterday…” I said, “But we were attacked by one of Katrina’s hit men there. So, she’s probably watching it.”
“For tonight, I think it would be best if we all went back to the base.”
“What?” Rachel asked. “But…didn’t you just say we can’t go back there?”
“Not permanently, no. But for one day, it’ll do. Katrina has to sleep when the rest of us do. Besides, it’s probably the last place she’d expect you to go.”
“Okay. For one day, though, and that’s it. We’ve got to get out of there as soon as we wake up.” I said.
“Right.” Freak nodded. “So, everybody pack your things tonight.”
There wasn’t enough room for all of us in the car, so Dutch and Freak elected to walk. They wanted to discuss our group’s declaration of independence – an official written document that Dutch could pass along to the Elders, detailing our separation from Katrina.
Rachel drove us home, with Tariq sitting next to her and Orion and I in the back seat. He was staying very close to me the whole time – closer than usual, that is. If he was scared, I couldn’t blame him; this was probably the first time anyone had ever wanted to kill him. Even though I promised myself that I would move slow, to not forget about Signalman, I still found myself slipping an arm around him. It made him smile, and right then, with everything looking so hopeless, it felt like making Orion smile was the only thing I could do right.
The night was almost over when we got back to the base. Most of the people there had already gone to their rooms to get ready for sleep, and the few that were still wandering around didn’t look at us any differently. I didn’t know whether they were trying to pretend like nothing had happened, or if word hadn’t made it back here just yet.
Orion followed me to my room. Since he always stayed with Katrina, he didn’t have his own room at the installation. We had already packed from the night before, so we didn’t have to worry about that – we just fell into bed and slept. The last thing I felt before falling asleep was Orion’s hand falling across my chest.
I dreamed of people that I don’t remember meeting and events that may have never happened. I dreamed about the movie theater that I had seen before. A girl with dark skin and white hair. A searing pain in my neck and a warm sensation on my wrist. An extremely vivid image of Signalman. He was smiling, a soft and gentle kind of smile that showed complete contentment with the world. We were together, sitting on the roof of some building I didn’t recognize. Judging by the sky, it was almost morning. All of a sudden, he sucked air in through his teeth and cried out in pain.
My eyes opened. According to the clock, it was just after sunset. I could still hear him whimpering. After a few seconds, I realized that it wasn’t Signalman that I was hearing, it was Orion. His hand was still on my chest. I raised my own hands and held it. Instantly, my extra started to kick in. I could feel it, now – his stomach was growling. He was in worse condition than I had thought. I could feel him waking up, his heart pumping hard to force the weakened blood into doing what it needed to do. His fangs were close to erupting from his gums, pushing and retracting so fast that his jaw was nearly vibrating. With my extra, I could almost feel the pain myself. The movement of the fangs was giving him a terrible headache, and the weak, almost dead blood being pushed through him was making every one of his muscles ache as they came back to life. God, how could I have not noticed how bad of a condition he was in? He should have eaten days ago.
Without giving it a second thought, I rolled over and held him, intent on making him feel better. His eyes were open now, but he still wasn’t moving. I put my lips to his ear and whispered. Nothing profound, nothing elegant, just the most encouraging things I could think of at the time.
A sudden splash of pain at the side of my neck made me jump back. I felt at the wound, and my fingers came away sticky. Nothing deep, just two small gashes. His fangs hadn’t been fully extended. I guess that, in trying to talk Orion through blood-withdrawal, I forgot that placing my lips near his ear would, in turn, place his lips near my throat. Possibly the worst position to get into with someone perched on the brink of bloodlust.
He sat up straight and his fangs retracted. Almost immediately, he started crying. I wanted to go to him, to put my arms around him again, but I didn’t know if that would make things worse, drive him closer to the edge again.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t…I…” He sputtered.
“It’s okay.” I said, using a soft, comforting tone that I didn’t know I had. “Orion, it’s okay.” I reached out slowly and touched his cheek. “Please, don’t cry. It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it.”
“It hurts. All over.” He sniffled, curling himself into a ball. “And it was like…this feeling, telling me that it would stop hurting, if I…just…and then I couldn’t even hear you any more. It was just…that feeling. And…I almost killed you. Oh, god…”
“Lie down for now. It’ll pass.” I held one hand behind his back, slowly easing him back down onto the bed. I kneeled on the floor so that we were on the same level.
“I…have to, don’t I?” He asked. “If I don’t…I mean, I’ll do it anyway. I’ll just…lose control like that again? There’s no way for me to…”
I shook my head. “You have to eat.”
“It’s okay. You just…” How was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to convince him that it was okay for him to rip out a stranger’s throat? “You’ve got to remember that you’re not human any more. They’re a different species. Humans eat other living things all the time.”
He mumbled something.
“I said, I’m a vegetarian. I never could eat anything if I knew it used to be alive. It just felt…” He choked back whatever he was about to say, stifling a sob.
“It’s okay.” It wasn’t okay. It was heartbreaking. Here was a boy who couldn’t even stomach the idea of a chicken being killed, and now here I was telling him that he had to kill a person? To have to look someone in the eyes and end their life to keep his going for another month?
God, how could Katrina do this to him? Turn him into a man-eater when he wasn’t even a meat-eater. Then again, she probably didn’t know. Chances are, she barely got to know him at all before nipping him. Just took a look at his beautiful exterior and never gave a second thought to the beautiful heart she’d have to crush to get it.
He reached out and touched my face. “You’re crying?” He looked surprised.
“N-no I’m not.”
“Your eyes are lit up.”
What was that about? I thought I was an emotionless killing-machine whose brain would rather forget its own existence than let me feel anything. I wasn’t supposed to sympathize. Sympathy doesn’t work when you’re being hired to kill people.
“Thank you.” Orion whispered. “I’ll…do it.”
“If I hurt you…”
A sharp pounding on the door made us both jump.
“You guys ready to go?” Rachel shouted.
“Yeah!” My voice squeaked. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, just give us a second.”
Orion stared at me for a few seconds, then snickered. “You know, I just realized…your voice is going to crack like that for eternity.” He started laughing harder. Soon, I was laughing, too. It wasn’t even that funny – both of us just needed it.
“Well, at least I sound grown-up half the time.” I said. “Yours isn’t going to change at all. You’re going to have that high, girly voice forever.”
“Yeah, but it works for me. I’m not trying to be some bad-ass assassin. ‘I’m here to execute you, in the name of the Elders!’” He mimicked, squeaking on the word “execute”.
“Oh, that’s it.” I knew that I could use my extra to find pressure points. I assumed that it would work just as well for finding out where someone is ticklish.
He must have seen the look in my eyes, because he pointed at the door. “Rachel’s waiting.”
“Right.” I said, lowering my hands. “I’ll get you later.”
We grabbed our things and headed for the door. As soon as we stepped out, Rachel gasped.
“What?” I asked.
“Oh. Uh…as it turns out, Orion’s kind of hungry.”
“He bit you?”
“Nothing too deep.” I said.
She turned to Orion. “You shouldn’t let it get this bad.”
“I know.” He wasn’t smiling any more, I noticed. “I’m sorry.”
“He’s having a hard time.” I said.
She nodded. “You should talk to Freak about it. Nosferatu-types like him know more about bloodlust than anybody.”
“Talking about me behind my back?” Freak wandered over, his long arms supporting a suitcase. “Careful. You seen the size of my ears? If they start burning, I could end up torching this whole place.”
“I was just saying, you should talk to Orion. He tried to take a bite out of Exile.”
Freak looked over at my neck, which was still bleeding. “Whoa. You better take the kid out hunting tonight. And the sooner, the better.”
“Don’t we have to look for a new place to stay tonight?” Orion asked. “And the whole thing with the Elders…don’t we have to work on that, too? I’m feeling better now. Maybe…”
“We do.” Freak said. “You don’t. You’d better go tonight. Look.” He motioned to my neck. “Another half-inch, tops, and he’d be dead. And you’d have to live with that. You want to take that chance?”
He looked like he was about to protest, but he dropped his head, instead. As discretely as I could, I slipped my hand around his.
“We leaving?” Tariq had come out of nowhere.
I nodded. “Should we talk to Dutch before we go?”
Freak shook his head. “Not here. He has to stay neutral, or he’ll be on Katrina’s list, too. Let’s not drag anybody else down with us.” He hoisted his suitcase onto his back. “I did talk to him last night, though. He told me about somebody we can speak with. Deals in vamp-friendly real-estate.”
“Can we afford that?” I asked.
“Uh…” Freak, Tariq, and Rachel glanced at each other. Freak spoke up. “Assassination pays pretty well. Katrina takes a big cut, but we live here for free, and all our food comes from…” He glanced at Orion. “Well, you know. So we’ve got basically no expenses. Don’t you have a wad of cash stored up somewhere?”
I thought back to that envelope of “emergency money” that I had found prior to running out of here the first time. I wasn’t sure how much it was, though.
“If I do, I don’t remember.”
“Well, we do.” Rachel said. “We should have enough to get started, anyway.”
I nodded. “Okay. So, where do we find this guy?”
Freak handed me a slip of paper with an address. “We can meet up at his office. We’ll work on that. You need to take care of him.” Freak nodded to Orion. “If you’re not back by midnight, we’ll come looking for you.”
“Okay.” I nodded.
“Hold on.” Tariq said. “Do you remember enough about this to be able to teach him?”
I thought about it. “Uh…no, I guess not.”
“And what if you get cornered by some of Katrina’s guys? Can you fight them off and take care of the kid at the same time?” He didn’t wait for an answer before he turned to Freak. “I’m going with them.”
“Stick to the usual spot, okay?” Freak said. “That way, we’ll know where to look if you don’t turn up. See you guys later.”
I was a bit disappointed – I had been hoping for some time alone with Orion, after all – but Tariq was right to come along. We all loaded our bags into the car we had used the night before. Freak and Rachel drove away, leaving Tariq and I to escort Orion.
“All right.” Tariq said as we started off. “Keep an eye out for drug dealers. They’ve usually got a lot of cash, and if you can kill two birds with one stone, hey. Plus, if they’re on any kind of stimulants, their blood’ll give you a real boost.”
“But I don’t do drugs.” Orion said.
“Yeah, and you never drank blood before, either.”
I had to admit, he had a point.
“This’ll be easy – we just walk around, look helpless, and wait for someone to approach us. Chances are, we’ll find a mugger or a dealer in no time.” Tariq said. “Don’t try to read their mind. That makes it harder. Just try to block it out. Think of a cheeseburger.”
“He doesn’t eat meat.” I said.
“My condolences.” He didn’t respond to the quick glare I shot him, but I’m sure he was smirking behind that mask. “Then think of…I don’t know. Tofu? Whatever. When you get close enough, instinct should do the job for you.”
Orion nodded. He looked pale. When you’re technically a walking corpse whose skin stays untouched by light, being noticeably pale is quite an accomplishment.
We walked around, taking every back ally and suspicious unmarked side-street in the area. No one approached us – if anything, they were crossing to the other side of the street when they saw us coming.
“Um, Tariq?” I said.
“No offense, but I think you’re scaring away all the creeps. I mean, the two of us…we look pretty helpless, but when we’re walking around with a tall guy in a mask and shades…”
He stopped. “I think you’re right. I don’t usually use the ‘helpless victim’ approach, myself. I’m more of a pro-active, jump-out-of-the-shadows type of guy. Tell you what – I’ll wait over there.” He pointed to a bus stop. “You take him around a few times.”
I nodded, and we set off, talking casually to keep from looking suspicious.
“After I feed…that’s when my extra starts coming in, right?” Orion asked.
“Some time around then, I think.”
“Um…extras are different for everybody, right? Based on what you were like before you changed? That’s what I heard.”
“Yeah, that sounds right.”
“Yeah, well…has anyone ever had an extra where, like…they don’t have to drink blood? Do you think maybe mine might be that I can bite tomatoes or something instead?”
It seemed unlikely that an extra could drastically change vampire anatomy like that.
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe.” I didn’t want to get his hopes up, but I didn’t want to shoot them down, either.
He nodded. “Yeah, I hope that’s what it is. Then I could teach it to other people. Maybe even make it so that nobody has to drink blood anymore! Think about it. The whole vampire society could come out of the shadows. Nothing to be afraid of any more.”
I think that deep down, he knew what he was suggesting was impossible, but he kept talking, and I kept listening. It was a nice fantasy, even if it could never happen. I just hoped that he would never lose that idealism, that innocence.
It took a while, but eventually, I heard the footsteps of someone approaching us from behind. Thanks to a quick mind-read, I could tell that the person approaching the two young teens in a dark ally after sunset did, in fact, have less-than-noble intentions.
I quickly, subtlety glanced back at our admirer. I saw him reaching into his pocket, and before he had the chance to pull whatever he was going for, I spun around and rushed him, driving my shoulder into his chest. He fell backwards, his head hitting the pavement.
“Now!” I shouted. “Orion, now!”
Orion didn’t move.
“Come on!” I started back toward him, ready to drag him over to the guy’s throat if I had to. Something started tickling in the back of my head. All of a sudden, a flash. A girl with dark skin and white hair. Yes, from my dream – I remember. But who was she? What did she have to do with me?
I heard Orion shout something and I shuddered back into reality. I couldn’t make out what he had said, though.
I felt an arm clasp down around me and wrap around my neck, pulling me into a headlock. As I gasped for air, I saw the man’s other arm flash up from his pocket, flicking open a butterfly knife. How had he managed to sneak up on me? Nobody was supposed to be able to do that, especially not some human! Was it the flashback? Was that affecting my extra? I could speculate on that later – for now, I had to take care of business.
He started to say something, to call out to Orion, but he didn’t get the chance. I turned my head to the side to get a clear breathing passage, and with my one hand out of his range of vision, I reached back and grabbed his hair, pulling it hard. His head jerked backwards, and in that second of disorientation, I grabbed his wrist with my other hand and twisted until I heard it pop, making him drop the knife. I sped up now, and before the knife hit the pavement I had grabbed his other arm and pinned it behind his back, moving my other hand from his hair to across his mouth. I held him like that, his throat fully exposed.
Orion looked down at the knife, his eyes wide, like he had just pieced together what this guy had been planning to do. His mouth was still hanging open from the shock, and I watched as his fangs dropped. He stumbled his way over, his eyes now glowing red, locked on the man’s jugular. He wasn’t thinking anymore, I could tell. He was in the throes of hunger.
Orion buried his fangs in the man’s throat. I held tighter on his mouth as his screams turned to shrieks. They stopped soon enough.
Orion fell to his knees and hunched over. He looked like he was about to throw up. If that happened, we’d have to do this all over again. I let the man drop to the ground and bent down next to Orion, putting one hand under his chin and gently tilting his head up to face me. He was crying, tears putting streaks in the blood that had splattered across his face. I put my arms around him, rubbing his back.
“It’s okay. It’s over. Shhh…” I whispered. “Deep breaths. Don’t think about it. Concentrate on my voice, okay? I’m very proud of you.”
I don’t know how long we stayed like that. Long enough for me to run out of comforting things to say, but he didn’t seem to mind hearing them more than once. I was hurting so much for him right then that it felt like I had taken a shiv straight through my chest.
When it looked like he was going to be okay, we picked ourselves up and pulled ourselves together. I checked the man’s pockets. His wallet had twenty-three dollars in cash. Not exactly a jackpot, but I wasn’t going to complain.
“Can you…teach me how to fight?” Orion asked.
I turned around. He had picked up the butterfly knife, and was turning it around in his hand.
“To defend myself, I mean.” He said. “I saw that guy coming at you, but I just screamed. I should have been able to do something. We’re all supposed to be stronger and faster than humans, but if I can’t even protect you…what’s the point?”
I nodded. “You shouldn’t have to protect me. I don’t know what happened. My brain wasn’t working right or something. But, yeah, I think you should learn some self-defense, especially since we’ve got Katrina’s guys to worry about.”
“Can I keep this?” He held up the knife.
“Sure. If you don’t take it, the slag hunters will. Don’t wave it around, though – I think those might be illegal.”
He clicked the knife closed and slipped it into his pocket. “Um…we’re standing next to a corpse, and we’re covered in blood. If a cop walks by, I don’t think it’s the knife that’s going to get me in trouble.”
“Good point. Speaking of which, let’s get out of here. Tariq’s probably worried.”
“Does he get worried?”
I shrugged. “Can’t tell. He’d probably deny it, though.”
We found Tariq lying face-up on the bus stop bench. He jumped to his feet when he saw us.
“Aw, damn,” He said, looking us up and down. “I should have told you to bring some spare shirts.” He sighed. “Oh well. Let’s just go find the others. You can get changed there.”
We ran to the address Freak had given us. Orion was riding the fresh-blood energy wave, so he had no trouble keeping up.
“This can’t be right. I thought we were looking for an office.” Tariq said when we came to a stop.
It was a large, fancy apartment building, easily one of the most expensive in town.
“This is the address on the paper.” I said. “And look, there’s the car.”
Sure enough, our ride was parked on the side of the road across from the building.
We found the intercom next to the door and were buzzed in. The room we were looking for was on the fifth floor. When we got there, Rachel was waiting for us in the hall. She ushered us inside.
“Jeez!” A large man with a thick moustache took one look at us and shook his head. “I’m trying to keep things quiet, here! Bad enough I have this guy walkin’ in,” He motioned to Freak, whose appearance was barely masked by the long coat, hat, and sunglasses he was wearing, “But now I got you two coming up here drenched in blood. God! Will you people try thinking before you blow my whole cover?”
There was something off. A buzzing sound echoing in my head, and a noise like a radio station barely coming through heavy static. That’s when I noticed the symbol on the man’s neck. A safeguard, I remembered. I had seen those before, somewhere – I couldn’t remember exactly where, but I could remember what they meant. He was human. An extremely rich human. That noise…whatever it was, it was keeping me from reading his thoughts. A brainwave-jamming machine like that must have cost even more than his safeguard tattoo.
“Sorry, Geoff.” Freak said. “Won’t happen again.”
“Better not.” The human, Geoff, muttered. “Now, back to business. Do we have a deal or not?”
“Let me discuss this with my…” Freak looked over at us. “Associates.”
He walked over and showed us a file folder. Inside were a few type-written documents along with a stack of photos.
“This is the best place so far. Well, in our price range.” He pointed out one of the photographs. “It used to be a fire station. Shut down for building violations – bad plumbing, bad wiring, bad…well, most of it’s bad, but it’s good enough for us. Geoff here owns it – bought it in some kind of auction - so we don’t have to worry about the city tearing it down. And best of all, it’s on the other side of town. Middle of nowhere, far from Katrina. I’m not saying we won’t have any trouble, because we definitely will – I’m just saying, it’s better than anything else I’ve seen.”
“Wow. So…how much?” I asked.
“A hell of a lot. More than we have. But we can pay in installments. We just have to keep working.”
“For the Elders, preferably. But…we may have to expand our market a bit. You know, freelance.”
“You mean you’re going to kill people for money?” Orion asked. “Not just the ones the Elders need hunted down, but just…anybody with rich enemies?”
Tariq groaned. “You think everybody marked by the Elders deserves it? Look, kid, don’t pull the ethics card on me. I know what I am. These guys know what they are.”
I raised my hand. “I, uh...don’t exactly know what I am.”
“Okay, one of them doesn’t.” He said. “But the rest of us know what we are, and we aren’t saints.”
Orion’s eyes dropped to the floor.
“So, everybody in?” Freak asked.
We nodded, except for Orion, who kept his eyes low. I wondered if I was letting him down. What a life I’d gotten myself into. I don’t know how I justified it to myself before, but I sure hoped that I would remember soon, before too much of Orion’s moral outrage rubbed off on me.
“Geoff?” Freak called.
“We’ll take it.”
They drew up the papers. As it turns out, there aren’t too many legal papers involved when you’re doing inter-species under-the-table deals, so we didn’t spend much time in Geoff’s office. When we were done, we squeezed into the car and headed for our new home.
The windows and doors were boarded up, and it was covered in so much graffiti that I couldn’t tell what color it had originally been. There was an indentation that made it look like it used to have a paved driveway, but it had been reduced to gravel that crunched under the car’s tires.
Tariq used his staff to pry the boards off of the door. The inside of the building was just as dilapidated as the exterior. Specks of dirt covered every surface, and as we stepped inside, some of the larger specks scrambled away from the sound of our footsteps.
“It’ll be great. Just needs a little work.” Freak said. “Hey, a rat.” He dropped his bag and chased after it.
“I think I’ll sleep in the car, tonight.” Rachel said.
“Nah, we’ll clean it up, and it’ll be great.” I said. “I’ll go buy some bleach and stuff. Er…well, maybe you should go buy some bleach and stuff, because I don’t know how to get to a store from here.”
She nodded. “Gladly. Stores are clean.”
“Gotcha!” Freak shouted from deeper inside. “Hey, guys…I think I found us a new pet.”
Rachel shuddered and walked outside.
While we waited for her to get back with the cleaning supplies, we toured the building. Like Freak had said, it was a firehouse. An old-fashioned, one-engine firehouse. There was a garage area on the ground floor, complete with an overhead door which Geoff had given us the keys to open – good, because it meant we could hide the car inside, rather than just letting it sit out in the open, advertising that we were here. There was a lot of open space there, too.
The second floor had the bathroom, which had no working plumbing, as well as a large carpeted area that had doors leading to two smaller rooms. These would make good bedrooms, once we chased out the vermin. And, best of all, the large carpeted room had a pole. A real firehouse sliding-pole that led down to the ground floor. Maybe it’s immature of me to get exited about the idea of sliding down a pole, but come on – you’d have to be entirely soulless to not get at least a small spark of fun out of that.
As soon as Rachel got back, all thoughts of fun were immediately removed as we set about cleaning the place up. It was easily the dirtiest building I had ever seen. Freak did a good job taking care of all the living things – the final tally was something like two possums, three raccoons, a whole family of rats, and too many insects to count. He and Tariq did most of the work on the ground floor, while Rachel, Orion, and I cleaned up the top. I think we did a pretty good job, too, considering it was only one day’s work. In the end, it still wasn’t perfect, but at least we didn’t have to worry about being gnawed on by vermin as we slept.
There was still some time before sunrise, so we split up. Freak climbed up to the roof with his laptop to work on our declaration of independence. Tariq started messing around with the backup generator, to see what he’d have to do to get some power. Rachel and Orion were working together, still trying to clean the place up a bit more.
I took my bags upstairs, to one of the two smaller, carpeted rooms. I was in the middle of wondering just how sleeping arrangements were going to work when I realized that I hadn’t yet looked at the file folder that Natpea had given me in Katrina’s office. I grabbed it, along with the first folder that I had stolen, and spread them out on the floor.
The first folder was general information that Katrina had collected about her various connections – hunters, spice-dealers, hit-men, and such. It was all very professional, save for a few scribbles of “Dead!” or “Useless!” in the margins next to some of the names.
The second folder, though, contained very specific information about a single hunter. Or, rather, huntress. Her name was Dawn Lowen, codenamed “Sunshine”. She was young-looking, sired at age eighteen according to the file. Apparently, she was an early riser with an uncanny resistance to sunlight. On overcast days, and with enough sunscreen, she could apparently walk during the day and feel nothing more than a slight tingle on her skin. This made her an excellent hunter, able to track and eliminate targets while they were still sleeping. That is, until she died. According to the file, she was hunted down and executed after going rogue.
Why had Natpea given me this? Was he just trying to get rid of me, so he handed me the first file he came to?
I shuffled to the next page. It had a full-color picture of her, standing in front of a familiar looking building. Even with her unusually high level of sunlight tolerance, the sun had left its mark on her – her skin had been deeply tanned, to the point where she no longer looked Caucasian, and her hair had been sun-bleached completely white.
Dark skin and white hair. I’d seen her before. Twice. No, more than twice. Much more than that. I tried to concentrate, but it wasn’t helping. I just couldn’t remember her. I knew I had seen her in a few recent flashbacks, but I couldn’t force myself to remember anything else. I shuffled to the next picture, hoping that it would help.
It did. It was a black and white shot of the building that she had been standing in front of in the first picture, a window near the top circled in red marker. A movie theater.
I was in a theater. The house was packed, but I was in the projection room, laughing. There were two humans inside, an older couple. There were a few other vampires there, too, but I didn’t recognize most of them. To my right, a familiar face. Signalman. Yes, he was there. It felt so real, like I could reach out and touch him. And sitting on his right…Dawn Lowen, smiling just as much as the others. What were Signalman and I doing with a rogue huntress?
I heard a heavy thud and was jolted back into the present. Tariq had just dropped his bag on the floor.
“Looks like I’m sleeping in here tonight.” He said.
“Well, Rachel and I ended up sharing a room once before. She won’t let that happen again.” He snorted. “Says I was peeking while she changed clothes. Which is ridiculous, by the way.”
“What, you didn’t look?”
“Of course I looked. Who do you think I am, you?” He tapped his sun visor. “There’s just no way she’d be able to tell that I was looking. Ridiculous.”
“Well, if you were panting, or drooling, or…oh! If you were tearing up, the light would probably shine out from the sides.”
He flicked off his visor long enough to give me a stony, exasperated glare. He was about to replace it when he noticed the file open on the floor in front of me.
“What the hell are you doing with that?”
“This? Swiped it from Katrina’s. I think it’s someone I knew.”
“Shit.” He slid his visor back on and leaned in, looking at the picture of Dawn. “You knew Sunshine?”
“I think so.” I looked up at him. “Did you?” If he did, maybe he could help me.
I waited for him to go on, but he didn’t. He was still staring at the picture.
“Well…what can you tell me about her?”
He shrugged. “Not much. Just that before I met her, I never had to tie a goddamned bag around my face.”
“Huh? You mean…”
“I was going after her when this happened.” He motioned to his masked face.
I didn’t know what to say. Not only had Signalman and I apparently been friends with a rogue huntress, but we had been friends with the person responsible for Tariq’s injuries.
“You think she knows about you? Enough to make her worth tracking down?” He asked.
I shook my head. “She’s dead.”
“No, she isn’t.”
“The file says-”
“I know what it says. She’s not dead. At least, she wasn’t when I wrote that.”
“She’s the one who pulled me out of the sun. I would have died otherwise. So…I returned the favor. Told Katrina she was dead. The hunt closed, she went into hiding. So, I’ll ask again – you think she’s worth finding?”
She knew me. She knew me back when I was with Signalman. And she knew him, too. If anybody could tell me what happened to him, she could. Maybe she knew why I turned out the way I did. I could find out once and for all. If I could find her, maybe I could find myself.