By the time I got back from checking up on the BMW’s Ren and Jer were sitting and enjoying a glass of straight tequila.
“Hex, come join us my friend.” Ren startled me by speaking aloud, “ A fine glass of Don Julio Extra Anejo awaits, the night is young and I have some tapes of crappy horror movies for us to watch. Turns out Jer is a big fan of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ for some reason.” She giggled into her glass, “Personally I think it’s hilarious because I never sleep so I would OWN that Kruger bastard.”
I sat and accepted a glass, “Ren, you know it’s daytime right? It’s close to noon I think.” I began to wonder how this conversation was going to work. Improvising, I made a few gestures with my hands, “I don’t think Jer would appreciate us understanding each other without some explanation, so I’m pretending to know sign language. Or something.”
“Thas a good idea Hex.” She said aloud and then flushed and continued via mindlink, “Could be awkward otherwise.”
“Ren, you’re drunk!” I was surprised and it must have shown.
“Hur hur, she can’ hol her liquor Hex. Thish ish shum powerful shtuf tho.” Jerry was also three sheets to the wind. At least we had that going for us.
“Bullshit Jer, I’ll drink ya ass under the table any day.” Ren poured us all another generous splash of tequila. I tasted mine; it was velvety soft even with the sharp bite of Agave. The slightly smoky flavor that Mescal often had was hinted and there was a touch of salt and a bit of sweet. Whatever process had been used to make it and age it had blended together to form a complexity that was difficult to decipher.
“Jeezes Hex, yer nursin that. Ren fill his glass he’s gotta play catchup.” So much for savoring. Hell it’d been a long time since I’d gotten truly drunk. After the last few days I figured I was due.
* * *
I lay on the narrow couch, listening to the soft snoring sounds coming from the other room. Jerry had passed out an hour ago, Ren was resting or whatever it was vampires needed to do on occasion and I was left on my own. Much to everyone’s surprise I had not managed to become even the slightest bit intoxicated despite finishing the lion’s share of the bottle. Now I lay here, staring at the ceiling and trying to make sense of it all. I knew Ren was right about not being able to trust anyone but I couldn’t believe that Mec would sell us out.
Feeling restless and out of place, I sat up and wandered to a bookshelf. There were a few random mystery books, a set of encyclopedias, a large 3 ring binder and a few rolls of yellowed paper. I took the binder and the papers and walked back to the couch; spreading the first roll out and weighting it down with the binder on one end and the empty bottle of tequila on the other. I looked at what was written on it and my eyes widened in surprise. This was the original set of blueprints for the city sewer and drain system.
Although the ink was faded I could clearly see where revisions had been made in bright red ink, closing off the corridor that we’d found Jerry in and also where this small room we were currently sitting in. There were other corrections made on it too; most of them seemed to be following the same pattern. Either they blocked off small portions of tunnels or else canceled construction on branches, and some of the branches had been marked “Already under construction” in a small neat hand. What I had rolled out was only a quarter of the city. Upon further investigation I saw that I had two other rolls but the fourth one was missing.
Scrounging some old tape out of a drawer I shoved the table out of the way and pushed the couch back. Using books and empty glasses I managed to hold the corners of the blueprints down long enough to tenuously hold them together with aging scotch tape. Looking down at it, I couldn’t see anything but a mass of interconnecting lines. I had been hoping for some sort of symbol or, well honestly I didn’t know what. Maybe a giant pentagram or something obvious like that. Maybe the tequila was getting to me after all. Taking one last look at the corner I noticed a signature. In flowing script it was signed by a Daniel Burnham.
Out of idle curiosity I located the “B” encyclopedia and flipped through to see if he was in there. What I saw was beyond what I might have felt if I had noticed some arcane symbol or another on the map. Architect of one of the first skyscrapers which was The Masonic Temple building. Planner of Chicago’s “City Beautiful” movement. City planner of Cleveland, San Francisco, Manila and Baguio as well as some dozens of notable buildings in several cities. What on earth had he been doing designing the sewer system of this city, and more importantly how had his signature landed on this document in 1927, 15 years after he had supposedly died in Heidelberg, Germany?
As usual I found more questions than answers when I started looking into problems. Maybe Ren would know. I poked my head through the door of her room, barely able to make out her form sprawled out on the bed. I pushed my thoughts out toward her tentatively, not sure if we could link while she slept and met a blank wall. Shit. I wasn’t sure if I should wake her or not but I found myself walking in the room and sitting beside her bed.
The chair creaked as I sat and her hand shot out to grab my shirt. The other hand streaked towards my face, fingers stiffened into a spear. I was too shocked to resist as she pulled me bodily off the chair and onto the bed, but before her fingers punctured my skin her hand changed direction and the blow became a caress. Her hand brushed my cheek and ran back past my ear and down my neck. A shiver went down my spine and I felt my bruised and damaged circulatory system lurch back into life. As it did the effects of the nights drinking binge assaulted my system all at once and consciousness fled. Before the black curtain of sleep eclipsed my brain I could hear Ren’s words, soft and relieved.
“Hex. I didn’t think you’d come.”
* * *
I awoke all at once; like a light switch turned on. My body felt rejuvenated. Ren’s arms were wrapped around me, she was snuggled up behind me as we lay in a room I vaguely remembered walking into last night. Damn, what the hell happened? I gently disentangled myself from her; no easy task. I was still wearing the jeans and tshirt I had been wearing the night before. She murmured something I couldn’t hear and I snuck out into the main room. Jerry was sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of coffee.
“Damn Hex, ya sher can put away the booze. I thought yew were never gonna put the bottle down.”
Something nagged at my memory, the thought of a map flashed into the front of my brain and then was gone. I shrugged and grabbed a cup, pouring some coffee from the carafe. Jerry laughed,
“Yeah I’m feeling it this morning too. Dunno what I did last night.” He glanced at me nervously as I took a swig of my coffee. It was strong and black, tasting slightly burned as though it’d been sitting for awhile. Yeech. I took another swallow and sat on the couch, putting my head in my hands to massage my temples. What the hell HAD I done last night? The last thing I could recall was making sure the bikes were OK and then having a glass of tequila, after that everything was hazy. The empty bottle was on the coffee table so we’d finished it. I didn’t feel hung over though which was a blessing. I always used to get such terrible hangovers.
We sat and drank our terrible coffee in silence, not that I had a choice, and after awhile Jerry spoke again, “You guys are somethin’ else ya know? I been livin down here for years an never knew this place existed. I mean, this is like secret agent stuff.” His eyes were bright with the idea he was imagining. “So what’s a guy gotta do to get in? Into your group I mean. I’d give anything to live that life.”
I shook my head slowly. He moved closer to where I sat, leaning in close to my face. “C’mon Hex, you gotta put in a good word for me man. Just talk ta yer boss or whatever ya call it.” I shook my head again, looking for something to write on. I grabbed a pencil and an old phone book off the coffee table and scribbled a quick note.
“I don’t think anyone would willingly pay the price Jer. I don’t want to expose you to that.”
He laughed, a sad defeated sound. “What price wouldn’t I pay? I don’t even have anything to give regardless. Nevermind.”
I scribbled another note, “I can give you something though. We can set you up to live here if you want, to watch it for us in case we need it again. Money too, if you can give us a hand anyway. We can’t be seen Above right now, is there any way you could do a little light shopping for us? Trust me when I say you don’t want any of what we’re into; if I could get out I would. Ren too.”
“Me too what?” Our heads both swiveled to where Ren was standing in the door wearing a loose gray sweatshirt, a fuzzy pair of red pajama pants and, of all things, a worn pair of bunny slippers.
I heard Jerry gasp and glance between me and Ren. Fuck.
“I KNEW there was somethin goin on with you guys. Holy shit. I can’t believe I didn notice before.” His voice rose a notch, “Yer not breathin’ Hex. You never breathe! You ain’t mute; yer fuckin DEAD!” He backed away slowly, hands flapping in front of him as though he could shoo me away. It was then that a small silver thread of Power snapped into his forehead from Ren’s mirrored left eye. His tirade cut off immediately and he sat on the couch, eyes staring aimlessly into the ether.
“Oops. I didn’t think he’d be that quick on the uptake. Or that he’d break free of my Glamour so quickly either. I should really have been more careful. Normally I wouldn’t lose control when resting but I was REALLY out last night.” A mysterious smirk twisted her lips, “I had the most wonderful dreams. I must say I haven’t had dreams like that in centuries.” She stretched and poured herself a cup of coffee.
“Ummm… you aren’t just going to leave him like that are you? He doesn’t seem like a bad guy you know.” Ren fixed me with a level stare.
“He’s a murderer Hex.” She said sadly, “He’s killed quite a few people for their money or possessions over the years… I read that in him the second I used my Power on him. It’s too bad really, but it’s a common story. Desperate times create desperate people, we all have a little of that desperation in us. Self preservation is a powerful persuader.” I shivered because I knew exactly what she meant. I had killed people who, while far from innocent had certainly not deserved the methods I had used end their lives.
“So what’s next for him? Are we going to have to kill him after all?” For some reason I felt sorry for him. Even if he had done some bad things it seemed like everyone I came in contact with got killed either by me, my companions or our enemies. Shit, even the cab driver hadn’t survived.
“Honestly Hex it’d probably be for the best. I mean he knows where we’re going and I don’t have the skill to permanently erase memories, all I can do is make him think they were a dream which would probably make what’s left of his life pretty miserable. Since when are you so softhearted?” She motioned and Jerry moved over so she could sit next to me on the couch and put a sympathetic hand on my knee. “No, I take that back. You always have been. Don’t worry Hex, I’m certainly enough of a jaded old bitch for both of us.” She stuck her tongue out at me and I couldn’t help but smile.
“Now let’s see to our equipment requirements shall we? After all, I’m starting to get a semblance of vision back and it’s put me in a jaunty mood.” She turned to Jerry and rattled off a list of things she wanted him to pick up and then stuffed a wad of cash in his hand. Her last instruction was, “But first take a shower and put on some clean clothes. We can’t have you getting arrested on us. You can get away with that kind of hygiene in some of the bike shops in town but we need quality equipment that’ll last for awhile. Make sure you get the suits from Areostitch, I know their stuff is sunproof and fits me well.”
Jerry nodded and then walked methodically out of the room. Shortly thereafter I heard the shower turn on. Hmmm, a shower sounded good. I reached for the coffee pot and poured another cup, not really intending to drink as much as obeying a habit I’d had for years. I saw something on the floor through the glass top of the table and picked it up. It was a corner of a yellowed piece of paper. Looking at it I could feel memory tickling the back of my mind, but the thought eluded me. I tucked it into my pocket, figuring I’d look at it later.
Jerry walked out, wearing black jeans, a black shirt and his battered army boots. He didn’t even look at me as he walked to the door and exited through the airlock. I didn’t even know how to manipulate the airlock. Must have something to do with Ren’s Glamour, after all it wasn’t like she had to tell him where the shower was either.
I went into the room Jerry had been sleeping in and rummaged briefly in a closet for some clean clothes that might fit. Fairly quickly I came up with a faded pair of Levi’s and a nicely broken in white t-shirt. With a little more effort I found an unopened package of boxer shorts that were only a size too big and tossed a pair on top of the rest of the clothes. I peeled off the shirt and pants I had been wearing, then began unwrapping the sticky mess of duct tape that was holding my autopsy incision together. When it was difficult to pull off without ripping staples I grabbed the clothes and went into the shower to see if the hot water would help.
With a little soap and a lot of hot water I pulled the decaying duct tape off; shuddering at how rubbery and strange the flesh around the ragged cuts felt as I was carefully pulling it off the edges. A few of the staples I had used back at the goth kid’s apartment still held on by a shred of skin but most of them had pulled through completely. I yanked all the rest of them out before giving myself a good scrubdown in the hottest water the shower could produce. I was standing in front of the mirror with a towel around my waist, frowning at my reflection trying to figure out how I was going to hold myself together when the door opened admitting a smiling Ren.
“Hey Hex I found –“ she broke off, “Oh shit, sorry.” She turned her back hurriedly.
I laughed, “Don’t worry about it Ren. You don’t have any string or anything do you? Some Kevlar thread or something? Maybe we could sew a zipper in here.” I was trying to make light of things, but I was surprised to find that I actually did feel a little self-conscious in front of her. I wasn’t sure if it was that I was basically undressed, that I was in a state of suspended decay or that she was so obviously flustered. On second thought maybe waking up next to her this morning had a little to do with my uncertainty.
“I’ll see what I can find Hex, I think I have some sort of sewing kit somewhere. When I found this place I tried to stock it with everything I could think of needing.” She walked out and I threw on the boxers and jeans, an awkward process while holding my incision together to keep things from spilling out, before following her out. I heard her opening and closing drawers while muttering to herself and followed the sound into a tiny kitchen. Ren was in a pantry that had floor to ceiling shelving units completely filled with labeled Tupperware containers.
“What was it you were saying you found before?” I asked, looking at the labels, starting with Aa-Af and spanning most of the alphabet. Yikes.
“Oh, nothing important for you, but I had forgotten I put a small cryo machine in the kitchen behind what looks like the dishwasher and stocked it with a couple pints. Which is a relief; means I won’t need to raid a place or bite anyone.” She had just finished digging through the Sa-Se container. She turned and reached for the Ap-Az.
“I forget sometimes how I sorted things. Shoulda made an index I suppose. You’re lucky my vision’s coming back Hex, otherwise you’d be stuck doing this.” She still wasn’t looking straight at me. It dawned on me that she was probably thinking about what was inside her body, not about me. With an “Ah!” Ren pulled a small leather sewing awl from the bin and proffered it to me.
“Uh, do you know how to use this Ren? I’ve never sewed a stitch in my life.” She gave me a considering look, eyes on mine.
“Yeah, I can put a pretty straight seam. This awl lets you do a locking stitch too so it should hold. Why don’t you go lay on the couch or something?” I went and lay down as she suggested and she perched on the edge of the coffee table, leaning close.
“I’ll hold it closed if that helps.” She was still sitting there looking at my abused flesh with a furrowed brow.
“No, that’s OK.” Ren reached out and gently touched the base of the cut, “I’ll put a couple here to keep it from tearing further. This will probably hurt like hell.” She punched the needle through with a sympathetic wince. My body twitched, she was right it did hurt. That was weird, when I had stapled it before I hadn’t felt a thing.
“This thread is for leatherworking, it’s waxed and very strong.” Ren was making a tidy line of stitching, now halfway to my navel. She paused and glanced up at me. I could see that the silver that coated her eyes was mostly flaked away. “Hex, I have a question to ask you.”
“Sure – ow – what’s that?”
She bent back over her work, “You saw it right? You saw what it looks like?” By the tone of her voice I could tell exactly what she meant. “It must not have been too monstrous because you stayed with me. It’s just; well I’ve never been able to see myself.” She shuddered, “I only have my imagination to go on.”
I recalled the image that had nearly seared itself into my eyes, “It was beautiful. Like wings strung with spider silk.” I kept going, hoping she couldn’t really feel what she was doing to me over the mindlink. “The light produced was so bright I could see your outline through my closed eyelids, like the form of a desperate angel standing between me and annihilation. All that power, released in an incandescent beam of focused destruction. It was amazing as well as terrifying; but far from hideous.”
I was unable to keep the image from the forefront of my mind, the afterimage of Ren’s form that had emblazoned itself on my retina. She gasped and I knew we were linked well enough for her to see what I was remembering. That beautiful, terrible vision of her form with its unnatural appendages and a few fragments of pure power still drifting around her like feathers showing like a photograph negative.
“Gods, what have they done to me?” Her thoughts came over the mindlink, I could tell she hadn’t meant to share them.
“Don’t worry Ren. They can’t fuck with you again. I won’t let them.” The thought carried my fierce anger with it, “Besides, I think I caused some serious damage to that Puppetmaster bastard.” I fingered the small burn hole in my chest that had cauterized itself when I had lit the thread controlling Ren like a fuse.
She gave me a startled look as my memories leaked into her mind. “You did WHAT? Hex do you have any idea how dangerous that was? Promise me you won’t do anything like that again until you learn more about your power.” She was tying off the end of the stitching and tugged a bit harder than was probably strictly necessary. “You’re so damn reckless.” I could feel worry and concern as though it was mine. For an instant I could feel her fingers touching me and her feeling of touching me at the same time and my head spun with vertigo.
“Ren this is weird. What’s going on with the mindlink?”
“What are you talking about Hex? Everything’s normal.” Her voice echoed in my head, her thoughts and speech separated by only a few milliseconds. “Are you feeling OK?” I made an effort to stop hearing her thoughts and managed to get back to myself.
“Maybe I’m just a little hungry.” I thought of the blood in the cryo fridge and much to my surprise I found myself salivating. “Ren?”
She smiled a knowing smile, “Me too. But you don’t normally go for human vitae do you? That’s a change for you.”
“I have been feeling a little strange lately. Well comparatively anyway.”
“We really should have a snack before Jer gets back anyway. We don’t want to make any … mistakes do we?” She walked over and opened the dish washer and behind it was a stainless steel container. She fiddled with a keypad and with a hum a display showed a 90 second countdown.
“How convenient. Where did you pick that up?”
“It’s one of Mec’s inventions.” Ren said absently. I wondered to myself where Mec got all his equipment and how he was able to construct such nifty gadgets. Actually this thing looked a little like a scaled down version of the cryo tanks we had seen in that Hunter facility. A soft tone interrupted my thoughts and a satisfied Ren said, “Ahhh breakfast!”
Taking a couple glasses down from a cabinet she poured us each a glass of vermillion liquid. I tasted mine uncertainly and found it to be exactly as I remembered. Salty with a tang of iron on the tongue, only instead of just sucking on a cut finger I had a mouthful. I half gagged but swallowed anyway and felt a warmth suffuse my limbs. My vision felt sharper, my muscles invigorated and I drained the rest of the glass in one long swallow.
“I’ll be damned.” Ren was looking at me speculatively as I was rinsing my glass in the sink, “I think I’ve seen this before. Hex, you’re a Power Thief.” After a couple seconds her eyes widened as she made some connection in her memories. Glancing at the clock she said, “OK, we’ve got an hour or so before Jer gets back. I’m not as good as Mec but I have a feeling you’re very closely connected with someone. Too close for comfort actually.” She had finished her snack as well and handed me the empty glass to rinse. “Come have a seat with me and I’ll tell you about one of Vampirisms greatest modern enemies.