Red Star, White Sun (8)
Artist Ben Szandros discovers his survival comes at great cost and a mercenary finds his contract unexpectedly cancelled.
When I woke he was sitting there again. His suit was a different cut and color than the one I saw him in when I fell asleep yesterday. As far as I knew he neither ate nor slept. The very thought left me queasy as I realized he was probably feeding off of the emotional suffering of the people who came to the hospital to visit their loved ones. He didn’t seem to be going hungry, at any rate.
I opened my eyes to his inhuman feline gaze pressed against me as a physical thing, uncomfortably intimate, all-knowing and unwanted. I tried to sneer but it was entirely too much effort. His smile told me he knew of my effort and it amused him to know I tried and failed.
My hospital arrangements hadn’t changed and the two guards were still standing outside the glass doors and walls to my suite. The curtains were drawn to all the glass except for the doors. I turned toward him and noticed it was easier than yesterday, requiring a fraction of the Sisyphusian effort of even drawing a breath the day before.
I wanted to be disgusted with him. But compared with yesterday’s foaming at the mouth rage, today I only felt tired, wanting more than anything to go back to my office, paint pictures and pretend none of this ever happened. What I hadn’t understood was my life, as I knew it, was over.
It was the manner I learned this which leaves me cold, angry and really wishing I was more of the outer rage kind of person. The conversation came back to me in a rush.
“What do you mean he is going to die if you leave this room?” Forester hissed, not shy in the presence of the Lord Oak. Her two lieutenants maintained their vigilance, weapons pointed over her shoulders.
A split second later, I realized what he said as well. “What do you mean I am going to die, if you leave this room?”
“There is nothing to worry about Benjamin. You will be fine. My dear lady, Forester…”
“Agent Forester,” she corrected.
“Agent Forester, Benjamin needs me here to control the Blood which I have shared with him in order to save his life. Without my control, it will simply consume him, leaving nothing but a smoldering pile of ash.”
News to me. “When did I drink your blood?” I could barely croak beyond a whisper.
“You didn’t. I administered the Blood to you during our time underground, otherwise you would already be dead. Your injuries were… extensive. I have completed the repairs on your spinal column and nervous system. There was surprisingly little brain damage, which was fortunate.”
I nodded in agreement, also enjoying my brain activity. He continued. “Tonight, I will complete repairs to your rib cage, heart and other abdominal organs. If you progress well, I may be able to repair the long bones of your legs, easing your traumas and speeding your recovery. If I leave now, your body will be considered nothing more than a tasty snack to be delivered to me in a convenient package for my consumption.”
I couldn’t see the faces of the security detail, they were hidden behind mirror-like armored helmets, but their weapons quivered for a second as they contemplated the grisly nature of the conversation. Agent Forester’s face for only a second, registered her disgust and then a split second of sympathy before returning to stone. “We will post two guards on this door. If you try to leave, they are ordered to and are fully capable of killing you, Lord Oak. Do I make my self understood? I will return in two days to secure you.”
“And you have my word I will be right where you left me Agent. I keep my word.”
She turned to her men and made a brief gesture. They turned, walked outside and stood at the door. Then I saw several others I failed to notice earlier moving around and taking positions on the floor further away from the door to my room.
She walked to my bedside and her face softened ever so slightly, the closest approximation to appearing Human she had since she confronted Maximilian. “Mr. Szandros, considering the delicate nature of your relationship with the Lord Oak, this makes what I have to tell you even more difficult. You have been declared legally dead.
Her words rang strangely true. I could feel something inside me was broken. I held my breath. I held it for ten minutes. She turned away, leaving me with a notice on my lap, a form 5421D; it was a Declaration of Undead Status.
I screamed until the Lord Oak waved his hand and I fell into a lifeless slumber.
Hot promises waft on the sirocco into the bus station where the now dispossessed arrived in Los Diablos, the city of the Damned. Some, the lucky few will have a friend or lover waiting for them; to whisk them away to what they hope will be a better life. But the rare few will have no one but their fate to meet them.
Pimps or other dealers in flesh will seek the young, the unsure, the lost who show up without a plan. They will soon ply a different trade on the streets of Los Diablos. These men believe in the new name of the former city of angels. They believe themselves masters of the night.
Most nights. Tonight these urban predators ply their trade gingerly. Dressed in their finery, colorful, extravagant, often stunning, they look uncomfortably unsure of themselves. Peering over their shoulders with a quick glance, a surreptitious turn of the head, smiling too wide, laughing too loud, trying to not reveal their discomfiture to their perspective employees. These men, these hardened killers, for pimping is a dangerous game in the former city of angels, knew there were other things that stalk the night, things that prey on men like them.
In Los Diablos there is no Compact. There is no Red Star. Man and Vampyr struggle for dominance, quietly away from the watchful eye of the media. This is both the domain of the White Sun and the blackest hearts. Tonight these urban parasites were particularly apprehensive. It felt as if something were watching them, a thing of cold intellect, giving them the same appraising looks they might give a young man fresh from Wisconsin, still newly born into these remnants of Los Angeles.
She watched them. Her pupils wide, drinking in the night, giving her a view of these men, their souls laid bare, their sins revealed to her every sense. She felt their hot anticipation, their eagerness to drink in the youth, the flesh of their young charges. She could admire such lust. It was the same for her. She longed to bury her face into their naked evil flesh and revel in their screams.
The hot breeze caused her dress to billow showing her naked clawed feet. She stood on a low building looking into the bus station. The old structure could barely restrain itself from crumbling from beneath her feet. It had survived the bombing but was no longer suitable for living, faded yellow tape and danger signs covered the building. But few humans would dare risk it. Far too much uncomfortable darkness.
She wore a long white dress. Barely frilled, sleeves removed, draping all the way to the ground. It was not a recent fashion. It was from a long time ago. But it shimmered, as if it were new though nothing like that dress had been made in decades.
It fit her, naturally, perfectly. She walked off the edge of the building into the bus station. She landed feather light. Barely disturbing the dust and debris collecting near the edge where no light fell and no custodian was willing to tread until daylight.
She strode from the shadow into the bus station, no one saw her enter. The pimps collected their prey with blandishments of love and support, promises of a better life with them. She watches with cold flames whipping about her hands. A pale fey light these flames cast, the same blue as her shimmering dress. Her skin was also pale in the weak light of the station, her eyes black orbs, no sclera, her face inhumanly beautiful.
She moved unseen. Flits between the buses watching, waiting until the peddlers of flesh are distracted with their haul. It was a good night, each breathed a sigh of relief, new people meant new opportunities. For a while no one had come to the city, but now as things grow more desperate because of the Phage, people are slowly returning to the only functioning pockets of humanity, the major cities of the Old World. Los Diablos had become a city of the New World, where human and Vampyr have a barely existing truce. A truce made of gossamer, easily swept aside when the provocation was good enough.
As they are walking back toward the main terminal away from the bus drop off point, she steps between them and the door.
The predators recognize the threat and reach for their weapons, powerful handguns designed to shred flesh, tearing it apart with exploding, burning ammunition. Designed to incapacitate and destroy all but the strongest of the Vampyr.
But they were far too slow tonight.
She made claws, long, iron-hard fingernails, still glowing with the heat of their formation. Razor sharp, strong, capable of filleting a man like a scalpel. Too bad for them, her claws were already out.
They flail about trying to bring out their weapons, some push their charges into her way to buy themselves precious seconds. She moves through them, her claws flashing, side stepping the children as if they were moving thorough clay.
She takes pleasure in her work, her previously expressionless face erupts into joy as she slashes one after another. All were not easy prey. Some hid ceramic plates in their long coats. For them she merely noted their heavy steps, their labored breathing and slashed high at their throats instead.
A few of the younger pimps she took across the face, but did not kill them. Her message would not be lost on them when they recovered. If they recovered. They all fell away in less than eight seconds, the youth screaming and running toward the light. The youngest pimps gathered themselves and scrambled after them, seeking the security of the lit station.
Only one of these urban predators remained. An older grizzled veteran, his clothing was far more reserved than most. Black, well-tailored leather, close fitting with a clean military cut. He carried a cane and put it out in front of him as a weapon, the large silver ball presented strongly. He was a man of medium build, but he moved with a sinuous grace. His brown face showed signs of age, but most would guess his age wrong by twenty years.
“Who sent you?”
“The Lady Ign has warned your kind about preying on new visitors to our city.” Her voice was melodic, and she almost sounded as if she sang her response.
“My kind. She wasn’t saying that when she needed my help to move in to the city.” His eyes narrowed and he realized no help was coming from inside. This was a hit.
“Marcus Darby, your services are no longer required. I am the instrument of her will. She bid you: Die.”
“You do realize, I don’t plan to go quietly.”
“By all means, struggle.”
House of Oak: Red Star, White Sun © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Red Star, White Sun (9)
Marcus Darby confronts a terrifying assassin whose abilities grow by consuming their victims skills and souls after…
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies:Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short(2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).