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The Darkers
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Author | Lisa Dumond

Chapter 3

Rules of Citizenship-7

16. Because the status of death held to be respected and relative, necrophilia and necrophagia involving non-consenting adults or minors is strictly forbidden and is punishable by exile or execution.

17. Because the status of death held to be respected and relative, conversion of the property of a non-living person is strictly forbidden and is punishable by fine, forced labour, exile, or execution, depending upon the severity and frequency of the offenses.

18. In order to uphold rules 16 and 17, immigration by anyone in the “Ghoul” category is, regretfully, prohibited by law.

Sometimes this job has its little perks. One of those perks was making it very difficult to concentrate on the estimate she wanted. Tall platinum blonde. Long legs. High hair. Two-inch nails. Garnet lips. Everything defying what little gravity the station boasted. Hell, laying down her chest was probably taller than me.

Of course, none of it was real. For a woman, being a vampire meant more plastic in your body than blood. This one didn’t look like her wasp waist could support the upper half. Good thing she didn’t eat solid food anymore; there wasn’t room for more than a sip to pass through those strangled entrails.

It was fake and it was more than a little creepy, hence the slur “Creep,” but it was still distracting. Kind of like a shuttle blowout. You didn’t want to look, but you couldn’t stop yourself. I mean, you might want to shower fifty times afterward, but you’d be willing to risk the wrinkled fingers.

See. Even bigots like me think about a little roll in the grave now and then.

Blame the male-controlled Hollywood stereotype or blame the domination fantasies of comic books. While you’re at it, blame doll manufacturers. Whoever you blame, the results are the same; female blood-suckers look like characters from hard-core porn cartoons. Impossibly stacked sex objects in tiny scraps of leather and cloth that barely covered the legal minimum. Figures that could never occur in nature, evolution not being stupid enough to put something that big over a support system that small. Probably why ants don’t walk upright.

I suppose I was staring. Big surprise. Hard to tell if she minded or not, though, from the wintery smile she bestowed on me. The temperature in here hadn’t risen since I walked in the front door. She just hovered around me as I drifted from room to room, like she was afraid I was casing the joint or I was going to miss an inch of her obvious charms. The last was probably just wishful thinking.

I stood up from one last inspection of the ventilation system and almost rammed my head through her left breast.

“Whoa, sorry.” That’s what you get for dogging my footsteps, Vamp. Dusting imaginary dirt off the knees of my coveralls gave me an excuse to hide the smile that refused to go away. By the time I straightened up, body and face, she had backed off to an unprecedented three feet. A person could get agoraphobic.

“Okay, I’ll let you look over this,” I plugged my ancient book unit into her home system to transfer the figures, “and you let me know what you decide. My number’s on the estimate if you have any questions. Even if you don’t have any questions, my number’s on the estimate. ” My attempt at humour earned a modest laugh from me and an arched razor-thin eyebrow from her. Gina was right about one thing, Creeps are one tough audience.

Maybe she didn’t appreciate the joke, but she moved in on me again, anyway. Those titan missiles backed me into the wall as she leaned over, way over, to study the screen. Reflex squeezed my eyes shut at the proximity of sharp, pointed objects.

Ebony claws rattled on the chair back beside my face.

Looked like this was going to be it. It didn’t happen often, but every now and then, I stumbled on a live one. Let me rephrase that. Once in awhile, one of the clients wanted to make the initial payment in skin. The Ice Queen here seemed to be thinking along those lines.

Part of me was paying close attention. Another, undoubtedly smarter, part was looking for the exit. Neither part needed to worry.

A puff of air preceded the interruption. Ice Queen went back to vertical and shifted to a decent distance. Instantly, my lungs began to function properly again.

My eyes, unfortunately, were working fine, too. Ever have one of those moments when you envied the blind?

It was big. It was ugly. It glowed.

This guy had to be almost seven feet tall. The shoulders were four feet if they were an inch. Suddenly, I believed in the existence of Piltdown Man. Big, ugly, and he hurt my eyes.

You don’t see them often, but they’re always a treat. Luminescent patterns of shifting colour, running from scene to scene, flowing over the heavily muscled terrain. Moving tattoos, I call them. Body Films, the industry calls them. Horrifically expensive implants that gave you a little mini theatre screen in your skin.

This guy’s played out a five second loop of stock footage. Looked like a napalm drop from the Vietnam war. Utterly charming. Why couldn’t these people ever do the considerate thing and wear a total body shroud in public?

Tattoo Boy was having none of that; his body was his number one conversation piece. He seemed in imminent danger of rupturing something with that continuous flexing and rippling. Fat veins were standing out on every exposed inch of skin, which was just about every inch he had some inches stayed out of sight in the leather pants. No more than four, I would have bet.

“Hans.” Vamp flowed over Tattoo Boy like an oil slick. “This is Mr. Lew, the alarm man.”

“Security consultant.”

The look they gave me illustrated exactly how much respect they accorded this particular profession and what they would be calling me once the door closed behind me.

“Well, Lilith and I will look this over and let you know.” Hans gifted me with a dazzling display of bonded teeth and keyed the door. The puff of air from the corridor fanned the violent napalm blaze.

I kept goodbyes down to a minimum. Just before the door slid closed again I had the honour of seeing Hans cram a beefy hand into her halter and pop out a huge, rigid breast. A florid flash of color on his back burned into my cones and rods and blurred my vision for a moment. Pirates. Of course, why bypass a single avenue of violence?

Heading back to the main concourse, I glanced at the addresses. This last call of the day happened to fall in the neighbourhood of one of Percy’s possibly departed. Just a coincidence, of course.

It certainly wouldn’t be committing to anything to swing by the guy’s apartment.

There was absolutely no basis to think there was anything afoot. Percy had a talent for smelling plots in the most innocent of situations. Reminding him that the simplest explanation was usually the right one was just wasted breath.

It had occurred to me to try to intercept his magazine downloads, but he would have just headed for the library or started a letter writing campaign to demand an investigation of suspicious transmittal practices. I wondered if he was this bad before he had an ex-cop within imposition distance.

Just my luck to get Sherlock Homely for a neighbour. I wanted to blend in, the last thing I needed was my own personal fan club. Percy must have wanted to be a PR man when he grew up. Try to be one with the shadows with a big, goofy admirer at your heels.

It wouldn’t hurt to check out this one thing, though, as long as he didn’t know about it.

Our missing man’s apartment was seven levels up. I craned my neck to count the railings, but the doors were invisible from the main concourse floor. An elderly woman who could have played the opening scene of MacBeth without make-up bounced off me and let loose a string of curses that I would hesitate to repeat.

The ancient face was screwed up in an expression of hatred and concentration as she consigned me to life as a bacteria. A real witch, then. Fortunately, I was wearing my lucky curse-proof underwear. She’s lucky I was wearing underwear at all, since she all but imbedded her warty beak in my nut sack.

What little interest this tableau commanded waned quickly. I sidestepped into the moving crowd and left the wicked witch muttering on the walkway. Witch folk are more or less the hangers-on of the creep world, wanting to hang out with the popular kids, but too cowardly to make the choice and go for undead.

Early evening is the best time to lose someone on Hades. Despite the Creeps’ move to a night world, enough non-creeps lived here to make a complete break with the nine-to-five habit impossible just yet. The routines of generations was tough to overcome; I’d give it a few more decades.

At this time of day the walkways and shops were bustling with folks on their way from or to work. Half the throng getting a second wind now that they were on free time, the other half not yet winded as they got ready to slip into the harness. It made for a noisy crowd scene that would last for hours.

Restaurants catering to the living threw their doors open to the shifting mass, filling the air with an amazing variety of smells. Cafes moved their dessert tables closer to the windows. Bakeries fanned the odour of fresh bread out into the faces of the passersby.

A discreetly anonymous storefront allowed just a hint of the roasting meats inside to waft out through a slender opening in the curtained door, to entice those few who would be welcome in such an upscale establishment. Other facades welcomed those who like their meat a little more on the raw and bloody side.

Nightwind catered to that segment of the Creep population who always seemed to have more money than they either deserve or know how to handle. Hemo King called in less discriminating patrons. The one and only pizzeria in this quadrant kept its doors and windows securely closed against offending any of the garlic-phobic undead who might be making their way past.

Seen from the middle of the street the lines of shops stretched out until they became just a tangle of flexing glass and neon gibberish. One thing about living inside a giant sphere armoured with solar panels, you never needed to worry about running out of power. It was one of the few things on the Station that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, or ask for one. Still, you had to remember to pay for it, as Percy could attest.

My stomach rumbled. With the Countess Bathory hovering over me, there hadn’t been much chance of checking out her pantry. Surely Tattoo Boy ate real, regular food.

I decided to just let it rumble a little longer; the best way to go unseen is in a crowd and this was liable to be the biggest crowd of the night.

I homed in on the flashing red arrows over the nearest public lift. It must have been a slow day, because I managed to squeeze into the third platform as it cycled by. Seven stuffy levels later I wormed my way out into the corridor.

It was a different world up here. Far above the credit pushers like my last potential customers who spent over their heads to stay in the fashionable areas, this was where the settled money settled. Only millionaires would ever find their way into one of the outside, equatorial suites that people like me visited strictly for service calls, but steady incomes ten times my meager subsistence were the cache to this inside level.

Doctors, politicians (the honest ones ended up here, not on the shell), major bureaucrats, probably the owner of that chic restaurant down below those were the tenants of this block of apartments. Lean over the rail here and you get a circus highwire view of the busy shopping district. Look up and the next cross-over ramp is two levels away. Choice real estate in this huge, inside-out globe.

The apartment was several doors away from the lift. Most of the crowd trailed off before I came to it.

Oh great. Maybe I should just keep walking.

No matter how much the crowd thinned, there was still a chance I would attract attention going into this place.

What would motivate someone to cover their door in a painting of huge-eyed kids and their equally huge-eyed, emaciated mutt? Give a person money and you don’t guarantee they’re getting taste, obviously.

A couple strolled by, giving me exactly the kind of look I would have given the person who owned this apartment. I checked a non-existent entry on my book unit and started walking again, shaking my head at the incredible tackiness I had mistakenly glimpsed. If this charade satisfied the couple it didn’t show; they were almost at a trot to keep away from my possibly contagious gaucheness.

When they hurried into their own expensive apartment, I stifled the impulse to decorate their nondescript door and went back to the right address. The sickeningly winsome children had kept up their mute begging while I was gone.

Fortunately, it was a simple system, much too simple for someone living at this income level, but some people never learn. It was a matter of no more than fifteen seconds to use a phony service code to override the program. Well within the time your average homeowner might take to stumble through a sequence.

Chances were that unless someone was watching this particular apartment, nothing would look amiss. Good thing, since it would take years of therapy to undo the mental damage if anyone connected me with that “art” at the entrance.

The door slid silently into the wall and I strode in as though I owned the place. With the door closed behind me and a flashlight on I was able to relax a little and take in my surroundings. It was your standard midlevel homesite, plus street corner art.

Whatever else this guy might have contributed to Hades, his removal was a tremendous boon to the cultural world. No amount of expensively turned-out furniture and appliances can make up for black-velvet paintings and clown lamps. Woof. Shit, I was embarrassed just looking at it, and, supposedly, no one knew I was here.

Time to ignore the revolting decor and see if there was anything that might tell me where Percy’s friend had gone. Away. That’s where he’d gone, but now I needed to prove it to Percy or I would never hear the end of it.

If this guy was gone from Hades for good, then he must be planning to let the furnishings go with the apartment. That was standard procedure, shipping costs being so exorbitant you wanted the original owner to pay the lion’s share and then hope to pick stuff up where it was dumped. Lucky renter who chanced upon this roadside attraction.

It would have been nice to get a quick overall impression of the place well, maybe helpful was a better word as our man saw it every day. Unlike my comb, however, this apartment sported an actual window. Better not to chance a crack of light leaking out through the shield.

Exploring by torch limited me to a section-by-section search. Not so bad except for the frequent, heart-stopping art encounters. A matador on black velvet hanging in the hallway almost lost me my lunch. The grinning porcupine waiting beside the sink must have been designed to be studded with toothbrushes. One strike against Percy’s theory: the thing’s back was bare.

Empty closets. Empty pantry. No desiccated corpse of a beloved pet. Nothing amiss. P>I was toying with the idea of trying to crack his home unit, when I heard a muted thump against the hall door. Shit. Way too late to get out. The back room was as far as I could get from the door. I ran across the padded floor and headed for the closet.

Voices leaked in through the opening door. There was nothing but bare walls in the closet. No place to hide if the visitors came to check it out. The conversation grew in volume as it got closer.

The bed was a platform model, flush to the floor. If I couldn’t hide under it, I’d hide with it. Running around to where it met the wall, I pushed the mattress away and squeezed into the few inches of space. And held my breath.

The apartment walls were too thick in this level to hear much of what was going on in the front room. A wordless drone was all I could pick up of the conversation. The home unit came on for a moment. Same for the wall screen. The drone never let up for an instant.

A whiff of heavy perfume swept in ahead of the visitors. There was a reason such things were discouraged on the station; this stuff smelled like embalming fluid.

“You know, it’s even lovelier than I remembered.” A phony, overfriendly voice. Real estate. That would account for the embalming fluid smell. “The last tenant really put a lot of himself into decorating.”

A wordless murmur came from the prospective renter. One of them turned on the lights in the bathroom; I fought the urge to burrow deeper into the niche.

The agent’s voice resonated from inside the walk-in closet. “Whenever I see a home this nice, it always makes me want to move. But, I can’t have every listing that I love.” Convincing laugh. This was a cheerfulness Sherman tanks couldn’t crush.

There was a somewhat strained silence, broken only by the brush of shoes over the flooring. If not for that sound they probably could have heard the sweat running down my face where it was crushed into the bedspread.

The white noise in the air shifted slightly. They were moving back out into the hall. I allowed myself the shallowest of breaths.

A deep, but feminine voice spoke up somewhere near the front of the apartment. “And that hideous painting on the front door will be gone before I move in?”

The agent’s hesitation spoke volumes of this desecration. “Of course, stripped back to the original surface. I’ll have it done immediately.”

The hall door opened again and the voices retreated. “The rest of that shit I’d give to a charity, but they’ve got their own problems.”

“Oh.” There was a definite trace of sorrow in that one word. Not enough to kill the sales lust, though. “Yes, I don’t know what that man”

SIlence, at last. Just to be sure, I waited a few minutes before climbing out of my cushioned coffin.

It would be days before I managed to work the kink out of my neck. Fortunately, if anyone even noticed the sheet creases on my face they would think I had just rolled out of bed. Not from behind it.

“Not even cold yet, budro.”

Hold it. I was starting to get wrapped up in Percy’s fantasies. Real estate dealers on Hades were not known for letting the grass grow under their feet. In the absence of feudal lordships, it was the kind of profession which drew vampires like a bloody nose.

The instant agents found out this prime location was unoccupied they would be frothing at the mouth to find a new tenant.

Obviously, there was no hold on the apartment. Security saw nothing suspicious enough to merit keeping the place on ice. A quick look around had turned up nothing that seemed out of order. There had been no crisis here and no search by the authorities. This was just what it looked like, an upscale home back on the market for the simple reason that its owner had taken off.

Taken off to points unknown. But, then, any point other than Hades was a step up in the world. Universe? Whatever.

Time for me to beat cheeks out of this nightmare museum. There was something over my shoulder that looked suspiciously like a Marilyn Monroe collector’s plate and that was one suspicion I didn’t want to confirm. Damn good thing I hadn’t eaten before I got here; there was still the Elvis decanter and the big-eyed kids to get past.

Take one last check through the Doorman. Coast and corridor clear. Easy enough to slip out again and blend in with the last of the crowds.

“and I am  one with the moo-oo-oon and the stars.”

What the hell? My back slammed into the wall. My hand went for a gun.

No gun. No need. First reaction aside, I knew there was no one else in the apartment.

Retracing my steps, I followed the music to the back bedroom. Hidden speakers directed the sound at the empty bed. The direction shifted when their sensors detected a warm body in the doorway.

An alarm. So our boy was a night worker.

The remote poked out from under a pillow. What a temptation to switch the music off. Couldn’t I have guessed he would listen to new age oldies? Neighbours might notice if the alarm was silenced. If they could hear it, they would undoubtedly want to applaud anyone who shut off the music, but they also might wonder who was in the supposedly empty apartment. Best just to leave it alone.

Best to just leave. Better if I checked the corridor again before I barged out, but what else could possibly go wrong with this bit of illegal search? I could bounce off a small herd waiting at the door.

A slack, bluish face loomed up in mine. I backpedaled at the speed of light. A ring of vacant faces stared in my general direction, but made no move toward me.

No problem. True, I had just practically tangled tongues with a zombie, but I’ve had chillier dates. It was just a zombie work crew.

Blink. Blink. We stared stupidly at each other. That was me blinking; zombies get an electronic reminder ever half hour to blink and clean off those milky blues. Never enter a breath-holding contest with a vampire or a staring contest with a zombie. In either case, you’re destined to lose the baby’s college fund.

Four of them, one of me. They stood motionless, staring into my face, waiting. All of them wore dark coveralls bearing a company logo and carried hand tools. Working stiffs. For my sake and for the sake of gracious living, I hoped they were there to remove the door mural.

It was an uncomfortable moment. For all of us, I’m sure.

“Well,” I cleared my throat, “I’m obviously in your way. So, I’ll just let you fellows get to work. Excuse me. Pardon me.” They shuffled gracelessly out of my way. Before I was even clear of the foursome, they were listlessly at work on the gruesome door. You can say what you want about zombies, but they don’t linger over coffee breaks.

In the down tube, I mingled with the crowd on its way to the concourse. In and out and no one had seen me. No one who would ever think of passing on that information. Hell, no one who would ever think.

Too bad the door wasn’t visible from the concourse; I would have been more confident of getting to sleep that night if I could have just seen those winsome faces being sanded away. As it was, I was pretty sure that everyone in my dreams was going to have those weird bushbaby eyes. And I would never be able to hear “Love Me Tender” without getting a lump in my stomach.

My wrist tingled. Damn! Rooting around in that guy’s apartment, not to mention getting trapped there, had made me too late to go back to my comb. Now I would have to meet Gina in my coveralls. Fucking great. Like with my looks I couldn’t use all the help proper attire could give me. Hopefully she wouldn’t see me coming and sneak out the back door.

* * *

    “Well, that was fun.”

Fun? I don’t think I’ve ever heard it described that way.

I wasn’t hearing much of anything at the moment, just the sound of my own blood pounding in my ears. If my heartbeat didn’t slow down a little, it was going to be the last sound I heard, too.

I was sweaty. She was sweaty. We got done at roughly the same time, so why was she lying back with a warm smile and I was about to enter cardiac country? True, I was kind of the piston in this machine, but her engine had been running pretty hard, too.

Maybe I was just out of shape. Maybe I needed to pace myself. Maybe I hadn’t gotten it in a long time and I went a little apeshit. Choose “D,” all of the above.

A low gurgle came from her general direction.

“Whoopsie-do! That would be me.” She rubbed a hand over her pale, wet belly.

“Guess I should have let us get that dinner before attacking you.” Yeah, I could tell by that smile how truly sorry she was. “If you just hadn’t been wearing that jumpsuit ”

I pulled the sheets up to my chin. “Well, now that you’ve gotten what you want, I guess you’ll just walk out of here.”

Gina arched one eyebrow at me. “Yes, I would do, but,” she glanced down at her crotch, “I don’t think I can walk.”

Oh, baby, you know what I like! Back when I was a teenager, a remark like that would have had me hard to go right away. My inching toward forty penis, though, required a bit more of a hiatus before rushing into the fray again.

My chest twitched as she ran a finger through the hair and down to my navel. She leaned over me with a wicked smile. “Did you have a good time?”

“You know, you ask some bizarre questions.” And, obviously, this was not a rhetorical one. I put on my serious voice. “I had a wonderful time. How about you?”

In answer, she raised her arms over her head and arched her back in a cat stretch that flattened her breasts and popped joints all over her body. It was very entertaining watching those breasts reappear again when she relaxed.

“Okay, compliments have been exchanged.” Another, more pronounced stomach growl. “Now, get your ass on the phone or into the kitchen and get me something to eat.”

So much for cuddling and pillow talk I felt so cheap. I loved it.

“Hold it!” She stopped me in the doorway. One red nail pointed between her legs. “You filled it up. You get rid of it.”

This was a first. An oddly erotic first.

Gina propped herself up on her elbows to watch me pull out the femdom. She was right. It was pretty damn full. That’s what months of involuntary celibacy will do for you. All right, not complete celibacy; Rosy Palm and her five sisters had been frequent visitors.

“Ah. Thank you, kind sir.”

I tossed the little latex pouch into the chute. Bye, fellows.

Hands washed and teeth brushed, I headed to the kitchen.

She knew everything that was in my freezer; no use holding back on my italian food stash. “How about veggie plus pizza?”

“No pizza.”

A wave of fire flared up before my eyes. Gina had said garlic didn’t work. Come to think of it, she hadn’t had anything but coffee the first time we went out. And, she did have red fingernails, my back could attest to that. Her skin hadn’t felt cold. What if

“My stomach can’t handle the cheese. How about some of the pasta?”

“Even better.” Just a moment of panic. I was a better judge of people than that. I wouldn’t get involved with a creep.

The bathroom door closed. I pulled two pasta dinners from the freezer and popped them into the microwave. No need to read those directions; I’d made those things hundreds of times in the two years I’d been on Hades. Maybe Gina had a point about my diet, but who had endless credit to blow on restaurants every night.

A persistent beeping broke into my thoughts. Automatically, I reached for the microwave handle, but it was still humming along. I snatched the phone up on the next beep.

“3987321.”

“Philly?” The voice trembled on the edge of tears. “It’s me, Percy. I’m in jail.”