Sunshine, p.27
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       Sunshine, p.27
 

           Robin McKinley
Chapter 27

 

  A hiss? I'd heard Con hiss - vampires did hiss. The giggler had hissed. It was a horrible noise even from a. . . an everyday, an every-night vampire. It was much worse from Bo, as everything about Bo was worse. But was it a hiss? Or was it his attempt to say my name?

  I was back at the lake, where it all began. The sun flamed outside the house. The lake water lapped at the shore. For that first time I heard my tree: Yesssss. Perhaps there had been a doe standing in that forest, looking through the trees at the house, on her way home, to some dappled place where she would doze till sunset.

  Beauregard! I shouted. I destroy you!

  And I put my hands into the mire of his chest, and wrenched out his heart.

  The sky was falling. Ah. Okay. Skies don't fall; therefore I was dead. I'd kind of expected to be dead. I felt rather comfortable, really. Relieved. Did that mean I'd succeeded? Succeeded in what? There'd been something I'd been desperate to do before I checked out for the last time. . . couldn't quite remember. . .

  Why can't you leave me alone? There is a lot of noise. Shouldn't be able to hear anyone saying my name. So, I'm not hearing someone saying my name. So go away, damn it. I don't want to be here, shivering in this polluted body. My hands. . . my hands. . . touched. . . I won't remember.

  I'm not dead yet, I thought composedly, but I am dying. Good. I don't want to spend the rest of my life being careful not to remember.

  I hope I did whatever it was I wanted to do first.

  Maybe I could go back just long enough to find out.

  Con, on his hands and knees, crouched over me. The floor shook under us, and there was a lot of. . . stuff. . . falling down and flying around. Not a good place to be, unless you were dying, which I was. Con, I wanted to say, don't bother. Let one of these flying chunks of something or other finish the job. I'm tired, and I don't want to hang around. My hands. . .

  "Sunshine," he said. "We have to get out of here. Listen to me. You have undone Bo; he cannot put himself back together. You have succeeded. This is your victory. But there is much of his - his animus - released by the final destruction of his body. This place is being pulled to pieces. I cannot carry you through this. Sunshine, listen to me. . . "

  I was drifting off again. I paused in the drift, momentarily caught by the sound of Con's voice. He sounded positively. . . emotional. I wanted to laugh, but I didn't have the energy. I began to drift again.

  I felt him lift me up - I wanted to struggle; leave me alone - but I didn't have the energy for that either. He rearranged me, leaning against him, one arm around me, the other hand cradling my head, tipping it toward his body. . .

  Blood. Blood in my mouth.

  Again.

  No

  I wanted to struggle: I did want to. I could have not swallowed. I could have let it run back out of my mouth again: Con's blood. This wasn't the blood of a deer, this time, a mortal creature, killed for me, killed because she was like me, more like me than a vampire. Less like me than a vampire, perhaps, by the fact of her death, by the fact that the recently life-warm blood of her had saved my life. That had been a long time ago. I hadn't known what was going on, that time. I knew well enough this time. This was Con's heart's blood. The heart's blood of a vampire.

  When did I cross the irrevocable line: when I drove out to the lake, when I tucked my little knife into my bra, when I transmuted it into a key, when I unlocked my shackle, when I unlocked Con's?

  When I took him into the daylight, and stopped it from burning him?

  When he saved my life by the death of a doe?

  When I discovered I could destroy a vampire with my hands?

  When I destroyed Bo with those hands?

  Or when I agreed to live, by drinking Con's heart's blood?

  I don't know what happened at the foot of the dais, when Bo's crack troop set on Con while I was climbing the stairs. I don't know if what I saw was entirely some mirage of Bo's, to confound and weaken me, or whether something like it did happen. I would rather think that some of it did happen. That the wound in his chest was already there when he pressed my mouth against it. This was no mere flesh wound, this time, no tiny slash from a tiny blade. I did not want to think of him sinking his own fingers, tearing his own. . .

  I lifted my head with a gasp, and began to struggle to my feet. He eeled up beside me: still that vampire fluency, even after everything that had happened. Even with that wound in his chest.

  He took my hand again, and we ran.

  It takes some coordination, running while holding someone's hand, but if you can get it right, every time your linked hands swing forward you get a little extra force for that stride. Some of that was the vampire cocktail I had just swallowed; it coursed through me, giving me a strength I knew didn't belong to me, shouldn't belong to me - shouldn't be letting me keep struggling, letting me run, letting me use my poisoned hands. Clinging to his hand too, or perhaps his clinging to mine, let me stop thinking about what my hands had recently been doing.

  So, would it have been better to die?

  Too much has happened since my last sunset. Con may be right that I cannot be turned, and that it won't be the daylight that kills me, but the touch of the real world will, whatever the sun is doing.

  I missed the little hot lump of the seal against my leg. The chain swept back and forth across my breast in time with my running footsteps, but slowly, weighted by the thick poisoned blood of the reopened scar.

  My sun-self, my tree-self, my deer-self. Don't they outweigh the dark self?

  Not any more.

  We ran, and a wind like the end of the world howled around us, and huge fragments of machinery, having crumbled apart and fallen, were yanked up again and tossed like bits of paper. I think the roof was caving in as well; it was a little hard to differentiate. There was no trail to follow, of dismembered vampire remains or anything else; I don't know how Con knew which way to run, but he seemed to, and I ran because he was running, because it seems like a good thing to do when hunks of flying metal the size of small buses are razoring through the air around you, even though I suppose you're as likely to run into the wrong place at the wrong time as you are to have lingered in the wrong place at the wrong time if you were moving more slowly.

  For the moment, for just this moment of running, I seemed to be committed to the idea of trying to stay alive.

  Then we were actually running down something that looked like a corridor, toward something that looked like double swinging doors. We put our unlinked hands forward to push through, and for a miracle the doors swung back, like normal doors in the real world are supposed to do. We were outside, outside, in No Town, under a night sky, breathing real air.

  Maybe I didn't have time to die, when I ran back into the real world. Or maybe I was too surprised.

  We ran straight into the arms of a division of SOF.

  In a way I was lucky: they recognized me almost immediately. I was hysterical; this was definitely one thing too many, and when I got grabbed by three guys I did one of them some damage before the other two got a bind on me. I couldn't bear the touch of - well, of flesh - against mine, especially against my hands, so it's a good thing they had a bind ready, rather than the old-fashioned routine of spread out on the ground with my hands twisted up behind my back. The bind should have stopped me cold, but I was still full of adrenaline, or dark blood, or the remains of the strength the light-web had gathered for me, or poison, or whatever you like, and I thrashed and squirmed like someone having a fit for a minute or two before it stopped me. By which time I'd heard a half-familiar voice say, "Wait a minute, isn't that - that's Rae, from Charlie's, remember, she - "

  You have to hand it to the SOF training drill. A madwoman covered in blood runs out of nowhere, promptly tries to maim one of your teammates, and then goes off in fits, and this guy had enough presence of mind to make an ID. And then a completely familiar voice, now kneeling besid
e me as I panted inside the fully expanded bind, saying, "Sunshine. Sunshine. Can you hear me?"

  I could. Just. His voice sounded like it was coming through a filter, or a bad phone connection, which might have been the bind. I don't think it was, but it might have been.

  The person saying "Sunshine, can you hear me?" was Pat.

  I nodded. I wasn't ready to try and say anything. I'm not sure a nod from a person in a bind is very recognizable, but Pat got it.

  "I can let you out of the bind if you promise - if you're okay now. "

  I thought about it. I was lying on the ground. A good bind will prevent you hurting yourself as well as hurting anyone else, and I didn't seem a whole lot worse than I'd been before SOF grabbed me. And from inside a bind you don't have any responsibilities. Did I want to be let out?

  Gods and angels, what was happening to Con? SOF knew me; they might listen to me. I couldn't do Con any good foaming at the mouth and being a loony. Couldn't afford to die yet either. First I owed it to him to get him out of this. If they hadn't staked him already. Urgency shot through me, tying some of the scattered bits of my personality and will together again. Granny knots probably, but hey.

  I said as calmly as I could, "Yes. Okay. I'm a little - dizzy. "

  Pat patted the bind where my shoulder was, and then pulled its plug. It twumped and collapsed. He made to take my arm, help me to stand up, but I flinched away, saying, "Please don't touch me. " He nodded, but I could see he was worried - the way I must look would worry anyone - and the way the little ring of SOFs around us moved, they were ready to drop me again at the first sign of new trouble.

  I turned slowly around - I was dizzy, and I didn't want anyone alarmed into doing something I would regret - and looked for Con. He'd apparently taken capture more quietly. He was standing, watching me. They had handcuffs on him. Handcuffs. You don't handcuff a vampire - well, there are sucker cuffs, but these were ordinary ones. From where I stood I didn't think there were even any ward signs on them. A vampire could break out of ordinary cuffs like a human might break out of a doughnut.

  I'm not usually a very good liar. Whatever I'm thinking shows on my face. I hoped it wasn't on my face Hey you halfwits you've put cuffs on a vampire. I hope I only looked confused and dizzy. I certainly felt confused and dizzy. "You okay?" I managed.

  Con nodded. He looked a little peculiar, but it had been a peculiar evening.

  "Friend of yours?" Pat asked neutrally.

  I nodded. They must have seen us running. . .

  I turned to look at what - where - whatever we had run from. I'd registered that we were in No Town.

  We were in what remained of somewhere in No Town. A lot of it seemed to be lying in pieces on the ground around us. The doors we'd run through led from a building that ended in a jagged diagonal rake of broken wall about eight feet above the doors at its lowest point; there was no roof. Neither of the buildings on each side had any roof left either. One of them still had some of its front wall standing, which was nearly as tall as I was; the other one had a bit of side wall still in one piece. Not a very large piece.

  I turned back to Pat. "What - happened?"

  He almost smiled. "I was hoping you might be able to tell me. Since you're - er - here. We got a report that it was raining - um - body parts, in No Town. Really freaked some of the clubbers. We sent out a car to take a look and they were radioing for help before they arrived. By the time we got here it was raining exploded buildings as well. And more body parts. The - er - body parts appear to be vampire. Ex-vampire, as you might say. The ones we've had a closer look at. "

  I nodded. I glanced again at Con. My brain was slowly beginning to function. I realized that the reason Con looked peculiar was because he was passing. Don't ask me how he was doing it. But SOF thought he was human.

  "I can take the cuffs off your friend too, if you say you know him," Pat said, a little too neutrally. "He was a little - upset, when you, er - "

  "Went nuts," I supplied. "Sorry. "

  Pat looked at me. I saw it registering with him that the way I looked, whatever had caused it, I had reason to be a little on edge. He looked away again, and nodded, and someone stepped forward and released Con. He joined Pat and me. The circle of SOFs unobtrusively rearranged itself again to keep us under guard. Pat the lion tamer, in with the lions. Con moved a little stiffly, like a man who'd had a hard night. Or like a vampire trying to look human.

  He looked a lot better than he had the afternoon we'd had to walk back from the lake. He didn't look like any one you'd want to take home to meet the family, but he didn't look like a mad junkie either. Or a vampire. And I didn't look like anyone you'd want to take home to meet the family. We were both beat up, ragged, blood-saturated, and filthy, and my nose was as stunned as the rest of me, but I guess we stank. Con's black shirt stuck to his body in such a way I couldn't see the wound in his chest. If it was still there. My own breast ached and burned, but if I was still bleeding, it had slowed to an ooze.

  I crossed my arms, but with my elbows well in front of my body, so that my hands hung loosely from my wrists out to either side, without touching any of the rest of me. I wasn't remembering any more of what had happened than I had to, but I knew there was something wrong with my hands.

  I wondered where Con had picked up passing for human in the last five months. Was that one of the things I had given him, the night he had given me dark sight? Or was he taking his cue off our jailers somehow? Not that anybody had said they were our jailers. Yet. I didn't want to say anything like, can we go home now?, in case they did. Besides, I didn't know that I wanted to go home. I didn't know that I wanted to do anything. My pulse seemed to throb in my hands.

  There was a tinny buzzing from someone's radiowire: Pat's. I saw his expression get grimmer, and it had been pretty grim already. "Yeah. Okay. No, my guess is things are going to stay quiet now. Yeah, I'll leave a few to keep an eye out, and you can send any clean-up crew you can find. Yeah. " He looked at me. "Deputy exec Jain wants to debrief you. "

  My heart sank. The goddess of pain. And you don't debrief civilians.

  "You and Mr. - " Pat turned politely to Con.

  "Connor," Con replied.

  "Mr. Connor. You and Sunshine can ride back in my car, and Sunshine can tell you a little about our Depex Jain. "

  I almost managed to be amused. The intrusive presence of the goddess had just put Pat on our side. I guessed we'd need him there. The effort to be amused faded, leaving cold exhaustion.

  Pat did the best he could for us. The goddess wasn't going to wait for us to have showers, let alone food and sleep. (I would have liked to see Con in one of their fuzzy khaki jammy suits though. ) Pat radioed ahead from the car, and Theo and John met us with blankets and tea. (I wondered who got to hose down the inside of the car. ) We were also offered the opportunity to have a pee. Such magnanimity. I accepted. Con did not. Don't vampires pee? It had been one thing on the walk back from the lake, when he'd been on short rations for a long time. Okay, do they have a digestive system? Maybe it all goes straight into. . . never mind. At least I could wash my hands, although I felt the soap only slide over what I most needed to scour away. I cleaned my face with a paper towel, so my hands never touched anything but paper.

  Con hesitated no more than a moment when offered tea or coffee, and chose tea. He wrapped the blanket around himself. It was yellow, and didn't help his complexion. He was impressive as a vampire but mostly just ugly as a human. There was a kind of threateningness to his ugliness but you couldn't have said why. There was a study once about whether ugly or good-looking people are more imposing. Generally the uglier you are the less imposing, till you reach a sort of nadir of ugliness and then you get really imposing. I thought Con just missed the nadir. Just. He was also shorter as a human. I didn't get this at all. But if it meant the goddess would underestimate him that would be expedient. Possibly even life-saving. Although I wasn't sure how I f
elt about going on having my life repeatedly saved. My thoughts were moving slowly and indistinctly, and they stumbled a lot. I'd had to take the tea mug into my hands to drink from it, but I kept my fingers well away from the brim where my lips would touch. They offered us food, but I refused; it would be sandwiches, something you'd have to touch with your hands. And my refusal made Con's look less odd, maybe.

  When Pat took us up to the goddess' office, there were seven of us. Pat, Con and me, Theo and John and two people I didn't know beyond occasionally seeing them at Charlie's: Kate and Mike. The goddess wanted to dismiss everyone but Con and me - she had her own people present, of course - but Pat, going all formal, declined to be dismissed, and began reeling off some directive or other. I'd heard him asking for some SOF reg book and seen him poring over it in the little turnaround time between the car and the goddess' office, but I hadn't thought about it. He was now proving that since he'd nabbed us in the field, he was responsible for us, even in the presence of a superior officer, because he was a field specialist and she wasn't, and the situation was insecure.

  One for Pat. But the lines around the goddess' mouth got harder, and her mouth more pinched. And we were all going to pay for it.

  Mainly she went for Con. Because she knew there was something wrong about him? Or because he was the stranger? If she hadn't done it before I skegged the HQ com system, she would have read any available file on me after, which wasn't a happy thought, especially the presumption that it would get fatter as a result of her interest. I wondered if Yolande could make a ward against SOF 'fo-collecting techniques. A ward that didn't proclaim itself as a ward, that only made me look boring. Because my natural boringness would have taken a fatal injury tonight. Nobody - certainly not Pat or the goddess - was going waste any more time believing my story about having blown myself out the night I blew out their com system.

  But there I went again, planning as if I had a future, and I hadn't decided about that yet. The future would be difficult without usable hands, and the old wound on my breast. . . But I wanted to get Con out of here. His future was his business.

  There were more voices. The goddess' voice made my head ache. I had to listen, to pay attention, and I had to think, to be careful, to be ready. . . ready. . . The effort was making me start to disintegrate again. . . I was drifting, it was so much easier to drift. . .

  What is your name? asked the goddess.

  Connor, Con replied.

  First name?

  Malcolm.

  And you live?

  I have only recently come to this area, and have not yet decided if I am staying. I rather think that I am not.

  But your local address?

  I am renting a house by the lake.

  Loud intake of breath from everyone except me and Con.

  No one lives by the lake any more, said the goddess, as if she had caught him out in a lie.

  Con shrugged gently. Yes: my rent is very reasonable, and I like the solitude.

  There was a momentary pause. It was true that nobody lived by the lake any more, but there wasn't a good reason why not. There were bad spots, but there were bad spots everywhere, and there were perfectly good not bad spots by the lake too. The goddess might think no human could bear the hauntedness of the lake, but she couldn't nail him as an unregistered partblood or illegal Other on it. Let alone a vampire. And my little trouble five months ago had been the first of its kind in years. Con's choice of location would bring that trouble to mind, of course, but there wasn't any way that my presence in the middle of whatever had happened tonight wasn't going to bring that trouble back to center focus in everyone's mind. Maybe Con even had a plan. Which was a lot more than I had. I wanted to rub my aching head but I didn't want to use my hands.

  Who is your landlord?

  I do not know. I pay the rent to a post office box in Raindance. The rental was arranged through an agent.

  What agent?

  I do not remember; the papers are at home.

  You could produce the papers.

  Yes.

  What brought you to this area?

  Its natural beauty.

  That stopped her for a moment. She wasn't a trees and sunsets sort of person. I wondered vaguely where she lived. She wasn't a downtown high-rise sort of person either. Nor could I see her in grotty unorthodox Old Town. I couldn't see her redoing one of the houses in Whiteout. I couldn't see her as a person with a life. I imagined her spending her off-duty hours folded up in a drawer. If she had any off-duty hours.

  What do you do for a living?

  I am fortunate in not having to work for a living.

  This startled her - well, he hadn't been found in circumstances conducive to guessing he was a member of the independently wealthy - but you could see her shift her view to relishing despising this already-suspicious character now revealed as a parasite on the body of society. A mosquito or a leech or something bloodsucking. Ha.

  And how then do you support yourself?

  My father left me comfortably off.

  And your father was?

 

 

 
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