Authors: Ashlei D. Hawley
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
My breath catches in my throat. I forget all about the Rippers who advance toward us without pause.
“Ramses.” I can't manage more than his name. He grins at me and removes his large Colt 1911 from its holster on his leg. He sights and dispatched four of the closest Rippers before he speaks again.
“Damn, it’s good to see you.” His dark blue eyes sparkle, mirroring the joy in his spoken sentiment.
I’m so stunned by his presence the Rippers are given ample opportunity to get themselves in my space. The one nearest me grabs my arm. I shake it off, still slightly staggered. Ramses bares his fangs at the advancing horde and hisses a warning. The Ripper near me goes for my arm again, but I heft my axe and shove the creature away, using the flat top in the middle of its chest to finagle some distance for myself.
When I have the space I need, I cock the weapon back and swing at full strength. The head separates from the body. They both fall with a thick, meaty plop.
I turn to look back at Ramses. He’s in his element. He snarls and bares his bright white fangs; a feral god exacting his bloody vengeance. His dark hair, fastened as always in a tight braid, swings behind him as he spins around. Ten Rippers lay in pieces around him, and two others have been decapitated by more throwing axes. How many of the damn things does he have?
Two more Rippers advance toward me. The first is dispatched in the same way as my previous assailant. The second sidesteps my first swing
end up having to attack from my weaker side. Instead of the smooth decapitation I hope for, the bladed edge becomes buried in the muscle and sinew of the thing’s neck. I grimace as I jerk the weapon out. A second swing ends the threat.
“We’re clear enough,” Ramses announces. “Let’s go.”
Every Ripper death seems to disorient the group. The smaller the group, the greater the momentary confusion. Having lost half their members in the past twenty seconds, this platoon flounders. We make our way through them and to the tower with no further complications.
From the top of the tower, I look down at the Rippers from the two companies. They’ve joined together to form a battalion nearly five hundred strong. I know they aren’t getting into the safe zone. We’ve had ten years to reinforce our barriers and build up our defenses. Their sheer numbers still make me shiver.
“We hardly ever see numbers like this in Minneapolis,” Ramses comments. He stands beside me, arms crossed over his large chest. His arms are bigger. He must have worked out regularly since I saw him last.
“Is that where you’ve been?” I ask.
“There and other places.”
I nod. He didn’t tell me where he was going when he left three years ago. He’d been ordered away, he’d said. I’d been ordered to stay. I don’t like it anymore now than I did three years ago.
“Sreya, can we talk?” The sincere lilt of his quiet tone puts my defenses up. Now that we’re no longer in danger, I can think logically. He left me. I don’t owe him anything beyond what he’s given.
“I have to go see Pharaoh. Orders.” With this and a quick, cold smile, I turn and run down the tower steps. Pharaoh expected a report in twenty minutes or less. I have three to make it to him.
“Sreya.” Pharaoh’s voice is cool and exotic as ever. It’s where his son gets his equally appealing tone and timbre from.
No one else is in the room, so I address him casually.
“Seth. You wanted to see me?”
He sits at a gray desk, wearing a button-down shirt which matches the color of his furniture almost exactly. The overwhelming presence of gray makes his
eyeglow like freshly-worked steel. His dark hair is cut short and styled for business. He’s as attractive as his only child, who walks in almost on cue.
“Father,” Ramses says warmly. The men clasp hands. They grin wide enough to make their fangs obvious through their full lips. Immortality couldn’t have preserved two more beautiful creatures.
“Ramses. I didn’t know you planned to be back,” Seth says. That makes two of us. Ramses’ lack of communication with me hurts a tiny bit less.
“Lucky I did
.Sreya was in a bit of a tight spot out there.”
I want to argue that I could have handled it, but the men would taste the hesitation and fear in my words. I don’t know if I would have been able to fight through. The truth sticks in my throat
shrug when Seth looks my way.
“There weren’t just two companies,” I tell him. “Ramses helped me fight through a large platoon to get back.”
“Lucky we are, then,” Seth says. He pats Ramses on the back and I can’t help but smile at them. They’ve had hundreds of years to enjoy one of the best father son relationships I’ve ever encountered.
I don’t even remember the name of the slave man who planted me in my mother’s womb, or the equally humble woman who bore me. Seth has always been the only parent figure in my life. He made and protected me, after all. Without Seth, I would have died a slave girl. No one would remember my name, either.
“Did you get what Dr. Geisel requested?” Seth asks. His tone is reserved, but I see a spark of hope in his slate eyes.
I remove the plastic container from my pocket and toss it his way. A bare, too-quick-to-see movement and he snatches it from the air. He bounces it up and down on his palm and nods before sliding it into his own pocket.
“Well done. I knew we could count on you, Sreya.”
As ever, praise from my maker warms me. “Thank you for your trust,” I say, and I mean it. There are better fighters
,faster runners in our organization. That he sends me on these important missions makes me feel I haven’t let him down yet. I’m grateful to Seth, and I never want him to regret his decision to bring me into the vampire world.
“I’m sure there will be something else to do later on. Until then, you’re free to go. Kaiser has been looking for you.” After that nonchalant comment, he waves me off and opens the little box. I am hungry, and a bag of blood substitute doesn’t really sound appealing.
Though it’s got everything we vampires need to be sustained, it tastes fake. Not nearly as wonderful as the real thing. Finding Kaiser sounds like a great way to spend part of the night.
Ramses catches my gaze with his as I move for the exit. The pull from those sapphire blues is magnetic.
“Sreya, I really want to talk.”
I stop walking toward the door to Seth’s office. “Maybe later.” I don’t know if I put off our conversation out of cowardice or because I want to annoy him.
The fire in his eyes convinces me it’s cowardice. I certainly have enough self-preservation not to blatantly try to piss Ramses off.
I make my escape as Ramses turns back to his father. The last thing I hear before I’m out of earshot is, “Who is Kaiser?”
Kaiser, my only donor, is working in our communications center. When I find him, he’s leaning over the shoulder of a frustrated brunette vampire.
“We can’t boost the signal any further. You’re not going to be able to reach anything beyond the U.S. with the system the way it is. We can’t even reach the cities near us, Kaiser.” The vampire’s tone is full of disdain. Kaiser smiles at him and I admire his strong profile with friendly appreciation. He’s not fazed by the other male’s irritation. I’ve found nothing fazes Kaiser, not even Rippers. Maybe that’s because he hasn’t been out of the compound in nearly a decade.
“We’ll get it figured out,” Kaiser insists as he claps the vampire radio operator on the shoulder. He doesn’t catch the distasteful look that claims the vampire’s dark brown eyes, but I do. “I want to contact someone in China,” Kaiser continues. “My bet’s still on them for a cure.”
Kaiser turns, as though he’s sensed my presence. His smile is infectious and I return it.
“Sreya, glad you made it back in one piece,” he says.
“That makes two of us,” I agree.
The radio equipment and its handler are forgotten. Kaiser follows me out of the communications center and down the hall toward an exit.
“We need to get the signal towers near us up and running again,” Kaiser explains to me. We walk without discussing our destination. Both of us know where we’re heading.
“Have you talked to Seth about sending a team out?”
“Of course,” Kaiser replies as he holds the door open for me. The guards are two female vampires we recognize. They nod at us, familiar with our common routine, as Kaiser continues. “He says he won’t waste anyone on something that probably couldn’t help, anyway.”
He scoffs and shakes his head. “Couldn’t help?! If they’ve developed a cure, they could send the formula to us. We could duplicate, experiment here. Those signal towers could be all that stands between us and finally pushing the tide back against the Rippers.”
We stand on a wooden pier, nearer to the shore than the water. The half-moon and about a billion stars light up the night for us. We still have electricity in the safe zones, but for the most part, human cities have all gone dark. It makes for a lonely world, but it also gives us gorgeous nights.
“Do you miss it?”
Kaiser knows what I’m asking. Does he miss humanity, being a part of cities and populations that throbbed like the beating heart of a seemingly infallible machine? Does he miss being one microscopic speck, one droplet of blood in the veins of that giant that once was mankind?
“Hell yes, I do,” he answers in a gruff and pensive tone. He sits on the edge of the pier and swings his long legs over the side. His normally placid blue eyes shimmer with a torrent of underlying turmoil. I shouldn’t have asked
. Itwas inconsiderate and almost cruel.
“I didn’t mean to...” I trail off and sit beside him, searching for the words of apology among the cold burn of the uncountable stars. “It was a stupid thing to ask.”
“Don’t worry about it.” But he knows I will. “It’s been a while since you’ve taken actual blood. Couple weeks, right?”
The sudden topic shift disorients me for a moment. I swallow around an invisible obstruction in my throat.
“Yeah, about that.” I attempt to sound nonchalant, but I can almost give him down to the minute how long it’s been. The blood substitute is great, really. It keeps us alive, has no adverse effects, is plentiful, and easy to manufacture. Without it, the vampire population would have hunted down and drained all the remaining humans by now. And we’d still be starving even if we got every last one of them.
Having humans willing to give themselves up for occasional feedings is equivalent to having a golden ticket to the chocolate factory in our current climate. I’m lucky enough to be one of two vampires Kaiser regularly agrees to donate to. Seth is the other.
“Well, I told Seth I was looking forward to letting you feed when you got back. I’m ready if you are.”
As my donor, Kaiser holds a place of respect and near-reverence in my heart. He gives me an irreplaceable gift, and I appreciate him for it.
I always try to make the feedings enjoyable for him. As our most prized assets, our humans are protected like the valued treasures they are. A vampire who mistreats a human nowadays will face exile or death, depending on the severity of the abuse.
Kaiser knows he had nothing of the sort to fear from me. I handle him like a glass sculpture, taking great care not to damage him.
Sweeping the soft curls from the middle of his neck, I bend Kaiser’s head away from me, toward the far end of the pier. The heavy, fresh scent of the water plays along the edge of the fragrance I seek. The sweeter, thicker liquid smells like heaven even through the skin that keeps it trapped. We always come here, not for privacy, but for the mélange of delectable scents that accompany the meal: wood imbued with the clean smell of the lake water, healthy soil on the water’s edge, the here and quickly gone perfume of little prey animals, and whatever else the night wind brings to me.
I’m drunk before my first taste, just from the smells around us.
“Sreya...” Kaiser whispers. The hesitation in his tone tells me he thinks I’ve reconsidered. Truth is, I’m savoring the moment. I run my nails over the skin, following the path of the throbbing vein that is mine to claim.
Before his neck begins to cramp, I lower my face to the offered flesh. I open my mouth wide to accommodate my fully-elongated fangs. The thin incisors, sharper than any knife, plunge into Kaiser’s neck. The released flow of crimson erupts into my mouth and I moan, shuddering with the orgasmic joy of the taste.
I kneel between Kaiser’s legs, both of mine straddling his firm, muscled right thigh. My breasts press into his chest, and tingle with the same rush of anticipation I feel beneath my gums. The tingle is almost a burn in the two spots where my fangs descend.
The instant my fangs pierce his skin, Kaiser’s body droops in perfect submission. Low hums of pleasure roll around beneath my tightly-fastened lips.
Kaiser is in the daze all humans fall into when being fed on. I notice him growing hard, but don’t take it personally. I’ve never known a human that didn’t experience some kind of
arousedduring a feeding.
Before I run the risk of taking too much, I break the seal of my mouth and back away. I want to lick up the blood that still hovers around the tiny wounds already closing up, but I don’t have a chance.
Something hits me from behind Kaiser. The form breaks my contact with my donor and sends me hurtling off the pier. Before I even resurface from the feeding haze, I’m in the water with a large weight on top of me.