a sequel to Negotiations
The J was packed to overflowing with hip young men and flamboyant young women. They twisted into and around the music, flashing swatches of bare skin, elaborate tattoos, bejeweled piercings. Most of the time, it was enough for Joe to move among them, their moist skin brushing his, their scents caressing him, their laughter ringing in his ears; they were a heady reminder that there was more to life than fighting Galactor and racing cars. Once in a while, though, he wanted more than a beer and an evening of flirting. Once in a while, what he really wanted was sex.
Officially, the ISO didn’t want anyone on the team “romantically or sexually involved” with partners who hadn’t gone through a thorough background screen. According to the stodgy Powers That Be, unauthorized relationships posed a danger not only to the team, but also to civilians Galactor might decide to use as leverage.
Technically, the ISO decision-makers understood that four of the five members were healthy young adults (and the fifth had hit adolescence with a vengeance). Technically, they understood that sex was part of normal human behavior; what they apparently did not understand was the importance of spontaneity. Joe enjoyed the chase. He enjoyed the catch, and once in a while he enjoyed the easy, no-strings release of a one-night stand.
He often wondered if the prohibitive “screens” for potential partners were just chicanery, a way to keep the members of the Science Ninja Team from having any sex at all. The team members were supposed to be paragons of virtue, role models for other kids, and Joe knew that role models were supposed to abstain until marriage.
If Jun, Ken, and Ryu wanted to stay virgins until they died, that was fine for them, he thought, but he had every intention of getting laid tonight.
He’d already made his catch, a sexy Japanese girl with platinum hair and enormous liquid brown eyes. Over-the-knee leather boots that made her legs seem to go on forever, a tiny black skirt, and an open-backed top that let him graze his fingers across the scrolled tattoo in the small of her back. His interest in her had become a constant ache, and when she asked him to drive her home, he leapt at the opportunity.
She unlocked the glass door on the front of her building, casting a provocative glance over her bare shoulder, and he couldn’t wait any longer. He pushed her up against the wall of brass mailboxes and kissed her. She wrapped a leg around his, rubbing her hand against his fly, making him groan.
“Upstairs,” she breathed, her words vibrating against his throat. “Now.”
They staggered up the silver-carpeted stairs, laughing when a neighbor glowered at them on her way down the steps. Joe didn’t think they were going to make it to her apartment, let alone her bed. It had been too long since he’d been inside a woman.
She slammed the apartment door behind them. He peeled off his shirt and tossed it aside, sliding her skirt up around her hips, pushing aside her thong. He’d just undone the buttons of his fly when the moist heat of her mouth on his neck became a sudden sharp pain.
He froze, opening his mouth to tell her he didn’t want any bruises, but he felt a tug, and the pain sung through his veins, outward from his neck, making him gasp. He shoved away from her, making her thud into the door, and backed up.
“What the hell are you doing?” he snapped.
He couldn’t see her well in the dark; they hadn’t turned on any lights, and the halogen street lamp outside the living room window was the only illumination. Still, he could see well enough to know that her mouth was bloody. He slapped a hand to his neck, and it came away wet and dark and sticky.
“What the hell?” he repeated.
“Shit,” she said. “I forgot. Uh… You carry yourself like you’re older than you look.”
“What? What the fuck are you talking about? You bit me!”
“You aren’t one of us.” She shoved away from the door. She sounded accusing.
“One of you what? Goth freaks who think they’re vampires? Lady, you need your head examined.” He touched his neck again. “That fucking hurts.”
She came at him suddenly, hooking her hand around the nape of his neck and jerking him forward. Instinct and training were the only things that kept him from landing face-down on the floor. Instead, he ducked out of her hold and sidestepped her next lunge.
“Look, we’re done here.” He knocked her hand aside again and snatched his shirt off the floor. “I’m all for kinky stuff, but I’m not interested in donating blood.”
She moved in the dark, and before he could identify her new position, she hit him from behind. He staggered into the wall, catching himself with his hands. A picture scraped down the wall, and glass shattered.
Joe twisted around, trying to flip her over his shoulder, but she clung with superhuman strength. Dismayed, he remembered Lucy, her cybernetic strength, and wondered exactly what kind of Galactor creation this woman was. He slammed his body back against the wall, trying to shake her, to no avail. Her mouth fastened on the wound in his neck again, and he shuddered. He fumbled several shuriken from a hidden pocket and jammed them blindly into her side.
She shrieked, releasing him so abruptly that the lack of extra weight made him stagger again.
He fell back into a crouch, fanning a fresh array of shuriken through his fingers.
She was leaning against the door, plucking shuriken from between her ribs. When she had cast them to the carpet, she hissed at him, revealing fangs.
Rumors of a supposed vampire attack in Utoland had earned brief mention on the news last week, and hysteria bubbled beneath the multiplying international tabloid reports. The gossip was growing so prevalent that Nambu had even brought it up during a briefing. The ISO think-tank was speculating that Galactor was engineering a creature to resemble mythology’s vampire.
Joe had scoffed at the entire discussion. In spite of the mecha that looked like a mummy, in spite of the skull-headed Galactor captain, in spite of Katse’s morbid sense of humor, the idea of a real vampire had seemed ridiculous.
It didn’t seem so ridiculous now.
“You’re Galactor’s latest fabrication?” he said.
Her irritation became surprise, and then she looked insulted. “We have existed far longer than Galactor.”
He straightened, the shuriken still loose between his fingers. “Seems I should have seen one of you before now.”
“I thought you were one of us,” she muttered. She touched her bloody side, grimacing in pain. “Now I have to kill you.”
“Oh, you weren’t going to kill me before? Just have me for a midnight snack?”
She glared at him. “My power should have rolled you if you’re not one of us.” She leapt forward, and he caught her attack against his arm. She had far more strength than the average person, and the impact reverberated through him and made him stumble. He tripped over something and fell backwards. She came down on top of him, straddling his hips, and pressed her mouth against his. He felt a rush of wet heat, tasted the salty, metallic tang of blood, and tore his mouth from hers. She hit him under the jaw, making his teeth snap together, making him involuntarily swallow, and he gagged.
Even as she covered his mouth with hers again, he reached up, wrapped a hand in her hair, and snapped her neck.
She sagged against him, dead.
He scrambled out from under her, spitting the taste of blood from his mouth. After a moment, he bent to make sure she had no pulse. Then he wiped his bloody hands on her shirt, flipped on a light, and went into the kitchen. There he ran water into his cupped hands and washed out his mouth.
When the salty taste had faded, he seized her purse from where it had fallen beside the door. Nothing inside marked her as Galactor, so he quickly, methodically searched the rest of the small apartment.
He found what he was looking for in the desk in the bedroom. Contact codes and a small pouch of Galactor currency. He sat on the end of the bed and rested his forehead against the heel of his hand. “Shit,” he breathed. If he’d killed a civilian…
Then he turned over his wrist and called Dr. Nambu.