Authors: Lena Hillbrand
had to be convincing.”
could have told me.”
could have, but it would not have been as convincing.”
laughed. “Look, you have a shower, and a real bed, and a…cold…room for the day.
Clean yourself and take some rest.”
going to shower, I guess,” Cali said. She entered the bathroom and slid the
door as far as it would close—halfway. Draven removed the gun and the stake
from his pockets, pulled the sliding tray from the wall and set his things on
it. He sat, avoiding the dried blood smeared on the bed’s threadbare spread.
The room, large enough only to contain the bed and a space beside it allowing
one to enter, reeked as if it had not been cleaned in quite some time. But it
was free, and would give Cali a temporary reprieve. At times he quite forgot
that she hadn’t had the year and a half to grow accustomed to living as he did,
exposed to the elements, transient, never certain if a meal, a roof, or sleep
could be found at all, let alone the type she longed for.
he heard the shower running, Draven glanced at the bathroom and then away
quickly. No shower curtain.
knock sounded at the door, and, relieved for the distraction, he snatched up
the gun and strode the few steps to the door and heaved it open. It slid into
the wall reluctantly, rattling on its track. He leaned against the doorframe, the
gun dangling from his fingers, just above his head.
he said, forcing a note of casual belligerence into his voice as he imagined
befit someone in his position. “I thought I said we didn’t want any bother.”
well, we got procedure here,” the receptionist said, scorn dripping from every
syllable. “You gotta pay upfront. It’s the rules.”
that right?” he asked, scratching his head with the gun. “Well, I’m an
Enforcer, and I like to keep things discreet, so I’d appreciate some privacy.
But if you won’t work with me, I’m sure I’ll find a place that will. One that
will still be here if I want to come back next week.”
girl gave him a dirty look but backed away. “Don’t you skip out,” she said.
“And don’t tell nobody else, or they’ll all wanna do it.”
little secret.” Draven smiled at her before closing the door. When he turned
back, Cali stood in the bathroom doorway, clad in her jumpsuit once more.
was that?” she asked.
one,” he said, replacing the gun on the tray. “How was your shower?”
She looked at him and then at the bed. “I think the towel got me as dirty as
before I got in the shower, but…” She shrugged and hugged herself, shivering as
she eyed the bed once more.
on,” he said. “Get in the bed.”
hesitated only a moment before following his advice. After switching off the
light, Draven stripped to his undershorts and slipped into the bed beside her.
Once, he’d had her sleep on the floor. The memory struck him as ludicrous. Back
then, she’d been simply a sap with a tantalizing aroma, hardly more than an
tell me about the pretty Superiors on the street,” she said.
ladies on the street back there. And the men, too.”
them. They were all so pretty, and their clothes were so heaven.”
chuckled. “Oh, I don’t know.”
said you’d tell me.”
arouses your curiosity? They are only people.”
wanna know about them. They were all so different, but every one of them thought
you looked awfully good. Does everyone treat you that way when you walk down
laughed softly in the darkness. “By no means.”
laugh at me. How would I know? We don’t have anything like that. And I’ve never
really seen you with other Superiors. I’ve never seen any Superiors acting that
nice, for sure.”
just that. Acting.”
won’t you tell me?”
are women and men who are paid to have sex. That’s all.”
you pay them?”
why do other Superiors?”
I don’t know.”
do you mean? How can you not know?”
sighed. “Alright. You know we don’t change, yes? We look the same always.”
he could answer, quiet voices sounded in the next room. Draven eyed Cali in the
dark, but he could not determine if she heard or not. The sounds began to
change into something more primal, with less words. His breath caught and held
as he waited for Cali to ask about it, as she asked after everything. But she
remained silent. The silence stretched thinner and thinner in the room,
punctuated with sounds that could be nothing other than what they were. When he
could bear it no longer, Draven began to speak, drowning the noises and
accompanying thoughts with his words.
are not satisfied with the way they look,” he said, “And they want someone who places
little importance on whether they fit the ideal. For some, it is difficult to
find someone to satisfy their cravings. Some want what their partners won’t
provide, or they don’t want a companion for more than a few hours, or they
simply want something convenient without having to talk or bother with the
chance they won’t succeed in the end, so they pay for a service.”
can’t imagine. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to someone, if you’d want to mate
I don’t know. I don’t explain well. Sometimes, a connection is too involved,
too time-consuming and exhausting. You only want something simple and pleasant,
such as a lovely woman to pay attention to you.”
silly. People—I mean, humans—we don’t much care what a person looks like. We
want the connection, the involvement. If you don’t have that, you don’t want
him to pay attention to you. It doesn’t matter how he looks.”
suppose you have more primitive concerns, more primitive desires. If those were
fulfilled, you’d find other things to value.”
does that mean?”
think of things such as survival, yes? We no longer have to think of that, so
we find other things to concern ourselves with, such as vanity.”
only an observation, not a question of worth.”
Cali lay silent a few moments, only her quiet breath disturbing the silence in
their room. In the next room, Draven could hear the onslaught continuing. “So,
you’re saying you only care what a person looks like? Because then you should
really like those pretty ladies.”
what is it?”
humans, mating serves the purpose of procreation, getting bred and carrying on
the species. And some of you still marry. We don’t marry, and we don’t have
offspring, so…sex has a different purpose, a different meaning.”
what’s the meaning?”
it shouldn’t matter what she looks like.”
the only thing that matters. Not compatibility or the desire for a family. With
little to base the decision on, most base it on appearance.”
to lie with someone.”
she said faintly from across the bed. Then, after a moment, “But why do people
buy it, if it doesn’t mean anything?”
considered not answering, but in the room beside them, the noises approached a
crescendo, so he hurried to explain further. “Because it is…enjoyable. Like
getting a massage, or a haircut. If you can’t do it yourself, you pay someone
to do it for you.”
You pay someone to cut your hair?”
so strange,” Cali said, her voice full of wonderment. He watched her smile at
the ceiling in the dark. “Do those women cut your hair, too?”
laughed. “No, you go to someone else for that. Although I imagine they would do
just about anything if you paid for it.”
they know how to do lots of things?”
imagine they do.”
you laughing at me?”
Cali asked, pushing up on one elbow.
reason,” he said.
why are you laughing?”
amuse me. Why are you so interested?”
don’t know, it’s just new and interesting. And those girls were…I just wish
you’d let me talk to them more.”
sure they’d only spoil your…your innocence.”
I don’t know. That quality you have.”
quality?” she asked, caution and hope mixing in her voice.
I don’t know.”
laughed, but it was a sound more frustrated than amused. “You have to tell me!
It’s about me. What’s the quality of inn-o-sense?”
moved restlessly under the reeking spread, pushing the scratchy edge away from
his chin. “It’s the way you want to know about everything.”
You mean curiosity?” She pronounced the word as if quite proud of her vocabulary.
considered explanation but decided against it. “Yes, like that.”
relaxed on the bed and pulled the blanket up around her chin. Its rough edge
fell against Draven’s neck again. Cali sighed. “Still. I wish I looked like
could I not want to? Even though they were all awfully different, every single
one of them was perfect.”
you’d look like a mistress. People would treat you like one.”
people treat them good? I mean, they’re so nice, and their clothes are so pretty
and shiny and bright. Why would anyone not like them?”
chuckled. “I’m not sure you quite understand. And I’m quite certain you would
look better than any of them in those clothes.” He caught himself just as the
words left his mouth, but he couldn’t imagine where the thought came from.
Perhaps only from the need to drown out the excruciating sounds assaulting him
from through the wall.
that you would ever have occasion to wear them,” he said quickly. “But if you
did…what I mean is that those women aren’t real. They’re plastics.”
made of plastic?”
most of them.” A whimpering cry sounded from the next room, and then a silence
so thick as to be painful. Draven hurried to speak before Cali could ask. “As I
said, we never change. Many people are not satisfied with the way they look,
they want to fit the ideal. Especially the mistresses, because they make more
money if they are attractive. So they pay for plastic surgery, sometimes
extensive, so they can look as they like.”
can have surgery to pick how you look?”
you have it to look how you do?”
he said, smiling at her though he knew she could not see him in the dark. “Our
bodies heal, so it is difficult to change them. If you change something and you
look the ideal way, it soon changes back, and you have to return and have it
done again and again. I always imagined the pain and price outweighed the
guess you don’t really need it. You look okay now.”
chuckled. “Thank you. I’ll remember that.”
she asked defensively. “I can’t say that? Those girls all said you looked
are supposed to say that. They want me to give them money.”
I still think you look okay, and you don’t have to give me any money.”
could I get that plastics surgery, and it wouldn’t change back on me, since I
don’t heal fast?”
would you want to? You’re lovely as you are.”
he said, rolling over and pulling her to him. “And you taste incredible. Let
me…just for a moment. I promise I’ll be gentle.”
pushed up on one elbow and slid his arm around her. He buried his hand in her
hair and drew her head back and lowered his mouth to her throat. Fear tinged
her scent, but he kept his nose against her skin for some time, until she had
calmed and her breathing returned to normal. Still Draven lingered, inhaling
her scent until he grew dizzy with it. Then he found a vein and slid in. He
counted off one ration and closed her slowly, pressing his tongue against her
until it had healed her skin so completely no sign of his entry remained. If
given a choice, he’d have remained for all time just as he was, with the throb
of her sap against his lips, the scent and the subtle sound of it rushing under
her skin. But after another moment, he lay back, still holding her against him,
closed his eyes and sighed. “You’re so warm,” he murmured.
why I need you. To warm me and bring me back to life.”
slept the sleep of the dead, and if she told him what she needed, he missed it.
awakened with a start and sat bolt upright. With his first inhalation, the
thick odors in the room threatened to suffocate him—the stale stench of all the
saps with their diseases and drugs and illness who had passed through this
room. At first, he could not identify the source of his disquiet. Something had
awakened him, but the scents momentarily washed all else from his mind, though
he felt something of importance had brought him to such sudden consciousness.
Then he heard a grinding crash, something unmistakable and menacing.
a second, he sat paralyzed with fear, hoping with an intensity bordering on
insanity that his planned misdeeds had caused his paranoia. Then he heard their
voices, electronic and sharp, the commanding voice of raiding Enforcers.
threw the blanket off and sprang from the bed, sweeping the gun from the wall
tray and shoving it into the waistband of his trousers. He grabbed Cali and wrenched her arm to awaken her. Her eyes flew open and she let out a small cry.
silent,” he growled, scooping her from the bed. He tripped in the blankets and
cursed under his breath. His eyes scanned the ceiling. Another crash sounded in
the hallway, this one louder, closer.
was that?” Cali whispered, twisting in his arms towards the door. In the dark,
her eyes were wide and blind.
Draven commanded, knowing the Enforcers could not hear her over the commotion
they had created, but not wanting her to draw their attention nonetheless. He
tried to think, but started when loud pounding began on the door of the room
next to theirs. He scanned the walls desperately with his eyes. The place had
probably been a hotel back when humans ran things. That or temporary army
housing during the War. Cold drafts blew in through cracks in the walls, and in
the corner near the ceiling, the plaster peeled away to reveal foam insulation.
a moment, he considered trying to break through the wall. From the room next
door, he heard a shriek, and Enforcers commanding someone to stop. Draven leapt
onto the bed and thrust his palm against the ceiling. The block of stained
plaster shot upwards, surprising him with its unsecured weight. He had imagined
it would hold fast.
door, a burst of footsteps sounded, and a surprised yell came from the hallway.
Draven heaved Cali through the opening, fully expecting her to plummet through
the next section of plaster, where someone had drawn an obscenely graphic
portrayal of bestiality directly over the bed. Besides making more sound than
he’d have liked, Cali did nothing wrong. She tumbled into the space between the
ceiling and the roof, and Draven flung himself up after her just as a loud
thudding began on the door to their room.
is a raid,” an electronic voice blared. “By the Enforcers of the government of
North America. Open the door or it will be opened by force.”
dropped the open section of the ceiling back into place, where it settled as it
had. Ignoring a few disturbing remnants that past visitors had stashed in the
ceiling, he began to move quickly, tucking Cali against his chest as he crawled
through the dusty passageway, sure that the next moment the ceiling would
collapse under their weight or burst upwards with an Enforcer’s blow.
another rush of footsteps, this one followed by an order to stop. The sounds of
pursuit followed closely, and the thud of a takedown. Draven scrambled
forwards, thankful for the noises of the scuffle below, aching with the fervent
desire for escape, for freedom. In another part of the building, the electronic
voice announced itself again. He could no longer determine if it came from the
room he had vacated only seconds before.
a place such as this, no one left a name at the desk. Clients paid in unused
ration cards, jewelry, stolen goods, rare items or loose anyas. But the hotel
would know the occupied rooms, even if they could not maintain records. The
desk clerk would know, could point the Enforcers to the rooms. Knowledge
clicked into place then, knowledge so certain it nearly stopped Draven’s
progress. The clerk had called in the raid. Likely she had targeted him in
particular. He cursed himself for his prior rudeness to her. She would relish pointing
out Draven’s room, recounting his impersonation of an Enforcer.
heat would still linger in the bed when they entered the room, even if her
scent was lost among the scent of the other saps. The Enforcers would know
someone had occupied the room and departed. Would they guess his escape route?
If not, did the clerk know how easily the ceiling sections moved?
Cali squeezed beneath him, gripping him fiercely with both arms and legs, he
could just maneuver into a large pipe. He entered, not daring to imagine what
would happen if it failed to lead them outside. At the first turn, he had to
stop and lie flat, wriggling along on his belly, dragging Cali under him, only
her arms clinging to his body. A ripping sound echoed through the pipe and Cali
gasped. “Are you injured?” he whispered into her hair. His whisper echoed
through the hollow pipe ahead.
she said. “The metal’s awfully cold.” He struggled around the bend in the pipe
and Cali’s legs circled his hips again. For a brief moment, he became acutely
aware of their position, and the image drawn on the ceiling of the room flashed
through his mind. He hoped darkness had hidden it from her eyes. A flash of
light below their feet diverted his attention and brought him back to the
direness of their situation. For a moment, the tunnel returned to darkness.
Draven lay motionless, clutching Cali to his chest. A beam of light flashed
below their feet again.
flinched against Draven, her legs tightening around him. He heard a scuffling
noise in the ceiling somewhere, and the light swept into the tunnel again.
Every instinct in him yearned to flee, to scramble with every shred of speed he
possessed until he clawed his way to freedom. But he lay still, fighting the
urge to move his feet further into the tunnel. If the light caught even a
shadow of his foot, all was lost. Yet a movement might bring attention, might
make some sound, however minute, to draw attention. He could not risk even a
breath. In the cold metal tube, Cali’s breath sounded as loud as a scream. But
she lay motionless, gripped tightly around him in the throes of terror.
up here,” a voice echoed into the ceiling. Draven started at the sound, then
waited, breath bated, hoping his movement had not sent so much as a whisper of
a rustle the way he’d come. “He must’ve run down the hall before we got to his
room,” the voice said, followed by the soft thud of the ceiling falling back
into place. Draven collapsed onto Cali, trembling with relief. He drew in a
shaky breath to speak, but did not know how to begin.
they gone?” Cali whispered, her voice no louder than her breath.
Cali said. “That was scary.”
did well, my
,” he whispered, and began stroking her hair back from
her forehead. He hadn’t had to tell her to remain silent, and that had saved
them both. Though he hadn’t had time to instruct her, instincts had steered her
to mirror his actions, and she had performed beautifully. He kissed her
forehead, her temple, the corner of her eye, then slid his thumb under chin and
raised it, arched his neck, and angled his mouth to her throat. While he ate, he
cradled the back of her head in one hand, the other stroking the tension from
her body until her trembling ceased. Her warm body was yielding under his, its
softness conforming to his harder angles, as perfectly fit as lovers.
moment the thought entered his mind, Draven realized where his other hand had
gone, gripping the back of Cali’s thigh. He propelled himself away from her,
bracing against the sides of the tunnel to prevent his body from touching hers.
Cali froze, her eyes searching the darkness with the blind terror of an
animal. She was an animal. A human animal, but still an animal.
nothing,” Draven said. “We must go. I cannot waste time eating now. Ready?”
lowered himself a bit so she could secure herself to him while he moved quickly
through the rest of the tunnel, listening always for the noises that signaled
someone had detected their means of escape. But no Enforcers discovered their
escape route, and they discovered only cobwebs, animal droppings and thick
layers of dust in the remaining length of the pipe. Draven hadn’t dared imagine
what they would encounter at the end of the pipe, what they would do if they
could not exit. Enforcers would monitor the place for several days after the
raid, and he knew Cali could not survive the exposure in the garment she’d worn
to bed the morning before.
they reached the end of the pipe, however, they found it unobstructed by even a
screen. The pipe made a sharp turn upwards, and then straightened to disgorge
them onto the roof. Draven, who had disengaged himself from Cali to maneuver
through the last two turns, reached in and assisted her through the opening.
Though he could see her somewhat in the darkness of the tunnel, now, with the
full light of evening upon her, he saw how filthy she had become on their
flight from the Enforcers. Dust and grime smeared her face and coated her
woolen garment. Draven’s body had fared no better. Having removed his clothing
before sleep, he had escaped with nothing but his sleep shorts. He checked that
the gun he’d thrust into the waistband had survived the journey through the
pipe. It had.
straightened the gun and determined that it would hold fast. Then he knelt
before Cali. Without waiting for a command, she climbed onto his back and clung
to him while he traversed the rooftops until they reached the backpacks they
had abandoned the morning before. Just as Draven had expected, nothing had
disturbed them. For a moment, he considered what would happen to him if anyone
discovered what he knew, that he had the strength he suspected all Superiors
possessed but that no Third should realize. He dismissed the thought as quickly
as it arose. If caught, he would be executed for treason or any number of
crimes. Perhaps any Third who discovered such powers simply disappeared,
accused of a crime and executed before anyone had time to question the charges.
Not that anyone would. Questioning an Enforcer’s judgment constituted treason
itself, punishable by immediate seizure and execution.
do we go now?” Cali asked when Draven set her down.
all itchy,” Cali said, bending to scratch her legs. “I think something bit me.”
thought they only lived back home, where it was warm,” she said, continuing to
run her fingernails up and down her calves with savage relish. “I haven’t found
one since we got to the mountains.”
out your hair and change your clothing before you enter the tent.”
out in the open. I can’t just take off my clothes on a roof in the middle of a
smiled. “Who do you imagine will see you?” When she failed to answer, he did. “No
one. You must shed this ridiculous modesty. It serves no purpose.”
her stung expression, he knew he’d spoken too harshly. She recovered herself
quickly, though, and lifted her chin in her typical attitude of defiance.
“Fine,” she said. She began to jerk loose the clasps on her jumpsuit. “You’re
right. I don’t look any different from anyone else. It’s not like you haven’t
seen tons of girls before, and I’m sure when you did, you didn’t feel a thing.
You’ve probably never felt a thing in your whole life.”
shook his head and turned away. What did she want him to feel, exactly?
Certainly not the hunger that had begun stirring in him lately, a hunger that
her sap alone could not satisfy.
to cold, with nothing covering his body to hold in what little heat he had
absorbed, had left Draven stiff and uncoordinated. He had concealed his
weakness from Cali when possible, hurrying back to their supplies before he
lost all sensation in his extremities. Now, he had much more difficulty in erecting
the tent than he’d had leaping across rooftops. His fingers refused to
cooperate, so he had to clamp his hands on the edge of the tent and shake it
from its bundle. It expanded to its correct size and shape, and Draven secured
it from within by weighing down the edges with their belongings.
from the tent, he caught sight of Cali’s back, bare and prickled with goose
flesh against the few pellets of snow the sky spit at them. She had turned away
from the tent to undress, even after his remonstrance, and he was glad of it.
Perhaps her modesty did serve some purpose. He fumbled his shorts off, shook
them out, and laid them on the roof. As he scrubbed the dirt and grime from his
body with snow, he turned away from Cali as well. When he’d finished, he
crawled into the tent and slid into his sleep sack. Outside, the sound of
Cali’s clothing whipping in the wind as she shook the bugs from them let him
know her anger had not yet dissipated. Before she entered the tent, he zipped
his mummy bag over his head.