“Look into my eyes and obey,” Laney commanded.
The tall blonde girl across from her did look, and said nothing.
The engine and tires of the Life Guard van had faded to a dazing background hum, and as she watched Meg stare back at her, Laney wondered if she’d somehow actually hypnotized her friend.
Meg didn’t crack a smile, but her voice was still light. “No. I don’t think I will.” She reached over and tapped Laney gently on the forehead.
“OK,” she said. “Now I feel like a real idiot, but we did the thing for luck.”
Laney nodded. It had seemed like a practical joke back in training, but Elsa had been very serious when she’d told the two of them about this ritual.
“Sorry,” she said. “If they do ask, I’d rather feel silly when we tell them. Than feel guilty and lie.”
Meg’s eyebrow went up. “Not because you’re superstitious.”
“Meg, if we—when we meet our first vampire, I doubt it will come down to that.”
Laney looked around the interior of the van. If there’d been other Guard with them, she would never have done it—ritual or not, she wasn’t going to do the Recently A Cadet thing for anyone at this new Sector they’d been assigned to.
They had the van to themselves because they’d been taken out of cycle instead of with the rest of their class in a normal rotation. The Sector was in the middle of relocating and needed warm, more-or-less trained bodies.
But Laney tried to pretend this was something urgent. She and Meg, the Guard’s elite team, called in when all else failed. The sector CO would meet them and tightly outline the problem, keeping his emotions in check as he told them about the rogue vamp no one else seemed able to handle . . .
“Hey,” Meg said. “What if everyone at Sector was taken?”
Laney jumped and tried to glare at her.
“No, really. What if the vampires said, hey, screw the hypnosis, and just gassed them all? ”
Meg liked to deflate her flights of fancy. Meg could also read her like a book, to the point that one of the other cadets had expressed surprise that they were straight, and not a longstanding couple.
“They’d be waiting for us,” Meg said, bleakly. “They’d . . . all . . . be waiting for us.”
“Gas leaves an aftertaste in the victim,” Laney said, after a long breath. “They’d hate that.”
Meg smirked. “Passable comeback. You get some points, but you still—”
The van slowed down. Laney caught the flicker as Meg wondered if her joke were only that. They were here.
Laney and Meg waited for it to stop and drew their pistols, checking the magazines to see the reassuring gleam of the silver-fill rounds before sliding them back in.
They were ushered into the warehouse Sector was moving into. As they went, no one leaped for their throats or stared into their eyes, and while she felt silly doing it, Laney scanned everyone she saw for vampiric marks.
I need the practice anyway.
No one seemed to pay attention to them at all, in fact. Everyone was bustling around with containers and handtrucks and tools, looking for something. Even the Guard taking them to report seemed preoccupied.
It wasn’t the CO or even the watch commander who met them, but Hunter Second Class Kepler was at least the first person to acknowledge them.
“Yes, I am glad to see you.” She glanced at the flatpanel on her desk. “In fact I’m fucking amazed. Regional seems to have taken our move as a great chance to steal bodies and deny augmentations. You’ve both actually gone through the course?”
They looked at her.
“The last time I asked for trained Hunters, they sent me network administrators. Which was good in the larger, cosmic sense, since we always need them, but I still can’t handle nosferatu with network administrators.
“Christ,” she muttered, her gaze lighting on a folder in the center of her desk. “Sometimes I think the fucking vampires need network administrators. Everyone else does.”
Laney looked at her. Hunter-2, probably looking at an upkick to H-1 within the year, but she was still a desk jockey. She probably tried to punch sharp objects through the flatpanel more often than she got to stick them into vampires. I don’t want to be her when I grow up.
She caught something from the side and flicked a glance at Meg, then snapped her eyes forward, hoping H-2 Kepler couldn’t read her too.
But Kepler just looked at them. “So I decided to raid the Academy for star pupils that weren’t already tracked. New, but they wouldn’t let you out unless they thought you could handle it.”
“Ma’am?” Meg took a breath. “What is it you need us to handle?”
Kepler smiled. “Guard duty.” She looked at both of them, and Laney tried to decide if she were disappointed or relieved to hear it.
“Oh, you’ll be doing jumpouts soon enough. But I need to rotate out at least one of the current sentinel pairs, and I won’t risk anyone else down there with it. None of the sweep teams will let me have bodies.
“When I can rotate them back in, you two will go out with a team and get some impaling done. As of today you’re both provisional Hunters-Fifth.” She smiled again, and there was something so cheerfully bloodthirsty about her that Laney had to smile back.
She’d done them a favor, too. Their class at the Academy was still doing drills and simulations, and Kepler would have been turned down flat if she’d requested augmentees for actual hunting. But she could wheedle a couple of cadets for guard duty in the fortified dark heart of Sector HQ itself, safe and supervised. That was where her discretion could come into play. They’d slide into combat weeks before their peers.
“It’s female,” Kepler was saying. “We took it last week when the new pack tried to go after that new townhouse thing in Eastside. ‘Braebournbrookeridge—A Townehouse Thinge’ or whatever it is.
“They went berserk trying to get it back, but from what we can tell it’ s nothing special. Not the leader or even a particular lieutenant. My guess is it may be as new to undeath as you two are to the fight.” She smiled. “But I doubt it got the level of training you did.”
They smiled back. Laney tried to picture a Recently a Cadet vampire, and failed.
“It doesn’t seem to have more than the usual vampire capabilities, but the bars are reinforced and silversleeve. It shies at the usual things, and we killed a couple of the others—well, easily isn’t a word I use with the things, but there don’t seem to be any weapon immunities with this bunch.” She gestured at their automatics. “Those will stop one, as long as it doesn’t hypnotize you into forgetting how.”
They all smiled.
“That’s pretty much the briefing. It hasn’t said squat to us, and I’m still waiting for the torture squad to work its way down to my requirement.”
Laney held back the swallow. She’d missed the lab where they’d actually seen a captured vampire being questioned, but Meg had come back to the dorm from it grey-faced, and stayed quiet for quite a while. The videos Laney had seen were bad enough.
“It’s OK,” Kepler told her. “I don’t enjoy watching it, myself, and I have to wonder about the people who do it. But someone has to. And you know what the vampires are capable of, when they don’t feel like hypnotizing mortals to obey them.”
Laney nodded, and stopped thinking about how the nosferatu had sounded on the video. Not just in agony, but knowing its tormentors had no empathy for it at all. Empathy had no place in this fight.
“One thing,” Kepler said, folding her arms. “Your records say a certain thing, and there’s nothing to say otherwise, but this is something I really, no-shit need to know.
“Neither of you is lesbian? Not together, not separately?”
Laney and Meg opened their mouths at the same time and emitted the same silence.
Kepler chuckled. “Right. Saying No too soon sounds like Yes-but. And a lot of us do, hm, experiment. Some of us are very thorough scientists indeed.”
Her smile vanished and Laney felt it in the pit of her stomach even as she read its cheap theatrics. “But that thing downstairs likes girls a lot, and it can make girls like it a lot, too. This whole pack is all-female, and they’re exclusive in their diet.
“They’ve killed seventeen so far that we’ve found, and recruited something between ten and two dozen. We can’t tell yet how many of the missing were drained and how many turned.
“As usual, we can’t know, for now, whom they’ve enslaved but not bitten yet, and left out there to serve them.”
Laney heard Meg swallow.
“So I can’t send anyone who’s likely to be susceptible to what it can make her feel.”
She looked at them. “I’ll be honest. I did request male cadets—and specified that an exclusively gay couple would be ideal. But there weren’t any in your class who were as close to ready as you two.
Laney felt a weird tingle. Then—we are the best, at least that far. This is what it feels like to be the best.
And this is where it gets you.
“I love Laney,” Meg said. “But I don’t want to fuck her. She’s got way too little body hair, and doesn’t snore at least enough to carry across a dorm room. Or leave her underwear lying around, or scratch herself. Much.”
“Oh, up yours—”
“Or obsess about sports. So no, Ma’am, we’re not a couple. At least I ‘m not.” She turned to Laney and did the eyebrow thing again. “Laney?”
Laney looked back at her, then at Kepler. “Um—what she said.
“Except the hair thing. I think. After she’s been in the shower—eww. Not that I pay attention to that.”
Kepler nodded. “Wonderful. Ordinarily I’d wait and have you go offshift so we could all see the heterosexual body language during the feeding frenzy at the bar. But I’d like to get Charlie and Chris cycled out in time to rest up and be ready to go out at dusk. So unless you’re really out of it from sitting in the plane and all those exhausting classes beforehand . . .”
“All set!” Laney said.
“All right then,” Kepler said.
Meg stage-whispered, “She bought it, Snookums! Now we get to snog and bonk and so on until shift change, with none the wiser!”
“Yeah, right, like you’re getting any tonight, Sweet Cheeks. ‘Scratch herself—much’? Hah.”
“Hmm,” said Kepler, as she led them downstairs. “I have no idea what the vampire will think about that, but the duty watchstander on the cameras will enjoy it. I think it’s Mikey this shift. Try to show a little skin, and lie in the good light.
“But don’t start until Charlie and Chris are gone, because they’ll be hurt they can’t watch.
It wasn’t a Guard. Or human. The voice was flat, echoing from the stone walls but blurred in the baffles of the empty cages that lined them.
Laney tried to see if it echoed inside her mind, or left her suddenly sleepy or submissive. But she just felt the surpassing weirdness of meeting her first living vampire.
If that was the right phrase.
Vampires watched movies?
Then the room rang as someone struck the bars. The two guards they were relieving stepped back from the cell and came to the enclosed observation area.
“That’s enough of that, hellswhore,” one of them said, looking back. The vampire was silent and motionless now. But Laney couldn’t tell if it was intimidated or had just withdrawn into itself.
Kepler introduced Chris and Charlie back behind glass, where they could all still keep an eye on the woman-shaped thing in its cage, but the closed door kept its hyperacute hearing from picking up names it could speak to them with. Personalizing would only go one way with the undead.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Chris said. “It’s started giving up trying for the conversation bit, I think.”
Laney wondered about the greeting. She squirmed to think of that thing in the dark of theater surrounded by distracted prey. Then she realized it might just be a memory the creature had cannibalized from its old, living self.
Something to engage a new, careless guard with, to start a conversation. If Laney took the bait, even if she didn’t end up lulled into a trance, she’d be giving the vampire a lot more than it gave her to know.
Shit. She hadn’t even really met it yet and she was starting to screw up.
“It got some sheep blood about an hour ago.” Charlie was as easy on the eyes as Chris was, though he seemed a little colder. He’d been the one who’d hit the cage to silence the nosferatu.
“It won’t need anything else for the rest of the shift,” Kepler said. “I made sure feeding was seen to before you arrived. There’s no routine for you to keep track of.
“We just let it sit there. You don’t need to do anything but watch it and make sure it doesn’t do anything.
“Let it talk, or not. You owe it nothing—no information, no interaction, no reassurance. You’re not trying to elicit information, either, so no matter what it offers to tell you, ignore it. No exercise periods or anything else.
“If anyone comes in before the relief, they shouldn’t be there. Give them as much shit as you want but get them out and do not let them have any contact at all with the vampire.”
It was the drill they’d been taught, and once they’d checked weapons, they stepped out into the cellblock and were alone with the undead.
Laney noticed, again, that it was alone here, itself. The other cells were empty. It was that hard to take vampires alive.
She wondered if the vampire felt isolated, or lonely. If it missed others of its kind, aside from the rescue they’d bring.
She felt its eyes on her. No. It wasn’t lonely. It was too busy wondering how to turn her and Meg into others of its kind. She closed her eyes and made herself remember the videos of the guards who’d let vampire captives hypnotize them into obedience and open the cages. Some had been drained on the spot. Others had walked away like zombies after their new masters, never seen again.
OK. That was what training was for. She stopped the horror show and nodded to Meg.
They stepped out of the observation area without looking back to see if the other Guards tarried, and moved apart as they approached the vampire ‘s cage.
She—it—was standing still and apparently at her ease in the center of the cell. There were minimal amenities, and the sleeping pallet was sheet metal, unable to show any sign someone had lain on it. Even so it looked unused, as if the nosferatu had ignored it all and just stood there.
Laney noticed, despite herself, how beautiful the creature was. She flicked a glance at Meg, to see if the thing was casting some low-grade spell to attract her to women, but her partner looked the same, and nothing stirred between her legs.
When she looked back at the vampire, something did stir.
Laney forgot to notice, for a heartbeat, because she realized the vampire was looking back at her.
Its wanting hit her like a warm, perfumed gust. She realized she’d drifted up into its eyes and she made herself look over at Meg.
She couldn’t tell if the soft laughter was real, or in her head.
“It can be easy,” it said to her. Even though she was looking away she felt its attention on her.
She kept looking at Meg, who looked back quizzically before frowning. She hadn’t heard anything but she knew Laney had. She pulled out a truncheon and lashed at the bars so quickly that Laney flinched.
The vampire never twitched or looked away from Laney. It smiled to see Laney’s response.
“Sweetie,” it said, “if you keep playing with that thing, I’ll teach you to fall in love with it.”
Laney felt a dreadful certainty that it could do just that, and fought the picture of Meg masturbating with it while the vampire whispered to her.
Meg slashed at the bars again whatever her own dread, snapping Laney out of it. “Get the fuck,” she said evenly, “out of my head.”
The vampire’s mouth flicked a bit, as though suppressing an even more pleased grin. “No, little girl. Think back to your training. It’s dwellings we have to be invited into. Heads we can just slip into, whenever. Everyone’s naked and wide open in her own head.
“And you look just lovely naked.”
She caught herself before she could open her mouth to say shut up. Nothing they could do to the creature would do more than annoy it, unless they killed it, and they couldn’t do that unless it tried to escape.
Great. She and Meg were at the verbal mercy of an undead smartass. That was the comfortable way to think about it, anyway. And this vampire had likely been colossally bored by its male guards, and was now feeling its equivalent of oats.
Something was between her legs again. She made herself look back toward, but not at, the vampire, and ran through a mental drill to see if the little turn-on felt natural or like the first strokes of mind control.
Natural. Not what she wanted to feel, but better than knowing the thing was starting to bind her will. Whatever the thing was, it was attracted to her. In a way, it needed her—not just her blood, but her. It needed a woman it thought was pretty. Vampires weren’t dead below the neck, just . . . reprioritized. In a way, this wasn’t too much different than getting checked out or stared down in the Academy gym by one of the lesbian trainees.
Yes it was. None of the trainees planned to take her soul or enslave her mind. Or bleed her to her dregs.
She looked back at Meg, and saw Meg staring intently at the vampire—too intently? She almost shouted, “Meg! Be careful!” but Elsa and the others had not been wasting their time with her.
“It’s kind of cute, if you go for goth,” Laney said instead, in a bored way. She breathed easier when Meg grinned and then looked back at her.
“Yeah, but a goth vampire? How obvious.”
“Goth?” the vampire asked. “Not that I have any problem with that. Goth girls are yummy with a spoon. But are you sure?
“These eyes aren’t made up, ladies. You just think they are. Your minds are trying to rationalize what your bodies are already feeling, and you’re trying to brainwash yourselves that it’s just mascara. Mortals need that to look compelling.” Laney felt its soft laugh in her nipples.
“We don’t. If you looked, you’d see.”
“We’ll take your word for it,” Meg said, actually sounding quite gracious about it. Then she hefted the truncheon thoughtfully. “Besides, if I’m supposedly going steady with—” she smirked “—Jack here, I’ve got no time for flirting, do I?”
“Leaving your girlfriend without a date for this long, long evening? Ohhh.” Laney felt the vampire’s focus on her again. “I’ll take care of her, though, while you surrender to Jack’s cheesy pickup lines.”
Laney found herself looking at the creature. It sounded so human, so almost-likable. She realized it was watching Meg not-watching it, leaving itself to Laney’s gaze, and she felt suddenly like a voyeur. It had been right, after all: its eyes weren’t shadowed by anything physical, and the sinister beauty of its face was that of a woman who was lovely anyway. Just tainted.
Laney wondered who this had been, before it had been drunk from and given drink in its turn. If it had liked women before, when it had been she. How she’d feel about what she’d been turned into.
Fuck that. Kepler didn’t brevet us as provisional therapists->fifth.
The vampire turned with unbearable grace to look at her, and the eyes smote Laney again. She blinked and remembered and tried to stare back. She knew it was a bad idea when she realized she had no clue whether it was even smiling at her anymore, and tried to climb out of its gaze.
But all it said was, “I know what you want to ask, little girl. But think about standing there hearing me talk to you, about how fucking hot it is to be taken and turned, and then turned loose in a world of warm women. Like a cobra with mice.
“You’d be begging me.
“Sound like a good time?”
Laney gulped, but the awkward noise didn’t break the spell. It only made her feel like a teenager being seduced by her art teacher, touchingly girlish and helplessly naive.
She was dripping, and she knew the vampire had been smelling her for a while now.
That felt good.
It was starting to control her and she wasn’t remembering how to fight and she was enjoying that. The more she felt the taint spreading, the more it was like sauce on a sundae, making things sweeter and better.
Meg. Meg should be helping her, rousing her, breaking the vampire’s grip on her mind.
Meg could hit the bars again with the trun—with Jack. But Meg was thinking about plunging Jack into herself, wasn’t she?
Laney was, anyway.
It was soooo bad to think about Meg being too lost in that trap even to know Laney was falling under the nosferatu spell, let along save her from it. Soooo deliciously bad to think of them both writhing to obey the vampire’s commands, no longer guards but just mindless, masturbating toys for a bored nightstalker.
To think of them too fucked-up to stay away from the bars, as the vampire finally started to move. Jilling off as it sucked their throats.
To think of Kepler seeing them reduced to that.
It was so degrading that Laney thought about unzipping her jumpsuit and playing with herself, and letting Kepler see that.
Seeing it. Cameras.
Mortification chilled her lust where fear had only stoked it, and she jerked her eyes away to Meg again. Meg looked back with clear but unreadable eyes. Neither of them said anything, and Laney realized they ‘d just been standing there a little while. Whoever was watching likely had no idea of the skirmish they’d just fought. Better, no idea of the suicidal pornography she’d just fantasized.
This wasn’t some fetish daydream. This was the deadliest predator on earth, the one that hunted humans with more focus than they hunted each other. It didn’t want to turn her on for her pleasure, but to bend her mind and make her do what she shouldn’t, mustn’t.
“It’s afraid of something,” she said to Meg, with the assurance of a blind leap. “It’s not a creature that gets bored. It knows something bad’s waiting for it and it’s trying to get out, through us, before that happens.” She thought about the Life Guard torture squad Kepler had summoned, that this undead must know was on its way, and the shiver in her voice was only partly contrived.
Meg caught it. “It’s desperate.”
“Desperate?” the vampire snorted. Even that sound was so sexy that Laney want to hear it again. “I’m not the one whistling in the dark.
“But why the very uninspired bad-cop/worse-cop playacting, ladies? I’m the one inside the nasty metal bars, with nothing but my endearingly small fangs, and they’re not even extended. You two are the buffed, elite-trained vampire hunters. You’re armed to the teeth and you’re outside the bars.
“But you’re trying to convince me that I should be afraid. Trying too hard. Why?”
Suddenly Laney did feel foolish. But was it that she and Meg were really playing mind games in the wrong league, or was this the vampire pressing down on her will, dazing her into believing her choices were stupid and letting it do her thinking for her?
Laney was lightheaded. The repeated question was quiet, reasonable, almost sad, as though the thing regretted seeing her and Meg perform so poorly.
“You’re both perfectly safe, after all. It doesn’t take training to stay away from the bars where I could grab you, just minimal self-preservation. Not that I’m inclined to spend that much energy. But here we are in the middle of your citadel of goodness and niceness, behind more locked doors than you can recall. Even if I sucked you both down like snack-packs, I wouldn’t get far.”
Laney felt like nodding at the ruefulness she heard. So odd, to hear a disappointed vampire. And it was being as vicious as ever, so it wasn ‘t trying to bewilder them by seeming to change its basic hunting viewpoint into something . . . friendly.
“So why the anxiety? I’m just a neutralized captive. I’m helpless. Harmless. You’re perfectly safe. All of you fought hard, very hard, on and on and on, giving it everything you had. You kept fighting, no matter how much you needed to rest, how tired and bone-weary it made you, and now you’ve won and I’m here and you’re safe, all safe.
“You kept watch so well, always vigilant for the start of a spell, always straining to see if the vampire would try to entrance you and soothe you and relax you into believing her and obeying her and surrendering to her, always, always fighting to stay awake and alert and watchful no matter how sleepy her voice made you feel.”
Laney stirred a little, but only a little. She and Meg were as still as the vampire, and the empty hall of cages swallowed their breathing. The vampire’s voice, soft and sure, wafted around her like smoke and curled into her ears, along her body, up between her thighs. She sighed and listened.
“And now, finally, at last, all your struggles have earned you the right to relax, now that I’m safe in here and you’re safe out there. Now that you have me captive, you can relax and actually listen to what I say. It’s safe and relaxing, and it’s even starting to turn you on, to have such a sexy, dangerous woman helpless behind steel and silver.
“But you know that you can think about that now, without worrying. Without worrying what to do or what to think because, if you just listen to the sound of my voice as you are, now, listening to the sound of my voice, I will tell you how to think about me, what you must think about me.”
The vampire’s voice was even quieter now, and Laney strained to hear it. Straining made her sleepier but she still needed to listen, to hear, to know, and just let her mind tip itself toward the quiet whisper as it receded.
“All right now, finally all right, just to sleep. Stop thinking and sleep. Obey and sleep. Safe to sleep and obey because there’s nothing to worry about. I’m harmless and you’ve earned a long, relaxing, obedient sleep . . .”
Its rhythm lived in her pussy and it was like lying back in bed under a lover’s stroking. Laney half-remembered someone touching her, more and more lightly, teasing her to need it even as they withdrew it. They’d had her arching up from the bed, moaning, begging to be touched or taken.
She imagined lying that way beneath the vampire, nude and gleaming with sweat, praying aloud for the cool mouth and the sharp fangs to claim her . . .
Laney’s heart was hammering and she was seeing everything in a pink fog and she was clumsy as she fumbled for the keycard that would open the cell where the vampire was safe and—
Something blunt slapped her.
She staggered back and stared, slowly coming out of it, and realized the room was tilting the way her mind had, tilting toward the vampire’s voice. Someone caught her and she leaned back without thinking, offering her throat.
The voice in her ear was ragged and the breath was hot and human, not the silk and ice her pussy was weeping for. The arms holding her were strong but humanly so. She turned to see Meg’s face inches from hers, the other girl’s eyes wide and irisless, her pretty face looking decades older.
“No,” she agreed, only able to whisper.
“She—it got to us,” Meg breathed, barely audible herself. The vampire, a vague shape through the bars as Laney leaned back, gave no sign of hearing them. “I thought she was talking to me and I just wanted to keep listening, but I was watching you and I saw you going under. You were so—worshipful?”
Laney was realizing how close she’d come to getting them both enslaved, if Meg had been staring at the vampire instead of at her. “Then thank goodness for that secret letch you have for me, Sweet Cheeks.” Her voice was too quiet for the shaking to show.
“You bet, Snookums.” Meg’s smile was ghastly but it was there. When Laney nodded, Meg let her stand on her own and stooped to retrieve Jack the truncheon, which she’d tossed at Laney to snap her out of the trance. A stand-up guy after all, was ol’ Jack.
Laney glanced back at the cameras. No alarms had gone off, and no one was pouring in through the doors. This kind of thing probably happened a lot, and she gritted her teeth and decided they were not going to screw this job up.
“You know,” she said, stepping back toward the cage and looking directly into the night-colored eyes within, “if you really scare us, or just make us feel stupid enough, we will kill you.”
It didn’t react, but she just nodded, expecting that. “It’s as old as any prison. Fuck with the guards enough and their biggest problem is paperwork afterward. It’s not like you’ll be mourned.”
It blinked, and she was suddenly dizzy, realizing she’d just been speaking to it for the first time instead of addressing her comments to Meg.
Meg recovered it. “It’s thinking it’s too valuable to kill. That we’ re afraid of what will happen to us if we spike it before the torture squad shows up.”
Laney nodded, still holding the black gaze and not feeling held by it. “It must think the Guard is the same kind of wolfpack it came from. Rule through terror. Bitch-eat-bitch.”
“We only hurt,” Meg said, “the ones we hate.”
The vampire grinned.
Laney was too pumped on belated adrenaline—and embarrassment—to flinch, and she saw no movement from Meg from the corner of her eye.
“Girls.” The vampire’s voice was soft and poised. “Please.
“I’m a vampire, in a cage. Guarded by a pair of trained, indoctrinated vampire-hunters who are also, excuse me, hotties in the extreme.
“Aren’t I supposed to try to bewitch you and get away? I could hardly hold my head up if I didn’t even make an effort. Come on.”
It was very tempting to grin back and agree. It was like the new pilot getting a salute from the Fokker’s cockpit when the Baron’s guns ran out. Professional courtesy.
But this vamp had been pouring temptation all over them, and the new soft-sell was doomed already.
Laney just stepped back from the cage again without answering. The vampire sighed and cocked its head a little, and there was enough of the trance-lust still sloshing around in her to make the human gesture tug at her. She felt she would have liked the woman this thing had been, before something made her an it.
This time she didn’t push away the idea, but let it anger her. This was why she’d joined the Life Guard. Vampires preyed and killed, and turned people like her, and people she liked, into monsters like themselves.
It seemed to sense her hardening and turned away, but Meg looked just as unreceptive.
“All right.” Its voice was still soft, but void of the sensuous thickness it had carried before.
“You’re too well-trained. I think I could take you, both of you, outside, without all this. Without the bars. But there are bars.” It didn’t sound wistful.
Meg moved a little, a slight lean toward the cage she probably didn’t feel. If Laney saw it the vampire could, too, but it didn’t respond. Meg didn’t lash out again to shut it up. Its last failure had perversely given it a window: they’d undermine their win just now if they overreacted to whatever it did.
“We don’t do very well with the Life Guard, actually. We can kill you, but you’re a lot harder to hypnotize than regular humans. We know what the Guard does, the way they hypnotize you over and over themselves, the constant indoctrination.
“They’ve just got you all so well trained, so hyperaware, that it’s impossible to soothe you or lure you into a relaxation trance we can deepen. You’re vigilant, awake, watchful, always straining, and you thrive on it, staying focused, paying attention, not distracted for an instant, an eyeblink, a heartbeat.”
Maybe it was wistful, after all. Or something more. Laney resisted the wishful thought, but the vampire really did seem to be starting to sound desperate, indeed, as it described them.
“You never sleep. You’re like a lidless eye, always glaring at us, never drowsy, never looking away, never sleeping or dreaming. Your wills are strong, unbreakable, solid, focused, changeless.
“Focused and tight and strong. We can’t snare your thinking because you no longer think. You shield your mind with procedures and trained responses. We can’t hypnotize you like we can hypnotize humans because you’ve gone the other way. You’ve made yourselves into robots, and even we can’t hypnotize robots.”
Laney felt the rush and held herself straight, as the vampire hissed its frustration. It was as new at this as they were—without the training it was envying aloud.
“Your free will is safe because you put it somewhere else. You can be completely open and receive stimulation and listen intently to a hypnotic voice and only that voice and you have already given up your will, you have let go of your will, and you just obey the instructions, obey your orders, you obey perfectly, you do not deviate from your instructions.”
She moved her eyes with an effort and saw Meg at rigid attention, just as alert and focused as the vampire was telling them they were. Meg’s eyes were wide and receptive now. She looked helpless, but she also looked invincible—a robot, something that would not obey anyone but its controller.
She thought about how sexy Meg looked that way, and she didn’t stop thinking that. She wanted to play with herself but she was standing just as stiffly. Not drowsy. Completely open. Focused.
Laney tried to catch up with what the vampire was telling her, telling them, but she realized that robots received Programming without hearing it. They just started obeying new commands without wondering where they came from. That was how she would obey.
She realized the vampire had told her that, and since it was Programming she’d absorbed it already. She needed to stop thinking now and await the new Programming. The Guard had turned her and Meg into deeply obedient robots, and the vampire was just using them the way robots were used.
Laney felt the beginning of a reinforcing orgasm. A data stream in her head that told her the orgasm was just another piece of Programming to make her docile—just dampened her. And made her more docile.
Laney realized the vampire had outthought them again and was hypnotizing them. This time they were too deep to resist. Meg’s eyes were bright and empty, and even though she was a robot she seemed to nod, every so often, as she accepted the reprogramming. She was such a controllable robot, as well as a sexy one.
Jack the truncheon would be no help this time. Meg clutched the weapon, tight and forgotten in her hand, twitching as the arousal bound her.
Laney realized she was getting off on her partner’s enthrallment, and that dampened her too. She wondered how her own submission was seducing Meg out of resisting.
Of course, Meg didn’t look like she knew what “resistance” was, anymore.
Laney’s mind was quiet and dark, compliant. The few thoughts that she was still aware of that weren’t Programming were passive and subdued, like a classroom of medicated children.
Into that quiet, new Programming pulsed: it was so good that the Life Guard had prepared her so well to be controlled. Open to commands, rigidly obedient once she absorbed them, unquestioning and blank.
We only hurt the ones we hate. That was the Guard. This was wrong. She was not . . . a robot . . . she was not . . .
She sensed the vampire would snuff this last spark of will if she challenged it directly, and she knew how hopelessly outmatched she was. Instead she hissed, “Meg! Meg—wake up! It got us again! Meg!”
Laney had hit a pause in the vampire’s enthralling whisper and the new, weaker, human plea got through. It made Meg blink and turn almost blindly toward her.
She sobbed a breath. “Laney . . . ?”
Neither girl moved. It was all Laney could do to think about resisting, and to gasp at her friend. Doing more, trying to be anything but a rigid robot awaiting further Programming was becoming . . . unthinkable.
It was a struggle just to hang on to knowing she should resist. Why she should was more than she could manage, and she knew that without that reason she’d submit easily, painlessly.
Her mind was almost lost to her—her thoughts had either been chained by the vampire’s hiss or were drowsily waiting their turn. She used her body.
She’d locked her knees and as she made herself tip over the rigidity worked for her as her body tried to stay upright. She jerked as she toppled to the concrete, coldly terrified she’d knock herself cold, but she kept her head off the floor. She had a disconcerting upward view of the vampire looming in the cage as she looked up. She didn’t dare wonder if it had been instinct or just dumb luck that had tilted her outward, instead of in, to where her face would have been right by the bars.
Her fall roused Meg, but the other girl still seemed lost, her athletic body slack now as she looked back and forth from prone Laney to the standing vampire. Meg’s face was pitiably confused and she looked weary, ready for sleep.
“There. The little cutie’s down, but Meg, Meg.” The vampire kissed the name as she spoke it and Laney was even more afraid. “Meg, you’d like to be down, too, wouldn’t you?”
But the nosferatu’s voice had already captured Meg again and Laney had no more room to fall. Her feeble writhing went unnoticed. Meg was still trying to think, but failing. The vampire lightened its touch, with the horrid tenderness of a cat staying its paw to watch a crippled bird twitch.
“Shh. Kneel now, Meg. Kneel to me.”
Meg sank slowly to her knees, her eyes wide and blank, her arms limp by her sides. Laney saw Jack rolling away from Meg’s feet. Only the vampire had heard it fall. It had both of them too deep now.
Meg’s lips worked and her expression was beseeching as she stared up at the creature, lost to it. Laney heard the whisper.
“. . . bite . . . me? . . .”
The vampire didn’t even laugh. It just looked at Meg, and her eyelids fluttered once, twice, closed.
It turned to Laney, and she forgot how to look away.
“That was mostly hypnosis,” it said, and Laney found herself enjoying the gloat. It did feel good to consider how she’d been defeated, was going to be subjugated. “But that wasn’t vampire fascination.”
Laney might have tried to look away.
She didn’t look away.
Laney felt the vampire reaching in through her eyes and its was harsh and delicate at once, like a serpent’s tongue flicking into her pussy.
She knew it was happening. The vampire was taking her deeper than hypnosis. Her will was paralyzed and she lay passively as the vampire changed it, twisting her into its willing slave.
She writhed on the floor and didn’t know it.
This was wrong, and she knew in a little while she would agree to terrible things, but she couldn’t resist. She kept staring, falling, surrendering.
She forgot nothing—Meg, the Guard, all the people depending on her to resist and kill this thing instead of letting it make her its slave. They were painfully clear in her mind.
She saw them screaming, falling, trying to run, as a leash was taken from the leather at her neck and a silken voice in her head commanded her Take them. For Me.
She shook in orgasm and the shame prolonged it and she didn’t look away.
Laney suddenly felt cold oil behind her eyes, along her skin, in the folds of her pussy and the heat of her ass, and she knew she was discovering the true purpose of her life.
Slave. The word shivered through her mind and she saw herself enslaved. Nude, oiled, kneeling. Her face happy and stupefied as something sleeker and stronger drank her life.
She would crawl and obey and serve until she died. Or until it made her a vampire, its own get, still its thrall, her nosferatu powers as nothing before its own. Even fanged, her mouth would only plead and kiss, abject and eternal.
Laney stopped wanting anything else.
she would obey now.
her Mistress had waited long enough.
Mistress’ beautiful eyes were beckoning corridors of dark, and laney’s soul was a nude slavegirl padding barefoot down into their shadows.
laney looked into Mistress’ eyes.
Everything was the same.
Except now she was a willing slave.
she pulled herself up to her knees and crawled to the cage. her hands found the keycard that would open the cage. she didn’t need to be told her Mistress’ freedom was paramount. That was obvious, and her absolute obedience freed her to act on it.
With the card seated but not pushed she looked up again. Mistress took the thought from her before she knew she had asked.
No. The locks aren’t tied into the security system yet. They won’t know. Open it. Mistress’ mind caressed Her slave’s, for having thought of it, and laney purred as she slid the key in and heard the click. she bowed to the ground and Mistress’ first steps of freedom were a light breeze on her hair.
laney’s mind was clear and very quiet, poised to learn and obey Her will, and otherwise just lost in how awful and beautiful Mistress was. Everything was the same. laney was still happy to have joined the Life Guard, because it had not only brought her to Mistress’ feet but had made her useful.
Perhaps Mistress would will her to entrap women who would trust her as a Guard. Perhaps that had been her destiny when she joined. laney smiled, feeling the rush.
she felt herself rise, starting to recognize the sweet handled feeling inside when Mistress controlled her directly, without even a mental command. she saw meg standing, too, smiling placidly.
their eyes met. Yes. She has us. She owns us. we must obey Her.
they both started to beg to let Her feed properly on them, and laney would have been happy to be found bled white before the cage if She needed it, but Mistress knew She had only a little time before someone showed up to check on Her.
they shut up without needing to be told, and waited quietly for Her will.
Then something lit meg’s eyes behind their glaze. Mistress read meg’s mind, now Her property as laney’s was. “The cameras don’t work either, slaves,” She laughed. “They didn’t tell any of the sentinels, but the drone who brought Me blood had heard it. He was nervous about it, but he hid it from the two that were here before you.
“No one can see.”
they stood at attention. laney felt her mind soften, and moaned quietly as She combed their thoughts for any other concerns their training generated. Then they knew it was time to go.
laney felt the rush again as they stepped out of the detention area. In a small back corner of her mind something was staring out with terrified eyes, too far gone to scream and too aware of how obedient the rest of laney was. The rest of her was almost eager to kill, and die, for Mistress, if anyone tried to stop them.
Better of course if no one did. Mistress had more use for a fast exit than to see how much Her slaves would do. And She knew already how far laney would go, since that was Her will, too.
they led Her through the unfamiliar halls of Sector. None of them knew where to go, really, other than climbing to ground level where the vehicles would be. Mistress had seen little when She’d been brought in, and laney and meg had only arrived today.
Being a slave had advantages, beyond being what laney knew she’d been born for. Before they could even follow their new instincts and fawn on Her, Mistress snapped a command into both girls that kept them impassive, and Her control filled them with an assurance that let them blend in instead of looking like newcomers.
she wasn’t parading naked on a leash, but laney felt good with Mistress ’ control running through her. It was erotic to obey, and as her pussy crooned to her softly, she realized she’d be like that forever, aroused and not able to do anything about it.
she felt Mistress’ tension as She waited for the other shoe to drop, but again she relaxed in her slavery and waited for the nosferatu to command her.
In an otherwise empty hallway, they met a woman pushing a cart of computer keyboards. She ignored them as she went past, looking as peeved as anyone else in Sector helping the move.
laney peeled off and ran back after the woman. The cart’s rattling hid her footfalls and when the woman did turn, she just stared. laney ran into her and pushed her forward. The cart rattled away as she twisted the woman further off-balance and then against the corridor wall. The woman was flailing, not understanding why a Hunter was attacking her, and stunned from hitting the wall. laney half-carried her back up to where Mistress waited with meg.
The woman was mumbling something about authorization. She seemed to think laney was a security officer who thought she was doing something wrong. Then the woman saw Mistress, and jerked once in laney’s grip, recognizing a vampire and realizing the vampire had already taken slaves.
laney held the woman, who thrashed with surprising strength to look away from Her as She gazed.
Look at Me. Look and submit.
laney felt the overflow of Her power as she crushed the human woman’s will, and sensed meg dampening to it too. The woman jerked once more and sagged, but she faced forward now, unable to turn from Her eyes. She was making a crying sound that grew fainter and stopped.
laney felt the woman grow still, then stand straight.
“i will obey,” she said, sounding barely awake.
Lead us to the motor pool, slave.
“Yes. The motor pool. i will obey.” The woman turned and started walking the way she’d come, and they followed. Presently they found a large garage, with sounds of repair work at the far end.
As Mistress looked at the nearer cars, the alarms started going off.
Mistress turned to the woman.
“i will obey.” The newest slave walked along the wall and came back to them carrying a gas can, looking full from the way she had to hold it.
Go elsewhere and make a fire for Me to divert them, slave.
The woman trembled, and then her eyes swung to face her Mistress’ again.
“i will obey,” she nearly sobbed, and she walked away.
Something in laney did scream from its little corner of her mind. she didn’t make a sound, but Mistress turned to look into her. The dark corridors of Her eyes beckoned.
laney blinked, and the thought disappeared. she stopped even wondering what Mistress had wanted her to stop thinking.
Bullets pinged nearby and she looked up as the shots registered. There were Hunters shooting from the catwalk, and more at the far end. she understood how desperate they must be, to risk shooting in here.
she and meg pressed close to Mistress and raised their own weapons. If the other Guard were willing to shoot them, they could at least shield Her with their bodies. laney was thrilled that they were shooting at her. It confirmed that she was Mistress’ girl now.
Then Mistress’ hand was on her waist, pressing her against Her left side as She drew meg to Her right. laney found herself moving, and let Mistress guide them. she started shooting back at Mistress’ enemies, and they ducked.
meg opened the door of an older sedan She had guided them to and they slid in. It was a bench seat, and Mistress could stay comfortably between Her slave hostages. laney found herself behind the wheel and felt Her permission to holster the gun. she wondered if the windshield would shatter now in a hail of silver bullets, then stopped thinking and looked down at the ignition.
The keys would be in the transport office—unless the move chaos had spread here? she felt for them above the visor and under the floormat, and Mistress’ mind told her meg had found nothing on her side.
laney and meg were trained to hotwire cars, and she reached for the ignition. Mistress’ fingers stabbed at it and smashed the housing, exposing the wires for laney. In a moment the engine was roaring and laney took them out.
The sun was down and Mistress could stay upright as they rolled through the bright dusk, laney slowing to normal speed a block away to blend into the evening traffic. Something hummed in her mind as Mistress implanted their destination in her mind, and then she lost herself in becoming Her automated guidance system.
she felt Mistress’ thirst and Her feeling of being free to slake it now. she was driving, so Mistress turned to Her idle slave. she heard meg sigh ecstatically and loosen her collar. she felt them shift beside her and felt meg’s breath against her arm.
Mistress paused for a moment and willed laney’s focus to the road. Now laney could only hear them—well, meg, anyway, as her panting and faint squeals faded to a cry and long, moaning breaths as She bit and fed. meg’s musk filled the car, and laney’s focus on driving did not keep her from rubbing her thighs together.
laney drove on, worshipping Her and focusing on her task. she felt no envy of her fellow slave.
her turn to feed Mistress would come.
As laney pulled into the subdivision, her glance at the side mirror brought her gaze across meg. she looked forward again, still fixated only on driving Her, but the rest of her mind was empty, with room to savor.
The other slave was leaning against the door on Her right where She’d left her after feeding. meg’s eyes were clouded, her expression dull. her strong, graceful throat gloried in the twin wounds and the faint stains of the blood Mistress had licked delicately before it dried. laney had listened to Her tongue lap the rest of meg’s offering as she drove.
she could still smell meg, and imagined how it had been to come, hard, as Her fangs pierced the skin. And again as Her lips and tongue worked the wounds wider. And on and on as the lifeblood flowed out to make the stronger predator even stronger. The juice of her submission flowing from her pussy in synch with the blood being lapped from her opened throat.
laney’s turn would come.
she was driving the car into the side of a barn and felt no urge to stop. The doors opened and she rolled in, braking as she crossed the threshold. she sensed meg being commanded to rouse herself. she parked and they got out.
laney felt the vampires around her in the dark, and it wasn’t entirely dark. The graceful, deadly shapes, like women but dangerous and more desirable than anything she’d ever dreamed of, came close.
It was a Guard’s worst nightmare, surrounded by dozens of undead and hypnotized into stillness.
It was laney’s wetdream, now, to be the prey they swooped over and tore apart. her pussy would gush as her arteries did, coming from every new opening They made in her.
she felt Their awareness of her utter submission, and Their only mild interest. Mortals under a spell were easy to make.
she saw others behind them, women as dazed as she looked, scantily dressed or not dressed at all. their collars were in their minds.
their necks were bare, so any Mistress could feed when She liked.
Something convulsed in the air. she saw her own Mistress staring at another vampire, a shorter one with a tight cap of black ringlets who glared at Her and radiated dominance and rage. She was angry at Mistress and Mistress raged back at her, but laney sensed her own vampire-owner’s anger was diluted with something else. Guilt?
Denial. Mistress threw Her hands wide at Her two newly-enthralled slaves, and the dark-haired elder vampire glanced at meg. meg froze and laney could almost feel the strength of the alien command that held her. Before meg could drop to her knees the beautiful, frightening curly hair shimmered and other, older black eyes turned to her and—
laney went boneless in the invisible grip, babbling inside her head as her mind was torn open and rifled. Helplessly she orgasmed, even as real fear flooded her. This was different and barely human. It made Mistress’ ravages seem tender, and laney loved it even more. It turned her on unbearably to be opened that way, past any thought of disloyalty to Her.
she had no idea when it stopped or how long she’d knelt, her deeply-fucked mind now limp and open and pleasantly sore.
“Of course they don’t know anything.” The eeriness of speech in this silent place drew her more awake, a little bit.
she could have listened to the elder vampire’s voice for days, but she didn’t know why she was hearing it aloud. Mistress’ thoughts broadcast muted anger, and she realized the elder was speaking to Her like a human to insult Her. To rebuke Her for something.
“Everything in their minds became yours when you took them.”
Mistress sputtered. “Taking them—”
“—was too much fun to think of anything else, was it? Fucking newborns. Do you know anything?”
laney sensed the other vampire’s strength, and wondered if this elder were powerful enough to take her and meg from their Mistress, if she wanted to. Then she would be their Mistress, and they would obey only her.
The next time she reamed their minds like that, she might erase all memory of belonging to any other vampire. She would make laney and meg forget Mistress before they even finished coming.
laney didn’t feel disloyal. Instead she started to juice, realizing slaves were beneath loyalty. she glanced over at the nude women behind the watching vampires, seeing their placid faces. she realized how close she might be to shedding her own clothes and memories and becoming another docile bloodcow like them.
Then the cows were stirring, their eyes alight with their owners’ command as it filled their heads. they herded themselves toward the far end of the barn, where laney saw trucks waiting. Vampires leaped from the loft and rafters. The doors were opening.
Behind her, the door she’d driven through opened, to fire.
laney was up and beside Mistress before she knew it. The lassitude after the hard mindfuck was gone, as Her will turned laney back on. Something made her glance over and she saw meg on Her other side, gun out and staring hatefully at the shapes that were emerging from the flames.
laney knew they were Life Guard, and she juiced again to know she would be killing some at a vampire’s command. she remembered everything perfectly, but she was seeing her old loyalties through the true lens of Her control. It made her hope some of the should-be-prey out there, in the uniform she wished she’d stripped from herself, would see her and know her. Know that she was a slave, killing them.
she tried to access her knowledge, to see where and how to fight them with their own training, but she was helpless under the wash of rage and—fear—from Mistress’ mind. As Her perfect thoughts blew away laney ‘s trivial ones, laney forgot everything but kill and she started shooting. she stayed close to Mistress to shield Her.
meg toppled to the ground beside them and lay still.
Now Mistress was unprotected on Her left!
Mistress snarled and leaped forward onto the car and over it, and laney ran after Her. she heard and felt bullets whine past her, but nothing hit her, and she started to feel as near-invincible as the undead Who owned her. she fired back at random, as flames started here and there. The flickering gloom filled with whirling vampires and scuttling Guard and terrified bloodcows.
Mistress was trying for a side door. She picked up a glassy-eyed girl wearing tattered cutoff jeans and hurled her at a clutch of Guard that blocked it, laughing as all but one scattered. That one tried awkwardly to catch the flying bloodcow, who tangled him up in her loose-limbed fall without making a sound.
laney turned to cover Her back, feeling the chance to die for Her now tantalizingly close.
Something nipped her upper arm and she turned as it went numb, hanging on to the gun only by the drive Her control imparted. laney fired and then looked, trying to aim this time, but the smoke and dark made it hard to see. Things were blurring.
Another sting, right on her butt. laney looked down, her thoughts growing sluggish.
A dart. she was being tranquilized. she fired twice more into the pandemonium in panic. she couldn’t see Mistress and the humans’ drugs were already clouding her mind. she tried to call for help, to let Mistress know she couldn’t protect Her, but she couldn’t think that well anymore.
laney tried to shoot but she couldn’t make her hands do whatever it was they needed to.
she melted to the floor of the barn, wondering if she’d burn with it, crying.
With the last of her awareness she prayed that the vampire Who’d enslaved her could win free and hunt again.
Then laney stopped fighting sleep and let it take her, starting to dream of a herd of bloodcows.