AND JUSTICE MAY BE DEAD
In a future America still recognizable as our own, the outbreak of a vampire virus becomes front-page news. An infected trial lawyer named Morgan Lorenz sues the corporation that tried to conceal the existence of the virus, claiming medical negligence on a massive scale.
Facing potential bankruptcy, the Benjamin Rush Health Initiative files a unique motion. They say Lorenz cannot sue, because he's no longer human. For him, and all vampires like him, the Constitution simply doesn't apply.
Infinity DeStard and her "Forced Protection" team are assigned to kill Lorenz before the case reaches the Supreme Court. It's hard to fake enthusiasm ever since her own infection, but she has no choice. If she breathes a word about her condition, her team will execute her.
In the face of injustice, how long can she lie to them... and herself?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.89(d)|
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A generation from now
I don't like vampires, underhanded politics, or the idea of being put down like a dog, but the little stick in my hand tells me I can't avoid any of the three. I'm never supposed to say the word "vampires." No one on the team is. But we're not supposed to get infected, either, and I'll choke before I call myself a newly minted "disease vector." I've got a year's supply of names we made up, but all I want to use right now is profanity.
The last ten hours have been a string of freakish dreams, night sweats, and aches that feel like every tendon is stretching farther on the bone. The thought of food is gag-worthy. The light from the bathroom window stings my eyes. I want to break something. Throwing up is the last of the early-stage symptoms. I can check off food poisoning, and it's not the flu. Now that the pregnancy test is negative, it's obvious. I have VIHPS.
I flush the toilet and brush my teeth. The stink is bad, but the scents of toothpaste and the smoke in my hair help cover it. The test stick was a last-ditch hope; not that a positive result wouldn't also be a kick in the gut. I've gotten used to the idea of my twenties ending, but I always thought I'd have something more permanent to show for it than a three-year car lease. Temping gave way to modeling, which gave way to jiujutsu, which gave way to Forced Protection.
F-prot, as we call it, is responsible for the Band-Aids on my hand. On Monday night, I was the bait for the Los Angeles team, crashing in on some San Fernando fuck-pad with a spectacular ganja-to-air ratio and a cultie vipe who thought the infection made him a sex god. We went in expecting a pair and found three more of his chew toys in the house.
One went for my gun, so I split my knuckles across his teeth. Then, Louis and Jared were on top of him, cracking him with Mag-Lites until he stayed down. The rest of the team asked if I was all right and took me at my word. Saliva-to-blood isn't supposed to happen this way.
The previous Friday wasn't much safer. I'd gone clubbing and caught myself a visual effects artist. In answer to your next question, once on the balcony, once on the bed. Then, I found out he was a Darwin-lifer, and that's the kind who poke holes in condoms. That's L.A. for you: every dick is out to screw you in at least two ways.
The door shakes. My boyfriend Aaron.
I decide at that moment that I prefer karma when it's subtle.
"I think I'm coming down with something," I announce.
"Fantastic," I hear through the door. "Is there, like, medication for it?"
"Of course," I say real low. "Take one dose of hollow-points through the ear cavity."
Louder, I try, "I'm going to take a shower." I need time to think.
The water is hot enough to scour away everything but the black dye in my hair. I attempt to formulate a plan and only succeed in repeatedly grinding the same few panicked thoughts into my head. First stop, the confidentiality agreements I signed with the Benjamin Rush Health Initiative when they recruited me. Next, the security clearance which is my only real shot to stay hired in a shitty economy. Finally, the extreme unlikelihood that if I tell anyone at work what happened last night that they will ever again let me walk free.
That's the thing about EBL-4, the virus that causes VIHPS. There is no cure, no vaccine. There are handcuffs and high-capacity magazines and a mental hospital that has been converted to a research lab. I'm not supposed to see the inside of that place when we drop off the vipes, but oh well.
One tough night when we brought in a cold one, and Jared was sporting a broken rib, I asked whether the bodies were taken to the county morgue and what kind of permits they need to bring them back. I was immediately assured that another staffer knew all that, I period, E period, don't worry your pretty head about it. I didn't, until today.
The shower stops, and yesterday's underwear goes back on, as does any clothing that can get me out of the apartment quickly. I open the door into Aaron — last week's haircut, designer blue contacts. He's two years younger than me, an amusingly cynical hedonist with a band and some talent who hasn't yet realized that in L.A., there are two hundred thousand people with exactly that much going for them. Realizations often come to him slowly.
"Hey, sweet knees." Aaron's nose crinkles. The vomit. "Still not feeling good?"
I inhale to tell him the truth. He smells odd. Not sweaty but sharp, warmer somehow, and I swallow. I've started salivating.
I've thought about telling him. The fantasy in my head starts with Sit down, moves on to I actually capture and kill vampires: P.S., they exist, and then, you can't ever tell anyone. Today I'm feeling a Kids Story Time vibe and want to start with I really need to tell you about my special friend, European Bat Lyssavirus-4. See, he causes VIHPS, and someday when you won't freak, I'll tell you what that stands for, 'kay?
"It's bad," I say.
I have a stash of four hundred dollars inside a sock in the drawer. A visit to the ATM will get me another thousand as a daily maximum. Only at times like this do I realize how little that is. I have to get moving. I don't have any good answers yet, not for Aaron, nor for the phone calls from my supervisor, Darcy, who'll ask why I didn't file my after-action report last night. I have to focus on the essentials, what I'll need to survive.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, not the half-empty one but the spare box, pads, razors, cosmetics and towel. I also grab jewelry; my credit cards leave an e-trail, but a pawn shop won't care.
I have a chipped passport and most definitely a birth certificate: Lilith Infinity DeStard. Even in Hell, new employers want two forms of ID.
"Is this what I think it is?" Aaron has the pregnancy stick in his hand.
"Yeah, we dodged a bullet."
"Okay ... so why are you packing like you want to get out of town?"
Because otherwise I'll have to dodge fifty of them, I don't say. "It's work."
"A conference?" I shake my head. "A stakeout kind of thing?" I hesitate, deciding whether to say yes. It would be easier, but I have to pick words carefully. If I stay, I am well and truly fucked. In about an hour, I'll need an answer for Darcy about when I'll report for my next assignment, and oh, by the way, remember to be at Epidemiology by five for my monthly blood screening. Because just to put the cherry on top, the calendar says it's time.
If I don't stay, I might live, but Darcy's team will be here checking on me, and Aaron will be answering the door. He'll say everything I tell him, one way or the other.
I snag my Glock from the holster at the side of the bed. Aaron never likes arguing with me while I wear it. But he really doesn't like my preoccupied silence.
"Look, can you let me in just a little?" he implores. "I know I don't get to ask about work. But I get to know if you're worried. And this ..." he waved the test stick, "... this is all us, right?"
I stop throwing high-capacity mags and sweat socks into the suitcase. The sensible thing to do, the normal thing, is to stay here in bed and let Aaron hug my worries away. Vipes do that all the time. They tell people about their symptoms and cry and get fed and cuddled. And when their loved ones survive the first attack, the next stage is more shock and reconciliation and an invariable resolution that they should at least go to the emergency room to get stitches. From there? They get flagged. From there? Downhill.
"There's a lot of things I'm not ready for right now," I say.
"Me neither," Aaron says. "But we face them head-on together. That's the deal, right?"
I wince. My words, recycled and weaponized. Sticking to straight talk is how Aaron lasted longer than any of my previous bed-friends. On a good day, I can call our relationship open and be satisfied with it. On a bad day, it's like ground glass in my mouth, making me wonder if it's no better than the mountain of coping strategies that came before it. The thread by which it all hangs is the honesty. It gives the illusion of progress so I can think I'm wiser now.
"Okay," I say, "the truth is I didn't follow procedures, and my boss is going to call me on it. So now I'm ... volunteering. To get brownie points so all that goes away." There. Euphemisms are better. They are how F-prot rolls. If your EBL-4 gives you Virally Induced Hematophagic Predation Syndrome, you're a "vipe." Our operations are all about "disease vectors" and "isolation complications" and people "retiring for health reasons." Even the name "Forced Protection" alleges that we confine vipes for their own good. Which we do, provided they don't resist. I'd resist.
"Is that all? How long are you going away?"
"I don't know, so I'm packing for five days."
"We should say goodbye." He has his euphemisms, too.
"I just got clean."
"Then you'll taste nice." Aaron leans in, and my senses flood. He smells like a steakhouse. I can feel the heat of his face as it gets close. His mouth opens, and I realize that his tongue, full of blood, will soon be between my teeth. I could chatter them like an addict or deliberately latch on, hold him in place with strength and leverage.
But no. I keep my teeth clenched, my body as unresponsive as a wooden doll. His lips mash against mine but make no headway. He pulls back, frowning.
"That's ... different." It's one of the better things about him. He likes enthusiasm. When I don't have any, he stops.
"I can't do this," I blurt. I hug him, sticking my face way out so I don't have his neck pressing against my mouth. His whole body is warm where our torsos touch.
"There's things I can volunteer," he says. I know them all. Massage, fingers, oil, tongue. But my heart is in fight-or-flight, beating against my rib cage as I realize he has nothing with which to defend himself. This boy couldn't break my grip with a hammer, and his idea of how to deal with me is extra foreplay.
My cell phone rings, with its tinny Beethoven music no one will ever dance to. It rings, eclipsing the silence. I keep holding and smelling Aaron, keep thinking of highs he's given me and songs he's played, and the phone keeps screaming at me with its Fifth Symphony electronica remix that there is nothing rational about this situation because I have to run, they will lock me up. I don't do well locked up. I learned that pretty young.
I pick it up and see the number.
"Who is it?" Aaron asks.
"Louis and Jared. They're going to be by later." I don't need to answer to know that. I set it to block, first Louis, then Jared, then Aaron.
"But you said you're not going to be here. ..." He doesn't see the screen, but he's putting it together.
"They're worried about me," I say. "And to tell you the truth, they have reason to be." Time to spin. "I pissed some people off this week. For a few days, I shouldn't be at my home address. You shouldn't act like you know me."
He's incredulous. "These guys know where we live?"
I have backup. "I don't know for sure, but it's my name on the lease," I say. "Louis and Jared will find the bad guys. It shouldn't take long." I try to imagine what the F-prots will tell him when they knock on our door. They are pros. If he doesn't know what a vipe is, they sure aren't going to tell him.
As he mulls that over, I pack. He has more questions, all about what the bad guys might look like if they loiter around the house, but I bat those away by sounding experienced. He should be vigilant, everything is under control, the baddies aren't known for hurting civilians, garbage garbage garbage.
"Wait," he says after a few more reassurances. "You said you're sick, you didn't follow procedures, and there are people looking for you."
"Yeah?" My oh-crap senses fire up, but I have to stay cool.
"So, how is that not changing your story?" he asks. "I just wanna say, if we don't have the truth, we don't have anything."
I stop packing. He's right, and the terrible thing is, it won't matter. "What would it take to convince you that I'm coming back?" I ask. "Calls every day?"
His face drops its guard. "That ... it'd be a start, yeah."
"All right, then we'll do that," I say, "but to be safe, I'm going to need a burner phone, and we should get you that privacy app I told you about. I'll call through there."
Aaron nods. "Show me which one." I do. It takes only a few minutes, sitting next to him on the bed, and by then, he is calmer.
"Why do you need a burner if you have this?" he asks.
"If my office caught me using that app for personal business, they'd freak," I say, continuing to spin. "So, I'm thinking a cheap second phone and, poof, no panicked firing of Infinity. You want me to go get it, or do you want to be my hero?"
"I can get it," he says, and I see I've calmed him. "Back soon, but first ..." He tries a kiss again. If I freeze him out now, I'll be explaining it forever. I open my mouth and taste him. All nausea is gone. He's more than delicious — he has an energy, a vibrancy to him, that I want inside me in all kinds of ways. When he starts to pull back, it's my teeth squeezing his lower lip that keeps us together. At first, I don't even realize I've done it. After a guilty glance, I let go.
"Well, now," Aaron says, face flushed. "Don't go anywhere."
He leaves the room, and I can breathe again. I was stupid. If he'd had a bad floss that morning, the cuts in the mouth could have done him in. As soon as I hear the front door click, I scramble to the wall over the bed. I get my black belt off its hook and the last portable piece of my life.
It rests on the dresser: a little tablet of cherry wood. I look at the god carved into its face, then throw it into my bag. It was a god to me once, or at least a goal, when I had none. I couldn't see any future with me alive in it, but making this was something I could do.
It's coming with me.
I consider waiting for Aaron, but by the time my suitcases are full, twenty minutes are gone forever. My nerve breaks.
I go out the door and squint in the hot, unfriendly L.A. sun. Will Aaron be mad? Of course. But on that day far in the future, in which I take his calls again, I'll figure out what to say then. Hurrying down the apartment complex's steps, I make it into a cool, dim parking garage.
The last choice that lies before me: cycle or car? The cycle can handle my bags fine and gets more kilometers to the volt, but once I'm out of SoCal, it'll be toast in any kind of rain. If I'm trying for distance, the car will be more comfortable. And if I need to sleep in it because I can't afford a motel, well, three strikes and you're out.
I drop my cases and roll the little blue Zero out of the way of the Dodge Atlantis. Its kickstand is still too loose; something that Aaron has been meaning to fix forever. The cycle has been with me for eleven years, which beats Aaron and any of my other boyfriends. Doesn't it?
I have no trailer to bring it. And the day a cycle, even a small one, fits in the back of an Atlantis will be the day the angels break the seals and all that shit. So, I kiss my hand and touch it to the cycle. If I get reincarnated as a machine, I hope someone does the same for me.
Then, I throw the suitcases in the trunk of the car, climb in, and start it up. What I am doing is wise. It spares Aaron a nasty fate. If I had a real choice, I would have been loyal.
Somewhere around San Bernardino, I find out I've forgotten to pack tissues.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Civil Blood"
Copyright © 2018 Christopher M. Hepler.
Excerpted by permission of Christopher Hepler.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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1 - INFINITY,