On the rosy sands of a distant Earth colony, Sabella lives a quiet life in her isolated home—carefully hiding her vampirism from society.
Sabella may not be undead, but she is painfully allergic to sunlight, possesses supernatural strength and speed, and feeds on fresh blood. In her youth, Sabella seduced a number of men, killing them all for fear of discovery. But with age comes control, and Sabella has sworn off of drinking human blood.
After four years of staying clean, Sabella receives an invitation to her Aunt Cassi's funeral—along with several thousand credits to ensure she attends the reading of the will. But when Sabella arrives at the funeral, she discovers that the funds were a ruse. Before her death, Cassi—a devout Christian Revivalist—discovered the truth about Sabella and tasked her manservant, John Trim, to hunt Sabella down. Trim hires private investigator Sand Vincent to get close to Sabella and suss out the truth.
But Sand is only human—and Sabella anything but. As Sand becomes enthralled by Sabella's charm, Sabella must combat her own instincts to keep him alive—and society's suspicions away.
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I was out hunting the night my aunt Cassi died. As she was taking her last breath of revitalized Arean air, I was high on the Hammerhead Plateau, under forty thousand stars burning like diamond bonfires. Maybe I even killed in the same minute she let that last breath go. I hadn't meant to kill, perhaps it was an omen. And did I feel her reach out to me in the black eye-star-burning darkness, reach out with her dead finger, pointing, beckoning, condemning me, me thinking it was only the chill night wind of Novo Mars?
Just after sunup (Novo Mars sunup like a bomb of light going off in the sky: sixty-second dawn) the mailman buzzed the porch. He was a real man, the mailman, I mean human, because mechanization doesn't stretch out too far into the Styx of Hammerhead. He stood against the fresh pink sky, his electric mail dolly sitting beside him. When I went to open up, he saw me just as he always did, in my black wrapper and my dark glasses, my hair like black coffee poured over me from the crown of my head to my shoulders. He thinks I'm a slut, a boozy drug addict. Thinks? Thought. Maybe still thinks, who knows.
"Miss Quey? Registered stellagram. Thumbprint right here."
He looked resentful, as he always did. He was wondering if I'd seduce him someday in my silky wrapper. But I wouldn't. He thought my name Quey (pronounced Kay) was phony too. The name on the sender's docket was Koberman, Cassi's name.
"Thanks," I said, as I thumbprinted.
"Sorry to wake you," said the mailman. His stupid sad malevolent human eyes said to me: I guess all you whores have to sleep it off in the morning.
But I didn't argue, not then, with the tepid rosewater sun streaming in my door and my hands shaking a little and the lightweight stella like a pack of lead.
"That's O.K.," I said, and buttoned shut the smoked-glass door, and slunk back into the lovely shadows.
All the blue paper day-blinds were down, and the blinds of violet cotton. How beautiful it all looked, true virtue of necessity. But that one slap of light in the face had told. I remembered the striped deer and some weak tears oozed from my eyes.
Out in the hallway, over the stair, the stained-glass window cries too, staining the wooden floor with a big crimson patch.
When I finally opened the stella, I wasn't really interested in it, it was something else that had to be seen to. At first I thought it was from Cassi herself, and wondered why she'd suddenly recollected me and what she wanted that she had to send star-bounced telegrams for, and what it was going to mean. (Does anyone else ever read their mail like this? Trepidation always, occasionally fear. How I loved ads and circulars, things you could send for or forget.) But then I found it wasn't Cassi, but Cassi's brother-in-law, a lawyer's formal bit of paper with formal phrases on it. Cassi was dead, but she'd sent me an invite to the funeral. She'd fixed her heart on it. And to ensure I came, she'd left me several thousand tax-clear New Mars credits. I hadn't recalled she was wealthy. I hadn't known she recalled where I was or even if I was still on-planet. I didn't know either what her post mortem game was, but it seemed to me she had set out to nail me on a very special Revivalist Christian Cross. But then, would she, all these years, have known that too?
Why does everybody have to love money so much? I wasn't rich. They'd expect me to want to be, and if I didn't, they'd want to find out why not. And Cassi had remembered where I was and they'd traced me here. Even if I ran (I contemplated that) they'd follow me.
Sabella Quey, this cash belongs to you, they'd say, as we stood there in the bright delicate sunlight of rose-hued Novo Mars.
An hour later, I went to the music deck and keyed in the phones. I let the sinister marvel of a Prokofiev symphony wash up through the house and over me as the jets of the shower washed down.
But oh, Sabella Quey, the cross stands ready.
The funeral, the day after tomorrow, drawing me, as if by suction, back into the world.
Novo Mars is enough like old Mars to have been dubbed with the name, but a pink planet rather than red, pearl rather than ruby. I was born east of Ares. This little world is all IÕve ever known. Its sugar-mouse color skies with their pale blue clouds of oxygen revitalization that turn the air over the cities to a lavender soup, the tawny-rose sands, the knife-ridge plateaus like pasteboard cutouts, the rust-red crags dissolving in the five-second dusks.
The vegetation is all earth-import, the books tell you, and mostly so is the fauna that breeds and hunts and basks and leaves its bones on plains and heights and in the dry canals. But both flora and fauna have mutated here to fit new climates, zones and geography. The waters were also initially false, atmospheric stabilizers replenished by viaduct and sub-surface reservoir, yet they, too, like crystal tinted by indigenous skies and pointed mountains, have become one with Novo Mars. There are genuine ruins (beware tourist traps) here and there. Thin pillars soaring, leveled foundations crumbling, cracked urns whispering of spilled dusts-all the Martian dreams that old Mars denied to mankind. Though this prior race, whose wreck men inherited, left small self-evidence beyond their architecture. Maybe men find it, anyway, more romantic to guess.
But there are still real Martian wolves in the hills above Hammerhead Plateau. Fine nights, you can hear them howl in tin-whistle voices, like antique lost locomotives searching for a station. Periodically, men come out from the cities and shoot at them, and those nights, from Brade to Hammerlake, the uplands ring to lead-blast and electric flash-gun charge. But wolves that have survived so many things, a passing of peoples, drought of four-fifths of the water, death of half the air-they can survive guns. Their rough coats are like pink champagne, their genes programmed long ago to copy the dusts, but catch the glare of their eyes at night, disembodied blood drops seemingly framed in stars, and know them for what they are.
When they cry, when they cry, Sabella, the hair lifts on the scalp, and the eyes fill up with tears and the mouth with water.
I took the night flight to Aresport. ItÕs a two-hour run by air-bug from the Brade lift-off point. To reach Brade, thereÕd been the nineteen oÕclock flyer from Hammerlake Halt. IÕd footed the five miles to the Halt, through the fading afternoon, the scarlet minute of pre-sunset, through the seconds of sunset, through the tidal wave of night. Five miles was nothing to me, and the road was good. Once the sun went out, I took off my black straw hat and the big black glasses and carried them with my sandals and my single piece of luggage.
The half-hour flyer ride was uneventful, the bus almost empty, though we picked up a pair of couples on route through Spur and Canyon.
When I'd checked into the cabin of the air-bug at Brade and fastened myself down in the plasti-plush seat, the first intimation of fate came over me. I'd been expecting it; not such force. After all, I'd undertaken a few unavoidable journeys before, and I'd survived, sometimes with fewer scars than others. Then I remembered my mother's death, the memory also expected and inevitable, and a dreary pang swept through me. My mother, Cassi's sister, had understood me. Had understood me so well that one morning I came home and she was dead, lying there accusingly under the crimson patch cast by the stained-glass window. I don't know if she'd planned that, or not. (My paranoia, you perceive, was that the dead were always in league against me-worse than the living. The dead, plotting to snare and to implicate, to trip and fell me and lay a naked sword across my neck.) But my mother died of natural causes, if heart attack is natural. The medical man, who like the mailman caught me in my sunglasses, and who looked at me with the same unliking, interested stare, cleared the death certificate for me disappointedly. He would, of course, have heard stories of the odd recluse duo, the mother and her daughter, living in the old colonial house under the hills. When I was sixteen or seventeen and couldn't keep out of Hammerlake town, nights, all kinds of tales were spelled out about me. The boys would whistle after my lean long flanks, nipped-in swaying waist and heavy young-girl breasts. In those days (nights) I had no wisdom at all. None. When I think how lucky I was, I tremble, even now. Caution came long after guilt, but before then it got to my mother. It made a slim artery in her heart engorge and burst. It killed her. I-killed her.
Presently the plane began to clear its throat and the fasten-up warning lights came on. I hadn't glanced about. I'd learned not to where space is confined, for this is a gregarious civilization; I too, if I could afford to be, maybe. The bug lifted on its jets and stars crowded the windows.
I don't often sleep at night, darkness has too much to offer with its silences and mysteries. But the motion and hum of the air-bug and the thick half lights gradually sent me under.
Then I started to dream. I dreamed about Easterly, which was a logical progression from the rest, the death of Cassi and my mother's death.
Easterly was the little township, sixty-two miles east of Ares where my mother and Cassi were born, and where I grew up. My father was an ore-blaster, and when I was two years old the drill he was working on caught fire. (Catalog of death.) My mother, his widow, got the insurance payments the company awards to survivors. Aunt Cassi, an adventuress, was way off on Earth, then. My mother and I, alone without a man, became briefly wealthy.
Consciously, I can perfectly recall the copper-brick house at Easterly, on a street of copper-brick houses, for Easterly was an ore town on the boom. Asleep, I could see it in microscopic detail. Every brick shining in the sun, the neat lawn of aniseed grass running into the avenue of honeysuckle trees and the brindle oaks across the way where black-haired boys kick a ball. The mines were neatly hidden underground, but the distant towers of the three refineries gleamed and gave off tiny puffs of cotton wool. Beyond the refineries, over the river and the crescent of the dam, the meadows and the wildflowers faded into the rose-petal sands. There are ruins at Easterly. At eleven, I didn't know. One of the dry canals plunges in under the rock of an old quarry. In there.
"Come out!" my mother calls. "Bel, come out of that, it's nothing but a dirty hole. Bel, do you hear me?"
But momma, I've come to place with a tall pillar like a lily stem. Momma it's not so dark-
"Child, the sides may cave in-"
Why was I scared? I wasn't scared before. I was eleven. It was the day I started to bleed for the very first time. It was the day I found-
Oh God, why am I so scared?
I realized the tunnel was closing in on me after all, was dragging me away, and I beheld my mother's terrified face snatched from me, receding-
And I woke up to discover myself crying softly, "Momma, Momma!" Like one of those dolls of centuries before.
"It's all right," somebody said. "Really it is. You're awake. It's all right, now."
I could see the air-bug, quiet, and scattered with persons who slept on without the raw edges of dreams to slash them alert again. And next to me, on the twin seat at my side, but not fastened in, a shadow saying, "Honestly, it's O.K. now," very gently, as if to the child I had been two instants before.
"Is it O.K.?" I asked, to gain time.
"Sure it is. You're back."
"Truly. I swear."
He laughed, this gentle still. I hadn't looked at him beyond the first uncalculated awakening gaze that hadn't assimilated anything. But he was young. My age?
I'll have to be extra careful now.
"That's better," he said. "Look, can I get you anything?"
"Anything?" No, I must not fool around.
"Well, a brandy?"
"You must have something, to prove to yourself the dream's over. I've had dreams like that sometimes."
"How do you know what kind of dream it was?"
"A bad one. Come on. Oh, I know," he said. His voice was warm, melodic. Perhaps Prokofiev had written his voice. "Last year I was on Gall Vulcan, with my brother. I freaked out on mescadrine." (Some drug.) Now he was telling me how his big brother saved him, sat and held his hand, ran him into the ground to sweat the horrors out of him, rocked him like a baby. It was extraordinary. "I'm not ashamed to tell you," said the young man in the shadow. "We shouldn't be ashamed."
I was ashamed. Afraid, ashamed. Excited.
This was the duck-catch syndrome. I'd ducked, but the missile had still come straight at me. In avoiding it, I'd caught the ball in my ungloved, unready hands.
"If you don't want a brandy, what about an iced fruit juice?"
I'm going to a funeral. Don't make it two.
"All right. Thank you."
He went to the auto-dispenser, and I looked at him. And when he came back and we sat drinking cold juice, I looked at him then, too. He was sunlit, even in the night cabin. He had the light bronze suntan of Novo Mars I can't even take from a ray-lamp. His eyes and his hair, like mine, were dark, and his hair was worn rather long, the recurring fashion among the young poets, the dreamers. His clothes were casual, but of good quality, and he had one of those gold ropes around his neck that are jewelers' fantasies of snakes, and have narrow graven heads and gem eyes.
"I hope you're not angry that I spoke to you," he said.
"I'm not angry."
"I have another confession." He lowered his lashes and I felt sad. Old and sad, and tired, and alone. "I was watching you when you were asleep. I was planning something to say when you woke up, but then you had the nightmare."
How rare and chill the juice tastes on my tongue, the tip of which is burning now. I always imagine it's like champagne, which I've never tasted, but how could it be?