Art: Written Word

2005 : Century Plague

Welcome to the 2005 novel. This year I'm using some of the same characters as before - notable Thalia. Only I'm not doing really bad Fantasy (I know, you'll miss it). This year is going to be a weird sci-fi/fantasy/post-apocalypse kind of thing. Vampires, Zombies, Mutants ... the works. Oh, and saving the world maybe. I think. We haven't quite got that figured out. As soon as we do I'm sure I'll add something to it. As normal it's posted as is, throughout the month, and unedited for your reading annoyance! Also like normal chapters will be numbered using Binary because it's easier to count in.

2005 Afterthoughts:
I really didn't tell the story I'd intended. I didn't get into the characters as I'd intended either. A few of them drifted off course, the plot was completely lost for half the novel and by the time I found a plot it was a mess. There are several scenes that are out of character - one particularly explicit sex scene towards the end comes to mine. If I had shown interest this could have been a rich world with characters who had depth. I'm displeased with the ending as well. Ah well. Perhaps next year.

//000000000 Dialogue//

The CD plays, it has four voices on it. Three male, one female.

"You did what?!" The first male voice sounds both surprised and angry.

"I placed Omega in the water supply. We don't have any other choice." The female voice says calmly.

"Omega?" A second male voice comes in, this one curious more than anything else.

"Fitting name since we're about to be shut down by the CDC." The female voice responds. Her voice sounds the closest to the recording source.

"How did the CDC get involved?" The first male voice says, still angry.

"When they found our notes on Strain D1." Says the third male voice, this one sounds tired. "We didn't cover our tracks well enough." He says.

"Omega came about when D1 and A mixed?" The second male voice asks in a contemplative tone.

"Yes." The female voice said, "I used the labs at the university to culture it. Each of us has an identical Omega strain because of A and D1."

"But we're all reacting differently." The third male voice says.

"What about the populace at large?" The first male voice asks, calming down some.

"We'll have to see," The female voice continues, "Since the CDC is shutting us down permanently and no other group is set up to counter the coming epidemic I did what was needed."

"Are you sure?" The second male voice asks.

"No." The female sighs, "But no antibiotic in the world will stop the avian flu, the hyperbiotic is the only chance I see."

There is a few moments silence.

"Let's hope everyone reacts in a similar manner." The first male voice said, there is the sound of a door shutting.

"I'll be flying to Washington tomorrow." The female says, "Good day gentlemen." You here her footsteps walking away and then a click.

--

The old CD stops in its ancient player and is replaced back in a wooden box reverently.

//00000001 Hunters//

Ashlie runs around the corner, tripping over a small pile of wood, and into the brightly lit street. She shades her eyes from the harsh sun, even her sunglasses can't block all the light and it hurts. Getting her bearings she looks behind her, the figures are coming and they don't care about the light.

She runs to the middle of the street and falls, finally noticing the metal sliver that stuck into her leg from a moment ago. She scrambles on the ground trying to both get further away and pull out the piece of metal. The sun hurts her eyes.

Three figures come shambling slowly out of the alleyway between the two buildings. It's a small town, was a small town. Ashlie looks around, all she sees is empty forgotten buildings and the shambling figures.

A shadow falls over her and she looks up. A woman is standing there, dressed in black leather and metal spikes. She looks down at Ashlie and then at the approaching figures. Ashlie does the only thing she can think to do.

--

The motorcycle comes to a stop in the middle of the street, a few yards from the broken mangled bodies baking in the heat. He gets off, dusty boots crunching on the gravel as he walks forward and crouches next to a body.

"Zombies." He says poking one with the barrels of his shotgun, "Something big took you out." He said looking at the four mangled bodies. One had it's head twisted almost all the way around facing backwards.

"Vampires." He said with a sneer, "Always something isn't it." He stood up and looked around the town. Ghost town, nothing left but a few zombies and anything passing through. Though zombies meant there was life here recently. He knew zombies starved to death as fast as any human, so there might be other survivors. Or other zombies, depending on how bad the virus had hit here.

He walked towards the towns largest store, a large flat building. Probably looted time and again over the last few hundred years since it was built. The fact it was still standing said something about this town, that maybe it had lasted long into the century plague.

"Everything fades." He said to himself stepping into the store, it was mostly empty, a giant open space in the middle had been cleared out. Goods of various kinds were in shelves in makeshift booths around the edge, it had been turned into a communal market. This town used to be either large or a trading hub. Now it was a Zombie Town, it would be avoided for the rest of existence.

He rummaged a bit and came up with a few jars of fruit preserve and went back to his bike. Outside a single zombie was shambling down the street, looking lost. It tried to make a noise as it sensed him, arms reaching up as the shamble picked up pace.

He simply walked to his bike and put the two jars down and took out his shotgun. The zombie might recognize it, after all it was probably human a day or so ago. It gave a pathetic gutteral growl as he pulled the trigger on one barrel, then the other. The things head was a bloody stump as the body lurched one more step and fell forward. He looked at the gravel, "Guess I'll have to catch up," he said, "Fucking vampires." He put the two jars of jam in his saddle bags and started the bike back up.

He Roars off into the sunset after his quarry.

It's two days later he stops at a small one horse town. It has a couple dozen buildings, the only one active at this hour is the bar. It's after sundown, if he wants to kill tonight he'll have to act quickly. Or he could wait for morning. He notices another large black bike parked outside the tavern.

Fuck it, he parks next to it and goes in, making sure he has his belt of spikes on. The Vampire Hunters are given some respect. He sees four men inside, and three women. And the bartender, can't forget him.

Two of the women are with two of the men off to one side, the other two men are playing cards by themselves. The last woman can't be more than a girl and is sitting at the a table by herself. She's dressed in torn jeans and dirty shirt. She's wearing sunglasses. No one wears sunglasses at night.

The room notices him and doesn't say much. He squares his shoulders and goes over to the lone girl. "You left one alive." He says to her, looking down. She's got brown hair, pale skin and smells of old blood.

She looks up startled, and opens her mouth to speak.

"You know you got a vampire in here!" He yells at the bartender.

The bartender looks up, "Leave her alone." He says. "She ain't done nothin'."

"I just came from Five Arrows. Zombie Town." He spits.

"Word came in last week on that." The bartender says, "Poor bastards."

"Yeah." The hunter says, "Well, I don't want to get blood on your floor, so I'll just take this one outside." He reachs down to grab the girl. No one in the room moves to help or hinder.

"No." A voice from behind him says, it's a woman's voice. It has command to it.

"Oh." He turns to face a tall woman, black hair, tan skin, dressed in black leathers. Several belts are wrapped around her waist, two chains, three leather and one gunbelt. She looks like a hunter herself. She's wearing sunglasses. "Who the fuck are you?" He stares at her.

She takes her sunglasses off and tosses them on the table. Her eyes are solid black, no iris and no whites.

"Shit." He says as her fist lashes out and breaks two of his ribs on impact, he falls to the floor with a thud, the wind knocked out of him.

She crouches down and pulls a wooden stake from his belt, "Stakes? How quaint." She smiles, "Any particular reason you want to hurt us?" She asks, looking across the room and not down at him.

"Your Master can rot in hell." He says in gasping breaths.

"Defiant one." She says testing the sharpness of the stake on a finger tip. She reaches out and grabs his head, there's a snap as she whips it from left to right.

Standing up she looks at the bartender, "Consider the scavenge payment for burning his body." She says and looks at the girl, "Relax, it's over." She smiles and picks up her sunglasses.

Thalia gets on the bike, Ashlie climbs on behind her, wrapping her arms around Thalia's waste as the large black motorcycle backs out and then heads off down the road, "So who do you suppose 'Our Master' is?" Thalia asks the wind. Ashlie simply settles in for the ride, the wind is cool as it slides over her body.

Ashlie isn't sure why, but she hasn't felt this safe in years. She glances back over her shoulder at the receding town, wondering if the Vampire Hunter was coming for her specifically. A chill ran up her spine.

The sun creeped up into the sky behind them, Ashlie started to feel lethargic as the bike drove on through the desert. They had driven all night on the abandoned stretch of blacktop, Ashlie didn't know who put it there or why, but the ancient roads were seldom used. She tugged on her companions jacket.

Thalia pulled the bike off the road a mile later, there was a rest stop as old as the road there, a small copse of trees and a tiny lake had formed, a strange half manmade oasis in the middle of nowhere. "Tired?" She asked half turning to look at her charge.

"Yes." Ashlie nodded as she slid off the bike and shielded her eyes from the sun. Thalia looked over at the rising sphere of fire.

"Hungry?"

"A little." Ashlie said.

Thalia got off the bike and opened one of her saddle bags. She pulled out a pouch and opened it up, "Here," she offered some kind of jerky up to Ashlie who took a few pieces and found some shade in one of the trees.

Ashlie watched Thalia as she pulled a small roll off one the top of the other saddle bag and open it. It formed into a small pup tent that Thalia set up at the edge of the grass under the shade.

"You can sleep in that, it'll be more comfortable for you." she said pulling off her own black leather jacket.

"Sunlight doesn't hurt you?" Ashlie asked.

"Nope, love it." Thalia said, she was wearing a tank top shirt that showed she was well tanned and well muscled. She pulled off her gunbelt and drapped it over one of the saddlebags, her other belts followed quickly as she relaxed. She left her sunglasses on. Thalia watched as Ashlie climbed into the one person tent and fell asleep quickly. She smiled, "Every year the next generation gets even more averse to daylight." She sighed and pulled her shirt off, tossing it on the bike as she walked to the tiny body of water. It appeared clear and clean which was a relief, she dipped one hand in the water and scooped a small bit out. Sipping it she decided it was actually water and stripped the rest of the way.

Thalia was lying across her bike feeling the high midday sun bake the land, and her, when she heard the approaching motors. Her own bike was quiet as a whisper, she long abandoned the ancient gasoline or propane engines for a relatively new micro fusion engine. Extremely rare in this part of the world though, most everything out here ran on gas.

The engines approached stopped somewhere behind her. She didn't move, but sniffed the air. Leather, oil and gunpowder.

"Well, what do we have here." A rough male voice said as the engines cut, Thalia counted three. Must be a patrol. She didn't move, trying to place something familiar.

"Looks like we have a good time." Said another man, his voice a deep rasp. Thalia realized she'd only partly dressed again, sitting on the bike in loose shorts and a bra.

"You should know what you're sneaking up on before declaring such things Percy." Thalia said, still not moving.

"The hell?" The first voice said, "Thalia, what the frag you doing way out here?" He said sliding a blade back into it's sheath.

"Going down into San Angeles." She said.

He moved to stand beside her, but not blocking the sun that was sliding towards afternoon. "That so?" He said.

She opened her eyes and looked up at his grey deeply lined face. His lips were pulled back in a permanent grimace, showing sharpened teeth. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair a mess. He wore a lot of leather and torn denim, not to mention any number of knives, hatchets, guns and chains. "Got a message for Adrian." She said.

"Better take the low point past Phoenix." He said, "Vampires been less and less welcome around here, we've got orders to kill 'em if we need to keep peace." He said looking off in the distance.

"Now that's interesting. Not like Adrian to hunt down Altered." She said sitting up and looking around. She sat sideways on the bike, one leg curled under as she faced Percy.

"Yeah no shit. It's this Master guy. Got vampires organized into some kind of psycho army or something. Gunning for Adrian." He spat on the ground, "All we can do to keep the peace 'tween the Normals and us." He sighed.

"Trolls working with him?"

"Nah, no beyond the occasional hired guy." Percy shrugged, "Zombies though. That's the real problem. It's why we're so far out." He spat again. "Losing more fucking towns to zombies than ever before. Thinking this guy has a hand in it."

"You think he's making zombies?" Thalia raised an eyebrow.

Percy shrugged, "Can't explain it otherwise. Fuckin' weird."

"Shit. Now I gotta double time it." She sighed and looked over at the pup tent.

"Which way you headed?"

"Phoenix, you can ride with until we reach Black Fork." He said.

"Yeah, probably better that way." She reached down and pulled on her boots, "Give me a minute to saddle up."

"Take your time, it's lunch." He said walking back to his bike and the other two he drove up with. They all pulled out meals and sat on thier own bikes eating while Thalia dressed, they weren't hiding the fact they were watching her.

"Enjoy the show?" She smiled as she tucked her shirt in. They nodded, "At least someone is happy to see me." She gave them a smirk and buckled the first of her many belts.

Thalia lifted the flap on the small tent and peered in, Ashlie was fast asleep. "Hey," She shook Ashlie's leg.

Ashlie blinked and came out of her dream. She rubbed her eyes and squinted at the figure at the end of the tent. She fumbled looking for her sunglasses and put them on, the figures outline became less fuzzy as the halo of light dissipated, "Huh?" She said still partially asleep.

"We gotta go, you going to be ok to ride?" She asked.

Ashlie nodded, "Think so." She said crawling out of the tent and making sure she did't stand up facing the sun. When she did stand she looked at the three men sitting on their own bikes eating. "Ghouls." She whispered as Thalia started to break down the tent.

"Going to escort us as far as Black Fork, from that we take the low road into San Angeles." Thalia said.

"Ghoul capitol?" Ashlie looked at Thalia and then at them, "Why go there?"

"I'm an emmisary from back east." Thalia said, she was working quickly to refold the tent into its tight ball. She hadn't bothered to stake it down in the windless expanse of desert they were in.

"Oh." Ashlie said, "I thought Ghouls ate people."

"Only zombies." Thalia said standing, "Come on." She walked back to her bike. "Ready whenever Percy." She called over.

"You know them?" Ashlie was staying close to Thalia, she obviously felt nervous around the three ghouls.

"Yeah, old friend." Thalia said.

"Who are you?"

"Been over that, Thalia." She smiled, "I'm a traveller. I go from place to place. I work for no one in particular, I'm a neutral party between nations." She said.

"Why did you help me back there?"

"You looked like you needed it." Thalia said, "Altered should look out for each other."

"What happens when we get to San Angeles?"

"We'll figure that out then." Thalia said sitting on the bike.

 

They followed the patrol across the desert until well after nightfall. Ashlie was relieved as the sun sank, though she was thankful they were traveling west so she could shield her eyes behind Thalia as they traveled. She noticed that Thalia's bike didn't make any noise compared to the others bikes, something she hadn't picked up in the previous few days.

At a decent sized town call Black Fork they stopped outside a noisy bar. The four bikes pulled up and cut their engines. It took them a day and a half of solid traveling. Stopping only to sleep in four hour spurts. Ashlie dozed off once or twice on the back of the bike though, taking tiny naps.

"We'll be able to get a full nights sleep." Thalia said as they got off the bike, "Maybe get you some clothes better suited for traveling." She said.

Ashlie looked down at her torn jeans and dirty shirt. She wouldn't turn down new clothes, but that got expensive out here in the badlands.

"Buy you a drink?" Percy said coming up to them. His companions had gone inside already.

"Sounds good to me." Thalia said, "Bet your hungry?" She looked at Ashlie.

"Yeah. A bit." Ashlie said looking at the ground. She was starting to get nervous about the hospitality.

"Dinner's on you." Percy said, his cheeks rising as if in a grin, Ashlie was sure if he had lips he'd be smiling right now. Thalia just shook her head.

"Yeah yeah," She said pushing him towards the door, "I'm just using you to get good service anyway." She said with a laugh.

"Figures!" He shot back as the three disappeared into the noise inside.

Inside was full of people of all sorts. Ashlie stood dumbfounded for half a moment before hurrying after Thalia and Percy. She tried not to stare at the table of Trolls, bulky and squat, at a table with what had to be another vampire and a few humans. Ghouls were by far the most dominent of the species here, humans next. There were even a few Orcs, standing a head above the crowd and bald, which was rare this far west. She didn't think there were any west of the Mountains. They managed a table near the kitchen, a small booth. Thalia and Percy took the outside, keeping Ashlie between them. Ashlie couldn't keep a look of slight astonishment off her face.

"Welcome to the United West." Percy said putting his hand on her shoulder, "We like to welcome all here." He said, "But, ah, things are getting tricky lately. Best you stick with Thalia around here." He said raising a hand to get a waitress.

One came over promptly, noting his jacket with a patch that said "Law Of The West" on it in gold letters on black. He was the closest the badlands got to a security force. Ashlie had seen run ins with The Law, they were often quick and brutal but seemed to have a ruthless sense of fair justice. Mostly she saw them hunting down rogue vampires.

"Round of the house." He said to the waitress, who was human. She gave a glance at the two vampires with him and nodded before running off. "Lately vampires fall into two categories, the dead and the soon to be dead."

"What about the ones in here?" Ashlie asked, she almost wished she didn't.

"Locals, grew up here. If they move onto another town more than likely a hunter'll stake 'em." He said, Ashlie sensed he would be frowning if he could.

"What's with the stakes?" Thalia asked, she had leaned back in the seat and kicked her legs out strait in front of her.

"Shit if I know, started a few years back." He said. "You been gone a while lady." He noted.

"It's because it's a fast kill." Ashlie said, "The stakes are lined with some kind of oil or something that bursts into flame when it combines with vampire blood." She had put her chin down on her folded arms.

"You been around a bit out here." Percy said.

"Started up near Salt Lake," Ashlie admitted, though she said nothing else.

Thalia looked at her then at Percy, "I picked her up in a zombie town a couple days ago. Gotta look out for my own." She said as way of explanantion.

"Hear that." Percy said as the drinks arrived in tall mugs.

"Hungry?" Thalia looked at Percy, he shook his head, "Need to dinner specials." Thalia said to the waitress who hurried off again.

 

Ashlie looked at the room in the motel, two small beds, two worn chairs and a table that wobbled a bit. But it had running water, though no electricity this far from a major city. Thalia had removed her jacket and tossed it onto one of the chairs.

"You get furthest from the door." She said as she wandered into the bathroom, "Take a shower, water probably only stays hot a few minutes though." She said.

Ashlie looked at the bathroom for a moment, it'd been a very long time since she'd taken a shower, much less a hot shower. She quickly disappeared into the bathroom.

Thalia removed her belts, and most of her clothes, and sat on the bed in her shorts inspecting the stake she'd taken. "Chemical reation with out blood huh?" She said tapping the point with her index finger, "I think some of this bears investigation." She tossed the stake onto her pile of clothes and leaned back on the bed. She removed her shades and closed her eyes, listening to the world around her.

She heard Ashlie get out of the shower, dry off in the bathroom and come out several minutes later.

Ashlie stepped from the bathroom and stopped. Thalia was lying on top of the covers of her bed, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts that didn't go very far down. They looked smooth, she sighed a bit when she realized every stitch of clothing Thalia had was black. Black on black on black, the only non-black came from silver chains, studs and zippers. She slipped into her own bed, sliding under the rough cotton covers and rolling over to face the wall.

"Feel better?" Thalia asked the room.

Ashlie took a second to answer, "Yes, thank you." She said.

There was several minutes of silence in the darkened room. They didn't bother to turn on the kerosene lanterns, both of them could see in the dark with even the littlest amount of light.

"Why are you being nice to me?" Ashlie asked.

Thalia turned her head to look at the lump of Ashlie under the covers, "How can you sleep under blankets when it's still hot out at night?" She asked, there was no answer. Thalia sighed, "I'm helping because I look out for my own." She said, "How much longer were you going to last running from those zombies? You'd already cut your leg, they would've caught you in no time." She said.

"I'd lasted long enough, I could handle it." Ashlie lied.

"Why did you come with me?" Thalia asked.

Ashlie didn't answer. She simply closed her eyes and sighed, she wasn't going to admit why. Not yet at least. Thalia let the topic drop.

"Get some sleep, we're going to do a hard push to San Angeles, try and make it in less than two days." She said closing her own eyes, she steadied her breathing and fell asleep.

Ashlie stayed awake for a while longer, thinking over her first encounter with Thalia. She remembered the terror of the zombie charing them in the street, her sitting on the ground to stupid to move, Thalia staning over her stock still like the zombie wasn't even there. Thalia's first move stunned her, the woman moved faster than anything she'd ever seen. One fist lashed out and was back, Ashlie barely even noticed her move. But she did hear that sickening crack as the zombie's head twisted so far around it almost faced completely backwards. The body lurched forward on momentum alone and landed in the street next to them. The other two zombies didn't even care and kept coming. Thalia simply stepped around Ashlie in the street and broke the two things like they were twigs. And then looked down at her on the ground.

Ashlie had prepared to die in that moment, staring up at Thalia at that moment. When Thalia cocked her sunglasses down and Ashlie saw the solid black eyes, not even the tiniest amount of white, she knew righ then Thalia was her only ticket out of the badlands and away from her past. So when the offer came she got on the back of the bike without hesitation. Thalia had bandaged her wound, applying some white salve that cooled the pain and helped her heal faster. Not even a scar remained of that wound right now, all vampires healed quickly but rarely without a scar. Something in the ointment Thalia applied to the bandage must've helped that.

Eventually Ashlie fell asleep listening to her own breathing in the quiet room.

 

The next morning Ashlie found herself in one of the ancient large buildings that had been cleared out for a market. Various people were hawking goods and trading them for various things. Ashlie noted there was a common paper money exchanged here, unlike further north in the wastelands that was on a pure barter system. Thalia, she noted, had an abundant supply of the paper.

Currently she was trying on a pair of jeans, she'd stayed away from black since Thalia took up more of that than was necessary for both of them. Despite the jarring heat Thalia had talked her into a thick leather jacket for riding. Ashlie wondered why since she was probably only going to be with her for a few more days at best and then dumped on her merry way.

Coming out of the market she had to pull her jacket off in the heat. The sun was not only far to bright but hot as well.

"How the hell do you wear all that leather?" She said carrying the jacket in her arms. She'd been completely outfitted in new clothes, the boots were probably going to kill her feet in the next few days as well.

"Don't think about it." Thalia said, "Ready? we've got a lot of ground to cover." She said getting on the bike that was parked out front, and under gaurd it seemed.

"How come I never see you refuel this?" Ashlie asked getting on the back, she did like the feel of new clothes.

"The reactor has a half life of two thousand years." She said.

"What?" Ashlie caught none of that.

"It runs out of fuel about every two thousand years." Thalia rephrased it.

"Holy shit, what's it use?"

"Fusion." She started the machine and moved onto the road. There were almost no powered vehicle around, and the ones that were used were light things. Mostly two wheeled bikes but the occasional frame with four wheels could be seen.

"I have no idea what that is." Ashlie said.

"I'll explain it someday." Thalia called over her shoulder as the wind quickly made it impossible to talk. Ashlie settled in for the ride. She noticed the wind and any debris kicked up weren't as bad as before now that she had clothes to protect against most of it. It was more comfortable now, though she could definitely feel that Thalia was driving much faster than she had in the past few days. Sneaking a peak over her shoulder at the smal dials she noted one that should be speed said 195KPH. She hunched back down to get the wind and sun out of her face and just watched the scenery, occasionally turning her head to look at the other side. Thalia didn't seem to move a muscle as they sped along. In just under an hour Ashlie noticed a tiny group of four buildings off the road as the sped past. It was another hour before the next group. She noted that this one had the same symbol that Percy wore on his jacket, it must be outpost stations for local law enforcement.

They passed by a decent sized town another hour after that. The pattern seemed to repeat, there was an outpost every hundred miles or so, there was a fifty fifty chance it was an actual town by her count. They just kept going at break neck speed. They passed a few other vehicles on the road, nothing doing anything close to their speed though.

They stopped around sundown, Thalia didn't want to drive into the glare of the setting sun. Instead she sat on the side ofthe road watching it sink and slowly eating several pieces of jerky. Ashlie sat off to one side, facing mostly away from the sun, and did the same.

"What's this made from?" She asked off handedly as she chewed.

"Deer." Thalia said in her slow calm voice.

"It's good."

"Old family recipe." Thalia answered.

They sat in silence for a while longer, the only way Ashlie could tell the difference between day and night was the lack of sunglare at night. Otherwise things seemed just as bright to her, especially without any sunglasses. Her didn't look nearly as dark as Thalia's though, or as stylish. In fact, she had stolen hers off another vampire that had been killed in a fight. Most vampires didn't even have the shades and only came out at night.

"Ok kid," Thalia stood a liquid motion that impressed Ashlie everytime she did it. In fact every movement Thalia made seemed so smooth it's as if she were made of water.

Ashlie climbed on the back of the bike, her legs were a bit sore from all the riding in the last few days, the back of the bike wasn't the most comfortable thing to sit on.

And they sped off into the desert night. Ashlie was even more thankful for the leather jacket now as the night grew cold, compounded by the wind rushing past them. Thalia didn't stop at dawn either, she kpet going much to Ashlie's dismay.

Around mid morning Thalia pulled off to the side of the road, they had left the desert a short while ago and were running up the coast now.

"We should have less problems being vampires this far west." Thalia said as they sat under some trees overlooking the ocean.

Ashlie just stared out to sea, it hurt her eyes immensely to stare at the glittering water but she'd never seen anything like it. She kept squinting and covering her eyes as she stared.

"Here, try these on." Thalia handed Ashlie her own sunglasses.

"But, don't you need them?" Ashlie stared at them.

"They're a spare pair." Thalia shrugged, Ashlie looked up and saw Thalia still had hers on.

Ashlie took the sunglasses and replaced her own with them. They cut out almost all the glare and brought the brightness down several notches, she could almost see details on even shining objects. "Wow." she said.

"Figured," Thalia had picked up her old shade, "These aren't polarized." She shrugged and handed them back, "Keep 'em as backup though." She said and walked back to her seat under the tree. "Never seen the ocean?"

Ashlie shook her head negative, "I lived in deserts all my life. This is amazing." She whispered. "you go all over?" She asked after another few minutes of silence.

"I try."

"What've you done? Where've you been?" Ashlie asked without taking her eyes off the ocean. She was genuinely curious about Thalia and didn't want them to reach San Angeles just yet.

Thalia laughed, "A lot, I've done a lot." She said, "I've flown in planes." She said after a brief pause.

Ashlie's head swung around, "You've been in the sky?!" She said, "I've... I've only seen pictures of planes in ancient books from before the Plague."

"They still exist back East." Thalia said, "In Bowash and Quebec, they fly over to Europe."

"Europe?" Ashlie knitted her brow in confusion. It was rare to hear of any lands that weren't adjacent to the deserts. She'd heard of Bowash and Quebec, to mostly human countries in the east and the north.

"It's across the ocean on the other side of the continent." Thalia explained.

"What's across this one?" She said looking back out at the water.

"Asia. Dead lands." Thalia said grimly. The plague took it's biggest toll over there." She frowned, "Though there are still countries out there. China, Japan, Russia, India and smaller ones." She rattled off a few places.

"Wow. How do you know so much?"

"I'm an emissary, I travel between countries with messages, news and such for the leaders." She said.

"How do you become one?" Ahslie asked.

"Travel a lot for a start." Thalia said, she knew where this conversation would lead and didn't like it.

"I suppose you have to know all sorts of people first huh?"

"Sometimes." Thalia said, maybe that would stop the next line of thought.

"What's there to do in San Angeles." Ashlie asked.

It seemed to have worked, "Depends on what you're good at."

"Nothing. I'm good at nothing." Ashlie said with a sigh.

"Don't know about that." Thalia stood up, "Come on, we should hurry." She walked over to the bike.

Ashlie stood up and took a last look before getting on the bike. She kept her head turned towards the ocean as they drove up the coast. She was disappointed when the road took an inward curve and backed away from the waters edge for a long while. The land here was more green than the deserts east of them, but it was still dry. After an hour they dipped down into a valley that was green from end to end. Ashlie simply stared as they drove through it on a surprisingly well maintained road. In the distance she could see tall towers rising up, taller than even the buildings of Salt Lake. She'd heard tales of San Angeles, but nothing really described the scale it was on.

First they encountered outlying towns, it grew denser as they went in towards the sky scrapers. She kepy looking around as they drove at a much slower pace now. Fully half the people here were ghouls, the rest were a mix of human and other altered. It took them into early afternoon to reach the massive buildings, Thalia seemed to head strait for the center, where what appeared to be the tallest building was placed.

They were stopped at an iron gate by armed guards. Thalia cut the engine they both dismounted.

"Business?" One of the ghouls asked, Ashlie noticed that every authority figure here was a ghoul. She really hadn't thought much about it being nicknamed Ghoul Nation until now, officially it was the United West.

"Emissary from the New Southern Order." She said producing a yellowed envelope from her jacket pocket, a but rumpled for the journey and handing it to the ghoul.

She took it and opened it, taking a minute to read it. Going over to a small metal booth the guard picked up a phone and talked just out of earshot. The other three guards there simply stood by, hands on ancient looking but obviously functional automatic weapons.

"Ok, you're cleared." She said coming back out and handing the envelope back to Thalia, "Receptionist will take that." She motioned for one of the others to open the gate.

Thalia and Ashlie got back on the bike and rolled into the open courtyard. Ashlie noted there were several more armed guards inside, not all of them ghouls, but definitely most of them.

They parked the bike well off to one side near a covered area. Several guards stood here watching them as they dismounted.

"Hurts to ride for that long." Ashlie grimmanced as she stretched.

"You get used to it." Thalia smiled, "Come on." She walked towards the main building.

Inside the front was a large open area with a massive rounded desk in the center. Gaurds were stationed all around and it was moderately busy with activity. Thalia approached the person directly facing the front doors, Ashlie followed but was busy looking around more.

"Why this is a surprise." Said the man behind the counter, "I never expected to see you again." He said as Thalia approached.

"Stranger things have happened." She pulled the envelope from her pocket and handed it to him, "I suppose I'll have to wait?" She cocked an eyebrow.

"Definitely, and clean up." He said, "You look like you came off the road without stopping."

"I did."

"I'll make an evening appointment and get you some temporary quarters. For two?" He asked looking at Ashlie.

Thalia nodded, "That'll do."

"Together?"

"One space, two beds." Thalia said a little coldly.

"My bad." He smiled knowingly, it was obvious he'd intended to hit a button.

He turned and started typing on his computer Ashlie took interest in that, she'd never seen one and wanted to know what it was.

"I'll explain later." Thalia said noticing Ashlie's curiosity.

"Weird." She said, which got an odd glance up from the secratary.

He reached into a drawer and pulled out two access keys, "Here," He handed them to Thalia, "You're housed on the sixth floor, room forty three. The attendant up there will check you in." He said.

Thalia motioned for Ashlie to follow as she made her way around the desk to the massive column it stood in front of. Thalia stood in front of the elevator patiently waiting. "Here." She handed one of the cards to Ashlie. "Swipe there to get the lift to work." She pointed at the small card scanner.

"Oh." Ashlie had no idea what was going on, these were things she only heard vague rumors about. When the door opened she was just a bit surprised, she wasn't expecting a tiny little room.

Ashlie followed Thalia on and stood there looking around. Thalia just smiled as she hit the button labled four. The doors closed and the elevator started up.

"Woah." Ashlie felt the sudden movemt.

"We're going up," Thalia said, "You can't tell me you've never been on one of these."

"Deserts all at ground level." Ashlie said with a bit of embarassment.

"Good point." Thalia smirked.

The desk at the fourth floor was a lot less spectacular. It was a small squarish thing between the elevator and hallway behind it. At it were three very bored looking people, on troll and two humans. They were all three watching a small television. When the doors opened they looked up lazily and the one actually sitting at the desk turned to face them.

"I'll need you to remove your glasses and submit to a retinal to get registered into the building." He said in a rather uninterested tone.

Thalia removed her glasses and stepped up to a small machine sitting on the desk. It was oval and had an indent where the bridge of your nose would be, She leaned forward and looked into the device. The man looked only slightly surprised when the computer at his desk brought up a profile already.

"Welcome back Thalia." He said with a slight tone of reverence and much more politeness.

Thalia smiled and stepped back, putting her shades back on.

Ashlie took her shades off and did the same thing Thalia did, what she saw was a dull red light flash across her vision briefly.

"Thank you." The man said and Ashlie stood back up, "I'll need your name and country of origina for the file.

"Ashlie, I come from the norther badlands."

He simply nodded and typed, "Last name?" He looked up at her.

"I don't have one." She said, she'd never been asked that question before.

"I see. Well, we'll figure that out later." He said, "You're both in the system, your room is down the left side." He motioned off to one side.

Thalia led the way as Ashlie stayed close behind.

"Does everyone have a last name here?"

"Pretty much." Thalia said stopping at one door, it had a smaller version of the scanner in the wall next to it, she leaned forward, dropping her glasses lower for it to have a clean scan of her eyes. The door clicked open.

"What's yours?"

"Reimann." Thalia said stepping into the room, Ashlie followed.

Inside it was large and open, one whole wall was taken up by windows. The center was slightly depressed with a circular couch taking up at least half the circumfrance. Thalia removed her jacket and tossed it onto the couch. "You get that side." She pointed off to the right.

"It's huge." Ashlie said standing in the middle and looking around.

"It's big enough." Thalia said going over to a small wet bar and pouring herself a glass of water. "There should be food in the kitchen I'd imagine." She pointed at the small polished kitchenette off to one side near Ashlie's half.

"Wow, I..." Ashlie just stared, "Why did you take me with you?"

"I can't just dump now can I? That'd be tossing you back into the fire I pulled you from a week ago." Thalia said with a smile. "No offense but this city would eat you, literally, in a day or two."

"Probably." Ashlie said finally taking her own jacket off, "I barely know how to survive in the wilderness."

"You were running, what from?" Thalia asked her.

"Hunters. Others." Ashlie shrugged, "Everything."

"You made it this far in life, you can't be all that bad at surviving."

"I suppose." Ashlie gently put her own jacket on the couch.

"I'm going to shower and get some rest before my meeting." Thalia put her glass back on the bar, "I'm sure there's a TV around here somewhere that works." She smiled and walked towards her half the area. Ashlie watched her walk away and sighed, she was way the hell out of her element here.

Briefly she wondered how her world even existed with a world like this so close, they had actual electricity, tall buildings and running water. Things she'd only heard of and rarely seen much less had a chance to really use. Thalia was right, she'd get destroyed in a place like this in a heartbeat. She went to the window and looked out, they faced the courtyard they drove up into. She saw Thalia's bike parked off to one side and the guards on their patrols. Surely she was safe here, with Thalia. She shivered when she thought about those chasing her down.

She felt suddenly very tired and looked over towards what was currently her living quarters. There was a decent sized bed in the room that looked very inviting. She hadn't slept in an actual bed since she couldn't remember when. She wandered over and look at it, white sheet and blanket. It looked warm and comfortable. She pulled back the covers and undressed.

Sliding between the sheets she felt even more tired as the cool bed enveloped her. She fell asleep within a few minutes.

 

Thalia came out of the bedroom wearing a long heavy bathrobe. She smiled to herself when she noticed the lump in the bed opposite her on the other side. She went over and quiety closed the double doors to give Ashlie some privacy.

She sat down on the couch and stretched her legs out in front of her. "Nothing like a little luxury now and then." She said to herself closing her eyes, she dozed lightly on the couch unwinding from the long drive.

A knock at the door caused her to open one eye and peer in that direction, "Open." She said.

The door opened and in walked three men, all of them ghouls. Two were normal guards though dressed slightly better than the rest. The last was obivously not a mere gaurd.

Thalia didn't stand, "Adrian, and here I thought I would come to see you." She smiled from her seat.

He grunted and motioned for the guards to wait outside, they closed the door behind them.

"Thalia." He said going and sitting on the couch across from her. He visibly relaxed within a moment, "What brings you this way." He said.

"I've a message from Sammy." She said.

"This should be good." He snorted.

"He says if you lend him ten thousand troops he can overtake Bowash." She stretched her arms out across the back of the couch and crossed her legs at the ankle.

"He's an idiot."

"That's what I said." She smiled, "I'll relay back that you're unable to lend him any men due to problems of your own." She smiled.

"So, you really returned after twenty years away from here as a messenger?" He said fully relaxing now and leaning back against the couch.

"Nah, wanted to see old friends." She said.

"I heard you ran into Percy out past Phoenix." He said with what could only be a taunt.

Thalia smirked, "Yes, we had a very polite run in." She said.

"Took him almost five years to really get over you." He said.

"We had fun, but really it wasn't going to last was it." She said.

"I suppose not." He sighed, "It never does."

"Thus is our lot." She nodded.

"So what have you spent the last twenty years doing?"

"Living in Europe, or rather moving back and forth between Europe and Bowash. I'm thinking of reforming the United Nations." She said.

Adrian gave a short laugh, "That's a funny joke."

"Oh come now. Things are different this time around." She said.

"It's a pre-plague institution, it won't last."

She rolled her eyes, "Only if we reform it the same way." She shot back.

"I suppose you think you can do it differently?"

"I can try."

"You won't have my support."

"I wasn't asking for it yet." She said, shooting him a cold look, "We can ust keep spinning the same wheels you know."

"And we can't keep living up to old ideals either." He leaned forward. "Is that all?"

"Yep." She said.

"What about your guest?" He motioned to the closed doors behind Thalia.

"Have no idea, was thinking of dumping her here. But that's like giving bones to dogs." She said.

He laughed.

"One more thing, why persecute the vampires?" Her voice had gone the soft cold tone she used when getting angry.

"Don't start with that look," He said, "I have a big problem." He sighed, "Nothing for it. While you were off playing diplomat for human nations we've have some uprising out here in the west. Especially in your precious neutral lands."

"Mine?"

"You claimed them, just because you're absentee doesn't mean Sam and I don't recognize the borders." He said.

"Very well, what about this problem."

"Somewhere around Salt Lake a so called Master Vampire arose and started to mass followers. Some form of cult. He quickly gained strength out there in the wastelands. Only in the last five years has he tried to reach towards the United West. Rumor has it he set up himself as ruler of Denver."

"Denver? I thought that place was still considered bad luck, zombie plague still in the water supply." She said.

"You know how untrue that is."

"About it being taboo or the water?" She smiled, "Look, it was one of the biggest examples of the Century Plague, I wasn't expecting people to go back there for another hundred years."

"Well, leave it to a vampire to not care." He said, if he had lips Thalia would've sworn he would be smiling from ear to ear, "Point is he's got some really strange shit on his side. I've got reports of zombie armies, voodoo magic, vampires actually drinking blood."

"Of course, rumors go wild, legends are reborn, that explains the vampire hunters." She said standing up and walking to where she piled her clothes. She pulled out the stake. "Took this off a hunter that came after Ashlie there." She motioned towards the doors with her chin, "Percy said they coat it with something that combusts with contact to vampire blood?"

"Another rumor of some nature. They might use kerosene. The latest rumor is they use ghoul blood or zombie blood or some such shit." He said.

"What are you doing about it?"

"I studied it, I couldn't find much though. No good samples."

"Marcus might be able to help, he still hides out there doesn't he?"

"If you can find him, I went looking a decade ago when this really started to gain momentum. Never found him." Adrian shrugged and stood.

"I've got my hands full keeping a country together, it's not all roses you know."

"I know." She nodded dropping the stake on the couch. "So, got a place for her?"

"Honestly, a wasteland girl? No." He said.

"Guess I'll keep her then." Thalia shrugged.

"Make her sound like a pet."

"Not funny." She motioned him with a finger.

"Tell me, how come you're the only vampire I've ever seen with a tan?"

She rolled her eyes, "Because I like the sun, and it doesn't seem to hurt my eyes as much as later generations." She said.

"Right. I should be off doing kingly things." He moved towards the door, "You're welcome to stay as long as you want." He said opening the door.

"Don't worry, won't overstay my welcome." He waved him off as he exited the room.

Ashlie awoke after the sun had set, there was a small clock on a table next to the bed, it read twenty three thirty. She wasn't sure where in the day that was but it felt late. She sat up and rubbed the last of the sleep from her eyes.

Twenty minutes later she wandered from the bathroom cleaned up, wearing one of the soft robes. It felt comfortable as she finally opened the doors to the bedroom, not having remembered shutting them, and wandered into the main area.

Thalia was there doing some form of exercise.

"Welcome back to the land of the living." Thalia said.

"What're you doing?" Ashlie asked.

"Tai Chi." Thalia said.

"Oh." Ashlie had no idea what that was, "What time is it?"

"Zero hours." Thalia said coming to a stop.

"I know what the clock says." Ashlie said with a little exasperation, "I just have no idea what time that is."

"Midnight, just after." Thalia smiled.

"Oh."

"We use twenty four hour time here. I normally use it." Thalia said wiping some sweat from her face. Ashlie noticed she was wearing only a pair of shorts and a tight halter top. She watched the sweat glisten on Thalia's body.

"So," She tried to look out the window, "What, um, what now?"

"How do you feel about being a diplomat?" Thalia asked.

"A what?"

"Emmisary, messenger between countries." Thalia sat poured herself a glass of water.

"You mean what you do?" Ashlie asked.

"Yes." Thalia sat down on the couch.

"I don't know, I mean why?"

"Because I can't just leave you here, and I don't have the time to get you all situated. So, I'm asking if you want to join me or wander off on your own." Thalia said.

"I seem trapped." Ashlie wrapped her arms around her shoulders and drew her legs up, "I don't like that."

"I could take you to a small town further north, still inside the United West, where you'd be a bit more comfortable."

"Would you?"

"If you wanted."

Ashlie bit her lip and thought about it for a few minutes. She really didn't want to leave, "You'd really teach me stuff?"

Thalia laughed, "Yes, I would."

"Ok," Ashlie said.

"Good, first order, you came from Salt Lake, what do you know about this Master?"

Ashlie went silent, "He's why I left SL."

"Oh really?" Thalia looked interested.

"He's a fucking bastard." Ashlie shivered remembering the last several years of her life.

"Do tell." Thalia leaned back and settled down.

"I was just some vamp, living out my life in the hell hole around SL. Altered have to keep a very low key. From what I know he came to power a while ago, when I was a little kid." She closed her eyes, "He really came into power like ten years ago. First organizing street gangs and stuff. I was part of that because he didn't persecute or anything. He really accepted us, all altered, but vampires most especially." She sighed, "A little after that he forcibly took over, apparently the street gangs like where I was were just distractions. He already had an army. We were fluff to be used."

"Some of us climbed his ranks, became real soldiers in his army. The girls he liked to recruit to be around him, especially the pretty ones. I got in, I thought it was so great. But he really didn't care about us, he was looking for someone or something." She sniffled, "I split about eight months ago and he hunted me something hard. Hell, he controls half the vampire hunters!" She almost yelled.

"Sorry," She looked away from Thalia, "Anyone he doesn't like or is a threat gets killed. That's it end of story." She sighed.

"So, about these combusting stakes." Thalia asked.

"I don't know what they use, but it's true. Get hit with a coated stake and you burst into flames like a pile of twigs." She said, "Creepy shit."

Thalia stood up, "Well, I'm going to get some sleep tonight. We'll hang out here a few days. I've got some contacts I want to talk to. After that we're going back east."

"Ok," Ashlie said as Thalia walked out of the room, Thalia turned, "Can you teach me to drive the bike?" She asked.

"Good idea." Thalia smiled and turned to sleep.

Ashlie watched Thalia undress and climb into bed before finally getting up and going over to the small kitchen area. She opened the fridge and found very little in the way of actual food. The counter had a bowl of fruit on it though, she grabbed an apple and walked back towards he own bedroom. She took a minute to figure out the remote for the TV and started watching it.

She became engrossed in some of the shows on it, having never really had a chance to watch TV.

 

Thalia woke up shortly before dawn and pulled on the robe she'd left sitting on the end of the bed as she wandered out to the main area. Ashlie was in her room watching the television, "You watch all night?" Thalia asked as she made her way to the kitchen.

"Not like there's much else to do." Ashlie said, "Besides I've never really seen in. This is some cool stuff. Especially this history channel they've got."

"Oh?"

"I learned about the Texas War that was like sixty years ago." Ashlie bounced out of the room, "Weird stuff going on back then." She said.

Thalia pulled a bottle from the fridge, "Orange juice?" She asked.

"Um, sure." Ashlie said.

"So you like history huh?" Thalia asked as she took a few glasses out of the tiny cabinet.

"Never thought about it before last night." Ashlie said, "I mean, I never really had a chance to stop and think about what came before."

"It's certainly interesting." Thalia agreed as she poured.

"So, what's going on today?"

"I need to get some supplies and such, wanna come or do you need to sleep?"

"No, I got a lot of rest yesterday." Ashlie said, "I'd like to come, I wanna know what a big city is like."

Thalia smiled, "Fair enough. Let me shower and we'll go in a few hours." She walked back towards her room with her glass.

Ashlie picked up the orange juice and sniffed it, a small sip to taste it and she decided she liked it and went back to her room to watch some more history.

Somewhere around nine in the morning Ashlie found herself following Thalia through a rather densly packed market crowd. She was stuck between trying to keep up and looking around in awe. Pretty much anything she could imagine, and a lot of things she couldn't, could be found for sale here.

Thalia ducked through some side stretches in the open to the sky bazaar and finally into the open doorway of a low building. Isnide the ceiling had a permanent haze of smoke hovering a few inches from it, just above some slowly turning ceiling fans.

There were tables around the edge of the smallish room, all round with a few chairs each. About half of them were occupied by people, mostly in pairs talking quietly. No one looked up when they walked in.

Thalia lead Ashlie up to the short bar near the back of the room where she sat down, Ashlie sat next to her.

"Whatcha want?" A young man asked her stepping from a thin doorway in the back of the room and up to the bar.

"Need to see Jacko." Thalia said placing a small metal coin on the bar.

He looked down at the coin, up at Thalia and Ashlie and walked away. Thalia put the coin back in her pocket.

Ashlie looked at her questioningly.

"Tell you later." Thalia said softly, Ashlie just nodded.

The man appeared again, "Through there, up stairs, door at the end." He said. Thalia nodded, stood up and followed his directions.

Ashlie was close behind her as Thalia went up the thing staircase. The room at the top was mostly open, but has a short hallway going off to one direction. There were five heavily armed trolls and ghouls sitting around. Two cleaning weapons and three playing cards. All the windows were shuttered with steel shutters as well. They looked at Thalia and then back at there activities.

Thalia went down the short hallway, two doors on either side, and knocked on the door at the end which was closed. Ashlie took a quick look into the four small rooms, three bedrooms and one bathroom. Apparently at least some of the guards slept here at all times.

"Come in." Came a very gruff voice from behind the door. Thalia opened it and entered, Ashlie shut it behind her as she came in.

Inside also had the smoke haze near the ceiling, it was cramped with metal cabinets against the back wall, a couch to the left of the door and a small bar to the right. The middle of the room was occupied by a huge wood desk that had to be up here when the walls were put in because there was no way it fit through the door or the hallway they just came from.

"Thalia." The old orc sitting at the desk said, "Twenty years and you don't look a day over thirty. I gotta learn that secret." He said with a grunt and a smile as he picked up a cigar, "What the hell do you want?" He motioned for them to sit on the couch.

Ashlie sat down after Thalia motioned for her to take the end of the couch away from the door, Thalia sat down herself. "Still do black market out into the badlands?" She asked him.

"Bears shit in the woods?" He shot back at her.

"Still traffic people?"

"Why," He looked over at Ashlie, "You got one you're selling?"

Thalia glanced at Ashlie out of the corner of her, the girl had gone pale, "No." Thalia said coldly.

"Yes." He said sitting back in his chair which groaned. Ashlie looked the old orc over, bald head, wide shoulders but thin body, he must be tall if his long torso was any indication.

"I need what you've got on this Master Vampire operating out of Salt Lake." She crossed one leg over her knee.

"Oh really?" He leaned forward, pressing the tips of his fingers together under his chin, "And what do you have for me?" He eyed her.

"What do you need?" She asked him.

He laughed, "What if I wanted that pretty little vamp hainging off your arm there?" He pointed at Ashlie with his cigar.

"I'd break your neck twice before you even knew I'd left the couch." Thalia said smiling at him. His smile disappeared immediately.

He leaned back again and opened a drawer, pulling out a manila folder he tossed it to the end of the desk, "That." He said gravely.

Thalia reached forward and picked up the envelope, she opened it and studied the contents for a minute. A single piece of paper and a photograph. "How many attempts so far?"

"Seven."

"Favorite hangout."

"Burlies bar, always got at least seven friends with him."

"I'll need to borrow some weapons from the boys out front." Thalia said.

"When."

"He there now?"

"Probably."

"Give me an hour." Thalia put the envelope back on the desk, "I'll come back for everything you've got on the master." She put her hands on the desk and leaned forward, "Everything." She repeated slowly. He just nodded.

Thalia stood up strait and looked down at Ashlie, "Come on." She motioned for her to follow and went back to the front room.

"Hey boys, need to borrow a few toys." Thalia said opening a thin wooden cabitnet bolted to the wall, she pulled out a pair of semiautomatic handguns and a long sword. One of the trolls peered down the hallway at Jacko through the still open door. He shrugged and looked back at his cards, "Jacko says cool." He said looking at his hand. The others relaxed.

Thalia pulled her jacket off and put a double shoulder holster on and holstered the guns. She put her jacket back on and looked at Ashlie "Fire a gun?"

Ashlie nodded, she'd fired them before.

"Get one." Thalia said motioning to the cabinet as she unsheathed the sword to check it's sharpness. Ashlie looked at the cabinet and pulled out a nine millimeter pistol, she found a shoulder holster in a pile on the table next to the cabinet and took a minute to adjust it down to her smaller size. She put the holstered gun under her jacket and followed Thalia's lead. She really wasn't sure she wanted to do this.

As they walked back out of the bar Ashlie looked up at Thalia, "We really going to walk in and kill this guy?"

"Yep."

"I thought you were a diplomat."

"Between nations yes, for the underground I'm a very good assassin and all around badass." Thalia said leading Ashlie through the crowd.

"So what's the plan?" Ashlie asked, though a knot in her stomach told her she really didn't want the answer.

Thalia stopped at a booth in the market and picked up a small handbag that closed on the top. She pulled out some cash bought it, "Here." She handed the bag to Ashlie.

"Why do I now want the answer to the previous question?"

Thalia made sure the sword was secure on her back as they made their way out of the market and down a small side street. "We're walking in, I'm killing anything that looks dangerous and we're aquisitioning the targets head." Thalia said, "I cut and kill, you bag and we split." Thalia smiled.

Ashlie went even more pale than normal, "I really don't know if I'm up to this."

"You got two choices at the moment," Thalia said, "Follow and leave." She stopped in front of a door, it was the right bar.

Ashlie looked around quickly, "Well.." She motioned at the door.

Thalia smiled and went inside, Ashlie followed close behind.

Thalia took a moment to scan the room and went off to her right, Ashlie was only three steps behind and watched the room closely. "Barton, Jacko says it's time to pay up." Thalia said as she approached a table near one corner.

Everyone had time to blink once before Thalia drew her guns. Ashlie had never seen anyone move that fast. Thalia had fired four rounds, all finding a fatal mark, before anyone even moved. And then there was an explosion of movement as guns were drawn and fired. Ashlie just ducked down into a crouch and pulled her own weapon. She saw Thalia out of the corner of her eye, nothing more than a blur of motion now.

Thalia swung around and put bullets into anything that looked threatening, moving in a very tight circle as she stepped around a table between her and her target. She looked very calm as bullets started to fly. As she came back around to face Barton she simply shot everyone at the table before stepping up onto a chair and whirling back around as she stepped onto the table itself.

Four others in the room were shot dead by Thalia's deadly accurate aim before there was quiet. Thalia scanned the room, guns still drawn and pointed. She stood up strait, holstered her weapons and drew the sword. One swift arc of the blade and Barton's head seperated. "Bag." Thalia said as she hopped off the table and continued to watch what was left of the living.

Ashlie stood and scrambled over to the table, having difficulty rehosltering her weapon through the adrenaline rush, and put the bad on the table. She took one extra second to secure her gun before reaching out and picking up the dripping head by the hair and stuffing it into the bag. She zipped it closed, "Done." She said stepping away, trying to put down the urge to vomit. Thalia started to walk out of the place.

"What the fuck?!" The bartender called out.

"Ask Jacko, I'm just here to collect." Thalia said over her shoulder as Ashlie ducked out the door and into the street.

"Run." Thalia said pushing Ashlie forward, they took off. Ashlie had a bit of a hard time keeping up with Thalia who moved like liquid through the crowd.

They went inside to the first bar and right upstairs. Once at the top Ashlie dropped the bag on an empty end table near the hall entrance and caught her breath.

"Bathroom is the second door on the right." Thalia said pulling her jacket off. Ashlie nodded and stumbled that way, the adrenaline wearing off. She closed the door and tried to breath smoothly.

Thalia smiled as she took the guns and sword off. She unsheathed the weapon to properly clean it and let the guns on the table for the moment. Jacko came out of the back room and into the front.

"Fuck, twenty minutes?" He asked as he unzipped the bag, "Jesus lady." He said.

"I work fast." Thalia said, they could hear Ashlie vomiting through the thin wood walls, "Kids new." She said putting her jacket back on.

"I see." Jacko zipped the bag back up and motioned to one of his guards, "Disappear that." He said.

One of the trolls stood and took the bag, "Nice." He said in passing to Thalia as he went down the stairs and out the back door.

"How long do I have to wait?" Thalia looked at him.

"Gimme a few hours to put a file together." Jacko said going back into his office and slamming the door shut.

Thalia looked at the other body guards, "So who'd I just knock off?" She asked casually.

"Barton? Low level pusher looking to muscle in on Jacko's trade." One of the ghouls responded, "Did the world a favor, he likes little boys a little too much." He shrugged.

"Not like I needed a reason but I feel good about it now." Thalia smiled and pulled a chair out, she leaned back and put her legs up on the windowsill.

"So, who are you and where'd you come from?" The ghoul asked.

"I'm Thalia, I come from nowhere." She said looking out the window at the other buildings and streets below. Ashlie came out of the bathroom looking drained. Thalia motioned to a chair opposite her on the table she was sitting near. Ashlie slumped down into it and lay her head on her arms.

"Feeling ok?" Thalia asked her, a side glanced confirmed that the guards were in fact stifling laughter.

"Sort of." Ashlie said, "You know, it's one thing to kill a zombie, or shoot a guy and stuff. Done plenty of that. But cut off some stuffers head and carry it in a bag?" She took a deep breath, "That's a whole new level for me."

"Welcome to my world." Thalia said, "I'll kill anything between me and my goal." She wasn't smiling as she said that.

"You move so fucking fast." Ashlie said, "I mean, Fast." She emphasized.

Thalia shrugged.

Ashlie sat up, "Look, I don't mean to pry or anything but people don't move that fast. Not even vampires, I know we're fast and all, but holy shit. Four dead and I didn't even know you'd drawn your guns." Ashlie was looking at Thalia.

Thalia looked at her, then at the guards who had taken some notice, "It's a talent." Thalia said casually.

//00000010 Desert Dreams//

They walked out of the bar a few hours later, Thalia had a small file folder under her arm. They made their way back to their room where Thalia walked over to the kitchen area and dropped the folder on the counter, "We're eating and then cut out around sunset." Thalia said.

"What for?"

"Overstayed my welcome." Thalia said.

"This morning?" Ashlie pulled out a stool and sat on it, opposite Thalia on the other side of the counter.

"Yep. Law will notice in a few hours, rumor mill will start, it'll trickle up and poof - welcome worn out." Thalia pulled some butter our and a box of noodles down from a cabinet.

"Oh." Ashlie said, "Good to remember."

"If you're going to go on a killing spree be prepared to leave quickly. We've got some time because I'm in nice with the local government." Thalia said, "We'll get a head start out of town, and it'll be forgotten in a year or so." She started to boil some water. "Now, let's see what we've got here." She opened the file folder and pulled out several pieces of paper.

As the afternoon turned towards evening there came a knock on the door.

"Open." Thalia called, she'd spread out the papers on the couch and was sitting cross legged on the floor in the center of the room. Ashlie was sitting on one end of a couch with a notepad and pen.

"Didn't even wait a full day." Adrian said coming into the room and shutting the door behind him.

"Needed information, been gone too long to barter with any decent info of my own." Thalia said, "Tuscon, April." Thalia said over her shoulder to Ashlie who made several notes on some paper, flipping back and forth a couple times.

"Makes nine." She said.

"What the hell is this?"

"Sales inventory, various products, between the Vampire and various markets in town." She said.

"I see."

"I'm curious, and I don't like him on principle." Thalia said, "We'll be gone by sundown." Thalia place the paper she was looking at on a pile to her left.

"I have a feeling some of my problems in the wasteland will be reduced in the near future."

"Depends, I could fail."

"I doubt it."

"Overconfidence is the downfall of many a tyrant." Thalia picked up another paper.

"You're hardly overconfident, just psychotic." He sneered, "You going with her then?" He looked at Ashlie.

"I've seen his operation up close." Ashlie said.

"Well then, you can expect no harrasment from The Law." Adrian said.

"That'll be helpful." Thalia said looking up at him, "Besides, I only kill bad guys."

"What if I told you you're one of the most evil things I've ever known."

"I'd say thank you." Thalia smiled, "Where was the last place you looked for Marcus?"

"Rumors put him near Roswell." Adrian said.

"Took him long enoguh to get there."

"i didn't think it was his first trip."

"Probably not. There's nothing there in case you're wondering."

"Wasn't." He turned to leave, "Need any supplies?"

"Non-perishable easy to carry food would be nice."

"I'll have something sent up in a care package." He said and left the room.

"What was that all about?"

"Which? Us leaving? He can't harbor us because that'd be going against his own laws, bad form there. But he doesn't want to hinder us because I'm going to help him with a problem he's got on his borders."

"No, the Roswell and Marcus thing." She said.

"Ah, Marcus is an old friend of ours, turned hermit a while back." She said, "Santa Fe, July." She said placing the piece of paper in a pile behind her.

Ashlie made some notes and looked through again, "Fifteen, high activity."

"Roswell is an old town, long abandoned."

"What's significant about it?"

"Before the Plague it was rurmored that aliens were housed there."

"Aliens? Like flying saucer shit?"

"Yep."

"And?"

"Nothing there." Thalia put her hands on her knees, "We're starting in New Mexico, his activity is way too high compared to other areas down there." She said standing up, "Let's clean this up, keep it organized." She said.

Ashlie put the clipboard to one side and help Thalia organize the files back into one pile. Ashlie put the files back into the folder.

"Ok, since it'll be the last chance for a while I have a feeling I'm taking a nice hot shower before we split." Thalia said going towards the bedroom.

The sun sank low as the exited the building and went to Thalia's bike. Ashlie stashed the folder in one of the saddle bags while Thalia out their replenished food supply in the other.

"Nice night for a ride." Thalia said.

Ashlie shrugged as she stood, "Ok, he said no trouble from The Law." Ashlie said as Thalia got on the bike, "What about any friends of the guy we offed today?"

"Little worries about him, it'll take a day for them to track down where I am. It's Jacko we need to worry about." Thalia said as Ashlie got on behind her.

"Why Jacko?"

"He knows I'm gunning for one of his buyers, wouldn't do for him to allow me to hamper his business." Thalia said as she backed the bike out of the small covered parking area.

"I hadn't thought of that."

"You're new." Thalia said looked behind her, "Hold tight, I'm gonna make a nice end run through the city as fast as I can."

"If I fall off?" Ashlie was almost afraid of the answer.

"Don't." Thalia said as she rolled through the gate and onto the main road, and then sped up as she passed through the city streets.

Thalia brough the bike to a skidding halt, planting her foot as she swung the back around. She dropped one foot to prevent the bike from falling as she brought the shotgun up and fired. The slug blew a hole in the dirvers chest of the small buggy following them, his violent reaction caused it to swerve into the ditch off to the side, flipping over and crushing the passenger who'd barely had time to register what was going on.

Ashlie clung onto Thalia's waist, leaning heavily on her trying not to fall off. Thalia brought her other hand up and chambered another round on the pump action weapon and replaced it in the side holster just behind Ashlie's leg.

"You still alive?" She placed a hand on Ashlie's leg.

Ashlie pulled herself into a more upright position, "So far." She whispered.

"Two miles up we should be able to pull off with some cover." Thalia said as she pressed the trigger throttle and brought the bike back around to face the road and took off again, Ashlie simply leaned forward into Thalia and hand on.

Thalia pulled off the road in a could of dust and parked behind an abaonded squat building made of stucco. She steadied Ashlie as she got off the bike, not letting the girl fall. "Ok, swing your left leg, don't aggrevate the wound." She helped Ashlie off the bike and had to hold her up as she almost collapsed.

"Can't stand." Ashlie said, "I think I lost too much.."

"Nah, it just hurts." Thalia said guiding Ashlie to a half broken bench behind the building. She settled Ashlie down and removed her leather jacket. "Ok kiddo, let's see the damage." She slid her hand up Ashlie's leg until she found the entry wound, "New pants too." Thalia looked up at Ashlie who simply looked done in.

"Relax, don't move."

Ashlie lifted one hand, "No goin' nowhere." She said softly. Thalia went back to the bike and pulled a canteen out and removed her sunglasses. She also grabbed a spare clip for her now empty handgun and a small medkit.

"Life around me is fun." Thalia said as she looked at Ashlie's wound, "Small caliber, bullet is probably still in your leg. Next town I'll remove it." She poured some water on Ashlie's leg and wiped the wound clean with a rag from the medkit, "Reload this." She handed Ashlie the gun and clip. Ashlie concentrated on reloading the weapon as Thalia wrapped a bandage around it. "Ever been shot before?"

"Just stabbed, beaten and bitten." Ashlie said.

"Which is the worst?"

"Tie between a tire iron and a bullet." Ashlie said.

"Not a good job but that'll get us far enough." Thalia stood, "Tire iron huh?"

"Yeah." Ashlie handed her the gun and tapped the spare clip, "Now you know why I left the esteemed Master Vampire of the Wastelands." She tried to smile.

"So, going after him is part personal?"

"Fuck no, I don't wanna go near him." She said.

"Then why are you?"

"'Cuz you are." She said, "I'm your apprentice remember?"

"So you are." Thalia holstered her weapon and helped Ashlie up, "Ok kid, back on the bike and we'll find a place to rest for the day." She said.

As dawn approached Thalia rolled the bike into a small town about a mile off the main road. It contained a dozen buildings or so, and one road. Several more houses could be seen a bit further from the main section, and a small park of ancient cobbled together trailer homes.

Thalia stopped in front of a building that professed to be a Traveler's Inn. She wondered how often travelers actually came here. It was two stories and moderately long, she shrugged, apparently enough to warrant a coupld dozen rooms.

She dismounted and got Ashlie settled into the drivers half of the seat, Ashlie leaned back and closed her eyes, "Be right back." Thalia said and went inside.

She came out a few minutes later with a set of keys, "Ok, got a first floor room." She said and helped Ashlie off the bike, "Take it slow, don't want to reopen it too soon." She said putting her arm around Ashlie and helping her walk to the room. She seated Ashlie on the bed, "Ok, I'm gonna get our stuff, be right back." Ashlie only nodded and lay back on the bed.

Thalia drove the bike right up to near the door and undid the restraints holding the side saddle's on. She pulled them off and brought them into the room one at a time. The room had a long shelf about waste height running the length of the wall opposite the bed, she put both bags on it and flipped them open.

"Give me a minute to set up." She said pulling out her medkit, a knife and several other implements.

"Sure." Ashlie said, "This is gonna hurt isn't it?"

"Worse than it going in." Thalia said, "Look on the bright side, vampires rarely scar."

"Yay." Ashlie said.

Thalia came over to her and unwrapped the bandage on her leg, "Not so bad." She said and dropped it on the shelf. She closed the curtains and took off her sunglasses. "Let's get these pants off so I don't have to cut them anymore than they already are." She said unbuckling Ashlie's belt. She pulled off Ashlie's boots and slowly slid her pants down and dropped them at the other end of the bed. She went into the bathroom, "Running water would be too much to ask for." She said, "I've gotta get a basin." She came back into the main room with a large shallow bowl. "Back in a second." She went outside and looked for the well, it was off to the other side of the front office.

Thalia was back in the room ten minutes later and place the bowl of water on the shelf, she took a small towel from her kit and wet it, then wiped the dried blood from Ashlie's leg.

"Not very deep, didn't hit at a good angle." She said. She pulled out a bottle of clear liquid and poured it's contents over a large knife, spilling it into the bowl.

"What's that smell?" Ashlie asked, she hadn't looked down since Thalia cleaned her leg.

"Alcohol." She came back over to the bed, "Here, bite." She handed Ashlie a small rubber rod shaped like a bone.

"What?"

"Bite down, this is going to hurt." Thalia showed her the knife, "Going to cut a bit and pull out the bullet." She said holding a pair of decent sized tweezers in the other hand.

"Fuck me." Ashlie said and bit down on the rubber bone.

Thalia cut a thin slice over the wound and dropped the knife, Ashlie screamed through the bone in her mouth as Thalia simply opened the wound with one hand and pushed the tweezers in with the other, a moment later she pulled out the bullet and stood up. She dropped the round on the table and the tweezers in the bowl of water. She pulled out the rag again pressed it on Ashlie's wound, putting Ashlie's hand on it, "Press."

Ashie pressed down on her leg and spit out the bone, "Dammit." She said with tears in her eyes.

"Better than the alternative of infection." Thalia said getting a fresh roll of bandage out. She quickly wrapped the wounded tightly and dropped the bloody rag into the bowl.

"I got lucky huh?" Ashlie said as Thalia cleaned her tools.

"You didn't fall off." She said.

"Yeah." Ashlie agreed and crawled slowly up the so she lay more comfortably on it. "Can I pass out now?"

"Go for it," Thalia said. Ashlie was out in less than five minutes.

Thalia put everything away and cleaned Ashlie's pants of the blood, not to mentio her own, Ashlie had managed to bleed over pretty much everything. She shook her head and went out to clean the bike's seat as well, and the ferring. "Wow kid, yer a bleeder." She said to herself.

At noon she was sitting against one of the posts in front of the inn, one leg streched in front of her, looking at an old map. She had a small bag of nuts next to her she was munching from periodically.

She noted there weren't any people wandering around at all, but she saw some movement through windows in some of the buildings. She figured the town was probably mostly altered, judging from the ghoul that owned the Traveler's Inn, and possibly nocturnal. She never understood the altered's pattern of coming out almost only at night. Sure vampires had light sensitive eyes, and some ghouls had albino reactions to sunlight. But orcs and trolls didn't have any such problems.

A figure came out of the building labeled Tavern House across and up the street a ways. Thalia watched him out of the corner of her eye, sublty undoing the strap on her gun as she did so. It was facing away from him so he mostly likely didn't notice.

She opened the map a bit further, and refolded it to show the roads she wanted as she plotted a course. Twenty years gone, she probably had to remap everything, towns went ghost and repopulated all the time out here. Unless they went zombie, in which case it was a long time before anyone went near them again.

The figure crossed over about halfway between her and where he came out and continued on towards where she sat. As he approached she noted he was a rather large troll, well over six feet tall. He stopped a few feet from her and stared.

Thalia at a fews nuts, studied her map and then folded it over, "Can I help you?" She asked him.

"Don't get many humans here." He said gruffly, if she didn't know better he wanted to start a fight.

Thalia turned her head towards him and cocked her sunglasses down so he could see her eyes, "I'd imagine not." She said placing them back up to cover her eyes.

"Awfully tanned for a vampire." He said examining her bare arms and shoulders. She wore her tank top only, the heat causing her to sweat lightly.

"I like the sun." She said putting her map to one side and looking up at him.

"Yer nice pretty thing." He said scratching his stubbled chin with a clawed hand.

"Thank you." She said lacing her figners on her knee, her leg being up prevented him from seeing the gun on her thigh from his angle. "Is there a reason you're staring at me?" She asked him after a minute of silence.

"Nah." He said, turned and trundled off down the way a bit and into a room seven doors down.

Thalia shoock her head, "Never get drunk before noon." She said to herself picking up the map again.

Ashlie woke up sometime after dark and almost forgot she was injured. Moving brought a sharp pain to her leg, "Ow." She said out loud as she fell back. When the pain became a simple dull ache she slowly got up out of bed and found her clothes. It took her the better part of twenty minutes to get her pants on and dress. Thalia wasn't in the room. The air was still hot from the day, it must've gotten well over a hundred. She left her tshirt untucked as she limped out of the room.

Thalia was sitting on the ground in front of her bike with a set of tools, no sunglasses so she could actually see in the dark.

"You're alive." Thalia said without looking up as Ashlie stumbled forward and leaned one of the posts in front of the hotel.

"Is that was this is?" She asked half sarcastically.

"How's your leg?"

"Hurst." Ashlie said.

"You do that often?"

"What?"

"Cut bullets out of people, you seemed awefully prepared for it."

Thalia gave a short laugh, "I'm prepared for a lot of things." She said, "Out here mostly I'm prepared to kill and prepared to fix myself so I don't get killed." She said tightening several bolts on her bike.

"How long we going to stay here?"

"Proably should leave soon," Thalia put her tools back in it's case, "Though they'll expect us to move soon after dark." She said standing up and patting the dirt off her legs.

"How far after dark is it?"

"Less than an hour." Thalia picked up and closed the small case of tools and slid it back into place in a small space on the side opposite the shotgun holster.

"When will we leave?"

"Fews hours before dawn." Thalia said, "I need some sleep." She went into the room.

"What can I do?" Ashlie followed her back inside.

"Do me a favor," Thalia pulled out her maps and put the one of New Mexico on the table, "Write down a course going through every town a trade was done in and why." She said, "I want to see if there's a pattern in this area. He's got way to much interest down there for being based out of Salt Lake." She said.

Ashlie sat down in one of the rather uncomfortable chairs, her bad leg stretched out, and pulled the envelope close to her. She watched Thalia strip down out of the corner of her eye. She wasn't able to really concentrate until Thalia had climbed under the beds single sheet and gone to sleep.

She spent several hours looking over numbers, relooking over numbers and generally confusing herself. Eventually it occured to her to get some paper for each town and mark dates on them. She didn't want to draw directly on the map, which was made of some sort of plastic material. Eventually she did notice the pattern, a town was only used for a few months before it was abandoned, moving onwards to the next town. From what she could tell they were moving towards a city called Albuquerque, one she'd heard of. A massive barter town was completely indenpendant, legends held of mighty warriors crushing any who might try and take it by force.

She sighed and put all the notes in order to make sense of them.

Thalia woke up four hours after Ashlie had started in on the notes. She rolled over in the bed and sat up, "I hate nightmares." She said flatly as she got up and dressed.

"Nightmares?" Ashlie looked at her from across the room.

"Yeah." Thalia responded, "What'd you find?"

"He's moving around New Mexico, probably looking for something."

"What's his general pattern?"

"Moving in towards Albuquerque."

"Not good." Thalia sighed, "We're starting there."

"Not following his footsteps?"

"Nope."

"Good." Ashlie gathered the papers up.

"Take it you don't like him?"

"If I never meet him or any of his flunkies again it'll be too soon." Ashlie said coldly.

"Not even for revenge?"

"Against what?"

"Tire irons." Thalia pulled her boots on.

"Revenge is for stupid people, or dead people. I'm neither, I'd be happy enough to be left alone." She slid the papers into the file folder.

"Smart girl." Thalia stood and pulled her jacket on, "Come one, we need to make speed." She said making sure everything was packed in the bags.

They sped on through the night moving as fast as Thalia could see. Ashlie's leg ached from being bent after an hour and she tapped Thalia on the shoulder.

Thalia pulled over and looked back.

"My leg is killing me." Ashlie said by way of explanation.

"You can stretch it out, but wait until we're on cruise control." Thalia said.

"On what?"

"I'll tap your knee when you can stretch, put your boot heel on that peg." She pointed to the peg her foot was resting on, she'd put her own leg up on the highway bars. Ashlie nodded.

Thalia sped off again and tapped Ashlie lightly when she was going at a good speed. Ashlie was relieved and immediately felt her muscles relax as she stretched her leg out. She leaned back on the seat back and let the wind rush over her. She could get used to this she thought.

It was mid morning before they stopped again, mostly to allow Ashlie to stretch her leg and use it a bit. They had a small meal of nuts and jerky, Ashlie didn't ask what kind of meat they were provided in San Angeles.

"How long to Albuquerque?" Ashlie asked.

"Day or so, if I can keep speed." She answered.

Albuquerque, a massive barter city built on a collective idea: Ain't No One Taking This Land. It works on a collective mutually assured destruction anarchy basis. No one runs it, and no one will. The merchants hold power, but only over small section and some people. Violence tends to run rampant in parts, no so much in others. The center is a massive hub of trade through the entire wasteland and southern regions. They even kept the airport open just in case. It hasn't been used in a couple of hundred years, but you never know.

The motorcycle came to a stop in the middle of the street.

"What?" Ashlie asked as Thalia got off.

"Need to check a map." Thalia said, she crouched down and opened up the saddle back on the left. Unzipped a flat compartment in the top flap she pulled out an old piece of flat metal. On it was etched a small map.

She put it on the ground and got out a compass, putting it on a circle drawn on the map she rotated them both until the compass found North.

She stood up, looked around and then down at the map. "Got it." She said and put her materials away, "Ride will get a bit bumpy but shouldn't be bad." She told Ashlie as she got back on the bike and left the road.

Out into the desert, and up into some hills, Ashlie clenched her teeth at every jerking bump as they progressed. There weren't many but they all hurt the same, it seemed as soon as the pain subsided another heavy bounce came.

Finally the land smoothed to a small stretch of road that led up to what could only be described as a tiny temple. A small cabin hidden behind fir trees, rock and sky.

"What is this?"

"A church of Orun." Thalia said parking the bike off to one side under a sturdy cover, it looked ancient but still solid.

"You mean the guy the Orcs worship?" Ashlie asked as they dismounted.

"Yep, though worship isn't quite the right term." She said walking up towards the cabin.

"Wait up," Ashlie protested as she hobbled after Thalia, her leg was killing her.

"We'll rest up for a day here, get your leg a bit better." Thalia said.

"Glad I'm not useless after being shot." Ashlie said as an offhand remark.

Thalia turned to her as she came up, "If you weren't on the bike that bullet would be in my lower back. It'd be awful stupid, not to mention short sighted, of me to drop you because of a simple injury." Ashlie just shrugged, "Besides, we're vampires, we heal fast." She patted Ashlie on the shoulder and turned back to the cabin. "Specifically, this is the first church of Orun." Thalia looked at the door and then around a bit. "Ah." She walked over to a small stone lantern at the edge of the porch.

"The first? No shit." Ashlie said, "Way I hear Orcs tell it the first church is some revered place that's lost and should stay that way."

"Well, Orun was a smart guy like that." Thalia said standing back up with a small key in her hand.

"How much do you know about Orun?" She asked as she inserted the ancient key into the lock and opened the door.

"He was one of the first four that brought the Century Plague that created the Altered. If the stories are right, they saved mankind."

"Heh." Thalia went inside, "Nice to see the edge wasn't taken off to much. I bet the details are just all fucked though." Thalia waved Ashlie in after her.

"Should we be doing this? It's holy ground, or something." She stepped tentatively in after Thalia.

"Hasn't been touched in a long while." Thalia noted the heavy layer of dust on the wooden floor. "Yeah, it's fine. I know the guy." She closed the door behind them.

"Right." Ashlie let the comment pass, wondering if Thalia wasn't insane. "You know a God."

"Tell the legend." Thalia said as she looked around the place, the furniture thankfully had dust covers on it.

Ashlie rolled her eyes, "The four Gods, or some just call them Immortals, caused the Century Plague to save mankind from an even deadlier disease."

Thalia was busy rolling a tarp off of a couch as Ashlie talked.

"They created the four Altered Races, unbelievers tried to stop them, causing the Fifth Altered race to appear, zombies, who really aren't more than victims of the Century Plague anyway." Ashlie sighed.

"Have a seat." Thalia motioned to the comfortable looking couch she just uncovered.

"Thanks." Ashlie sat down and stretched out, "Oh this feels good."

"That all?"

"No," Ashlie sighed, "The Immortals dispersed. Orun the master Orc formed a religion to keep the information clean. He is the teacher. Goull and Rankesh formed great nations, whose ancsestors still rule today. Reimann disappeared, some stating he went off to cure other lands, some say he became a traveling warrior." Ashlie finished.

"Interesting." Thalia had cleared a large leather chair and settled into it. "Close. Good enough I suppose." She smiled and leaned back. She removed her sunglasses and tucked them into a pocket on her jacket.

"Close? Good Enough? Sorry I'm no damn scholar." Ashlie shot back.

"Reimann is a she." Thalia said.

"Details." Ashlie relaxed, "Anyway, it's a big thing with the Master. He's after something the Orun's have or know."

"Oh really." Thalia looked interested.

Ashlie gave a heavy sigh. "Yeah, that's the way I hear it."

Thalia stood up, "I'll be back in a moment. Bedroom is in that door." She pointed to the door closes to the back left corner of the cabin.

"Cool," Ashlie said, but didn't move.

Thalia went to a door that was in a partition in the middle of the house, divining the kitchen area from the other side, and lifted a metal cover in the wall. She put her hand on the glass plate there after wiping the dust away. A soft barely noticeable light scanned her hand and a click was heard. She opened the door to reveal a thing staircase going down. She went into the basement.

Thalia came up a few hours later and closed the door behind her. She smiled when she noticed Ashlie had simply fallen asleep on the couch. She disappeared into the bedroom and found a blanket in the closet.

The kitchen was unsurprisingly completely empty of anything edible. An ancient can of tomato soup sat alone in a cabinet, she left it there. Then she remembered the emergency cache in the airtight container. Pulling up a small section of floor in front of the stove she noted it was sealed. The small keypad lit up with the same low light of the scanner as she tapped in the code. There was a pop and a hiss as the top came up and slid back on it's own. Inside was fairly empty, but it contained a small bag of ground coffee and several MREs. "Coffee." She whispered and left the prepackaged meals after lifting up one of the bags of coffee. She resealed the container and repalced the floor.

 

Ashlie awoke agains sometime after dark, the front door was open and a strong but not unappealing smell was coming from the porch out front. She staggered up, lamented the stiff leg again, and hobbled out, trying to get her leg to respond properly.

Thalia was sitting on an old wooden chair, tipped back with her legs on the railing, crossed at the ankle. In her hand was a mug, out in the small dirt yard a fire pit was burning low with a pot over it.

"Coffee?" Thalia asked Ashie as she stepped onto the porch.

"Sure." Ashlie said with little actual conviction.

Thalia hopped down, have a seat," She motioned to another chair as she stepped into the yard to grab the pot. She pulled it off it's stand and poured a black liquid into another tin cup.

"No sugar, or milk." Thalia said handing Ashlie the mug, "But this shouldn't need it." She sat back down in her own chair and picked her mug back up.

"Thanks." Ashlie sat down in the chair and stared out at the scenery before them, "How do you know Reimann was a she?"

"How many vampires do you know with pure black eyes." Thalia asked without looking over, she still had her glasses off.

"None." Ashlie shrugged, "Why?"

"Not even the might and powerful Master?"

"No." Ashlie shook her head then looked over at Thalia. "No." She said again.

"Oh but I am." Thalia said

"Fuck." Ashlie and shrunk into her chair a little bit.

"You got pretty much everything right, nice to see some history lasting." Thalia commented.

Ashlie spent the next few days resting and exercising her leg to get it to heal faster. Thalia simply went through exercise routines, took apart and cleaned her bikes engine and cat naps.

"Come on." Thalia said a few hours before sundown on the second day.

"Where we going?" Ashlie said, she hadn't talked much the last two days.

"SD Labs." Thalia said, "I need some info on what the Master might be looking for."

"The Blood." Ashlie said as they walked to the bike.

"The what?" Thalia looked at her.

"The Blood. He's looking for what he calls The Blood. He's making a zombie army." Ashlie folded her arms and hugged her torso, not looking at Thalia.

Thalia walked over to Ashlie and touched her chin, pulling her head to stare directly at Thalia, "Say that again."

"He figured out how to control zombies." Ashlie's lip quivered.

"How?" Thalia's voice had gone cold.

"Blood, not everyone's blood, he found that certain vampires blood can be fed to zombies and they become semi-lucid. And addicted, they'll do anything to get more."

"And you know this..."

"Because I was a bleeder." A tear slid down Ashlie's cheek. "He's hunting me because my blood works." He voice was breaking.

"No wonder you just want to run away." Thalia said, "Ok, then. Get on we've gone some serious information digging. I need to know how." She got on the bike.

Ashlie stood there.

"Look, I will not let you go back to that." Thalia said with sincerity. "Help me stop him, so others don't end up like you."

"But.." Ashlie looked at Thalia, "He's powerful."

"And I'm the fucking God of Vampires." Thalia said, "Trust me, anything gets in my way is dead meat." She just stared from behind mirrored lenses. Ashlie got on the back of the bike.

"Promise?"

"Yes." Thalia took off in a cloud of dust and headed down out of the hills quickly.

Somewhere outside Albuquerque proper Thalia stops the bike. They're in front of a series of low flat buildings.

"Welcome to what's left of San Dias Labs." Thalia got off the bike and walked up to the door of one of the buildings. The place looked pretty abandoned and the worse for wear.

Ashlie followed closely behind as Thalia led her through corridors.

"How is there power here?" Ashlie asked as they passed an old wall clock still ticking away in circles.

"San Dias is the home of the worlds second fully working fusion reactor, and currently the worlds oldest working one. That's why Albuquerque became such a power in this region, unlimited power pumped into for over three hundred years." Thalia said.

"Uh huh." Ashlie said, as if any of that made sense to her. Most of the wastelands had no power at all.

They came to an elevator, Thalia pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and tapped a code into the keypad, the door opened.

Ashlie watched the number increase, though they knew they had to be going down. The elevator stopped and opened up to a large hallway with doors running down the length of each side. Branchs could be seen to come off at even intervals. Many of the doors were open, some papers were scattered on the floor. There was a general feeling of mild disarray to the area. Thalia simply stepped forward, as she did so lights came out going down the length of the hall, some of the bulbs were burned out.

Ashlie followed Thalia who seemed to know exactly where she was going and went there quickly. They turned down a few hallways, the lights went on in front of them as they walked. Ashlie stole a glance behind her, the lights weren't going off.

Finally they came to a small office and went in. It seemed relatively neat compare to the other offices in the area, though most were empty. There were papers and notes that appeared to have been in actual use the last time someone was here, Thalia sat at the desk and started to look over them. Ashlie looked around and waited.

"What're we looking for?" Ashlie said.

"I've a feeling that whatever the Master is looking for is in here. The place doesn't come up in modern conversation, thus it is effectively forgotten buried legend."

"What is this place?"

"Research facility for anything from combat programs to power reactors, flight systems, you name it. Government research and military facility."

"Oh." Ashlie again let a bunch of garbage go past, to her government was whomever was bigger than the last guy, and no one just set up places for people to think.

"Come one, we've got to go down to one of the labs for the actual notes I want." She said dropping the papers on the desk.

"When was the last time someone was here?" Ashlie asked.

"The papers were dated a little under fifty years ago." Thalia said.

"So, what 280CP or something?" Ashlie asked.

"Uh," Thalia thought for a second, "Yeah, about right, little older." She said, she'd never really adopted the Century Plague year count. That and she knew they started counting about five years to late but wasn't of the mind to try and correct anyone.

"So what are we going to do to stop him?"

"First we find out what it is we're stopping." Thalia said as they walked down the halls towards a series of doors.

"I told you..."

"No, you told me the end effect." Thalia said, "I want to know what it is he's actually looking for." Thalia said. "I have a feeling a zombie army is just the tip of the iceberg with this guy." They made a turn into a series of labs. One of them had a silent hum.

"No shit." Thalia said turning on a monitor, the LCD came to life. "This things been on and running for a long ass time. Gotta love UNIX." She smirked at a joke she go and Ashlie didn't even bother trying.

Thalia pulled up some files and started to read through notes and journals kept on the machine. Ashlie started to look around and wandered a bit to another lab.

Ashlie waited as the time crept by, Thalia was working on her second hour with the ancient machine. She'd made sure she kept track of where she was versus where Thalia was, the place was one big maze of rooms. Nevermind it seemed to be organized in even rows, there was no sense of direction down here for her to keep track of.

"Well well well." A rough male voice said as Ashlie was looking at statues of a stuffed created, she thought it might be an owl, on a desk. She jerked upright and spun around.

Her eyes went wide, "Jack." She whispered, "Wha..."

"I thought I'd never see you again either." He smiled a wicked smile from behind his own shades, "Running away was a bad idea." He shook his head.

"I told you I saw her come in here." Killian said stepped around Jack as the two vampires came into the large room with her.

Ashlie desperately looked for a way out, if she bolted she might make it into the hallway, and had a chance to get back to Thalia. Her escape plan was ruined with a seven foot troll stepped into the room and looked around, "What's that?" He pointed at Ashlie.

"Oh that's my dear Ashlie." Jack smiled a wicked grin, "She looks to be doing alright for herself." He said, "I wonder what little Ashlie is doing down here."

"Looking for a way to stop your previous master." She spat. Imminent death gave her a bit of courage. She really had nothing left to lose.

"Heh." Killian gave a short laugh, "You? Nothing but a worthless bleeder? Keep dreaming." He said.

"Fuck you Killian, I found the Reimann." She said.

Jack just laughed, "You think claiming to have found a God is gonna save you? Go ahead, summon him forth."

There was a series of loud pops from behind the two vampires. They turned just in time to see the troll fall forward. It's head was twisted almost all the way around, standing on his shoulders was a woman, clad in all black leath, riding his body to the ground. He hit the floor with a thud, the woman was standing on his back now and fired a large gun into Killian's face as the trolls body settled. Killian's body fell backwards with a jerk.

Thalia just looked at Jack and holstered her weapon.

"Her. Summon her." She said flatly, "I wish one of you assholes would get the fucking story strait."

Jack just stared, open mouthed.

Thalia punched him in the chest knocking him back several feet and onto his ass, "Try not to wander about eh?" Thalia said to Ashlie who just nodded. The gun shot was extremely loud inside the room and her ears stung a bit.

"Now, you." Thalia walked over to the prone vampire. "Name?"

"Jack." He muttered, "You're..."

"Yep." She said. "And we can't just go ruining a surprise now can we." She pulled out the stake she'd been carrying.

"I.. I.." He was stuttering.

"He Mr Tire Iron?" Thalia looked at Ashlie, "I get the feeling he is."

Ashlie nodded, "Yeah, he.." She just turned away.

Thalia looked down at Jack, "Say goodnight." She shove the stake through his face and into the floor. He jerked once, Thalia pulled out a knife and plunged it into his heart. She pulled out the blade and stood up, wiping it on his pant leg, "Let's go." She said taking Ashlie's hand and leading her out of the office.

"Why'd you kill him?"

"I kill everything in my way." Thalia said flatly as they left the complex.

Outside sat a dune buggy that the other three obviously came in. Thalia checked it out, "They carry maps or code words or any shit we might need to sneak up on the master?" Thalia asked as she started to scavenge the vehicle.

"Doubt it, I don't really know." Ashlie said.

"Ok then, grab their food and ammo." Thalia pulled out a small duffle, "Grenades, no fucking shit. Jacko's been trading them some nice stuff. I wonder what he's getting out it." Thalia said putting the back down.

"Uh... What're we gonna do?"

"Blow it up." Thalia said strapping two newly aquired duffle bags to the bag of the bike, "And trade this stuff for useful supplies." She said getting on her bike.

"Right." Ashlie got on the back, Thalia drove off a few hundred yards. She stopped the bike got off and pulled out two grenades. She pulled the pins and tossed them both at the small buggy, the landed in it.

AS she got on the bike and started to drive off they exploded, taking out the buggy in due fashion.

 

Albuquerque, a mess of open areas of stalls and walled off living areas. A maze of side streets and wide alleys. Thalia had found a small in that had parking for animals in a closed area at the back, she left the bike it what was otherwise a horse stall.

"How we gonna pay for anything?"

"We're staying one night," Thalia pulled the bags off the back, "Hopefully this guy will take this uzi in trade." She patted a bag. He did, with a big grn when Thalia threw in three clips just to forget where he got them.

Ashlie felt a little more at home in the giant bazaar of Albuquerque, it was full of wastelanders and other scum, unlike San Angeles which actually looked like a functioning city of civilians.

It only took them an hour to trade everything out, Thalia mostly picked up some medical supplies, ammo for her gun and non perishable food.

"Where we going next?" Ashlie asked as they sat in the room, Thalia was reloading her clip and cleaning her gun.

"Denver." Thalia said.

Ashlie sat up, "What?!" She almost yelled.

"More specifically a small town in the mountains near Denver." She said.

"No." Ashlie shook her head, "We can't go there."

Thalia looked at her, "Old instincts die hard." She shook her head, "Do you really think I'd go somewhere I could get killed?"

"But, you can't get killed," Ashlie pointed a finger at Thalia, "I can."

"I can be killed," Thalia said, "I just haven't been yet. And there's nothing wrong with Denver."

"Zombie Town." Ashlie said flatly.

"First, it went Zombie three hundred years ago, one of nine cities that did that. Second, it's not like the disease is airborne." Thalia started to put her gun back together, "The city is harmless, if empty."

"Taboo." Ashlie sat back against the pillow.

"Yeah, people are stupid that way." Thalia shrugged.

Ashlie slept for the better part of six hours. When she awoke Thalia was sitting at the desk unmoving with her eyes open. "Want the bed?" Ashlie asked sitting up.

Thalia's head turned slowly, "Hmm?" She asked.

"The bed? You want to sleep on the bed for a few hours?"

"Sure." Thalia stood up and went over to the bed, Ashlie got up and stretched.

"There a bathroom around here?"

"Down the hall." Thalia said lying down and closing her eyes.

Ashlie took one look at Thalia's sleeping form, it had taken her about two heartbeats to fall asleep it seemed. She left the room and went down the hall to the bathroom.

Ashlie sat down in the chair and picked up Thalia's gun. It was a massive piece of weaponry, larger than her hand coul really hold. Thalia was a good eight inches taller than her own five four stature though. And her body was definitely in better shape that Ashlie's.

Almost exactly four hours after Thalia went to sleep she jerked awake. Ashlie looked over from her seat as Thalia suddenly animated and gasped for air.

"What?" Ashlie said looking intently at Thalia.

"Nightmares." Thalia said and brushed her hair back. "Let's go, we have to make Denver today." She said and got up. She grabbed her gun off the table and hosltered it. Ashlie followed as Thalia picked up the saddle bags and left the room. Ashlie grabbed both their jackets on the way out.

Mid afternoon and they were approaching the outskirts of Denver. They had passed through a nearly abandoned Colorado Springs, mostly scavengers, outlaws and people who wanted nothing to do with anybody.

Several miles before they approached the city proper Thalia turned off the long stretch of highway and up into the foothills. They followed the winding road up into the mountains proper for several hours.

It was close to sundown when Thalia pulled up to a cabin behind some trees in the mountains. The only way Ashlie figured anyone could find it was because they knew it was there. The tiny dirt road they took was almost non-existant.

"Who lives here?" Ashlie asked as they got off the bile, it was parked under a small covered area next to the house with a pile of wood in it.

"Marcus Orun." She said.

"The Orun?"

"One in the same." Thalia knocked on the door loudly.

"Oh." Ashlie just stared around.

It as several minutes before the door opened. A tall bald man in what looked to be home spun clothes, nothing spectacular, answered the door with a grim look on his face. He looked down at Thalia and Ashlie, Ashlie figured him to be over six and a half feet the way he looked down at Thalia's own six foot height.

"Thalia." He said, a smile came to his face, "Had I expected you I would have cooked something." He said.

"You weren't expecting me?" She asked stepping into the house as he stepped aside, "This is Ashlie." Thalia motioned behind her as she took of her jacket.

Ashlie stepped in, "Umm.. Hi." She said, a bit unsure of herself.

"Welcome to my home." Marcus said. "Well I was expecting you, but sooner." He said.

"Been away a while." She hanging her jacket up on a coat rack built into the wall next to the door. Ashlie took her own jacket off and hung it up.

"Well then, you look as if you've been on the road all day." He shut the door and guided them off to one side from the main hall into a warm well lit room.

"We have," Thalia said "Kitchen working? I can cook us up some dinner." She said looking towards the back and the kitchen area.

Ashlie looked around, noting the house was lit with kerosene lanterns giving it a very welcoming glow.

"Please, it would be an honor to taste one of your meals again." He nodded and Thalia walked to the decent sized kitchen in the back. "I remember days when the four of us would come up here camping." He smiled and settled himself in a large wooden chair with big cushions on it, "Please Ashlie have a seat." He motioned to the other seats in the room.

His voice was deep and warm, like the house. Unlike Thalia's sometimes cold and vicious sounding voice. Ashlie looked at the other three chairs and large soda. She settled into one of the chairs facing so she could see both Marcus and Thalia at the same time.

"Where do you come from Ashlie?" Marcus asked her as Thalia made noises in the kitchen.

"I'm from Salt Lake originally." She said, finding herself opening up to Marcus, he seemed friendly in a world that wasn't very nice to her overall.

"But you've been around then?" He smiled and nodded.

"Yeah," She said, "Just a wastelander." She looke around the room.

"Ah. And how did you meet Thalia?"

"She, uh, she saved me a few weeks back from a pack of zombies. Been sort of stuck with me since." She tried a smile at that.

"Sounds very much like Thalia." He agreed and smiled back.

"I heard that." Thalia called from the kitchen.

"I'm merely pointing out you have a caring streak in you."

"Don't let that get out." She called out.

"Would you rather I put it that you have a habit of taking in strays?" He said cocking an eyebrow.

"I'm wielding a knife, just thought I'd point that out." Thalia said.

Marcus chuckled and turned back to Ashlie, "And what is it that's kept you around?"

"Umm," Ashlie was unprepared for the question, "Nothing else to do?" She ventured forth, Marcus laughed.

 

"I did dinner, you do dishes." Thalia said as they finished up the meal. It was the first full meal Ashlie had in she couldn't remember how long. She stood and wandered towards the door, "Going to bring in my stuff." She said.

Marcus and Ashlie cleared the small table and brought the dishes to the kitchen. "Don't worry about this, I'll get them." He said putting them next to the sink basin, "Never ruin a good meal by doing dishes." He pulled down a few glasses and wandered towards the other side of the house where a small library was in the front room. He pulled out a bottle of a brown liquid.

"Nightcap?" He asked Ashlie.

She shook her head, she assumed it was alcohol and really didn't like what that did to her head.

Thalia came back in and dropped the saddlbe bags on the floor in the main hall. "Bourbon I hope?" She asked stepping into the room.

"Of course." Marcus said handing Thalia a glass.

"Want to take those into the back room?" Thalia asked Ashlie.

"Strait down the hallway, first door on the right after the bathroom." Marcus said pouring his own glass.

Ashlie went and picked up the bags and got them down the hall. The bathroom door was the only open door besides the front archways. The hallway was longer than she would have execpted it to be, from the outside the cabin looked like it was backed by rock. Opening the door she looked into the room, it was pitch black, the only light was creeping in from a lantern opposite the door in the hallway. The room had no windows. She put the bags just inside as the edge of the bed she could see from the light outside the room and went back.

Thalia and Marcus were sitting in large comfortable looking chairs, Thalia had taken her boots off and curled her legs under her, leaning against one arm of the chair.

"Umm," Ashlie looked at Marcus, "How do you operate these lamps? I've not seen ones like them before." She said.

"Ah," He stood up, picking up a box of matches from a small table under one of the lamps, "Light the wick with this, this nob controls height." He said showing her which way to twitst to get a higher flame.

"Oh, Thanks." She said and turned to leave.

"Take the next room up," Thalia said as Ashlie disappeared up the hall.

"Not together?" Marcus said as Ashlie disappeared.

"No." Thalia frowned, "Not since Percy, no more of that." She waved her hand dismissively. Marcus chuckled.

"So what brings you here?" He asked.

"I found your work in the labs." She said.

"Ah that, old work. Incomplete." He shrugged.

"Actually, it looked like you moved it, I'm assuming you have a lab in your complex somewhere?" She said sipping the bourbon.

"Yes." He nodded, "I have done more of that work."

"Someone's looking for it." She said.

"Oh?"

"Now, how would someone know to come looking for it?" She asked him leaning forward.

Marcus was silent for a minute, "Perhaps we should continue this in the morning, you are tired and there is much to explain." He said.

Thalia drained her glass and put it on the table, "Perhaps." She stood up.

"The girl, Ashlie." Marcus said.

Thalia turned to him.

"She is obviously quite fond of you." He said.

"What?"

"The way she looks at you, I can tell these things." He said.

Thalia shook her head and picked her boots up, "That's nice." She said and walked down the hallway to her room. She peaked into the room where Ashlie was looking at the books on a shelf. "Whaddya think?" She leaned against the doorjam.

"About?"

"Everything." Thalia said.

"Place is bigger than it looks from the outside."

"It's built into the rock, we're under the mountain at the moment." Thalia said.

"So what are we doing here?"

"Putting together the puzzle." Thalia crossed her arms, "Zombie's are made by unfavorable mutations, a kind of cancer, unlike other Altered who are born that way, zombie's have sudden mutations in their life somewhere. Meaning there's still effects of the plague out there. Marcus was working on a cure for it."

Ashlie looke over at Thalia, interested.

"He found that a vaccine could be made, but his notes at the lab only hinted at how. I know it has something to do with a vampires genetic code, hence your Masters Bleeding program to control them. How he got it and how he knows is beyond me at the moment. Marcus has all the other details I'm hoping." She stood up strait, "Get some sleep." Thalia disappeared into her own room and shut the door.

Ashlie sighed, "I'm glad she knows what the fuck is going on." Ashlie said and shut her own door, she undressed and pulled back the covers and comfortor on the bed. It looked even more confortable than the bed in San Angeles. She got into the bed and pulled the cool sheets back over her, reaching over she turned off her lantern she'd set on the bedside table and closed her eyes.

 

Ashlie didn't know what time it was when she awoke. The room was still dark, and the air cool. She listened for a moment and didn't hear anything. Sliding out of bed she found her shirt and pulled it over her head. Opening the door she peered into the hallway, it was lit only by two kerosene lamps now, set on low.

She slipped out of her room and up to the bathroom. On her way back she stopped and listened to Thalia's door, she didn't hear Thalia breathing inside so she went back to her own room.

Pulling on her pants she went out to the front room and looked out the windows in the living area. She could barely see dawn creeping through the hills and mountains towards them. There seemed to be no one around so she figured she'd take a look.

Going down the main hall she passed a few more closed doors and it finally ended in a short stone path that led to a spiralling stone staircase down. The stone was cool to the touch of her barefeet, but not cold. There were lanterns leading down the stairs.

She went shrugged and went down. Twenty feet later the koresene lamps changed to actual lightbulbs, she could see the electric wire running down the stairs. She figured it down at least two stories or more before ending in another stone hallway. If her send of direction wasn't completely off it led off to one side of the house. The halway changed from stone to linoleum about five feet in, the ceiling had tiles in it, the elcetric wire she noted went above them so it was now hidden. Long white bulbs lined the hallway which wasn't very long.

She followed it to a T intersection, and heard voices from the left side. She carefully went down the hall, as she got a little closer she could tell it was Marcus and Thalia talking.

"Zombieism is a plague like any other." Marcus said, "If we can cure that, we're another step closer." He said.

"Look, it has nothing to do with curing, you soud like we did over three hundred years ago. Only then it was the avian flu." Thalia soudned a bit aggrevated.

"How has our oath changed?" Marcus shot back, "Hmmm? We're still scientist dedicated to bettering mankind." He said.

"You're the only one of us left who's a scientist." Thalia sighed, "And one step closer to what exactly?"

"Making sure the perfect species lives." He said.

"What? Another mutation? Is that what you want?"

"No need." He said.

"No need." Thalia paced back and forth, her boot heel tapping the floor, "That means your idea of the perfect species already exists. Let me guess, Orcs." She said.

"Of course not, Orcs are the closest to base human as Altered get."

"The who?"

"Vampires." There was a moment of silence.

"Excuse me?"

"Look at you, you're the perfect specimin of vampire, and you can't even see it. You're faster and stronger than any other species. You can see at night and in the day. You heal three or four times faster than any other species. You're physically the most adaptable of all Altered."

"That's it? I'm the physical peak?"

"And you can't get sick. Hell, you're the fucking cure for Zombieism." He shouted, "Why do you think Sammuel gave Julian the formula for controlling zombies?" Marcus was talking a mile a minute, "We needed to field test the vaccine, find out if any vampire could produce it or just certain ones."

"Bleeders." Thalia huffed, "So you are working with that so called Master."

"I'm working with Sammuel, I don't know how his deal with Julian works." Marcus said, he'd realized he gave too much away to Thalia.

"Don't you see? Vampires should inheret the planet. Not live amongst people, look the vampire birth rate is the only climbing birth rate on the planet."

"How do you know that?"

"I still have my sources." Marcus said, "Human birth rates are neutral at best, Orcs, Trolls and Ghouls are declining. Another four or five generations and there may not be any more of them."

"And zombies?"

"Help me cure them," Marcus said, "It's just a plague like any other."

"And there will be others after that." Thalia sighed.

"Now you see why I have to keep working."

"Remember what I said all those years ago Marcus?"

"In reference to?"

"My promise to all three of you."

"That was what, two hundred and fifty years ago?"

"Yes," Thalia said, "Right after we accidently turned Denver into a Zombie City."

"We won't make that mistake again."

"You're right." Thalia said, there was a click of a hammer.

"What are you doing?" Marcus sounded a bit surprised.

"I never break a promise." Her voice had gone cold.

Marcus laughed, "You can't be serious. This is our chance to help again."

"Sammy is a tyrant, he doesn't care about saving humans. Only power. Always has been that way. You trusted him why?"

"He supported me!" Marcus shouted, his fist hit a metal table.

"You helped to make an army, too blind in your own needs to be the hero."

"What?"

"You didn't want recognition when it was all done? When the zombies were just bad memories" Thalia asked.

"Well..." He voice went quiet. "You always were the most ruthless of us all." He said quietly.

There was a loud bang as the gun fired. Ashlie froze with her hands over her ears for a moment.

"You can come in." Thalia said from the room.

Ashlie stepped around the corner and looked at the lab inside, and the blood splatter on the wall, a table blocked her view of the body.

"You heard everything?"

"What if," Ashlie swallowed, "I mean, if we are the best species."

"Doesn't change the fact that there are still others on the planet." Thalia reholstered her gun.

"You killed the Orun?"

"Yes. Now there are only three Gods." Thalia turned to Ashlie.

"And the cure, for zombies?"

"What about it?"

"I mean.."

"There may be one, there may not. If Sammy is involved, and this Julian is simply using it to control zombies we have to take care of that first.

"I suppose." Ashlie said.

"Hungry?" Thalia left the lab, turning off the light as she did so.

"A little."

"Come on, I'll make breakfast." She said leading Ashlie back upstairs to the cabin above them.

"What about his body?"

"I'll bury it this afternoon." Thalia said.

 

Ashlie say on the porch as Thalia filled in the grave watching. Thalia put the last shovel of dirt on the pile and walked over to the steps.

"Any idea where Julian might be?" She asked.

"No." Ashlie shook her head, "We could always start in Salt Lake." She shrugged. She was starting to go numb to the world around her. Thalia was so much bigger than anything she'd imagined to date.

"Good idea." Thalia said walking inside, she tossed the shovel to one side of the porch. "We can leave in the morning." She called over her shoulder.

Ashlie sat and looked at the fresh grave and it's simple metal plate of a gravestone. Thalia had etched a name and two dates on it. Marcus was three hundred and fifty seven years old. Ashlie stood up and went inside, if Gods could die, anything was possible she thought.

 

They came out of the mountains late in the afternoon and headed north. Ashlie recognized this area. If nothing else she wanted this done quickly so she could stay out of the wastelands forever.

Salt Lake was every bit Ashlie remembered it to be. She'd only been away from it for two years total and trying to forget. Now they raced to it and she just kept looking around.

The walls, last time she saw them she was running like hell away from them. Now they loomed before her, single massive gate open to the world.

Thalia stopped the bike as the guards motioned for her to do so. Ashlie hoped none of them knew her, the chances were small but not impossible.

It was a pair of vampires, only vampires held any real citizenship in Salt Lake.

"Business?" One of them asked.

"Sight seeing." Thalia answered them, she hadn't turned the bike off.

"No humans." The leader said again.

Thalia pshed her sunglasses down, Ashlie did so as well, "No problem." She said.

The vampire just nodded and waved them through, vampires were always welcome.

Thalia rolled the bike through town in the cooling evening. The sun started to sink low as they approached the center of town, a single large stone structure stood. Thalia remembered three hundred years back, the city had been almost completely remade in that time by generations looking to rebuild after the collapse of modern civilization in the area. Now Salt Lake was the vampire city of the warelands. She stopped the bike in front of the building and cut the engine.

They both dismounted and Thalia looked around, the sun sank to the point where it was nothing but pale light behind clouds to the west. She took her glasses off and placed them on the bikes instrument console.

"What are the chances he's home?" Thalia asked as she pulled a sword from the same sheath that used to hold a shotgun, Ashlie remembered she'd grabbed it from the small den back at the cabin.

"I have no idea." Ashlie said on the other side of the bike, she noticed several vampires had taken notice of them stopped where they were. "I, uh, I don't like this."

"I'm a God. Trust." Thalia said twirling the blade.

"Gods die, you already proved that one."

"Only if I kill them." Thalia said, her voice was cold, Ashlie could have sworn she breathed out cold air.

"I'm ... going to hide I think." Ashlie said.

"I'd stay by the bike." Thalia commented.

"I'm no good in a fight, you plan on just hacking your way through the city?" Ashlie sounded worried.

"I haven't had a good fight in decades." Thalia answered, she was slowly turning around eyeing everyone. "Want to know what my nightmares are about?" She asked.

"Maybe." Ashlie was genuinely curious, but would have chosen a better time to talk about it.

"Seventy five years of fighting in jungles," The sword raked against the concrete, "Deserts," Thalia spun around, "Cities," She looked at Ashlie and smiled, "I spent almost a century becoming the perfect killing soldier." She stopped, "Marcus was right." She looked at the building, "Vampires are the perfection of the human species."

"Shit Thalia, this is a bad idea."

"Hey Julian!" Thalia screamed, "Your God Calls!" She yelled even louder.

Four very large men came out of the main building towards them, looking pissed off.

"Any of them Julian?" Thalia pointed the blade at them.

Ashlie looked, "Uh uh." She said.

Thalia waited until they were halfway to them before moving. She covered the distance in the blink of an eye. Two of the men fell dead, one missing his head the other a hole in his chest where his heart was. The other two stoppe and stared at Thalia who stood between them now.

"Slow." Thalia shrugged and spun, kiling both men in two very swift strikes.

"Thalia." Ashlie called out, about three dozen figures had formed a ring and were closing in.

"Well, shoot them." Thalia said as she size up the coming fight. As she move forward she watched as Ashlie crumpled to the ground, no one was near her. "Shit." Thalia ran to her body and bent down.

Rolling Ashlie over she noticed the small dart in her neck and pulled it out.

"Tranquelizer, perfect." She said and felt a pinch in her neck. She pulled out the dart and felt the world go fuzzy. She just smiled as she dropped the sword and fell to one side.

 

Thalia woke up being carried down a hallway, the fact that she wasn't already chained meant the drug wore off quicker than they would expect. Cracking one eye she took a look at her surroundings.

Hallway or tunnel of some kind, and into a room with an iron door. She was currently tossed over the shoulder of a large vampire, she knew most of her weapons were missing, possibly all of them if they'd done a decent search.

He heaved her over and tossed her on the ground, she landed on her feet and in a crouching position.

He looked down surprised for half a second before Thalia's open palm hit him i the chin snapping his head back as she stood up. She grabbed his head, spun him around and snapped his neck before he had time to do more than grunt. His limp body fell to the ground.

"Forgot to question him." She sighed. Her jacket had been removed, along with her belts, gun and knives. She took his large knife and gun and dragged him to the back of the cell.

"Now, let's see what's going on down here." She said to herself and left the cell. There were other cells, a quick checked showed them to be empty except for one which contained a corpse.

She wandered around a bit, the area was empty of people. She came into a large room with cages in it, and two vampires working with a lab to one side.

"Hey." One called, "Don't remember you." He said walking over. Thalia slashed he throat open and stuck the knife in his heart.

The second looked stunned at the speed that Thalia acted at and looked up just in time to see her come at him and grab his shirt.

"Hi." She said her face very close to his.

"Uh.." He muttered little more than a random noise.

"So, whatcha doing?" She had a calm to her voice.

"We're..."

Thalia put him down so he was standing on his feet rather than his toes. "Look at me." She said, he looked up into her eyes. "Got your attention yet?"

"Yes." He nodded.

"So, the zombies in the cage. Seem awfully docile." She said, "What does it?"

"A drug, it's a kind of downer." He said.

"Oh really, what makes it?"

"Blood, vampire blood. It's reall fascnating." He straitened his collar out, "I really think if we altered it a little we might even be able to regress the zombie condition." He said, he'd lapsed into technobabble as a self preservation instince, or maybe he was that much of a geek.

Thalia listened to him for a minute as he rambled, "Was the application of treating zombie's the intent, or a side effect?" She interrupted him.

"Side effect actually, Julian killed the last guy who presented the idea." He said, "I've kept it hidden, but." He shrugged and looked over at his dead partner, "Either I didn't keep it secret enough or Julain no longer matters."

"Want to continue working on this?"

He looked at the zombies in the cage, staring intently at the two. "They're people." He said.

"Good answer." She grabbed him, "Let's go. Where's Julian normally."

"Uh, main room upstairs, probably entertaining." He said. "Why?"

"Have to kill him before I leave. And get another person."

"But, we could just leave. I know a back way out, if, you know you can take some guards out."

"No can do. Julian would just chase you." Thalia said, "Lead me to him.

"I'm John, can I get your name?" He asked as he took the front.

"Thalia Reimann." She said.

He stopped and looked at her, "Your real name." He said flatly.

"That is my real name, now move." He pushed him.

He swallowed and led her up two flights of stairs and to a back cooridor. They encountered their first guard then, Thalia simply snapped his neck as he took a second to try and question them.

"You're... very fast." John said.

"I know." Thalia stripped the now dead body of weapons.

 

Ashlie woke up to a stinging sensation in her cheek and her head snapping to one side. She blinked the pain out and shook the hair from her face. Turning she looked up into the eyes of Julian.

"Thought you could get away hmm?" He asked, "All children eventually come back to me." He said with an evil smile on his face.

"Fuck you asshole." Ashlie mustered up the strength to raise her head, "I'll die before going back to being one of your slaves." She spat blood at his feet. Her lip stung with pain at the effort of talking.

"Is that so?" Julian laughed. Ashlie was in a chair, tied down with chains in the middle of his main audience room. "And that woman who came with you? Who is she?"

"Reimann." Ashlie said.

"Reimann, you mean she named herself after some half forgotten legend from before the Century Plague? How quiant."

"No," Ashlie shook her head and smiled, "The Reimann. Vampire Goddess." She looked up at him.

Julian laughed and then smacked Ashlie again. Ashlie thought she felt her jaw crack, but that could have just been the force of the hit itself.

the door to one side of the audience room was kicked open with enough force to fling it against the wall and embed the doorknob in it.

Thalia stepped forward, "Don't hit her again." She said striding forward to Julian.

Julian was not quite as tall as Thalia and dressed in rather nice clothes for the area. He watched Thalia approach him, she was in leather pants, heavy black boots and a halter top that exposed most of her tanned torso. Long black hair feel below her shoulders.

"Julian I Presume?" She stopped ten feet from him.

"The bleeder say you are The Reimann." He had a smirk on his face. Half a dozen body guards had circled around them and were advancing.

"Thalia Reimann." She nodded, "What did Samuel promise you?" She asked, eyeing the guards around them.

"The wastelands." He said.

"You would rule a desert?" She laughed, "Pathetic." She ran at him, the guards opened fire with machine guns, tracking behind her steps as she moved.

She slammed into Julian with both fists and propelled him across the room and into the opposite wall and started to circle towards the nearest guard.

Ashlie sut her eyes tight against the racket and the fear a bullet might find her as she was completely immobile at the moment.

Thalia had plunged her blade into the belly of the first guard she reached and used him and a shield as she took his gun and fired back.

She dropped his bloody body after taking down two guards with her recently aquired machine gun and did a tight roll to one side to avoid another full burst coming her way. Bringing her next to a fourth guard that she quickly dispatched with a roundhouse to his head, and firing on another guard.

The left her with just one guard who took off running, only to take a few rounds to the back of the head as Thalia fired her weapon.

She made sure the guard on the ground at her feet was dead as well and dropped the machine gun. Julian was just starting to get up and catch his breath as Thalia turned to him.

"Ok, your turn." She said and walked quickly to him. His death was quick and painful as she hit him dead in the chest, feeling his rib cage collapse with the force of the blow, and finally taking out the handgun she'd stolen eariler and putting a round in his head. He caused a wide smear of blood, bone and brain down the wall as he slid.

"You can open your eyes now." Thalia said standing next to Ashlie looking at the chains. "Hold still." She said as Ashlie looked over to see what she was doing. Thalia pointed the gun as a pad lock and fired.

Ashlie jumped at the sound, but held still as Thalia unwrapped her.

"You OK?" Thalia asked.

"Yeah, but how do we get out?" Ashlie asked looking at the bodies.

"I've got someone bringing a car." She answered and took several pairs of sunglasses off the bodies, handing one to Ashlie.

"A car?" She put the glasses in a pocket.

"We've got three of us now, I'll get a new bike later." Thalia said walking towards the door she came through.

"Oh." Ashlie said following quickly behind, she checked her jaw to see if it was broken or if she'd imagined that part. It felt alright to her.

John was waiting out back with one of the buggies that was so often used in the wastelands. The could navigate the rough terrain where the ancient roads had broken down and consumed little fuel which was expensive and came mostly from Texas Free Cities and the United West at a high cost.

"John, this is Ashlie." Thalia said sliding into the drivers seat, "Ashlie meet John." She said.

Ashlie froze, "We've met." She frowned. John looked at her, and took a moment to recognize her.

"Good, because John's more interested in curing the zombie plague than creating narcotics from your blood." Thalia said, "Now get in." She pointed at the seat. John had climbed to the single back seat, Ashlie reluctantly got in and looked at Thalia.

"Do you know what they do?" Ashlie asked Thalia.

"Probably tie you down to something and take your blood either with a syringe or a drip IV." Thalia said, "Yeah, I got an idea." She shot a glance sideways as she started the vehicle moving. "You ever have to worry about that again." She said.

Ashlie simply shrunk into the seat and held on, Thalia started to move at dangerous speeds through the city.

 

They shot northward out of the city towards the mountains.

"Where are we going?" John asked from the back seat.

"I-70." Thalia said as they drove.

"What?"

Ashlie looked at him, "She remembers the old paths from when they had actual names." She explained, "I don't know where it goes, but the further from Salt Lake the better." She said.

"I'm heading for Bowash." Thalia said, "And I need to make Cheyenne on this. Toss everything that can be and isn't extra fuel." Thalia said to both of them. She checked the rearview and sure enough she saw a few vehicles coming up after them, "Shit." She said and pressed harder on the gas pedal.

"Can we outrun them?" Ashlie asked looking back.

"Maybe." Thalia said, if they catch up that's more gas at least." She shrugged.

"Optimistic much?" John asked as he tossed the ammo box of the machine gun that was usually mounted above his seat.

"Its the only way to be." Thalia answered as they rushed onwards into the mountains.

 

Daybreak, Thalia was pushng the buggy as much as she could as they drove through the mountainous terrain of what used to be Wyoming. She ignored the slash in her arm she'd received at some point in the chase, though her arm ached from it.

There were no others behind them at the moment, John was half asleep in the back seat while Ashlie was keeping an eye out around them as Thalai concentrated on what was in front.

Finally they ran out of gas just inside perimeter of Cheyenne, a small city in the norther wastelands.

"We need to stop and clean that?" Ashlie asked as they got out of the buggy.

"With what? I didn't exactly have time to collect my bags." Thalia said looking around.

"Very funny, we could trade this for something I'm sure." Ashlie said, "This is a wasteland barter town." She pointed out.

"I know." Thalia said.

"Look, I'll go into town, get someone who's interested and get some supplies." Ashlie said.

"A vehicle is more important, we need fuel." Thalia said.

"And what are we going to trade for fuel?" Ashlie asked.

Thalia leaned against the buggy, "What I really need is a radio transmittor at this point."

"For what?"

"Get us to Bowash. There's no reason to hang out in the wastelands anymore." Thalia said.

"What are the chances this place has one of those things?" Ashlie asked.

"Moderate to low." John answered stretching. "I hate to be the pessimist in the bunch, but once the dust settles in Salt Late I've a feeling we're going to have some people come after us." He said.

"He's right." Ashlie looked at Thalia, "Sure Julian's dead, but he had underlings, someone's bound to seize power."

"And the consolidate, hell, we did them a favor." Thalia said, she looked at John, "How many more people were working with the that drug?"

"Uh, none besides me now." He said.

"How much do they have left?"

He shrugged, "Not much, maybe two or three hundred doses."

"Easy to replicate?"

"No, but blowing up the lab would have been a better idea than just leaving it."

"I'll go back for that later then." Thalia shrugged.

"Cocky much?" John asked, Thalia just shot him a look.

"I'm going to look for anyone here who might have a working uplink." She said.

Ashlie just shrugged, "We'll be here, on the side of the road, waiting." She said, "You should take care of thay you know." She pointed at Thalia's arm.

"I will." Thalia said as she walked off towards the main part of the town.

"So," Ashlie looked at John, "How'd she get you to leave your cushy little pusher job?"

John just stared at her, "I was looking for a way to cure the zombie plague." He said angrily, "Three of us were killed for doing the same thing."

"Yeah, so draining my blood was just a hobby?" She crossed her arms.

"What was I supposed to do?" He said, "Vampire DNA is the key to the zombie disease, I tried everything else already. The drug was just a way for me to work on what I need to work on." He sat on the edge of the buggy.

"Ends justify the means." Ashlie looked back up the road the way they came.

"Sometimes." He said, "You have to break eggs to make an omelette."

"Whatever." Ashlie shot over her shoulder, "Try looking at it from the test subjects point of view. I was property, a thing." She had venom in her voice.

"And I wasn't? You know what happened if I didn't make that drug?" He stood up and rolled his sleeve up to reveal a searies of circular scars. "Imagine being nailed to a wall for three days." He said. "Hurts like hell." He rolled his sleeve down. "Julian was a fucking monster."

"Sorry." Ashlie said, she wasn't sure if she was or not.

 

Four hours later Thalia came walking back up the road with two men, they had a pair of horses with them.

"That work?" She asked them.

"Good condition." One of the men said as he walked around the buggy. The other one opened the hood and looked in on the engine.

"Only needs fuel." Thalia said.

"Well, you've got a deal." The first man shook her hand as the other started to hitch the horses to the buggy to tow it towards town.

"Good." Thalia said motioning the John and Ashlie to follow. They came out from the shade of the tree they were under.

"You still haven't done anything about your arm." Ashlie said looking at the wound, "You have any water I could use?" She asked one of the men. He looked at the dried blood on Thalia's arm and handed Ashlie a canteen and a rag.

Ashlie wet the rag and wiped Thalia's arm clean, who stood there and tolerated the action. With the blood gone Ashlie could see the wound.

"Nice." She said, it was a long slash diagonal on Thalia's upper arm, not very deep but deep enough. "What are the chances you bartered for medical supplies in that deal?"

"None, We should be out of here a little after sundown I hope." She said, "I can get fixed up then."

 

The jet screamed in from the east, the town stopped to stare as it came in as the sun started to set for the day. It hovered over a large field north of the town and descended strait down.

Ashlie and John just stared up as it came down. Thalia waited patiently. When it fully landed it took a moment for a door to open in the side and fold down to reveal steps. Two armed men stepped out and looked around as Thalia marched towards them.

"Ms. Reimann." They both acknowledged as she approached under the low hum of the engines. Ashlie and John followed close behind.

"Are these things safe?" Ashlie asked as they climbed on board. The main cabin was seperated into two sections divided by a door. Thalia opened the door to the back as the two armed guards got on behind them.

"Yes." Thalia said removing her shades.

The back half was lushly furnished, one side had a small table with chairs on either side, the other had a curved couch facing a screen. The very back contained a tiny kitchen on one side and a bathroom on the other. Thalia had left the door open to the front end. It simply had four very comfortable chairs and a door to the cockpit.

"Relax, next stop is civilization." Thalia said going to the front. One of the guards had pulled out a medkit and forced Thalia to sit still while he bandaged her arm. She then disapeared into the cockpit.

John made himself at home in one of the chairs and stared out one of the few small windows as they flew eastward. "This is amazing. I had no idea that Bowash still had such hi tech." He said in awe.

"Yeah." Ashlie leaned against the curve of the couch and stretched her legs out in front of her, she had a disinterested tone to her voice or possibly nervous.

//00000011 City Lights//

They saw the lights of the city long before they saw the actual buildings.

"Wow." Ashlie was looking out the window, Thalia had turned off the cabin lights when she came back.

"It's always impressive." Thalia said sitting back in one of the chairs.

They passed over the edge and saw a sea of lights and tall buildings below them. All the very tall buildings were hexagon shaped with what looked to be wide platforms connecting them. Some were closer together than others, and some were taller, but they were all connected. There was a ring, like a platform, around the building where the connecting sections were as well.

Ashlie looked over them as they flew past, "Where are we going?" She asked as they continued deep into the massive city structure.

"Up to New York Province." Thalia said, "We're flying over Washington Province right now."

"Oh." Ashlie said, she'd have to look at a map, none of it made much sense to her.

She saw a couple very long singular stretches of what might be road going between buildings. "What's that long platform?" She asked.

"Highway." Thalia said, "There are two connecting highways, one at ground level one at level forty." She explained.

"How many levels are there?"

"It varies, deep in the center of each Province it can go up to one hundred, towards the edge twenty, and in the country it's normal buildings."

"Very impressive." John said, "One wonders why they haven't expanded west yet."

"No desire, limited resources, politics." Thalia shrugged, "Any number of things."

"And the tech level is amazing." He said turning to Thalia, "What can we expect when we arrive?"

"In what way?"

"Citizens? homeless?" He was looking at her, Ashlie turned to look as well.

"I'll set you up with IDs, citizenship, homes." She said, "I assume you'll want to continue working on a cure for the zombie plague John?"

"I would enjoy the opportunity." He said.

"Then I'll set you up with a lab from one of my pharmacuticals."

"How powerful are you here?" Ashlie asked.

"Moderately." Thalia said, "I have more political power in Europe, but I am incredibely rich with interests in a number of companies."

"Company?" The idea was fairly foreign in the wastelands.

"It's a group of people dedicated to working towards one goal. Usually providing a service or making something." Thalia said.

"Oh, so people work for you? What do they get?"

"Money, wages. Everything here works on money not barter." Thalia said.

"Oh." Ashlie looked back out the window at the massive city passing below them, "How do you tell where one part ends and another begins?"

Thalia shrugged, "From up here it doesn't matter, down there has signs, but it doesn't much matter either."

"It's huge." Ashlie whispered in awe.

As the flew they flew out to where the bottom of the city seemed to disappear and only tall buildings were, and then they ended. Ashlie looked down and noticed they went directly out into the water.

"An ocean like the other side." Ashlie said, "And the city just goes out into it."

"There used to be more shore, years have washed it back some. But yes, they built several of the taller towers out into the ocean. They're called breaker towers." Thalia explained, "They have a sturdier construction, and are more connected, in the day you can see they don't just have streets between them but girders as well."

"None of that many any damn sense." Ashlie said staring out the window, "I'll figure it out I guess." She said as the jet flew over the edge of the city.

The jet started to descend towards one of the taller inside towers, maybe a mile inland and landed vertically on the roof of the massive structure. A light rain could be seen as is spattered against the windows. Then the plane started to descned into the building itself.

"We're on an elevator platform." Thalia said, "Vertical Take off and landings mean no runways and we can store the planes in one of the towers." She said, within moments they could see the inside of the structure through the windows.

The building was very open, but had massive struts and metal beams criss-crossing it. They could see platforms with other jets, of varying types, to either side of them. As they went down the jet rotated on it's tires, bringing into view the central tower where people could be seen when there were windows and the other landing elevator on the opposite side of the hexagonal tower. Somewhere a bit above the middle they stopped and the jet rolled off to one of the hangar platforms and parked. There were two jets to a platform, Ashlie noted, as they rotated back around to face the elevator again.

"Ok," Thalia said, turning on the cockpit lights and going to the front. "Thank you gentlemen." She said to the guards, "The car is here?" She asked one of them.

"Yes ma'am." He answered as they got out of the jet, the pilots also debarked with them. The four men stayed behind to do the check out as Thalia led John and Ashlie towards the main tower. An elevator descent for a short while opened to a solid hallway with a 20 above it.

'Level twenty, vehicle departure.' A voice chimed in from seemingly nowhere as the elevator doors opened.

"Computer." Thalia said as John and Ashlie both looked up.

The car was a low long black vehicle. Unlike anything used out in the wastelands. Inside wasn't as plush as the jet but still comfortable.

The ended up in what appeared to be an elaborate hotel to Ashlie. Thalia talked with the man behind the counter for a few minutes and then lef John and Ashlie through a door and down a long curving hallway.

"Ok, Waters Edge Hilton New York." Thalia said, "Nice view, good rooms." She said. The inside was twice as large as the room in San Angeles and occupied completely by a massive window that overlooked the ocean directly. Thalia didn't bother with the lights, they could all see in the dark and it let them look at the ocean without reflections from the window.

Ashlie stood at the edge, they were several hundred feet about the surface. "How high up are we?" Ashlie asked.

"Thirty Five Up." Thalia said. "Many of the towers go down as well as up, the number is how many levels in either direction." She explained. "Now, I hate to just ditch you but I've got some business to attend to, I'll be back tomorrow." Thalia went to the door.

"Excuse me," John caught her attention before she left, "How do we go about getting something to eat?" He was feeling rather hungry.

"Ah, room service, no worries about the bill." She pointed towards the phone at the wet bar.

John went over and looked at the printed menu and instructions next to the phone. "Certainly is a rich place." He commented to Ashlie.

She wandered over, "Well, Bowash is civilization, we're just a couple of barbaric wastelanders." She said.

"Very true." He nodded, "You never really believe the stories they tell of this place."

"No." Ashlie said, "Still not sure I do. Anything on that menu we recognize is food?"

"Plenty, question is do we call everything by the same name." He mused.

Ashlie peered over his shoulder, "Get me one of those things. Always wanted to try one." She said.

"A hamburger?" He asked.

"Yeah, hey! Not all of us were so privileged mister scientist." She chided him.

"Sorry." He said and picked up the phone as Ashlie went and dropped onto the couch.

John joined her a minute later, sitting in a chair opposite her, "Ummm."

Ashlie turned her head from the ceiling to look at John.

"Listen, I'd like to apologize for the past, and, perhaps start new." He said.

Ashlie sat up, "Apologize?" She cocked an eyebrow.

"Look, I figured if we're both strangers here we might at least try and be friends."

Ashlie sat for a minute, "Shit, why not." She said, "You just did what you had to do for survival. I would've done the same I think." She smiled.

John visibly relaxed, "So, you as nervous as I am then?"

"Oh yes. This whole place is a new kind of scary." She said.

 

Two days later and Thalia had set John up in an apartment on Forty-Two Up, which was University Housing it turned out, about two miles in from the shore. She had gotten both of them citizenship as well. He had enrolled in several classes, on his way to becoming a biochemest.

Thalia and Ashlie were currently in Thalia's own place, Eighty-Eight Up on the edge. Ashlie was leaning against the window staring out at the ocean below her as it stretched into the horizon, to the north she could see the city go out a little further before turning strait north, to the south it curved away and inland.

"This view is amazing." Ashlie said to herself.

Thalia came out of her bedroom, she no longer wore the leather she wore in the wastelands, instead she was in a charcoal business suit of cotton. "Like that?" She asked Ashlie.

"Yeah, it's so beautiful." She nodded. She turned to Thalia, "So, what happens to me?" She asked.

"In what way?"

"You set John up, school and all that." She said.

"What do you want to do?"

"I thought you wanted an assistant or somesuch?" Ashlie asked.

"Is that what you want?"

"Well.." She blushed, "umm" and bit her lip.

Thalia stepp up close to Ashlie, "Or is it you just want to stay close to me?" Thalia's face was inches from Ashlie's.

"I..." Ashlie had no words.

Thalia covered Ashlie's mouth with her own in a deep kiss, "I think so." Thalia said as the broke the kiss.

"Yes." Ashlie's eyes were closed. Thalia just smiled.

 

Ashlie woke up late in the morning. Thalia was gone for the day as she wandered from the bedroom to the kitchen. She pulled out the pile of papers she had gotten over the last week. Different types of schooling, degrees and such. Mostly it made little sense to her. There was so much she could learn she wasn't sure where to start, only that she needed to. Thalia had made it clear that she would need knowledge in a wide range of things to survive at the top in this world.

She sighed and flipped a page over, "Basic knowledge degree." She sighed, "Guess I gotta go through this school crap before I can do anything else." She said flipping through a book.

Thalia walked in, she was wearing her leather.

"Hey!" Ashlie looked up, "What's the leather for?" She asked.

Thalia walked over, "Gotta go get my bike back." She said to Ashlie as she stepped close.

"Oh, when do we leave?" Ashlie asked.

"I leave now." Thalia leaned in close and kissed Ashlie deep, her other hand had produced a small air-injector and pressed it to Ashlie's exposed stomach.

"Wha..." Ashlie tried to say but the world went fuzzy then dark. She collapsed into Thalia's arms.

"Sorry kid, I don't do relationships very well." Thalia said to the unconcious Ashlie, two men with a stretcher came into the apartment, they were followed by a third in a business suit. "You know what to do Thomas?" Thalia looked at him.

"Of course Miss Reimann." He smiled, "Everything will be taken care of." He said. "She will be angry I assume?"

"Probably." Thalia said laying Ashlie on the stretcher, "For a few days at least."

"And you?"

"I had a lot of loose ends to tie up out there, Sammy for one." She sighed, "You have my instructions should I never make it back?"

"As always," He said, "The firm will take care of everything."

"I know." Thalia said and they left.

 

Ashlie woke up suddenly and immediately shut her eyes against the glaring white light, "Fuck!" She said as the sudden bright light caused a sharp pain in the back of her head.

She lay there for several minutes trying to figure out what to do, the light was bright that it hurt her through even shut eyes.

"Terribly sorry." The lights went off, bringing relief. The voice was a mans.

Ashlie opened her eyes and blinked away some of the headache, "Where?" She asked sitting up.

"Don't worry, we've paged Thomas, he should be here shortly." The man said, the room was now pitch black and Ashlie could only make out shapes. "Are you hungry?"

Ashlie suddenly felt very hungry, "Yeah." She said, "Thomas? That's Thalia's um.. lawyer right?"

"Financial Manager." The man corrected, "Yes. He'll explain everything."

"Uh huh." Ashlie said still trying to figure out where she was. A few minutes later she could smell the food being brought in, it made her realize just how hungry she was. A dim light went one, running along the edges of the ceiling, she could see fine now.

The orderly who brought the food was huge, the idea of maybe escaping left her as she probably couldn't get past him, and wouldn't know where to run anyway.

She simply sat at the edge of the bed and ate the soup they had brought. She ate slowly and tried to remember what happened. The last thing she could remember was Thalia coming in, and then the world went black. Something Thalia had done. She sighed, hopefully Thomas could actually answer her questions.

Thomas came in around fifteen minutes later. Ashlie was sitting on the bed, crossed legged, waiting patiently. She didn't have much else to do.

"Sorry about the wait." He said with a smile. He pulled a chair out and sat in it, his brief case was set on the table opposite the bed.

"So," Ashlie looked at him, he had kept the lights low. "What happened?"

Thomas opened his briefcase, the back was a computer screen that lit up, he had turned it so the bright light was facing Ashlie. "Thalia has left you a considerably sum to start with." He said.

"Back up, where am I, why am I here and how?" Ashlie said, her voice as a barely contained anger.

"Ah that." He said and sat back, "Thalia has a long history of very short relationships." He said, "Though you're the first of I've known that she's left like this."

"You mean drugged and left in... what is this place?"

"It's a hospital, of sorts." He said, "It's actually one of Thalia's private hospitals, she is quite powerful here." He said, "She asked that some work be done."

"Work?" Ashlie sounded worried and skeptical.

"She had," He looked at his computer, "She had your DNA altered slightly." He said, "You are effectively Thalia's daughter." He said.

"What the fuck?" Ashlie asked him.

"Take a look in the mirror." He said motioning to the mirror over the sink in the bathroom adjcent to the room.

Ashlie looked at him, then hopped off the bed and went to look. Her eyes were solid black, like Thalia's. "Ok, what, why.." She sat on the edge of the bed.

"In the event of her death she needed a beneficiary to pass on her assests, which are considerable. In order to short circuit any other claims she had you placed as her genetic daughter. Now both European and North American courts would uphold your claims to her assests."

"But I don't want them."

"You don't have them yet. Thalia's death has to be either proven or she has to be missing for ten consectutive years." He said, "An unlikely occurence." He added. "What you do have is a considerable sum in a trust, that begins paying dividends as soon as you agree to everything." He said producing a small electronic pad with an attached pen.

"Don't have much choice."

"Quite the opposite, you don't have to accept anything." He said.

"And then what?"

"That would be up to you." He said.

"And if I do except?"

"The firm is at your disposal for advice, consultation and to help manage your accounts." He said.

Ashlie stood up and walked over to the pen, "How much do I have?" She asked.

"Approximately twenty million credits."

"What does that mean?"

"The average wealth of the Euro-North America Coalition is eighty thousand credits annually."

"So, I'm basically richer than almost everyone?"

"You are in the top ten percent." He said.

She picked up the pen, "I sign my name or something like that?"

"Yes, your full name please."

"I don't have a last name, most people don't in the wastelands." She said.

"Actually, being Thalia's daughter you now have her last name." He said.

"Reimann?" She looked at him, shrugged and signed the pad, though no marking was left. "That it?"

"Yes." He said standing, "I'll wait outside while you dress and we can discuss your next move." He moved to the door.

"Can I pick where I live?" She asked.

"We can work on that."

"I just want a place up high facing the ocean." She said, "I like the view."

"An Edge building then?"

"Is that what they're called?"

"Yes. How high?"

"How high is Thalia's place again?"

"Eighty-Eight."

"Can I get that high?"

"We can look into it." He said.

"I'll be out in a minute." She went into the bathroom.

//00000100 City Lights II//

Ashlie felt his cock slide smothly into her and sighed as he began to stroke. She looked up the torso of the woman in front of her, the man's wife. The woman lay on her back, legs spread. Ashlie noticed her pubic hair was shaved into an old alchemical symbol, a fad started a little while ago, before slowly started to slide her tongue over the woman's clit. She matched her tongue and mouth to the strokes of the man and could feel both of them. She concentrated on their rhythms, feeling their bodies as they derived their pleasure.

He felt him start to increase his thrusting, a sign he was close. In response she upped her own efforts on the woman, bringing her close to climax. Both of them came at the same time, he filled Ashlie up as he stiffened for almost a minute, the woman's back arched as she spurted juices into Ashlies open mouth.

When they were done he slid out and off to one side next to his wife who lay limp on the bed. Ashlie simply stood up and looked down at them. She pulled the blanket up from the end of the bed and draped it over them before going into the bathroom. She cleaned his cum out and then dressed. She left the couple to sleep the rest of the night through.

 

Ashlie stepped from the shower and wrapped a towel around her body, she dried her short hair by running her hand through it virgourosly and left it, still mostly wet. In her bedroom she dried most of her body and slid a pair of blue jeans on before walking out into the main room of her large apartment.

She never turned the lights on unless she had visitors that needed it to see. Walking to the massive window covering the forty foot exposed section of her apartment she looked out at the heavy rain falling. The hurricane off the coast was due to hit full force sometime tomorrow. Which meant the shutters would close sometime in the next twelve hours.

She leaned againt the glass, placing her head against one her arms raised above her, and stared out into the black night and the falling rain. Eighty-Six floors up and the view took her breath away every time she stared out.

The phone rang, a series of beeps in the dark. Ashlie looked at the window for another second before wandering over towards an office to one side of the room, it was walled off from the rest of the apartment. She picked the small headset up off its charger base and placed it in her ear. it clung small magnetic strip along one of the inner ridges that provid power and kept it in her ear. A thin arm came out and ran down her cheek.

"Ash." She said walking back over towards the window.

"Evening." It was Thomas.

"Thomas, what can I do for you?" She said turning her back to the storm outside and leaning against the plexiglass. It was slightly cooler than the rest of the room, but not much.

"How does your schedule look?"

"I've some classes during the day, I'm taking evenings off for a short while." She answered.

"Ah, not even your regulars?"

"I have a discussion over dinner with Mr. Rigels regarding his upcoming vacation to the south pacific in two weeks." She said, she listened to the storm pound the heavy plexiglass of her windows.

"I've a potential client you might like to meet." He said.

"What's he need?"

"A Gemologist." Thomas said.

"I'm not certified in that yet." She said.

"You graduate in what, tomorrow?"

"Two days, and I still have to pass the Accreditation Test, that's not for almost three weeks." She said.

"Are you saying it's too early to gain clients in that field?" Thomas asked her, he always did this.

Ashlie sighed, "I suppose it's never to early to network is it then?" She asked him and slid to the ground, she sat on her deep pile carpeting against the window. "He's native?" She asked, no flight would be coming in from Europe.

"Quebec."

"Ah, my French isn't so good."

"You need practice, he needs a gemologist, you're one of the best escorts in the business."

Ashlie looked up at the ceiling, "I never made such a claim." She answered, "When and where?"

"He will be coming down in two days, I'll make arrangements and get back to you."

"Email them," Ashlie said, "Thomas, he does know I'm not fully certified at this yet right?"

"Of course, he was impressed with your resume and when I mentioned this latest addition he wanted to be on your client list."

"Quebec.." Ashlie thought for a second, "I didn't do any work as a enologist for him yet have I?"

"No, but he was recommended to us through that avenue."

"Ah." Ashlie said, "Very well. Anything else?"

"No, just a friendly call."

"You do friendly? I was unaware you were capable of anything but business." She chided him.

"I'm hurt." He said in a flat voice.

"Yes, I uderstand estate managers have little time for humor." She said.

"How did your appointment with the Brennens go this evening?"

"My point." She said in a dull voice, "Well, I have them on a two week schedule. We've moved onto actual intamacy, they're sleeping together again and may even be able to have sex without a third party in another couple of weeks." She said.

"I told you relationship counseling was a good field."

"Solid long term money." She added his usual line, "Yes, I know. I just wish some of these idiots didn't need a fuck doll to get past actually touching each other." She sighed.

"There's a reason you're expensive." Thomas noted.

"I'm almost afraid to ask my current net worth." Ashlie's eyes were closed as she listened to the storm.

"I don't discuss numbers over the phone." Thomas reminded her.

"Yes." Ashlie smirked.

"Would you like a financial report at our next meeting? It has been four months since your last, I highly recommend it."

"What do you charge for those again?"

"This time, you get the dinner tab."

"Ha! I've a feeling your hourly rates will be lower than where we're going for dinner then." Ashlie said, "Very well. Now, anything else?"

"No."

"Email the appointment time." She said and disconnected the line. She removed the earpiece and contemplated if it was worth getting up and putting it back on the base station. A short pulse in her hand and the beeping from the station in the office informed her otherwise. She put the ear bud back in.

"Ash." She said in a cheery voice. She never knew when a long term client would call her business line, one time and short term clients had to go through Thomas.

"Ooh, all official like." John said on the other end.

"I expect you to call my personal line." Ashlie said leaning her head back against the glass, "Just as well, it's nice to not have to talk business for a moment."

"Life that rough for you then?" He said, he sounded unusually happy.

"Just business." She said, "I think I need to stop getting certifications."

"You have what, fifteen degrees or something?"

"Eight degrees, twenty-two certs." She rattled off the numbers.

"And escort of the year twice." John laughed.

"Oh bite me." Ashlie said, "What the hell else do I do with all my free time but learn more stuff." She said, "How's Washington?"

"Nice, not as rainy from what I hear is up there."

"Hurricane Juan, yes. I'm expecting the shields to close and cut off my lovely view any time now." She said, "Sunny down there?"

"Moderately." He said.

"How's Mary and Tabitha?"

"Good, both are good."

"Tabitha turns six this year?" Ashlie asked.

"Yes." He said.

"What are the chances you'll let me take you all out to dinner then?" Ashlie asked.

"I think I could see our way to that."

"Good, it'll be nice to have a friendly dinner." She said. "Of course, you called my business line, what's up?" She asked.

"Was wondering if I could get your opinion on somethig." He said.

"You know normally I charge five hundred an hour of a simply opinion."

"You wouldn't charge little old me would you?"

"I might charge you double." She smiled.

John laughed, "You would too. What's the generally feeling on pharma's this year?" He asked.

"Pharmaceuticals, hmmm. Mediocre." She said trying to think, "Nothing's coming to mind, but I'm not a stock specialist, I could do some generalized research for you but I garauntee nothing in that area."

"That's ok, I'm looking for a non-specialist opinion. We've gotten four who've told all the same thing. I get a bad feeling when that happens." He said.

"What did they have to say?"

"That Pharma's are ready to make a surge."

"In what?"

"We specialize in cybernetics, part of our research goes into drugs that help people adapt to the systems." He explained.

"Does it have any other applications?" She asked him.

"I don't know, we've been approached by Tri-Tor, that much I know."

"Tri-Tor? Don't they make anti-depressents primarily?"

"Yes."

"You make people happy, they make people not unhappy." Ashlie shrugged, "I don't know about a surge, but possibly a joint effort into a new method." She suggested.

"I don't know, I get funny feelings about this kind of thing."

"Hey, as long as your aren't caging people and bleeding them dry I really don't have any issues with it."

"Oh so we go back to that then?"

Ashlie laughed, "I love giving you a hard time about that one." She said, "Anyways, I'm really not one to speculate in that area, hell I hired someone to take care of most of my finances and them deal with stocks and investments."

"Seems odd for your line of work." He said.

"Hardly, people don't hire me for my advice on how to make money, just how to spend it."

"And they pay you for that." He sighed.

"I don't pretend to fathom the motives of the rich." She responded.

"What do you do with all that money?"

"I don't know, I go to school a lot, travel a lot." Ashlie thought for a second, "I suppose I use it to make more money, I have to check what it's up to lately."

John just laughed, "And now you know why the rich just spend it on whatever, nothing better to do."

"I suppose, I just don't get that attached to the idea of stuff. I spend more money on my business than I do on my personal life."

"Right, because Eighty-Six Up is so cheap." He said.

"Hey, you're not so far down there you know."

"Fifty-Five Up, yes, very middle class of me." He said.

"And a home in the country there in North New York Province, isn't there another home in Ireland?"

"How many do you own?"

"Own? Two." She said.

"Modesty..." He said.

"Right, well I plan on sleeping tonight," She said.

"Naturally, I'll see you in a few months then?"

"I'll be in touch." Ashlie said.

"Bye now." He disconnected the line.

Ashlie removed the ear piece and stood up, this time she was going to return the phone to the charge base and switch it to automatic voicemail. She looked at her desk, two computers. One on the network, the otherone contained all her business records and didn't even have a hardwire network port much less the wireless everything else did. Both screens were off, she turned and dropped into one of the massive leather chairs she had in the room and turned to stair out the window some more. The storm shutters finally decided the windows had enough and began to slowly close, moveing horizontally across the massive windows. She watched as the offive slowly decended into complete darkness without even the low light from the outside. She stood and went to the main room and watched as the shutters closed completely, two sides meeting in the middle of her apartment. Now the only light was a tiny lamp next to her bed and the small lights on the computers in her office letting her know they were on.

"Lights, Level One." She said outloud. The voice response computer brought soft white lights up at a very low level. Enough for Ashlie to see like it was daylight, without the glare.

Ashlie stretched in the middle of the room and looked at the clock on her kitchen counter for the time. She went over to her gym corner, Two exercise machines taking up a small tiled section of floor next to the window on the far end of the apartment. She did a vigourous thirty minute workout before quitting, she washed the sweat from her face in the kitchen sink and pulled out a bottle of juice.

The clock said it was nearing one in the morning. Almost time for a few hours of sleep. She found she only needed five hours of sleep most nights, occasionally she slept for a luxurious eight hours.

Ashlie dropped the bottle into the recycler and went towards her bedroom. About halfway across the room her door chime sounded.

"Ok. that's it." Ashlie said and continued to walk towards the bedroom, hoping whomever it was would go away. The door chime sounded again as she got to her room. "Fuck it." She said and grabbed her blouse that was still sitting on the bed.

She pulled it on and button two of the middle buttons as she made her way to the door. She hit the panel to turn on the camera, the small screen in the door showed two men standing there, one was holding a badge up to the camera.

"Police?" She opened the door, "Yes?" She asked them.

"Ms. Ashlie Reimann?" The older of the two asked.

"I am."

"May we come in." The younger man said.

"Sure." Ashlie opened the door and walked towards the center, where she had the couches set, "Can I get you gentlemen anything to drink, coffee?" She asked.

"No thank you." The older one said, the younger man shut the door behind them and looked around the place. "It's a bit dark." He said.

"Oh sorry." Ashlie reached over and picked up a glasses case from the low table between the four couches, she pulled out and put on her sunglasses, "Lights Level three." she said. The computer system brough the lights up to what was usually considered normal light levels.

They looked around, the apartment was a large open space, the main section was a forty foot window, currently shuttered closed. There was a sizeable kitchen taking up most of the wall to the left of the door and half the space outwards. The back left corner had a pair of exercise machines, there was a small glass table with four chairs in the open space next to them in front of the kitchen. The couches were in a recessed area, four of them arranged in a diamond point towards the door, with a table in the middle. The edge along the windows was bare except for a small section with a series of house plants in a four foot high planter. The section to the right of the door was lined with shelves, mostly containing books and a series of many silver briefcases, each one labeled. The back right corner was walled off for the office, a large set of double doors opened to a spacious bedroom on the far right of the space.

The two men sat down on the couch opposite Ashlie, who was now wearing a pair of titanium rimmed squared sunglasses.

"Excse ma'am, could you remove your sunglasses." The younger man said as he sat.

Ashlie sighed, "You can't have both light and my eyes." She said pulled them down long enough for the two to see her black eyes, "Unless you want to have the entire conversation with my eyes shut." She said.

The younger cop blushed for a second, "Sorry ma'am." He said quietly.

The older cop simply shot a look sideways at him, "Sorry to bother you in the middle of the night." He said reaching into his jacket.

"No worries, I hadn't yet gotten to sleep, what can I do for you?" She asked them.

"Do you know this man?" The older cop pulled out a small photopad and showed her the picture currently on it.

Ashlie reached forward and took it, "That's Michael." She said, "Why?"

"When was the last time you saw him?" The younger cop asked.

"Two days ago, we had lunch" Ashlie handed the photopad back and looked at the two cops, her brows knit.

"Where were you this evening?" The younger cop asked.

"With clients." She said not liking the questions.

"Can you give us their names." He asked.

"Confideniality." Ashlie said, "I don't give out my clients names without good reason." She said flatly.

"What do you do?" He asked, both Ashlie and the older cop got visibily annoyed.

"I'm an escort." Ashlie said reaching forward and pulling an ID card from her small purse sitting on the table, it showed her name and licensed profession.

"And your clients tonight?" The younger cop got a smile on his face, not unlike a predator.

"What's this have to do with Michael?" She asked.

"Michael was found dead tongiht." The older cop said.

"Oh." Ashlie went silent, "Shit." She whispered, "Why?" She looked at the two detectives.

"Your clients this evening? Earning an extra bit on the side?" The younger cop didn't want to let it drop.

"You'll find my license covers Relationship Counseling." Ashlie shot at him angrily, "Now why are you here in the middle of the night?"

"We need some information on Michael." The older cop said, "Do you know who was with him tonight? And since this is an investigation we'll need to confirm your whereabouts this evening."

"Check the entry/exit logs for the Makidson Suites." Ashlie said, "I'll have to involve my lawyers if you need to do interviews." Her voice was monotone.

"Do you know if Michael had any clients this evening?" The older cop asked.

"No," Ashlie answered.

"How do you get clients?" The older cop continued.

"Referals, I'm not listed. Neither was Michael." She replied.

"Did you two share any client base?"

"Yes," Ashlie said, "He doesn't have a chef's license and has refered a number of clients to me to run dinners." She answered.

"Ok," The older man stood up, "We'll let you get some sleep." He said and pulled out a business card, "We'll be in touch, please call us if you remember if was with any clients this evening." He handed her the card.

Ashlie stood up and took it, "Sure, Detective Rice." She read the card, "And..?" She looked at the younger detective.

"Detective Paulson." He said curtly.

"I'm sure we'll be in touch." She said as the went out the door. She shut the door behind them and stood there for a minute.

"Lights Level One." She said outloud, taking her glasses off as soon as the lights dimmed. She put them in the case as she walked to the office and picked up the phone. She placed it in her ear, "Dial Thomas E." She said into the mic.

It was two rings before Thomas picked up, "Ash, it's late." He answered.

"You don't sound like you were asleep." She said.

"Right," He sighed, "What's up?"

"So, a pair of detectives were here just now. Michael Illast was killed tonight." She said plainly.

"Wow, ok." He sounded concerned, "What did they want?"

"Verify my whereabouts, see if I knew of any clients he had tonight." She said.

"And?"

"I told them to scan the entry exit logs and that I had no idea." She said, "But I'm sure they'll want more than that. I don't like having my clients compromised, especially private clients." She said.

"Don't worry, I'll make sure it's taken care of." He said. "Are you going to be ok?"

"Heh," Ashlie pulled her blouse off as she walked to th bedroom, "Me? I'll be fine." She tossed the blouse on the edge of the large bed, "I'm from the wastelands, remember?" She said opening a drawer to a dresser, she pulled out a large handgun, "And I have a gun." She loaded a clip into the weapon.

Thomas sighed, "Right, bodyguard." He said, "You know very few escorts are as diverse as you are."

"Yes well, that's why I'm stupid rich instead of just rich." She said, "Just make sure my clients are protected, I'll take care of myself." She said.

"Will do."

"Now go back to fucking Mina." Ashlie disconnected the call and let her shoulders sag. "Who the hell would want to kill Michael." She said putting the gun under one of her pillows and sitting on the edge of the bed. She pulled her jeans off and tossed them to the edge of the bed, she didn't bother with the covers and went to sleep.

 

Ashlie sighed as she noticed the two detectives waiting outside the entrance to the school. "Do I even want to know how they know I'm here." She said to herself as she crossed the open section in the middle of the large building. "Gentlemen." She smiled as she approached.

"Ms Reimann." Detective Rice nodded, "May we have a minute of your time?"

"I've got an hour." She said, "Buy you both lunch?" She asked.

"Sure." Rice said.

"So do I want to know how you found me?" She asked them.

"Mr. Esrae." Detective Paulson said.

"Didn't take you long."

"He was Michael's financial manager as well." Rice said as Ashlie led them to a series of restaurants several floors up in the massive commerce building.

"I know. Any food preference?" She asked them, "It's on me." She stepped off the lift. Both men shook their heads, Ashlie went to a small sandwich shop near the end of a row.

Once they'd ordered and had settled down Ashlie looked at them, "Well?"

Rice started, "What do you know of Michael's clientelle?"

"Mid range." She shrugged.

"What about his sidelining?" Paulson asked.

"Sidlining?" She stared at him from behind her sunglasses.

"Off the books clientelle." Paulson said, "What was he into?"

"I've no idea." She shrugged.

"Look Ms Reimann we know that he didn't make his money on giving out wine advice." Paulson pressed her.

"He had other skills." She said.

"You're telling me he was clean?"

"I'm telling you I don't know what he did off the books." She said, "I run a clean house, it's harder for male escorts." She shrugged.

"What's his reputation?" Rice asked.

"From what I understand he'd play rough." Ashlie said, "That's all I really know."

"You don't sound to heartbroken he's gone." Paulson shot at her.

Ashlie smiled, "He was an aquantence at best, we talked business when we saw each other." She said, "I don't keep many friends. Life's too short." She said.

"Right." Rice huffed, "What kind of rough?"

"Check fetish circles," Ashlie said, "He liked to play with the big boys. If I had to guess I would say a game got out of hand." She remarked.

"Any idea who?" Paulson asked.

"You'd have to interrogate Thomas." Ashlie said, "Like I said, I run a clean trade, I don't need to sideline illegally to earn a living."

"I'm sure." Paulson snorted.

"Detective, I hold a number of degrees, licenses and am accredited in a number of fields. I can cook you a seven course meal, advise you on wines, suggest vacations, realestate. I'm a bodyguard if called for, relationship counselor, art appraiser and a number of other things. I am working on gem and jewelry appraisal." She stood up, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've a class to attend. I can assure you I don't need to indulge in illegal trade to get by." She left the two men sitting at the table.

"Everyone has a secret." Paulson said, "I wonder what hers is."

"We'd have to check archives and start with a background check." Rice said, "Still, I don't think she's a suspect."

"Call nailing her for whatever a side bennie." Paulson remarked.

Rice just shrugged, "Some of them are clean."

"Right, they're all high end prostitutes. I don't care what their business licencing says."

"Uh huh." Rice agreed with a non-commital grunt.

 

Most of the lifts were down due to the hurricane, all of the bridges above twenty were closed. Ashlie walked across the covered walkway of level twenty, looking down she noted that it was almost solid building below her. Twenty might as well be ground level for the complete lack of abiltiy to actually see to the ground from it. She hopped onto a express lift and rode it out towards the ocean edge. More and more people got off as she approached that portion of the city. The storm shields were up, so she couldn't tell when they approached the edge of the land city until the train stopped and announced it. She got off with everyone else, the train being half empty at this point, and decended to the underwater portion of the city. The apartments down here were just as expensive as the ones above seventy, being completely underwater. The underwater structure wasn't closed below Ten Down, which is where the real city began down here. It was a single massive structure that let her get to her own tower and take it's central express elevator up to her own place.

She was the only one on the lift after Zero and sat back against the back wall and waited as it climbed into the sky. The subtle vibration of her headset in her jacket pocket startled her, it was her business line. She never bothered with the caller ID, most of her clients could afford a block any way.

"Ash." She said in her cheery business voice.

"I sent you the meeting time, it's an hour earlier than the client." Thomas said.

"Oh?"

"We need to talk."

"About?" She didn't like the idea of needing to talk.

"They found Sandra and Keisha this afternoon. Same as Michael." Thomas informed her in his usual grim business tone.

"Well shit." Ashlie said, "You handle both of them?"

"Only Keisha." He said, "But they worked together enough."

"Sidelining?" Ashlie asked.

"That's not an appropriate question."

"Whatever," Ashlie said, "Tomorrow right?"

"It's all in the email." Thomas said, "Have a good evening." He hung up.

Ashlie removed the earpiece and slid it back into her jacket pocket and just rode the elevator up to the top.

 

Ashlie debated for about twenty minutes on which outfit to wear, most of the time it seemed easy, but she was distracted. Tabitha was found this morning, dead the same as the others. She sighed and went with the old standby, long black skirt with a slit so far up the leg you could see her garters, sheer black stocking, white blouse with a low neck, the buttons actually stopped where her rib cage started. Simple diamond stud earings and platinum rimmed sunglasses. She stepped into a pair of low black leather heels and headed out the door.

She was meeting them in a restaurant two buildings over, most of the storm had passed and the shields were open again revealing heavy rain. She could take the standard shuttle across as well. She had slid a small pistol into her purse just in case, and was holding it to best let her draw the weapon out. She had completed the look with blood red lipstick, making her look a bit pale.

She found Thomas at the bar easily, he liked to wear light grey suits to stand out, and wore his usual yellow rose in the lapel, the sign he used for clients to find him with.

"Evening." Ashlie sat at the bar next to Thomas.

"Evening." He said glancing over, "You look beautiful as usual." He said.

"Thank you," She motioned for the bartender and ordered a glass of wine.

"Glad I'm not paying." He said.

"As long as I have the tab I will enjoy dinner." She said

"Mind if I?" He looked over at her.

"Care for a suggestion?"

"Please."

"Red or white?"

"Anything that'll take an edge off." He said.

"That bad." She made it a statement and motioned for the bartender, "Find a nice secluded table." She said to Thomas. He got up and walked towards one of the back corners in the bar, near the kitchen entrance. Ashlie ordered another glass of wine and waited for it. She picked it up and went over to the seat Thomas had picked.

"This good?" He asked.

"It'll work." Ashlie said, "What's going on? Four escorts in two days? This is bad for business." She said.

"No shit, I lose anymore clients of my own and you'll be my only source of income."

"I haven't put my ear to the street on this, give me some input." She slid the wine across the table, "Sip, don't swig." She shook a finger at him.

"Heh." He picked up the glass and took a sip, "Nice."

"I know." She said.

"It's some new client they took." He started, "Off the record so I'm not involved with that part."

"What part are you invovled with?"

"I simply rent the rooms. All these have been very high class." He said.

"What do most sideliners go for?"

"Mid class, the kind of place that doesn't care enough to remember you were there."

"Police haven't tracked the guy down by entry exit logs?"

"Apparently not, besides I wouldn't expect them to be around much longer." He said.

"Oh?"

"I've a feeling they might be bought off the case early on this one, certainly enough cash had changed hands on these." He said, "And besides, they all think you're nothing but an extremely expensive hooker." He sighed.

"Be careful with that accusation." Ashlie said, "Some of us are, some aren't."

"I know, hell of all people I know." He said.

"What's the common thread between them, beyond our profession?" Ashlie asked.

"Lace."

"Shit." Ashlie looked off at the bar and it's patrons, "I thought we got Tabby off that last year?"

Thomas shrugged, "You took the interest, it was just business to me."

"Thomas," Ashlie looked at him, "You're good to me, you don't push and you don't piss me off. But if I find out you were her pusher again..." She let the threat float in the air like a knife between them.

"No. No no." He said shaking his hand, "I cut her off like you asked, she found another dealer." He defended himself.

"You got my report?" She changed the subject.

"Yes." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small datapad, "Encrypted lock." He said pushing up the cover on the thumb print pad. He pressed his thumb to it and waited for a light to turn green on the top end of the pad. He hit a small button on the side and the LED turned yellow. He passed the pad to Ashlie who put her thumb on the print and waited for the LED to turn green again. She closed the thumb prints cover and hit the on switch. It came to life with Thomas' logo as the cover, she quickly opened the files and scanned them.

"I'm worth quite a bit. Top three percent." She said, "Nice. I could retire."

"Please don't do that! You're my cash cow." He said, "Putting my kids through college."

"Don't forget helping to support your mistress." Ashlie said without looking up from the pad.

"I thought we agreed not to mention that in public."

"You agreed," Ashlie said, "I just said I wouldn't tell your wife." She turned off the small pad and put it in her purse, she ran a finger up the barrel of the gun as she looked around the bar again.

"How are classes going then?" He changed the subject.

"Good, looks like I'll be in the top five of the class. I'm taking the next avbailable test, so I'll have that on my list in a month."

"Good then, that'll help business."

"I'm not sure what to go for next, perhaps another wine region." She sipped her glass, "I hear that Spain has some good wines." She mused.

They passed a lot of the next hour with small talk.

"It's about time." Thomas said, Ashlie hadn't let him get passed more than his second glass of wine so he was still coherent enough to introduce a possible client.

He got their table and they waited as Ashlie parused the menu, seemingly satisfied with it she set it aside.

"Memorize it already?" He asked.

"The parts I'm willing to order from yes." She said.

"Any suggestions?" He asked.

"I'll wait for our guest before dispensing knowledge." She answered.

As if on queue the matre-de came over with a slightly portly gentleman, "Sir," He addressed Thomas, "Monsieur Allcot." He introduced their guest. Thomas and Ashlie both stood and shook the gentleman's hand. Ashlie noticed it was slightly clammy like men of his stature, short and round.

She sat back down and the two men followed suit. "Wine?" She asked him.

"Do you have a suggestion?" He looked at Ashlie, appraising her. She still wore her sunglasses despite the low light, all part of the look.

"Would you like me to order dinner as well?" She inquired.

"By all means." He smiled, looking at Thomas.

Ashlie motioned for the waiter who came over. Ashlie ordered the meal for all three of them, requesting a bottle of wine in the process.

Mr. Allcot was all smiles as Ashlie went about her business, when the waiter left he looked at her, "Well, your reputation is certainly deserved." He said.

She smiled, "I'm a professional Monsieur Allcot, I'm sure you won't be disappointed." She gave him her warmest professional smile.

"So, Thomas tells me you've almost completed your gemology accreditation." He said starting right into business.

"Yes, I should be able to provide services in four to five weeks." She answered him.

"Excellent, so is it too early to hire you then?" He was all smiles and extremely eager to do business.

"I have to warn you if we enter a contract now it's binding." She said, "And if I fail the test you will be stuck with a contract I can't fulfill for another month after that at least."

"I rarely make gambles I don't believe will pay off Ms. Reimann." He said, almost gravely, "If you're confindent that you'll pass the exam than so am I."

"You're willingness to take a small risk is good." She said, "Venture capitalist?" She asked him.

"Simple stone merchant." He said flashing a number of rings on his fingers, "Breaking into the lucractive New York market." He said.

"Is that so?" She entered small talk mode. The evening passed without much of an incident for Ashlie. She was heavily praised for her choice in food and beverage and she managed to sit through coffee without the urge to leave. She learned her clients full name of Pierre Allcot and that he preferred English over French which was rare for Quebec, though he did live in western Quebec near the middle of the country where it was about half and half on the language.

He agreed to meet Thomas the next day to go over specifics of a long term on demand contract. Ashlie suggested he find a second gemologist in the area in case she were out of country, or otherwise unavailable. She knew Thomas would have a clause making sure she were the primary source of his needs in this area. At one point he suggested he would like her for other puroposes, none of which she got the impression she wanted to provide for him. He almost asked if she were willing to provide this service after dinner for him, Thomas managed to stop that line of conversation before Ashlie grew angry.

She made her way home wanting to get out of the skirt and into a pair of jeans and watch the storm for the rest of the night. Once inside her apartment she put her purse on the table in the center of the room, removing the gun, and went to her bedroom, stopping at her stereo to turn on some music.

Heavy industrial music filled the apartment, deep bass and electronic noise consumed the air as Ashlie got undressed.

She managed to get down to her stockings when a rather loud and urgent knocking came from her door, they hadn't used the doorbell. Ashlie sighed and pulled a silk robe from the large closet to one side of the bedroom and went to answer the door, they hadn't stopped knocking. She'd pocketed her pistol in the robe as she passed by as an after thought almost. She hit the off switch on the stereo as she passed it.

"Yes!" She said opening the door, "What?" She had one hand in the pocket of her robe on the pistol, the other held open the door.

"Ash!" It was Kim, another escort. Nowhere as near as professional as Ash, but someone she had worked with a couple of times. Kim specialized in food preperation and serving. She made a decent living doing dinners but nothing spectacular.

Ashlie noticed she was panicked, "In." She said motioning to the apartment beyond and shut the door behind Kim. She hadn't removed her hand from her pocket.

Kim was a bit disheveled, like she hastily threw on her clothes and probably ran most of the way to Ashlie's place. If Ashlie remembered right Kim lived four towers inland around level forty. Not bad, but not excellent either.

"What's up Kim?" Ashlie asked following the girl into the room. Kim simply collapsed on the couch, pulling her purse from a inner pocket of her denim jacket and tossing it on the table.

"How much for a bodyguard" Kim asked without looking up.

"Depends." Ashlie said going to the kichten and getting a glass of water, "Start with why." She said.

"I'm in some deep shit Ash, I don't even know how to begin."

"Start with how you got into trouble." Ashlie handed the girl the glass of water.

Kim gulped it and relaxed a little bit. Ashlie sat down on the couch across from her, crossing her legs.

Kim reached forward and opened her small purse, she dumped the contents onto the table. Her ID, two colors of lipstick and three small sealed glass vials with a luminescent blue liquid.

"Lace." Ashlie frowned.

"Look, I am." Kim stopped and looked at her hands, "I was clean. But you know, most of us sideline." She wouldn't look Ashlie in the eye, "I need some cash to cover a debt." She took a deep breath, "Two days I ago I was contacted for a nice payoff. All I needed to do was show up at a party."

Ashlie hadn't moved, simply watched Kim from behind her sunglasses.

"I showed, Michael was there. I was given five vials of Flash. I tried to tell them I couldn't. But the money, Michael, everything just sort of happened. It was the best high I've ever had. This isn't normal Flash Ash." She brushed away tears that had rolled down her cheeks, "Again I was called last night, I took one of the vials, I don't remember the party but I felt great."

"You'd been called to another party tonight I assume?"

Kim just nodded, "I turned on the news today when I finaly shook loose of the Flash. Michael, Tabitha, Sandra, and Keisha. All of them." Kim was silent for a moment. "I woke up today and remembered some of the party. That's why I ran."

Ashlie looked mildly more interested.

"When Michael died, he just collapsed off to the side. We were in some kind of," She shrugged, "Orgy I guess. Seven of us and these guys watching. Michael started to bleed from his pores, we just kept going." Kim stopped, "I think I'm going to be sick."

"Bathroom's through the bedroom." Ashlie stood up, "Clean up."

"I've been chased all day Ash." Kim said standing and was silent. She slowly went to the bathroom, Ashlie heard the shower turn on.

She grabbed the three small vials of the liquid drug and went into her office. Putting them on the desk she stared at them for a moment and went to her rack of silver brief cases. Most sat in shelves flat down, a few sat on their edges, side by side. She pulled down two different cases and went into the office. The first case she left closed, and second she opened. It contained a built in computer and a phone. She powered the system up, running a small chord to the power strip built into the edge of the desk.

The small headset was already charged, she slid it into her ear and told the computer to dial a number. It rang a few times.

"Do you have any idea what time it is right now?" A woman's voice answered

"Where I am or where you are?" Ashlie asked.

"Yes."

"Late and early." Ashlie sat down in one of her office chairs and stared out the window at the rain.

"What's up kid?"

Ashlie sighed, "You know I hate it when you call me that."

"Yes."

"Thalia, I need to send you something to look at."

"What, no high mom how are you?"

"Bite me," Ashlie said, "You broke my heart and expect me to.. oh nevermind." She sighed.

"Still gets you, almost eight years later." Ashlie could see Thalia's smile in her mind.

"Yes it still gets me." Ashlie said.

"Still with Brian?"

"How the hell long is it between our conversations? I broke it off with him almost a year ago."

"Ah, maybe I should go back to spies."

"I'll call more often I promise."

"Right, so what's up? I doubt you called to be harrassed."

"I'm about to step into some trouble. We've had four escorts murdered in the last two days here. I think it's linked to some kind of high dosage Flash."

"Oh? How'd you come by that information."

"I've got one of the intended victims asking for protection. She brought three of the vials with her. I want to send one to you."

"You want to mail me an illegal substance?"

"Yes."

"Ok, three vials? Ship them seperately, here's where I want each one to go." Thalia listed a series of instructions for Ashlie to follow. "Ok, so what do you plan on doing next?"

"Heh, I've got one last day of classes tomorrow, after that I'll figure something out."

"And the girl?"

"Nice kid, made some mistakes. Maybe I can get her on the right path."

"Sounds altruistic of you. I thought you were the hardcore wasteland girl."

"No I'm just still pissed off the one person I actually had the audacity to fall in love with managed to not only dump me but make me her genetic daughter." Ashlie shot.

"Ah, right. Attachement issues." Thalia's let the rant pass.

"You drive me insane."

"How's John?"

"Good, working hard. Families doing good."

"Do everyone a favor and stay well away from him until this blows over."

"Hadn't considered involving him." Ashlie said.

"Good, known too many stupid people in the past that get everyone involved." Thalia said.

"Serious question for a moment." Ashlie sobered a bit.

"Yes."

"How many people have you, ah, altered like me."

Thalia paused for a moment. "Two. You're the second."

"The first?"

"I have no idea, he walked into Asia somewhere and I haven't seen or heard from him since."

"How long?"

"Hundred and twenty three years." Thalia's voice was soft.

"Is it lonely? Being..."

"Sometimes." Thalia cut her off. "After I hunted down and killed Sammy and Adrian disappeared into South America it's gotten a bit lonlier than before." Thalia said.

"I'm sorry."

"What for?" Thalia asked.

"Being selfish I guess. I just can't imagine what you've been through."

"No one can." Thalia said, "I don't blame you for being angry at times."

Ashlie heard the shower stop in the background, "I gotta go." She said.

"Mail those vials first thing."

"No problem, see ya mom." Ashlie disconnected the line before Thalia could respond. She put the headset back in the case and turned off the system. She packed it back away and put that case back on the wall.

Kim came out of the bedroom in one of Ashlie's robes, "I uh, borrowed this." She said.

"That's fine." Ashlie retrieved the other briefcase from the office.

"So, how much to hire your protection?" Kim stood near the middle of the room as Ashlie placed the briefcase on her dining room table. "I could, you know.." Kim moved the robe apart a bit.

Ashlie looked at her, "On the house." She said. Kim just stared at her, "You just have to make me one promise."

"Anything." Kim said.

"No more Flash, no more off the book jobs. I'll pay off your debts that are left when this is done. After this you stay strait or I collect in blood." Ashlie walked towards her bedroom.

Kim swallowed hard and watched Ashlie cross the room, "Thank you."

"Don't thank me yet." Ashlie said, "Use the bed, I'm sure you're tired." She said.

Kim hesitated a minute before going over to the bed, Ashlie has sat down in a chair to remove her stockings.

"Why are you helping me like this?"

"One, I like you. You're a nice kid with some bad decision making skills. Two, our profession doesn't get the best press already, consider this helping one of my own. Three, this is much more interesting a vacation than what I was going to do originally." She dropped her stockings on the table next to her and stood up.

Kim pulled the covers back and removed the robe, dropping it on the end of the bed.

"You're shaking." Ashlie said, "Cold?"

Kim shook her head, "I want a hit." She said softly as she got into bed, "Withdrawl sucks." She pulled the covers up, "I'm so fucking stupid sometimes." She whispered.

"Everyone makes mistakes, it's what you do after that counts." Ashlie said, "Lights Level One." She said and removed her glasses when the lights dimmed down. "That dark enough for you to sleep?"

"Vampires can see in the dark, must be nice."

"This is hardly dark from my perspective." Ashlie said, "You won't believe what it takes to actually get darkness with my eyes." She went to the closet.

Kim closed her eyes and listened to Ashlie move quietly about the apartment. Ashlie took a very quick shower and pulled some clothes from the closet. She closed the bedroom doors behind her as she left. The lights inside went off leaving Kim even complete darkness. The only light came from the windows facing the ocean, the rain spattering against the floor to ceiling view. She watched the night outside as she slowly drifted to a nightmarish sleep.

Ashlie had pulled out her combat gear and dropped it on one of her couches. She pulled on a pair of sweatpants and sports bra to do her exercise routine in. Before she started she ordered several shipping items and request immediate delivery. The online store assured her a deliverybot would be by within five hours.

She went through a Tai Chi and an Akido routine for the better part of two hours, and then switched to her excerise machines. First the weight system and then the cardio system. Midnight approached, Ashlie sat staring out the windows at one of her dining room chairs, sipping a glass of juice.

She stood up and checked on Kim, who was fast asleep in the bed, but her breathing was irregular. Ashlie took another quick shower to wash the sweat from her workout off and went back to the living room.

She pulled on a pair of heavy leather pants, heavy boots, sports bra and a black tshirt. She opened the briefcase she'd put on the table ealier and pulled out her gear. Several belts and pouches were strapped down on her legs and waist. She put a shoulder holster one, one side carried a largefirearm, the other side a thin short knife on the strap going up side.

She put on a pair of thin leather gloves as well. With the case empty she closed it and returned it to the wall, and pulled down another.

This one contained no weapons, but two jackets and several pairs of wraparound shades. She pulled out a pair of shades and put them on, the HUD built into them came to life as the small earpiece connected to the strip in her ear, she pulled the thing wire loose and ran it down her jawbone where is stay, placing the tiny mic near her mouth. She pulled her main gun and it's smarlink came to life, connecting to the microcomputer in her sunglasses. The room became a series of tageting points and ranges. She placed the gun back in the holster, turning off the targeting computer. She took off the shades and put them back in their case. She left the briefcase on her table and checked her email and voicemail. Nothing for the day. She finally retrieved her purse, slid her ID in a small pouch in her belt and pulled out her financial report. She was about to turn it on when a knock came at the door.

She closed her office door behind her as she left to go check the door. Activating the visual panel she found Detective Paulson and Rice standing there. "This should be good." She said and opened the door. "Gentlemen?"

They stopped and looked at her as she was armed.

"Come in please," She said stepping into her living area, "Give me a moment to get the lights up." She picked her combat shades up off the living room table and put them on, "Lights Level Three." She said, the lights came up as the two detectives entered the aparptment.

"You sleeping armed now?" Paulson asked.

"I've been hired to bodyguard, everything's legal." She said, "Do what I do I owe yet another visit?" She asked.

"We just need to know if you have anything else to add." Rice said.

"Anything huh? Like if I knew the other three victims?"

"Four, other four." Paulson said sourly, "Another was found tonight, goes by Kaleb." He said.

"Kaleb..." Ashlie thought for a moment, "Can't say I worked with him much. Tall blonde guy?"

"Yeah."

"Hmm, If I'm remembering the right one he's an ass and a chauvenist. But not below doing anything for a good score." She said.

"Yeah, well every victim had a high content of Flash in their system." Rice said.

Ashlie leaned against her counter. "No, nothing much." She said, "Why the sour faces?"

"Case has been pulled." Paulson said, "All incidents have been considered overdoses. No harm no foul." He shrugged.

"You sound disappointed."

"Look, I may not like what you do, but I know this was murder."

"What I do?"

"You're whole business, escorting." He snorted.

"Detective, if you came into my house to call me an addict and a whore you can leave now." She pointed at the door.

"Sorry." Rice said.

Ashlie let her arm drop, "Look, anything you do is unofficial then?"

"Yeah." Rice said, "Nothing on the books."

"I've been hired to guard what might be another victim." She said, "They were all given five vials of Flash to take each night at a party. On night five they die, I don't know what kind of dosage it is yet."

"Yet?"

"I've sent some samples to a few contacts who can tell me." She said.

"When?"

"This afternoon, I just got them today." She shrugged, "When I know something I'll drop you a line, anonymous tip style. I'm sure more bodies will turn up and you'll be able to reopen your case."

"What about this person who hired you?" Paulson asked.

"They're safe for now, and I'll keep them that way until I have something."

Rice sighed, "Deal." He saggde his shoulders, "Let's go." Her tapped Paulson.

"Can we trust you?" Paulson asked.

"Got any choice?" Ashlie shot at him, "Look, I don't give a fuck if you like the fact that I can make millions giving advice to rich people. But I enjoy my work." She said, "And I don't need to prostitute myself." She said.

"Right." He said, "Just call us when you have something." He said.

"Uh huh." She saw them to the door and shut it behind them. "Fuckin' bastard." She muttered under her breath.

She pulled down her remote communication suite briefcase and pulled out a small datachip, inserting the code she wired Thalia's number to the comm unit in her glasses and put the briefcase away. "Lights Level One." She said, her glasses went mostly clear as the ambient light disappeared, she left them on.

Ashlie sat one one of the couches and put one leg up on the table, relaxing and putting her head back she dozed, waiting for the deliverybot to come. Around two am the door chime woke up from a light sleep.

She sat up and went over to the door, the delivery bot was waiting with her package. "Wait for outgoing." She said to the cart with a head.

"Yes ma'am." It said and waited patiently in the hallway.

Ashlie went back to her office and carefull packed the contents of one of the vials per her intructions and went back to the robot, "One package, charge here." She slid her ID through the card reader and handed the robot the package.

"Nature of contents?" It asked.

"Gift, glass, no insurance." She said.

"Thank you." The robot placed the small package in it's closed cargo hold and went on off down the hallway. Ashlie shut the door, clicked the manual lock into place and went to get a few more hours sleep on the couch.

Light came in through the windows and washed over the bedroom, rain still fell but now it wasn't as heavy, the sun could be seen on the horizon. Kim sat up in the bed and shook off the dreams, she had curled into a ball at the top and she felt cramped. She got up and stretched out, feeling her body relax a little bit. She stared out the window at the view. From the edge of the city she coul see all the way down to the ocean's surface. It was an amazing view, no wonder this section was so expensive.

Kim washed and pulled on Ashlie's robe, she wrapped it tight and went out to the main area. She stopped short, Ashlie was dressed for a war she thought, all black, form fitting and complete with guns and knives. Currently Ashlie was in the kitchen cooking, an interesting image.

"Morning." Ashlie said without looking up from the stove, "I hope you like eggs."

Kim walked over to the kitchen, "Yeah, uh, that your bodyguard style?" She asked pulling out a stool and sitting on it.

"Yes," Ashlie looked up at Kim, "I should have some clothes that fit, shirts might be a bit tight in the front." She said

"Thanks." Kim said, they were close to the same height but not the same build. Kim was slim, but had larger breasts than Ashlie. She also noted that Ashlie was much more muscled that she was, meaning Ashlie had well defined muscles and she didn't. She watched Ashlie's arms, mostly bare from the short sleeves, "Work out a lot?" She finally asked.

"Every day, expert in two martial styles." She said putting a plate of eggs in front of Kim, "Eat." She handed her a fork.

Kim ate slowly as Ashlie cooked up another plate for herself, "We have to go out for a bit today." She said, "Some ground rules."

Kim looked at Ashlie.

"If I say get down that means drop immediately, not look around waiting for the bullet." Kim nodded, "If I say run, that means quickly in the direction I point or is most obvious I will follow close behind." Kim nodded again, "And most importantly if I tell you to be quiet do not talk." Ashlie's voice was serious.

"Yes." Kim nodded.

"What were the people chasing you yesterday like?" Ashlie asked.

"Tall, dark coats, I saw guns but they didn't fire. I kept to public places." She said.

"Ok." Ashlie nodded, they finished the meal in silence.

Ashlie put on her leather jacket and prepared the other two vials while Kim got dressed. Ashlie slid the spare pair of shades into an inside pocket and the vials into side pockets on her jacket. Kim came out in a pair of Ashlie's jeans and a blouse, wearing her sneakers from the day before.

"You, uh got a belt?" Kim asked, "I, um, you.. its.."

Ashlie smiled and dug a belt out of her dresser, "I've get a good ten pounds on you I bet."

"You work out more." Kim said.

"Let's go." Ashlie said handing Kim her ID.

 

Ashlie mailed one of the packages at a main station at sea level before they headed up towards the main areas.

"What're we doing?" Kim asked as they rode the transport train inland.

"Gotta pick up some papers from school, make sure I'm on the test list." Ashlie said.

"Oh. Another cert?"

"Accreditation in Gemology." Ashlie said.

"Rumors are true, you do everything."

"Not everything."

Kim stared around the train, "Rumors also say you came from the wastelands."

"Those are true." Ashlie said, "Deep west, desert." She said.

"What's it like?"

"Hard, dry, shorter." Ashlie smiled, "It's not a fun place. I don't recommend putting a vacation home there."

"How'd you get out?"

"Long story."

 

Ashlie took what seemed to be forever as Kim waited in a small room. She sat reading a magzine on gems and jewlery, it was more focused on technicaly points than showing off the gems. She sighed and put it down and looked up at the clock, it was close to noon.

Ashlie finally came out of the door she'd disappeared through, "Lunch?" Ashlie asked as Kim stood.

"Sure, what took so long?"

"Don't ask." Ashlie sighed, "Whatcha up for?" She led Kim out of the school section and to a more open area of the building.

"I dunno, whatever." Kim shrugged, "Hey, uh, how long, I mean.."

"How long will I be your bodyguard?" Ashlie asked as they took a lift down to a promenade level. "Depends on what comes down the line. They could forget about you for a day, or I could end up relocating you permanently." Ashlie shrugged.

"Oh." Kim said.

"Keep an eye out, if you see anyone from yesterday tell me." Ashlie said as they walked out to the main floor. It was mostly open for six floors up, the windows were unshuttered letting sunlight stream in. Plants and decoration disguised the massive support beams that traveled the vertical length to hold up the portion of the tower above it. Shops and restaurants lined the outer edge at every leve, stairs and escalators connecting them. There were three walkways midway up that connected opposite sides of the hexagonal tower, meeting in the middle in a small platform.

Ashlie made her way to a small restaurant near one edge when she was stopped.

"Ash!" A young man, maybe in his early twenties was in front of her.

"Mark." She said a bit surprised, she saw him coming but hadn't registered his face. "What's up?"

Kim stopped short on Ashlie's heels.

"I was," He blushed slightly, "If I could maybe buy you lunch?" He asked a bit sheepishly.

Ashlie cocked her head, "Mark, this is Kim, Kim this is Mark." She introduced the two, "Had a pace in mind?" She smiled.

"Um, well." He suddenly lost his ground.

"Tell ya what, on me." She took his arm, she left her gun arm free, and motioned for Kim to follow, "So, waited the whole class to ask me out?" She said.

"It's..."

"Relax." Ashlie said.

He took a deep breath, "You're a bit intimidating, especially." He looked her up and down, "Looking like some kind of vid-gun for hire." She said.

"Ah."

"I mean, you know most people are kinda creeped out right?"

"Creeped out?" Ashlie looked sideways at him, though he couldn't rell from behind her glasses.

"It's just that, well." He laughed nervously, "You don't see a lot of altered upside, and you've got like two dozen degrees." He said.

Ashlie laughed, "No, not quite that many degrees, but I do have a nice collection of skill sets." She said, she was leading them towards a small sandwhich shop with a glass front. "So was asking me out a bet?" She smiled sideways at him.

"What?" He seemed taken off guard by that. "Oh no. No." He said suddenly. "Look, I don't mean, it's just that.." He went quiet.

"I told you relax, I don't bite. Unless you ask nicely of course." She said as they approached the counter. "This look good?"

"Yeah." Mark said. Kim nodded when Ashlie looked at her.

They ordered and sat down, Ashlie took a window seat while Mark sat across from her and Kim to her side.

"So, what are you doing after this?" Mark asked.

"After?" Ashlie looked at him.

"I mean, once you get accredited, what are you going to do?"

"Not sure, was thinking of adding another wine specialization on." Ashlie said, "What about you?"

Mark just blinked for a moment, "I uh, if I pass the accreditation I've got a job lined up with a diamond firm, based out of Europe but want to open a shop here." He said, "What do you do for a living, or do you just learn stuff?"

Ashlie scanned the crowd for a moment before settling her gaze back on Mark. "I'm an escort." She said.

Mark had a blank look for a moment, "You mean, wait. Aren't they like..." He stopped.

"No. Those are call girls." Ashlie said, "I lend my talents in a number of fields. I'm a freelance specialist for the rich." She explained, "Which is why I always need to add more knowledge to my repetoir. The more I know, the more talents I have to lend, the more I can charge and the more jobs I can take." She said.

"Oh." Mark sat for a moment, "So, all those rumors about escorts?"

Ashlie shrugged, "It's a tough market and being an escort is a good way to disguise expensive prostitution." Ashlie remarked, she saw Kim shrink just slightly out of the corner of her eye. "Most escorts aren't in that business, but it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch." Kim almost visibly winced at that last comment.

"Oh." He said, "Look, I uh." He paused, "Relax I know. Can I take you out to dinner sometime?" He said with a bit too much resolution.

Ashlie smirked, "Sure. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card, "My number, personal number. Give me a call next week."

He took the card, a small black plastic piece with a hologram logo in the center. "I don't have anything nearly so fancy." He said pulling his wallet out and putting her card in it and pulling out his own standard paper card.

"Looks like you're already hired." Ashlie took the card.

"Positive thinking." He said.

"Always a good thing." Ashlie noticed that Kim had tapped her leg and was looking off towards the path coming from the left of the restaurant. She did a quick scan of the paths behind, two more men like the ones on the first path were quickly approaching.

"Mark." Ashlie's voice had gone almost cold, "Things may get hectic in a moment, do me a favor and stay down."

"What, are you in trouble?" He looked up both paths.

"Not me. But I am a bodyguard at times." She slowly shifted in her seat. She had slid out a small laser knife and was discreetly cutting a thin line in the glass, "And I think I'm about to have my meal ruined by some thugs." She had put the blade back in the sheeth on her lower leg quickly.

"What do you mean." Mark asked looking at Kim who had gone tense, "Oh I get it." He said, "Uh," He knitted his brow, "Would ducking help?"

"Dive away from the window actually, and then run for it." Ashlie said softly, "That's my suggestion, trust me when I say I'll be the focus of attention."

"Oh man," Mark looked nervous.

"Kim, you'll be running like hell for the elevator on the other side, I'll be behind you." She said, Kim nodded.

The four men, all in black trenchcoats Ashlie noted, had comes into the small shot through the two entrances. They were making no effort to hide the fact that they were coming towards the three of them.

"Call me." Ashlie said and in a motion faster than Mark or Kim could catch was standing and swinging her chair into the glass wall of the shop with her left hand and drawing a gun with her right.

As the window shattered she drew and aimed, the chair sailed out onto the walkway and the weapon fired. One of the men dropped backwards as the bullet hit him in the collar bone, and then everyone screamed. Mark hit the ground while Kim tried to make her legs move.

Ashlie noticed Kim had gone to stone, so she spun and using her momentum grabbed Kim's shoulder and forced her up and through the shattered glass, parts of which were still skittering to a halt and falling down.

Ashlie fired another round into one of the assailants on the other side, the three remaining men had drawn guns by now, and fired hitting him in the head.

Kim ran for it, stumbling to get her ground a bit and then she made her way down the walkway and to the corner as fast as she could. She didn't look behind her at the noise or commotion, only at where she was going, pushing her way past people and around obstacles.

She ran until she thought her lungs would burn a hole in her chest, and kept going, she hit the elevator door with a thud and frantically pressed the button to get it to open. She spun and looked behind her, she could see the broken glass of the shop and the people there, she could tell there was near panic and confusion.

A black shape came up quickly on her left and grabbed her collar, dragging her into the open elevator door. She was off balance and blurry eyed, so she went with it. Once inside the elevator the doors closed and she looked up, Ashlie had grabbed her.

Kim simply collapsed into Ashlie and started to cry, she felt Ashlie's arms around her shoulders.

"You did good kid, but you're taking up jogging. I went the long way and was only a few seconds behind." Ashlie joked.

 

Level Thirty Down, almost the bottom of the city. Kim followed behind Ashlie who moved like she owned the place. The lights down here were almost non-existant, Ashlie had to give Kim a pair of shades that she switched to a low light mode. The world was tinted green and details were fuzzy at best, but she could see, more importantly she could see Ashlie.

Ashlie went up a set of metal stairs, bringing them up a level, and into a massive open structure. Huge columns came down from the ceiling that was a full sixty feet about them. Kim guessed they were the understupport for the massive towers above, they were square and ten feet by ten feet. She could see a makeshift bridge network above her, at varying levels, platforms and housing had been attached to the side of the beams at places. The ground floor was a massive bazaar and filled with people.

"Welcome to Downside." Ashlie said. Kim removed the shades, there were lights all over the place giving a mostly even tint to the place. Though parts were obviously in the dark. Ancient street lamps, massive long bulbs, every kind of light could be seen. A lot of old neon signs were everywhere as well.

"We safe here?"

"Stay close, general rule of thumb is if you don't want to fuck with anyone they don't want to fuck with you. There are no police, this place exists on the general idea of cooperation." Ashlie explained as she made her way through the stalls and crowds.

"Where are we going." Kim was next to Ashlie, and close.

"Meeting someone." Ashlie said.

"Hey." Kim pulled Ashlie short.

Ashlie looked at her and cocked an eyebrow, Kim noticed her shade were back on.

"Could I not be the stupid chick in the movie who knows nothing?" She said, trying to be defiant.

"I'm having someone analyze the third vial I didn't mail off to other people." Ashlie said, "And don't give me any movie analogies, because I doubt we'll end up sleeping together." Ashlie said.

"Who said I wanted to sleep with you?" Kim shot back angrily.

In answer Ashlie grabbed Kim and pulled her in, giving her a long deep kiss that Kim had no hesitation returning in full. Ashlie broke the kiss.

"You did." Ashlie started off again.

"Shit." Kim sighed and ran after Ashlie to catch up.

They walked towards one of the pillars and climbed a set of stairs that had been welded to the side wrapping around it, each corner had a landing, they got larger the further up you went. Kim wondered if all the extra weight on the bottoms of the support beams didn't help stabilize the city topside.

The fifth landing up opened to a large landing, a thin strip went towards the next set of stairs the rest was occupied by a few tall tables and a bar at the outer edge. It looked to be supplied by a platform on the very outside that went up a ways to what could only be described as a building further up.

"Does this place have a name?" Kim asked.

"Sub New York," Ashlie said, "It's connected to the other Sub Cities by a train, the station is about half a mile that way." Ashlie pointed off to one direction.

"Do they use money down here?"

"Sometimes, half barter half cash. A lot of workers go up towards topside for work, or higher even." Ashlie said as they continued up it stairs ended finally.

Kim could see the ceiling, they were at the top level of the pillars and everything spanned out below them. The top here was built right up to the ceiling creating a building at the top of the structure. Seven men with machine guns sat around a table. Kim could tell if they were guarding the foot bridge that led out towards one of the other pillars or the door behind them.

Ashlie smiled at them and made a sharp turn to the bridge, the men watched and ignored the two women. Kim felt a bit unsure of the bridge, which appeared to be mostly rope and steel cabling dangling from the ceiling, bt it was sturdy enough despite the slight sway to it.

Ashlie stopped about two thirds of the way down where a break in the bridge had a second one going downwards at an angle to a bridge below them. Kim hesitated as the turn.

"Hey Ash." She called. Ashlie stopped and turned, she was several feet down already, "Uh, this the only way?" She asked holding onto one of the vertical steel cables.

Ashlie looked around at the now apparent maze of bridges in the upper area. "It's the fastest, we could take another sky pillar, but we'll just end up on more bridges." She said.

"Sky pillar?"

Ashlie sighed and walked back up to Kim, "Only a small number of these pillars actually have stairs going from the base to the top. They're called sky pillars. The rest of them are accessed by the bridges." She said, "Everything's safe, relax. The bridges are just for people, they use elevators for anything heavier, assuming they want it up here." She said.

"How safe?"

"As safe as eighty six floors of tower in a hurricane, now come on." Ashlie said and grabbed Kim's hand, Kim let herself be pulled along. She started to feel a bit safer as Ashlie moved forward.

Ashlie had the grace of step that allowed her to walk with the slight swaying of the bridges, Kim was still unsure of her footing as they progressed from bridge to bridge.

As they approached pillars Kim felt safer, her heart sank evertime Ashlie turned away from the pillar and across another bridge. They went up, across and over several times in the maze. Even as Kim could see all the bridges she had trouble following the path. It slowly started to sink in that it was specifically deisgned to thwart someone from easily getting across them if they didn't know where to go.

"Ash, why all a maze?"

"Riots and police actions a hundred years ago when upside tried to clean up the riffraff or some such shit. The inhabitants created this network and then created the sky pillars. Easily defensible points and a network above that would confuse attakers. Upside tried to pull one more stunt and failed miserably, ONY has been left alone since." She explained as they went.

"How do you know about it."

"I have a map, and I know someone who helped build it all."

"Geez, they gotta be a geezer by now, how'd you meet them?"

"You'd be surprised." Ashlie said, "That's the tower we want." Ashlie said as they approached one of the pillars deep in the center of the place.

"Oh thank God." Kim sighed.

Ashlie stopped at the entrance, a very narrow metal platform jutting out from the pillar, a bulkhead door secured the entrance. Ashlie pounded on it for a moment.

They waited for nearly two minutes when a panel slid out in the middle, "Who dat?" An old man yelled out at them.

"Thalia sent me." Ashlie said to the slot.

The man looked her up and down, "That so?" he peered at her.

Ashlie pulled her glasses down so he could see her eyes, "Yes." She assured him.

"Ah, I see. She called ahead. Friend with you then? Just one?" He asked.

"Yes." Ashlie nodded and pointed at Kim who was a little ways down the bridge. He peered at her as well.

"Well come in, just starting the afternoon coffee." He said and there were several clanks and clunks as he undid latches and bolts and opened the door for them. Ashlie ushered Kim in first and followed behind.

The narrow plank went back for six feet and opened to a wider area, which had a large troll behind a machinegun nest looking bored.

"It doesn't work very well if you don't let me answer the door." He said to the old man, who appeared to be an orc.

"Pah, no one's come for me in twenty years, I hire you 'cuz you can lift." He said to the troll who rolled his eyes and went back to a plate of spaghetti he had sitting next to him, he was also watching a vid screen that was apparently being fed from some wires coming from the ceiling.

"It's fed from the central pillar." the old man explained as he led them through a series of rooms in what appeared to be a very large structure welded and bolted to the side of the pillar, "Turns out I got a power pillar, they'd intended to continue the city proper down here but that went by the wayside as all ambition does." He said.

Aslie and Kim merely followed him as they went around the side of the pillar to another section.

"Thalia said you would have something for me? hmmm?" He held out his hand to Ashlie. She reached into her coat and pulled out the last package with the vial in it. "Names Jeks." He said, "You're Ash right? And your friend?" He looked at Kim.

"Kim." Ashlie said.

"Ah, nice couple I think." He tore open the package and Kim blushed slightly, Ashlie didn't show any reaction. He pulled out the vial and looked at it, then held it up to a light. "Flash drug yes?" He asked without looking at Ashlie.

"Yes, supposedly not the normal kind."

"Well, we'll see. Best Flash is made right down here." He chuckled, three pillars northward." He waved in a direction. "Sell to upsiders who're too stupid to know it kills your brain." He said, "How'd you end up with it?" He eyed Ashlie.

She shrugged and looked at Kim.

"I, uh," She looked at the floor, "User." She sighed, "It was an offer I couldn't refuse, you know unitl people died taking it."

"Happens all the time."

"Not after five doses." Kim said.

"Five?" He almost shrieked, "Hoo boy, shouldn't do that. Bad for business." He went over to a rather elaborate chemistry set up behind a curtain that bisected the area, "You wait here, or in there." He pointed to door that led further towards the pillar itself, "Cozy room, get some rest or food if I've got any. This could be a while." He said and pulled the curtain back.

Ashlie went into the inside room, it was carpeted, well lit and looked for all intents like a one room apartment. It had several couches and chairs scattered about, in no particular order or facing. Ashlie pulled her jacket off and tossed it onto a chair and stretched.

Kim followed her in, "He seems kinda weird." She said softly looking about the room.

Ashlie shrugged, "I doubt he's left this pillar in a very very long time." She said.

"That true, they make the Flash down here?"

"Probably, some of it at least. I'm sure other cities and areas have their own factories."

"What's it made from?"

"Haven't a clue." Ashlie said dropping into a couch and leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling.

Kim sat down on the same couch, on the opposite side of Ashlie and curled her legs under her. Ashlie stretched her legs out in front of her and breathed in and out deeply.

"Why, why did you kiss me on the ground?" Kim asked tentatively.

"You looked like you needed it. You actually look like you could due to get laid actually."

"Flash side effect, I'll probably get the shakes again in a bit. One way to counter it is to get endorphins into my blood. Sex is good for that." She hugged her shoulders, "Sometimes after a trip I'd hire out to a group who wanted some fun for the night just to get that kick to make it home and crash good." She said.

Ashlie just smiled and shook her head, "Lie down." She patted her lap, "Get some rest."

Kim hesitated a bit then lay down across the couch with her head in Ashlie's lap, she stared up at the ceiling, "Why are you being so nice to me?"

"I thought I answered that."

"Did you?"

Ashlie looked down at Ashlie, "Sometimes you just have to do some nice things for people. Karma." She said and put a hand on Kim's stomach, "Now I'm going to get a few hours shut eye." She smiled and put her head back again.

Kim lay there for a while, feeling the shiver go up her spine, and the inevitable withdrawl symptoms creep up, her heart rate increased slightly. She sat up and sat on her knees facing Ashlie, "Ash." She said softly.

Ashlie's head titled to look towards Kim, she still wore the shades.

"Please, just." She swallowed, "Just..."

Ashlie sighed and stood up abruptly, Kim flinched. Ashlie walked to the bulkhead door, she noted everything door in here was a bulkhead and the walls were solid steel. She closed it with a thump and slid the locking bar in place. Turning she looked at Kim who had an apprehensive look on her face, mixed with a raw yearning.

Ashlie undid the clips on her shoulder harness and tossed it on her jacket, she undid her outer belts as well and tossed them with the harness. Kim sat motionless as Ashlie stripped off her gear and then stalked to her.

Kim looked up at Ashlie who now stood in front of her, glasses still on. Ashlie pulled her shirt over her head and tossed it to one side, "Can't fuck clothed." She said pulling her halter top off as well.

Kim hesitated slightly, which was a second to long for Ashlie who climbed on the couch pressing her body against Kim, fingers undoing the blouse buttons as she kissed Kim deeply. Kim went almost completely limp as Ashlie stripped her top and pressed their bodies together, she started to undo the jeans Kim was wearing.

Ashlie broke the kiss and stood up suddenly, Kim just looked up at her forlornly for a moment. Ashlie just smirked and undid her own pants and reached down to pull her boots off. Kim caught on and quickly set to undressing completely herself.

Ashlie moved to one of the lights as Kim kicked off her jeans and turned it off, the light in the room dimmed, but the other flourescent was still bright, Ashlie turned that one off as well, leaving a dim lightbubl in one corner in a lamp stand to light the room. Kim was mostly in the dark but Ashlie could see fine. She placed her shades on a table and moved to the couch where she could see Kim waiting, chest heaving with deep breaths.

"Is it just the sex, or is there more." Ashlie whispered as she slid her hands down Kim's body, fingers gently brushes Kim's nipples.

Kim gasped, "It's," She swallowed to get control of her breathing as Ashlie's hands slid down her torso, "I.."

Ashlie slid her tognue around the edge of Kim's ear, stopping her completely, "It's just the sex," Ashlie said, "Don't pretend it's more." She pressed her body against Kim as one of her hands slid between Kim's legs, which spread.

Kim kissed Ashlie deeply as her own hands felt Ashlie's muscled body, one hand cupped Ashlie's breast. She dipped her head and slid her tongue over Ashlie's left nipple, sucking a little bit with her lips as she did so. Ashlie arched her back a bit with the sensation and slid her middle finger over Kim's pussy, pressing against her clit she felt Kim was already extremely wet. Ashlie slowly finger fucked Kim as Kim's mouth explored her body. Kim slid lower, eventually sliding off the couch and onto her knees on the floor, Ashlie rested one foot on the couch and one of the floor to spread her legs as Kim continued to explore.

She felt Kim's mouth on her thigh, the thin line of her pubic hair and slowly kiss her pussy. Kim's tongue slid out slowly, tracing the line of her lips, then parting them just a little. Ashlie let out a moan as Kim's mouth pressed itself against her pussy and her tongue slid against her clit and up inside her. Kim went at Ashlie's pussy with enthusiasm, alternating between sucking her click, tongue fucking her and kissing gently. Ashlie moaned in response to the treatment, one hand holding Kim's head lightly. Kim didn't let up as Ashlie started to cum, her body shuddering with the orgasm.

Ashlie was breathing heavily as she came out of her climax, she had started to sweat as well, Kim wasn't stopping her actions. Ashlie stepped back and gently pulled Kim away from her now dripping pussy. She slowly knelt down in front of Kim and kissed her deeply, tasting herself on Kim's mouth. She quickly lifted Kim up so she sat on the couch and spread Kim's legs, she intended to give as good as she recieved.

Ashlie felt Kim's hands clasp her head, one of Kim's legs draped over her should, the other spread wide. Ashlie slid her tongue in and out of Kim, stopping only to lick and suck Kim's clit. She felt Kim cum quickly once, she squirted a small amount of juice into Ashlie's mouth, who swallowed and then continued.

Kim was a silent fuck, barely audible moans escaped her lips as she writhed under Ashlie's efforts. She started to push Ashlie away after her first orgasm, but let up when Ashlie's tongue slid against her clit again. Ashlie continued to fuck Kim with her mouth through another orgasm. Kim's body went tight, her back arching enough to bring her up off the couch completely. Ashlie grabbed Kim's ass and hips and pulled her even closer to her. Kim rode the orgasm through to the climax and fell back against the couch. Ashlie didn't stop, Kim simply went limp and pushed her hips up towards Ashlie who continued to provide oral stimulation.

It took Ashlie almost five minutes to get to Kim's third orgasm, which was preceeded by a moan this time as her body shuddered violently in esctasy. Ashlie felt Kim go completely limp this time, breathing lightly now. She sat back and looked up to find Kim out cold. She smiled and stood up.

Ashlie found a blanket and straitened Kim out on the couch, covering her as she slept soundly. Ashlie got dressed again, putting on all her weapons and found some water to drink in the rooms tiny fridge, not particularly good or clear water but considering where she was she didn't mind much. She unlocked the bulkhead door and sat down in one of the chairs off to the side, but facing the door. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes behind the shades, getting some sleep herself.

 

Kim woke up and almost forgot where she was. Remembering she sat up and looked around the room, Ashlie wasn't there. She went over the events in her mind and hugged the blanket to herself, "Dammit." She said softly and looked for her clothes.

She needed, wanted more precissely, the release. Another night of shakes and nightmares wasn't something she wanted to go through, and if the Flash was as high potentcy as it seemed she had several more nights of either satisfying urges or withdrawal.

She dressed and stepped out into the lab room. It sounded empty, she mustered up the courage to look behind the curtain and found the other side empty as well. She sighed and looked at the exit to the room. Stepping through into the hallway she listened for voices. Hearing some she tried to follow them, there was a bit of echo and not knowing which room went where made the going interesting.

She eventually found herself, after following what she thouht might be a short hall against the pillar itelf, on a deck overlooking expanse of everything below and outwars. Through all the maze of bridges she realized they had travelled even further down the hall and were possibly almost dead center in the massive underground complex. Ashlie and Jeks were sitting at a lawn table, possibly made of iron, and some chairs. There was a large plate of fruit in the middle of the table. Ashlie kicked out the chair between her and Jeks for Kim who shook her head and went to the edge of the balcony to look over it.

Ashlie was talking in a language Kim didn't get, but might have been French, to her phone. Jeks sat silently watching the world above and below him, Kim noted they were about midway up the pillar, nothing was above them but bridges.

"It's made with vampire blood." Jeks said after a moment.

Kim turned suddenly, "What?"

"The Flash, it's refined with some vampire blood. That's why it's got such a kick. Vampire blood is some hefty stuff." He shrugged.

"How?"

"Haven't a clue, that's what yer friend Ash is trying to find out. Talking to Thalia I think."

"Who is Thalia?" Kim asked.

"The last person you'll ever want to get angry, or possibly the best person to have on your side. She's old. Saw this place built." He said. Both up and down." He picked up an apple and took a bite, "Feel free." He said.

"Fruit down here?"

"Hydroponics gardens all over the place, only thing hard to come by is meat." He said, "No place to graze." He cackled and ate his apple.

Kim looked at the plate and picked up a few grapes, realizing she was very hungry. She watched the people move below her, the whole place was mezermizing as she watched it.

Ashlie stepped up next to Kim. startling her slightly, "Here." She handed Kim a pear.

"Hey." Kim said taking the pear.

"Feel better?" Ashlie asked.

"Edge is off." Kim said softly.

"It'll be in your system for another day or two." Ashlie said as she looked out over the place.

"Jeks said it was made from Vampire blood."

"Yeah, something about it acts as a stimulant of sorts to other species."

"How, uh, how do you get it?"

"Jeks seems to think it's cultured, not harvested." Ashlie said, "Who knows, maybe both." She shrugged.

"Why vampires?" Kim asked.

"You want the truth?" Kim nodded, "Because vampires are a superior species, after a fashion."

"Superior?" Kim just looked at Ashlie, "I didn't figure you for a racist."

"I'm not." Ashlie sighed, "We're just like humans in almost every sense, of all the altered we're the closest to basic human there is. Just advanced. We move faster, are stronger, can see in the dark. We heal faster and poisons don't harm us. Of all the altered our only weakness is brigth light." Ashlie looked at Kim, "It's very possible we're the next evolutionary step."

"Whatever." Kim said.

"Want to know what else our blood does? Cures the zombie plague." Ashlie turned around and faed inwards, "Look, I don't believe for a minute humans are inferior. But from a pure survivalist standpoint vampires have an advantage, it's that simple. We also happen to be a key ingredient in what might be histories best and most lethal drug." Ashlie said.

"Am I going to die?"

"Probably not. What killed the others was concentration. It takes about four days to wash the chemical out of your system, assuming you don't take any more. Increase the amount in your bloodstream and it gets dangerous. Take it five days in a row and you're done for. All your blood vessels break, thus you bleed out from your pours." Ashlie said.

"Sounds horribly."

"It's slow, it's not instant." Ashlie looked at the floor, "You said the orgy kept going as Michael bled out? Well, you fucked over his dying body." Ashlie said.

Kim paled, "Can I not know this?" She said. Ashlie took the half eaten pear from Kim before she dropped it and took a bite.

"Kim, you'rea good kid. But toughen up a bit, we may only be just starting here." Ashlie stood up and walked towards the door.

"Hey." Kim turned around, "Why'd you.. you know." She asked.

"Because you needed it, putting adrenaline into your system helps flush the drug. Play nice and you might get a repeat performance just to get it out that much faster." Ashlie said and winked over the top of her shades before disappearign inside.

Kim slumped into the chair next to her and stared at the fruit. She picked up an apple and started to eat it, "Toughen up my ass." She muttered to herself.

 

Kim and Ashlie were pushing through the crowd, which had grown considerably in the last few hours. Kim checked her watch and noticed it was missing, she tugged on Ashlie's sleeve.

Ashlie stopped and looked at her.

"My watch was stolen." She said pointing at her wrist.

Ashlie just smiled, "Little after 1800." and started moving again.

Kim threw her hands up and followed, making sure her ID was still tucked safely in her jeans pocket, it was. "Thank God for tight pockets." She muttered to herself.

Ashlie led Kim to one of the very far back walls, by that time Kim had figured they'd walked about ten miles or more. "How the hell far is this?" She asked as they stopped, now waiting in a line.

"We've gone a couple miles at best," Ashlie said, "We're at the train station." She said.

"What the hell for?"

"Get out of New York for a bit." She said.

They waited as the line moved forward to a pair of small ticket windows manned by two very bored looking people. Ashlie stepped forward, "Two up Boss." She said and slid hard currency through the small hole. She retrieved a pair of tickets and pulled Kim through to the entrance itself. "Here, try not to get that stolen." She handed Kim a ticket as they passed into the actual station. It was little more than a series of consession stands against the wall and a platform. Off to one side was a set of stairs that went up and over the tracks to get to the other side and the train headed southwards.

"Bite me." Kim said as she carefully put the ticket in her pocket, "It's not like I make a habit of coming down here and worry about that kind of stuff." She shot at Ashlie.

"Finally showing some fire." Ashlie said, "Relax, just giving you a hard time."

"Uh huh." Kim said.

Afte a half hour of waiting Kim felt a shiver pass up her spine, she hugged her shoulders in repsonse to the sudden cold feeling.

"You ok?" Ashlie asked her.

"Sure, why not." Kim said, shivering once, "It's never been this bad Ash. All the other times, never like this." She said closing her eyes and trying to get control.

"Yeah." Ashlie said stepping closer, still keeping far enough away in case she needed to get to her gun.

Kim controlled her breathing to a regular pace, with her eyes shut against the world, and listened to her heart, "I'm scared. I don't want to end up like the others." She said softly.

Ashlie's phone beep softly in her ear, she tapped a tiny contact in her shades and opened the line, "Ash." She said.

"How many doses did she take?" Thalia said, skipping the hello's.

"Two."

"How long ago."

"Last one was two days ago, three days on the first."

"Hold on."

Kim was looking up at Ashlie, she could guess what the conversation was about but not why.

"Bad news, she has maybe a twenty percent chance of living. That doubles every twenty four hours from now she lives through." Thalia said.

"Three days." Ashlie said softly.

"Yeah, Three days and she's clear. It's the first two doses that can kill you, the next three just quicken it slightly, really just make you happy when you bleed to death." Thalia had a very practical point of view on it, she sounded about as emotionally attached as wood.

"That all?" Ashlie asked.

"You fell for her did you?"

Ashlie was silent.

"Not surprised, you fall in love with everyone. Not a bad trait mind, just a painful sometimes." Thalia said, "I'm on my way out there." She disconnected the line.

Ashlie looked at Kim and said nothing, "Trains here." She spoke after a moment as the train pulled into the station with a rush of noise and wind.

Kim shivered slightly as she felt her nerves dance against her bones and followed Ashlie onboard. Ashlie moved to find the emptiest car she could, there wasn't much choice. The trains ran more often by being shorter and moving faster.

Kim sat against the window and leaned her head against it, staring out at tunnel before them. It was lit only every twenty feet by dull yellow bulbs. Ashlie took the asile seat and stared strait ahead. It was several minutes before the train started to move.

"That was about me on the platform wasn't it?" Kim asked without taking her eyes off the window.

Ashlie didn't answer for a minute, "Yes." She finally said.

"Bad news then." Kim's voice was dull, as if she weren't really paying attention to the conversation.

"It should be out of your system in less than three days." Ashlie said.

"Didn't sound that good."

"You," Ashlie stopped, "Now I'm the one stumbling over words," She smiled half heartedly, "You have maybe a day left, you're chance of." Ashlie just stopped talking and looked at Kim.

Her eyes were closed, she was curled up in the seat, a tear slid down her cheek. Ashlie noticed it was tinted red. She leaned over and wiped it off with her finger.

Kim opened her eyes and looked at Ashlie, "Don't let me bleed slowly." She said softly. Ashlie pulled Kim over and put her arm around Kim.

Kim rested her head on Ashlie's shoulder and felt the shivers in her bones. She breathed slowly and calmly.

"You'll be fine." Ashlie said, "Everything will be just fine."

 

Kim sat in the giant chair of the hotel room, Ashlie's heavy leather jacket wrapped around, staring at the giant screen watching the news with the sound off. They had made their way uneventfully to Boston and made their way to Upside. It was after midnight when they finally reached the hotel level at Forty Three Up. Kim was shivering visibly, but hadn't shown any other signs of a problem yet. Ashlie checked them into the hotel, which was expecting them. Kim thought that odd, Ashlie dismissed it like she'd expected it.

Ashlie leaned against the window watching the street that was almost directly below them, the reflection of the vid screen in the window next to her.

"What next." Kim said almost too soft for Ashlie to her even in the dead quiet of the room.

"Get some sleep, I've no idea what tomorrow will be like." Ashlie said.

"I'm afraid to fall asleep Ash." Kim said, "I might not wake up." She added.

"You'll be fine, I told you not to worry." Ashlie said moving from the window to in front of Kim. She crouched down, "You get the bed." She said and picked Kim up effortlessly. Kim settled against Ashlie as she was carried the short distance to the bed, the hotel room was a standard one room affair. Ashlie lay Kim on the bed and tossed her jacket on the chair. "Still cold?" She asked.

"Only a little." Kim said, "It's not so much cold as just, I don't feel in control of my body at the moment." She said. Ashlie just nodded and undressed Kim slowly. She left Kim's jeans on, tossing her shirt and bra on the chair, and pulled the sheets over her.

"Sleep, I'll be right here." Ashlie said. Kim reached out and grabbed Ashlie's had before Ashlie could move away.

"Could you," She paused, "I've never really been with someone just to be with them." She said as explanation.

Ashlie nodded and pulled her shoulder harness off and tossed it on the chair, "Move over." She said.

Ashlie lay atop the covers. Kim settled close against her laying her head on Ashlie's shoulder, one hand across Ashlie's abdomen. Ashlie had one arm under Kim's neck and wrapped it around her, her hand laying on the curve where Kim's hip and waiste met. Ashlie felt and heard Kim's breathing next to her, which didn't sound as labored as it did an hour ago. She glanced at the clock in her shades HUD, it read three in the morning. She sighed and closed her eyes, maybe she could get some sleep while waiting for Thalia.

Kim felt Ashlie's body against hers, the subtle rise and fall of her breathing. She felt calmer than she had at any point in the last week. Her body stopped shaking as she felt Ashlie's arm around her. Kim closed her eyes and drifted to sleep, dreaming pleasently for the first time since she could remember. The feeling of calm acceptance washed through her, she felt at home and at peace lying against Ashlie, more than she had with anyone else.

Kim let it all drift from her, if she died in her sleep right now she wouldn't mind. A smiled appeared on her lips as she finally felt wanted.

 

Ashlie woke to the beep in her ear of the phone. Her eyes snapped open and scanned the room. According to her Heads-Up Display it was almost eight in the morning, sun came streaming into the room through the window. Kim was still asleep against her, breathing lightly. Ashlie reached over with her free arm and tapped the contact to stop the phones beeping.

"Ash." She whispered.

"Where are you?" Thalia said.

"In the room, we were sleeping." She said, hoping not to wake Kim. Kim's body felt warm against her, a good sign she hadn't died in her sleep.

"How is she?" Thalia's voice had actual concern to it.

"Alive, asleep, comfortable." Ashlie answered.

"Uh huh. Maybe you found someone who falls as easily for people as you do."

"That's not fair."

"Want breakfast?"

"I'd love some." Ashlie said.

"Meet me in an hour in the lobby." Thalia disconnected the line.

"Mmmf." Kim's muffled voice came, she lifted her head, "What's that?" She asked sleepily.

"Thalia called, we're meeting her for breakfast in an hour."

"Oh." Kim said and put her head back down, "Ash?"

"Yes."

"I..." Kim was cut off by Ashlie placing a finger on her lips.

"Grab a shower." Ashlie said sitting up, Kim rolled off to one side and rubbed her eyes. "How do you feel?"

"Ok I guess. I don't have the shakes anymore, but I feel kinda sick to my stomach a bit." She sat up.

Ashlie got out of the bed and stretched, "Hurry up." She walked to the window and looked out at the day.

Kim showered quickly, feeling the warm water against her skin and enjoying it. The morning didn't seem like a chore as it had in the years before. She dressed while Ashlie showered.

Kim moved slowly though, her stomach would twist up if she tried to move to fast. She was waiting patiently at the edge of the bed staring out the window as Ashlie got dressed.

"If I live through this, what happens next?" She asked without looking over at Ashlie. It was the first time she felt something for someone other than lust.

"I don't know." Ashlie put the jacket on over her shoulder holster and went to the door, "Come on we're running a bit late." She said. Kim stood and walked out the door. "You OK?" Ashlie asked noticing Kim moved slowly.

"Stomach hurts." Kim said as they walked down the hall towards the main entrance.

Thalia sat in the middle of the lobby in a high backed chair facing the doors that led to the cross street on the outside of the building. Ashlie and Kim came walking down the hallway, Ashlie stopping them when they reached the open area.

"Where is she?" Kim asked looking around, Thalia was obscured by the chair.

"In that chair I'm guessing." Ashlie said taking Kim's hand and leading her to the middle.

Thalia stood up and turned to great them.

"You're dressed for combat." Ashlie said as they got close.

"So are you." Thalia noted, "Is this her?" She motioned to Kim.

"Kim, this is Thalia." Ashlie introduced them.

"Come on," Thalia said, "I've got a car waiting." She turned and walked out of the hotel with Ashlie and Kim in tow.

The car was a black anti-grav vehicle with European plates. She'd parked it in the Limo waiting zone in front of the hotel. Thalia slid up the door to the back seat and motioned for Kim and Ashlie to get in. They noticed only one side had a door, the couch seat on the inside curved around to the opposite side, created a very small area that sat maybe five people. Thalia closed the door when they were in and climed into the cockpit in the front. That had only one seat in the center of the vehicle.

"How are you feeling Kim?" Thalia asked through the open space between the front and back.

"Stomach hurts." She said.

"Any bleeding?" Thalia asked as she started the vehicle up and slid it sideways onto the road.

"She shed a tear with blood yesterday." Ashlie said.

"A little in my sweat." Kim said, "I washed some off this morning in the shower."

"Expected. What have you had to eat in the last few days?"

"A sandwich, some fruit."

"Good, avoid meat for now. Buckle up." Thalia said as she accelerated into traffic. Ashlie and Kim found the harnesses and clasped them, Ashlie shook free of her jacket first though.

Thalia moved the vehicle to an edge lane.

"Don't tell me where about to leave the road." Ashlie said.

"State of the art anti-gravity thrust, brand new combat model in Europe." Thalia said and popped the car over the barrier, a pair of wings extended out from the car as it stabalized in the air and Thalia went into a spiraling climb.

Kim shut her eyes firmly against the impending feeling of virtigo.

"It's not quite a drug, it's a chemical spefically engineered against humans." Thalia said, "The first stages are the drug. Stage two is to put it in the water supply." She explained.

"Why and how do you know this?"

"Why? Because some very powerful people don't like humans. And because I tried to stop them from doing it, up to and including assassinating half the board two years ago." Thalia said. "They went underground with it, fucking bastards."

"Does it work on other altered?"

"I'm sure they have plans for that." Thalia said. She had leveled out and was now moving through the towers at high speed, southward. "You can open your eyes Kim, we're level."

Kim swallowed hard and opened her eyes, she stared through the dark tinted glass at the towers as they passed them, "Why would they want to kill humans?" She asked.

"Becuase vampires are the genetically suprior species." Thalia said.

"That's the second time today I've heard that, both times from a vampire." Kim said, she was annoyed.

"Yeah well, I made vampires. Fuck, I'm partially responsible for all altered. I'm the bitch queen of vampires." Thalia said, "I've had over three hundred years to think about it, yeah vampires are genetically superior. Doesn't mean shit really." She said.

"Then." Kim sighed, "I don't fucking get it."

"Simple, a few arrogant assholes get it that they're the superior species and feel obligated to wipe the so called trash away so they can rule properly." Thalia said, "They forgot the basic principle if humanity."

"What's that?" Ashlie asked.

"Genetics don't mean shit, it's how you live, not who you are." She said, "I'm descending now, I'll try and be easy about it." She said as the vehicle descended from seventy floors up down to fifty floors up.

Kim didn't feel nearly as sick on the way down as she had on the way up. Partially because she had some warning.

"Am I going to die?" Kim asked Thalia flatly. Ashlie grabbed her hand and gave her a look.

"Chances are pretty good you won't make sundown." Thalia said, "Anything you wanted to see or get done before you died?" She asked as she landed on a jutting platform.

"I always wanted to know what it looked like out in the middle of the ocean." She said.

Thalia turned and looked at Kim, "Above or below the surface?"

"Above, I wanted to just float on the waves... stupid I know."

"No." Thalia said shaking her head, "Nothing is stupid. We'll do that after breakfast." She got out of the car and opened the back door, "Keep your gun." She said to Ashlie who was about to leave it behind.

Ashlie shrugged and pulled her jacket back on before getting out of the vehicle.

Kim stared up at Thalia, "You mean that?" She said in a deadly serious tone.

Thalia removed her sunglasses and looked Kim in the eye, "Yes. I mean it." She put her shades back on and walked towards the entrance of the building.

 

Kim lay on the roof of the vehicle, she had climbed out through the still open top hatch. Thalia and Ashlie were inside in the back talking. She couldn't see land anywhere, not even the towers of New York. She had looked at the endless water around them for a while before lying down on the roof and staring up at the clouds in the sky. They seemed to far away from where she was.

The wind blew across them, it wasn't too strong, just strong enough to let the occasional spray reach her from the water below. She was using Ashlie's jacket as a pillow as she looked up. The air was warm around her and the sea smelled cleaner than she thought air could smell.

She sat up and pulled her shirt and bra off, tossing them into the hatch, and lay back down letting the air flow over her naked torso.

Looking up at the blue sky, a blue to bright and vibrant she thought it needed a new word to describe it. A large white cloud floated into her field of vision, she reached one hand out as if to grab it.

She traced the edge of the cloud with a finger as it floated across the sky.

"A horse, or maybe a dragon." She whispered to herself thinking of the shapes it might be. She'd never seen a horse, or a dragon for that matter, up close. Only pictures of horses and dragons. She'd heard that they hard horses in upstate New York where the buildings ended, and in the South. And some in Europe. She'd realized she'd never left the city, not once.

She got her accreditation as a chef, and tried to cook for a living. Then someone introduced her to the idea of escort services. The extremely rich would hire you for the night, the idea was for sex obviously but that was illegal in Bowash. So they borrowed an idea from the Europeans and called themselves Escorts, all you needed was a legitamate carreer. She was hired as a chef, and she was a damn good one, but she was used for sex. And then she had a taste of Flash, a fellow escort had told her it would help get through the night.

As she progressed she heard of escorts who could do multiple jobs, and didn't do the prostitution. Only the best of the best escorts were just that, tradesmen for hire, like in Europe. You looked pretty for the event, you did your job and you were good at both. You were never prompted for the blow job in the back of the limo, or to stay afterwards for a couple of rounds in the bedroom. You never had to do drugs to take the edge off. She sighed as the cloud left her sight.

She laced her fingers on her stomach and just enjoyed the view of the flawless sky, the smell of salt and water and fresh air and the occcasional spray over her body.

Thalia watched the shirt and bra drop into the car and just smiled. "She's a nice kid." She said.

Ashlie just stared out the side window from her seat at the curve of the couch. Thalia was stretched out next to the door. "What's the point, I find someone they leave or it's just wrong. Or you know, someone's given her a genetic virus that'll kill them." Ashlie said with a bit of venom. "Remember that guy Mark?"

"Oh yeah, you swooned over the phone for an hour. You described how good it felt when he fucked you Ash, how could I forget?"

"Yeah, he was good. Too bad I was the girl on the side." Ashlie said, "What the hell is it with me that I fall for all the wrong peopple?" She looked at Thalia, they both had their shades off in the darkened car. The tinted glass blocked almost all the light from coming in.

"You're a sap." Thalia said, "You think with your heart, not your head." She shrugged, "Makes for great relationship counceling."

"Oh please, half my clients use me as a prostitute." Ashlie said.

"And the other half?"

"Ok, so I've saved several marriages and have made some genuinely happy couples."

"Yes."

"Some of them send me anniversary cards, treat me like part of the family." She said.

"That's good." Thalia said. "For what it's worth I think if she lives through this you might have found the one."

Ashlie just stared at Thalia, "I thought that once too, you know but she dumped me, altered my genes and gave me a shitload of money."

"No, that was lust." Thalia said, "And admiration for just pulling you out of the wasteland. Think about it, do you really think we would have made a good pair? I don't even like being with people." Thalia said.

Ashlie sighed, "Ok, probably I would have left inside of six months."

"Right, and this one?"

Ashlie looked out the front window for a minute and then turned back to Thalia, "Last night we slept together. Not sex, hell I didn't even get undressed. I was on top of the covers to boot. But she fell asleep on my shoulder, I figured I'd doze for a few minutes and get up." Ashlie stared past Thalia as the ocean beyond, "But it felt so nice to have her there, I could feel her breathing and her heartbeat against me." Ashlie said, "It felt electric."

"That's love." Thalia said, "Hold onto that feeling." She looked at Ashlie for a long moment, "No matter what happens today."

Ashlie's jacket fell into the car and they watched Kim climb slowly back in. Kim hesitated for a moment remembering she had no shirt on and just shrugged. She climbed slowly and carefully into the back and lay on the couch next to Ashlie. She slowly moved in and gave Ashlie a lingering soft kiss on the lips and then settled in against her body. Ashlie had removed her harness and tossed it to one side, and was now thankful for that or Kim would be nestled against the gun at the moment. Ashlie put her arm around Kim and pulled her close.

"Thank you." Kim said staring across the car at Thalia.

"Anything else you wanted?" Thalia asked.

"I don't know. I don't even know what there is to do." She said softly.

 

Angela looked around the bar area and finally spotted Kim. She walked over, eyeing the customers. "You sure this is the right place?" Angela asked Kim as she sat at the small table off to one side.

"Oh yes." Kim said with a smile.

"Ok then." Angela said, "What'd you get a job as a cook here?"

"No, I told you I was seeing someone right?"

"Yes!" Angela motioned for a waitress, "He or she?" She asked.

"She." Kim said.

"Martini." Angela ordered her drink, "Serious?" She turned back to Kim, her platinum blonde curls bouncing.

Kim blushed slightly, "Yeah."

"She know what you do, did?" Angela cocked an eyebrow.

Kim smirked, "She's one of the high class, you know the know everything worth millions type."

"High class? So does that mean she charges more a turn?" Angela said.

"It means she doesn't turn at all." Kim hit Angela in the arm lightly.

"Heh, I knew you'd find someone decent." Angela said, "So, how serious?"

"I've lived with her for the last year." Kim held up her left hand to show off a ring with a pair of diamonds.

"Wow, small, nicely cut." Angela examined the ring, she reached into her bag and pulled out a jewelers eye, "May I?" She asked.

Kim sighed and held her hand for Angela to inspect the diamonds. Angela looked at them through the dim light and finally pulled out a tiny pen light and reexamined them.

"Ok, these are high class Kim. Guess we aren't in the wrong place." She put her tools away.

"Thanks." Kim blushed slightly.

"So, if it's serious what about kids? I know a great genesplicer in Jersey you could use." Angela said as her drink arrived.

"I don't know." Kim shrugged, "She doesn't seem like the family type."

"Uh huh." Angela said, "So, when do I get to meet her?"

"She should be here soon." Kim said, "Well, an hour."

"An hour huh?"

Kim shrugged, "I had time to kill and she really isn't the gossip type." Kim explained.

"Ah, now we get into it." Angela leaned forward with a conspirotrial smile, "Six months has a lot happen in it." She said.

 

Ashlie had the news going on the new large screen that had taken up residence in her apartment against what was her wall of briefcases. They had been moved to shelves in her office cluttering up the space a bit. A single couch faced it, creating a half room between the bedroom and the main living area. While the apartment lent itself to one person easily, two people was definitely cozy. She stopped minding a few months into, though occasionally finding Kim's clothes scattered on the couch gave her cuase to roll her eyes.

The kitchen was immaculate, Kim had come equipped with her own professional cutlery putting the kitchen amongst one of the best, if not the best, stocked kitchens in New York. The couch area in the middle went through periods of mess and clean depending on how busy they were. Ashlie's office had become her sanctuary at times.

She put the ruby earings in and wander out towards the vidscreen, she'd taken an interest in the news since the assassinations started six months ago. High profile people in the pharmecutical industry and amongst the vampire community had started to be killed off. She only smiled both knowingly and blissfully ignorant.

She remembered a rather harrowing three days where Kim would look to be getting better then lapse, in turns of hours. Thalia had left them alone in one of her Island apartments, one of those carribean complexes that was almost completely underwater with private entrances and artificial beaches so no one actually had to touch the third world islands.

Kim had been fascinated with the view of the ocean from the bottom side. Ashlie figured they had to be a hundred feet or so down. Thalia had assured them absolutely no one would come looking for them there and left. When Thalia returned days later she had run blood tests on Kim and declared her healthy again, and warned her that were she to so much as take a hit of Flash she would likely die instantly. Ashlie wondered if that was true or a simple scare tactic, either way it seemed to work. Thalia told them to take a weeks vacation and left again.

Ashlie had felt Kim's growing sense of apprehension as the week drew to a close, most likely afraid she would simply be dumped back into her previous life. Ashlie took a shot and asked Kim to move in with her, Kim's delight at that was expressed in what had to be the best series of orgasms Ashlie had had to that point in her life.

So here she was, meeting one of Kim's long time friends, or trying to as she looked for her black heels. Kim was not the most organized person in the world and it slowly crept into Ashlie's life. In repsonse Ashlie put up with it under the condition that Kim stayed out of the office, Ashlie hoped it would keep that space clean at the least.

Ashlie found she mildly enjoyed the infusion of chaos Kim brought with daily life, despite herself. She stopped in front of the vidscreen, shoes in hand, to check the last of the news.

"Pharmaceutical companies stocks sank again today in the wake of another attack. A bomb decimated two levels of a Washington D.C. tower that housed the research facilities of FarChem Incorporated. It is reported forty seven scienists were killed in the blast, and several civilians were injured by a small amount of falling debris."

Ashlie just stared at the picture on the screen, through the rubble you could see the support beams were still there, almost copletely unharmed. Whomever planted the bomb knew how to target just the insides of the building and not any important sections. Ashlie just shook her head, "I hope you're not involved John, not after all that Thalia did for you." She whispered to herself. She made a mental note to check on that in the morning, right now she was running late.

Ashlie slipped her heels on at the door, grabbed her tin purse and stowed it in the sash she was wearing just for that purpose and went out the door. She was wearing a long dress that had elegently pulled off the trick of being backless and still having long loose sleeves. The top was a collar around her shoulders and neck, a diamon cut out of the dress to show some cleavage. The whole thing was alternating between solid black and a sheer see through black silk. The skirt was tight at the hips and had a sheer swath that swirled down from her waist to the hem, her mid section covered by a sash that covered the sheer section up at her hips nicely. She wore black rimmed sunglasses as well. The only color she showed were the blood red lipstick and the dark red stockings hinted at by the see through sections of her skirt and at the ankle. She got into her car and drove to the restaurant on Ninety-Five Up.

Ashlie walked in and checked the bar area, immediately spotting Kim and her friend. They were laughing in a friendly manner, carrying on very much like she would expect them to do. She wondered if she'd missed out on anything by not having any truly long term friends, but the wastelands didn't really provide for that kind of bonding. She walked over to the table.

"Ash!" Kim said standing up, "Wow, you look... stunning." She looked Ashlie up and down, barely contained lust in her eyes, "This is Angela. Angie, this is Ashlie." She introduced the two.

"Pleasure." Ashlie said shaking Angela's hand.

"Pleasure is all mine." Angela said with a smile, "Kim didn't tell me you were Altered." She said.

"No?" Ashlie gave a half smile, "Vampire." She tipped her glasses to show her eyes, "Shall we dine?" She said.

"I'm starving!" Kim said, "What took you so long?"

"Business." Ashlie said and walked to the restaurant proper, they were immediately seated in a small round table off to one side of the restaurant, next to a window.

"Come here often?" Angela asked as she noted Ashlie hadn't said a word and they seemed to know her.

"Yes, one of my prefered places to dine." Ashlie said.

 

After dinner Ashlie had a limousine hired to take Angela home and took Kim to one of her favorite after hours spots. A small bar with private rooms, some as meeting rooms, some had billiards tables, some were dining, others were private dance rooms. Ashlie's prefered room was a small lounge area with a leather couch, a small table and chairs and an enclosed balcony and moved out over the edge of the building. Clear plexiglass gave one the impression of standing on the air.

Kim stood there and let a sense of vertigo wash over her as she stared out, there were at the very top of one of New Yorks tallest edge towers, One Hundred Ten Up. Ashlie quietly placed the Do Not Disturbed sign on the door, they would be left alone until closing time at four in the morning.

"This is amazing." Kim said as Ashlie stepped up behind her, she had kicked her shoes off by the door and was in her stockings.

Ashlie wrapped her arms around Kim's waist and peered over her shoulder, "Yes, I love the view up here."

"How'd you find this place?"

"The owner was a client of mine." Ashlie said, "I put his marriage back together."

"Oh?"

"You know how hard it is as a woman to act as a sex counselor for two men? Damn near impossible." She said.

"And yet you managed."

Ashlie kissed Kim's neck, "Yeah well, once I got them over the fear of fucking a woman going back to coital relations with each other seemed like a snap." She explained.

"I thought you didn't do tricks." Kim turned her head.

"I don't, relationship counseling involved at least six months of sessions with all parties, most times I don't get involved in the bedroom. When I do it's followed by several months of talk sessions where I'm no long involved sexually. I'm more a fasciliator between two people, not a toy for them." She said.

"Ah, yeah. I don't get it."

"Hard to explain." Ashlie said.

"Do you still? I mean, will you still do that?"

"I'd like to." Ashlie said, "It's deeply satisfying knowing you helped two people who love each other overcome their differences and remember what it's like to be in love again." She said.

"Oh." Kim said softly.

"Would you prefer I didn't?"

"No, well." She leaned back into Ashlie a bit, "Is jealousy a bad thing?"

"It can harbor feelings of distrust and animosity." Ashlie said, "It's also a mechanism of fear. You're afraid you'll lose me to someone else, or perhaps you're afraid that if you share me I won't have the same strong feelings for you anymore."

"Uh." Kim stuttered, "I haven't even thought about it that clearly."

"It's part of my job." Ashlie said, "Trust me, you are the best feeling I have ever had. Sex counseling rarely involves orgasms on my part, much less enjoyment of the actual act. I spend too much time making sure the couple I'm working with feels good."

"It's always couples?"

"It's relationship counseling, not fuck therapy." Ashlie said.

Kim turned and looked up at Ashlie, "I can cope." She squared her shoulders, "Did I mention how sexy you look tonight?"

"Once or twice." Ashlie smiled and kissed Kim.

They made love several times in the room before departing back to their place. Ashlie fell asleep with Kim in her arms in their bed and wondered how she could possibly have thought she felt this way about anyone else she'd ever dated.