Fade Out

Chapter Twelve


The closest Myrnin could get them was a few blocks away. Claire was glad, actually, that he hadn't warned her where they were going; she wasn't sure she'd have been able to step through if he had.
German's Tire Plant had closed at least thirty years ago, and the gigantic, multi-story facility was basically one big gold mine of creepy. Claire had been in it exactly twice before, and neither visit held pleasant memories - and those had been daytime excursions. At night, the terror level went way, way up.
The only reason she knew they were at German's Tire Plant was that the weapons bag Shane had brought contained flashlights, and one of the first things Claire's lit up was the spooky clown face graffitied around a big open maw of a doorway. She'd never forget that stupid clown face. Ever.
"Oh man," Shane breathed. He wasn't fond of this place, either.
"Buck up," Eve said. "At least you didn't get locked in a freezer here like next month's entree. I did."
Myrnin, blue-white in the flashlight beams, looked offended. "Young lady, I put you there for safekeeping. If I had meant to eat you, I would have."
"That's comforting," Eve said. And then, under her breath, "Not."
"This way." Myrnin put out his hand to shield his eyes from their flashlights, and picked his way around a pile of tottering, empty beer cans left by adventurous high schoolers, a stained, torn mattress, and some empty crates. "Someone's been here."
"No kidding?"
"I mean, recently," he said. "Not humans. Vampires. Many of them." He sounded a little puzzled. "Not my creatures, either. They all died, you know. The ones I turned."
Back in his crazy (crazier?) days, Myrnin had experimented on some hapless victims, trying to turn them into vampires but failing as his illness took hold. The results hadn't been pretty - more like zombies than vampires, and not focused on anything but killing. Claire wondered how they'd died, and decided she really didn't want to know. Myrnin was a scientist. He was used to putting down lab animals at the end of a test.
"Are these vampires hanging around now?" Shane asked. He had a stake in his left hand, and a silver-coated knife in the other - a steak knife he'd used a car battery and a fish tank full of chemicals to electroplate. Stinky, but cheap and effective. "Because a heads-up would be nice."
"No, they're gone." Myrnin continued to hesitate, though. "I wonder. . . ."
"Wonder later. Move now," Eve said. She sounded nervous, and she kept shining the light around erratically, reacting to every rustle in the dark. There were a lot of those. Rats, birds, bats - the place was full of wildlife. Claire kept her own light trained on the path ahead of her, making sure she didn't trip or cut herself on rusty juts of metal as Myrnin led the way. Shane's warmth behind her felt good. So did the weight of the Super Soaker in her arms.
Myrnin threw open a metal door with a snap, shattering the lock and scattering links of the big chain that had secured it all over the pitted concrete outside. "There," he said, and pointed as they gathered around him. The clouds thinned a little, allowing some diffuse moonlight to paint the ground with cool blue and silver, and a mile or so away sat a concrete block of a building, and a tall, skeletal metal tower. Big white letters on the tower said KV V; one of the Vs was long gone, and the other was tilting drunkenly to one side, not far from dropping off entirely to join its missing mate. The place looked deserted. Wind rattled over the flat landscape, whipping up dust and scattering trash, and made an eerie whistling sound through the metal of the tower.
"I don't see Michael's car."
"One way to be sure," Myrnin said. "Let's go."
The closer they came, the creepier the place was. Claire wasn't a fan of blighted industrial buildings, and Morganville was full of them - the half-destroyed hospital, German's Tire Plant, even the old City Hall had its decaying side.
This one looked so . . . grim. It was just a cinder block building, not very large, and the one window in front had been long ago broken out and boarded over. Someone had spray-painted KEEP OUT on the bricks, and part of it was heavily decorated in multicolored swirls of graffiti. Beer cans, cigarette butts, empty plastic bags - the usual stuff.
"I don't see a way in," Eve whispered.
"Why are you whispering?" Myrnin whispered back. "Vampires can hear us, anyway."
"Is there a vampire in there?" Claire asked.
"I'm not psychic. I have no idea."
"You could tell in the tire plant!"
He tapped his nose. "Five senses. Not six. It's not so easy to sniff them out standing outside the building." He gently moved the business end of her Super Soaker away from himself. "Please. I bathed already, and I'd rather not do it in the vampire equivalent of pepper spray."
They made their way around the side of the building, closer to the tower, and there they found Michael's dark sedan sitting in the shadows.
"Michael?" Eve called. "Michael!"
"Hush," Myrnin said sharply, and flashed supernatu rally fast across the open space to grab the knob of a door Claire could barely see. It sagged open, and he disappeared inside.
"Wait!" Claire blurted, and darted after him. She switched on the flashlight as soon as she reached the door, but all it showed her was an empty hallway, with peeling paint and a floor covered in mud from some old flood. "Myrnin, where are you?"
No answer. She yelped when Shane's hand closed over her shoulder; then she pulled in a breath and nodded. Eve crowded in behind them.
Down the hallway was a dead end, with more hallways stretching left and right. The fading paint had some kind of mural on it, something West Texas-y with cows and cowboys, and the letters KVVV in big block capitals.
The whole place smelled like mold and dead animals. "This way," Myrnin's voice said quietly, and with a hum, electricity turned on in the hall. Some of the bulbs burned out with harsh, sizzling snaps, leaving parts of the space in darkness.
Claire followed the hall to the end, which took a right turn into a small studio with some kind of engineering board. The equipment looked ancient, but clean; somebody had been here - presumably Kim - and had taken care to put everything in working order. Microphones, a chair, a backdrop, lighting . . . everything in the studio needed for filming, including a small digital video camera on a tripod.
On the other side of the room was a complicated editing console, which had a bank of monitors set up. They obviously weren't original to the setup - decades more modern than the soundboard - and Claire identified different components that had been Frankensteined into the system.
These included an array of fat black terabyte drives, all portable.
Michael was sitting at the console. "Michael!" Eve blurted, and threw herself on him; he stood up to catch her in his arms, and hugged her close. "You incredible jerk!"
He kissed her hair. "Yeah, I know."
She smacked his arm. "Really. You are a jerk!"
"I get that." He pushed her off a little, to look at her. "You're okay?"
"No thanks to you. You had to go running off in the middle of the night and not even say boo . . ."
"I should have known you guys wouldn't stay put."
"Where's Detective Hess?" Claire asked. "I thought you were meeting him here."
"Yeah, I did."
"Where did he go?"
"I'll tell you that in a minute." Michael seemed preoccupied, as if he were trying to figure out how to tell them something they weren't going to like at all. "This is Kim's data vault. At least, most of it. Claire, that's a router, right? I think this is her receiving station for the signals."
"She's using the tower to amplify the signals," Claire said. "Did you find - ?" She didn't want to get more specific than that. Michael shook his head, and her heart fell. "What about the other ones?"
"She's been a busy girl," Michael said. "There are video files there from City Hall, Common Grounds, spots all over town. It will take hours, maybe weeks, to look at everything, but she's done a rough cut." He hit some controls, then pointed at the central monitor. "This is the raw file."
After some old-fashioned leader signals, there was a shot of the Morganville town limits sign, creaking in the wind . . . and then, in special effects, the word Vampires appeared in bloody streaks right below the sign.
"Subtle." Eve snorted. "She's got a future in Hollywood."
Kim's voice came on, breathlessly narrating. "Welcome to Morganville, the town with bite. If you've ever driven across the barren landscape of West Texas, you may wonder why people live out here in the middle of nowhere. Well, wonder no more. It's because they can't live anywhere else without people knowing what they are."
The visuals cut to a montage of Morganville daily life - normal, boring stuff.
And then a night-vision shot of a vampire - Morley, Claire realized with a shock - sucking the blood out of someone's neck. It was an extreme close-up. His eyes were like silver coins, and the blood looked black.
Cut to Eve, working the counter at the coffee shop in all her Goth glory. Eve sucked in a quick breath, but said nothing. More shots of Morganville, some handheld. Claire saw footage of students, and remembered Kim running around the campus with her digital camera, asking people stupid questions.
It was in there, and so was Claire, saying, "I have two words for you, and the second one is off. Fill in the blank."
Claire covered her mouth with both hands. God, she looked so angry. And kind of bitchy.
It got worse, with the voice-over. "Even the normal people of Morganville aren't so normal. Take my friends who live in this house."
A shot of the Glass House, full daylight. Then some kind of hidden-camera thing of Kim knocking on the door, Eve answering.
A shot of Shane. One of Michael.
"Living in a town full of terror doesn't mean you can't find true love - or at least, real sex."
The video morphed into Claire and Shane in his bedroom. Oh God no . . . Claire felt sick and hot and breathless, full of horror at seeing herself there on that screen. She stumbled away and almost threw herself into Shane's arms. He, lips parted, was staring at the picture, looking just as horrified as she felt. But he couldn't look away, while she simply couldn't watch.
"Goodness," Myrnin said quietly. "I don't think I should be watching this. I don't think I'm old enough."
"Turn it off," Shane said. "Michael."
Instead of turning it off, Michael hit FAST FORWARD. He slowed it down as the scene changed. More Kim voyeur porn, this time Michael and Eve. No voice-over. Claire couldn't imagine what she was intending to say, but it couldn't have been good.
"I'll kill her," Eve said. It sounded calm, but it really wasn't. "Why are you showing me this?"
Michael looked at her, and Claire's stomach did a little flip at the grimness in his expression. "Sit down," he said, and wheeled the chair closer to Eve. She looked at it, then at him, frowning. "Trust me."
She did, still frowning, as the scene changed on-screen.
It was some dark-paneled room, with a big wooden round table, an ornate flower arrangement in the middle. Of the several people around the table, Claire recognized three immediately, with a shock. "Amelie," she blurted. Amelie clearly had no idea she was being filmed; the camera was high up, at an angle, but it caught their faces clearly. Next to her at the table was Richard Morrell, the mayor, neat and handsome in a dark suit. At his right sat Oliver, looking - as usual - angry. Several other people around the table were talking at once, arguing, and finally Oliver slammed his hand down on the wood with so much force it silenced them all.
Then came Kim's voice-over. "Morganville is ruled by a town council, but one not like any other. Nobody elects these people. That's Amelie, Founder of Morganville. She's more than a thousand years old, and she's a ruthless killer. Oliver's not much younger, and he's even meaner. The mayor, Richard Morrell, he's new, but his family has ruled the humans of Morganville for a hundred years. Richard's the only human on the council. And he gets outvoted . . . constantly."
She cut back to the sound as Richard was saying, ". . . want to revisit the decision we made earlier, about Jason Rosser."
"What about him?" Oliver asked irritably. "We've heard your arguments. Let's move on."
"You can't execute him. He gave himself up. He tried to save the girl."
"He did not try to save Claire," Amelie said. "He left her to die. Granted, he did turn himself in to the police and told us about his accomplice in these murders, but we must be clear: he is far from innocent, and his history tells us he can't be trusted."
"He's still a kid," Richard said, "and you can't just arbitrarily decide to execute him. Not without a trial."
"With a majority vote, we can," Oliver said. "Two for, one against. I believe that is a majority. It won't be a public event. He'll just quietly - disappear."
Eve's mouth dropped open. She leaned forward, frantically searching the screen for a clue. "When was this? Michael? When did she record this?"
"I don't know," he said. "I thought you should know. Your brother's been sentenced to death."
"Oliver - he didn't even - he didn't say anything."
"Well," Myrnin said, "I don't suppose he felt it was necessary. I expect they were planning to arrange something quiet, perhaps an accident. Or suicide."
Eve fell into the chair, and blindly reached out for Michael, who took her hand. "They can't just kill him. Not like some - rat in a cage. Oh God, Michael . . ."
"I told you Detective Hess was here. He left right after we found that. He's going straight to the jail to be sure Jason's okay. He'll put him in protective custody, okay? Don't worry."
She gave out a breathless, broken laugh."Don't worry? How do I not worry after you show me things like this?"
"Good point," Shane said. "Michael, Kim bugged the council meeting. How could she possibly do that?"
"She couldn't," Myrnin said. "The human parts of town, yes, of course, but not the vampire parts. She has no excuse to be there, and she'd be caught if she'd gone anywhere near the official chambers. Or Amelie's house." He held up another black hard drive, which was clearly labeled in silver ink. "Or Oliver's, for that matter."
Claire caught her breath. "Your lab?"
"No. Oddly enough, nothing. But the evidence she has here is damning enough, I would say."
"But nobody would believe it," Eve said. "I mean, sure, she might get some off-brand cable station to air it, but everybody would think it was some kind of hoax."
"Doesn't matter," Claire said. "Even if nobody does, tourists will come flocking to town, and how long do you think things will hold together once that happens?"
"I'd give it a week," Myrnin said. He sounded quiet, and not at all amused. "This is our refuge, Claire. Our last safe place in this world. Don't be fooled; we might be willing to compromise, but we are territorial. Kim has violated the deepest covenant of Morganville. She can't survive this."
"She didn't do it alone; you said so yourself. It took a vampire to bug the council, let alone Amelie's house."
"And we will find them," Myrnin said. "And we will destroy them. There are rules to Morganville, and Kim and this vampire have shattered them beyond all repair. Amelie must never know of this. I'm afraid what she would do."
That seemed a strange left turn. "Why? We're going to catch them, right? We've got the video."
"Do we?" Myrnin looked at the array of hard drives. "You spoke of more than seventy cameras, but I see only sixty or so hard drives. What's missing, Claire? You know Amelie. You know that her first concern is for her people. If she believes that we've been compromised here, she will cut our losses."
"Losses being humans," Shane said.
"She'd rather move us and destroy all evidence we were ever here. It's always been her final option. You have no idea how many times she's come close recently."
Claire swallowed. "We can't let her do that."
"We cannot stop her," Myrnin said. "Not even I can do that. But what we can do is remove the evidence."
He crushed the hard drive he was holding into junk and dropped it to the floor, then moved on to the next, and the next.
Michael helped Eve out of the chair, picked it up, and smashed it into the editing station. He ripped out the hard drive from the video editing system and smashed it against the wall.
Claire and Eve backed up against the wall, holding hands, as the two vampires systematically destroyed every bit of data storage in the place. It took a while, but they were thorough, and when the last piece of equipment was broken into random parts, Shane said, "I thought that would feel better, somehow."
"We're not finished," Myrnin said. "We need to find every camera and destroy those, as well. And we must find Kim and force her to tell us who helped her. This is not negotiable. A vampire traitor is far too dangerous to live."
Kim had kept records - a hard copy printout stuffed in a cabinet drawer next to the wrecked editing machine. It listed a total of seventy-four cameras, all over Morganville. "She must have added a couple at the last minute. This is going to take hours," Eve said. "We'll have to split up, each take ten or so. Myrnin and Michael, you've got the Vamptown cameras. Claire, Shane, here you go. Knock yourselves out."
"What about Kim?" Claire asked, taking the page of locations. "We still need to find her."
"I will ask Ada to locate her," Myrnin said.
"She can do that?" Claire asked, and then blinked. "Of course she can. Will she do that?"
"Possibly. If she's in a good mood, which is never certain, as you know. But I assure you, Ada is no longer angry at you, so don't be worried about that." Myrnin checked a gleaming gold pocket watch he kept in his vest pocket, some complicated dragon-shaped thing. "We must meet back before sunrise. Where?"
"Someplace deserted," Claire said. "Much as I hate it, how about German's? I don't want anybody overhearing us."
"Paranoid much?" Eve asked. "Yeah, me too. I'm never taking my clothes off again, I swear."
"German's it is," Myrnin said. "You know the portal frequency. Be there before sunrise, and do try to avoid getting yourself killed, if at all possible."
He led them out of the studio, out into the night. Michael took his car, heading off with his list of camera locations. At German's, Myrnin stepped through the dark clown-mouth doorway and was gone on his own errands, leaving Shane, Eve, and Claire standing there in the dark, in a fragile circle of flashlight.
"So?" Eve prodded. "Fire it up, Teleport Girl. I want this over with."
Claire checked the list. "Right. The first twenty are easy - all in common areas. Eve, I'll send you and Shane to the alley behind Common Grounds. I'll take the university."
"Hey," Shane said. "Wait a minute. I don't want you out there alone."
"University," Claire reminded him. "Protected ground. Besides, I'm the one with the bracelet." She flashed the gold at him, and he didn't look happy, but he did look resigned. "Also, we've got no time to argue. Go."
Shane looked back at her before he stepped through the portal, and Claire felt a moment's sick fear that she'd never see him again. Morganville was a dangerous place. Every good-bye could be the last.
We'll get through this.
She focused on the portal, shifted frequencies, and started on her camera-destroying mission.
She hoped Myrnin was right about Ada.
Four hours later, it was approaching sunrise, Claire was bone-tired, and she'd bagged all of the cameras on her list, including the one in the football team's shower room, which was an interesting experience. Kim had clearly been combining business with personal pleasure. She took the portal back to the alley behind Common Grounds, intending to pick up Shane and Eve, but they were nowhere in sight. She called Shane's cell, and heard it ringing, but it was distant and muffled.
She found him standing braced against the wall, holding Eve's ankles as she stood on his shoulders to reach a camera set on top of the roof of a shed. "Got it!" Eve called, and nearly overbalanced. Shane staggered around, got his equilibrium again, and helped her down to the pavement. "We should totally join the circus."
"One of us already looks like a clown."
"Hi guys," Claire said, and they both jumped and turned her way. "Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you."
Shane hugged her. "How'd you do?"
"Twenty cameras. There was one missing. I think somebody found it and swiped it from the University Center. You?"
"That was the last one on the list," he said. "Guess it's time to see how Team Vampire did."
Claire opened the portal to German's Tire Plant, and stepped through, with Shane and Eve right behind her. The portal snapped shut as soon as they were inside, and Claire flipped on her flashlight.
"Um . . ." Eve turned on her light, as well. "Okay. Wrong number, Claire."
"No," Claire said. "That can't happen. I mean, it's the right frequency. I don't know what happened, but we should be at German's."
"Well, we're not," Shane said, and shone his light around. They were in an underground tunnel. It was damp and dark and it smelled really foul - much worse than most of the vampire highway tunnels under Morganville. This one didn't look like it had been used for a road, either. "Wrong turn."
Eve said, in an entirely different voice, "Really wrong turn." She pointed off down the tunnel, and Claire saw shapes moving in the darkness. Pale skin. Shining red eyes. "Oh man. Dial us out, please."
The only problem was that the portal system refused to pick up. They were locked out.
Claire looked at Shane and Eve and shook her head. Her heart was pounding a mile a minute, and she could see the light trembling from the force of her pulse beats. "We're stuck," she said.
Shane dropped the bag he was carrying, unzipped it, and passed weapons to Eve, then took out a wicked-lethal crossbow with silver-tipped bolts. "Somebody up there doesn't like you, Claire."
Claire primed the Super Soaker. "It's Ada," she said. "This time, I'm not letting Myrnin talk me out of it."
The vampires - well, vampirelike things, sort of like Myrnin's experimental attempts to turn humans back in his crazy days - hurled themselves out of the darkness with high-pitched, batlike squeals. Claire resisted the urge to scream, and let loose with the water gun. A blast caught three of them in midleap, and they shrieked even louder, hit the ground, rolled, and kept rolling. She could see the ghostly blue flare of flames around them as the silver ate into their exposed skin - which was most of it, because these things were more like tunnel rats than anything approaching human. Giant undead tunnel rats.
Only in Morganville . . .
Shane aimed and fired, taking one of them out just as it was preparing to leap, and reloaded with an ease that told Claire he'd been practicing. Eve had a handful of what looked like darts - regulation darts, the kind you threw at a target in a bar. She was dead-on accurate with them, too, as soon as any tunnel rat came within ten feet of her.
By the time Claire was starting to worry about her water reservoir, and Shane was running low on crossbow bolts, the attacking forces were running. "Let's go," Eve said, tossing another dart that landed in the ass of a retreating vampire. "Ooooh, trip twenty!"
"You're enjoying this way too much," Shane said. "Darts? When did you come up with that?"
"I was playing with your electroplating thingy. After I did all my jewelry, I started in on pointy things." Eve held out a dart for inspection. It had - of course - a skull on the fletching. "Sweet, right?"
"Cute. Time to run now."
Claire slung the Super Soaker around her back and ran up the hill, chasing Shane, who was, as always, faster - the result of longer legs, not really dedicated practice. Shane only ran when someone chased him; he was more of a weights kind of guy.
The fact that the tunnel tilted uphill was a good sign - it was basically an entrance ramp, which meant they'd come up to ground level soon enough. Then Claire could figure out where they were, how to find a working portal, and get back to the business at hand - find Kim, beat Kim like a taiko drum to find out who her vampire coconspirator was, and then hit Ada's RESET button.
Except, of course, it wasn't.
Shane slowed, and Claire almost crashed into him. He dashed over to the side of the tunnel, hugging the wall, and Claire and Eve piled in next to him. "What?" Eve asked around breathless pants. She wasn't much for running, either.
"Someone's coming," Shane said. "Shhhh."
Eve choked and strangled on a cough, and muttered, "Got to cut down on the cigarettes."
"You don't smoke," Claire whispered.
"Then I'm completely screwed."
Shane whirled toward them and put hands over both their mouths. His face looked fierce. They nodded.
It was dark where they were, but not dark enough. A shape appeared ahead of them, coming down the tunnel . . . then another. Then more. Six - no, ten. Claire lost all will to snark, and she was pretty sure, from Eve's wide-eyed look, that she felt the same. They'd done pretty well against the tunnel rats, but these were real vampires.
Morley stopped about twenty feet away, still facing straight ahead, and held up a hand to stop the group of vampires following him. Claire recognized some of them from earlier. Some of them were still healing from the burns left by her water gun.
"Look who's come to visit," he said, and turned his head in their direction at the side of the tunnel. "Claire and her friends. I wonder if they want to stay for dinner."
Shane snapped the crossbow up and took aim on Morley. "Don't even think about it."
Morley stuck his hands in the pockets of his dirty raincoat. "I tremble in fear, boy. Obviously, in all my long life, no one has ever threatened me with a weapon before." His tone changed, took on edges. "Put it down if you want to live."
"Don't," Eve whispered.
Morley smiled. "The boy's got two arrows left," he said. "You have a handful of darts. Little Claire's water weapon is almost empty. And by the way, I am aware of your strategic position. I hate to repeat myself, but I will: put down your weapons if you want to live."
"No choice," Shane said, and swallowed hard. He crouched down and put the crossbow on the concrete, then rose with his hands up.
I could get in one good spray, Claire thought, but she knew it was a terrible idea. She lifted the strap of the toy gun over her head and let it fall. It sounded empty.
"Shit," Eve said, and threw down her darts. "All right. What now? You get all Nosferatu on our asses? If you make me a vampire, I'll make you eat those fangs."
Morley eyed her with a bit of a frown. "I believe you might," he said. "But I'm not interested in converts. I'm much more interested in allies."
"Allies," Claire repeated. "You've tried to kill us a whole bunch."
"That wasn't about you," he said. "The first time, you were simply with Amelie. The next, well, I was doing a favor for someone else. Another ally, as it happens."
"What do you want?"
"We want freedom," Morley said. "We want to live as God meant us to do. Is that such a terrible thing?"
There were a few vampires in his group that Claire recognized with a nasty jolt of surprise. "Jacob," she said. "Jacob Goldman? Patience?" Two of Theo Goldman's family - and Theo was the last vampire she'd expect to be in the middle of this. His kids, though . . . she really didn't know them very well.
Jacob looked away. Patience, on the other hand, stared right back, and lifted her chin as if daring Claire to say anything else. From her last encounter with the Goldmans, Claire had been aware the younger generation was starting to hate the whole philosophy of their parents; it made sense that they'd found someone here in Morganville more like-minded.
"Amelie and Oliver are trying to make us into something we never were," Patience said. "Tame tigers. Performing bears. Toothless lions. But we can't be those things. Vampires are not caretakers of humanity. I'm sorry, but it will never be true, however much we wish it could be."
"You're not making much headway on this Let's be friends argument," Eve said. "I'm just saying."
Morley let out an impatient sigh, and looked back at the other vampires. "Surely you want us out of your town," he said. "As much as we'd like to go. But Amelie won't allow us to leave. We have only two choices: destroy Morganville, or destroy her. Destroying Morganville seems easier, in many ways."
The light dawned. "You were working with Kim. She suggested the cameras, didn't she?"
"It seemed a way to achieve what she wanted, and what we wanted," he agreed. "The end of Morganville. The beginning of her career. Granted, spying is an unseemly way to go about it, but it's probably less objectionable than murder."
"Until the camera's on you," Eve shot back.
"A valid point." Morley bowed slightly in her direction.
"You're the one who put the cameras in Vamptown for her."
"Me?" His thick eyebrows climbed into his tangled hair. "No. I'm hardly welcome there, you know. Nor are any of my people. I know nothing about how she managed that."
"Then let us go find out who did."
"You know, I don't have to bargain with you. I could just distribute you among my followers as a treat if you'd prefer that."
"No," Jacob Goldman said. He and Patience exchanged a look that was more like a silent argument, and then he stepped forward. "Not her. Morley, if you hurt her, we walk away."
She sighed and shook her head. "The girl helped, before," she said. "Theo wouldn't want us to hurt her."
"The girl left you in a cell to die at Bishop's hands!"
"That was my father's mistake, not hers," Jacob said. "I will do many things to get our freedom. I won't do this."
The tension was ramping up fast. Claire swallowed. "Then let's make a deal," Claire said. "We want Kim, and whatever video she turned over to you."
Morley frowned at her. "In exchange for . . . ?"
"I'll ask Amelie to let you all leave."
"Asking is an easy task; there's no commitment required. Doing is accomplishment. So you will get Amelie to let us leave. Here is my incentive: if you don't manage to secure her permission, your two friends here sign lifetime contracts to me." Morley turned to Jacob and Patience, who nodded. "You see? Even they agree with that."
"Oh hell no," Eve said.
"And you are in a position to bargain . . . how?" Shane held out a hand toward Eve, trying to restrain her a little. "No lifetime contracts," he said. "One pint a month, blood bank only. Ten percent of our income."
"Hmmmmmm." Morley dragged the sound out, still staring through half-lidded eyes. "Tempting. But you see, I can simply insist on a lifetime contract with none of your silly restrictions, or kill you right now."
"You won't," Shane said. That made Morley's eyes open wide.
"Why not? Jacob and Patience were quite specific - they're concerned for Claire. Not for you, boy."
"Because if you kill me and Eve, you'll make her your enemy. This girl won't stop until she sees you all pay."
Claire had no idea whom he was talking about - she didn't feel like that Claire at all, until she imagined Shane and Eve lying dead on the ground.
Then she understood. "I'd hunt you down," she said quietly. "I'd use every resource I have to do it. And you know I'd win."
Morley seemed impressed. "She is small, but I see your point, boy. Besides, she has the ear of Amelie, Oliver, and Myrnin; not a combination I would care to test. Very well. Limited contract, one year, one pint per month at the blood bank, ten percent of your income payable to me, in cash. I will not hunt, bite, or trade your contracts. But I insist on standard punishment clauses."
"Hey," Eve said. "Don't I get a vote?"
"Absolutely," Morley assured her. "Your thoughts?"
"I'd rather die," she said flatly. Shane turned toward her, and from the look on his face, that was not at all what he'd expected her to say. "Don't look at me like that. I told you, I'll never sign a contract. Never. If Mor lock here wants to kill me, well, I can't stop him. But I don't have to die by inches, either, and that's what this town does to us, Shane; it takes little pieces of us away until there's nothing left and I won't sign!" Eve's eyes flooded with tears, but she wasn't scared; she was angry. "So bite me, vampire. Get it over with. But it's a one-time thrill."
Morley shrugged. "And you, boy?"
Shane pulled in a deep breath. "No deals if Eve doesn't buy in."
Claire's mouth tasted like ashes, and she was trying frantically to think of something, anything to do. She tried to build a portal behind them, but the system bounced her back, wouldn't let her so much as begin the process.
She took Shane's hand in hers. "You'll have to kill me, too," she said. "And you can't. Not without consequences."
Morley looked positively unhappy now. "This is getting far too complicated. Fine, then we do it this way. I give you the video you're looking for, and if you don't manage to secure Amelie's permission within, let's say, a month, your friends' lives are forfeit. Yes?" When she hesitated, he bared his stained teeth. "It's not a question, really. And my patience is wearing thin. In fact, it's positively threadbare."
"Yes," Claire said.
He spit on his palm and held it out. They all just looked at him. "Well?" he demanded.
"I'm not shaking that," Shane said. "You just spit on it."
"It's the way deals are sealed - " Morley made a sound of frustration and wiped his palm against his filthy clothes. "Perhaps not anymore. Better?"
"Not really," Shane said.
Claire stepped forward and shook Morley's hand. She'd done worse.
He turned, dirty raincoat flapping, and the other vampires fell in behind him. Jacob Goldman held back, staring at Claire. He looked unhappy and tormented.
"I wouldn't have let him do it," he said. "Not to any of you. But you understand why I have to do this? For myself, and Patience?"
"I understand," Claire said. She didn't, really, but it seemed to make him feel better.
Claire, Eve, and Shane picked up their weapons and followed them into the dark.
Morley's hideout was a series of what looked like limestone caves, hollowed out into actual rooms, with doors and windows - a city, underground. Not fancy, but it was definitely livable, if you were sunlight averse. There were more vamps here, living rough, hiding out. Claire figured a lot of those who'd decided not to take sides during the Amelie and Bishop fight had fled down here, taken up with Morley's crew.
"I guess this means you aren't really homeless," she said. Morley looked back at her as he opened up the ancient, cracked door of one of the rooms. "I'd still look into running water." Because the place stank, bad. So did the vampires.
"We grew up in ages when running water meant streams and rivers," he said. "We've never been overly comfortable with modern luxuries."
"Like baths?"
"Oh, we had baths in the old days. We called them stews, and they caused diseases." He shoved open the door and lit a row of candles set into a kind of shelf along the side of the room, which gave off just enough light to make Claire feel she could turn her own portable lamp off. "What you're looking for is here, in the box."
The box was a rickety-looking crate with rope handles. Inside were more hard drives - the ones that had been missing from the radio station - and some DVDs. One was labeled, in black Sharpie, MICHAEL & EVE. Claire choked a little at the sight of it. She frantically combed through the others, but there was nothing marked SHANE & CLAIRE.
"Don't worry," Shane said. "The lighting was terrible on ours, anyway."
"Not funny."
"I know." He put his arm around her. "I know. Speaking of not funny, where's Kim? I'd like to tell her just how much I appreciate all she did to make us stars."
Morley nodded. "Follow me."
Three doors down was a much smaller cave - more like a cell - and Morley combed through an ancient ring of ancient keys until he found one to fit the huge rusty lock. "I keep her here for her own safety," he said. "You'll see."
He opened the door, and Kim cowered back from the wash of the flashlights - but not Kim. The face was the same, but all the Goth had been scrubbed off except the dyed hair. She was dirty, dressed in filthy clothes, and there was zero bad attitude left.
Claire had been prepared to let loose a flood of anger, but this was just . . . pathetic. "Kim?" No response. "Kim! What did you do to her?"
"Nothing. She doesn't respond to her name," Morley said. "It seems she's lost her mind."
"Bullshit," Eve snapped. "She's an actress."
"I've seen rehearsals," Morley responded. "She's not that good."
Eve shoved past him to crouch down next to Kim, who covered her face and tried to curl into a ball. "Hey!" Eve said, and shook her, hard. "Kim, snap out of it! It's Eve! Look at me!"
Kim screamed, and Claire caught her breath at the sound of it; there was real terror in it, and pain, and horror. Eve let her hand fall away, and she leaned back against the nearest wall, frowning.
"What happened to her?" Shane asked. Morley shrugged.
"Something bad," he said. "Something permanent, as far as I can tell. She crossed someone who didn't take well to her initiative."
"You said you keep her locked up for protection."
He flashed Claire a dark smile. "Consider it locking up the wine cellar. The girl's still a good vintage, if not a brilliant conversationalist."
Ugh. "I need her," Claire said. "I need to take her with me."
Morley's vampire followers didn't seem especially happy about her act of kindness. "She's got no family," Patience said. "No one is going to miss her. No one was even looking for her."
"We were."
"To punish her! We will do that for you."
Even Shane looked a little sick at that. "We'll do our own punishing, thanks," he said. "Humans, I mean. Not me, personally."
Morley's eyes narrowed, but he shrugged as if he didn't really care. "Take her," he said. "Take the black boxes she thought were so important. Take it all, and remember your promise, Claire: you have one month to secure Amelie's permission for us to leave Morganville. If you don't get it, I'll be paying your friends a visit."
Kim was too scared to fight, but Shane took some strips of cloth and wrapped her wrists and ankles tight before slinging her over his shoulder. Eve took the box with the hard drives and DVDs.
Morley and his vampires stood in their way.
"One month," he said. "Remember what I said."
Then they parted ranks, and the three of them, carrying Kim, walked uphill toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ada was standing right at the very edge of the darkness, hands clasped before her, eyes like burned paper holes.
"I see you found her," Ada said. "Good. I want her."
"Why? Why did you bring us here?"
"Morley was supposed to kill you. I suppose one must do everything one's self these days."
Claire felt a sick wave of understanding flood over her. "You," she said. "You would have known all about the cameras. You probably found out the first time Kim placed one."
Ada smiled.
"You let her do it."
"Oh no," Ada said. "I helped her do it. The girl told me she would use the video she'd collected to rid me of Amelie and Oliver, and I gave her access. I helped her place her cameras. But she was a liar. A cheat. A thief." Ada's image contorted, taking on a monster's shape for a flicker, then smoothed back to her Victorian disguise. "She was going to cheat me out of my revenge and destroy Morganville altogether. I won't have that. Unlike Morley and his rabble, I can't simply leave. I am Morganville. I must survive."
"You're not Morganville," Claire said. Kim, draped over Shane's shoulder, had caught sight of Ada, and she was thrashing wildly, screaming. It was all Shane could do to hold on to her. "You're just a science project. One that doesn't work right."
"I am the force that holds this lie of a town together," Ada said, and glided closer, so close Claire could feel the cold chill generated by her image projection. "As far as Morganville is concerned, I am its goddess."
"Word of advice," Eve said. "It's time for a change of religion."
Ada's image became distorted again, and she stretched out a hand. Claire controlled the natural impulse to flinch. She's not real. She's just a ghost -
Ada's fingers touched her face. Not quite real, but almost.
Claire jumped back. "Outside!" she yelled. "Get outside!"
Ada smiled. "I'll see you soon."
They made it outside, into the faint hint of sunrise, without anyone jumping them again.
Claire flagged down a passing police cruiser and got them to take Kim, who shrieked and fought so hard they had to use a taser on her. Eve winced, and so did Shane.
Claire didn't. She felt bad about it, but she just couldn't bring herself to really feel sorry for Kim. Karma, she thought. They'd end up putting her in a padded cell, and eventually maybe Kim would recover enough to function as a normal person. Maybe even a better one. Claire didn't even resent that, so long as she never, ever had to talk to her again.
By ten a.m. they were back at the Glass House, and Michael was waiting. "Where were you?" he demanded as soon as they opened the door. Claire said nothing; he was focused on Eve, anyway. "I've been calling; it went straight to voice mail."
"I turned it off," Eve said. "We were kind of being stealthy."
"Since when do you turn off a phone?" Michael put his arms around her, and Eve relaxed against him, and for just a moment, it looked like everything was the same again.
Then Eve pulled free and walked away down the hall, head down.
Michael looked awful. "What do I have to do - ?"
Shane slapped his shoulder as he passed. "Give her space," he said. "It's been a hard couple of days. Where's Myrnin?"
"He never showed at the rendezvous," Michael said. "I wasn't really worried about him. More about you."
"Yeah, about that - we kind of had to make a deal with Morley. You know, Graveyard Guy?"
"What kind of deal?"
"The kind where we don't want to pay up," Shane said. "Ask Claire."
She shook her head, walking on. "Ask Shane," she said. "I'm not done yet."
"What?" Shane grabbed her wrist, pulling her to a stop. His face was tense and pale. "You can't be serious. Not done with what? We've got the videos, the cameras, Kim. What else?"
"Myrnin," she said. "He didn't show up at the rendezvous."
"And? Dude's crazy, in case you didn't notice recently. He probably went off to chase butterflies or something"
"He'd have been there. Something happened to him." Claire knew already, knew it all the way down to her bones. "Ada did something. She sent us to Morley, thinking he'd kill us. She'd go after Myrnin, too. I have to find him."
"Not by yourself."
"No," Michael agreed.
"Ditto," Eve said, and picked up a fresh weapons bag from the closet to sling over her shoulder. "Definitely not by yourself."
Claire looked at each of them in turn, saving Shane for last. "You're sure. Because it's going to be dangerous."
"You're going after Ada, right?" Eve put stakes in her pockets, then tossed a crossbow to Shane, who caught it in midair. "You're going to need backup. Especially if she's got Myrnin. Besides, if we just sit here and wait, she can get us anytime she wants."
"We should take the car," Claire said, heading toward the closet to get her own weapons stash. "It's not safe now going through the portals anymore. . . ."
A black hole formed in the wall next to her, and Claire felt the storm of force rip through the house. The portal wavered as the house itself fought back, trying to heal the rift, but whatever was tearing the entrance held firm. Ada.
Claire didn't have time to run.
Ada's blue-white hands came out of the darkness, grabbed Claire by the shirt, and dragged her into the portal.
It snapped shut on the shocked, angry faces of her friends.
She heard Shane scream her name.
So, Ada really could touch things. Claire kind of wished she'd taken that idea more seriously.
Claire woke up lying on cold, damp stone, feeling damp little feet skittering over her arm - rats, probably. She hoped it wasn't roaches. She'd just die if it was roaches.
She was in the dark - utter, velvety darkness that pressed in on her like smothering cloth. When she moved, she heard the scrape of her shoes echo off into the distance.
Cave. Probably not Ada's cave, because Claire couldn't hear the distinctive hissing and clanking that came from Ada's gears and pipes. It doesn't have to be her cave, Claire reminded herself. Ada could open any portal, anywhere within Morganville - or under it. From the ragged, crude way she'd done it at the Glass House, though, she might not be able to keep up that sort of thing for long.
She was unraveling in control, even while she was getting stronger in raw power.
"Ada," a voice said in the distance - weak and faint. "Ada, you must let me go. I order you to let me go."
"No." Ada's voice came from nowhere, and everywhere ; not out of Claire's speakerphone this time. Claire slapped at her pockets, but she had nothing - no weapons, no phone; Ada had taken everything. "You're going nowhere. I've waited all these years, you know. So many years for you to love me."
"Ada, please." Myrnin sounded very weak; Claire could hardly believe it was really him. "I do love you. I always have. Please stop this. You don't know what you're doing. You're not well. Let me help - "
He broke off with a strangled gasp. She'd hurt him, and it took a lot to hurt Myrnin.
Claire slowly climbed to her feet, put her hands on the nearest stone wall, and began to feel her way through the darkness.
"Going somewhere?" Ada's voice asked from right behind her, as if the computer was leaning over her shoulder. Claire yelped and flailed out a hand, but there was nothing there. "I brought you here so that I can get rid of you once and for all, and you can help me make Myrnin better at the same time. Isn't that clever of me?"
Her voice was breaking up into strange harmonics, not really a voice at all - mere noise. "How are you talking?" Claire asked. "You're not using my phone."
"Does it matter?"
"No," Claire said. She sounded a lot less scared than she actually was, which she supposed was a good thing. "I'm just curious."
"You'd be curious at your own autopsy," Ada said, and broke into distorted laughter that reeled wildly out of control. "I'd like to see that."
"Where's Myrnin?"
"Don't you dare try to take him away from me!" Ada shrieked. The echoes filled the cave, bounced, magnified until Claire had to clap her hands over her ears. She could feel the sound waves on her skin, like speakers booming at a rave. "He is mine; he's always been mine; I will never give him up, never!"
"I'm not trying to take him away!" Claire shouted. "I just want to be sure he's all right!"
The sound cut off, just like that. Even the echoes. Claire slowly lowered her hands and touched the wall again; she was afraid to try to move without keeping it under her fingers, because there was no possibility of seeing a thing. Not with human eyes.
"Claire?" Myrnin's voice again, coming from ahead of her and to the right. He sounded weak, and concerned. "You have to get out of here. Please go away."
"Kind of not an option," she said. "Unless Ada wants to open me a portal . . . ?"
Ada laughed softly.
"Guess not." Claire took a couple of more steps forward, but it took her off the angle toward Myrnin's voice. "Myrnin, I can't see. I'm going to try to get to you, but you have to keep talking, okay?"
"Don't," he said. "Don't try to reach me. Claire, I'm asking you, please stay where you are. Get out if you can. Do not come near me."
She was ignoring that, mostly because the idea of staying alone in this darkness, listening to Ada do bad things to him, was worse than anything he could do to her himself. "Keep talking," she said. She heard him take in a deep breath, then let it out. He didn't say a word. She guessed he thought that if he didn't encourage her, maybe she'd give up.
He should have known better.
"Stop!" Myrnin's voice suddenly rang out of the black, urgent and sharp, and Claire paused with her right foot still raised. "Back up. Slowly. Two steps. Do it, Claire!"
She did, putting one foot carefully behind the other, and stopped. "What is it?"
"The floor isn't stable. If you try to cross that way, it'll break through under your weight. You must stay where you are!"
"So concerned for the new girl," Ada's voice said, vibrating out of the cave walls. "Never so concerned for me, were you? Even though you always knew how much I loved you. How much I wanted to be with you. I let you drink my blood, Myrnin. I let you take everything. And then you did this to me."
"Oh, stop whining," Myrnin snapped. "You were grateful enough to become a vampire, and it had nothing to do with your being a lovesick schoolgirl. You wanted a thousand lifetimes to explore the world, to discover, to learn. I gave you that, Ada."
"You were supposed to take care of me."
"According to whom?"
"According to me!" The echoes built again, bouncing wildly, and Claire crouched down in place, hands firmly over her ears again. This time, the echoes died gradually. Once it was quiet, Claire rose to her feet and started moving carefully forward at an angle to her original course, testing the floor before putting her full weight on the stone.
It felt solid.
"Claire, please stop," Myrnin said raggedly. "You can't see. You don't know how dangerous this is."
"Describe it to me. Help me! If you don't, I'll just keep walking."
"That's exactly what she wants. She wants you to try to reach me - " Myrnin broke off with a small cry of pain.
"Myrnin?" Claire forgot all about being careful, and took a step forward. Too fast. She felt the stone snap and crumble and fall away, dark on dark, and she teetered off balance over the edge of a hole that led to the center of the world, apparently. She didn't even hear the falling rocks hit bottom.
Claire slowly shifted her weight to her back foot and stepped back to solid stone again. Her heart was pounding so hard it hurt, and she couldn't seem to slow down her panicked breathing.
"Myrnin, you have to help me," she said. "Tell me which way to go. We can do this."
"Even if you reach me, it's no help to either of us," he said. "She has me. There's no point in your dying, as well."
"Just tell me how to get there."
After a few silent seconds, Myrnin said, "Two steps to your right, then one forward." As she accomplished that, he said, "Claire, she's right. I did take advantage of her. She did love me. I used that to get what I wanted from her."
"You mean, like a guy?" Claire counted steps carefully, then stopped. "Next."
"One step forward, then one diagonally to your left. What I did was considerably worse than you think. I made her a vampire so I could have a reliable assistant, one who loved me and would never betray me. I made her a slave."
"Next. And one thing I can tell you about Ada, she was never a slave, not to you or anybody else. And you really did love her, or you wouldn't have kept her locket all these years."
"Another step straight to your left, then six forward. And don't be daft. I keep gum wrappers. It doesn't mean I love the gum that was once in them."
She counted. He didn't say anything else. Once she got to the end of the directions, she said, "Next. I'm not wrong about Ada. You did love her."
"Straight ahead, one step."
"You're not going to tell me I'm wrong?"
"What's the point? Three steps to your right."
"The point is to keep us talking so I'm not so terrified out of my mind," she said. "What are we going to do about her?"
"Nothing. There's nothing we can do."
"I'm there. Next? Also, there's got to be something. What about - " She was about to say the reset code, and he must have known it, because he let out a sharp hiss for silence. She swallowed the words.
"Focus," Myrnin said. "Forward three small steps. Be careful not to overshoot."
She found out why when she took the steps; her toes overhung what felt like another sinkhole.
Myrnin's voice was close now, very close. "Next," she said.
"This is the difficult part," he said. "You're going to have to jump."
"Jump?" She wasn't sure he was thinking straight. "I can't jump. I can't see!"
"You wanted to get to me, and this is what it takes. If you want to stay where you are - "
"No. Tell me."
"Two steps to your left, and jump straight forward, hard. I'll catch you."
"Myrnin - "
"I'll catch you," he whispered into the dark. "Jump."
She took two running steps and before she could let herself think about what she was doing, dug in her toes and leaped forward.
She crashed into Myrnin's solid body, his cold arms wrapped around her, and for a few breaths he held her close as she shivered. He smelled like metal. Like cold things.
He didn't let go.
"I'm sorry," he said.
And then he bit her.