tagSci-Fi & FantasyGhosts Ch. 05

Ghosts Ch. 05


My visit to Blood Money was actually surprisingly painless. Despite being impossibly obnoxious, I'd endured much worse than the styling and pampering of Miss Katie Danels. After I was waxed, cleaned, manicured, moisturized, and made-up, Lex reappeared, looking impatient.

"Ohh, you're back!" Katie exclaimed, flashing porcelain and spinning me around in my chair. "What do you think? Do you love the makeup? I tried to go more natural, but I can put more on if you like a Goth thing... and I had to get her out of those awful black pajamas..." she shrugged and smiled half-apologetically. "I REALLY hope you like it." Then she waited with baited breath, wringing her hands slightly.

Lex just stared at me for a moment, gaze tangible as his eyes roved up and down my body, making me squirm slightly in my seat. Then a slow smile crept across his face. He looked pleasantly surprised.

"She looks great."

Katie smiled, bounced on her heels and clapped her hands. "Oh good, I'm SO glad you're happy with it! I love new clients, its always such a challenge. Now if you just come right over here I can get you rung up."

After Lex had paid for my visit and been loaded up with a sampler of makeup, product and a few conditioning discs, he took my hand and started leading me back towards the main room. "Come on, we're leaving. I already put our shit in the car."

He was strangely silent on the ride home, seeming lost in thought. I fidgeted in my seat, trying to watch him in my peripheral vision without attracting his attention. A tense energy was emanating from him. He seemed almost angry about something, and that couldn't be good.

When we pulled into the parking lot he just sat in the car for a while, staring ahead at nothing, expression unreadable. I grew increasingly anxious about the situation. Finally he leaned his head back against the seat and sighed, grabbing the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut in a gesture so characteristically human that I wondered if it was entirely feigned. Then he laughed mirthlessly.

"This country is so fucked. It's..." he shook his head in disbelief "...kind of impressive, honestly." His smiled slightly to himself and glanced in the backseat. "You see that trunk back there? That was the fucking starter kit from the sex toy room. And that was the smallest one they had. It's incredible."

I stared at him blankly, completely unable to tell if he was pleased or disgusted, and then looked at the massive trunk warily. It was unnecessarily decorative, sinuous red markings emblazoned in stark contrast to the glossy black surface, in intricate patterns that made me slightly dizzy if I stared at them too long. Vamp art.

"Have you been in it?" he questioned, suddenly focusing his full attention on me.

"Have I been in what?"

"Room 10." He was looking at me pointedly and again, I got the impression that he was very angry about something, and it was making me incredibly nervous.

"I...um. Yes." I swallowed. There wasn't any point in lying to him.

He nodded and gritted his teeth. "I saw the purpose of the back rooms, as well."

For a moment I didn't understand him, because even though I knew he was from overseas it hadn't really occurred to me that would be so out of the loop. Vampires tend to keep each other informed, and his lack of information made him momentarily less intimidating. I sat up in my seat.

"You...didn't know?"

"No. I didn't know. But it's becoming pretty clear now. How often-" he took a steadying breath- "Did Victor take you there and sell you to human men?"

"I'm not sure," I answered honestly. "My memories are...pretty fractured."

"Well, take a wild guess." he muttered irritably.

I hesitated, my brain churning over in the pointless exercise of trying to divine his intentions. Was he actually jealous? Vamps didn't get jealous, in my experience.

He suddenly grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him, his voice lowering to a warning growl. "I think you will find that if you do what I ask you to do, when I ask you to do it, your life will be much more tolerable, peiyla. Now you are going to tell me what was done to you, and you are going to tell me everything you know about how Ghosts are produced, and the flesh trade here, and then maybe you won't have to find out what's in the trunk tonight."

What. The fuck. This didn't make any sense. Why would he possibly care so much? And why was he so mad? The only thing worse than being held in captivity by a sociopath, was being held in captivity by an illogical and unpredictable sociopath. At least Victor had been consistent in his cruelty. Lex released me and got out of the car abruptly, hauling the trunk out of the back, loading me up with the bags of clothes and cosmetics.

He was silent as we reached the apartment, and I entered hesitantly, settling the bags on the living room floor as I watched him warily. He walked over towards the open window and glanced down the fire escape before slamming it shut. "Jack's out." Then he was sitting on the couch and I was staring at his outstretched hand, wanting very much to bolt from the room.

"Come here, peiyla," he said softly. "I'm not angry with you."

I said nothing as he pulled me onto the couch and settled me against his side, and I struggled to keep my muscles from locking up as he began rubbing his thumbs over my wrists soothingly. He released one to run his fingers through my hair. Though his touch was gentle, it contained every assumption of ownership.

"Tell me how often."

I took a shaky breath. He wanted to know everything? I would tell him everything. There was really nothing for me to lose.

"If I had to guess, at least once a week. But I know he would take me more often shortly after I'd been conditioned."

"And why was that? Were you a true Ghost before? Like one of them?"

"Not...exactly. Or I would be, but it would wear off. Sometimes I would be aware of what was happening but could do nothing to control my actions, like being a passenger in my own body."

"Do you think any of the other girls are like that? Passengers?"

I grimaced. "I try really hard not to think about that."

"All right. Go on."

"Uhh, well. Because it usually wore off for me and I was more obviously aware, that meant unhappy customers for Victor. The men that are interested in Ghosts don't want sentient women. They could afford to buy those a hundred different ways. Ghosts are less attainable, and I guess because of that they are more trendy, at least as far as sex tourism goes. It's a power trip, I don't know. "

"I see. Well, that explains why he had you conditioned twelve times over."

Shit, I hadn't realized it had been that often. That was nearly once a month. No wonder my head was such a mess.

"So how many human men are actually into this? Screwing a lobotomized version of your own species, that is the plaything of a ruling species...it seems like a lot of people would take issue with that."

I made a 'who knows?' gesture. "In theory. But its all very secretive, and the waiting list to get into that club is huge. There is plenty of interest, and plenty of money fueling it."

He released me then, sighing, and didn't protest when I scooted a few inches away from him. "Sometimes I wonder if they are even fucking worth it." he muttered to no one.

I was definitely missing something.

Just then there was a scratching at the side window and Lex got up, letting in an excited looking Jack with some unidentifiable object in his mouth.

"What have you got for me, huh boy?" he grinned, pulling things from the big dog's mouth, and when they were in his hands I could tell that it was two wallets, which he began thumbing through immediately.

"Ohhh, good boy." He praised, scratching behind the dogs ears, who barked and wagged his tail appreciatively. Then he stepped over to a round container on the kitchen counter and pulled out a bone, tossing it to Jack, who caught it and trotted over to the far corner to enjoy it.

A dog that let itself outside, and stole wallets? I studied him as he gnawed on the bone like any other mutt, and the only things that stood out as unusual were the odd patterns and shades of his gray and red coat, the strange paleness of his eyes.

"He's a Mod?" I questioned. I'd never seen a genetically modified dog before. They were usually only used in law enforcement.

Lex nodded and smiled fondly as he considered Jack. It was obvious he cared about the dog, in his own way. There was something reassuring about that.

"Yeah. He's about the most retarded doggy genius ever, though."

He turned back to me, running his hand along the stubble under his chin. "So if this is all such a big source of revenue, why not more girls? Why not make a zombie horde for purchase?"

I shrugged. "The only obstacle to that is time. The initial conditioning process takes between 8 to 10 months. As far as I know, there could be hundreds in the works. They just aren't ready yet."

I was still completely confused by his line of questioning, but as he seemed placated by my willingness to explain, I wasn't going to worry too much about the why of it.

"And your little boyfriend is in charge of turning them all?"

"What...?" I stuttered, genuinely confused.

"Mr. Brenton Ballew," he sneered.

"Umm...no. He used to be, but that all takes place in other buildings now."

"So what does he do there all day?"

Why the hell were we talking about Brent? "Hides out. Oversees the completed Ghosts 24/7, which is kind of like being a cattle herder."

"He never leaves?"

"Nope. There are a lot of angry parents that would love to kill him for what he has done to their daughters, and a lot of Vamps that are overinvested in his safety...I don't think he's allowed to leave, really. He left the Center once or twice while I was there, but it was under heavy escort."

"Are you saying he's held captive?"

"He..." I hesitated. "Yeah, basically." I shrugged. I didn't think he was there by choice. There might had been a time when he had gotten a thrill from it all, but he definitely wasn't enjoying his day job anymore.

Lex was frowning at me. "What was the nature of your relationship?"

I stared at him stupidly, and he glared at me, impatient.

"Did he fuck you?"

"WHAT? No!" I exclaimed, surprising myself with my own outburst, shaking my head adamantly.

He raised a brow skeptically. "He never touched you?"

I was still shaking my head. "No...no. He wouldn't do that. It wasn't like that."

"Oh no? Then what was it like? Explain it to me." He was settling himself into the armchair now, lacing his fingers behind his head, his body the picture of relaxation even as he radiated with unexplained tension.

I tried to find the right words, unable to think of a straightforward way to explain the uneasy companionship that had developed between us. In which Brent might shyly invite me to play videogames with him because he was bored, yet still insist I go in the gas room with the drones at night for fear I might kill him in his sleep. A fear which wasn't unwarranted.

"We...were each others only company, I guess. We were going to talk to each other or talk to no one, so we talked to each other."

He chuckled dryly. "How romantic."

I put a hand up. "No...not romantic. There was nothing romantic about it remotely." I said. "Definitively not."

He made a skeptical face and I spread my hands in a helpless gesture.

"Are you really jealous?" I asked, incredulous.

He looked surprised, then grinned mischievously and shook his head. "No, it's not that."

"Then...what is it?"

He leaned forward and bared his teeth at me.

"Are you questioning me now?"

I had never felt quite so much by a mouse being toyed with like a cat, and it was exhausting. I didn't seem to have a lot of stamina for this after all. Less than 24 hours in and I already kind of wanted him to just kill me. How the hell was I going to make it three months? I suddenly had the impression it was all an elaborate game, he wanted to play with me until I broke, and if that was the case I simply wasn't going to play anymore. The room blurred slightly, and I pinched my eyes shut and sunk down into the couch, and I heard him laughing again as he came towards me.

"Giving up already, pieyla? You're being no fun at all."

I felt his hands grab my hips and he pulled me forward, and then the room began to tilt as blinding white pain shot behind my eyes.

For an instant I felt nothing and thought nothing and then I simply heard the rapid cadence of my own breathing and the drip of my blood on my legs. Godammit. I was sitting on the couch doubled over, my face almost curled into my lap, and blood ran from my nose over my bared legs. I squeezed my eyes shut.

I heard him shuffling and cursing, and through the slowly widening slant of my eyes I could see him shoving paper towels in my direction, which I took, beginning to clean up awkwardly. I wondered how long I had been out. It couldn't have been long.

Lex was looking irritable. "I guess he did warn me that could happen if I stressed you out." He sighed and crossed his arms. "Clean yourself up in the kitchen. I'm taking a shower."

For a while I just sat there motionless, trying to make sense of the roaring in my head. This was bad. I was already having episodes and it wasn't even from memories, it was from stress. I had to get it together. But after 15 hours away from the Center and I was becoming distressingly sober. Sober is not a state that really works for me. You just don't face the day to day of my life sober if there is any alternative. Brent had kept me in steady supply of weed, and Vodka, and other things.

Brent once told me that his conditioning tech worked to sabotage the natural and impressive coordination of the human brain. The reason that it didn't work so well on me? I had a broken brain. The tech wasn't designed to interrupt already disorganized transmissions. Thus, the fucked up circuitry of my head saved me from being completely brainwashed. But the process definitely affected me, it just ran like a glitchy, defective program- and when my head was working exceptionally well, the conditioned part of me wanted to kick in, and headaches split my skull apart. Drugs helped. Really, any kind of sedative seemed to lessen the attacks.

My genetic enhancements made my liver stronger and better able to filter out all the shit I routinely ingested. There was going to be no space between me and the world at all if I didn't do something quickly, and I'd already spotted the next candidate to provide that. Two bottles of frosty, expensive-looking chilled esterwine in the fridge. Esterwine is a Vamp-invented beverage, derived by plants on their home planet. Its one of the only drugs I know of that is effective on both Vamps and humans, though in most places it is only sold to vampires because of the strong effect it has on humans. Usually one has to be feeding on you before you get to enjoy the privilege. It doesn't make blood loss more dangerous, like regular alcohol tends to do, and is even said to have some protective effects.

I heard the water shut off and realized I had to move quickly. Somehow I didn't think that in his current mood, the vampire would consent to me taking a beverage, so I wasn't going to ask. I stood with the fridge open, popped the cap, chugged the first, and without moving from my position popped the cap on the second and chugged it as well. When you go for something, go all out, right? I made it back to the couch before I started to feel the effects. The dog jumped up and lay half in my lap, licking my hand as I started to trip..

In reality it probably only took Lex a few minutes before he found me sitting there, but it felt like around three hours. Three very enjoyable, intense hours. It took me a minute to process what was happening as the distorted image of him stood over me and clanged bottles in front of my face.

"HEY! Answer me, did you drink both of these?"

He slowly came into full focus and I looked at the empty bottles in my hand, and at his angry face. It was all just very funny and I collapsed into giggles, unable to stop as he grasped behind my neck and pulled me to stand in front of him, jerking my hair back so I was looking up at his face. The esterwine had obliterated caution, and I didn't stop myself from looking directly into his glittering eyes. Pretty, I thought.

He pointed over towards the kitchen counter. "It says in your file that you're basically an addict, but I left two bottles of your pills right there. I know you saw them."

Oh yeah, I'd seen them. I snickered and poked him.

"BOOOO," I said.

He released me and threw his hands up, and I immediately collapsed into a fit of giggles against his chest.

"Seriously," he said, his voice still exasperated though amusement had started to creep its way in as well. "Why on earth would you do that? Did you really think this was a good idea, in your situation??"

I stood up straight and tried to compose a serious expression, emphasizing my words with finger points.

"OK, first of all, Mr. Vampire Dude, there's no one else in my particular situation. Like, probably in the world. Nobody else in my boat-this is a one person canoe, bitch. I set the um..." -I swayed a bit- "parameters for what's appropriate in this situation, and I say the correct move is to get as shitfaced as possible. So that. Is what I did."

I nodded with finality but cut him off before he could say something in response.

"SECOND of all," -I layed a hand flat on his chest to better support myself- "Sometimes in...a hostage negotiation incident... you have to push the boundaries right away. That's how you make progress. You have to be like 'Oh, you wanna kill this guy? Oh, go ahead and do it. See what happens!!' And then you see if they back down."

His chest was vibrating with controlled laughter, and he grabbed my arms and pushed me back down on the couch, plopping down beside me.

"First of all," he countered, "that doesn't make any sense, and second of all, that is terrible hostage negotiation technique. That is how people get shot. Third of all..." -he brushed his fingers over the top of my head- "I think I understand the sentiment. But it was idiotic to drink my esterwine. That shit is expensive."

I snorted. "It LOOKED expensive."

He shook his head, looking like he was trying not to laugh out loud. "You are not helping yourself. What were you thinking? I might have killed you."

I snorted and waved a hand. "Oh, you won't kill me. I made Brent show me my price tag once. I'm way too valuable to drain over this. And maybe you're mad, and maybe you're a psychopath, but whatever you decide to do to me, I'm gonna be fucked up for it, so I WIN."

His expression turned more serious. "What exactly do you think I'm going to do to you, little one?" he asked softly.

I looked at my hands. This conversation was becoming not-fun anymore. After a second I heard him sigh again, and he strolled into the kitchen, pulling out some paper towels.

"You still have blood on you."

I was able to maintain my composure for about a minute, but as he flipped my hand over and dabbed the red stains off my palm with a damp towel I started laughing.

"Ooooh I'm a big bad vampire and I can't handle a little blood!"

His lips twitched, suppressing a smile. "Look, this is nose blood. That's just gross. Even I have standards."

He might have kept cleaning me, I don't know. For a while I was looking up, absorbed in the melting, colorful ceiling. Finally I said "I have to pee."

He grunted. "That makes sense, given that you just chugged 32 ounces of my drugs." Then he was pulling me to my feet and leading me to the bathroom, which was a good thing because the room looked about 3 miles long from where I was sitting.

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