(When Mankind at last admits that vampires exist, the Undead are imprisoned in internment camps on various worlds throughout the galaxy. After two of the prisoners are killed by silver nitrate injected into their plasma transfusions, Katherine Dalia of the Abidon-7 Police Force investigates. She asks Christopher Landless, leader of the Albidon vampires to assist her, and when he refuses, she has him taken from the compound to the local police station for questioning....)

"Hello, Mr. Landless." She was quiet and serious, refusing to respond to his humor.

"Lovely place," Kit looked around the room. "Who's your interior decorator? No Spies, no eavesdropping devices, soundproof paneling--this place is really private, isn't it?"

"And you won't answer me here any more than you would at the Compound, will you?"

"Sorry." He shook his head, making the blond tail of hair swing. "I would if I had an answer--"

"Is it the Station? You don't like being inside a Precinct Center, do you?"

"Well--it is just another type of prison, isn't it?"

"What if I take you somewhere that won't remind you of jails or incarceration?"

"And where might that be?" he asked with a smile.

"My apartment!"

Kit's smile faded. "Are you serious?"

"What do you think?"

Opening the door, she stepped out into the hall, looked around and gestured for him to follow.

Kit didn't move. "You could get into trouble for doing this--taking me out of the Precinct without permission."

When she didn't answer, he went on, "You could be in worse trouble being alone with me. Away from here...."

She came back inside, caught his arm, and pulled him into the hall, and silently, Kit went with her.

Before he realized it, he and Katherine Dalia were speeding away from the Police Station, into a night ablaze with color and life.

"Please," he said quietly, "drive slowly. I'd like to savor this..." and she slackened the acceleration of the vehicle, watching out of the corner of her eye as he leaned back and took a deep breath and turned his attention to the scenes outside the window, the blue eyes bright.

When she landed the car in front of the apartment building, he got out and docilely followed her inside, still without speaking.

On the second landing, she slid the key-card into the latch of a corner apartment and the door swung open.

Quickly, she went inside, leaving Kit standing in the hallway.

He started after her, and stopped suddenly as if running against an invisible barrier.

She looked back. "Well?"

He made an apologetic gesture. "I have to be invited in, remember? I can't cross your threshold without your permission."

"Nonsense! You came into the building with me!"

He shook his head. "The lobby's public, anyone can enter that. This--" he nodded through the open door, "--is private."

For a moment, she hesitated, and Kit went on, "Think carefully before you say it. Once I'm inside, I'll be able to come and go whenever I wish."

That brought a quick smile. "You'll have to get out of the Compound first!" She gestured impatiently, "Oh, come on in!" and Kit stepped across the doorsill and directly into the living room.

Quickly, she caught his hands and pulled off the wristcuffs, dropping them on the sofa.

He looked around, thinking he should make some comment.

It was a large room, furnished with pieces made of genuine wood--antiques, it appeared--nothing under eighty years old. Sofa, tables, a desk--very delicate, very beautiful--just like its owner.

"Well, this is-- very nice."

His attention was immediately caught by a large painting hanging over a table set between two bay windows through which the lights of Albidon glittered.

"Van Gogh's Sunflowers?" He looked back at her. "Somehow you don't strike me as the type to like Van Gogh."

"And what type is that?" she wanted to know.

He shrugged. "Daring.... Given to flights of imagination.... Impassioned...."

She laughed. "Shows how much you don't know."

Kit took a step toward her. "Are you passionate, Lieutenant Dalia?"

She moved backward, bumping against a chair, "That's my secret, Mr. Landless," looking at it and back at him in sudden embarrassment, in which there was a trace of panic.

"Call me Kit." He smiled, wanting to put her at ease, not certain how to do it.

It had been so long since he'd talked to a female who wasn't an Undead, so long since he'd created idle chatter or attempted even a mild flirtation.

"We may as well be on first-name terms if we're going to be working together. Though I don't know how much work we'll be doing, since I still maintain I have nothing pertinent to tell you." He looked back at the painting again. "And I'll call you Kate."

"My name is Katherine...." she began.

"Nay, 'tis Sweet Kate.... Plain Kate and bonnie Kate, the prettiest Kate in all Christendom, Kate of my consolation--’"

"Taming of the Shrew--" she acknowledged the quote, "you weren't a contemporary of Shakespeare, were you?"

He laughed slightly.

"I'm not that old! I missed the Bard by about two centuries...." His voice trailed away as he studied the picture. "Poor Vincent.... So talented, so doomed." He looked over his shoulder at her. "He would use those paints with their poisonous bases...."

"Did you know him?"

Kit shook his head. "He was too erratic for me. I try to stay away from the unhinged.... I knew his brother Theo, though. A very conscientious man, concerned about his brother's welfare--and worried because he could do nothing to thwart his madness...."

"That's just a copy, of course," she said quickly.

That made him laugh. "I didn't think it was the original. I'm assuming police officers still aren't paid the highest wages!"

"The real painting was destroyed fifty-five years ago, in a museum fire--"

Kit sighed and shook his head. Another masterpiece gone. So many had perished in Terra's last land war....

"Oh, well," he tried to make it casual, not wanting her to know how the loss of one more bit of beauty from the galaxy affected him. "Sic transit gloria...."

He stopped, turning back to face her.

She was taking off the uniform jacket--underneath it, she wore a soft white sweater, very feminine and very non-regulation--and pressing a sensor on the closet door, saying as it slid open, "Can I get you a drink?" voice immediately trailing away as she remembered what she was talking to. "I mean...."

Kit smiled slightly, letting a leer enter his voice. "Once upon a time, Lieutenant, you would have been the drink!"

She stepped back as the door shut, leaning against it. "If you're trying to frighten me, you're succeeding."

"Frighten? You?" His voice was genuinely surprised. "I thought you were the fearless policewoman--afraid of nothing and no man!"

"The uniform's fearless, not the woman inside it," she told him, "but you're not really a man, are you?"

He thought about that. "No, I guess technically, I'm not."

"Then," a slight shrug, "what do I have to fear?"

The blue eyes held hers a moment.

"What indeed?"

There was a long awkward silence while Kit looked around again.

"I see you have a computer. PC?" He walked over to the desk, bending to look at the terminal. "No...TIU--aha! Total Information at the fingertips! Able to access anything the Council Information Service houses."

She looked surprised. "You're familiar with the FIS?"

"Certainly! We Undead try to keep up with current technology." He placed a hand on the keyboard, seeing her stiffen slightly. “I’ve often wondered why they still have keyboards, since audio-control was invented.”

Afraid he would harm her precious terminal?

"Just because most of us were created centuries ago doesn't mean we've kept our mentalities in the past!"

He allowed irony to enter his voice. "Of course, lately, there's been little chance to learn-- So you can access anything the Department has in its files from here?"

He moved his hand and she relaxed. "Yes, that way, I don't have to run down to the station every time I need some information. I just come in here and--"

"Very convenient."

Kit touched one of the keys.

Immediately the screen lit up, revealing a series of entries.

"I-I was just checking a file...." Quickly, Katherine pushed past him, hovering over the keyboard. “Computer, close file!“

The screen went blank.

"You didn't save it," Kit commented, almost accusingly.

"I-It wasn't anything important." As she straightened, he thought that her face held an expression of relief.

Strange.

Another silence.

Katherine looked away.

"I-I haven't had dinner. If you don't mind, we can talk in the kitchen while I prepare something." She gestured toward a door across the room. "It won't take long."

She led the way through the swinging door, asking belatedly, "It won't bother you to watch me eat, will it?"

"Not as much as it would bother you to watch me!" came the answer.

She paused slightly, glancing back at him and Kit shrugged apologetically.

"Sorry. The Undead are pretty blunt, Kate. We say what we think. You'd better get used to that!" He followed her into the kitchen, adding, "And don't worry about me. I was fed last night...." and smiled slightly as he saw her shoulders stiffen.

He leaned against a counter, looking around the room with interest while she searched the refrigeration unit for the ingredients for a salad.

It was a fairly large room, with a window set in the opposite wall, a pair of chairs and a table against it so that the diners could look out while they ate.

She probably sat there with her morning coffee--or whatever Breathers drank these days--watching the sun shine over the rooftops. Perhaps someone sat with her, smiling over his own cup at her, eyes holding her brown ones.

For some reason, he didn't like that idea.

The refrigeration unit was built into the cabinets, as were the microwave and dishwasher. The counters were bare of dishes or clutter, except for several open jars containing bouquets of dried herbs. Near the door, hung a chain of peppers on a ceramic hook and next to them....

She looked up at his gasp, asking quickly, "What is it?"

He was standing with his back to the herb hooks, one hand covering his eyes, "Please.... Would you mind removing that...?" and gestured weakly at the long rope of garlic hanging beside the peppers.

"Sorry." She pulled them from the hook and tossed the rope into the refrigerator.

Kit turned with a sigh. "Thank you."

Katherine took a head of Arcanian endive out of the unit and set it on the table. "I thought that was just a superstition."

She began to tear it into small pieces.

"Sometimes old superstitions hold truth. I don't do too well with sage and basil, either."

He fell silent and Katherine concentrated on the food before her, picking up the knife to slice the thick red tamarind tomato.

She seemed ill at ease, he thought, handling the knife awkwardly and his admonition, "Careful, don't cut your fingers," only seemed to make it worse. Twice she dropped the utensil, once actually knocked the tomato onto the floor, where it struck with a soft, squishy sound, leaving a smear of seeds as she stooped to pick it up with a murmured apology.

She cut the slices into quarters and asked, without looking up, "Would you hand me that salt cellar, please?" and he picked up the little plasticon container and held it out to her.

Katherine reached for it.

Their fingers touched, and she looked up at him, eyes abruptly meeting his.

The salt cellar fell from her fingers to the floor, bouncing, striking her foot.

Quickly, she bent and picked it up, turning back to the table, shaking it determinedly. Then she stood there a moment, holding it tightly, before slamming it down on the table.

"Stop it! Just stop it!"

Kit stared at her as if she'd thrown it at him. "Stop what?"

"Doing that!"

"What?" He didn't understand. "What am I doing?"

"It isn't going to work!"

"What are you talking about?"

What the Hell is going on?

She whirled to stare at him. "You may think that you're irresistible to women, but I'm not interested--"

"Kate, I assure you--"

"Just because you can conquer other females with y-your a-animal magnetism, don't think that--"

"I swear, I wasn't--"

"--if anything, you don't attract me at all. I don't like your clothes and I don't like the way you look! It's-it's....

"It's what?" Kit demanded quickly.

She hesitated slightly.

"....disturbing...."

The words trailed away weakly.

"So you don't like the way I look. Or my clothes." He thought about that. It had never occurred to him she might actually be bothered by his appearance. No other Breather had even mentioned that he was objectionable. "What specifically bothers you? Maybe I can change it."

She regarded him steadily, before saying with a rush, "All that leather. Isn't it just a little primitive to wear the hide of an animal?"

He brushed one hand against the shoulder of her wool sweater, soft Cashmere, imported from Terra.

"No more than it is to wear the woven hair of one."

She moved slightly, dodging his hand, and Kit said quickly, "Well, since the only thing I can do about my clothes is to remove them--and I'm certain you wouldn't like that,” he gave her a fleeting but wicked smile and she flushed slightly, "I guess you'll just have to put up with looking at them! What else? My looks--? You think I'm ugly?"

"Ugly!" She rolled her eyes slightly and looked away. "That's a laugh! You know very well how handsome you are--"

"I assure you I don't, Kate," he said it so quietly she was startled. "I haven't seen my own face since Seventeen Ninety-four."

"You're joking."

"A person wouldn't joke about such a thing, would he? I don't know if I've grown older, or if--like the legends say--I still appear as I did the day I died."

"I don't believe it!"

She seized his wrist, pulling him out of the kitchen and down a short hallway, "There's a mirror in the bedroom," and Kit went with her, not protesting, enjoying the warmth of her hand upon his chill flesh, noting she seemed unaware of the difference in their body temperatures.

The door was open.

She pulled Kit inside, stopping in front of a large dresser with an antique, gold-framed mirror hanging above it, and leaned forward, staring into the glass.

In it was reflected the room, its furniture, and her own face, eyes wide and startled.

Kit wasn't visible.

"Didn't you know we haven't an image?" he asked, almost sadly. "I think the Chief should have made you read a little on the Kindred before you took this case."

He peered at the glass, hands resting against the dresser top.

"I've heard that if an Undead concentrates hard enough, he can actually sustain an image for a few seconds.... “

The pale hands clenched into fists.

"...though I've never...actually...tried it...."

Abruptly, the blue eyes seemed to go blank and he closed them, taking a deep breath.

Slowly, a faint second shape wavered beside hers. A man's head and shoulders, totally transparent, but recognizable--square chin, straight nose, high cheekbones, all surrounded by a mass of ash-pale hair....

Kit opened his eyes--the ones in the silvered glass seemed to glow.

"Well?" she asked anxiously. "Have you changed any?"

"No," his words were soft. "It's as I remember myself."

He leaned forward, stroking one hand down his cheek, touching his chin. "Just as I remember...."

The movement broke his concentration. Immediately, his image faded, the eyes disappearing last, gazing almost sadly into his own before winking out.

Shakily, Kit turned and surveyed the room. He was panting slightly, the effort of bringing his image into being momentarily draining him.

"That's a pretty big bed," he said quickly, to keep her from realizing how much seeing himself again had affected him or what an effort it had been. "Do you sleep in it alone?"

She flushed and walked out, "That's none of your business." heels making an angry tapping on the tiled hallway.

He started after her.

By the time he reached the kitchen, she was busily, almost frantically, arranging the lettuce and tomato in the salad bowl.

He said, "Why don't I just wait in the living room until you finish?"

"All right," she answered. Too eagerly, he thought. "I won't be long."

He was already out of sight.

"I have some music chips--" she called.

"--and a piano," he finished for her, voice coming from the other side of the living room. "A beauty, too!"

"Do you play?" Why did she keep trying to talk to him as if he were simply another human?

"A little. May I?"

"Go ahead."

Anything to keep him out there while she ate. She couldn't bear to have those blue eyes watching her while she forked food into her mouth.

She expected to hear an amateurish pounding on the keys but to her surprise, the Moonlight Sonata floated through the door, played with a quiet but intense sadness that made her stop with the fork halfway to her mouth.

She bolted the food, dropped the salad bowl into the sink and fairly burst into the living room.

Kit was seated at the piano, head tilted back, eyes shut, a look of sheer pleasure on his face. As she walked over to him, he opened his eyes and smiled at her and Katherine smiled back.

She couldn't help it. He looked so happy.

She waited, leaning against the piano until he'd finished, and as the last note died away, applauded quickly.

"That was beautiful."

Kit didn't answer, just touched the keys again, sliding his fingers over them so lightly not a note was struck. "Beethoven was a very talented man."

"I suppose you're going to tell me you knew him?"

"We both studied with the same Master--Haydn. He wanted me to become a concert pianist but I didn't dare. It would have meant drawing attention to myself and I couldn't risk that."

"That's a pity." She caught one hand, lifting it to touch his fingers. It looked pallid in hers, alabaster-translucent next to her living flesh, though Katherine didn't seem to notice. "You definitely have a pianist's hands!"

"Thief's hands, Kate!" He pulled it from her grasp, resting it on the keys again, trying to ignore the quiver that went through him at her touch. "Made to lift purses and hold a pistol--though it's been many lifetimes now since I've done either!"

Almost unconsciously, his fingers began to move again, softly playing another tune, Chopin's Waltz in A-Minor.

"I liked Chopin a lot better. At least he wasn't so stubborn! Papa Haydn called Beethoven the Grand Mogul!"

"Really?"

"Beethoven was so--" he laughed slightly, "--Teutonic! I remember the first time I saw him. He was a child, and his bastard of a father had gotten drunk and given him a beating because he’d made some silly little mistake during a performance. That’s why he went deaf, because of being beaten about the head so much.“

He stopped playing, remembering what he‘d said to the little boy who had huddled on the bed, sobbing quietly.

“If you wish, I’ll make him pay for mistreating you. I’ll make certain he never hurts you again!“

The boy had considered that, then sadly shaken his head.

“No--he’s my father. If you kill him--“ for he’d quickly realized what Kit would do, “--there’ll be no one to care for my brother and me. We need him.”

Kit had never appeared to the boy again, made certain that he and the adult Beethoven never met, but he kept an eye on the youngster until he’d become able to care for himself.

“I was there when he gave that wonderful performance in Eighteen-Fifteen. By then, he was almost totally deaf. The audience gave him a standing ovation and someone had to turn him around so he could see how they were applauding him. The legend is that the orchestra wasn’t watching him but the first violin and following its lead.”

He shrugged, “I don’t know--I just closed my eyes and listened to the music," and looked down at the keys, striking a chord. "It was very sad--the incident, not the music."

Kit sighed.

“But I think my favorite of them all was Wulfie-- Mozart.”

“You called him Wulfie?”

“All his friends did.” He laughed slightly. “Oh, he was a real party animal, especially while he was living in Leipzig--play all night and sleep all day and still be able to compose such masterpieces!”

Katherine shivered.

"I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I didn't intend to frighten you with my morbid reminiscences."

"It's not that," she protested. "It's just--the thought that I'm actually talking to someone who's seen Beethoven, a-and…partied…with Mozart. I-it's eerie!"

That made him laugh, a little ruefully. "How do you think I feel?"

She smiled, too. "You ought to write your memoirs. They'd be a best-seller!"

He joined in the sudden whimsy her mind suggested. "Who'd believe it?"

"Well, no one could refute it, could they?"

"That's for sure!" He ended the piece with a flourish, struck a series of triplets in a quick jazz rhythm and stood up. "And now-- If you've dined, Mistress Kate, shall we get to work?"

1 comments

  1. Mary Marvella // December 14, 2007 at 9:30 PM  

    Nothing like a determined, sexy vampire.