Red Dice

       part  #3 of  The Last Vampire Series  by  Christopher Pike / Young Adult / Horror
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Red Dice

Chapter 1

I am a vampire. Blood does not bother me. I like blood. Even seeing my own blood does not frighten me. But what my blood can do to others--to the whole world for that matter--terrifies me. Once God made me take a vow to create no more vampires. Once I believed in God. But my belief, like my vow, has been shattered too many times in my long life. I am Alisa Perne, the now-forgotten Sita, child of a demon. I am the oldest living creature on earth.

I awake in a living room smelling of death. I watch as my blood trickles through a thin plastic tube into the arm of Special Agent Joel Drake, FBI. He now lives as a vampire instead of the human being he was when he closed his eyes. I have broken my promise to Lord Krishna--Joel did not ask me to make him a vampire. Indeed, he told me not to, to let him die in peace. But I did not listen. Therefore, Krishna's protection, his grace, no longer applies to me. Perhaps it is good. Perhaps I will die soon. Perhaps not.

I do not die easily.

I remove the tubing from my arm and stand. At my feet lies the body of Mrs. Fender, mother of Eddie Fender, who also lies dead, in a freezer at the end of the hall. Eddie had been a vampire, a very powerful one, before I cut off his head. I step over his mother's body to search for a clock. Somehow, fighting the forces of darkness, I have misplaced my watch. A clock ticks in the kitchen above the stove. Ten minutes to twelve. It is dark outside.

I have been unconscious for almost twenty-four hours.

Joel will awaken soon, I know, and then we must go. But I do not wish to leave the evidence of my struggle with Eddie for the FBI to examine. Having seen how Eddie stole and used the blood of my creator, Yaksha, I know I must vaporize this sick house. My sense of smell is acute, as is my hearing. The pump that cools the large freezer in the back is not electric but powered by gasoline. I smell large amounts of fuel on the back porch. After I toss the gasoline all over the house, and wake Joel, I will strike a match. Fire pleases me, although it has the power to destroy me. Had I not been a vampire, I might have become a pyromaniac.

The gasoline is stored in two twenty-gallon steel tanks. Because I have the strength of many men, I have no trouble lifting them both at once. Yet even I am surprised by how light they feel. Before I passed out, I was like Joel, on the verge of death. Now I am stronger than I can ever remember being. There is a reason. Yaksha gave me what blood he had left in his veins before I buried him in the sea. He gave me his power, and I never realized how great it was until this moment. It is a wonder I was able to defeat Eddie, who also drank from Yaksha. Perhaps Krishna came to my aid, one last time.

I take the drums into the living room. From the freezer, I remove Eddie's body, severed head, and even the hard blood on the freezer floor. I pick them all up and place them on my living room barbecue. Next I begin to break up the couch and tables into easy-to-burn pieces. The noise causes Joel to stir but he does not waken. Newborn vampires sleep deep and wake up hungry. I wonder if Joel will be like my beloved Ray, reluctant to drink from the living. I hope not. I loved Ray above all things, but as a vampire, he was a pain in the ass.

I think of Ray.

He has been dead less than two days.

"My love," I whisper. "My sorrow. "

There is no time for grief; there never is. There is no time for joy, I think bitterly. Only for life, pain, death. God did not plan this creation. It was a joke to him, a dream. Once, in a dream, Krishna told me many secrets. But he may have lied to me. It would have been like him.

I am almost done throwing the fuel around and tearing up the house when I hear the sound of approaching cars. There are no sirens but I know these are police cruisers. Police drive differently from nor?mal people, worse actually. They drive faster and the officers in these squad cars are anxious to get here. I have incredibly sensitive hearing--I count at least twenty vehicles. What brings them here?

I glance at Joel.

"Are they coming for Eddie?" I ask him. "Or for me? What did you tell your superiors?"

But perhaps I am too quick to judge, too harsh. Los Angeles has seen many strange sights lately, many bodies killed by superhumans. Perhaps Joel has not betrayed me, at least not intentionally. Perhaps I have betrayed myself. I have gotten sloppy in my old age. I hurry to Joel's side and shake him roughly.

"Wake up," I say. "We have to get out of here. "

He opens his drowsy eyes. "You look different," he whispers.

"Your eyes are different. "

Realization crosses his face. "Did you change me?"

"Yes. "

He swallows weakly. "Am I still human?"

I sigh. "You're a vampire. "

"Sita. "

I put a finger to his lips. "Later. We must leave here quickly. Many cops are coming. " I pull him to his feet and he groans. "You will feel stronger in a few minutes. Stronger than you have ever felt before. "

I find a Bic lighter in the kitchen, and we head for the front door. But before we can reach it I hear three cruisers skid to a halt outside. We hurry to the back, but the situation is the same. Cops, weapons drawn, have jumped out of their cars with whirling blue and red lights cutting paths in the night sky. More vehicles appear, armored monstrosities with SWAT teams in?side. Searchlights flash on and light up the house. We are surrounded. I do not do well in such situations, or else, one might say, I do very well--for a vampire. What I mean is, being trapped brings out my most vicious side. I push aside my recently acquired revul?sion for violence. Once, in the Middle Ages, sur?rounded by an angry mob, I killed over a hundred men and women.

Of course, they didn't have guns.

A bullet in the head could probably kill me, I think.

"Am I really a vampire?" Joel asks, still trying to catch up with reality.

"You're not an FBI agent anymore," I mutter.

He shakes himself as he straightens up. "But I am. Or at least they think I am. Let me talk to them. "

"Wait. " I stop him, thinking. "I can't have them examine Eddie's remains. I don't trust what will happen to his blood. I don't trust what his blood can still do. I must destroy it, and to do that I must burn down this house. "

Outside, through a bullhorn, a gruff-voiced man calls for us to come out with our hands in the air. Such an unimaginative way of asking us to surrender.

Joel knew what Eddie had been capable of. "I was wondering why everything smelled like gasoline," he remarks. "You light the place on fire--I have no problem with that. But then what are you going to do? You can't fight this army. "

"Can't I?" I peer out the front window and raise my eyes to the rhythmic thrumming in the sky. They have a helicopter. Why? All to catch the feared serial killer? Yes, such a beast would demand heavy forces. Yet I sense a curious undercurrent in the assembled men and women. It reminds me of when Slim, Yalcsha's assassin, came looking for me. Slim's people had been warned that I was not normal. As a result, I barely escaped. In the same way, these people know that there is something unusual about me.

I can almost read their thoughts.

This strikes me as strange.

I have always been able to sense emotions. Now, can I read thoughts, too?

What power has Yaksha's blood given me?

"Alisa," Joel says, calling me by my modern name. "Even you cannot break free of this circle. " He notices I'm lost in thought. "Alisa?"

"They think there is a monster in here," I whisper. "I hear their minds. " I grip Joel. "What did you tell them about me?"

He shakes his head. "Some things. "

"Did you tell them I was powerful? Fast?"

He hesitates, then sighs. "I told them too much. But they don't know you're a vampire. " He, too, peers through the curtains. "They were getting suspicious about how the others died, torn to pieces. They had my file on Eddie Fender, including where his mother lived. They must have tracked us here that way. "

I shake my head. "I cannot surrender. It is against my nature. "

He takes my hands. "You can't fight them all. You'll die. "

I have to smile. "More of them would die. " I lose my smile. "But if I do make a stand here, you will die also. " I am indecisive. His advice is logical. Yet my heart betrays me. I feel doom closing in. I speak reluctantly. "Talk to them. Say what you think best. But I tell you--I will not leave this house with?out setting it ablaze. There will be no more Eddie Fenders. "

"I understand. " He turns for the door, then stops. He speaks with his back to me. "I understand why you did it. "

"Do you forgive me?"

"Would I have died?" he asks.

"Yes. "

He smiles gently, not turning to look at me. I feel the smile. "Then I must forgive you," he says. He raises his hands above his head and reaches for the doorknob. "I hope my boss is out there. "

Through a crack in the curtains I follow his prog?ress. Joel calls out his identity and a group of FBI agents step forward. I can tell they're FBI by their suits. Joel is one of them. He looks the same as he did yesterday. Yet they don't greet him as a friend. In an instant I grasp the full extent of their suspicions. They know that whatever plague of death has been sweep-

ing L. A. is communicable. Eddie and I left too many bodies behind. Also, I remember the cop I freed. The one whose blood I sampled. The one I told I was a vampire. The authorities may not have believed that man, but they will think I am some kind of demon from hell.

Joel is handcuffed and dragged into an armored vehicle. He casts me a despairing glance before he vanishes. I curse the fact that I listened to him. Now I, too, must be taken into the vehicle. Above all, I must stay close to Joel. I don't know what he'll tell them. I don't know what they'll do with his blood.

Many of them are going to die, I realize.

The SWAT team cocks their weapons.

They call again for me to surrender.

I twirl the striker on the lighter and touch it to the wood I have gathered around Eddie's body. I say goodbye to his ugly head. Hope the Popsicles you suck in hell cool your cracked and bleeding lips. Casually, while the inferno spreads behind me, I step out the front door.

They are on me in an instant. Before I can reach the curb, my arms are pulled behind me and I am handcuffed. They don't even read me my rights. You have the right to a pint of blood. If you cannot afford one, the court will bleed a little for you. Yeah, I think sarcastically as they shove me into the back of the armored vehicle where they threw Joel, I will be given all my rights as an American citizen. Behind me I see them trying to put out the fire. Too bad they brought the firepower but forgot the fire engines. The house is a funeral pyre. Eddie Fender will leave no legacy to haunt mankind.

But what about me? Joel?

Our legs are chained to the floor of the vehicle. Three men with automatic weapons and ghostly faces lit from a single overhead light sit on a metal bench across from us, weapons trained on us. No one speaks. Another two armed men sit up front, beside the driver. One carries a shotgun, the other a machine gun. They are separated from us by what I know is bulletproof glass. It also acts as soundproofing. I can break it with my little finger.

But what about the miniature army around us? They won't break so easily. As the door is closed and we roll forward, I hear a dozen cars move into position around us. The chopper follows overhead, a spotlight aimed down on our car. Their precautions border on the fanatical. They know I am capable of extraordinary feats of strength. This realization sinks deep into my consciousness. For five thousand years, except for a few isolated incidents, I have moved unknown through human history. Now I am exposed. Now I am the enemy. No matter what happens, whether we escape or die trying, my life will never be the same.

I'll have to tear up my credit cards.

"Where are you taking us?" I ask.

"You are to remain silent," the middle one says. He has the face of a drill sergeant, leathery skin, deeply etched lines cut in from years of barking commands. Like his partners, he wears a flak jacket. I think I would look nice in one. I catch his eye and smile faintly.

"What's the matter?" I ask. "Are you afraid of a young woman?"

"Silence," he snaps, shaking his weapon, shifting uncomfortably. My stare is strong medicine. It can burn holes in brain neurons. My voice is hypnotic, when I wish it to be. I could sing a grizzly to sleep. I let my smile widen.

"May I have a cigarette?" I ask.

"No," he says flatly.

I lean forward as far as I can. These men, for all their plans, have not come as well prepared as Slim's people did. Yaksha had them bring cuffs made of a special alloy that 1 could not break. I can snap these like paper. Yet they are seated close together, these SWAT experts, and they have three separate weapons leveled directly at me. They could conceivably kill me before I could take out all of them. For that reason I have to take a subtle approach.

Relatively speaking.

"I don't know what you've been told about me" I continue. "But I think it's way out of line. I have done nothing wrong. Also, my friend here is an FBI agent. He shouldn't be treated this way. You should let him go. " I stare deep into the man's eyes, and I know all he sees is my widening black pupils, growing as large as the dark sides of twin moons. I speak softly, "You should let him go now. "

The man reaches for his keys, then hesitates. The hesitation is a problem. Pushing a person's will is always a hit-or-miss proposition. His partners are watching him now, afraid to look at me. The youngest one rises half off his bench. He is suddenly scared and threatens me with his weapon.

"You shut your goddamn mouth!" he yells.

I lean back and chuckle. As I do, I catch his eye. Fear has made him vulnerable; he is an easy mark. "What are you afraid of?" I ask. "That your com?mander will let me go? Or that you'll turn around and shoot him?" I bore my gaze into his head. "Yeah, you could shoot him. Yeah, that might be fun. "

"Alisa," Joel whispers, not enjoying my game.

The young man and the commander exchange worried glances. The third guy has sat up, panting, not really understanding what is happening. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Joel shaking his head. Let him see me at my worst, I think. It is the best way to begin our new relationship, without illusions. My eyes dart from the commander to the young one. The tempera?ture inside their craniums is increasing. Ever so slightly, each weapon begins to veer toward the other man's chest. Yet I know I'll have to push them a lot harder to get them to let me go or kill each other. It is not necessary. I can do it on my own. Really, I just want to distract them a bit--

Before I break them in two.

With their guns aimed away from me, they are vulnerable when I suddenly shoot my legs up, snap?ping ray ankle chains. The third man, the one I have left untouched, reacts quickly, by human standards. But he is moving in slow motion compared to a five-thousand-year-old vampire. As he reaches for the trigger on his gun, my right foot lashes out and my big toe crushes his flak jacket, his breastbone, and the beating heart beneath the two. The heart beats no more. The man crumples and falls into a pitiful ball.

"Should have given me the cigarette," I say to the commander as I snap my handcuffs and reach over to take his head between my palms. His eyes grow round. His lips move. He wants to tell me something, maybe apologize. I'm not in the mood. He is putty in my hands, Silly Putty once I squeeze my palms together and crack his skull. Now his mouth falls open as his eyes slowly close. His brains leak out the back, over his starched collar. I don't want his flak jacket.

I glance over at the young one.

He's more scared than before.

I just stare at him. He has forgotten his weapon.

"Die," I whisper intently. My will is poisonous, when I am mad, and now, with Yaksha's blood in my veins, the poison is worse than the venom of a cobra. The young man falls to the floor.

His breathing stops.

Joel looks as if he will be sick.

"Kill me," he swears. "I cannot stand this. "

"I am what I am. " I break his chains. "You will become what I am. "

He is bitter. He has no illusions. "Never. "

I nod. "I said the same thing to Yaksha. " I soften, touch his arm. "I cannot let them take you or me into custody. We could have a thousand Eddies running around. "

"They just want to talk to us," he says.

I shake my head as I glance at the men up front, unaware, so far, of what has happened to their com?rades. "They know we are not normal," I whisper.

Joel pleads. "You can escape far more easily with?out me. Fewer people will have to die. Leave me behind. Let them catch me in a shower of bullets. My blood will soak the pavement, nothing more. "

"You are a brave man, Joel Drake. "

He grimaces as he glances at what I have done to the others. "I have spent my life trying to help people. Not destroy them. "

I stare softly into his eyes. "I can't just let you die. You don't know what I have sacrificed to keep you alive. "

He pauses. "What did you sacrifice?"

I sigh. "The love of God. " I turn toward the men at the front. "We will discuss this later. "

Joel stops me one last time. "Don't kill when you don't have to. "

"I will do what I can," I promise.

The bulletproof glass is two inches thick. Although the ceiling of the van forces me to crouch, I am able to leap far enough off the floor to plant two swift kicks onto the barrier. I have exceptionally strong legs. The glass shatters into thousands of little pellets. Before the two armed men can turn, I reach forward and knock their heads together. They collapse in a man?gled heap. They are unconscious, not dead. I remove the revolver from the hip holster of the driver and place the barrel to his head.

"The men in the back are dead," I whisper in his ear. "If you glance in your rearview mirror you will see it is true. But I have allowed your partners up front to live. That is because I am a nice girl. I am nice and I am nasty. If you tell me where we are headed, I will be nice to you. If you don't, if you try to alert your partners on the road ahead of us or behind us, I will tear out your eyes and swallow them. " I pause. "Where are you taking us?"

He has trouble speaking. "C-Fourteen. "

"Is that a police station?"

"No. "

"What is it? Quickly!"

He coughs, frightened. "A high-security facility. "

"Who runs it?"

He swallows. "The government. "

"Are there labs there?"

"I don't know. I've only heard stories. I think so. "

"Interesting. " I tap his head lightly with his gun. "What's your name?"

"Lenny Treber. " He throws me a nervous glance. Sweat pours off him in a river. "What's your name?"

"I have many names, Lenny. We are in a tight fix here. You and I and my friend. How do we get out of it?"

He can't stop shaking. "I don't understand. "

"I don't want to go to C-Fourteen. I want you to help me escape this dragnet. It is to your advantage to help, and to the advantage of your fellow cops. I don't want to leave several dozen women widowed. " I pause. "Are you married, Lenny?"

He tries to calm himself with deep breaths. "Yes. "

"Do you have children?"

"Yes. "

"You don't want your children to grow up without a father, do you?"

"No. "

"What can you do to help me and my friend?"

It is hard for him to concentrate. "I don't know. "

"You will have to do better than that. What happens if you radio ahead and say you need to take a bathroom break?"

"They won't believe it. They'll know you have escaped. "

"Is this van bulletproof?"

"Yes. "

"What did they tell you about me?"

"That you were dangerous. "

"Anything else?" I ask.

He is near tears. "They said you can kill with your bare hands. " He catches a clear view of the brain tissue dripping out of the commander's skull. It is a gruesome sight, even by my flexible standards. A shudder runs through Lenny's body. "Oh God," he gasps.

I pat him sweetly on the back. "I do have my bad side," I admit. "But you cannot judge me by a few dead bodies. I don't want to kill you, Lenny, now that we're on a first-name basis. Think of another way for us to escape the escorts. "

He struggles. "There isn't one. This job has the highest security imaginable. They'll open fire if I try to get away from them. "

"Those were the orders?"

"Yes. Under no circumstances were you to be allowed to escape. "

I ponder this. They must know me, even better than Lenny thinks. How's that possible? Have I left that much evidence behind? I think of the Coliseum, the necks I broke, the javelins I threw. It's possible, I suppose.

"I am going to escape," I tell Lenny, picking up the dropped machine gun and shotgun from the front seats. I also yank a flak jacket off one of the men. "One way or the other. "

"They'll open fire," Lenny protests.

"Let them. " I take ammunition for both weapons from the unconscious men. I gesture to Joel, who is still getting adjusted to his vampire senses. He's staring around the interior of the van as if he's stoned. "Put on one of those flak jackets," I tell him.

"Does there have to be shooting?" he asks.

"There will be a lot of shooting. " I speak to Lenny. "What's the top speed of this van?"

"Eighty miles an hour. "

I groan. "I need a cop car. "

"There are a lot of them behind and in front of us," Lenny says.

I peer at the chopper in the sky. "They hang close to the ground. "

"They're heavily armed," Lenny says. "They won't let you escape. "

I climb in the front seat beside him, shoving the men aside. The flak jacket is a little large on me. "You think I should surrender?"

"Yes. " He adds quickly, "That's just my opinion. "

"You just follow my orders if you want to live," I say, studying the cruisers in front, in back. Sixteen altogether--two officers in each, I know. Plus there are at least three unmarked cars--FBI agents. It continues to amaze me how quickly they took Joel into custody. They hardly gave him a chance to speak. I call back to him, "Come up here. We're going to switch vehicles in a few minutes. "

Joel pokes his head close to my shoulder, flak jacket in place. "The chopper is a problem," he says. "It doesn't matter how good a driver you are or how many cop cars you disable. It'll stay with us, lighting us up. "

"Maybe. Put on a seat belt. " I brace a foot on the dashboard and point to an approaching alley. "There, Lenny, I want you to take a hard left. Floor it as soon as you come out of the turn. "

Lenny sweats. "OK. "

I start to hand Joel Lenny's revolver. "Don't be afraid to cover my back. " I pause and catch his eye. "You are on my side, aren't you?"

Joel hesitates. "I won't kill anybody. "

"Will you try to kill me?"

"No. "

I give him the revolver. "All right. " The alley closes. "Get ready, Lenny. No tricks. Just put as much distance between us and the procession as you can. "

Lenny veers to the left. The alley is narrow; the van shoots through it at high speed, knocking over garbage cans and crates. The response from the cops is imme?diate. Half the cars jam into the alley in pursuit. But half is better than all, and locked in behind us as they are, the cops can't fire at us so easily.

Unfortunately, the alley crosses several streets. For?tunately, it's midnight, with almost no traffic. At the first street we're lucky. But we lose two police cars to a collision. At the second crossing we're also fortunate. But as we drive into the third cross street we smash sideways into the only vehicle on the street, an open produce truck loaded with oranges. The fruit spills over the van. Lenny has bumped his head on the steering wheel and appears to be dazed. He gets another bump on his head when a squad car smashes into us from behind. This is what I wanted--a pileup. "Come on!" I call to Joel. I jump out of the side of the van and raise the machine gun and fire a spray of bullets at the cars piled up behind us. They are pinned down, but I know it won't be long before a herd of fresh cars comes around the block. The suddenness of my attack causes them to scramble from their vehicles. Overhead, the chopper swoops dangerously low, the spotlight momentarily focused straight on me. I look through the glare of the light and see a marksman stand in the open doorway and raise a high-powered rifle. Pump?ing the shotgun, I take aim at him and pull the trigger.

The man loses the top of his head.

His lifeless body falls onto the roof of a nearby building.

I am not finished.

My next shot takes out the spotlight. My third hits the small vertical rotor at the rear. The blade sputters but continues to spin. Pumping the shotgun, I put another round in it, and this time the propeller dies. It is the vertical rotor that prevents fuselage rotation and also provides rudder control. In other words, it gives stability to the helicopter. Immediately the flying machine veers out of control. To the horror of the watching police officers, it crash-lands in the midst of their line of cars. The explosion is violent, crushing several officers, setting a few ablaze. I use the distrac?tion to reach in and pull Joel out of the van. We run down the block, faster than any human could.

All this has happened in ten seconds.

So far, not a single shot has been fired at us.

A second line of cop cars comes around the block.

I jump into the middle of the street and pour two shotgun rounds into the window of the first one, killing both officers inside. The vehicle loses control and crashes into a parked car. The police cars behind it slam on their brakes. A spray of bullets from my machine gun makes them scramble out of their vehicles in search of cover. I run toward the second car, shielding Joel with my body. To the police, I know, my movements appear as nothing more than a blur. They can't get a lock on me. Nevertheless, they do open fire and a hail of bullets flies around me. My flak jacket takes several rounds, causing no damage. But one bullet catches me in the leg above my left knee and I stumble, although I don't fall. Another shot hits me in my right upper arm. Somehow, I reach the second police car and shove Joel inside. I want to drive, I am bleeding, and the pain is intense, but I am in too much of a hurry to acknowledge it.

"Keep your head down!" I snap at Joel as I throw the car in gear. Peeling out, we are treated to another shower of bullets. I take my own advice and duck. Both the front and rear windshields shatter. Glass pellets litter my long blond hair. It will take a special brand of shampoo to get them out.

We escape, but are a marked couple in a highly visible car. I jump on the Harbor Freeway, heading north, hoping to put as much distance between us and our pursuers as quickly as possible. I keep the acceler?ator floored, weaving in and out of the few cars. But I have two police cars on my tail. Worse, another helicopter has appeared in the sky. This pilot has learned from his predecessor. He keeps the chopper up high, but not so high that he can't track us.

"We can't hide from a chopper," Joel says again.

"This is a big city," I reply. "There are many places to hide. "

He sees I am bloody. "How bad are your injuries?"

It is an interesting question because already--in the space of a few minutes--they have completely healed. Yaksha's blood--it is an amazing potion.

"I am all right," I say. "Are you injured?"

"No. " He pauses. "How many men have died since this started?"

"At least ten. Try not to count. "

"Is that what you did after a few thousand years? You stopped counting?"

"I stopped thinking. "

I have a goal. Because I know we cannot stay on the freeway long, I decide that the only way we can escape the helicopters is to get into one ourselves. Atop several of the high-rises in downtown Los Angeles there are helicopter pads with choppers waiting to whisk executives to high-level meetings. I can fly a helicopter. I can operate any piece of machinery humankind has developed.

I exit the freeway on Third Street. By now I have ten black-and-whites on my tail. Coming down the off ramp, I see several cop cars struggling to block the road in front of me. Switching to the wrong side of the street, I bypass them and head east in the direction of the tallest buildings. But my way is quickly blocked by another set of black-and-whites. We must have half the LAPD after us. I am forced to swerve into the basement garage of a building I don't know. A wooden bar swings down to block my way, but I don't stop to press the green button and collect my ticket. Nor does the herd of law enforcement behind me. We all barrel through the barricade. A sign for an elevator calls my attention and I slam the car to a halt inches from the door. We jump out and push the button. While we wait for our ride to higher floors, I open fire on our pursuers. More people die. I lied to Joel. I do count-- three men and a woman take bullets in the face. I am a very good shot.

The elevator comes and we pile inside.

I press the top button. Number twenty-nine.

"Can they halt the elevator from the basement?" I ask as I reload.

"Yes. But it'll take them a few minutes to figure out how to do it. " He shrugs. "But does it matter? They'll surround this building with an army. We're trapped. "

"You're wrong," I say.

We exit onto the top floor. Here there are expensive suites, for law firms, plastic surgeons, and investment counselors. But there is too much high-priced real estate in Los Angeles--several of the suites are empty. Kicking in the door of the nearest vacancy, I stride up and down beside the wide windows, studying the neighboring buildings. I will have to cross the block and move over a few buildings to reach a high-rise that has a helicopter pad. I curse the fact that I am not a mythic vampire from films, capable of flying.

Yet I am able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Joel moves to my side. Below us, we watch the forces of righteousness gather. Two more helicopters have appeared in the night sky. Their bright beams rake the sides of the building.

"They won't come up the elevator after us," Joel says. "They will only come when they have us sur?rounded top and bottom. " He pauses. "What are we going to do?"

"I am going to set a new Olympic record. " I point to the building across the street. Its roof is only three stories below where we are. "I am going to jump over to it. "

He is impressed. "That's far. Can you really do it?"

"If I get a running start. I'll come back for you in a few minutes, in a helicopter. I will land it on the roof of this building. Be waiting for me. "

"What if you miss the roof of that building?"

I shrug. "It's a long way down. "

"Could you survive the fall?"

"I think so. But it would take me time to recover. "

"You shouldn't come back for me," Joel says. "Steal a helicopter and escape. "

"That is not a consideration. "

He speaks seriously. "Too many people have died. Even if we escape, I can't live with this slaughter on my conscience. "

I am impatient. "Don't you see how dangerous you are to the human race? Even dead. They could take your blood, inject it into animals, into themselves-- just as Eddie did. And they will do that, after witness?ing what we can do. Believe me, I only kill tonight so that the world can wake safely in the morning. "

"Is that true, Sita? You would die to save all these men and women?"

I turn away. "I would die to save you. "

He speaks gently. "What did you sacrifice to keep me alive?"

I would weep, I think, if I could. "I told you. "

"I didn't understand. "

"It doesn't matter. It's done. " I turn back to him. "There will be time later for these discussions. "

He touches my hair--pieces of glass fall to the floor. "You miss him. "

"Yes. "

"I didn't know what he meant to you when I watched him die. "

I smile sadly. "Nothing is really known about a person until he or she is gone. "

"I cannot take his place. "

I nod weakly. "I know. " Then I shake my head. "I need to go. "

He wants to hug me. "This could be goodbye. "

"It is not over yet. "

Before launching my daring leap, I kick out the window that blocks my way. This alerts the buzzing choppers but I don't give them time to zero in on me. I back away from the windows, taking only the shotgun with me, giving the machine gun to Joel.

"Are you afraid of heights?" he asks.

I kiss him. "You don't know me. I am afraid of nothing. "

Taking a deep breath, I begin my hard approach. I can accelerate sharply and be at full speed in less than ten strides. My balance and ability to judge distance are flawless. I hit the shattered bottom edge of the window perfectly and all at once I am airborne.

The flight across the gap between the buildings is breathtaking, even for me. It seems as if I'll float forever, moving horizontally, in defiance of gravity. The searchlights on the helicopters are too slow to catch me. I soar in darkness, a huge bat, the cool air on my face. Below, the tiny figures raise their heads skyward, blinking at the impossible. I almost laugh. They thought they had me trapped, silly mortals. They thought wrong.

My landing is not entirely smooth because I have such momentum. I am forced into a roll as I skitter across the rooftop. I am bleeding as I finally come to a halt and jump up. Overhead the choppers are franti?cally maneuvering to open fire. I am not given a chance to catch my breath before moving. Leaping for the next rooftop, I watch as a line of bullets rips a path in front of me.

The ensuing jumps between buildings are all on the same side of the street and not so dramatic as the first one. Yet the last leap, to the skyscraper with the helicopter pad, is to be the most dramatic of all. Because I cannot jump to the top of a building twenty stories up, I do not plan to land on top of the skyscraper. I will jump into it, through its wall of windows. I only hope that I don't hit the steel and concrete between floors.

Once again, the choppers approach, their machine guns blasting.

Once again, I take a running start.

The windows of the skyscraper rush toward me like a hard black wall. An instant before contact, I lean back and kick out with my feet. My timing is perfect; the glass shatters around the lower part of my body, sparing my face and arms. Unfortunately, I land awkwardly on a row of secretarial desks. The shock is incredible, even for me. Coming to a halt in a pile of ruined PCs and paper clips, I lie still for a whole minute, trying to catch my breath. I am now covered with blood from head to toe. Yet even as I grimace in pain my flesh wounds begin to close and my broken bones begin to mend.

I have company on the outside. One of the helicop?ter pilots has taken it upon himself to come level with the hole I have punched into the side of the skyscrap?er. The chopper floats just outside the shattered window, scanning the office with its bright searchlight. There are three men, including the pilot, aboard the craft. Peering through the wreckage, I notice that the machine gunner has an itchy finger. I think to myself how much more-1 would prefer to have a police chopper than a civilian one. But the pilot is not reckless. He keeps the chopper constantly moving a little from side to side. For me to try to leap onto it would be risky. I opt for the more conservative plan.

I get up slowly, limping. My right shinbone is still fractured, but it will be all right in another minute - God bless Yaksha's blood. Ducking behind the desks, the beam from the searchlight stretching long, stark shadows across the office, I move away from the broken window. The helicopter swoops in a narrow arc, sometimes onto the far side of the hole, some?times closer to where I'm hidden. The windows are tinted; it is easier for me to follow their movements than for them to follow mine, unless their light were to hit me directly. Yet they seem obsessed with the space just beyond the hole. They must feel that I am in the wreckage somewhere near it, injured and dying.

"Come to me baby," I whisper.

On their third swing toward my side, I punch out the window in front of me and open fire. I take out the machine gunner first; I don't like his looks. The searchlight goes next. I take aim on the fuel tank. As I said, I enjoy fireworks, wicked explosions. When I pull the trigger on the shotgun, the chopper detonates in a huge fireball. The pilot screams, the flames engulfing his body. The other man is blown out the side door, in pieces. The life goes out of the machine and it sinks to the ground. Far below I hear people crying. Far above, to my right, I hear the other two helicopters veer away. They have lost enthusiasm for the fight.

On the way to the elevator, I pass a custodian. He hardly looks up. Despite my blood and artillery, he wishes me a good evening. I smile at him.

"You have a good night," I say.

The elevator takes me to the top floor, and from there it is not hard to find a private access ladder onto the roof. Not one but two helicopters wait to fly us to freedom. Both are jet powered and I am pleased. They will at least be as fast as the cops' choppers, if not faster. Unfortunately there's a security guard on duty. An old guy, obviously working the night shift to supplement a meager retirement, he takes one look at me and hurries over. He has a handgun but doesn't draw it. His glasses are remarkably thick; he squints through the lenses as he looks me up and down.

"Are you a cop?" he asks.

I don't have the heart to lie to him. "No. I'm the bad guy. I'm the one who just blew that chopper out of the sky. "

He is awestruck. "I watched you jumping from building to building. How do you do that?"

"Steroids. "

He slaps his leg. "I knew it! The drugs young people are taking these days. What do you want? One of these choppers?"

I point my shotgun at him. "Yes. Please give me the keys. I don't want to have to kill you. "

He quickly raises his hands. "You don't have to do that. The keys are in the ignitions. Do you know how to fly a helicopter?"

I turn my weapon aside. "Yes. I've been taking lessons. Don't worry about me. "

He walks me to the closest chopper, a Bell 230. "This baby has a range of over three hundred miles. You want to get far out of town. The radio and TV are babbling about you, calling you a band of Arab terrorists. "

I laugh as I climb into the cockpit. "You do nothing to destroy their illusions. Just tell them you were overwhelmed by superior forces. You don't want people to know a young woman stole a helicopter out from under your nose. "

"And a blond one at that," he agrees. "You take care!"

He closes the door for me and I'm off.

Picking up Joel proves to be the easiest part of the night. The police helicopters are holding back--over a mile away. They aren't used to being blown out of the sky. The fire from the last downed chopper spreads over the front of the skyscraper. In the distance I see smoke from the first chopper. Joel shakes his head as he climbs in.

"They'll never stop hunting us after this," he says.

"I don't know," I jest. "They might be afraid to come after me. "

We head northeast. I'm anxious to get out of the suburban sprawl and into the wild, somewhere we can disappear. The nearby mountains are a possibility. Our chopper is fast, capable of going two hundred miles an hour. To my surprise, the police helicopters don't really pursue us. It's not just because we're faster than they are--a fact I have to question. They allow the gap to grow between us to at least twenty miles. The length of the space doesn't reassure me because I know they still have us under visual observation.

Nothing will be gained by plunging low to the ground, below the radar. They are waiting for something, biding their time.

"Reinforcements," I mutter as we swoop over the sleeping city at an elevation of a thousand feet.

Joel nods. "They've called for bigger guns. "

"Army helicopters?"

"Probably. "

"Which direction will they come from?"

"There is a large base south of here. You might want to head north. "

"I was planning to do so after I reached the Cajon Pass. " The pass cuts into the desert, also a nice place to hide. Highway IS runs through the pass, and if followed far enough, leads to Las Vegas.

"You might not want to wait that long," Joel advises.

"I understand. " Yet the temptation to put more distance between us and our pursuers is great. It gives me the illusion of safety, a dangerous illusion. But the farther we go, the more the desert beckons me. Being winter, the mountains are covered with snow, and even though I am highly resistant to cold, I don't like it. At our present speed Cajon Pass is not far ahead. Once over it, we will be clear of the city, able to roam free.

I ask the question I have been waiting to ask.

"Are you thirsty?"

He is guarded. "What do you mean?"

I glance over. "How do you feel?"

He takes a deep breath. "Feverish. Cramping. "

I nod. "You need blood. "

He takes time to absorb my words. "Do you really drink people's blood? Like in the stories?"

"The stories have germs of truth in them, but can't be taken literally. As a vampire, you do need blood to survive. Yet you do not need to kill the person you drink from, and your contact with them will not change them into vampires. You can also live off the blood of animals, although you will find it unsatisfy?ing. "

"Do I need blood every day?"

"No. Every few days. But at first, you will crave it every day. "

"What happens if I don't drink it?"

"You will die horribly," I say.

"Oh. Do I still need to eat regular food?"

"Yes. You will get hungry as before. But if need be, you will be able to survive for a long time without food. You will also be able to hold your breath for incredible lengths of time. "

"But what about the sun? You sat out in the sun with me. "

"Yes. But that is not something you want to try yet. The sun won't kill you, but it will irritate you, at least for the first few centuries. Even now, after five thou?sand years, I'm not nearly so strong while the sun is up. But forget everything else you've heard about vampires. Crucifixes and white roses and running water--none of those will bother you. Bram Stoker was just spicing up his novel when he wrote that stuff. " I pause. "Did you know I met him once?"

"Did you tell him you were a vampire?"

"No, but he knew there was something special about me. He autographed my copy of Dracula and tried to get my address. But I didn't give it to him. " I raise my wrist to my mouth. "I am going to open my vein. I want you to suck my blood for a few minutes. "

He fidgets. "Sounds kinky. "

"You'll enjoy it. I taste wonderful. "

A moment later Joel reluctantly accepts my bleed?ing wrist, but he is no Ray. He has seen plenty of blood in his line of work and it doesn't make him sick to his stomach. Indeed, after a couple of minutes he is sucking hungrily on my wrist. I have to stop him before he is sated. I cannot allow my strength to wane.

"How do you feel?" I ask as I take back my arm.

"Powerful. Aroused. "

I have to laugh. "Not every girl you meet will be able to do that for you. "

"Can we be killed with a stake through the heart?"

The laughter dies in my throat. His question brings back the agony of the wound I suffered when my house exploded and Yaksha supposedly died. The chest pain is still there--yet, since drinking Yaksha's blood, it has receded. I wonder what Yaksha would think of me now that I have broken Krishna's vow against creating more vampires. After I have killed so many innocent people. No doubt he would say I am damned.

I miss Yaksha. And Ray. And Krishna.

"You can be killed that way," I say quietly.

Ten minutes later we reach the gap in the mountains and I veer north, climbing in altitude. The pass is almost a mile above sea level. The police helicopters are now thirty miles behind us, blinking red and white dots in the night sky. We have at most four hours of night left. Before then, I must find shelter for Joel and a place to sit quietly and plot my next moves. Scan?ning left and right, I consider dumping the helicopter. The cliffs of the pass offer more hiding places than the desert will. Yet I don't want to set down so soon. Another idea has come to me, one that may throw our pursuers off.

What if I were to crash the helicopter into a lake?

It would sink and hopefully leave no sign behind.

The plan is a good one. Fuel dictates I choose the closest lake, Big Bear or Arrowhead. But once again I resist heading into the snowy mountains. As a new?born, Joel will not fare well there. I remember how sensitive I was to the cold after Yaksha changed me. Vampires, serpents, the offspring of yakshinis--we prefer warmth.

I need a sand dune oasis with a lake in the center of it.

We plunge over the pass and into the desert.

The bleak landscape sweeps beneath us.

Time passes. I cannot see anyone following.

"We can't stay up here forever," Joel says finally.

"I know. "

"What are you waiting for?"

"Lake Mead. " Hoover Dam--it is only twenty minutes away, I estimate.

But I have waited too long.

Five minutes later I catch sight of two military helicopters, coming at us from the west, not the south. Because my eyes are so sharp, I see them far off--sixty miles away. I feel it is still possible to reach the lake. Yet I know they have spotted us, that they are tracking us on their radar. When I alter course slightly, they do likewise. Joel sees my concern but doesn't understand it at first. Even changed, his sight is no match for mine.

"What is it?" he asks.

"We have company," I say.

He looks around. "Can we reach the lake?"

"Possibly. " I ask in jest, "Can we fight two Apache helicopters?"

"No way. "

I guess at the type of craft that pursues us, but a few minutes later I see that I was right. My knowledge of the Apache isn't extensive, but I have read enough to know that we are facing the most lethal attack helicop?ter on earth. The two choppers move close to each other, on a direct intercept course with us. Black as the desert sky, with wide hypnotic propellers--they are clearly faster than we are. Their machine-gun turret and rocket launchers hang from the sides like dangerous fists. They sweep toward us for a knockout punch. Joel sees them.

"Maybe we should surrender," he suggests.

"I never surrender. "

They catch us three miles short of the lake. The  wide flat expanse of water is clearly visible, but it could be on the other side of the moon for all the good it can do us now. That's what I think at first. Yet the Apaches do not immediately lock on their weapons. They swoop above and below us, dangerously close, ordering us to land.

"Somebody has told them to take us alive," Joel observes.

"Who?"

Joel shrugs. "The order could have come from the President of the United States. But I suspect the commander of the base where these helicopters origi?nated has given the order. "

"We only need to get to the water," I say. "They couldn't imagine that we'd try to vanish underwater. "

"I can't imagine it. Can we really hold our breath a long time?"

"I can go an hour. "

"But what about me?"

I pat his leg. "Have faith. We should have died a dozen times tonight and we're still alive. Maybe Krishna hasn't deserted us after all. "

"If they open fire in the next minute we might have a chance to ask him directly," Joel says dryly.

The Apaches buzz us a couple of times more, then grow tired of the cat-and-mouse game. They lay down a stream of bullets across our path and I have to slow sharply to avoid being torn to shreds. Still, they could blow us out of the sky whenever they wish. Yet they hold back, although they don't want me flying above the lake. They try blocking our path and I have to go into a steep dive to stay on course. We come within several feet of the ground and Joel almost has a heart attack.

"You are one mean pilot," he says when he catches his breath.

"I'm pretty good in bed as well," I reply.

"Of that I have no doubt. "

These military men are not like the LAPD. They expect their orders to be obeyed. They may have instructions to take us alive, but they also have orders to prevent us from escaping. A quarter mile from the water, they open fire with surgical precision and suddenly our rotor blades are not a hundred percent intact. Our copter falters in the air, but stays up. The noise above us is deafening. Yet I continue on toward the lake. I have no choice.

"Get ready to jump," I tell Joel.

"I'm not leaving till you leave. "

"Nice line. But you have to jump as soon as we cross over the water. Swim for the far shore, not the near one. Stay under water as long as possible. "

Joel hesitates. "I don't know how to swim. "

"What?"

"I said I don't know how to swim. "

I can't believe it. "Why didn't you tell me that earlier?"

"I didn't know what you had planned. You didn't tell me. "

"Joel!"

"Sita!"

I pound the chopper dashboard. "Damn! Damn! Well, you're just going to have to learn how to swim. You're a vampire. All vampires can swim. "

"Says who?"

"Says me, and I'm the only authority on the subject Now stop arguing with me and prepare to jump. "

"You jump with me. "

"No. I have to wait until they fire their lethal blow--that way they'll think I'm dead. "

"That's crazy. You will be dead. "

"Shut up and crack your door slightly. When you reach the far shore, run into the hills and hide. I'll find you. I can hear a vampire breathing ten miles away. "

The Apaches are still determined to prevent us from reaching the water. One swoops overhead and literally drops itself directly into our path. I have to go into another steep dive to avoid it, which is easy to do because the craft is ready to crash anyway. The water is now only a hundred yards away. The Apache behind us opens fire. They mimic my earlier strategy. They blow off our tail rotor. I immediately lose control We spin madly to the left. Yet the water is suddenly below us.

"Jump!" I scream at Joel.

He casts me one last glance--his expression curi?ously sad.

Then he is gone.

Pulling back hard on the steering bar, I try to gain altitude, partly to distract them from Joel and partly to stay alive. It is my hope they didn't see him jump. My chopper swings farther out over the water. A mile away I see Hoover Dam. There is no way I can make it that far. The chopper bucks like a hyperactive horse on speed. Cracking my door, I take hold of the shotgun and blast at one of the Apaches as it swings nearby. I hit the top blades, but these suck?ers are tough. The military chopper banks sharply. Then the two helicopters regroup, hovering behind me, twin hornets studying a wounded butterfly. Over my shoulder I see one pilot nod to his gunner. The man reaches for a fresh set of controls, no doubt the firing mechanism for the rockets. As I throw my door open wide, an orange tongue of flame leaps out from the side of the Apache. My reflexes are fast, blinding by human standards, but even I cannot out?run a missile. I am barely free of my seat when the rocket hits.

My chopper vaporizes in midair.

The shock from the explosion hits with the power of an iron fist. A fragment of burning metal cuts into my skull above my hairline, sending waves of searing pain through my whole system. I topple like a helicopter without a stabilizing propeller. Blood pours over my face and I am blinded. I do not see the cold water of the lake approaching, but I feel it when it slaps my broken side. The molten shrapnel in my head shudders as it contacts the dark liquid. I fell myself spiralling down into a forsaken abyss. Consciousness

flickers in and out. The lake is bottomless, my soul as empty as dice without numbers. As I start to black out, I wish that I didn't have to die this way---without Krishna's grace. How I would love to see him on the other side--his divine blue eyes. God forgive me, how I love him.
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