Authors: Rhi Etzweiler
PO Box 6652
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Blacker than Black
Copyright © 2011 by Rhi Etzweiler
Cover Art by Del Melchionda,
Editors: Aleksandr Voinov and Rachel Haimowitz
Layout: L.C. Chase,
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In memory of
All the stories untold
The beauty that went
To the grave, trapped
In the writer’s mind forever
Because the words
Outnumbered the days
Of the writer’s
I promise to tell them all.
To die doing it.
Apparently, my twin and I are two of York’s most notorious criminals. We’ve been Nightwalkers in the blue-light district since the vamps took over the world. Don’t know how many years it’s been. Long enough that a stream of fellow ’walkers have come and gone. Most don’t last long selling their chi. End up face-down in the gutter, or worse.
For us, one night and one sale change everything.
Monsieur Garthelle is the first john to hunt me down. He calls me a chi thief in one breath and offers absolution—
—in the next. Maybe I’m a sucker, but I like living and breathing. Strange that such a powerful vamp would show leniency to a mere human. And something’s not right with the chi I took from him. It won’t go away.
Neither will he, and he’s forcing us to spy on his peers. Then a vamp turns up dead, and we go from playing eyes and ears to investigating a murder. This isn’t what I signed up for. All I ever wanted was to sell a little chi, maybe steal some in return. I should’ve kept my damn hands to myself.
This is my story. Look through my eyes.
Music surges from somewhere down the block, a thrumming background rhythm. The vibrations send a chill up my spine, and I let it roll through me, absorbing the wave of anticipation and adrenaline. Kenna shifts nearby, stepping closer. I feel her proximity, the weight and heat of my fellow Nightwalker, but she’s no more substantial than a shadow.
I look back over my shoulder at her. The loud pink latex of her right sleeve is hiked up, wrinkled around her biceps. Clothing serving as a tourniquet, Kenna pulls the trigger on the sleek hypno-hitter she scored earlier from a street dealer a block over. The fluid injecting into her vein isn’t the vivid blue of the usual hallucinogens the dealers are pushing, though. Instead, it’s a pale fuchsia that, disturbingly, matches her outfit.
So that any unintentional overspray doesn’t show. She glances up, notices me watching, then slips the small hitter into her back pocket and pulls her sleeve down, intently focused on smoothing the material and smudging any traces of the drug from the edge of her cuff.
I want to tell her she missed a spot, but bite my tongue.
A john won’t really care that she’s masking her chi, synthetically amping it with a temporary surge. It makes her look healthier than she is, like steroids for the aura. She has a few sales left in her, but at the rate she’s going, none of them will be worth much. And then she’ll be so much offal for the regeneration plants to absorb.
Because when the drug wears off, there won’t be anything left in her.
I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. I used to warn them, wanting to help those who walk the blue-lit boulevard with me, but over the years the futility of my efforts has left me jaded. And it’s been a lot of years. The other ’walkers either have the strength to figure it out on their own, or they don’t. It isn’t something I can teach. The frustration depresses me, but it hurts less if I mind my own business.
I tilt my head back and stare up at the night sky, wondering if I’ll be able to see a star tonight. I never have, not with the glow from the buildings so close. But I always try.
And that’s when I feel it. With my hands crammed in my pockets, head back to stare at the dark gray wash of the sky. Someone’s looking. The sharp gaze studying me is razors along my nerve endings, a probe of my aura like the fumbling grope of a homeless drunk.
Maybe tonight will be interesting, after all. I scan the street to the right, in the direction of oncoming traffic. A small vehicle slows as it draws nearer, veering toward my side of the boulevard across empty lanes on a street devoid of life.
Activity, yes. Plenty of that.
It’s a lightweight two-seater that crawls along the curb, glowing an alien hue of blue in the illumination from the cramped buildings lining the street.
Even here in the slums, the city’s lighting doesn’t fail. Block after block down the boulevard, the shabby buildings radiate a steady, azure glow. It reflects off the vehicle’s glossy surfaces, and for a moment, however brief, the sight feels ethereal. Magical. I soak up the sensation, willing the stranger not to move or speak; I want to stay right here for a while. To freeze this pristine instant of unrealized potential before the vampire flaps his lips and makes an ass out of himself. It happens every time, without fail, and every time I manage to conceal the sigh of disappointment and refrain from putting voice to whatever sarcastic comment pops into my head.