Adrian and Ellen crossed the Loire heading north towards Paris in the early evening; the rain had stopped and the lingering twilight of September had a liquid washed-out quality to it.
"I'm glad we didn't take the A6," Adrian said. "It is a nightmare this time of year."
The sun was setting westward, across a low rolling landscape of vineyards showing red and yellow, reaped fields and autumn-tinged woods, villages and the occasional chateau. They both ignored the petrol stations and other modern excrescences.
On their right the sunlight caught a line of hills in the distance, turning them blue flushed with a slight tinge of pink towards their tops. Adrian handled the Ferrari F50 with his usual verve; it would do zero to a hundred in eight seconds, and he liked to do exactly that. It no longer drove Ellen to the verge of lost bladder-control, and she'd finally started believing that the police wouldn't pull them over either.
Well, he's got reflexes like a leopard, when he isn't literally being a leopard, she thought, as he touched the accelerator and g-force shoved her back into the upholstery in a scent of fine leather. Plus he can warp probability. It's still a little scary.
She chuckled as they zipped around a large truck and back into the left-hand lane, and he looked over at her.
"I was just remembering that while I was at Rancho Sangrón—"
He chuckled in turn; she'd coined the pun on the place's name, turning it from Ranch of the Holy Blood to Ranch of the Asshole.
"—Adrienne took me on that motorcycle cruise up the coast to San Francisco. Scared the shit out of me, and that was only just a metaphor. You Brézés have a thing for speed and risk, don't you?"
He stiffened, then shook his head. "You're right. For too many years I defined myself in opposition to her; yet we are... were... similar in many respects."
"Your evil twin."
"Exactly! I can afford to acknowledge things like that now."
"Now that she's dead."
"Since you killed her," Adrian laughed.
Ellen winced inwardly. Half the time she remembered plunging the hypo into Adrienne's foot with savage glee. The other half it made her queasy. Not so much the fact that she'd done it, as the way it had felt for her.
Which was very damned good. And yes, she deserved it—God, did she deserve it!—but should I have enjoyed it so much? Should I enjoy remembering it so much? Yeah, I was so scared all the time and it was such a fucking relief to get away from the mad sadistic bitch, but I did kill her, after all. I always used to put spiders and centipedes out in the garden instead of squishing them. I totally lost it when my cat brought me a dead bird.
And now I'm killing people. And enjoying it. OK, Adrienne only just qualifies as 'person', but still.
He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed for a moment. It would have been even more comforting if they weren't doing nearly 200 kph with only one of the driver's hands on the wheel.
"I am sorry, my sweet. I forget sometimes that you were not brought up to this war. Most of those close to me have been born into it, but you were not."
"Yeah, I'm not a conflict junkie. Even to get out of the coal country I never seriously considered enlisting. And now I'm a supercommando fem-ninja in training."
He laughed aloud at that. "You have natural talent," he said. "But I would not go quite that far."
"And I feel a little, mmm, guilty about all the people we left in that horrible place."
Adrian shrugged expressively. "My sweet, you are in the war now. And you are on the side of the guerillas. We cannot afford sentiment. If I had tried to smuggle out... oh, say little Cheba..."
She shot him a dark glance, half-serious. He'd been impersonating one of Adrienne's guests, and he'd had to take the girl as refreshments.
I believe he didn't have sex with her. He's actually a bit of a Boy Scout about that—which, considering what it would be like to be a teenage boy able to play orgasmatron games with girls' brains, says something very good about him. But I find I'm jealous of his putting the bite on her, too. Mine! Mine! All mine! And when I'm short, you stick to the bloodbank product no matter how bad it tastes!
"... it would have aroused suspicions."
"Well, she's dead now too," Ellen said. "Poor girl..."
There was a quality to his silence this time. "She's not?"
Adrian shook his head, his eyes commendably on the roadway.
"No," he said aloud, reluctantly. "We have a base-link."
She nodded; being on the receiving end of a feeding attack wasn't just a matter of the Shadowspawn drinking your blood or the euphoric drug. There was a mental joining, a feedback loop; she'd heard Adrienne use the phrase quantum entanglement. The feedback could get seriously disturbing, and not only for the human victim. Ellen suspected that was why Shadowspawn had evolved clinical sadism as their normal personality type; otherwise feeling their prey's emotions would put them off their food.
"Not like we have?"
"No, not nearly so close. That was a high-link, with very detailed transference that let us communicate directly. That takes long interaction. I get... generalized feelings from her. She is being used for feeding and—"
He shrugged his shoulders.
Yeah, a feeding attack means you usually also get the full explosion-in-the-kink-factory sex object treatment, like someone playing with their food World Wrestling Federation style. Fun when it's a game with Adrian, pretty horrible when it's real. Well, there was a lot of pleasure involved, technically, but in a sort of squiky self-loathing terrorized half-crazy way. Definitely not fun.
"Poor girl doubled, then," Ellen said.
Adrian frowned. "There was a toughness to her," he said. "Resilience."
"She'll need it," Ellen said, feeling a rush of sympathy. "At least I can wake up from my nightmares now."
Copyright © 2010-2011 by S.M. Stirling <firstname.lastname@example.org>