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Ran ignored mad scientist. "We needed your friend, yes. When my research was complete and the device was built, we needed a test site. The NEA was perfect for a number of reasons."
"It's a miniature ecosystem. It's a small, controllable version of what you want to do on a large scale," Fred said glumly, "so it's the perfect test site."
"Well, yes," Ran said, taken aback.
"Whatever you've built is going to do something to the oceans that won't thoroughly wreck the planet. Poison that doesn't affect landers, or high-secrecy sound waves, or . . . anything that will kill the Folk without killing the planet for who's left." She rubbed her forehead. "But you don't dare just unleash it on the world. Not without testing it first. Test it here, make sure it works the way you want, and at the same time you can destroy the building which housed the evil fish bitch who killed your wife and unborn son, except I didn't."
"Also wiping out all the witnesses."
"Well." Ran shrugged modestly.
Fred stared into the tank. For years, those fish and reptiles and mammals had been her responsibility. She kept a close eye on them, gauged their health, kept track of what they ate, noted any illnesses or unusual deaths. Yes, they could be a pain in the ass. Yes, she knew they disliked her and thought she could be more accommodating to their needs for '80s glam rock. But they were living creatures, they had feelings and fears and, if they had to live in captivity, she could at least make sure they were safe.
No matter how much they annoy you, no matter how big a pain in your ass they are, you're in it, Fred.
Great. Now she was hearing the vampire in her head.
"Hey!" she shouted, startling Ran so much that he slumped for a second. "Nobody kills off those little jerks but me! And since I wasn't planning on it, you don't get to, either."
"You can't stop it," Ran snapped. "The device is wired into the building's power grid. I control the device, and my men control-"
Even though Fred had been expecting something, her heart still lurched when the lights went out.
There were muffled sounds of a struggle, and she wasn't sure where the gun was, and Fred had less than a second to decide. So she dived at the source of all evil, and knocked Madison Fehr out of what she feared would be harm's way. This only happened because we have an intern program at the NEA. Interns are the source of all evil. I have decided.
She'd expected the shot but was still aghast at their stupidity-she could barely see, so she knew damned well Ran and his Skittles couldn't see at all.
And their decision is to shoot? They could just as easily hit each other!
"Just stay down," Fred said, and heard Madison's affirmative gasp. Not that the poor girl could move; Fred was sticking to her like sand on feet, reasoning that she could tolerate a bullet far better than Madison. Hell, she hadn't known fiancé number two even a month before he'd had to dig a bullet out of her shoulder. Betsy's right: getting shot sucks. Maybe if we stay flat enough, I won't be.
Fred's eyes had adjusted, though she knew the others were still blind. Jonas had somehow gotten to a Skittles Boy in the dark and incapacitated him, but now was standing, uncertain and trying to see.
"Get your ass on the floor!" she hissed. Stupid brave dumbass gentleman! These were just the sort of people who could get her killed. "Down, down! All the way down, FLAT! Now don't move!"
He obeyed at once, knowing she could see, but being Jonas, it wasn't in him to let the screaming go by. "Say it, don't spray it," he muttered to the tile, and Fred snickered.
Then she saw what was coming up behind Hedley Ran, and the laugh stuck in her throat.
It was Betsy, dripping wet and pissed, Betsy who had somehow swum up the side of the tank after floating along the bottom for fifteen minutes. Betsy had not only swum to the top unmolested by the sharks, but had slithered up and out of the water and over the side of the tank without making a sound, which Fred would have thought impossible, because moving water made noise. Still, the vampire had done it: she'd not only gotten out and gotten down, but she came up behind Ran, jerked him out of his chair, bent over him, and-
The power came back on with non-dramatic ease. No flickering, no fumbling. No sinister bomb countdown. One second, they were trapped in the dark with a vampire, and then they were trapped in the light with a vampire.
He said the device was tied to the power, but someone cut the power. Now the lights are back on, which is either wonderful or terrible.
Betsy was standing over Ran's body, his blood smeared from her lips past her throat, her blood all over the front of her shirt. Ran looked like a pile of trash someone had crumpled and tossed.
"You guyth okay?"
"Depends," Fred muttered, rolling off Madison and standing. "What's wrong with your voice?"
"Nothing. I thwear!" At Fred's glance, she shrugged. "My fangths come out when I feed, thmell blood . . . like that. Taketh a minute to go back."
Fred started to laugh. A tension releaser, for sure; it had been a stressful evening. "But that's so absurd! It's the least suave sexy cool thing I've ever heard! TV vampires don't lisp!"
"That'th not my fault. Don't laugh, it'th a real problem," she complained.
"Sorry," Fred gasped between giggles. "So sorry!" She steadied herself and snorted one last giggle. "Sorry. Ask me how much I needed that."
"Say it twice. I'm not gonna lie." Betsy's eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed. She looked beautiful, despite (because of?) the blood. Vibrant. Alive. If there was still a bullet hole in her chest, Fred couldn't see it. The tear, yes. The hole, no. "I've been dying to do that for the latht half hour."
I laughed because it's one thing that makes her seem less sinister. It's okay. She's a good guy. If she wanted us dead, there were only a million opportunities. She saved us. It's all right.
"I'm pleased you are pleased, my own."
Fred screamed. She'd had no sense of the man, no sense. But he was there, as if conjured by a wish. Some of the most intense fight-or-flight impulses lit up her nervous system and she realized she'd jerked back from him without realizing she'd moved.
"I beg your pardon," Betsy's insane husband said, and inclined his head in a polite nod. "I meant to reassure, not startle."
Startle? I'm startled when I stub my toe. You did not startle me.
"Perfect timing, babe," Betsy announced, stepping over Ran without looking.
"The timing was yours, Elizabeth." Betsy's insane husband went to her and dropped a light kiss on her blood-splattered cheek. Casual as the kiss was, he was looking her over with care, as if to reassure himself she wasn't hurt. "As we decided, if you didn't call me at a certain time, I was to create a diversion."
"No wonder you didn't care if they took our phones." Jonas hadn't screamed, but he was very pale and kept his distance from both vampires.
"See?" Fred cried, looking around the room. Two of the Skittles had killed each other in a cross fire. Jonas had knocked the other one out. Sinclair must have tackled Sunkist on his way in; Orange Shirt was unconscious, and his left eye was blowing up like a bike tire. Betsy, of course, had rid the world of Ran. "This! This is why you don't fire a gun when you can't see anything. Idiots!"
"Lucky for us," Jonas said.
"Lucky? It could have been one of us."
"Like I said. Lucky."
"Can I just say," Betsy began, wiggling from her insane husband's embrace, "how awesome there's no reason to talk to her like that when you could be calling me a cunt was? I also like how you told him he looked embalmed. Tomorrow it'll really be true." She threw back her head and laughed. Her insane husband watched her with a fond smile, but Fred noticed Madison and Jonas didn't find it quite as hysterical.
"Thank you for helping us, sir." Madison came forward and held out her hand. While they shook, she continued. "We owe you and Betsy more than we can pay back."
Fred was impressed; she might have been able to say the words, but probably wouldn't have sounded so unrattled. "She had you tucked up her sleeve, Mr. . . . uh . . . Other Vampire?"
He smiled. His devastating good looks almost made her forget her momentary terror. He'd seemed large and forbidding outside on the sidewalk. Here at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank, he was a dark giant. Suit, shoes, eyes: deepest black. "My queen occasionally finds me useful."
"You didn't think I'd come to town with the king and not have him skulking nearby? Also I didn't have a choice; he was gonna do that anyway. I've spent years trying to get him to quit with the protective skulking. Finally I just started to use it to my advantage.
"My love is a quick study," Sinclair replied, and Fred could hear the laugh lurking in his voice.
"Later for you, buster." Betsy glanced back at the corpse she had made of an elderly cripple. "So the doomsday thing won't work?"
"Not after what I did to it." Another thin smile. "I am a layman at best when it comes to science, but it was clear to me he was onto something. I'd like to call in some experts to have a look."
"Or we could smash it to little bitty pieces of doomsday," Fred suggested. She had no idea what it would have done or how it would have worked, and never wanted to find out. Whatever it was, it needed to disappear. Today. Forever.
"As you say. And if the queen agrees."
"I bet it would have worked. Like Dr. Bimm said, that wasn't the problem. It was one thing to assume he was nice because he wrote nice e-mails and then find out he's bad," Madison said, lower lip trembling. "I'm not that stupid; people lie. They lie all the time; that's something my mama never had to tell me. But he had all these great ideas. He couldn't lie about the science, and he had these rilly, rilly smart ideas . . ."
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