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Dead Ice (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 24) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 17:01:07

"He is the most alive zombie I've ever raised," I said, but my voice was still calm and unemotional. It was a headspace similar to the one I'd used in college when I was getting my biology degree and doing my senior project. You record what your test subjects do; you don't anthropomorphize them. I was looking at them all with a dispassionate distance that was part of the scientific mind-set, and a little bit sociopathic, but then what is either but a lack of emotional projection? One is so you can record events without editorializing, so the data is as pure as possible, and the other is so you stay sane while the bad things happen.

"He's a man, not a zombie!" she yelled at me.

We'd taken long enough that some of the other history lovers had come out to stand near MacDougal. "What's going on?" they asked. "Why is Justine upset?"

I could answer that last one, because I was about to be the villain in her tragic love affair. To be fair I was also the fairy godmother who had used magic to make her wish come true, but magic is like a gun sometimes, neither good nor bad, but capable of doing both.

"Thomas Warrington, come to me," I said, and held out my hand again.

He started moving toward me immediately, but there was no tug along the line that bound us. I could feel my power in him, as if even if he tried to run away I'd still be able to track him without the GPS on his ankle.

Justine grabbed his arm. "No!"

Bob told the others, "Blake is going to put Tom back in the ground tonight."

One of the other women said, "We paid to have him until tomorrow night for questioning."

MacDougal said, "It's all right, Iris; Ms. Blake and I have discussed things and circumstances have changed."

"Is it because Justine and he are boning?" one of the younger guys asked. The rest of the group immediately turned on him with looks that said, Way to overshare.

One issue at a time. "Come to me." He did what I wanted and finally touched my hand. God, he was warm. Zombies weren't supposed to have body heat like this; they just weren't.

"You can't take him away, you can't!" Justine grabbed his other hand while I was still touching him. The energy spiked, but this time I wasn't just seeing it from a distance. It ran through me from the hand touching him, and thrilled through my body like a rush of electricity and power. It upped my energy just like it had Warrington's. I realized I could gain energy through him the way a vampire does from a human servant, or in my case a vampire servant to my necromancer. When the servant fed, you gained energy. It had begun as a way for vampires to travel long distances without having to take blood and be discovered on the ship, train, or however they were traveling. The servants ate, and that was enough energy to keep the vampires going until they could feed on blood.

Warrington looked at me and said, "What is that? What is happening?"

I didn't really want to explain out loud. I'd discuss it with Manny in private, but not here with strangers who were probably not going to like me very much by the end of the night. Justine swayed on her feet, and I realized that once I knew I could feed on her energy I'd opened the channel wider and was drinking her down faster through my zombie.

I let go of him, and Justine fainted. He had to catch her, or she'd have hit the parking lot hard. "What's wrong with her?" her friends asked.

Warrington looked at me as he held her in his arms like a child, or a romance heroine. "What have you done?"

"We. What have we done," I said.

"Did I help you hurt Justine?"

"How? What did you do to me? I would never deliberately hurt her."

"I believe that, Warrington, but you don't really get to choose."

MacDougal was beside them, touching Justine's cheek. "She's cold and clammy to the touch. She was fine a few minutes ago."

"Is it what happens if you sleep with a zombie?" Iris asked.

It was a good question, and in fact it was pretty clear that Justine had slept with one of my zombies, and recently, but out loud I said, "If I'd dreamt any of you would sleep with the zombie, I'd have warned you."

"Dear God," Warrington said, "what have I done?"

"So you've already had sex with her," I said.

He looked embarrassed, blushing again, while Justine kept looking pale and wan. "Yes, yes, God help me, I was weak, and now I have hurt the one person in this world I never wanted to harm. I thought I could be . . . modern, but lust is punished just as much here as it always was for the woman." He hugged her to him and said, "I am so sorry, Justine, so sorry."

"Will she be all right?" MacDougal asked.

"If he stops touching her, she should recover, but I'll want to check back with her in twenty-four hours just to make certain."

"Are you saying that his just touching her like that is hurting her more?" Iris asked.

"He's taking energy from her, that I know."

Warrington went down on his knees with Justine still clasped in his arms. He kissed her gently on the cheek, then slipped her into the arms of MacDougal and the woman, Iris. "Tell her I never meant to hurt her, and that I am more sorry than I know how to say."

"I will," MacDougal said.

"Time to go," I said.

Warrington stood up, glancing at the love of his life one more time, then turned and came to stand beside me. "Put me back where I belong, Ms. Blake, before I hurt someone else."

"That's the plan, Mr. Warrington, that's the plan."

The four, now five of us got into my SUV and left the history group clustered around Justine. If someone called 911, I wondered what they'd tell the ambulance was wrong with her. Zombie love? It made me smile, until I saw the grim look on the zombie's face. Did I tell him that it was my fault Justine had fainted? Was it? Or had he taken too much energy when they had sex? He and Justine had lied to me earlier when we talked about them having sex again tonight. Was it a lie

by omission, or directly? I couldn't remember their exact words, but either way he'd known I'd be upset, or maybe he'd just tried to be a gentleman. They didn't kiss and tell.

"Justine should be fine, Warrington. She just needs time to rebuild her energy."

"Are you certain she will be all right?" he asked from the very backseat.

Was I? Manny answered for me. "She'll be fine, Warrington."

A tension went out of the zombie's face and shoulders. I exchanged a look with Manny in the front seat. He knew that neither of us was sure that Justine would be a hundred percent. We'd never had a client that boned one of our zombies before. It made me wonder about the men who were screwing the zombies on the Feds' sex tapes. Were the men feeling drained like Justine? Was the animator who raised them gaining energy from it? Maybe there was more than one reason for someone to turn zombies into sex slaves. Was it for power as well as profit? I didn't know, but I knew one thing: I needed to watch the videos again, but this time not as a cop, but as a necromancer. I needed to look at the images with power, not eyesight. I'd try to find out how much Manny had seen with his own power of what just happened. If he'd sensed enough, I'd ask the Feds if he could watch the tapes with me. It was either Manny or try to make friendly with fellow animator and U.S. Marshal Larry Kirkland. We'd started out friends--hell, I'd trained him as an animator and vampire hunter--but we weren't buddies anymore. He thought I was a monster who killed too many and too easily, and I thought he was weak and didn't kill easily enough to do our job. I wasn't the only marshal who thought that about Larry. He'd gotten a reputation for not being a shooter. It made other marshals with the Preternatural Branch not want to work with him. Every time someone requested me over him, he resented me more. But if I needed someone to watch the videos for raising magic, Larry was good. Truthfully if he went all out he could raise more zombies in a night than Manny could.

I still hoped the Feds would work with Manny, or let me show him the videos. The thought of watching sex videos this hardcore with Larry, who was a right-wing, squeaky-clean, vanilla kind of guy, was just . . . awkward.

BUT FIRST WE had a very special zombie to put back in his grave. I'd called MacDougal from the car and found that Warrington's clothes weren't going to be ready until tomorrow, something about the older fabrics and not knowing how to clean them safely. I asked Manny and he thought it should be fine to put him back in the new clothes.