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

"Turn around and sit on the side of the bed," the man said. He had to be back in the same corner as in the earlier films, but none of him was visible now. He was just a voice.

"Ready when you are, Anita," Brent said.

I'd been briefed; all I had to do was use my necromancy on the zombie on the screen, and on her handler in the corner. I was sure he had a tie to the zombie from the older videos; we were here tonight to see if I could sense more from something happening in real time. It had sounded like a good idea, but suddenly seeing the zombie like this . . . It made her more real, and even more of a victim. Shit.

I'd lowered my shields to try to search the older videos, but this was supposed to be just my necromancy. I opened that part of myself like unclenching a fist, but instead of sending it into a grave, or a cemetery, I aimed it at the zombie I saw on the screen. I don't know what I expected, but nothing happened. It was like my necromancy didn't know where to go, or how to get there.

Gillingham shivered, rubbing her hands up and down her arms, as if she was cold. "Your power is amazing, but it's like it's just filling the room higher and higher, as if we'll all drown in it when you finally fill the room."

"Interesting, I've described really strong lycanthrope energy like that."

"Really?" she said, and started to ask me questions.

"Focus, ladies, you can compare psychic notes later," Manning said.

Gillingham looked embarrassed, but I was at a loss.

"I don't know how to direct my power at the zombie there," I said, pointing.

"Well, she's not really there," Brent said. "She's miles away. Maybe hundreds of miles away."

"So how do I tell my necromancy where to go?" I asked.

"Try touching the screen," Brent said. "That helps some people."

It was worth a try, so I stepped up and touched the screen, over the zombie. I closed my eyes and sent my necromancy through my fingers into the zombie on the screen the same way I'd send my power into the ground to explore a grave, or search a cemetery, or sense for vampires. All the dead belonged to me, all of them, all of them, all of them, even the zombie on the screen, even hundreds of miles away. It was just another zombie. I opened my eyes and found myself staring into the zombie's face from inches away. One eye was still blue, while the other was gray and shriveled along with that side of her face, but it wasn't the rot that made her eyes mesmerizing. It was the terror in them, the helpless fucking terror in them.

I touched those eyes and wanted to help her. I wanted to find her and help her. What he'd done was wrong, it was just wrong, and I wanted to fix it, to fix her, to save her. I prayed, "God help me find her. Help me save her from this."

Her eyes went wide, and I felt the shock of connection. I had her. I could feel it like a thread of power from me to her, because it was her, and to think anything else was lying to myself.

"What did you do just now, Anita?" Brent asked.

"I can feel the zombie, I have her."

"I can feel you through the keyboard and all over my stuff now. Shit. The technician just typed, 'Who are you?' I think he means you."

The man in the corner who was just a voice said, "Lie down on the bed."

"He's typing, 'Who are you?' over and over between taking customer chat," Brent said.

The man who was going to be the zombie's co-star walked into frame. He was young and in great shape, down to washboard abs, which takes a hell of a lot of gym time and nutrition work to get and maintain. If the face matched the body, he could have been a movie star, but he was wearing one of those black leather hoods that covers the whole face except for the mouth. Even the eye-holes had mesh over them so the color and shape of his eyes were lost.

"What is it?" Manning said.

"It shows in her eyes," Manning agreed.

"Can you feel her fear?" Gillingham asked.

I nodded, but it was more than that. I could . . . hear her. "She's praying. She's praying for help. She's praying to be saved."

"You're not a telepath," Gillingham said. "How do you know that?"

"I'm not hearing what she's thinking, I think I'm hearing her prayer, literally hearing her prayer."

"Interesting," Gillingham said.

"We're losing people in the chat and we haven't even started the sex yet. They don't drop out this early, not in numbers like this," Brent said.

"What's happening then?" Manning asked.

"We started at thirty, and now we're down to twenty . . . nineteen."

Gillingham said, "The guy who was monitoring all of it on their end keeps typing Who are you? Who the hell are you? Why are you here?"

"I think he's typing for the guy in the corner."

"Who the hell are you? he's typing now," Gillingham said.

I could have moved my gaze by inches and read the screen, but I didn't want to look away from her eyes. I could feel her. I didn't want to lose that.

"What's uh-oh mean in this context?" Manning asked.

"I just got a private message from the monitor. They're telling me to drop out, they'll refund my money and give me a credit for another session, just drop out now."

"Then just drop out," Manning said.

"If we drop out, Anita's energy stops and my cover is blown, but if we don't drop out, then eventually everyone else will. . . ."

"And my energy will still be coming through so your cover is blown anyway," I said.

"Damned if we do, dam

ned if we don't," Manning said.

"Unfortunately," Brent said, hesitating over the keyboard.

"Then answer his question," Gillingham said.

"What question?" Brent asked.

"Tell him who is here."

"The FBI?" Brent asked.

"Anita Blake, that's the energy he's picking up that's making him frantic."

"You okay with being outed to this nut job?" Brent asked.

"Nut job? Really?" I asked.

"I'll give you the standard vocabulary that'll go in my report later, right now decide whether you want this man, these people to know who you are."

Manning said, "Once they know who you are, then they can find you, Blake. You're all over the news right now."

"Let them find me, that means we have a better chance of catching them."

"Are you sure?" Manning asked.

"We have to decide soon, he's gone past me in the queue. If everyone else drops out first, then we've lost him."

"A bold front is our only chance," Gillingham said.

"Bold it is," Brent said, and typed on the keyboard. In between the repeated "Who is this?" he answered, "Anita Blake, who is this?"

"Private message again: What do you want?"

"Is it too bold to say, your head on a pike?" I asked, still looking into the zombie's eyes.

"That's a little aggressive. The longer we keep him on, the better chance we have of our techs tracing this to its source."

"You mean where they're filming?" I asked.

"If we're lucky, very lucky, yes."

"He's asking the question again, what do you want?"

"Type: You know what I want."

"Really?" Brent said.

"Just type it," Manning said.

I heard the keys click. "Sent," Brent said.

"No, I don't, he says."

"Liar, tell him liar," I said.

"We're not breaking any laws with the videos, he says," Brent read.

"Tell him, not with the videos, but where are you getting your zombies?"

"He says, We have someone raise them for us."

I put my other hand on the corner of the film where he had to be sitting, and I flexed the connection to the zombie and there it was, a line of power flaring so bright. "Tell him, he's lying, he raised the zombie."