“I remember waiting in the dark and wishing I could see the stars, but the city’s lights had washed them from the sky. It was June, a sultry evening. The air felt like molten velvet against my skin.
“I sat near the line of rocks called Boar Knuckles with a lantern at my side. There was a winking speck of light above me, and then another, much lower. Fireflies would be my stars.
“He made me wait. Wanted me to think it through, I guess, and have a chance to bolt if I changed my mind. But that wouldn’t happen. I had no thoughts at all. The night had entranced me, and I was numbly content.
“Invisible creatures moved near the ground. Their rustling and pattering never got too close, though, as if I’d cast a perimeter. Maybe the creatures sensed what I was. Or maybe they sensed his approach.
“I didn’t. He was silent, undetectable. All I heard was my name. At first it seemed the wind had spoken it through the oak leaves. Then he separated himself from the darkness. My heart did a little jump when he stepped forward.
“I said hello as I glanced up at him, hoping I sounded relaxed. He looked like an underworld prince who’d just risen from a hidden passage between tangles of thick roots. His hair was long then, and black as it is now, black as tar. Faint moonlight smudged a gleam here and there on his hair and on his features.
“I’d seen him a dozen times, of course. Probably more. But tonight he struck me as magisterial and mysterious, with an edgy sensuality I hadn’t consciously noticed before.
“‘You’re sure you want this?’ he asked.
“I got to my feet. ‘Yes,’ I said, wanting it even more as I stared at him.
“‘Then get undressed,’ he said. ‘And decide where you’d like me to enter you.’
“I took off my clothes and asked if there was a spot he preferred. His eyes moved downward, over my body, and he smiled without showing his teeth. Maybe he didn’t want to frighten me. We were too far into it now. I’d invited his attention, so I was at his mercy.
“‘I only have a preference when I’m particularly drawn to someone,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, the wrist or inner elbow will do.’
“God, his voice was so low. It seemed to crawl over my skin and lick it into gooseflesh. His gaze was both dark and bright and never left my face. He didn’t say how much or how little he was drawn to me.
“I felt my cock start to swell.
“‘I’d drink from your lips if I could,’ he said, ‘but that would hurt you. Maim you, too, I suspect.’ He paused, as if he were thinking over the possibilities. ‘I wish I had a needle with me. Some of us, you know, can pierce with a fingernail. It’s much less…invasive.’
“It was getting difficult for him to speak. Or, rather, to enunciate clearly. I found that unsettling. After all, I was used to him being so suave and articulate, so casually droll.
“He lurched toward me without another word. I glimpsed the moon over his shoulder as his fingers speared into my hair. His hands felt so strong, I knew he could crush my skull if he wanted to. I heard him draw in a breath, caught an odd whiff of cinnamon, felt my head tilt…
“And then came the burn, deep and searing, as if a brand had torn through my neck into my chest. The hot iron seemed to melt and charge through my bloodstream, through my nerves and muscles and bones. It happened so quickly…
“I can’t remember much else, except the explosion of arousal following that plunge of blue heat. My whole body was gripped and tugged by it, I swear—navel, kneecaps, the skin between my toes. Every cubic centimeter, right down to my organs. I have no idea how or if I moved, what sounds I made.
“By the time he withdrew, my cock was rigid as a fire hose under pressure. But nothing jetted out. My balls were aching knots.
“I felt a little crazed. I thought I’d lose my mind completely if I didn’t find relief.
“‘You have to take care of me,’ I said, and he assured me he would, that the fun was far from over. That’s when he
“I think we’ve heard enough,” Tole said, snapping off Win’s narrative like a twig.
The sound of Tole’s voice jolted Zee. It broke the spell Win had cast. He glanced at Tole, who sat forward in the recliner, his head lowered and forearms on his thighs. He probably hadn’t moved since Win had begun speaking. It was hard to judge what he was thinking and feeling, but Zee could sense a roiling mass of reactions beneath his immobility.
Pablo was, as usual, on the couch with Win. “I was starting to get turned on,” he murmured, sounding disappointed. The heel of his hand made a subtle, telling push at his crotch.
“Tough shit,” said Tole. He got up from the recliner. “Let Scheherazade turn you on in private.”
Win looked up at him. “For chrissake, Tole, you’re the one who wanted to hear about it!”
“I just wanted to know what the bite was like. I didn’t ask for a blow-by-blow of the aftermath.”
“The ‘aftermath’ is part of the experience, bud. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to be romantically involved with a vampire, you’d better get used to this shit.”
“Fuck you, Win.” Tole strode to the dining area. “Come on,” he said to the other three men. “We have work to do. The campfire storytelling hour is over.”
“And nary a marshmallow to soften the impact of the tale,” Win said with a grin.
Zee sighed. Why the hell did those two have to keep poking at one another? “Win,” he said, “just shut up.” He, too, rose from the chair where he’d been seated and ambled to the dining table.
He felt bad for Tole. Ridley, the vampire in Win’s narrative, was now Tole’s lover—the most significant lover he’d ever had. Although Ridley and Win had only spent one night together and their brief liaison was long past, that one night had apparently been a scorcher. It couldn’t have made Tole feel good to hear about it…especially since he
had never experienced his lover’s erotic bite.
Once the four men were assembled around the dining table, which served as their conference room, Tole rapped on the tabletop with his knuckles. “The meeting of the Triumvirate of the Utopian Metroplex of Regenerie shall now come to order.”
A pretty grandiose opening, Zee thought, for such an unlikely trio of urban leaders. They weren’t really a quartet; Pablo didn’t count. As important as his position had become, he wasn’t one of the Powers.
Win, sitting across from Tole, extended an arm toward him. He touched Tole’s still-fisted hand. “Hey, I’m sorry. I know how you feel about Ridley.”
Tole snatched his hand away. “You don’t know shit
about how I feel. Just drop it.”
For a change, Win remained silent. Zee was glad. Not only did they have metroplex business to attend to, he had personal issues of his own to deal with. “Let’s start with Xanandru,” he said, before his mind had a chance to wander.
Pablo lifted a forefinger. “Wait. Clear this up for me. I thought that metroplex was called Xandrinu.”
“Not anymore.” Tole reached for his laptop, which sat at the end of the table, and pulled it toward him.
“Haven’t you come across it in the database?” Win asked Pablo, gently, of course. He never got angry with Pablo. The two of them were madly in love.
“No,” Pablo said. “I haven’t had occasion to look up Xanwhatever. It’s halfway across the continent, and Regenerie doesn’t have much diplomatic or commercial interaction with it.”
“We have some
interaction, but it’s minimal.” Tole, who’d activated his computer, touched its screen. He spoke without looking away from it. “The name change came about after Pacemia and Lorenzo, two of the original three Powers, got married and relinquished their positions. Only Andrew was left. So he sort of renamed the metroplex after himself. Now it’s Xanandru
“Sounds pretty egotistical,” Pablo said.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Win told him. “From what we’ve heard, the guy’s a real piece of work.”
“And the metroplex is now a ‘pleasureplex,’” Zee added.
Tole snorted. He continued to study his computer screen. “I’m surprised he didn’t start calling himself Kubla Khan. ‘In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree.’”
“‘Where Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man…’” Pablo shot Tole a self-conscious smile.
Tole, surprisingly enough, smiled back. “Pablo Xavier Creed, poet laureate of Regenerie.”
“The lines are from a poem by Coleridge,” Pablo told Win, who looked baffled. “Late eighteenth century. He was probably strung out when he wrote it.”
“Not as strung out as Andrew, I’ll bet,” said Win. “We got a few reports from Pacemia and Lorenzo before they left.”
“And we’ve read the impressions of other Powers who’ve had contact with Andrew,” Zee reminded Win. “I just wish we had some firsthand knowledge of him.”
Tole shocked them all by saying, “I have a little, but it’s virtually meaningless. In relation to the subject at hand, anyway.”
Win’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?”
“Really,” said Tole. “I knew him briefly when he was still planning to attend Omnitech. Brilliant guy but quirky as hell…and very
self-centered. I had my first, uh…homoerotic experience with Andrew.”
“He introduced you to the glories of cock?” Win asked, slipping a suggestive glance at Pablo. Although they’d been together for months, they still flirted shamelessly.
Smirking, Tole looked up from his computer screen. “Indeed he did. And for that particular loss of virginity I shall always be grateful to him.”
“You never told us any of that,” Zee said, wondering if this connection would benefit them. He doubted it; there were too many risks.
Tole shrugged. “Why should I have? Andrew and I were teenagers, he had a crush on me, I took advantage of it. We fumbled around—or rather I
fumbled around, because he already seemed to have some experience—and that was that. Our acquaintance was sporadic and superficial and didn’t last more than a few months.” Dropping the subject, which he obviously viewed as irrelevant, Tole turned back to his computer. “Here, I’ve got the reports up. Birth name, Andrew Franklin Galwick; EB name, Belius. Endowed and empowered with leadership…et cetera.”
Zee reached for the other three computers. After sliding Win’s and Pablo’s toward them, he opened his own. All four men were silent as they read.
Most of the information they had on the Pleasureplex of Xanandru wasn’t particularly alarming. Adult entertainment had long been its primary industry. People and Otherbeings traveled there from all over the continent to have fun sinning. Even the small manufacturing sector of Xanandru’s economy centered on sensual delights. Regenerie imported nearly all its sex toys, bondage paraphernalia, and VR porn from Xanandru, in addition to various lubricants and stimulants.
X-land, as it was commonly called, was one unabashedly profane metroplex. Its goods and services put smiles on many faces—human and nonhuman. But it was the rumors of far shadier activities that had made the Triumvirate of Regenerie consider a trade embargo.
“This is some disturbing stuff,” Win said, his gaze still following the text on the screen. “Sex slaves, including minors. Blood sport. All involving EBs, OBs, and humans.” He turned up his eyes, which, at that moment, looked especially large and were an especially lustrous peacock blue.
Zee felt an upsurge of envy. It was difficult for him and Tole not to feel diminished by Win’s beauty, at least occasionally. “These claims need to be investigated,” he said. “The reports we have are unverified. We can’t slap a trade embargo on a metroplex unless and until we’re sure they deserve it. Regenerie’s stature in the intermetro community would seriously dwindle if we went off half-cocked.”
“You’re right,” Tole said, looking up. “So how do we investigate? Use the Celestine? Appoint a team to travel to X-land? Try to get in touch with Pacemia and Lorenzo?”
“Let’s sleep on it,” Win said. He yawned, underscoring his suggestion. “We’ve spent the whole week on that infrastructure tour. My ass is dragging.” He gave Zee a questioning look. “Aren’t you going to Villius tomorrow to check on Mirandi?”
Zee’s stomach fluttered at the mention of it. “Yeah. I guess I should turn in, too. I’ll be getting an early start.”
“So let’s pick this up tomorrow evening.” Win slapped down the lid of his computer.
“I, uh…I might not be here,” said Tole.
Wearing a half smile, Win dropped his chin to his hand. He huffed a laugh through his nose and shook his head.
Tole made a point of not looking at him.
Zee’s mind was elsewhere.
“How about this,” Win said. “We’ll make tomorrow a free day. Get back to business after all of us are fucked out.”
ever going to happen,” Pablo muttered.