Sengupta threw a video feed onto the wall: Rowdy voices, flashing lights, a mag-lev table wobbling at an insane angle thanks to some drunken asshole trying to dance on the damn thing. Impromptu footage of a campus bar; the student ambience would be a dead giveaway anywhere on the planet but Brüks was pretty sure it was somewhere in Europe. The subtitler was off but he caught snatches of German and Hungarian at least.
A couple of grad students had randomly arranged a dozen empty beer glasses on a table; a crowd of others cheered and chanted and pulled chairs away, clearing a surrounding space. Something was happening stage left, just out of camera range: an antidisturbance, a sudden contagious quelling of noise and commotion that drew eyes and spread around the circle in an instant. The camera turned towards the eye in the storm. Brüks sucked in his breath.
She stalked into the cleared floorspace like a spring-loaded panther, unleashed, autonomous. She wore the cheap throwaway smartpaper weave ubiquitous to lab rats and convicts the world over. It seemed absurd against the jostling background of blazers and holograms and bioluminescent tattoos. Valerie didn’t seem to notice her own violation of the dress code; didn’t notice the way the front lines pushed back against the crowd as she passed, or the way the murmuring horde fell silent when she got too close. She had eyes only for the glasses on the table.
What kind of suicidal idiot would take a vampire to a bar? How zoned had these people been, to not be fleeing for the exits?
He turned to Sengupta: “Where did you get—”
“Shut up and watch!”
Valerie circled the table, once. She hesitated for a moment, her eyes unfocused, something that might almost have been a smile playing across her lips.
In the next instant she sprang.
She came down on one bare foot, almost three meters from a standing start; snapped the other down with a stomp, spun and stamped again and jumped— arcing backwards this time, over the table itself, flipping in mid-air and landing in a four-point crouch (left foot right foot right knee left hand) before hopping to the left (stomp), hand-springing forward to land chest-to-face with some semi-sober sessional who still had enough animal sense to turn greeny-white under a face loaded with retconned chloroplasts. Straight up, now: a vertical one-meter leap with a one-legged landing; about-face (stomp), two diagonal steps toward the table (stomp). Both elbows, one knee crashing simultaneously against ancient floorboards that bounced her smoothly back into a standing position. Finis. After a moment the camera, shaking despite the very best image-stabilization algorithms a student budget could buy, panned back to the table.
The glasses were arranged in a perfectly straight, evenly-spaced line.
“Hard to find this one.” Sengupta nodded to herself, eyes bright. “Someone snuck her out the back door you spring a vampire without authorization and your career is over so they really kept the evidence locked up I think it was an initiation or something…”
The view hovered over the tableaux for a long, disbelieving moment. Swung back to the monster who’d created it. Valerie stared straight through the camera and a thousand kilometers beyond, smiled that patented bone-chilling smile. She wasn’t even breathing hard.
Everyone else was, though. Reality was finally cutting through the drinks and the drugs and the sheer idiotic bravado of spoiled children raised on promises of immortality. They were in the presence of black magic. They were in the presence of something whose most trivial efforts turned the very laws of motion into feats of telekinesis. And one sodden instant behind all that awe and stunned disbelief, perhaps, the realization of just what all that vast intelligence and all those superconducting motor skills had evolved in the service of.
It didn’t matter what bedtime stories these privileged brats had been told. They were not immortal in such a presence. They were only breakfast. And it was obvious to Brüks — from the way they pulled back and muttered their excuses, the way they edged for doors while keeping their backs to walls, the way even those pretending to be in charge averted their eyes as they scuttled sidelong up to Valerie and told her in weak and shaking voices that it was time to come in now — that they finally knew it.
It was also obvious, in hindsight, that Brüks had been uncharitable to the baselines who’d stolen their rat from its cage for one wild night out. Whoever they were, they hadn’t been suicidal. They hadn’t been idiots. No matter what they might have told themselves before or after, no matter who remembered having the idea.
It hadn’t really been their decision at all.