The Big Sleep Jazz Club
“Once again, my name is Sonia Bjersten,” the girl on stage announced, “This next song is a little slower and sweeter, so grab the one you love and get close.”
A few more sims had gathered, murmuring quietly and swaying as she began strumming the guitar.
“Dance with me,” Somnus said suddenly.
Miko hesitated. Pressed against him, moving to the music, it’d be too easy to forget all the horrors he’d visited upon her.
And all the horrors she visited upon him in return.
“This better not be a trick,” she grumbled.
He pulled her closer, resting his hands on the curve of her backside, “Lucky for you, I’m not God of Tricks.”
“Yeah, well, don’t get any ideas. I am not your lover,” she huffed, but Somnus was undeterred, his smile slow.
“You came to the safest place you know to seek help from the only God you trust. Am I not tattooed on your heart, Thread of Fate? Are we not in the business of saving each other?”
He was such a smug bastard.
“You’ve never saved me,” Miko huffed.
Somnus chuckled, but the look in his eyes was reverent. “Come now, we both know the order of operations hardly matters for a being like you. Of course, I’ll save you. You’re here, aren’t you?”
She shouldn’t feel warmed by that vow, and she definitely shouldn’t flirt with him in return. Still, Miko found herself stretching onto her tippy toes, whispering in his ear, “You might save me, but I wouldn’t spit on you if you were on fire.”
His response was a laugh, a low, raspy sound that was entirely too enticing.
“You’re such a little liar,” he teased as he spun her around. “I recall a universe where the Goddess of Sound shattered the world with her song. And you tracked back to grab me right before I burst into a million little pieces.”
“Did not,” Miko lied.
“And yet here I am, whole and complete,” he tilted her chin up, running his thumb along her lower lip, “Not having rebuilt myself from dust. That is an act of love.”
Miko didn’t answer. It didn’t matter if she liked or loved him. Mostly, she tried not to think about it because it wasn’t an option.
“Tell me. Are you still carrying a torch for dear Akira?”
“Tell me. Why are all the gods hanging out in this universe?”
His eyes sparkled with mischief as he studied her. “Now you deign to ask me for what you want.”
“I’m not asking anything for me,” she clarified, feeling his magic pressing at her temples. “It’s just a question in general.”
“Do you love him?”
Every version of Akira she ever met she broke. Now, it was as if he’d inherited that brokenness. He fell for her whenever he saw her, and the whole loop started again. It wasn’t love; it was torture, and she was doomed to repeat it. “If you cared, you’d help me,” she croaked, “And it wouldn’t matter what I felt or didn’t feel or…why are you doing this? Why do you even care? You’re a god, and he’s just…he’s just a creature!”
And he was a mess, Miko wanted to add. He mourned and pined for her; the least she could do was honor that and, maybe this time, fix it.
The song finished, and he stepped back from her. “I suppose I have my answer, then. I’ll show you the apartment upstairs. You’ll be safe for as long as you need to stay there.”
“I am not denigrating your plan; I’m trying to improve it,” Vlad argued.
“You are nitpicking,” Latimer snapped. “William said we can have use of the villa. It’s on its own island, its—”
“Mine,” Vlad corrected, gripping his nectar glass tightly in annoyance. He loved his brother, but it was just like that bastard to do them a favor and still not bother to pick up the occult-forsaken phone. “That he stole it off me during an illicit card game doesn’t give him ownership.”
“Then what? We can sail to Suluani, but if you wanna go somewhere else, it’s probably gonna require an airport, and if you hadn’t noticed, you two are unlikely to get past security while Clive has his eye on you!”
Alice jumped up, “Security! That’s where I know her from!”
“Who?” Vlad asked.
“The bitch who killed me. She was security at the museum I robbed. She pointed me out when the cops came.”
Vlad narrowed his eyes. “Well, that changes everything.”
“It means Clive does not have enough buy-in for his plan. Why go through the elaborate set-up of getting a high-ranking general’s daughter to take the fall for a crime and then cover it up? The government could’ve just seized the item you were sent to steal. It’d be cleaner.”
“No way,” Alice swiped her hand through the air. “It was a mess; my dad had to call in so many favors to get me off. And even after doing half-time, I was on house arrest.”
“You were pregnant,” Vlad reminded her, “They weren’t being kind; they were avoiding bad press.”
“I’m not famous.”
“You’re a general’s daughter who, as far as the public knows, had a bout of kleptomania and tried to steal some display from a museum exhibit.”
“Are you saying all of this is a set-up?” she shook her head, “That’s insane…it’s…it’s too costly.”
“For whom? It cost me a few million to my ex-wife’s lawyers to get you out, which might be a lot of money, except I’m immortal and lack scruples, so it didn’t cost me much at all.” Vlad stood, “The same goes for Clive. He signed some papers and shook hands with a few judges. In fact, you, being Cyrus’s daughter, was a boon. No one would question him bending the rules to get you out.”
“That doesn’t even make sense!” Alice fumed, “How did he know I had the skills or that I’d do it? I mean, it wasn’t even my idea to steal the Ascension Container. Salim said—” she broke off. “No. He’s a shitty baby’s daddy, but he is not…he isn’t… it’s impossible. He didn’t know I’d be any good.”
“But you are good,” Vlad held her gaze. “Better than good. Excellent. You took to it like a fish to water, and thus, the mission continued.”
“No one would sacrifice a decade to be in a fake relationship no matter how much the government paid them,” she scowled, “And for one job? I love you, but you’re nuts.”
“Am I? Ten years, and despite everything you stole, you were still living paycheck to paycheck?”
“Because we didn’t want to get caught! Salim said when the heat died down, we’d find a good fence and…” she trailed off, swiping at her eyes.
“Why you crying?” Gwendolyn asked, “Mommy need help?” She started to toddle over, “I see Daddy? Gwendolyn big girl, she help.”
Vlad stepped in front of Alice, shielding her from the Tiny Terror’s view. “No, my little hellion, your father is away, and he cannot help your mother.” He picked up his laptop and set it on the floor. “Come sit. Tonight is special. You can watch all the Voidcritters you want until you fall asleep, and then Monster will tuck you in.”
As soon as she was settled, he turned back to Alice. “Salim gaslit you. I don’t doubt that Eliza was his exit plan.”
She was no longer on the verge of tears. In fact, she looked determined, borderline angry. “That motherfucker.”
“Yeah, he is. But something’s been bothering me,” Latimer interrupted, “We still don’t know why. What is Clive working on? Why keep tabs on Alice even after the crime was done? And what the hell is an Ascension Container?”
“I don’t know. It was in the space section,” Alice shrugged, “I thought it was just an expensive piece of art because, you know, aliens aren’t real. Wait, are aliens real?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vlad replied.
“And that squad you fought wasn’t completely sims; they wouldn’t lasted an hour if they had been. So Clive must know something about magic,” Latimer added.
“The question is how much.” Vlad rubbed his chin, “We’d need to know more about their research. Caleb said the lab was cleared out, but Clive must keep the information somewhere on base. We could infiltrate—”
“No,” Alice cut him off. “I’m confident, but I’m not completely detached from reality. That place is a fortress. Even on my best day, I couldn’t breach it.”
“Then we’ll just have to storm in,” Vlad leaned back on the table and tugged her over until she stood between his legs, “Fangs blazing.”
Alice’s laugh was soft, “Slow your roll. I can’t steal information from the base, but I can steal it from somewhere less secure.”
“Like from a mobile unit sent to track you?”
She kissed him. “It’s like we’re vibrating on the same frequency.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not,” Latimer crossed his arms, “We’ve got 48 hours before we’re supposed to leave. You can’t tack a heist on top of us trying to make a subtle exit.”
Alice turned, allowing Vlad to wrap his arms around her. “A good heist is subtle. And look at Vlad; he’s been hiding in plain sight for centuries.”
Vlad flashed his fangs at Latimer’s disgruntled expression, “Exactly. I am a paragon of subtlety. Now, let’s talk more about what we need and who we might have to kill to get it.”