Excerpt: Ice

Koby was unable to stop jiggling his leg as he sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair in the departure lounge, waiting for his flight to be called. Ivo sat beside him, leafing through documents on his mini-holo, hunched over and tense. Koby looked at him from time to time, taking in the rigid set of his friend’s shoulders, the way Ivo’s lips were compressed into a thin line and wondered what Ivo was reading. All around them, the hustle and bustle of people departing on various journeys ebbed and flowed, and shiny, loud, 3D advert-holos of men and women smiling impossibly wide smiles urged travelers to buy this gadget or that souvenir, or try the new and amazing beverage prepared by a coffee bar or a juice stall.

Koby looked away from Ivo, taking in the vista of shuttles, planes and long-haul transports that lined up neatly on the asphalt. A group of excited teenagers in school uniforms were clustered around one window, pointing at a long-haul transport and their chatter loudly informed Koby that they were travelling to take in the great masters of art in Paris, journeying to the Louvre. Koby thought that it must be nice to come from such a wealthy family, able to afford such extracurricular excursions. When he’d been at high school, the most exciting trip he’d gone on had been a school camp to the Flinders Ranges. It had been fun, he remembered with a rueful smile to himself, but it had also been very, very cold. The Australian winter might not have a lot of snow, but it certainly had a lot of cold nights, chilly frost and fog and icy rain.

“Hey, Kobe,” Ivo said, nudging Koby’s side and pulling his attention away from the school kids and his thoughts. “Do you have any idea of what you’re walking into?”

“What are you talking about?” Koby asked, confused by the question. “I’m walking into a transport when it gets called and going to Christchurch, then to Antarctica, where I suppose I’ll be walking into a bloody lot of ice.”

“Oh, ha ha ha. You’re a fucking comedian.” Ivo rolled his eyes. “No, I meant politically. With old man Carrion Carron.”

“No?” Koby was even more confused. “Good nickname for him, though, but has something come up?”

“Yeah, this morning. You know one of the partners at my firm is a vampire, right?”

Koby nodded.

“Okay, so he’s very worried that there’s some sort of mistreatment of the prisoners going on there. The prison’s underneath the research facility, and it’s secured pretty bloody tight—the rooms are monitored, armed guards, silver coated bars and walls, and the punishments for offenses go up a sliding scale of deprivation of blood—starvation—to binding silver to their skin to sunrise death, which, you know, is the slowest way to kill a vamp.”

“Yes, beheading and the old fashioned stake to the heart are more humane, which sounds so much like an oxymoron.” Koby shook his head. “A stake to the heart shouldn’t be humane at all! It sounds awful.”

“To us. But we’re not vampires. The difference, my friend Roger told me, is that beheading and stake to the heart are instant. Sunrise death is slow and can take up to eight hours, depending on the age of the vampire.”

Koby shuddered. “I didn’t know that. That’s pretty nasty.”

“Yeah, it is.” Ivo sighed and turned off his mini-holo. “Anyway, the prison and mine are one and the same—the vamps who work it are the prisoners and Roger reckons they’re being used for experiments too, like vivisections and things like that. They have vets there, Kobe. Vets! As if they’re sheep or cattle! Think about those slides you told me about in first year bio—the ones about experiments carried out on animals. Remember how upset you were over those? Well, Roger thinks that’s what Carron does with the vamps at the mine. In between mining, they’re lab rats. So you might get to spend some time with them anyway and not in a particularly pleasant or humane way.

“The vampire peoples of the various vampire nations don’t have any proof, though.” Ivo pinched the bridge of his nose. “Again, with Carron, it’s all rumor and gossip and nothing concrete. We need concrete information.”

“And you want me to let you know if I see anything like that?” Koby asked.

“I don’t want you to put yourself in danger,” Ivo said.

“I won’t be. If I see stuff like this, it’ll happen in the labs, so I can make a report as a concerned scientist citizen, can’t I?” Koby canted his head to one side. “I mean, there’s nothing in my contract that says I can’t report instances of breaking the law, and this is … well, above and beyond breaking regular laws.”

Ivo gave Koby a sad smile. “That’s true. But be careful.”

“You know, if you keep saying that to me, I’m going to think you’ve turned into my mum,” Koby said.

Ivo laughed. “Okay, okay.”

“I don’t really know what I’ll be walking into,” Koby said. He was beginning to feel anxious. “Roger, he’s your vamp partner?”

“That’s him, yes. Great guy. He and his wife are awesome.”

Koby raised an eyebrow. “Really? How come you’ve never introduced me to them?”

“Because, until two weeks ago, when you finished classes and all of that you were buried up to your ears in study, and every time I asked if you wanted to come out for dinner or something, you’d wave papers at me and say no.” Ivo bumped Koby’s shoulder with his own. “You’re a workaholic, Kobe. You always have been, even when we were kids.”

Koby huffed. “Okay, fair enough. Still, if I get enough holiday time stored up to come back to Sydney for a week or so, I want to meet them.”

“It’d be my pleasure to arrange that,” Ivo said. He sketched a formal little bow and Koby laughed. “I think you’d like them. Roger used to work in medical physics before he switched to human and vampire rights law.”

“Really?” Koby found his nerves settled by his curiosity. “Then I’d doubly like to meet them. I never met a vamp before.”

This time, it was Ivo’s turn to look surprised. “Really? Not even at uni?”

“Oh, they were there, of course they were. Some in the year above me, some below, but my year didn’t seem to have any. Mind you, that degree was fucking hard to get into; the grades you need to get into that specialization were like, ninety-nine percent.”

“I remember.” Ivo leaned back in his seat. “And even at uni, those lecture theatre chairs were nowhere near as uncomfortable as these monsters here are!”

Koby barked a laugh. “Right? I feel like my ass has gone numb.”

“I think mine has. Do you want a coffee or something? I think we’ve got a bit of time for that before your flight gets called.” Ivo got to his feet.

“Okay. Mocha latte, thanks.” Koby stood as well and stretched. “I’ll wait here.”

“No problem.” Ivo grinned. “I’ll be back soon. There’s what, half an hour until you have to board?”

Koby looked up at the clock that hung from overhead girders on the ceiling. “Yeah, around that.”

“Awesome.” Ivo bounced off, moving to the nearest coffee bar and Koby sat back down again, squirming as he tried to get comfortable.

Buy Ice by LJ LaBarthe