One familiar looking plant laden with plump, garnet berries caught Sofie’s eye. The feathery foliage was alien, but the berries resembled a tart variety from Capella. She wondered whether these would taste the same.

She plucked one.

“Don’t eat that.” The empress’ cold, sharp voice whipped through the air.

Sofie’s hand froze mid-air. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have,” she murmured.

She swallowed back an inexplicable pang of dismay. Fingers trembling, she placed the berry in Andromeda Five’s outreached hand.

The vampire’s countenance softened. Her silvery irises took on a dewy glimmer.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Her mouth curved into a ghost of a smile. She put the berry in her mouth. She shuddered when she bit down, splitting its juicy innards open.

“It tastes very sweet, but it would kill you, Sofie.” Andromeda Five’s voice came out a sultry, matter of fact murmur. “Bioengineered. This strain of Belladonna produces a powerful toxin.” The empress’ glittery eyes fixed on Sofie’s. “Quite deadly to humans.”

Andromeda’s Five’s mocking little warning stirred Sofie’s ire. Vampires couldn’t seem to help but lord their superiority over humans. The empress, it seemed, was no exception. Sofie couldn’t curb her irritation. Andromeda Five was the last person in the ‘verse she could bear to have thinking of her as lesser being. Hurt and anger bubbled up and spilled out.

“Aren’t you quite the arrogant bitc–” Sofie managed to bite back the rest of her retort.

Blood contractors don’t defy their contractees.

It wasn’t so much a written rule as a cautionary tenet. Vampires were unpredictable, given to swift and deadly violence at the slightest provocation.

The tension that filled the air between them chilled Sofie to the bone, but she didn’t back down. Her own temper had a short enough fuse. Any apology spewing from her lips right now would be insincere. She had no doubt, Andromeda Five would be able to tell the difference. She inhaled deep and shuttered her eyes. She waited in stony silence.

“Strange,” Andromeda Five murmured at length fixing Sofie a cold, arch stare. “You’ve forgotten to be fearful of me, Sofie. That’s unwise.”

Andromeda Five sank down onto a nearby bench. She gestured for Sofie to join her. Sofie obeyed, bruised heart, pride, and all. She leaned forward, exposing the buttoned-up nape of her neck.

“I can feel your hunger,” she said in a low, stilted voice. “Let’s get on with it.”

“I won’t feed when you’re upset,” the empress shook her head. “Your anger would only fuel my hunger. It wouldn’t end well for you.”

“Why do you even care?” Sofie demanded, resentment swelling up so much her heart ached. “It’s not as if I’m the only blood contractor aboard this ship.”

Andromeda Five’s eyes registered vague surprise at the emotions spilling out of Sofie into the air between them.

“We poison each other,” the empress said. “The blood contract breeds intimacy. That’s all. What you feel right now isn’t love,” she declared with a firm shake of the head. “You need to rid yourself of that notion.”

Sofie’s anger deflated.

“Are humans so inferior that you couldn’t bring yourself to care for me at all?”

Stars, Sofie knew it was unfair. Asking that question. Asking it in that way.

“I could never allow myself to love a human, Sofie, because I feed on your kind,” Andromeda Five leaned in closer. “The blood contract is temporary because otherwise, I’d wind up bleeding you dry. Love has nothing to do with it. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Though Andromeda Five’s word were softly spoken, her voice was emphatic. It carried the weight of vampiric compulsion.

Their physical closeness. The otherworldly scent of the empress’ perfume. The seductive timbre of her voice. They made Sofie’s skin tingle. Made her heart tremble.

Sofie sat there in hurt silence. After hearing that, what else could she do? What could she say?

“Am I cruel?” The empress asked after a while.

Her breath tickled the back of Sofie’s neck. She heard the clinking sound of buckles coming undone. Sofie struggled to remember in detail. Every minuscule injustice. Every unkind action. Every word yet unforgiven. Everything became blurry.

“Yes,” Sofie answered. Then she sighed, offering up a grudging amendment.

“No.”

The young human shuddered as sharp fangs sank down into soft flesh. The pain was a sharp electric current spearing right down to her toes. Sweet agony cascading through her bones. Her heart cracked open. Tears sprang to her eyes. Sizzling heat raced through her body making her skin tingle. Making her flesh burn. Making her ache for more. Senses at war, she sank into Andromeda Five’s magnetic warmth.

Swamped by dizziness and embarrassed dismay, Sofie was silent as Andromeda Five buckled up her tunic.

When the empress finished, she stood. “Thank you, Sofie.”

Andromeda Five stepped away but struck by sudden inspiration, Sofie grabbed her hand.

“The problem is me being human, right?” Knowing full well she was a bit crazed to even think it, Sofie ventured, “I want you to–”

“No.” The empress’ curt answer cut to the quick.

“I haven’t even said–”

“The answer is no, Sofie.” Andromeda Five reiterated.

Sofie’s mouth clapped shut. She hated it when Andromeda Five used her name. Loved it when she used her name.

A sharp pain speared through Sofie’s chest. Her eyes stung with tears she couldn’t even seem to shed. It was obvious the empress knew exactly what she was about to ask. It was clear she wasn’t going to budge.

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