Authors: Johnny B. Truant
“Could I glamour you? Get it out that way?”
She laughed without humor. “Reginald, do you realize that I could glamour
His shoulders slumped. “If all you know is ‘something is coming’ but nothing specific and present, then why did you call me?”
“Because you needed to know,” she said.
do I need to know? Give me something I can use, Claire!”
“I don’t have anything more. Not yet. I just know that something is coming together. When it comes, it comes.”
Reginald shook his head. He should be used to this from her, but he wasn’t. “You’re not helping, Claire,” he said.
She smiled. “Just stay here for a while, okay?” she said. “Watch some TV with me.”
“Remember how we used to watch
is what I had in mind, actually,” she said.
He laughed. “Human TV? Good luck finding it on the vampire network.”
With that, Claire’s television turned on, and a feature began playing despite the fact that the TV didn’t even appear to be plugged in.
Claire tapped her head. “Turns out, Merlin remembers every episode.”
Since the fall of humanity, day and night had taken on a strange reversal. The world was alive at night and asleep during the day. Lawns were mowed and watered at night. Barbecues and parties were held at night. Some vampires worked the day shift and drove home in light-tight cars, but they did so with their stereos off or low, their wheeled transgressions kept respectful. Daytime was for sleeping. Daytime hours were quiet hours. A few cars passed while Reginald thought about Claire’s prediction, knowing it might come in minutes, hours, days, or never.
Claire had fallen asleep while faultlessly reconstructing episodes of
for them to watch. She’d been using her archival memory to broadcast images to the TV like a wireless video recorder, and as she’d begun to drift, the action onscreen had become stranger — and, Reginald suspected, not entirely true to the original versions. He didn’t remember Colombo fighting a dragon. He didn’t remember Columbo pondering an asteroid approaching the Earth and then watching a giant space serpent devour it. Just before Claire had fallen asleep, Columbo had looked up at the sky and said in his gravelly voice, “Well, this ain’t good.” The screen had gone to snow soon after, and Reginald had gotten up to lay a blanket across the sleeping young woman who wasn’t really a young woman. Then he’d turned off the TV, because leaving it on might give him access to her dreams. He didn’t want that. Claire was one of only a few people whose thoughts he couldn’t read, and the sense of mental quiet he always had around her was refreshing.
He crossed Claire’s living room and touched a button on the wall to display an exterior image on a small monitor. The yard was bright with long shadows, the sun barely past its rise. The streets were mostly empty, though a few blackout cars were making their way through the quiet intersection at the corner. He’d gotten used to the sense of reversal over the years. The preternatural quiet that used to exist only at night had simply shifted twelve hours. If you were awake in the middle of the afternoon these days, it meant you had insomnia. And if you were awake because you worked the day shift, you’d get paid double for the hazard and inconvenience of doing so.
Claire, living incognito amongst vampires, had adopted their sleep schedule. Reginald looked over at her covered form on the couch and suddenly felt sorry for her. She had all the knowledge in the world — almost literally — but could do nothing of value with it. Reginald had once asked Claire what life was like inside her head. She’d said it was
. She got along as well as she could, but Nikki and Reginald and Brian were the only people she truly trusted. Even the wild humans hiding out in the wildlands didn’t understand Claire because she didn’t light up their body heat sensors. Reginald kept trying to get her to move out to the secret stronghold where her mother lived, but she kept declining, saying she’d never fit in. She felt she had a job to do in the city, she said. She had to be here, in the heart of the beast. She had to be ready, because unlike Reginald, she’d never given up on the future. She had to stand guard, watching and waiting like a tired keeper outside a sacred crypt. And now, it seemed as if whatever Claire had been waiting for might be coming true after all.
Reginald watched Claire sleep, wondering how many lives he’d screwed up by becoming a vampire. He’d screwed up his own for sure, plus Nikki’s. He’d made things harder for Maurice, both by being turned as a sub-standard recruit and later by getting him killed. He’d thrown a wrench in Claire’s life by stalking and then befriending her — although according to Claire, his own actions mattered little because they’d been destined to meet. And of course there was the small matter of the entire human population, who were now either dead or imprisoned as blood slaves. What kind of a Chosen One was he?
Suddenly, without warning, Claire sat up. In one moment she went from dozing to fully awake, now staring at Reginald with wide eyes. Everything in her seemed to be churning. Reginald could hear the very blood surging through her veins. Her
blood, which seemed to know what it was, what it wasn’t, and what it was here to do.
“It’s begun,” she said to Reginald, her lower lip shaking. “It’s finally begun, and now you have to stop it.”
OF COURSE, HE
STOP it. He didn’t even know what “it” was until the rest of the world did.
As soon as Claire yelled at him to go, Reginald extended the sunport on Claire’s front door until it made a seal against the door of his car in the driveway, then ran through the long tube and climbed in. He activated the car’s screens, backed out, hit Claire’s mailbox, scuffed his tire on the curb, and peeled away.
The streets were empty. He stopped, suddenly aware that Claire hadn’t told him where to go. They’d gotten so used to communicating in hints and doubletalk and mental metaphors that she’d simply given him the command and he’d followed it without question. It wasn’t until he was three miles down the road that he realized he had no idea where he was going. So with no better ideas in mind, he drove recklessly across town, panicked about something completely unknown, and pulled into his own garage. The garage door took forever to seal against the concrete, and then his doors finally disengaged and he tumbled out in a pile. He picked himself off the floor, rushed in, and found Nikki just where he’d left her, doing the same thing she’d been doing when he’d left.
“I’ve been gone for eight hours,” he said, temporarily forgetting his rush at the sight of his naked wife doing yoga.
Nikki was on her back. She arched into a bridge, her breasts pointing perkily upward. “This is a long routine,” she said.
“I was at Claire’s.”
“I know. You told me when you left.”
“She says hi,” he told her. He said it as if annoyed that she was forcing him to engage in pleasantries, when in fact she’d done nothing of the kind. Claire also hadn’t requested that Reginald tell Nikki “Hi.” He’d totally made it up.
“Well,” said Nikki, bending her arms and settling into a neck bridge, “hi back.”
Reginald watched her, his earlier urgency dissipating as he realized he’d just crossed a lot of unalarmed streets in order to find an unalarmed woman doing yoga. Nikki did a lot of yoga. A lot, lot, lot of yoga. She seemed to do it in order to infuriate herself. She was a vampire who’d been made from a woman in excellent shape, and no matter how much practice she undertook, she’d never permanently elongate or strengthen any muscles. The exercises were pointless. Nikki said she did them because they hurt and because, if you were masochistic, you could do them forever. The problem with eternity, in Nikki’s opinion, was running out of things to do — and that was especially true when the cities were partitioned off, when you couldn’t hunt without a permit, when you couldn’t stretch your legs in the wild open spaces if you hoped someday to be allowed back inside. Wild humans (the few thousand the patrols never managed to wipe out in the purge) could be dangerous, and nobody wanted to take the risk of allowing pests to enter the city.
Nikki was still looking at him. But her angle was wrong and she couldn’t see him properly, so she kicked her legs off the ground. She rolled sideways until she was up on one hand, her body erect.
“Why are you so sweaty?” she asked.
“Claire,” he said. He was starting to remember his earlier urgency, figuring he should at least check the TV before stopping to gawk at nudity.
“I’m Nikki,” Nikki clarified.
“Claire says it’s starting.”
“The human thing.”
Nikki rolled down, settling back into her bridge. “Oh.”
Reginald felt something inside himself droop. Nikki tried to be kind about Reginald’s occasional prophetic quirks, but after forty years, the false alarms had worn her thin and she no longer believed. It even made sense; he himself didn’t believe most of the time. But every once in a while he’d decide to tinker with the codex like an old man tinkering with an old hobby, and diving fresh into the blood always left him sure he’d missed something and that doom was still coming. But it never did, never had — and, they both felt sure in Reginald’s rational moments, never would.
“It’s true this time,” Reginald said, realizing how lame he must look and sound. “Claire told me.”
Nikki came down onto her back, then stood and donned a robe. She walked up to Reginald but didn’t take his hands as he’d thought she would.
“We’ve been through this,” she said.
Her calm voice made Reginald suddenly furious. She was talking to him the way you’d talk to a mental patient who was beyond the capacity to understand.
“Dammit, Nikki,” he spat. He stepped away from her and began searching the couch, the coffee table, the kitchen countertop. Then he looked at her and said, “Where is the remote?”
Nikki had it in the pocket of her robe. She handed it to him without comment. He clicked on the TV, then flipped past a talk show and an obscene vampire sitcom. He stopped on VNN, which showed an overhead view of a factory in the daytime. It was labeled as a live shot and the audio track was nothing but the whipping sound of helicopter rotors. The rotor noise was loud, probably because there would need to be two of them to support the weight of the helicopter’s metal sun shielding.
“There,” he said, pointing at the TV.
“It’s a factory.”
He pointed to a caption toward the bottom of the screen. “It’s a blood farm. See? I told you.”
“I’m sure it’s just another piece worrying why the human stock keeps getting sick,” she said.
Nikki gave him a look. The look wasn’t angry. It was, if anything, pityingly compassionate. It was the look you’d give a slow person who wanted to record a rock song because he thought it would top the charts.
“Don’t look at me that way,” he said. “Which one of us possesses the vampire codex?”
“I seem to remember spending months looking for that codex myself,” she said. “And yet, it wasn’t there when we opened the crypt.”
“It’s here! It’s in me!”
He turned to the TV, then increased the volume. The video switched back and forth between shots of the blood farm from overhead, shots of the blood farm from a distance on the ground, and shots of two newspeople in a busy newsroom wearing sufficient makeup so as to appear less dead on camera. In the overhead shot, a fire was now visible billowing from one side of the huge, warehouse-style building. In the ground shot, smoke from the same fire rose in a vertical black column. The camera zoomed in, into shadows visible through one end of the hanger-like doors. There were humans around the doors, in the sun, holding them open. Deeper in the shadows, the blurs of vampires could be seen leaping from end to end. As Reginald watched, something small popped like a balloon and spilled red paint. But of course, it wasn’t paint.
Nikki’s demeanor changed. She sat on the edge of the couch and listened. Reginald listened beside her, turning the TV up further, now catching the story as the anchors began speaking.
The facility, it turned out, was the MorningFresh blood farm, located just outside the US vampire core in New York City. Apparently there’d been some sort of a rebellion, with the human captives rising up to seize power from the vampire guards.
Rebellions had been common when the first blood farms had been established after the war, when wild human populations had still existed in vampire-controlled territory. Back then, humans had still outnumbered their vampires neighbors more than twenty-to-one, and due to the peculiar breed of blindness that affects humans in dire situations, they had still been holding out hope that they could turn things around and win the human-vampire war. So when the first farms were established by the governorships in order to ensure that the growing vampire population and the dwindling human population didn’t end up in a food shortage, humans had fought the new businesses tooth and nail — both from inside the farms and from outside, as rescue crews attempted to penetrate the external security. Many human stock had to be killed. For some strange reason during those conflicts (a reason Reginald had blamed on yet more arbitrary supernatural rules established by angels and their ilk, like “humans can’t be glamoured into slavery”), glamouring didn’t often take on human blood stock and never held permanently.