"The Life of a Macedonian Vampire and His Son Alexander"   

Author: DJ Clawson (dj_clawson@yahoo.com)  

Sequal to: The Life and Times of a Macedonian Vampire (read first)

Rating: strong PG-13      

Archive: Only with permission

Characters: Aristotle, Feliks, Larry Merlin, LaCroix, Nick, Natalie, Janette, Qa'ra, Schanke

Warnings: Slash (non-explicit), Rampant cursing, vampires acting like vampires, rather frank discussion of vampire sexuality

Betas: Walt,

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Chapter 1

2004

             It was June in New Mexico, a time when thousands of tourists made their way in their minivans and SUVs to Chaco Cultural National Park, to feast their eyes on the stone remains of the ancient Pueblo cultures. A stone wall here, a house foundation there, and white Americans, starved for history in their young country, went through endless rolls of film and bought warehouse-crafted dream catchers.

            Fifty miles south, the town of Luna, New Mexico received little of this traffic, save as a pit stop for those traveling north. The sleepy town had precisely one high school, one movie theater, and two hotels, a local motel and a Holiday Inn for tourists.

            Like a bird returning to its nesting place, the desk staff was familiar with the balding, diminutive man who visited the town for three days in the first week of June. His goatee, glasses, and disarming smile made him look almost alarmingly harmless, like a university professor uncomfortable in his own skin. Every year he created some speculation even though he did nothing to fuel any suspicions, and the manager was forced to recount the more memorable visits over the last twenty years. He arrived late in the evening, took room 6 – and only room 6 – and stayed for two days, not leaving the room on the intermediary day at all. Beyond the hotel was the pool and the desert, and he went for walks, but partook in no other amusements their town offered. Any other room was unacceptable. When he called in May to reserve the room the year they were renovating, and was told it was not available, he showed up in June and convinced them to let him have it even though it had holes in the floor, no carpeting, and no furniture but the spare cot they rolled in for him. When the maid interrupted him, she said she found him drinking wine on the floor.

            “Your key, Mr. Aris,” the manager said, and his guest smiled at him. “Do you require anything else?”

            “No. Thank you.” He was always so polite to the staff. Was he touched in the head and thought someone was waiting for him, or just stuck on play like a broken record? No one knew for sure, but what they were sure about was that he was not interested in enlightening them.

                        ************************************************

            The same terrible carpeting, the same tacky prints on the walls, and the view of the same desert, the sand hiding so many secrets. Aristotle set his bag down on the wooden dresser, emptied the mini-bar of its contents, and went about restocking it with bottles of wine. Only one of them was actual wine, and not a mix of wine and his life-sustaining blood, but he wouldn’t be drinking that so much as using it.

            Aristotle pulled the drapes closed so he wouldn’t be interrupted by the deadly sun, and pushed the desk away from the only area in the room he cared about, the reason he rented room 6, and the desk was always blocking it, and he always moved the desk.

            There was only one change to his routine since the Holiday Inn replaced the grocery store that used to be on this site (and the back room was a very unpleasant place to spend a day). He picked up his phone, and dialed the first number on the speed dial.

            Alex answered immediately. “Hey, Dad.” Alex usually rotated between ‘Ari’ and ‘Master’ depending on the situation, but in the last month he’d picked up ‘Dad,’ and Aristotle did nothing to discourage him. “Where are you?”

            “The middle of nowhere. I guess I’m lucky. The hotel’s always open.”

            “Will you buy me a dream catcher?”

            “No. I will not encourage superstition.”

            “Says the vampire.”

            “Yes. Says the vampire. Are you behaving yourself?”

            “You’ve been gone for six hours! And yes, I am behaving myself. Oh, and your healer just got mauled.”

            “Are you playing on my computer?”

            “My barbarian needed backup.”

            “I do not you give you permission to use my EverQuest account.”

            “Then maybe you shouldn’t have made your password the last blood-reading challenge.”

            He cursed, but he wasn’t really angry. “If anyone calls, let the machine get it.”

            “Even if it’s for me?”

            Especially if it’s for you. Why are they calling you on my line? I’m already suspicious.”

            “Ari, I know all of like, three people who would call me, and all of them have my number. Chill.”

            He was stressed. He hated this trip, this ritual he forced himself into every year. He hated smiling at the mortals in the dismal town they dared to build on this spot. But, he supposed, their ignorance protected it. He just did not have it in him to be that grateful, not when he was actually in the room. “If anyone asks you where I am – “

            “I don’t answer them. Which is pretty impossible, considering I’m not answering the phone. Would be kind of incredible, actually.”

            Aristotle sighed. Alex was just being himself, and normally he enjoyed it, but to be perfectly honest, he wasn’t in the mood. He would rather have him there and not say anything than apart but speaking. He knew Alex was scared, being without his master for the first time since his conversion, but he wouldn’t admit it on any conscious level. It just came through the link and Aristotle could do nothing about it. “I’ll call tomorrow. Call if there’s an emergency. And try not to get into any emergencies.”

            “Okay. Good luck.”

            He supposed Alex didn’t want to say ‘Have fun.’ “Thank you.”

            Even though the phone link was severed, a more important one remained. It was too powerful to be overcome by distance, at least not this distance. He was in New Mexico and Alex was in Northern Nevada. He tried to calculate the miles and realized he was obsessing too much.

            He removed the silver bowl from his luggage and set it on the ground. He removed two bottles of wine from the fridge – the blood wine and the libation wine. The first he uncorked and poured a glass into the stone bowl he brought with him. The second, wine pressed with his own feet, he poured it into the libation bowl. The hotel would complain if the rug was stained.

            Kuros,” he said reverently, and laid down on the floor beside the libation plate, directly above the spot where, 2200 hundred years ago, the tribe of Anasazi burned his master alive.

                        ************************************************

            Dr. Alex Green, PhD, would not have predicted – for any amount of money – that the house in Lake Tahoe, and everything associated with it, was where his life would take him. For starters, he was supposed to be dead. Before being bitten and drained of blood, his body was riddled with cancerous nodules that no amount of chemotherapy, radiation, or cutting-edge cancer medicine could stop. Even if he had somehow beaten his death sentence, handed down when he was eighteen as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma with a particularly aggressive flair, he would have expected to be using his computer science degree to do research for Microsoft, or some start-up alternative company that didn’t pay half as well but did not require a sacrifice of dignity. Or maybe he would be an associate professor somewhere, working his way up the academic ladder.

            He spent very little time on what could have been, too consumed with what was, and what lay ahead. After so many years of doctoring, he was conditioned to keep his mind away from the future because he had none. The degree would cap his academic career and his life. Technically it did do that, at least according to the State of Massachusetts, which declared him dead in December 2003. Ari had a copy somewhere, but he wouldn’t let him have it, nor would he explain his reasons. Alex suspected he did not have a specific one, but was fathering on instinct, and not letting him dwell on the past. The certificate was merely for record purposes, because Aristotle was nothing if not a keeper (and eventual destroyer) of records. In a combination of his file cabinets and computer system were the records of every vampire he had ever met and their current whereabouts, should they ever need his relocation services. For safety reasons, Alex only had certain passwords, and all of those were designed to set of silent alarms on Aristotle’s phone. Aristotle was untouchable, but there might be a vampire stupid enough to think his fledgling was not.

            Aristotle would only be gone for three days, long enough for the messages to build up on his public line so much that Alex turned the machine down to a more reasonable volume. With no guests (Aristotle had the dignity not to leave him with a babysitter) and no appointments, and even the cleaning lady cancelled, Alex had the house completely to himself.

            As a mortal he’d lived alone since his college days, not going home to his abusive step-father and spending vacations alone in the dorm and summer in an apartment near campus. Now that he was so desperately tethered by an invisible strand to his master, the separation was nerve-wracking. For the few hours he was entirely unable to concentrate, and burned steam by tearing up more of the driveway with his skateboard. Even when he calmed down, instead of doing some actual work like he promised himself, he played EverQuest until the sun came up and passed out in his room, still clutching the bottle of blood. Absolutely pathetic.

            It wasn’t until the next night that he could focus at all, and he turned to his work to busy himself. Against the assumption of so many vampires, as he quickly learned, Aristotle did not bring him over as an assistant, to do the busywork of Aristotle’s business, ever growing in complexity as it was. If he was asked to do mundane chores, like working the laminating machine or finding documents, it was because his master was truly stressed and somewhat desperate, and he was all too eager to please him anyway. He was given tasks, but they were things he liked and wanted to do, most of them involving computer programming. Though the Ancient was more than a match for his own genius, he didn’t have a degree from MIT for nothing. His designer skills were greater and he was faster to implement ideas and to turn them into code. Aristotle worked on a theoretical level, expecting reality to prove his rule. He was not delusional. He was brilliant enough that his conclusions were accurate, just not easy to physically execute. Sometimes they were nearly impossible, and definitely would have been for someone of average intelligence.

            Though Aristotle vigorously denied that the written works that survived of his mortal life had any relevance or were merely misleading about his scientific conclusions, Alex observed otherwise. Yes, he knew his biological assertions made with no scientific instruments in the fourth century BC were embarrassing incorrect, but his observational methods hadn’t changed a lot. Alex had the good sense to keep his observations to himself, though he was fully aware that Aristotle knew of them through the link. He just didn’t say them out loud and his master pretended not to know his thoughts. It was a polite understanding that worked rather well.

            Tonight he was deep in the coding of a program to keep a live track on commercial jets by their tail number and NASA’s public transmissions. It had no direct purpose yet, but for shuttling vampires around, it had possibilities, and the fact that it was a tad on the illegal side made it all the more exciting. Other people might be uninterested in lines of incomprehensible computer code, but he was not other people. As a mortal, he’d once coded for forty-three straight hours. Ironically as a vampire, it was beyond his capabilities. He was incapable of staying awake during the day, and it cut into any marathon he attempted. Another thing that he would overcome in time, or so he was assured. Until then, it was just frustrating. He had eternity and he spent so much of it sleeping.

            The phone rang, but however enthusiastically he answered it, the voice on the other end was not his master’s. “Hi, Alex.”

            He groaned. “Nick.” Other vampires called him Nicholas, but he liked to be called Nick. In a way it was more respectful, even though vampires were so formal. Most vampires called him Alexander, even if he wasn’t introduced that way and never referred to himself as such. They also probably thought it was funny. “Hi. Did Ari tell you to call me?”

            “...Maybe.”

            “I’m fine. And he knows it.”

            “All right.” He was not fine and Nick didn’t believe his lie, but nothing was actually wrong. He was just agitated by the distance between him and his master. But Nick was a good guy, almost too good for a vampire, and played along. “Should I launch into ‘when I was a fledgling’ stories to try to explain that I can relate to you or should we just say I completed my favor and annoyed you.”

            “I’m not annoyed.” He was as bad at lying as Nick was. He was about to take the offer to go back to work when he considered it. Nicholas de Brabant was a Crusader, brought across in the Middle Ages, and his master was a brutal Roman general. It could be kind of interesting. “And if you have an interesting story, go ahead.”

            “Depends on your definition of interesting, I guess. Also, the stories that didn’t involve me hating him by the end of it are limited.”

            It interested Alex because LaCroix and Aristotle were from the same bloodline, and had similar child-rearing tactics, that made for some very powerful vampires. The difference, Aristotle very nervously explained to him, was that LaCroix’s basic ideologies were completely contradictory to Nicholas’ nature, and neither side would relent. Nicholas could not give up who he was and LaCroix would not accept who he was, nor did Aristotle personally think he really understood the depths of Nick’s concepts of faith and morality. Aristotle was determined to learn from LaCroix’s mistakes, and Alex understood that one of the reasons he was chosen was because on so many things, they were largely on the same page. Also, Alex was very aware that his master was intentionally hiding things from him about their bloodline, to be revealed when necessary, and nothing could shake him from that position. Alex knew that both Nick and Aristotle had been savagely beaten and tortured when they were fledglings, and not just for disobedience. There was something there that Aristotle didn’t want to repeat or wanted to put off as long as possible. He’d restrained him when Alex frenzied, but never struck him. “If you have something, I’ll listen. Unless I get a call on the other line.”

            “Okay. Well, I have to be a bit selective here, you have to understand. I do have plenty of embarrassing stories about Aristotle, but they all came much later, and I would like to remain friends with him. So ... all right, it must have been about around 1260, maybe 1265. Definitely after the Seventh Crusade. I remember that. LaCroix and I were visiting one of his ‘friends’ near Vienna, and say ‘friends’ because they didn’t genuinely like each other so much as genuinely tolerated each other. You understand what I mean.”

            “I do.” Most vampires were at best at least mildly antagonistic to each other. Ari said it was the predator in them, not wanting the competition.

            “I won’t give his name. I don’t think he’s alive but if he ever shows up, it’ll be better for both of us. Karl. It was very close to that. It was one of the first times Janette was away for a good period of time, and by that I mean more than a few nights. Janette was the reason I came across and she was the one who comforted me, as long as it didn’t get in the way of LaCroix’s authority, so I was very upset about these arrangements and LaCroix scolded me for it.”

            Nick and Janette had been involved, and even married for almost a hundred years. Even though they were brother and sister, they weren’t blood relations in the mortal sense, being born centuries apart, so Aristotle told Alex to toss away his notions of family connections in relation to sex. In fact, he was rather insistent about it. “Go on.”

            “I don’t really know what Karl and LaCroix had to talk about, but when we got there, I was basically ignored. At first I was relieved. The last few years had been rough between us. Eventually, I was just bored. Karl kept his estate so well-ordered that it didn’t leave much to do, and I hadn’t learned how to pass the time.”

            “So you went off and got into trouble.”

            “Who’s telling this story?” Nick said, but sounded amused. “Has Aristotle told you about the Summer Solstice?”

            The Summer Solstice was the longest day of the year, making it the shortest night of the year. Something in the vampire internal clockwork responded rather negatively to this, and most vampires spent it in a grouchy daze. “Yes.”

            “Karl had a fledgling, about twenty years older than me, named Stephan. I was very bored and he was very eager to escape his chores, so we would hunt together, but Karl had a lot of restrictions on our hunting ground. Anyway, Summer Solstice, LaCroix tells me to stay inside. He must have known that would just make me go out when he wasn’t looking, but he didn’t stop us, and went on a rather ... insane ... hunt. It was going well until we encountered a group of Templars returning from the Holy Land. I definitely wasn’t myself, to pick a fight with a group of men with crosses and swords even if they were mortals, but I decided I was upset with them for not recapturing Jerusalem and called them all G-dless sodomites. Those might have been my exact words, might not have been. You get the picture.”

            “Yes.”

            “I don’t know how we did it, but we bested them. And by that I mean ... well, you know what I mean.”

            “Yes.”

            “It was very close, and I still had a sword impaled in my stomach – metal, fortunately – when we returned, a little dizzy and not entirely sure what we did. The only reason Karl and LaCroix didn’t accost us at the door and ask why I had a sword sticking out of me was probably because of the Solstice. Stephan pulled it out and we went to sleep, happy the whole thing was over until next year.

            “I was woken rather violently around midday and dragged to Karl’s chamber to explain what eight distinguished Templars were doing lying dead on one of his roads. Thinking back on it, he must have known the precise explanation, because there was only one possible one, but the immediate punishment was forcing us to stay awake long enough to tell the story in completion. Fledglings can stay awake turning the day, if they’re distracted by something – like pain. That was our punishment. Actually rather mild in comparison to some other things they could have done, but at the time it was unbearable. I had to stay awake for three days, and while Karl was off finding a reasonable explanation for the massacre, LaCroix was making sure we both stayed awake. Ancients can go a long time without sleeping, as you’ve probably figured out. When I finally passed out, I awoke in a carriage on my way back to France with LaCroix. One of his ‘not forgotten, and not forgiven’ things. I never brought it up again, and I never saw Stephan again, though he did live a number of years after that, so at least I know my actions weren’t directly responsible for his death.”

            “So if Ari ever orders me to stay up for a few days – “

            “ – then you did something seriously wrong and you should start apologizing.”

            “Good to know. Thanks, Nick.”

            “No problem.”

            He really was thankful, for another minor distraction from obsessing about the distance between him and his master.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle could remember the exact feeling when the bond between himself and his master was cut. The pain was indescribable, stunning him for a brief moment before he screamed. If he had not been staked to the wall, he would have happily thrown himself on the pyre, if only to try to pick up the trail of it in the puffs of smoke and ash that were now the Ancient Qum’ra. Aristotle was empty, and would never be made whole again.

            He was lost to the vampire. For how long, he didn’t know. His jailors refused to tell him, but it was easily weeks or months before he could speak again, not out of rage but having lost his human side to misery and retreating into the cold, unfeeling beast. It was his way of grieving, and it worked. Somehow he emerged, drinking the animal blood they fed him, until he was well enough for them to cast him out. It was as if they knew his exile would be more painful than remaining at the foot of his master’s resting place, crying into the ashes. It also forced him to survive.

            Aristotle first returned to America shortly before the Revolution, to scope out new opportunities for the many vampires frustrated by the stale society of the old world. He did not travel south of North Carolina, having completed his research, though he returned shortly after America achieved independence to see what this country governed by lawyers and philosophers would wrought. It was pleasure trip, and it did not last long.

            In the 1830’s, he was traveling the Old Spanish Trail on the way to California, to meet with some vampire elders from the South Pacific, when he began to recognize landmarks. Unlike the settled East coast, the sprawling lands of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas remained much the same, if now with horses and cattle instead of just buffalo. After his meeting, he declined their offer to travel back to Europe via sea route to Shanghai, and wandered the New Mexican basin, searching for something – anything. It was fruitless – the link with his master was gone and could not lead him, and his memories may have been perfect, but were not specific enough.

            With all that was going on in Europe, he did not have a chance to return again until 1875, this time following ruins that were younger than him by at least a millennia. Some settlers had taken interest in the ancient cultures, and provided him with maps. He searched for two years, and was ready to give up when he stopped at a new town, all wood structures and cattle herders, to dine. As he made a meal on the sheriff, he sensed it: a presence.

            To be fair, it was not so much a presence as the echoes of one, forever bouncing off walls that he could never hear. He wandered until he found the spot, some distance off the main road out of town, now completely surrounded by desert. The land was flat and unforgiving. Either the tremendous buildings he remembered were torn down at some point or were completely covered by dust, but that was the spot.

            He did not succeed in deluding himself into believing that any part of his master was alive. The entire body burned, and turned to ash, and villagers were afraid to tamper with the ashes and simply covered over the bonfire, creating a mount. But he felt something, like looking at a faded picture or chasing a shadow in the corner of his eyes.

            Something was better than nothing.

            Aristotle was in Europe until WWII, but after that he returned, if he was able , to that spot every year, on his estimate of the date based on the changing of the seasons. It was only an estimate, and probably a bad one at that, but he stuck to it. For one day, he would come as close as he could to the remaining emanations of his master, something both fire and time could not destroy. It was cathartic and painful at the same time, but not just painful because he grieved, but because he so dearly hated him, and the hold he still had on him.

            Qum’ra had not been kind. Qum’ra had not respected him, did not show concern for his pain, and often looked eager to toss him aside and destroy him. He was not, Aristotle only understood when the bond was cut, doing it all out of love, as Lucius did for his children. By the end there might have been some affection, but Aristotle was an experiment to Qum’ra, to see if the greatest mortal philosopher could withstand the demeaning, animalistic vampire inside him. And yet, Qum’ra wanted him to survive. He did not give up, not in their hundred years together, neither in his quest to break him or his efforts to resuscitate him when his fledgling was so close to a Final Death. Qum’ra was nothing if not persistent.

            The most irritating thing was that even after 2200 years to gain perspective, Aristotle still unabashedly loved him. He would still die for him. He wanted, if for one day, just to be with the wafting tremors of a presence of him. Aristotle admitted it because though he may have disagreed with Socrates’ philosophies, ‘Know Thyself’ was one he did not contest. Qum’ra was not the only father he’d ever known, but the only one who ever mattered. He paid an aching tribute to his grave and poured Greek libations over the spot, now room 6 of a Holiday Inn.

            He slept very little that day. He had more than usual to think about. Alex was growing by leaps and bounds, but there were challenges ahead he was still afraid of. He knew Qum’ra’s answer to all of them, but couldn’t imagine locking Alex away for years or decades, leaving him beaten, raped, then drained so he couldn’t heal. It defeated the madness in their bloodline, but it could also defeat Alex. He could not accept Alex’s hatred, as LaCroix did with Nicholas. He loved him too much.

            Was that Qum’ra’s strategy? To distance himself from a possible failure? Qum’ra was an Old One, claiming to be third generation (from what, it wasn’t clear), and he’d brought countless fledglings over, and so few had survived. Aristotle could count the ones he met or was told about by someone other than Qum’ra on one hand, and none of them (to his knowledge) were alive today. And he was the weak one, the runt of the litter so-to-speak, whom his older siblings openly mocked. He was not supposed to survive. He was not supposed to be Qum’ra’s legacy, the last of an ancient bloodline.

            And here he was.

            He laid on the carpet, which was as close as he could get to the ashes. Aristotle actually had no desire to dig them up, and always kept a real estate monitor on the hotel in case anyone tried to buy it. So far the existing buildings on the site didn’t go deep enough to find things dating back to before Caesar, but if the place was going to be bought by some developer who might, he planned to outbid them. If needed, he could manufacture a dozen reasons on the spot. Eventually it might come to that, but so far it hadn’t, and for twenty-four hours, he was at peace with his master. “Peace” was an awkward word to use, as the memories that would inevitably surface after a few hours would be troubling, but he paid his respects and it made him feel a bit more whole.

            This year was different, but not entirely. His thoughts often strayed to Alex, and he opened the link to check that he was okay and not panicking too much about being so far away from his master. Like Qum’ra had done, Aristotle kept him on a tight leash through the mind-link he so carefully nurtured, something modern vampires wouldn’t know about or begin to understand. Through the link he could make Alex a powerful vampire, resilient for the centuries that awaited him. It also made the fledgling dependent on him, but he never regretted his decision in that area. In fact, aside from the occasional check, he kept the link as closed as possible, almost as if he didn’t want Qum’ra’s evil to taint Alex in any possible way. He would take no chances.

            The next night, precisely twenty-four hours after he poured the libation wine, he opened the sliding door and poured it out into the soil – not the topsoil they imported for landscaping purposes, but the natural earth of the desert further down the way. He prayed again, as he had as a mortal, to gods he otherwise did not call upon, to protect him and honor his master.

            It was too late to leave the hotel. He could not get a night-flight this late. That was why he stayed three days, and would leave at dusk the following evening. Tired despite not having moved much in the last day and having plenty of blood around, he dialed Alex.

            “Hey, Ari,” Alex said. Aristotle smiled; he knew his fledgling was trying not to sound overly excited, but it still came through.

            “Waiting for my call, were you?”

            “It was a good guess. I don’t have much of a social life.” And Alex had caller ID. “How are you?”

            “Finished. My plane is arriving at about midnight tomorrow, assuming it arrives on time. You have all the information for the limo?”

            “Yes, Master.”

            “And I really need to give you driving lessons.”

            “Yes, Master.” Alex’s tone was a bit mocking when he said it. “And I do know how to drive.”

            “You haven’t been behind the wheel in how long?”

            “Six, seven years. Okay, eight. And we have to make me a valid license.” His old one had his old name and was expired anyway. After earning his license, he didn’t drive much, being in college and without a car. “But my senses are heightened.”

            “But you still have to work those doohickeys you always see me operating. You know, the accelerator, the brakes, the wheel...”

            He could sense Alex roll his eyes. “Yes, Master.”

            “Any calls?”

            “For you? Let me check ... Eight on the main machine, two on the semi-emergency line. None of the emergency line.”

            “Good. For you?”

            “Dr. Lambert called. He owned up to doing it as a favor to you, but only because I asked. He is kind of interesting to talk to.”

            “Nick is interesting. The Community doesn’t give him enough credit. He used to be in a perpetual bad mood, but marriage has done wonders for him. As for my EverQuest account, I’m charging you in gold for XP loss on my healer.”

            “I don’t have that much gold! And he only died twice. They were honorable deaths. I salute them. How about I just pay for the new cement barrier in the yard instead?”

            “What did you do to the old one?”

            “Toppled it with the board, and it smashed on a rock. What kind of shoddy cement barrier gets toppled?”

            Aristotle let him buy various things to make the driveway more interesting a skateboard park, provided it was with his own money. And Alex had plenty of it. “You’re stronger than you think you are.”

            “Yeah, I also broke the board.”

            “It wasn’t made for vampires.” He looked at the clock. The sun would be up soon, here and a few minutes later in Lake Tahoe. “Did you get the mail in?”

            “Yes. Archaeology magazine came. Pompeii is on the cover. Don’t we know someone who lived in Pompeii?”

            “LaCroix. He’s very sensitive about it. I wouldn’t mention it to him yourself, but I’ll probably get a good laugh out of forwarding it on and annoying him.”

            “Is it because it was destroyed?”

            “It’s because he was there the night of the eruption. His master turned him to save his life. Everyone else he knew died.”

            “Wow.”

            “He refuses to be sentimental about it. Instead he’s just snippy. He was very upset when it was unearthed. Some things are best left untouched.”

            “Do you feel that way?”

            “Not about Pompeii.” He turned on his computer, but didn’t get off the phone. Alex’s excitement was pulsing across the link. “About other things, yes.”

            “Like your master’s grave?” Alex was a bit less irreverent and bit more cautious when he said this.

            “Yes. Like my master’s grave. I’ve been lucky so far. The culture was pre-Pueblo so they have no idea yet how advanced the civilization in this area was, or they would be digging up every empty field. That and Americans are very polite about how little they care about Indians.”

            “You’re supposed to call them Native Americans.”

            “They’re not native. They came across the Bering Strait, just earlier than I did. The name is only barely less arbitrary than Indian and a word longer. But yes, I am politically correct to people who are not vampires. And some vampires.”

            “Are there Native American vampires?”

            “Yes, but the overwhelming majority are known to be turned by European vampires. There’s one conquistador who says he was turned by an Incan priestess, but she walked into the sun the next morning, so no one knows the story with her.”

            “Pre-Columbian Mexico did have a lot of bloodletting rituals and blood-drinking gods.”

            “They did. A notable amount. But the Council is slow to authorize research. They’re very Old World in their mindset. Most of them have never left the hemisphere or been south of Egypt.”

            “Afraid of unearthing something bigger and more terrible than them?”

            Aristotle smiled. Alex really was very observant, probably too much for his own good. Like his master. “Yes, precisely. And there’s another thing to never say in a mixed crowd.”

            “Yes, Master.”

            “And please don’t say that in such a patronizing tone.”

            “Yes, Master.”

            “I’m locking your skateboard up for a week, just for that.”

            “It’s already broken.”

            “Your other one.”

            “Also broken.”

            “I’m going to buy you a new skateboard and then lock it up for a week.”

            “Fine, okay, I’m sorry.”

            It was so impossible to stay mad at him. “I told you that you could put your eye out with those things.”

            “I would have to have been doing something really impressive to put my eye out with a skateboard.”

            “I suppose that’s true.”

            “My eye would grow back, right?”

            “As long as your head wasn’t completely severed from your spine, yes.”

            “That sounds painful.”

            “I don’t think it would be, because you would be dead. Having if halfway severed, or bashed in, now that’s painful.”

            “Speaking from experience?”

            “Unfortunately. My master – who didn’t do it – found me with my face sort of ... well, a boulder was involved, and I never got a good look myself. He hypnotized me into unconsciousness while I regenerated. One of the kindest things he ever did for me.”

            “Did you get the plate number of the guy who did it?”

            “Jealous sibling.” They were too numerous for his liking. While he wasn’t eager too talk about it, Alex wanted to hear his voice, and his protégé would get it out of him eventually. “The older siblings I did meet felt I was weak and were jealous of the attention Qum’ra was giving me. They made their feelings known.”

            “Did he say anything about it?”

            “He said he wasn’t happy with him – my brother, that is – but left it at that. I know he lived, but I never saw him again.”

            “Can vampires form families without violence?”

            “Not easily, though humans set a pretty good example for that. We’re just more animalistic in our emotional responses, because of the vampire, so a fight turns into a brawl. Or that’s my theory. Some people like to argue with my philosophies.”

            “I hear you can make a good living off of arguing with Aristotle’s philosophy.”

            “Smart ass.” He drew the curtains. “Do you need anything?”

            “No, Dad.”

            He smiled. “I’ll call you in the evening. Good night.”

            Alex’s voice was considerably calmer by the end of the conversation. “Good night. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            He would be home tomorrow. Now there was a comforting thought.

                        ************************************************

            Alex was waiting for him at the airport before security, having hypnotized the guards to let him in. “Hi.”

            “You can get yourself into a real mess in places like airports,” Aristotle said. “Cameras and all.” He let Alex embrace him, not a particularly dignified move for either of them, but for a moment, he didn’t care. “I take it you behaved yourself.”

            “You haven’t seen the house yet, so assume away.”

            It wasn’t a large airport, and it was fairly late at night for mortals, so there weren’t a lot of people around, though more people than Alex was used to when he was in such a jumpy state. Aristotle thought he handled it well as they waited for his bag.

            “How was New Mexico?”

            “The exactly the same as I left it, thank goodness. I don’t know what I would do if they built something there that was any less convenient.” Alex was the only vampire he’d ever told anything of his yearly pilgrimage. Alex was the only one who deserved to know. “What did I miss?”

            “Well, the entire world didn’t fall apart without you.”

            “Try to sound more disappointed when you say that.”

            Alex grinned.

            Alex had a point about driving; he needed to make a license and practice his driving. In Aristotle’s opinion from the one time he tried it, skateboarding was far more difficult. He just wanted to get home. Something for another night.

            “You like driving.”

            “I do. A lot of us were reluctant to give up the horse, but I wasn’t. Hard on the back. On the other hand, if you got really lost, you could eat them.”

            “That sounds like it would taste terrible.”

            “You would have to be pretty lost. Then you would do it.”

            Alex sat back, content in his faith in modern technology. Even living out in the woods, he was so sheltered from it. Kids these days.

            The house was not a mess, though the concrete barrier outside was somehow lying in the flowerbed. He listened to messages on the machine, and decided none of them couldn’t wait until sunup or later. He showered, changed, and shaved, feeling more himself than he had been in weeks, lost in the anticipation of the journey and leaving Alex. He emerged to find his fledgling watching a downloaded movie while his other computer was compiling. “Hey. I’m finishing Sifl and Olly.”

            “What’s that?”

            “A program I watched in high school. I just got all of it from a torrent.” He minimized that screen and checked his other monitors. “Everything else should just run until tomorrow night. You can just leave it unless something starts smoking.”

            Alex wouldn’t ask him, so Aristotle just silently bit his wrist and offered. Alex was beyond infancy enough to not need his master’s blood, but this was their first separation, and he wanted it as much as Alex did. He was beginning to understand LaCroix’s obsession with Nick, if this was what they once shared. What had his own master felt?

            It was very late and Alex, after feeding slowly for a long time, was tired. But he didn’t want to go to bed, not just yet. “What was it like?”

            “I’ve been alive for 2300 years. You’re going to have to be more specific.”

            “I mean, what do you feel when you go to visit him?"

            “I can’t describe it.” Nor did he really want to express how miserable his master’s death made him for so long, not to Alex. But he had to admit something. It was deserved. “I can very briefly feel something again, like his shadow is there even though the person is gone. But you can’t spend your whole life chasing shadows.”

            “You say you hate him – “

            “I said hate was a very strong word.”

            “ – but you miss him. The people I talk to don’t talk that way about their living masters.” Alex frowned, as the wheels in his head moved very slowly, his body lost in the ecstasy of Aristotle’s blood and the fear of the rising son. “Except Nick, sort of. Because LaCroix raised Nick the old way, you said.”

            “LaCroix was never taught properly, but he was a skilled observer. Yes, LaCroix raised both Janette and Nick the old way. The bond makes them stronger, but they will never be free of each other, no matter how much one side may wish it. It’s a lesson Nick has never really been interested in learning.”

            “In the old days, were all vampires like that? Did everyone feel this way?”

            “Yes and no.” He wished he was older, and had a real answer for Alex, but the truth was he was brought across at the end of the era of great vampires and great vampire kingdoms. “I met people with all different types of links to their masters. There was a king who brought thousands across to be his slaves. Obviously they had very little daily dependence on him, but they were absolutely obedient. How he fashioned them that way, I don’t know. Our line can’t do that. Our failure rate is too high and I don’t know the method.” He could see his son was fading, but he kept talking anyway. “They say – or they used to – that all of the ancient bloodlines had special powers, that could not easily be taught to other vampires, only their descendents. Very few of them can be identified today, and those who know are very eager to make sure others don’t.”

            “Why?”

            “Because the Council was formed by people who didn’t want that kind of aristocratic world,” he said. “Yes, how the tide has turned, but this is nothing compared to 2000 years ago. But that’s a story for another time.” He let Alex rest his head on his shoulder. “Sleep.” The link went quiet, not stirring as he carried Alex up the stairs and put him in bed.

            Feeling more complete than he ever did in that hotel room, Aristotle returned to his study, and went to work.


Chapter 2

            It could no longer be put off. There were just too many reasons to call Feliks. The silence would not endure.

            “Aristotle! My goodness, please say you’re back.”

            “Is that how you greet me? With a demand?”

            There was shuffling in the background. Stacks of papers, no doubt, and it sounded like the printer was running. “I decided to be honest. If you plan on meeting with our esteemed colleague Mr. Merlin, I suggest you bring a stake. For protection.”

            “I put five people on my job!”

            “And they’re all deflecting to Larry and me. And you knew they would! Drive a vampire insane, why don’t you?”

            “I’m allowed to take a vacation once every hundred years.”

            “If only I didn’t have to suffer for it.” But Feliks was good-humored, as always. Aristotle had liked him from the start for that reason. “So you’re not making a work call, I assume?”

            “I’m willing to think about checking my email, but no promises.” He did have his computer screens on, but wasn’t answering anything yet. “I really am very ... consumed.”

            “Yes, well, I’m told children can be that way. I can only recommend plants.” He was definitely snipping. “Thank you for the bonsai, by the way. I’d forgotten how much work they were. It is very pleasantly distracting.”

            “I’m glad I can provide so many distractions for you.” He glanced out the window, the high one that was directed to only shine light onto the upper wall, to remind him if it was day or night if he actually wanted to look without fear. It was still light out. He checked the link; after several nights of disturbing dreams, Alex was sleeping peacefully. “I have a question for you.”

            “I am not a fountain of knowledge on any subject in comparison to yourself, but you may ask anyway.”

            He squirmed. He had Feliks on the line, and Feliks would understand. That didn’t make it any less embarrassing. “When was your first time with your master?”

            “What? Hmm. How should I describe it? It was a magic night, of course. The stars of Madras seemed to be burning especially bright – “

            “That’s not what I meant.”

            “Do you require a physical description?” He chuckled. “I don’t think you do.”

            Aristotle rolled his eyes. “You know why I’m asking.”

            “Then I can’t be much help in that regard. It was a mystical night, one I’ll never forget, and it had the misfortune – for you, anyway – of being a full three months before I was brought across.”

            This, he did not know. Yes, he had drunk Feliks’s blood, even intimately, but that did not mean he went probing mortal memories. It was very discourteous. “Really.”

            “Yes, really. What the hell do you think I was doing in the foreign service, anyway? Seeking to strengthen British ties with the Raj? My patriotism does not extend so far now and it didn’t when I was an officer. Ruby mines, harems, and adorable chocolate-skinned natives drove the English to India. A subject of many historians’ dissertations, I’m sure.”

            He laughed. “I can’t say it’s all that surprising.”

            “Of course it’s not. Anyway, Hajji had the gall to hypnotize me into thinking blood-letting was some Mughal sodomite ritual. I called him on it after he turned me. I was so anemic by the end of it that it’s a wonder I was still being declared fit for duty. We must have been in a tighter spot that I imagined. All the makings of a good officer, clearly.”

            “Clearly.”

            “So there you have it. I’m not sure that there’s anything else to tell that would aid you, my being the exception to the general rule of course.”

            Aristotle was sure a good percentage of the vampire population was the result of fledglings seduced by their masters, who had to turn them when they nearly killed them during a casual sexual encounter. Feliks was unusual for his own reasons, at least for his time. “I guess I just needed to talk to someone.”

            “Children these days. So much posturing about their sexuality. Though I don’t know why I’m imagining that to be any different from most of history. You just have the distinct pleasure of coming from a permissive society.”

            “Greece was not all it’s made out to be in queer literature,” he said. “I’ve probably lectured you on that before. It’s just escaping me now.”

            “I do not read queer literature, but yes, you’ve mentioned it. The point is that young Master Alexander doesn’t come from Athens. He comes from a culture where ‘fag’ is a word in everyday vocabulary as a form of masculine posturing without a clue as to the origin of its meaning, however appropriate that origin may be.”

            Feliks did have a gift for speech. He could have gone far in Athens. “Yes.”

            “Again, I’m not an expert on the subject of raising a child, but I am familiar with the shedding of societal mores, however long ago that may have been – a blink of an eye to you, yes, but still quite clear to me. I take it your master was not a shining example of guiding behavior.”

            Rape, liking being beaten or drained, was just another tool of Qum’ra’s endless quest to prove that he owned him. “No. He was not.”

            “You’ve come this far. You really like this one, don’t you?”

            “He has potential. A lot of potential.” And Feliks wouldn’t understand how much work was going into it. Feliks was young, and his master had given him a more standard, modern vampire education. He did not cultivate a blood link, he did not teach him ancient secrets of their lineage. Hajji probably didn’t know any. And the blood always made everything complicated.

            “Then take some initiative. You’re a vampire. Seduce.” He was still snipping at the bonsai tree in the background of the call. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with you.”

            “It is surreal.”

            “Of all people.”

            “I am not an almighty fountain of wisdom. Very close, yes, but not almighty.” The link stirred. “I have to go. He’s waking up.”

            “If you want, I can send you some scented candles.”

            “Good night, Feliks.”

            “Good evening, Aristotle. Do call again sometime.”

                        ************************************************

            When Alex first heard that Stateline was an actual town in Nevada, he couldn’t believe it. Very soon after their move to Lake Tahoe, he saw it for himself, it being the largest major city to Aristotle’s compound. No vampires lived there, though an occasional one made a stop to see Aristotle when something couldn’t be handled over the phone (which Aristotle was exceptionally talented at doing) or couldn’t wait until he made one of his trips to a larger city.

            Aristotle took the opportunity to teach Alex how to drive, his license still warm from the laminating machine. “Watch for the – okay, that was good, but not great.” Aristotle rolled down the window and pulled the branch off the windshield. “If you break it, you bought it. And you’re hauling it to town.”

            “I think the second thing is actually worse. Hey, what’s the speed limit here?”

            “I’ll tell you when you get back on the right side of the road. A car accident would be very annoying, by the way. For legal reasons. And I suppose we could get pinned under something for awhile.”

            “I can understand why you like this.”

            “You are way too excited about this. Light!”

            Alex slammed on the breaks. Had he not been a vampire, Aristotle would have gone into the windshield. “I think you may have picked up my bad habits.”

            “I can’t help it if you don’t set a good example.”

            “I set a more careful example,” he said, and held onto the handlebar.

            They switched places for the city itself, for time purposes. There were the usual places to hit Staples, the art mega-store, and Circuit City, if only to gape at things and then try to resist buying them.

            “Do you think everything in the future will have a USB port?”

            “One can only hope.”

            “I read they have electric toothbrushes in Japan that are powered by USB cords.”

            “Awesome.” But Alex’s head soon turned by the attractive sales clerk. Her nametag said JENNIFER, though Alex was not particularly concerned with that. The vampire surged. She was more than a meal to him.

            Aristotle always monitoring him around humans, touched his shoulder. “Alex.”

            “I know.” Alex closed his eyes and stepped back behind the flat screens. “I know.” He was unintentionally projecting his thoughts, with the link currently so strong between them that Aristotle couldn’t help but listen to all of the things Alex was contemplating doing to her.

            He couldn’t, of course. He would kill her before he could go through with anything else. He would need a lot more control before his term of celibacy would be broken, at least with mortals. As for vampires ... that was another matter entirely. Aristotle wouldn’t allow anyone else to drink from his son, not for the first year at least, and it was starting to wear on the feral animal in Alex. Aristotle sighed, knowing where this would lead. Why couldn’t he take the initiative? Since meeting Alex in class, Aristotle was for the first time in centuries unsure of his course.

            “I’m okay,” Alex announced. He opened his eyes, and they were blue, not gold. But he was barely holding on. “If you’re not gonna let me, can we check out?”

            They needed new headphones. That was the issue. “Sure.”

            Alex was calmer in the car, which only smelled of them and the inks, glue, and paper for the business. It was astounding how many ordinary stores carried crucial supplies to faking documents, if one was creative about it. “I want to go somewhere.”

            Aristotle already knew he meant somewhere other than Lake Tahoe; somewhere with other vampires he could talk to without thinking constantly of consuming them. “After the Solstice.”

            “Can we at least do something during it?”

            “That’s kind of the point of it. Your ability to do things.” His current plans were to get very drunk and catch up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. He could get them invited somewhere, but he couldn’t rely on his own behavior, much less Alex’s. The last time he attended a Solstice party, he couldn’t look four different vampires in the eye for months. “After the Solstice, we’ll go to Reno.”

            “Vegas.”

            “We’re not haggling.” Vegas was a major vampire city, and the Elder was better at cleaning up messes than he was at preventing them. It was not a place for infant fledglings. Reno had a few vampires, mostly Vegas rejects, and usually transients. More would come in if he announced he was coming to town, but that wouldn’t make it a pleasure trip, and make monitoring Alex more difficult.

Maybe it was time to let him off the leash a little. No one would touch Aristotle’s fledgling, so the only harm that could come to him was something he brought on himself, and Aristotle could rescue him from almost anything, provided Alex didn’t go swimming in nitroglycerine while smoking a cigarette. “Reno has vampires. And gambling.”

            “That reminds me. I have to learn to count cards.” And Alex, the former Math Theory major at Yale, was perfectly capable of doing it.

            “Only do it for fun. Not to make money. Then you’ll get caught.”

            “What are they going to do? Break my kneecaps? How do you think I toppled the barrier on the lawn?”

            Aristotle laughed.

            They had one more errand, the most despicable of them, but it was better than having a guest in their home. Peter Lazarus was waiting in the all-night coffee shop, with his requisite untouched coffee in front of him as Aristotle slid into the booth and opened his laptop. “Thanks for meeting me here. This is Alex. He’s acting as my assistant.”

            Peter nodded nervously to Alex. “Thanks for not telling anyone. There are some people looking for me.”

            “So I hear,” was all Aristotle said to that. Peter’s latest disaster was creating two fledglings out of sorority girls during a drunken romp in Pittsburgh, then abandoning them to the care of the city Elder. “Any ideas as to where you want to go?”

            “I need to disappear completely. From the Community.” He reached into the pockets of his coat and removed an envelope. Alex looked in it – gold jewelry and watches, not worth what Aristotle was doing but at least an acknowledgment of his work. Aristotle didn’t charge people beyond their means.

            “Do you like ice fishing? I have something on the Siberian coast. You can get a few days a year of good fishing.”

            “Not that completely.”

            “Completely is completely. I can relocate you, but if someone’s hunting you, there’s not much I can do about that but put you in the middle of nowhere.”

            “I can’t spend eternity in the middle of nowhere. How long is Rhea going to stay pissed at me?”

            “I hear this is more about the sorority girls than Rhea.”

            “They were really in a sorority? I thought they were just saying that as a turn-on.”

            Aristotle glared at him. It didn’t hurt to be a little judgmental.

            “Fine. What about South America? That’s far, and I speak some Spanish.”

            “There’s a Community in Buenos Aires you’ll have to steer clear of, and maybe a few of us in Santiago.” His real estate sorting program was designed to work nearly as fast as his own vampire reflexes. “Small town. Coastal.”

            “Sounds nice.”

            “It’s not a beach resort. Too far south. In fact, it’s a shipping town, but that means you can get wine brought in. Also, the locals are very superstitious, so I’m not responsible for what happens if you’re not on your best behavior.” He had a very devious smile.

            Peter’s relief was obvious. “When can I go?”

            “Where are you staying?”

            “Here? I don’t have plans.”

            “Take the Resort Inn, under the name Peter Green. There'll be a courier package for you tomorrow with all of the relevant documents and the instructions for picking up a car. Pick one with a lot of trunk space and drive to Mexico City. From there, you can get a flight to Santiago. The package will include information on where to get a rental car there. Go straight to the town. Don’t linger anywhere. You’re an American author with writer’s block, trying to get some space from your last novel, which was panned by critics as unreadable. And no, you don’t get to choose the name on the passport.” He closed the laptop. “Ask the waitress for directions to the hotel. And don’t call me collect from abroad. You’ll just get the machine.”

            “I don’t know how to thank you.”

            He was completely professional. “Behave yourself.”

            Peter’s impish grin did nothing to relieve Aristotle’s worries, though to be honest, they were limited. He was used to this sort of behavior. They returned to the car, leaving Peter to his fate.

            “Why is he on the run?”

            “Fledglings in Pittsburgh. Made them by accident and skipped town. I made identities for them, but I wouldn’t put money on how long they’ll survive as vampires, though people tend to surprise me.”

            Alex emptied the envelope. “Do you want a watch?”

            “Ugh. Gold. Too ostentatious. No, we’ll melt them down, add them to the pile. The price of raw gold is going to go up again in a few years. It cycles that way. You can keep one, if you want.”

            “No, you’re right about the gold. And the necklace is pretty terrible, too.” Alex did not bother to ask why they were helping Peter. Aristotle’s business was founded on the principle that he helped without preconditions, turning people away only if he was truly unable to help them (rare) or they disobeyed his rules (even rarer). There were no exceptions. He did say, “It was sort of irresponsible of him.”

            “Yes. Very irresponsible. A lot of masters are like that. It’s so easy to bring someone across for some people. You bite them, some of your digestive system’s blood makes it into their wounds, and they turn because you forgot to finish them off or didn’t want to. But I don’t think Peter could guide those girls, even if he stuck around. Rhea is much more responsible and talented. If I had to choose, I would choose her.”

            Through the link, Alex was contemplating life without a master, and not positively. He didn’t speak, so Aristotle didn’t answer, and they returned to the house in silence.

                        ************************************************

            The following night, Alex woke in a lousy mood and tried to stave it off by warming his blood before drinking it, something he usually didn’t take the time to do before downing it straight from the bottle, but it was unsatisfying. Not completely tasteless, but it wasn’t alive. The flashes of memory from the blood were dim and uninteresting. He tried not to let his mood show to Aristotle at least visibly, and fortunately his master was caught up in a very long and complicated call to a customs officer in Brazil and Alex didn’t speak Portuguese. Maybe he was too caught up in it to notice. Maybe he would just let it slide. Either way, seeing Aristotle involved in something other than their link was a relief.

            If vampires were like humans, he was fairly sure his had hit puberty, or at least was strong enough for new demands, and it was frustrating in a way he could not easily express – or express at all – to Ari. He didn’t want to just bite – he wanted to fuck. Desperately.

            In life he had had only a few girlfriends, all brief but one, and even that one didn’t last six months. In high school he was a nerd surrounded by similarly-obsessed nerds, all focused on their academic careers and who could get into the most IVY schools. College wasn’t much better, though a few drinks and the relaxed dormitory atmosphere helped him overcome his shyness on enough occasions that he did not leave college a virgin. That said, he wasn’t a maniac. His life was carefully balanced between schoolwork and internet pornography. A normal, healthy young man, until chemotherapy killed his sex drive entirely. If anything, it just helped him focus on his studies. Every time he started to recover, he started dying again, and hospital antiseptics were a pretty effective mood-killer.

            Now he was healthy – more than healthy, aside from the room-temperature skin and the heart that only beat once every ten minutes. Not only was he healthy, but he had a monster living inside him, demanding human blood fresh from the source, thrilling in the chase and the kill, and stifling the part of him that was moral and human.

            And Ari wouldn’t let him have sex.

            The way he understood it, from awkward conversations he finally had with his master, vampire sex involved a lot of violence and biting on both sides. Since Ari refused to let anyone else feed Alex, that limited his feeding choices to humans, bottles, and Ari. He couldn’t bring himself to make conversation with a woman before he killed her and drained her blood, much less seduce her and have sex with her. That left the unfeeling bottle, and the person he constantly drank from and always wanted more. It would all be cool if that person would stop showing up in his dreams, but he didn’t.

            This was not very cool.

            Aristotle was still on the phone, and his conversation sounded complicated. Alex poured himself a mug of blood wine and retreated to the bathroom for another fruitless, painful session. He even bit himself, but his blood had less flavor to him than the bottled stuff. It was like drinking water when he wasn’t thirsty. He growled when the door opened. “Go away!”

            “I’m not looking,” Ari said. “Eyes closed.”

            “Dude, get out!”

            “I’m not looking,” Ari repeated, but didn’t retreat, leaning on the handle. His eyes were closed. “Look, just stop it. You can’t get off without biting someone else. Right now you’re just injuring yourself. Just so you know.” He shut the door, leaving Alex to his misery.

            “Jesus fucking Christ.” Alex finished his drink and sulked, too embarrassed to show his face to ‘Dad.’ When he felt he could avoid it no longer, he tried slipping past the office to his computer station, only to feel something bump into his shoe. It was the new radio-controlled truck Ari purchased yesterday, and it circled around him.

            “Had to get your attention somehow,” Ari said. He was sitting on the couch behind him, his feet up on the coffee table. “Look, I know this is hard for you, so I’ll make it brief. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The vampire in you is an animal that doesn’t know sexual category, just blood. Gender doesn’t matter, though most of us just naturally have a preference. Sex is just a natural conclusion to the emotional connection brought on by sharing blood, and you’ve had a lot of mine. I’m not going to say that every vampire has had sex with their master. I’m just going to say I don’t know a lot who haven’t, excluding the masters who abandoned them or walked into the sun the next day or something like that. So yes, I know all about your dreams. You’re kind of projecting them.” He smiled, and maneuvered the car so it was tapping against Alex’s toes. “Either it happens or it doesn’t. Your call.”

            There was no way he could stand still. “Uhm, okay.”

            “Okay.”

            He had to get out of there. Of course, not before opening his stupid mouth. “Did you ever ...?”

            Ari turned the truck around and drove it back around the couch. “Consensually? A few times. I don’t think he was that into me.”

            Nothing could have made him get out of there faster. Ari didn’t chase. Alex suspected he was still smiling.

                        ************************************************

            Half an hour later, Alex was sitting at the diner, his muddy skateboard propped against the next stool and his hands face-down on the linoleum with the untouched coffee steaming between them. The television in the corner was of more interest to the fry cook than him, though he could hear it perfectly well from where he sat, even if any other potential diners couldn’t. He wished he could smoke. That would just complete the picture of his misery.

            “Don’t like your coffee?”

            He looked up at the waitress. She couldn’t be more stereotypical, and the throbbing vein in her neck couldn’t be more appealing. “It’s a bottomless cup, right? Then I’m saving the place money by not drinking it.” For good measure, he brought the saucer to his lips, but even the flavor that touched his lips was disgusting.

            “Where’s your dad?”

            Just what he didn’t want Ari to be called tonight. “He’s not my dad.”

            “He acts like he is.”

            “I know.” And he was good at it. Ari was good at being his friend, good at being his dad, and good at being his master. What he wasn’t good at was being someone who Alex could forget about for a few hours. “He’s like a dad. Sort of.” He just didn’t want to be near him right now. He wanted space. He wanted the waitress’s blood. Hell, he would settle for the fry cook’s. But he didn’t want to kill either of them. It wasn’t in him. “Have a nice night.” He left the cost of the coffee and more than a healthy tip on the counter. From the diner he began the skate home, and was just pass the movie theater when his phone rang. He was surprised to find it was not Ari’s name on the screen. “Hey, Amanda.”

            “Hey! Did you get my email? I finally got a computer.” Amanda was deceptively young. She was only thirty in vampire years, which was old enough to be reluctant to join the computer age but young enough to still want to keep up with mortals. “Or I finally got it working. Actually, okay, Jimmy helped me. He uses his for his music mixing project. Have you heard it?”

            “It’s pretty good, actually.” Chris was a decent bass player, but he was better conceptually. “But he is a Mac Fag, so I have to hold something against him.”

            “And the difference is?”

            “Artists are always Mac Fags, so they design a lot of software for them. But a PC, you can do more with that’s not pre-programmed. In other words, the kind of stuff I do.” He stopped and sat down on the sidewalk. “And no, I haven’t been home in a few hours, if that’s when you sent it.”

            “I just did it. Janette got Ethernet with the renovations so that part was easy.”

            “How did those go?” He still felt a little bad about ruining Janette’s club by setting off the fire alarm and the sprinklers, then getting into a fight with the Chief Enforcer that ended with his body putting a hole through the dance floor.

            “She loves redecorating. And there’s a whole Neo-Gothic thing going on, but it’s very subtle. Tasteful. I like it. How are you?”

            “Okay.”

            “Busy?”

            “Actually, I’m kinda blowing off work. Just needed to get out.”

            “Well, you’re there all alone, aren’t you? Or do you have clients? Or you can’t talk about it.”

            “Most of them don’t come here. He goes to them. The house is in the middle of nowhere.”

            “Vampires are definitely city creatures. I think it’s the illumination all night, makes it easier for us to get through it. So what’s up?”

            He looked down between his feet at the cement. “Can I ask you a question that you totally do not have to answer but will totally not ask me why I asked you or bug me about it?”

            “Um, yes?”

            “Have you ever had sex with your master?”

            She had no hesitation in answering. “That’s how I met him. Besides, everyone’s had sex with their master, unless he was a douche who ran off.”

            “Even if you had a girl master?”

            “Well, I don’t, but I know people who do, and yes. And whatever filthy thoughts just entered your head, get rid of them. My master is a guy.”

            “I was totally not thinking – “

            “You don’t have to lie.”

            “I wasn’t. You’re the one who keeps bringing it up.”

            “Is it weird because your master is a guy? And he’s Aristotle?”

            “That’s not what I’m talking about!”

            “Then what are we talking about? Me and some guy you’ve never met who is avoiding me because the nightclub thing was probably his fault and I might call him on it if he comes back to the States?”

            He was tempted to hang up, his only method of running from the conversation, but he liked Amanda. He really did. “Maybe I am.”

            “Look, Alex, vampires have a whole different set of rules. And they keep changing them, which really doesn’t help. Let your instincts guide you.”

            “I have the instincts of a serial killer.”

            “Your other instincts. My master has said a lot of stupid stuff, but he also says, ‘Eternity is useless if you’re going to spend it miserable.’”

            “I guess. I need to get out of Tahoe.”

            “Sounds like it.”

            “We’re going to Reno, sometime after the Solstice.”

            “You’re really close to Vegas, aren’t you?”

            “He says I’m not old enough for Vegas.”

            “He may have a point there.”

            “Hey!”

            “Sorry,” Amanda laughed, “but Vegas is crazy. I was there for three days and that was enough. A lot of older vampires – older for the States, which isn’t very old – go there to do the things they can’t get away with in other cities.”

            “So, basically the same as everyone else in Vegas.”

            “Yeah, except less magic shows and more dead hookers. Okay, slightly more dead hookers. I don’t know how many hooker deaths are not vampire-related there. I bet, more than average.”

            “I bet.”

            “So chill, okay? You have the rest of existence to freak out about something or other. Don’t start now.”

            “Thanks.” He stood. “I mean it. And I have to get back. Work to do before sunrise.”

            “Check your email!”

            “I’ll hit you back.” She was way too excited about it. “Good night.”

            “’night.”

            Relieved, Alex rode until he was back on the road, out of sight of mortals. Then he flew.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle did not bring up the subject again, and neither did Alex. While it was not the farthest thing from his mind, he was able to throw himself back into his work, as the airplane-tracking program started to come together without hacking NORAD like he thought he might have to. He was increasingly edgy the next day, before the Solstice. His master said it was the power of the light on the vampire.

            “Do you know why we’re like this?”

            “I’m sure there’s a perfectly natural explanation for the vampire’s allergy to sunlight, but the Council keeps shutting down any research. As for legends, there’s a lot of different variations on the whole ‘cursed’ theme. The most popular one when I was a fledgling was about how the sun, representing Ra, the sun god of the Egyptians, was holy and looked at us with anger and spite.”

            “Why did the Council forbid research?”

            Aristotle raised an eyebrow. “They lack your scientific curiosity. And mine.” He wheeled his chair to the file cabinet that usually went untouched, and opened the bottom drawer, retrieving a set of notebooks and manila folders held together with a rubber bad. “These are the notes of Dr. Lambert. They contain more on the scientific explanation behind the vampire than all of our literature combined.”

            “I thought Nick was an archaeologist.”

            “His wife. Dr. Natalie Lambert. Her maiden name – Nick took it when they had to move on.” He wheeled back and handed the files to Alex. “One of the conditions for being allowed to move on with him and raise a mortal child together was that she cease her research into a search for Nick’s ‘cure’ and give up her notes. She wasn’t very happy about it, but I suspect she had them memorized anyway. The Enforcers were going to destroy them, but I pleaded the case that they should be saved for posterity and they were gifted to me. No one else is allowed to see them. This was before you, of course.”

            There were four spiral-bound notebooks, all worn from use, and what looked like medical charts in the folders. Alex ran his finger over the “Lambert, M.D.” sticker. “That’s right, she was studying Nick.”

            “That as how they met, as I understand it. Very Code-breaking but she’s a talented researcher. And the advancement of medical technology in the last two thousand years has helped. How’s your biology?”

            “Not terrible.” He removed the rubber bands and sat down. The notebooks were detailed records in neat, feminine handwriting. Nick was never mentioned in name, just ‘the subject.’ He moved to the charts, but couldn’t make sense of them.

            “We have three extra nucleotides,” Ari said. “Vampires, that is. Or Nick does. She never tested anyone else. She thought she could eliminate the vampire by destroying the nucleotides.”

            “And it didn’t work.”

            “She tried a couple different things, all to varying but interesting degrees of failure. She only succeeded in suppressing the vampire or harming it, but not causing permanent injury. Which is good, because if she’d killed the vampire, she would have killed Nicholas. She failed to grasp that basic concept and he refused to see it because he was – and is – so desperate for the cure.”

            “You don’t think it’s possible.”

            “Not with my current understanding of biology. Her mode of attack was to shut off the vampire, but our bodies are dependent on the vampire. When we are brought across, the biological changes are so drastic as to shut down or kill any part of our systems that stand in the way of the new requirements for survival. Most of our organs don’t work, and the chemicals she introduced to Nick's system wouldn't serve to reanimate them. Nick can’t live as a mortal without a liver or a pancreas or a functioning respiratory system – all things he doesn’t have.”

            “You’re saying you believe the conversion can’t be undone. The vampire pathogen destroys too much of the human body for it to function as a human organism again, even if the vampire disappeared.”

            “Yes. That’s precisely what I’m saying and Nick refuses to believe. There is no way back that doesn’t involve a final death. Half his body is dead. The other half can’t be expected to do the entire job.”

            “But – in theory – the rest of him could be reanimated. The systems that don’t work could be still intact. The body must need them for them to regenerate when they’re destroyed. If I were to be staked in the liver, it wouldn’t kill me, but the liver would heal. It just doesn’t operate like a liver. Like an engine that’s shut off. Can it be turned back on?”

            Aristotle scratched his goatee. “Now you’re thinking like a scientist. Yes, in theory, it could be turned back on – the same way a dead corpse could be reanimated. In theory. After all, if the person died of something that left their body intact, why couldn’t they be brought easily back to life?”

            “Because they’re dead.”

            “Precisely. And we don’t live in the world of Dr. Frankenstein.”

            “Not Mary Shelley. Just Bram Stoker.”

            “Smart aleck.” He picked up one of the charts. “It really was fascinating work that she did. She also discovered a lot of new ways to kill vampires, if unintentionally. Hence the Council’s decision.”

            “Isn’t it better to know our weaknesses?”

            “Now you’re talking like a scientist and not a Councilman.” He had a twinkle in his eyes. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

            Alex spent the rest of the evening reading the notebooks and trying to make sense of the charts, though his abilities to read blood tests were limited beyond tracking white cell count and CED rates. Dr. Lambert was very meticulous to write down everything ‘the subject’ said, which seemed to not be a whole lot for a vampire going to a human to be cured. In fact, most of her early notes implied some frustration about his reluctance to speak about his condition beyond what was absolutely required for her research, and it took her a month to convince him to let her get a blood sample, and another to convince him to give her another one after she accidentally left the tube where the sun hit it and caused it to explode, ruining the sample. The subject’s emotional state was usually ‘reserved’ or ‘testy’ or just ‘frustrating the hell out of me.’ Typical guy behavior in a doctor’s office. And she was clearly emotionally involved in her patient. ‘Patient unable to produce urine or sperm samples, despite repeated requests. Explanation refused.’ He laughed. Nick wouldn’t even tell his doctor that vampires didn’t ‘go’ and wouldn’t explain the other part. It must have made for an amusing set of appointments.

            Perhaps the most interesting thing to him was the sole X-Ray she had of his jaw, clearly showing the receded canines. So his fangs didn’t shrink – they just retracted back into the gums, but were always the same length. The feeling that Alex’s teeth were growing was an illusion.

            “Can I go to the dentist?” he said as Aristotle entered his work area.

            “You know my follow-up question to that.”

            “I want X-Rays. Of my canines.” He held Nick’s up to the light. “This is awesome.”

            “We’re not supposed to leave evidence of our existence.”

            “Bigfoot leaves all kinds of evidence and he doesn’t even exist.” If there was one way to convince his master of something, it was to set his natural curiosity against his desire to adhere to vampire law. Scientific curiosity would always win. “We could just break in and use their machines.”

            “Not good enough,” Ari said. Alex was about to make a final plea when his master added, “We’ll have to buy our own.”

                        ************************************************

            Alex awoke the following night crabby and confused. While he wasn’t a bumbling idiot, he certainly couldn’t concentrate on any work. He found Ari in the den, watching C-SPAN. Aristotle was possibly the only person in the world who loved C-SPAN.

            His master sensed his approach and offered him a bottle. “Drink?”

            “What is it?” The bottle was reused plastic, and the drink a lighter shade of red than just blood, almost an orange.

            “Rum, mostly.”

            Alex did take a swig, and fought back the urge to spit it out. It wasn’t foul and there was enough blood it in to make it go down, but it was spicy in a very unfavorable way. “Ugh. How can you drink this?”

            “It’s an acquired taste. And I can’t drink wine all the time. How uncreative.” Aristotle gestured and Alex joined him on the couch, kicking away the magazines on the table before putting his feet up. The rum hit him pretty hard, and Alex imagined himself sinking into the coach and being swallowed by it.

            “That guy has a funny voice.”

            “That’s Barney Frank. Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts’s 4th District.” He giggled. “Terrible ties for a gay man. Not a great orator. Doesn’t have the voice. I sympathize.”

            “Do we have to watch this?”

            “I don’t know where the remote is.”

            Alex looked around. He didn’t know, either. “Well, shit.” And he didn’t feel like getting up. “What are they discussing?”

            “House Appropriations Bill Number ... it’s in the nineties ... nine hundreds. He’s very upset about a rider.”

            “I heard people get upset about those ... things.”

            “Riders.”

            “Yes.”

            It was the shortest night of the year, and Alexander spent his first summer solstice as a vampire watching C-SPAN and not comprehending a thing.


Chapter 3

            A week later, Aristotle was trying to concentrate on the work he needed to finish before they left for Reno, but Alex was making it difficult as he was counting out loud with the card-counting teaching software. He had the head for numbers to pick it up quickly, but not quietly.

            Aristotle was about to ask him to take it upstairs when the phone rang. The caller ID was blocked. Not unusual, but not his preferred method of contact. “Hello?”

            “It’s me,” Marius said, his voice somewhat distorted by the quality of the payphone he was calling from. Aristotle could hear cars and other ordinary city noises in the background. “I wanted to call ahead, so you didn’t freak out when you sensed me.”

            “How kind of you,” Aristotle growled. He hadn’t spoken to Marius since the younger vampire shot him full of tranquilizer darts of curare and broke almost every bone in his son’s body. “You’re in Stateline?”

            “Yes. I need your help.”

            “You must find being hunted by your own Enforcers somewhat troubling.” He had so little sympathy for Marius. “But who am I to say? I’ve never been foolish enough to put myself in that position.”

            “I want to apologize – to you and Alexander. If you want to turn me in instead, fine. Have the Enforcers waiting for me when I get there. I’m willing to take that chance. But my money is on that you’ll be curious enough to listen to what I have to say first. And then you can decide whether to turn me in or help me disappear.”

            Marius was right, of course. Aristotle was probably the only person who could help him, if he was so desperate as to go to the only vampire who had a solid reason to want him dead. But Aristotle didn’t want him dead. He was angry, yes. He was more unforgiving than usual, yes. But he didn’t want Marius dead.

            And the Enforcers might just kill Marius.

            “Hold on.” Without giving Marius any option to do otherwise, he put him on hold and moved to the next room, and Alex’s workstation. “Marius is on the phone. He wants to apologize.”

            Alex removed his headphones. “What?”

            “He wants me to help him disappear. He knows I can do it.”

            “Isn’t there a warrant for his arrest?”

            “Yes, so to speak. But I can ignore it. I’m allowed to do it. If they find him where I send him, that’s his business, not mine.” He crossed his arms. “That doesn’t mean I want to help him.”

            Even without the link, he would have known about Alex’s fear, so naked on his face. “Why are you asking me?”

            “I’m not the only one he’s asking for forgiveness. He’s on hold, somewhere in Stateline. He wants to come over and apologize. And probably do a lot of begging if we make him. Or we can turn him in.”

            “Do you trust him?”

            “He knows I won’t turn him in without saying I’m going to,” Aristotle said, “and while he hasn’t been true to his word in the past year, that goes against the Marius I’ve known for centuries. Also if he attacks you again, I’ll kill him. He knows that.” He added, for good measure, “He’s one of the few people alive who knows what I’m capable of.”

            “You want to forgive him.”

            “I want to give him a chance to be forgiven, but it’s your call, too. He nearly killed you.” And he was not that eager to have Marius in his presence ever again. He could turn him away, refusing to be involved at all. He didn’t have to take all comers.

            Alex weighed the issue. “If you want to do it, then okay.” He knew Aristotle would protect him, he just didn’t feel great about it. Or about seeing Marius again. But he wasn’t cruel.

            “I’ll let him know. Then I’m going to find my flamethrower.”

            Alex smiled, and Aristotle returned to his desk and the phone. “When can you be here?”

            “Your Tahoe place? Ten minutes.”

            “Make it half an hour. On the porch, second story.”

            “Thank you.”

            Aristotle hung up. He wasn’t ready for thanks, not just yet.

                        ************************************************

            Half an hour later, Aristotle was sitting on the outside chair for his massive wooden deck overlooking the lake. There was a cool breeze for mid-June, though that didn’t matter much to him. He had a bottle of blood wine (not his best), two glasses, and another chair.

            Marius landed next to the chair, but stood. “You weren’t kidding about the flamethrower. Councilman Aristotle.”

            “Of course not. Councilman Marius.” They never officially lost their titles, which followed them after they left office. In his lap was a gassed-up flamethrower, though if he had to kill Marius, that wasn’t how he would do it. Both of them knew that. He just didn’t have much opportunity to threaten people with his awesome flamethrower.

            Marius did not look good. He appeared as he was, a hunted man, wearing clothing that hadn’t been changed in weeks and with his normally perfectly-trimmed hair a bit overgrown. He was nervous, but didn’t show it – he was still Marius – but Aristotle could sense it through the dim link between them. “First, I have to apologize.”

            “You do.”

            “There is a longer explanation for what happened that night, but first let me apologize for tricking you. I sincerely did not mean you any harm, except for the headache you must have had when you woke up, and even that was something beyond my control.”

            Aristotle said nothing.

            “I didn’t know the fledgling was Alexander. You know I wouldn’t have touched him if I knew. He probably only survived because he was your child, not some modern weakling’s.”

            “I do understand it was very close.” Aristotle sensed that Marius was trying to connect more intimately through the remaining blood link, but he closed it to him. Anything that would be said would be said out loud. “And I wasn’t available to help him.”

            “If it could have been any other way – “

            “But it couldn’t. It happened exactly as it happened.”

            “And I am sorry for it.”

            Aristotle checked his other link, the one he cared about, and nodded for Alex to come. Alex, looking even less confident than Marius but not wielding any weaponry, stepped through the sliding door and shut it behind him.

            “Marius, this is my son, Alex. I understand you weren’t properly introduced.”

            Marius bowed. “Alex. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding in Los Angeles. I panicked, and I didn’t know who you were.”

            Aristotle looked up at his son. “You aren’t obligated to forgive him.”

            Alex looked down at his feet, then up at Aristotle for the silent approval he needed before speaking to Marius again. “Okay. Apology accepted. What about what you did to my master?”

            “It was meant to protect him. Not a very good excuse, I understand, but it was. My orders were to drug him and remove him from the premises.”

            “You didn’t do that. You ran.”

            “I didn’t follow my other orders, either.” He looked to Aristotle, who nodded for him to sit, and took his hand off the flamethrower long enough to pour him a glass of wine. “My real orders are not for public consumption.”

            “Alex is privy to all of my business,” Aristotle said. Seeing Marius wasn’t going to budge, he added, “And I’m just going to tell him afterward anyway. If I decide to help you, and not turn you in, you’re going to have to be a lot more forthright than you were last time.”

            “It might put him in danger. That’s why I’m saying it now. The conversation we’re going to have is going to put you both in danger.”

            Aristotle knew he was telling the truth. He could tell through the link. Marius was blasting it. “Alex, your call.”

            Alex shifted his weight around before deciding. “I’ll be inside if you need anything.”

            He nodded with approval. Alex had a right to stay, in his opinion, but leaving was the smart thing to do, and Alex was nothing if not smart. Sometimes he was too smart for his own good, but this was not one of those times. “So.” Aristotle turned back to Marius. “What were your real orders, and from where they descend?”

            “The only place they could have,” Marius said, lapsing into the Greek they spoke on the Council, a dialect that developed on its own among Councilmen and no one else. He really did want to keep this private. “I was supposed to do as I did – deliver the news about the measure, drug you, then remove you from the premises. After that, I was supposed to burn the place down. If the Council had anyone on me, which they didn’t, they would have known I wasn’t going to go through with it by not placing the chargers the night before.”

            Now his voice was not so even. “The Council ordered you to blow up a room full of Elders?”

            “Not Elders in there esteem. LaCroix would have qualified, and they’ve never liked LaCroix.”

            LaCroix didn’t like them. For good reason, it seemed. “Why?”

            “They knew the Americans would oppose it.”

            “Everyone sane will oppose it. They must have singled the New World out. Do you really expect me to believe that?”

            Marius drank and shrugged. “You can choose not to believe it, but it’s the truth. When was the last time you actually spoke to the Council?”

            “In Egypt? As in, actually went there?” He had to think about it. “After World War II, I spent a few days there, briefing them. I know there’ve been no changes to the circle since then.”

            “Sometime in the next year, the Council is going to offer you a position again. Someone’s going to step down – I don’t know who. Not Devana. Then you wouldn’t take it. And probably not Orpheus, for a similar reason. But someone would step down, specifically to open the seat for you.”

            “I won’t take it. They know that.” He’d received the lofty offer before, and always refused.

            “They plan to be extremely convincing. They planned this before you brought Alexander across, and they have no intention of comprehending that it might affect your decision. Your duty is first to the Code.”

            “The Council is not the Code. The Code predates the Council.”

            “We both know that, and they know that, but that’s become irrelevant to them.”

            “They’re not mad with power. I spoke to Devana six years ago, and she seemed perfectly sensible.”

            “Yes, separately they are. But when they’re in that chamber together ...” He shook his head. “Something’s happened to them. I can’t describe it. I’m no longer linked to them and I don’t want to be. They’ve found some way to feed exclusively off each other – they think it preserves them, but I think it’s downright incestuous.”

            He wasn’t sure how good Marius’ observations were, but then again, Marius would not be quick to judge the Council in an ill light – unless he was being hunted by them. Yes, that had to be taken into account before Aristotle could pass judgment on the story. It couldn’t be independently verified. “Does anyone else feel this way?”

            “I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it.” And no one who wasn’t a servant or thrall had as much contact with the Council as Marius.

            “So supposing that your story is true, that the Council has gone mad with power and intended to prematurely destroy everyone who would oppose their ludicrous proposal using your army, what were your intentions in terms of how you actually operated that night?”

            “I did have to drug you, to spy on them. I didn’t mean to get caught. I would return to the Council with some story that would spare me their wrath long enough for me to build my resources.”

            “You’re going to wage war on the Council?”

            “It was a serious consideration.”

            Now Marius was in seditious territory. Even if he was speaking complete lies, Aristotle could turn him in for this alone, and he would earn a removal from his post and possibly a term of imprisonment. And the Council would believe Aristotle over Marius at this point. He really was putting himself at Aristotle’s mercy. “What do you plan to do now?”

            “Keep moving. My course is run. Nature will balance itself – someone else will notice something is amiss, and maybe then I will join them. In my current position, I am powerless.”

            The Marius Aristotle knew was a general who knew when to retreat, to fight another day. That was this Marius, still capable of careful calculations, even when he was desperate. “What you are implying is that if I help you, even I could be held responsible.”

            “If they are completely reasonable and find out you helped me, yes. They might. It’s unlikely, but it’s a possibility. Turn me away if you wish. One of us should survive, and you’re the stronger of us.”

            “I doubt that’s true,” he said, though he wasn’t sure if it was. He was older, and his bloodline was stronger. He could certainly withstand their mental attacks, but physically, he was weaker. And they knew all of his tricks. “If I help you, I expect every courtesy from you in the future. Our ridiculous feud is over.”

            “Yes.”

            “And you will treat Alexander like your own son, if given the opportunity, short of feeding him yourself.”

            “Yes.”

            He stroked his goatee. “Siberia’s too obvious. If anyone had to guess as to where I would send you, it’s always first on their list. How’s your Kalaallisut?”

            “Greenlandic? Not great, but you know I’m a fast learner.”

            “There’s very few people and very little wildlife. There is, however, a significant amount of shipping in the summer and the sea is less frozen. You’ll have to get your blood supply in mass quantities during that period and stock up for the rest of the year. I can create an untraceable account that is meant to go to Canada from Europe but will get lost on the way. Since no one will be on the other end to collect it, no one will notice. I’ll need a week to set it up, maybe two to be sure. The Intuits have incredible methods for storage in the ice – you should look into it.” He stood. “You can’t stay here while I make the arrangements. You have to leave the States now. Do you need cash?”

            “I have some.”

            Aristotle opened the door and went to the bookshelf, motioning for Marius to follow. He removed a heavy medical book and opened it, retrieving the tin from the hollowed-out hole inside. “Here’s a thousand dollars American and two thousand Canadian. I don’t have any Danish krones, but they’re easy to get in Newfoundland. Stay away from Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax. There’s still vampires there. Call me in a week, on this number.” He wrote down his cell phone on the back of a business card for the Bronx Zoo’s elephant specialist. “And buy some books. It’ll be boring there.”

            “I can’t thank you enough.”

            “No.” He put the bills in Marius’ front pocket. “You can’t. Good luck.”

            Marius flew out the way he came. Just like that, he was gone, and Alex reappeared. “Is he gone?”

            “For good, I think.” He closed the tin and smiled supportively at Alex. “I suppose I shouldn’t have helped him.”

            “If you didn’t like helping people you wouldn’t have this business.” Alex’s voice was of approval. “Are you going to tell me what he said?”

            “No. I’m not sure what to think of it yet.” He replaced the tin and the book on the shelf. “I can’t teach you all the blocking techniques myself. Eventually I’m going to have to track down the person who taught me, if he’s still around.”

            “It’s that important?”

            “If it ever comes up, it will be something that saves your life.” He knew there was a danger in Alex knowing that he helped Marius, if people came asking. Alex wouldn’t be able to hide it. He could take those memories away, but he would feel guilty about it. And he was uneasy enough with his actions tonight. “I have to work at this.”

            Alex took the hint that he should make himself scarce, and Aristotle went about making Marius disappear.

                        ************************************************

430 AD

            Aristotle’s private Council chambers were filled with knickknacks, ordered in some system that was perfect but only made sense to him. The casual observer – and there were none, save his personal servants and maybe other Council members – wouldn’t understand why which scroll was where, but that was none of his concern. He pushed the marble elephant carving into the wax of the stylus, creating a little footpath as if it had walked across, right over his notes.

            “You’re like a child.”

            “A child is very much like wax: unformed and easy to imprint on.”

            “I mean the way you play with your toys.”

            He rolled over, facing Devana again on his mattress. “You’re just jealous because you don’t have any. Why else would you spend time here? Your room is so much bigger.”

            “They’re all the same size and you know it.” She kissed him. “You delight in taunting me.”

            “I prefer not to consider it taunting.” He took the elephant in his hand and pulled the wax debris off its tiny feet. “There are things that interest me other than what can be found in the Council chambers, or the Councilman, or a certain – maybe I should have phrased this better. I bring shame upon my name with lazy rhetoric.”

            “You are not lecturing me. I hope.” In her life Devana had been a warrior queen, and he a teacher. He was positive he would lose in a fight, having lost several rather good-natured ones that were precursors to other things. Though, to be fair, he wasn’t trying to win in those cases.

            “The particular setting of my dialogue is no excuse,” he said. “You will forgive me.”

            She played with the strands of hair still on the top of his head. “I may. If you earn it.”

            He answered her with a kiss.

                        ************************************************

2004

            Aristotle woke with a start, and stumbled to the bathroom He spent most of the time in the shower wishing the dream had gone on just a little bit longer, but it seemed the nature of dreams to so inconveniently end. He had seen Devana a few years ago, when he lived in Ottawa. Her visit was brief but intense. Could she truly be mad? He couldn’t imagine it, but Marius could, and Marius was sensible enough most of the time.

            He had to delay their trip to Reno until he was sure the arrangements for Marius would be ready with a two-day absence, but Alex was patient, mainly because he had yet to perfect counting cards and was absolutely determined to get himself kicked out of a casino. Aristotle was relieved when they were actually on the road, and away from all of the stresses as of late.

            As a rule he found gambling senseless. The math clearly indicated that the house was the winner, therefore any attempt to beat it without breaking a casino rule was futile. He lamented that he hadn’t had time to program anything neat to try at the slots. In the old days, he could manipulate them with magnets, but now they were programmed by microchips. He was sure there was a way to hack them, but other things demanded his time and that project was shelved. Alex spent the brief trip reading about poker. Aristotle turned on the radio and left the link between them alone.

            Reno wasn’t far, just under an hour if he wasn’t speeding and he was always speeding, so they were there in thirty-five minutes. The town always stunk of desperation and manipulation, without even the false glamour of Vegas. But it was also an excellent place to buy a fake ID, and he was always curious to see the latest in fake ID technology.

            Alex held up considerably well to the influx of humanity to his senses as they entered the casino. The heartbeats were drowned out by the machines, and it was late at night. “Don’t get into trouble,” Aristotle said, and left him to his blackjack, intending to return before he did get into trouble.

            He had a mortal contact in Reno, someone with shared interests in fake identities and not much else. And he was good at sneaking up on him. “Slow night?”

            “Ari!” Jack looked pleased when he was done being frightened by the surprise. Not that the cops really cared to go after him, or they would have found him years ago. Aristotle suspected they made more money fining kids with fake IDs than they would by putting him away and they knew it. “How are you?”

            Everything about Jack shouted ‘I have something illegal to sell.’ He had the trench coat, the day-old beard, and the graying, unattractive hair. They had a lot in common. “Can’t complain. You?”

            “I love the summer crowd. Though I don’t know who considers Reno a good vacation spot. You know there are actually kid’s bus tours that stop here? They let them ‘gamble’ at that place with carnival games.”

            “Bus tours?”

            “Summer tours around the States for spoiled rich kids. Usually with a youth group. There’s one now in the next casino, bored out of their minds. None of them could pass for eighteen, much less twenty-one. One of them came up to me with a fake beard. Even I can’t have that kind of attention.”

            “Was it with spirit gum or the string in the back?”

            “String in the back. Technically an elastic band.”

            Aristotle laughed and ordered a drink from the waitress. “So exactly what does the casino do to people who count cards these days?”

            “Why? Do you know how? Because it’s really not worth it. You barely make minimum wage if you calculate how long it takes unless you’re in the high roller’s club, and they’ll catch you in the high roller’s club.”

            “I just want to find out what’s going to happen to my son when my back is turned.”

            “I didn’t know you had a kid.”

            “Adopted.”

            “And he thinks he can count cards?”

            “It’s more the getting caught part I’m worried about.” He checked the link. Alex’s head was filled with numbers. He was tracking the cards dealt. “He’s fine. For now.” He accepted the gin and tonic and took a fake sip. “So how are you?”

                        ************************************************

            Counting cards was more frustrating than Alex expected, and not for the reason he expected. He was able to keep the stream of numbers associated with high and low cards in his head, but that didn’t change the basic variables of the game, meaning he could have a long streak of not betting because he knew he would lose, and knowing didn’t make him not lose, just not lose as much.

            He took a break and went to the poker table with the lowest entering bid. To his delight, the game was actually made quite easy by the fact that the other players’ hearts would race when they got a good hand. But cheating other players wasn’t the same as cheating the house, so he didn’t use it to his full advantage.

            It was not the first time he was asked to show his ID. The name was fake, but the birth date was real. “Here.”

            “Lemme see,” said the guy next to him. “I can spot a fake ID from a mile away.”

            “Alright, but I really am twenty-four. Be twenty-five next month.” And this was the last year he could say that and have it be true, but he felt like humoring the guy whose money he was probably going to take, depending on his hand. The man to his right was a portly fellow, overdressed in a tacky suit, with gray hair and a receding but not disappeared hairline. “I just have a young face, I guess.”

            The tourist sized him up. “Dr. Green?”

            “Doctorate in computer engineering. What would you like to know about solving large-scale systems of non-linear equations?” He took the ID out of his hand and put it back in his wallet.

            “Does that make you a poker genius? Because I can find another table.”

            “If I was a poker genius, would I be in Reno at the five dollar table?”

            “No,” Aristotle said, appearing on the other side of the tourist and reaching over to take Alex’s cards of his hand and toss them on the table. “And you wouldn’t be taking his money, either. And his high blood pressure is throwing you off.”

            “You!” The tourist turned his head. “I know you. Where do I know you from?”

            Aristotle sat down on the stool, the game now ended. “Nick’s wedding.”

            “You were standing next to the plant guy. With the moustache.” He snapped his pudgy fingers. “Aphrodite.”

            “Aristotle. Very close, Detective Schanke.” He shook his hand. “Alex, this is Don Schanke, Nick’s partner from the Toronto police force. Detective, this my son. And he is twenty-four.”

            “That’s Captain Schanke to you,” he corrected, and shook Alex’s hand. He had a very warm grip, even for a mortal. “Celebrating my promotion with the wife and kids. They’re at that kiddy carnival – gambling for kids. Can you believe it? Like a game of chance is any different from slots just because you win a crummy toy instead of money. Either way it just goes into the casino’s pocket. Hey, aren’t you also the real estate guy?”

            “Yes, I’m the real estate guy,” Aristotle said. “You’re thinking of the move to Winnipeg. You have a good memory.”

            “They did promote me for something. Kinda reluctant to take it, actually. I miss the fresh air of the crime scene, the thrill of the case – but it hasn’t been the same since Nick moved on and took Natalie with him. You should see the new coroner – or you shouldn’t. Guard your eyes like she’s the Ark of the Covenant. But you know how it is – getting older, need to pay the college fund. I had to take it. The last chase almost threw my back out.” He slapped Aristotle on the back in an overly friendly way. “So what are you here for?”

            “Celebrating ... what are we celebrating?”

            “The fact that you finally let me go to Reno,” Alex said. “But next time, Vegas.”

            “I’ll be there next week. Rented a car, traveling around. Myra wants to see the Grand Canyon. Do one of those donkey tours. Have you ever done one of those?”

            “I’ve ridden a donkey,” Aristotle said. “Bring a lot of water.”

            Alex smiled. Imagining this guy – this policeman – riding a donkey down and up the Grand Canyon made him want to sweat – and he couldn’t sweat. Not water, anyway, and not from the heat.

            Ten minutes later they were at the bar, and Aristotle was buying them all drinks, even if Schanke was the only one drinking as he went through his ‘classic hits of Nick’ record.

            “So this one time, he’s got the guy – where did you meet Knight, anyway?”

            “Toledo.”

            “Toledo. So, he’s pretending to be the victim, and the suspect comes in, and Nick tosses him through the window and holds him up by his jacket. Really looks like he’s gonna drop him. He’s only got one arm out the window and the guy murdered his fiancé and was about to murder a guy with terminal cancer. So I said, ‘Think of the paperwork if you drop him!’ and BOOM! He pulls him in.”

            Alex was beginning to see the appeal of his gregarious mortal. How much he knew about vampires, he wasn’t sure, but it seemed to be something, even if he wouldn’t say it. A little while with him was amusing, though Alex imagined a long stakeout would be nearly unbearable.

            “Oh – midnight. Time for me to turn into a pumpkin!” He gave Aristotle a friendly tug/throttle. “Good to see you again. If you see him first, say hi to Nick for me. Good to meet you, Alex. Hasta la Bye-bye.” He left a tip on the table, and stumbled to the door.

            “Did he just say – “

            “He says that. And he knows about us. Nicholas got sick of hypnotizing him. Thought one day he would just zap him into total amnesia. You would think he couldn’t keep a secret, but you would be wrong.” Aristotle paid the rest of the tab. “So how was it?”

            “Kind of interesting, but not a lot different from the computer program at such low stakes.”

            “The mortal obsession with money usually eludes us. I don’t think we get the same adrenaline rush from material goods – most of us, anyway. What do you want to do now?”

            “Get out of here. I’m starving.” And he wasn’t joking. Hours of being surrounded by overexcited mortals was wearing on him. He wanted blood, and he wanted it fresh. “Can I possibly – “

            “I don’t have the city Elder’s permission,” Aristotle said as they walked out into the night air. “Then again, there is no city Elder. But I’m not cleaning up a mess. Where are you going to dispose of the body?”

            “Dumpster?”

            Aristotle drew his finger across his neck. “You have to cover the bite mark.”

            Alex shuddered. The thought of cutting someone’s throat – why was he obsessing over that? He was going to kill her first? But Aristotle just smiled at him knowingly and gave him a pocketknife. “You said you were hungry. If you chicken out, there’s a bottle in the trunk of the car. See you at sunrise.” And with a smirk and a whoosh of air, he was gone, leaving Alex at the back door of the casino.

            He knew a challenge when he saw heard one.

                        ************************************************

            The newsstands and phone books were full of ads for escort ads, but that was too obvious, too conspicuous, and not enough of a challenge for the vampire in him that wanted to hunt. He leapt silently from rooftop to rooftop, following the people in the alleys and corners of the streets below, avoiding the bright lights of the casinos as he went. The air smelled of humanity – garbage and sweat, and all the colognes and perfumes they used to cover their natural scents.

            After some inner debate, his final target was a prostitute in a red dress, as if she could have been less obvious. She was the only one on the streets with all of her teeth, not that she would have much chance to use them. He descended behind her and casually approached. Looking nervous was not all that difficult. Almost came naturally.

            It was hard to hear her voice over her beating heart, steady but ever-so-enticing, as they negotiated a price. “A hundred.”

            He nodded, not putting much effort into the negotiations. He put half in up front, as if she would have any use for the money, and they went to the motel he rented ahead. He looked around, looking for anyone watching them enter.

            “Relax,” she said, wrapping her hands around his neck, which only drew his attention to hers as he locked the door behind him. “This is Reno.”

            Yes, it was. He was a long way from MIT.

            He reminded himself that this was a whore, and she was paid to seduce him, not the other way around. His job was to keep the vampire in control until the crucial moment and let her do the rest. He considered his job harder, especially when she touched him to unbutton his shirt. He grabbed one of her hands and held it to his lips. He could feel her pulse throbbing, and his fangs descend. No, not yet. Alex closed his eyes and forced the vampire back down. Not yet. He paid too much for this room.

            The chase was supposed to be thrilling, but it was just frustrating. Some part of him was still human, wanting to see the rest of her body, and the other part of him was painfully inpatient, knowing her blood would offer everything he needed and could ever want. Still, alive from a few scars and marks from age, she was perfect. Not a model, but not a freak show either, and he wasn’t able to focus his eyes very well, his other senses taking control. She smelled of her foul perfume, that to some mortal might have seemed pleasant, but he just smelled chemicals. Beneath it, she had a cherry flavor, like the color of her now-discarded dress. He wanted to taste her, and while her attentive hands went elsewhere, he licked her shoulder, the tips of his fangs scraping skin.

            She giggled. He supposed it was supposed to be erotic, or maybe she was just surprised that he was tickling her, when that wasn’t at all what he was doing. The smell of blood from the scrape hit his nose, and that was it. He growled and shoved her onto the bed, his eyes glowing red with hunger. Her body tensing with fear was more interesting to him than any of her previous actions, and he tore into neck, close enough to her throat to stifle her scream. And he drank.

            It really was glorious. All of her self-assurance that she built up to make it through her life in Reno dissolved in an instant. That moment where the mortal – he never learned her name – knew she was going to die was orgasmic. Maybe if he had held himself back longer, been prepared, he could have done more than just drain her, but he was lost to the hunger. He howled as she dropped limp on the bed, and he laid down next to her, savoring the moment before he had to make his next move. Her blood was laced with a combination of alcohol and tranquilizers, not enough to inhibit her abilities, but enough to kill some of the pain of living.

            He was not satisfied. His thirst was quenched, but his hunger was not. His hands still quivering, he took the knife and slashed her throat, careful to let her remaining blood only get on the towel he wrapped her in, and then he was gone, leaving the room key in the door. He flew across the city, deposited her body in a particularly ripe dumpster that would hide the smell, and flew to the hotel. Aristotle chose it because it had a balcony, better access for both of them. Aristotle was drinking and watching C-SPAN, the link unreadable. “How did it go?”

            He was not in control and he knew it. He was happy about it. “Find out,” he said, his voice barely more than a growl, as he held out his wrist. His master paused for a painful second to consider the offer, then bit. He wanted the pain. He wanted the sensation of Ari taking his life force, feeling the same things he felt. He was determined to know what was at the mysterious other end.

            Before he could bite his neck, Ari caught him, holding his palm against Alex’s open mouth. “Make sure you want to do this,” he said, his own mouth still full of Alex’s blood.

            He’d bitten, and been bitten before, but never at the same time. Ari made sure of it. Alex had suspected the reason why for some time, but never asked. Now he didn’t care. He didn’t care that he was a little doped, still high from the rush of the hooker’s blood, and horny as all fucking hell. He wanted to bite and he would chomp down on Ari’s fingers if he had to, to get his message across.

            “Fine,” Ari said, getting the message through the link, and released him to do as he pleased. “Don’t bite the scar.” He had a scar on his shoulder, further from the neck than most vampire bites, that was clearly a bite that had healed badly. The details behind it he once told Alex, but nothing that comprehensive was clear to Alex now. He ignored the twisted lines and blue tint to the skin and went for the vein in his neck. His master’s blood was sweeter than any wine, even without the powerful images mortals provided him with. From Aristotle he received, for the moment, only emotions, and to be honest, he was having trouble concentrating on even them. In the frenzy he worried he might drain him painfully low, but Aristotle’s response to the worry was to return the bite with one on Alex’s neck, completing the circle.

            For a moment, he saw only red, and not out of anger but naked lust. It was more intense than the feeling with the mortal, or any other previous feeding. Maybe the feelings he had when he was brought across could compare, but he couldn’t remember them that well, and they were so filled with pain and struggle while this was pure ecstasy. When he could see again, he could process that he was pushing Ari down on the bed the same way he did the whore, only this time, he would get what he wanted.

            “I told you,” Ari said, that stupid grin on his face, his eyes a beautiful shade of gold. “Blood is everything.”

            Alex wanted everything, and he would have everything.

                        ************************************************

            When Alex emerged from his post-crash doze, it was still dark, if only for a bit longer, but Aristotle was asleep. Not very deeply, but his eyes were shut, and Alex realized it was the first time he saw his master sleep. Ari required far less sleep than he did and never slept at night, meaning he seemed perpetually awake and probably was, except for these moments before he woke again to be his usual vigilant self. When asleep, he lost both the professional veneer and forced casualness that he projected most of the time, gravitating between someone not worthy of notice and an orator of great interest depending on the situation. There was no tailored image now, or protective gestures, just a sleepy old man. His wounds were long-healed, except for the ones from his mortal past, and the two that would never heal. Near his collarbone was his Maker’s Mark, the perfect little dots that were hard to see with the naked eye, where Qum’ra bit him to bring him into the darkness 2300 years ago. On the other side was the nasty scar from his uncle, Qa’ra. With Ari’s blood in Alex’s veins, he could remember clearly being told the real story of a fledgling Aristotle being poisoned by Qa’ra as only someone of their bloodline could, his wounds unable to heal while he killed everything in sight until his master drained him and fed him, replacing all of his tainted blood with his own. Ari told other vampires it was from his mortal past, that he was bitten during his lifetime, and put whatever story behind it that would sound most interesting at the time. He did not want others to know their bloodline was poisonous. Alex could tell clearly now, without asking, that Ari didn’t want him to bite there not because it was still tender, but because of some paranoia that there might be poison in the wound that survived all these years and would make Alex sick. He would never allow that to happen.

            That was why Marius was afraid of him. Marius was on the Council with him, and they knew each other’s secrets. Marius knew Aristotle could poison people beyond their abilities to heal. He was just relieved that Aristotle never used it and hoped he’d forgotten how.

            Alex expected the afterglow to be awkward, but it wasn’t. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect. He was more content than he could remember ever being. He had been fucked senseless by his master and he was fine with that. Thrilled about it. Knew he would be unable to replicate the experience with anyone else, not unless he brought someone across himself, someone he loved. And Aristotle did love him.

            In the final moments before Alex passed out from exhaustion, Ari had opened the link on his end, letting the emotions he kept to himself flood through before snapping it shut. There was so much fear there – a stunning lack of confidence in himself, worries that he wouldn’t do the right thing or wasn’t doing the right thing, that he would somehow put Alex in danger. The normal fears of fatherhood, Alex could reflect now, after the event. Though he appeared confident and knowing in all of his decisions, he wasn’t. He was clinging to what little he knew of raising a fledgling without repeating the abuse of his own infancy as a vampire, in hopes that Alex would grow strong and yet not come to hate him, as so many did of their masters when raised so ferociously. He did not want to be like Lucien LaCroix; he did not want to be hated. He wanted to be loved.

            Ari held back on the issue of sex for so long because he feared Alex’s rejection. He wished he was younger, slimmer, had more hair, and if possible, was a woman. He knew under no normal circumstances would Alex be attracted to him, but there had never been normal circumstances for them. Alex wondered how far back he’d caught Ari’s attention.

            Speaking of, Ari yawned, currently without fangs, and opened his eyes.

            “When did you first notice me?”

            “I’m not attracted to mortals,” Ari said and Alex’s response was to playfully nudge him. “I’m not. Really.”

            “You know what I meant.”

            “You should be able to guess this one.”

            “I’m tired. Don’t make me.”

            His master didn’t for once. “The night at the hospital. I liked you before, but I haven’t brought anyone across in five hundred years. It wasn’t on my mind. Being around young people means you put off the idea of losing them, even though they’re mortal. You know you’re going to have to move on long before they expire, so you get to choose the timing of the end of the acquaintanceship. It’s still painful, but not as much as it would have been if we hadn’t got you to the hospital in time. I wouldn’t have brought you across even if they couldn’t save you – I’m not that spontaneous. You would have died, and I would have regretted my inaction and moved on. While you were in the ICU, I had hours to consider what I might have lost. When you woke in the morning, I decided. Started making plans. And then there was the chance that you would go into the light, or not make the transfer and just die on me ... So I waited until the last possible moment. I’m not very brave.”

            “You don’t give yourself a lot of credit,” Alex said. “You survived Qum’ra and Qa’ra, you walked across the entire world, you sat on the Council, and you stood up to Marius. And then you turned around and helped him because you knew it was the right thing to do.”

            “I don’t know that it was.” But he didn’t regret it. Alex could tell. Their link was unusually active from sharing so much blood. “I’ve survived this long – longer than any of my siblings and most of my contemporaries – by running away.”

            “Seeing how it meant we crossed paths, I have no complaints.” Ari smiled at that. “I can probably ask you anything now; you’re in such a good mood.”

            “I’m relieved. So ask.”

            “Who was your first?”

            “My first what? Fledgling? Love? Pet elephant? I’ve only had one. Have had a number of carved ones, though.”

            “Your first as in, the person you had sex with.”

            “Like everyone else at the time, my wrestling tutor. I don’t remember his name.” He giggled at Alex’s reaction. “You wanted to know. Yes, it was perfectly acceptable to get raped by your wrestling coach in Macedonia, especially if your father was rich enough to afford a personal one. And NAMBLA’s always going on about how great a culture we were.”

            “So are a lot of historians.”

            “I’m sure they love having that in common. The first consensual person was ... what was his name? I was old when I was brought across. I have an old man’s memory. You can’t ask me for names.”

            “Your first love. You know, strong enough that you can actually give me a name.”

            “Requited, Pythias,” he answered, referring to his wife. It was one of the few aspects of his life historians got right. “Unrequited, Plato. The subject of many gender studies major’s papers, I’m sure. They read homosexual yearning into everything.”

            “I wrote a paper on the Miller’s Tale being all about homosexuality. Or maybe it was the Parson’s Tale. I don’t remember, but the professor was really into it so I got an A minus.”

            “Did you write that Chaucer was gay?”

            “No.”

            “Good. You have some respect for history,” Ari said. “Someone once published a paper online about me and Alexander. That set me off. There are limits. I knew him when he was twelve. Christ. If I hadn’t been caught up in this whole real estate thing in Quebec at the time, I might have written a response paper. Or just gone to the University of Minnesota and punched him.” He ignored Alex’s laughter. “Don’t ever become a historical figure. It’s downright painful.”

            “I’m named after one.”

            “Not as bad. Though your name was kind of an unintended bonus for me. Or it will be when the Community shuts up about it.”

            “You love the attention. Admit it.”

            “No.”

            “You love it because it makes you look harmless.”

            “Fine. Maybe.” He tapped him on the nose. “Go to sleep. The scary sun is coming to get you.”

            “When am I gonna grow out of that?”

            “Give it a good fifty years. Maybe a seventy. A hundred to be safe.”

            Alex growled, but Ari pulled him closer. In his master’s embrace, he could relax, never wanting to move again.  


Chapter 4

            “We should have gone to Vegas.”

            The atmosphere in the return ride was considerably more relaxed, and it was the first thing Alex said since leaving the city line. Aristotle looked off the road for a moment. “Why?”

            “Because now we’ll have to say, ‘We’ll always have Reno.’ Vegas would have been a cooler line.”

            “While I have to concede on your last point, until we have a reason to be there, no Vegas. It’s not a town for fledglings.”

            “We could stay at Caesar’s Palace and bask in the irony.”

            “It’s not really ironic. And no, I did not know Caesar. Of him, yes, but everyone did. I never actually met him. Slaves weren’t invited to his parties.”

            “You were a slave in Rome?”

            “Sold myself to a mortal. Best forty-five years of my existence. He was a merchant and I was his general manager. He robbed graves and I got to do inventory on a lot of neat stuff. Holy items, too – people’s personal idols and whatnot. Got burned a lot, but it was worth it.”

            “I take it there’s like, way more involved in this story than that.”

            “Well, yes, you don’t just go selling yourself into slavery for the hell of it. He saved my life, or more precisely, didn’t kill me when he had the chance, and I wanted to get away from vampire society at that precise moment. So I promised my undying servitude for the rest of his life and I saw no reason not to keep my word.”

            “Really?”

            “Do I even need to make stories up? Of course, really.”

            “I want to hear the whole story sometime.”

            “Fine. When I’m not driving.” He was in a good mood. They both were. The days started getting shorter again. Even if only by a minute a day or less, it still put their minds at ease. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason.

            He needed to teach Alex how to drive. It wasn’t the first time he thought that, but it was inching up on the list of priorities. Of course, Alex wouldn’t get them home as fast as he did, and hypnotizing traffic cops was always good practice, but in the end it would be worth it.

Aristotle had so much to teach him.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle looked up from the North Atlantic shipping records he was studying to see Alex hovering around. “What?” It came out harsher than he meant it to, but he knew Alex meant to say something, and usually had the courage to just do it.

            “I want to take a summer course at the University of Nevada.”

            “In Carson City?”

            “Yes.”

            “It’s that late at night?”

            “It’s that late at night.”

            “I’m sure you can afford it,” he said. “Do you want my permission or something?”

            “I will be gone most of the early evening, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. And I need to borrow the car. And learn to drive.”

            “Yes, there’s that. Though I suppose you don’t need the car.” Though it was a long distance for a fledgling to fly. “Okay.”

            “Thanks.”

            He debated just letting him go, as Alex was clearly so eager to do, but didn’t let him make it to the door. “What’s it on?”

            Alex squirmed, then dashed over and put the open catalog down on the desk. The highlighted class listing was titled ‘An Introduction to the Greek Masters of Philosophy.’ He resisted the urge to smile. “I’m not helping you with your homework.”

            “I know.”

            “In fact, I don’t want to hear about your homework.”

            “Yes, Master.”

            He chuckled, and handed the catalog back to his son. “I suppose not everything you learn will be through layers of misinterpretation, but I’m still not correcting anything until after the course is over. And I expect an A, young man!”

            “You seem to forget I was good at studying,” Alex said, and kissed him on the cheek before disappearing.

            “Kids,” Aristotle grumbled good-naturedly, and returned to his own studies.

                        ************************************************

            Vampires, like humans, had a great desire to communicate through eating. Where the human family would sit down to dinner together, executives would take long lunches, and compact, often immigrant, neighborhoods would host barbeques and block parties, something in the vampire psyche still expressed this desire to be close to a fellow through the collective act of consumption. Though hunting in packs was too competitive and often more trouble than it was worth, drinking communally from thralls was an ancient custom of the Old World, gone out of practice by the greater need for secrecy and the establishment of the Council. After that, they made due with sharing blood wine, to receive the sense of friendship of being two people who enjoyed the same pleasures.

            Aristotle, whose taste in wines was downright aristocratic in his lifetime and hadn’t altered much by being brought across, did not serve his guests ordinary fair. If he couldn’t get the right wine, which he mixed himself, he pressed the grapes himself. The ridiculously plebian action of stomping a bathtub of grapes, however ridiculous it looked (and made his feet look odd for days), was him taking responsibility for the quality of his own faire. It was also something to do while Alex was at class, learning whatever nonsense could be gleaned from poor translations of mismatched texts. “Stop laughing. And put away your camera phone.”

            Alex thought his arrival was silent, and it would have been, but for the link. He did snap his new camera phone shut. “I thought you didn’t want the Community to think too much of you.”

            “If I am to be publicly humiliated, I would prefer to choose the method,” he replied, looking up from his WIRED magazine. “Your movie finished downloading.”

            “Which one?”

            The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

            “I heard it’s a classic.”

            “It is.” He saw it when it came out. Rarely did humanity project its insecurities so nakedly, preferring the metaphor of aliens and monsters to do so. “It’s very much like a Twilight Zone episode, without the twist at the end.” He handed the magazine to Alex and climbed out of the outdoor bathtub, setting it to drain before wiping his feet, as if that would do much. He had a pair of well-stained sandals for this purpose. He did not ask about class. He was more curious than he thought he would be, but keeping his word was more important to him. It would be more interesting at the end of it. “I have to go to New York next week and meet with some investors. I thought about taking you, but it’s too close to Boston so soon after your death, and you’ll be closed out of the meetings anyway. The investors are mortals.”

            “There’s eight million people in New York City. What are the chances of me running into someone I know and them recognizing me?”

            “Plus you’ll miss class. And you know how I feel about class attendance, whatever the subject.” He could sense Alex’s anxiety at the idea of another separation. “If you want, you can invite someone over – but it has to be someone I know.”

            “I don’t need a babysitter.”

            “I didn’t say babysitter. And I would say no keggers, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem, is it?” He put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “If I could avoid it, I would, but they expect me to be there, and I need to keep up the contacts. And you need to learn to live without me.” Some of that was his fault, of course, by developing such a powerful link between them. But Alex did well during the New Mexico trip. He only broke two skateboards and a cement barrier. All replaceable things. In Tahoe, Alex was too isolated to do any real damage.

            “Just don’t get shot up with tranquilizer darts this time,” Alex said, joking to hide his nervousness, “because I will not be there to save you.”

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle shaved the little trimmings of a beard he usually left on his face and grew out his goatee before dying it black the night before his departure. Alex complained that he smelled of the dye, and though it was a valid complaint, there was nothing he could do about it. “This character has a black goatee.”

            “Who is he?”

            “A Qatari investor who was blown up in a US air strike about ten years ago. The official story is that he’s in hiding somewhere in Europe or the States. I managed to get his passport and Qatari Arabic isn’t that different from the rest of the Persian Gulf, and he gave me access to an important investment group.”

            “I thought we’re not supposed to get mixed up in mortal politics.”

            “That opinion varies. It’s mainly to keep an eye on the situation the Middle East. A lot of Ancient – and I mean truly ancient – vampires are either living there or are sleeping beneath some ruin. Every once in a while, an Islamic group goes and blows something up, like the Taliban did with those Buddha statues. Creates a real problem. A friend of mine is buried in Iraq – and you know the situation there.”

            “Vaguely. The situation in Egypt is pretty bad, too.”

            “Luxor has gotten pretty dangerous, and there’s a lot of graves there. It’s actually a boon – keeps mortal tourists away.”

            “Were any of the pharaohs vampires?”

            “Legend has it, some were. Maybe a handful at most – and they would have been very early ones. I wish I knew the whole of it, but no one really does.”

            There was little time to lament over the state of vampire history that night. Alex’s goodbye blood-sharing session turned rather heated, which was what they both wanted. He read it in the blood. Alex was still unsure where this was going, when it would end, how he should act on his desires – but that would all be sorted in time.

            At the very end of the evening, Alex showered and put himself together enough to greet his two guests – Jimmy and Amanda, the young vampires he met in LA. They nodded very politely to Aristotle, but they were intimidated by him. Not terrified, but definitely intimidated. He gave them one of his disarming smiles, checked that everything business-related was secured behind bolted doors, and said goodbye before flying to the airport. Daylights could be frustrating and possibly dangerous, but there was no sense in losing a night to travel. The private jet company knew his preferences for drawn shade and uninterrupted sleep. He sent Alex a final text to behave himself, and went to sleep to the incessant humming of the jet’s engines.

                        ************************************************

            It was late and Alex barely had time to show his guests to their rooms before dropping out with the rising sun, still bathing in the afterglow of uninhibited union with his master. When he woke, most of it was gone. He forced himself awake, remembering he had guests who were better at rising than he was, and went for the fridge.

            Amanda, the oldest, was slightly more bright-eyed than him in the kitchen. “Has anyone ever used this stuff?” She gestured to the fully-equipped kitchen, mostly stainless steel and granite, as she took a seat at the counter.

            “I doubt it,” he said, pouring her a glass of uncut blood. He had a mug from the University of Nevada, a school store impulse buy. “People rarely come over, and definitely not mortals. Except Madeline.”

            “Who’s she?”

            “The cleaning lady. She’s only here during the day. I’ve never met her.” He didn’t even know what she looked like. She was certainly never in his room, which was a mess. Her job was mostly to make the rest of the house look used, and since it was more of a mansion, that took considerable effort. “I guess I never will.”

            Jimmy Deisei stumbled into the kitchen and didn’t say anything until he had downed a full glass of blood. He was only ten years old, and not putting the effort into being the wide-awake host. He was more like what Alex was like on a usual night. “Thanks. So, you have class or something?”

            “Tomorrow and Tuesday. Ancient philosophy.”

            “He’s making you take a class on ancient philosophy?”

            “The reverse, really. You can get him started on how it’s all misunderstood nonsense pretty easily. You don’t choose a name without, like, knowing something about the guy.” He was working on the established premise that Aristotle was his code name, and not his real one – or if it was, he was named after Aristotle. “He refuses to help me with my homework.”

            “I was big into philosophy before I dropped out of college,” Amanda said. She was an ex-hippie, a true member of the tune in-drop out generation. “Mainly French Enlightenment. It’s all a blur now. I did so much drugs afterward, killed all the brain cells that went to that with a lot of acid. My master insists vampires can’t do acid, but I think he’s just trying to protect me.”

            “I know we can do hashish,” Alex said. “Or, I’ve been told we can. I can’t get past the smoke part of it.”

            “Janette smokes sometimes. Drives us crazy. And yet, we totally want to be her.”

            “Smoking women are sexy,” Jimmy said.

            Everything Janette does is sexy,” Amanda said with a roll of her eyes. “Some of us have to work at it. Not hard, but we do.”

            Jimmy threw his hands up. “I admit it. I was a dork before I was a vampire. Terrible skin, uncoordinated, terrible musician but didn’t know it ... I wanted to start a band and name it Undead Rocks but my master said no.”

            “I think the reason behind that should be kinda obvious,” Alex said.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle had decidedly mixed feelings about New York. It could be a fascinating city, full of colorful residents and both legal and illegal forms of entertainment. It really was more fun before Mayor Giuliani started to crack down on crime, and the police made more of an effort to investigate every dead transient in a dumpster. Aristotle suspected that eventually every corner of the world would be so carefully monitored, and the vampire world would have to make some kind of evolutionary sacrifice, just as they had two thousand years before by giving up their holdings and retreating to shadows. But he was not one to linger on the doom and gloom the vampire future promised, when the human one was so very interesting.

            It was early summer, and dusk came exceptionally late, trapping him in the private airport before he could make his way to Manhattan. The city was, perhaps even more than most American cities, living in a perpetual daylight of neon lights and streetlamps at full blast to prevent crime. Not wanting to extend his trip any longer than necessary, he only told the city Elder (who could barely be called that) that he would be in town and told him to keep it to himself. Once he was settled in the hotel, he changed and took the train to Brooklyn, to have tea with some old mortal contacts in the illegal immigrant community. He knew better than to refuse an offer of hot tea from a Farsi-speaking Kurd who spent his daylight hours in a convenience store and his evenings cutting up and pasting passports back together. It was downright rude. By now, he could tolerate tea enough to hold it down for the length of their conversation. People really opened up to them when he spoke their language, though he got more ‘Are you a cop?’ questions than usual.

            “It’s good money, to translate for the CIA,” Pojknamn said. “They have all kinds of documents smuggled out of Iran they don’t know what to do with it. But I don’t want the attention.”

            “Attention is generally a bad thing,” Aristotle said, twirling his tiny spoon in the tea. “On the other hand, if you’re looking to retire ...”

            “Not that kind of money they’re offering,” his friend said. “And someone would slit my throat, I’m sure. I couldn’t keep it a secret. They’re so obvious about it. Do you think someone will notice when two white men in awful blue suits come by?”

            “You have to protect yourself.”

            “And you?”

            Aristotle shook his head and laughed. “I’ve been in prison before. If gulag couldn’t break me, nothing can.”

            By the time he was back at the hotel, it was very late, nearly sunup. The hotel no longer had balconies and had security cameras everywhere, even the roof, so he took the ordinary entrance and called Alex, who sounded a little drunk over the phone.

            “’s fine,” his son said. “Um, when are you coming home?” Even a haze of alcohol couldn’t distort his longing for his master’s presence. “Everything’s cool by the way.” In the background, the television was running especially loud, the noises incomprehensible. “We’re playing that game where Pikachu beats up Megaman. Dudes, say hi.”

            “Hi, Aristotle!” shouted Amanda and Jimmy.

            He was relieved, more than he would admit on the phone. “Behave yourself.”

            Duh. G’night.”

            “Good night.”

            He had little time for sleep himself. The conference started at nine, and he had a lot of reading to do if he was going to sound like he’d been paying any attention to Middle Eastern politics in the last year. By eight-thirty he was changed into a ludicrously expensive suit and a white khaffiya of the al-Asad tribe, and began his way through the layers of security required to enter the conference room. He knew he barely rated beside the oil barons (Texan and Arab), Euro-trash investors, and politicians in the room, and he preferred it that way. What he did not feel comfortable about was leaving his cell phone in a bin outside. He checked the link. Alex, of course, was sleeping.

            He sensed the presence but didn’t acknowledge it until the other approached. He wasn’t used to other vampires in the room, though he couldn’t be all that surprised. Who it was, that was more of a surprise, though he realized he didn’t know Hajji’s current name. Aristotle hadn’t seen him in decades, maybe a century, and the former poet of the Abbasid dynasty looked quite different in a respectable suit and tie, his hair cut short and his beard shaven. “Mahmood Bhatti.”

            Aristotle shook his hand. “Mohammed bin Hamad al-Asad.”

            “I heard you died in a car crash,” Hajji whispered with amusement.

            “Truth is so much stranger than fiction,” he answered, and they took their positions against the wall in the back. “Does Feliks know you’re here?”

            “I’m going up north after this to see him. Your Arabic is pretty good.”

            He smiled. “I try.”

            The presentation began. It was mainly about oil, of course, and possible threats to the current lines that supplied the rest of the world with fuel. Hajji, a former Mughal prince, found the developments in Kashmir more interesting than Aristotle, who wanted to know about war in places normal people actually went. He did not like sending vampires into war zones, or stumbling into one himself.

            “All the way on the left,” Aristotle whispered in a more ancient Arabic, “is that President Bush?”

            “Yes. What, the secret service didn’t give him away?”

            “I thought he was with the Carlyle Group,” he said, referring to the former President, George Bush Senior.

            “That’s not the only group concerned with the Arab world.”

            “I don’t like it. Too much attention.” He might have to drop his membership with the group, or at least stop showing up to meetings.

            “Actually, I kind of wanted to meet him,” Hajji said. “It’s why I’m here.”

            “It’s not very safe.”

            “Please. I’m just another Arab to him.” Hajji did look rather inconspicuous. He was younger, brought across in his thirties, and had few distinguishing features that came with age.

            When the presentation ended, there was a lengthy question-and-answer session, some of it very technical, but most of it interesting. Then came the conversations and introductions, and Hajji got his wish, and shook the hand of the former President and father of the current President. Since Aristotle was standing next to him, he could not avoid the honor, much to his displeasure. Fortunately cameras were forbidden in the room, except for the hidden ones. Still, he was much happier to be outside the room when they broke for lunch, and invited Hajji up to his suite for their own meal.

            “I am not so backwards, you know,” Hajji said as they road the elevator up. “Just because this is my first time out of India in three hundred years.” His English was fluent, but in a thick Indian accent. “We have technology there.”

            “I wasn’t saying you didn’t.”

            “Feliks offered to escort me to New York. Like a guide dog. He’s a dear, but no, I can handle myself.”

            Hajji was twelve hundred years old. Aristotle supposed he could. “Maybe he just wants to see you.”

            “I’m sure he does. But, business before pleasure. I am staying at another hotel. This trip was very last minute.”

            “You can stay here for the day,” Aristotle said, ushering him into his suite. “Just don’t tell Feliks I offered.”

            “My lieutenant is such a jealous little creature, is he not?”

            “Only about you,” he said rather diplomatically, pouring him a glass of his traveling stock. “And children can be amusing.”

            “Aren’t you the talk of the town!”

            “I hope that town isn’t Calcutta.”

            “No, but I am on the internet, thank you very much. And anyway, Feliks can keep nothing from me, and I don’t think he wants to.” They clinked glasses to fatherhood. “Besides, pushing around Chief Enforcer is something that gets you noticed.”

            “He pushed me around, to be precise.”

            “And now he is ... disappeared.”

            “So I understand.”

            Hajji had always been particularly observant, even for a vampire. He looked suspiciously at Aristotle, but said nothing in that quarter, knowing nothing would be gained. Instead he changed the subject. “They talked about Syria a lot.”

            “It’s a very hostile situation.”

            “I was thinking of making a pilgrimage on my return trip.”

            Aristotle wracked his brains, and came up empty. Even if there was a Muslim holy site in Syria, it wasn’t as if Hajji could go anywhere near it or would want to. “May I ask why?”

            “You don’t know the legend, that the first of our kind is buried there?”

            “That old story?” No wonder he hadn’t thought of it. “Of all the legends that might be true or are true, I would be hesitant to categorize that one as deserving of the consideration. If even a second generation Old One was buried there, someone would have found the tomb by now. There’s nothing in Syria but sand and missiles pointed at Israel that only have a striking distance of Lebanon.”

            “You are so sure?”

            “I can’t prove a negative,” he said, “but I would go as far as to say I am fairly sure it’s nonsense. Unless you heard it from a reliable source.” There was one Old One alive and well in India, or so they said. The last sighting of him was in the 1830’s.

            “Not as reliable as an Ancient, no. Just a story I’ve heard again and again, about an important tomb in Syria. I was curious, but now I am inclined to believe you. You are such a killjoy, Aristotle.”

            “Go if you like. Certainly if you find something, take a lot of pictures and send them to me.” He looked at his watch. “I have a meeting with some investors in Alaskan drilling. Do you have anything on your schedule?”

            “Not until the banquet. Do you mind ...?”

            “No. Of course not.” He checked his phone again for messages, then left the other vampire sleeping on the couch.

                        ************************************************

            Alex had to wake as quickly as possible, see that his guests were seen to, then drive to Carson City without doing any serious damage to the car in time for class. He was only five minutes late, which he thought was a considerable victory. The lecture was still on Socrates, whom Aristotle hadn’t known, so he could pay better attention without imagining what reprimands his master would have for the professor. Then it was fielding a call from Ari, who called five minutes after the end of his class. He did not linger on the phone as much as he wanted to because he had guests and they were back in Tahoe, for which he apologized profusely. Ari seemed more amused that he was apologizing to him than anything and wished him well.

            He made it back to the Tahoe house in record time. Amanda and Jimmy were still playing that fighting game, finding it as addictive as he did. “Hey. Sorry – got held up on a phone call.” He dumped his backpack on the table and joined them. His hands were still shaking from the presence of so many mortals for so long and then the stress of driving so quickly. Blood made them stop.

            “So, we were like, really tempted to see what the unlabeled tapes were,” Amanda admitted, her eyes darting to the neatly-stacked VHS tables in the bookshelf. “But we also kind of weren’t. There’s a reason people don’t label tapes.”

            “They’re not unlabeled.” He pulled one out and showed the side label, which had tiny Greek letters. “I don’t know the system, but those are dates. It’s C-SPAN.” He added, “I hope it’s C-SPAN. He says it is. He runs the tape and if he didn’t like the arguments, he tapes it over. These are his favorites. That or they’re secret vampire sex tapes, but I really bet it’s C-SPAN. He gets really obsessed with stuff in the House.”

            “You belong to the nerdiest vampire ever.”

            Alex replaced the tape in its proper order, or what he hoped was its proper order. “It’s not worth denying. Not that I was Mr. Popular when I was mortal.”

            “I thought I was,” Jimmy said. “I was in a band, I had a girlfriend – okay, she was a bit of a skank, but it was the grunge scene. We all were. I was going to make it big. Like Nirvana.”

            Alex raised his eyebrow, his only indication to continue the story.

            “I was one of those accident vampires,” Jimmy said. “Really bad bar fight at a new place. We had no idea what kind of place it was. This audience member brought me across because the paramedics were stuck downtown at with some warehouse fire.”

            “My master says that most vampires are accident vampires,” Alex assured him. “I was an almost-miss. He was planning it, but he drew it out because I had things I wanted to do. Then my liver failed and he got me when I was in ICU. If no one had called him to tell him I was dying, I might be dead.”

            “I assume I wasn’t an accident,” Amanda chipped in. “I mean, he did mention the whole ‘do you want to live forever’ thing to me before he bit me, which for Michael is a lot of forethought. We knew each other for a few weeks leading up to it. That measure didn’t pass, right? The one where all new vampires had to be approved?”

            “I definitely would have heard if it did.” Alex was surprised how easily he picked up Aristotle’s custom of answers that avoided a solid ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Even when he didn’t mean to. “Ever had blood rum? Kinda grows on you.”

                        ************************************************

            The banquet was, as usual, unbearable. At least this time, Aristotle had Hajji to pass it with. The younger vampire was much more interested in circulating the tables and playing who’s-who of the oil world, a game Aristotle had grown tired of long ago. Through a fake but passable Arabian accent, he spent his time talking to the assistant to a senator about prospects in Africa. The assistant mentioned Sudan, as if completely oblivious to the human rights disaster there. Even Aristotle didn’t have it in him to send vampires into a genocide, however easy feeding would be. Disgusted, he sipped his overpriced champagne and left early to field a call from the Elder of New York. “What?” he said when he was safely in the emergency staircase. The Elder was newly-minted as such, after almost everyone left New York either because of the 9/11 attacks or because of the nightclub disaster last year. Aristotle didn’t envy him.

            “You remember Michael?” Dimitri said, barely hiding his frustration.

            “I know a lot of Michaels, but I’m going to take a wild guess and assume he was involved in the nightclub disaster.”

            “Yes. He’s here. He doesn’t know that I know yet, but he is.”

            Aristotle opened his PDA as he talked. “Is anyone with him?”

            “Not that I know of. Just some local thugs – mortals. He’s supposed to be in Paris, isn’t he?”

            “Yes. And if not, he’s forbidden to be within a hundred miles of New York City for the next 49 years. Where is he?”

            “South of Chelsea, moving farther south. I haven’t called the Enforcers. I don’t know if I should.”

            “My rules are not the Code,” Aristotle said. “They are meant to prevent the Code from being broken, and knowing Michael, he’s about to do something very stupid. Keep an eye on him – he’s probably headed to the old club site. I think they’re turning into a Starbucks, but it might not be done yet. I’ll go down myself and try to talk some sense into him.” And possibly, remind him he had a daughter who was waiting for his return to the States. Not that Michael was the best of tutors. “The Enforcers are a last resort.”

            “Okay.” Dimitri sounded considerably better with this news. “We’ll be in touch.”

            Aristotle returned to the banquet to collect Hajji, who was much more interested in vampire scandal than rich human politics. Hajji had a car rented for his stay, so Aristotle merely gave the driver the directions from his PDA. There would be no stopping Hajji, of course, until he told the whole story. “A couple years ago, a fledgling named Amanda decides to open a bar in New York City. She goes through all of the hoops, gets financiers, gets approval from the Elder and the Enforcers, and really shows a lot of responsibility for her age. Everything goes fine until a year ago, maybe a year-and-a-half now, a couple months after it opens. There’s a huge drug bust – turns out her master was using the bar to deal cocaine. Not just in party doses – raw stuff, straight from Vietnam, to buyers. The FBI comes in and takes inventory of everything, finds the hidden stocks. Larry Merlin stays in New York for two weeks, destroying records and the Elder hypnotizes dozens of different agents and reporters. Michael flew the coop at the first sign of trouble, pleaded his case to Elaine in Paris, and got sanctuary with her. Amanda, his thirty-year-old daughter, got the blame, and I set her up with Janette in LA. She was a wreck.”

            “Where is she now?”

            “Tahoe, visiting my son. They’re friends. She’s been on her absolute best behavior. I don’t blame her.”

            “Is she mad at her master?”

            “I think she’s used to his bad parenting. He brought her across in a similar situation.”

            Hajji shook his head. “So what’s he doing in New York?”

            “If he’s going back to the old site – which it sounds like he is – he must be after something he thinks is still there.”

            “A lot of cocaine?”

            “You would think they would have found it. They were so good at finding blood and coffins.”

            “You would think that, but maybe Michael thinks you’re wrong.”

            The former club was not in a district paid much attention to by those who wanted New York to look better for tourists. Even the “Starbucks – Coming Soon!” sign couldn’t glamour up the street of camera shops and no-name video stores with paint covering the windows. Hajji dismissed his driver and told him to keep his phone on.

            It was well after midnight and the street was fairly deserted. They only had to wait a few minutes for all the cars to pass to safely fly up to the roof, faster than any camera could record, to discover the door to the stairwell was already broken open.

            “I believe we have discovered him,” Hajji said with his regular amount of dramatic flourish.

            Aristotle silently flew down the stairs, following the human heartbeats, and landed in what used to be the back of the old club. Since he’d last been here, all the trappings of a night club were removed and a few pieces of Starbucks brand furniture were already in place. Hajji landed silently behind him, sniffing. “Another blasted coffee shop. I am so tired of that scent.”

            “And it doesn’t even smell like coffee yet,” Aristotle said, moving to the door to the basement, which had a separate set of stairs. He remembered this, though his last visit was not concerned with the layout of the building. The door wasn’t opened, but it wasn’t locked, either. Aside from the humans in adjoining buildings, the heartbeats were definitely downstairs.

            There were two of them. Aristotle met them at the bottom of the stairs long before they had time to notice his presence. “You,” he said, focusing on their heartbeats, “should leave. Now.”

            They stared blankly at him for a moment before putting down their clubs and ascending the stairs behind him to leave.

            “Then I expect you to help,” said the vampire in the back corner, who was prying lose a floor tile with a crowbar. “I paid good money for them.” Michael looked up at him. “Don’t look at me that way. I’ll make it worth your while.”

            “I’m sure you think you will. You do have some concept of rules, don’t you? The ones that apply to us?”

            Michael groaned but succeeded in removing the well-glued tile, revealing at treasure horde of white bags. Upon close inspection, they were clear plastic bags filled with white powder like sandbags. Michael picked up the top one and tossed it at Aristotle, who caught it. “For your trouble.”

            Hajji peered in the bag, a took a sniff. Then he staggered back, wiping his nose. “So ... wow. Cocaine does work on us. I’ll be a moment.”

            Aristotle growled and threw the bag back at Michael. “I can have the Enforcers here in five minutes for violating the Code.”

            “I know enough of the Code to know breaking-and-entering an abandoned building does not threaten the nature of our existence, just because it violates your arbitrary rules.”

            Aristotle pointed to the cocaine. “This is why the Enforcers had to banish you to Europe in the first place. You attracted mortal attention – and ruined your daughter’s club.”

            “Like she’s not capable of building another club.” Michael groaned. “If it makes you feel better, there’s be enough money after I unload this to finance two new clubs, if she wants it.”

            A second later Aristotle had Michael against the wall, held a foot off the ground by his rarely-used Ancient strength, and all Michael could do was bare his fangs and wiggle helplessly. “You listen to me,” Aristotle said, his eyes glowing red. “Last time you were here, you nearly exposed the entire New York Community and ruined your daughter’s dream. I had to relocate twenty vampires while you let a thirty-year-old fledgling take the blame. And now you still want to profit from it?”

            Michael’s tone slowly changed to laughter. “So the geek’s gloves finally come off. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

            “You’d be surprised what I have in me,” he snarled. He wasn’t sure why he was so angry about this, but he was, and tossed Michael across the room. “I don’t know why Elaine gave you sanctuary, but you’d better crawl back to it. You’re forbidden from my services until I find some reason to forgive you – and in this respect, I am not very forgiving.”

            Michael looked at him, looked at the serene Hajji on the steps, and made a break for the exposed bags. When Aristotle chased, he tore one open and tossed it at his head, adequately slowing him down to give the younger vampire enough time to flee. Aristotle let the bag drop and removed his glasses to clean them, only to find his hands felt funny. The next sound he heard was Hajji’s laughter. “Smile!”

            Hajji had a camera. That bastard. And he took a picture. Yet, the vampire couldn’t find it in him to be all that angry. If anything, he was thrilled by this prospect. He wanted to hug Hajji. He wanted to dance. Fuck, he wanted to tear the place apart. “...Fuck.” He could barely stand, and scrambled to the steps next to Hajji. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. This is so much worse than hashish.”

            “You mean better.”

            “Oh my G-d, I do,” he giggled, his fangs descended. “I fucking do.”  


Chapter 5

            Alex was nervous, but he was trying to hide it. He’d heard nothing from his master in the past day and most of the following night, even after class, and all the while, the link was distracting him from trying to learn about his master. Or what the philosophy professor thought of his master. He was not accustomed to receiving strong emotions from the link, but wherever Aristotle was, he was having an indecipherably good time, and not letting Alex in on it was making him downright jealous.

            Returning to the house, Jimmy was helping himself to the new skateboard, or trying to. Being able to fly was supernatural, and had little to do with the human balance required to operate the board normally. Amanda was much better, and managed to circle around the driveway without falling over as Jimmy watched on.

            “She is so good,” he said to Alex. “So ... awesome.”

            Alex raised an eyebrow. “You should do it.”

            “What?”

            “Stop mooning after her and go for her. I would, if I stared at her like you do.”

            “I do not!”

            He smiled for the first time since late last night. “You do. I think she’s being polite by not noticing it.”

            “If I were mortal she would be so ... above me.”

            “But you’re not. And she’s not. You’re not even that different in age.” He added, “Trust me, I envy you. Not because I like Amanda like that, but because I couldn’t do anything if I did. Aristotle has me on this whole ‘don’t drink from other vampires’ thing.”

            “That’s a little whacked.”

            “Did your master tell you something similar when you were a fledgling?”

            Jimmy still technically was, but he wasn’t an infant like Alex. “He just said to stay away from older vampires. They would break me in half. It took me five years to have the courage to walk up to one and she still rejected me.”

            “Well he was probably looking out for your best interests. Feeding a fledgling without its master’s permission used to be forbidden – really forbidden. You could get killed for it.”

            Jimmy looked skeptical. “When was this? Ancient Egypt?”

            “And into the Middle Ages, I think. Maybe later. I’m not clear on the specifics.” He saw Amanda approaching them. “Anyway, my advice stands.”

            “Says the virgin.”

            Alex blushed and congratulated Amanda on her newfound talent to distract himself from the link, which had been blasting for so long and now was mysteriously quiet. When they returned to the house, he called again, and got the answering machine again. Aristotle’s phone was still on, but he wasn’t picking up. Alex growled and dialed again.

            His master’s voice was ragged. “What?”

            “Um, hi.” He suddenly felt like he was intruding. “Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine. Keep your voice down. Ow.” He sounded like he was in pain. “Loud noises. What can I do for you?” He asked in a way that clearly implied he did not want to be on the phone.

            “Sorry, I just felt – “

            “What, did you feel that? I guess I couldn’t control it.” Aristotle spoke slowly and quietly. “My apologies. Can I go now?”

            “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

            “Do you know anything about a crash?”

            “What, like a car crash?”

            “No, when you crash. From drugs. What to do.”

            “What drugs?”

            “Cocaine.”

            He could not have stopped himself from laughing. “You did what?”

            “Cocaine. I said that already. Ask your friends. Former druggies.”

            “I think you have to wait it out.”

            “Check the internet.”

            “I’ll check, but really, wait it out. And don’t do anymore.”

            “It wasn’t intentional. He threw it at me.” And without further explanation, he terminated the call.

            Flabbergasted, Alex put away his cell phone and looked to his curious friends. “What do you do when you’re coming down from cocaine?”

            “Think about how to get more,” Jimmy said. “Why?”

            “I shouldn’t tell. I don’t have the whole story yet.” But he had guests – and Aristotle went on and on about the importance of being hospitable to guests. Seeing to their every need. “But if I guess if it’s not Code-breaking...”

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle felt bad about hanging up on his son, but he felt bad about everything. Lying on the couch in his hotel suite, he was absolutely positive of only one thing, and it was that he was incapable of feeling anything but misery. He could not dream of relief.

            And he certainly did not want Feliks Twist shaking him by his torn shirt to point of almost throttling him. “How could you do this to me?”

            On any other day he might have been amused by a livid Feliks. The British vampire was so pale, unusually so even for their kind, that seeing his face red could have brought a smile to Aristotle’s face, if he wasn’t in the middle of a major depression brought on by accidentally ingesting a face full of cocaine. “...What?”

            Feliks looked ready to cry. He really did. While Aristotle struggled for something resembling a question, Hajji’s voice interrupted them. “Put down Aristotle. He’s had a rough ... day.”

            “Master!” His attention immediately diverted, Feliks quite literally flew over the couch and out of Aristotle’s view. He put his head back down. There was no reason to interrupt their moment, and he couldn’t understand Tamil. He spoke a number of Indian languages, but this wasn’t one of them. Instead he waited, then slowly sat up to take stock of himself.

            His clothes were still mostly on. Good. He was no longer caked in powdered cocaine. Also good. His suite appeared trashed. Not so good. He had a pounding headache. Bad.

            There was a dead body on the floor, beneath the desk. A drained female. Very bad.

            Apparently they didn’t have a word for “cocaine” or “Starbucks” in Tamil, so Aristotle grasped that Hajji was offering a rather slow but steady explanation of the previous night’s events. Let Hajji deal with his child. Aristotle checked his phone, with only a missed call from a Dimitri. Good. A single one wasn’t so bad. He stepped over the body and opened the mini-fridge. He couldn’t find the glasses, just a lot of broken glass, so he drank straight from the bottle. The blood wine did a lot for his headache and he held it out to Hajji. “Want some?”

            “Yes.” Hajji finished his speech to a calmer Feliks, kissed him on the cheek, then flew over to take the bottle out of Aristotle’s hands and finish it off right there. “Thank you.” He took out another bottle, this one for the new arrival. “You were right. I should have come to Toronto first. Though I admit it was a fun ride while it lasted. Aristotle, you have a dead hooker on your bed.”

            “That would make two,” Aristotle said, gesturing to the one at their feet. Hajji hadn’t even noticed her, but didn’t look surprised. “Thank goodness Dimitri owes me a favor. Feliks, make yourself at home,” as his master clearly had already done. At least Hajji was also dressed. Feliks could be such a jealous little bitch. Though there were blank spots in Aristotle’s memory of the night before and much of the morning, he would still feel it if he’d had any of Hajji’s blood. Instead, apparently, they sated themselves on whomever they encountered on the way home. He opened his phone and dialed. “Dimitri? This is Aristotle. Did Michael leave town?”

            “First thing this evening, JFK International. What did you say to him?”

            “Doesn’t matter. Look, I need a clean-up crew for my hotel room – soon.” He nudged the dead woman with his foot. She was already stiff. “Very soon. Consider it payment for getting Michael out of your hair.”

            “Done.” Then the Elder asked nervously, “How big a crew, exactly?”

            Two hours later, they were safety ensconced to Hajji’s room in another hotel, and the three bodies (a third was found in the bathroom) were being removed by Dimitri’s thralls. Aristotle would not be returning to the hotel or the conference, which was practically over anyway. He would catch a flight first thing in the evening back to Tahoe. He also rented another room in the hotel. Though Hajji owed him, he knew better than to be trapped during the day with a reunited Hajji and his youngest child. 

            Feliks was in a considerably apologetic mood about throttling him earlier and distracted himself from what he was probably thinking of doing long enough to actually ask Aristotle some questions about how Alex was doing.

            “Fine. Though a little confused. Seems I blasted what I was thinking over the link – “

            To Hajji’s open question, Feliks said, “I assure you, you did not fail to do the same.”

“ - and then when he finally the courage to call, I nearly tore his head off. Fortunately his generation is very familiar with mind-altering powders.”

            “And Michael threw it in your face?”

            “Very effective at slowing down an Ancient,” Hajji said. “I wonder when hunters will figure it out. And I have a picture.”

            “No! Don’t show him!” But it was already too late, and Hajji was too amused with his new digital camera not to immediately bring up the picture for Feliks to giggle over. “I think this campaign of looking harmless is backfiring.”

            “Oh, I’ll send you a copy when you’re in a better mood and I have a computer,” Hajji said.

                        ************************************************

            Not to be a third wheel, Aristotle retreated to his room for the day and sleep an unusually long time, then spent the afternoon playing EverQuest instead of walking in on anything. Hajji and Feliks did share a drink with him after dark and saw him off, as if he didn’t know how to call a cab to the airport himself.

            It was nearly dawn when he was finally back in Tahoe. Alex picked him up at the airport, a mixture of eagerness and tension, which Aristotle relieved by embracing him. “Sorry about yesterday.”

            “You’re going to tell me what happened.”

            “I am. Just not right this second.” He climbed in the passenger seat, content that if he was going to die, being killed by his son’s driving was not the worst possible way to go. “Feliks says hi.”

            “I didn’t know he was going to be in New York.”

            “Neither did I.” He couldn’t explain the bit with Michael until Amanda left. He wasn’t sure it was his place to tell her about her master. “So what did you break?”

            “Only the second Super Nintendo controller, and I ordered a new one on eBay. It’ll be here next week, probably Tuesday.”

            “Good boy,” Aristotle said, relaxing. Alex’s driving had improved, no disasters had happened, and the link was peaceful now that they were back together.

            Amanda and Jimmy were still at the house, and would be leaving the following night. “Hello, Aristotle,” they both nervously mumbled. Kids. In a few hundred years they would be full of themselves and their newfound adulthood and forget that they were supposed to respect him like everyone else did.

            He excused himself to make a call, and found the others lounging around with the normal lethargy of an early morning, just before the light. Alex was already asleep in the lounge chair and Jimmy was fading. Fortunately for him, Amanda was in the kitchen and away from the others, pouring herself a glass of wine. “Mr. Aristotle.”

            He just indicated for her to pour a second for him and sat down at the counter. “I saw you master in New York.”

            “In the city? He’s not supposed to be within a hundred miles of it!” Clearly, and with no surprise to Aristotle, she had not been told by him or anyone else. “Is he still there?”

            “No. I just spoke to Elaine – he’s back in Paris. He just went back for four pounds of cocaine that were hidden under a tile in the basement.”

            Her hand was shaking as she poured. “The cops wrecked that place.”

            “But missed one stash. The Elder called, asked me what to do, so I told Michael to get lost. He hurled an open bag at my head. When I came down, he was already on the plane. If Alex was a little moody last night, that’s why.” He drank. “I tried to remind him about the rules. He did offer to finance a place, with the money he would have made. But unloading that amount was too dangerous and he left it behind on my orders.”

            “Were the Enforcers involved?”

            “He didn’t technically break the Code this time, so no. I don’t like to involve them if I can possibly avoid it.” On this, he could sense her relief. Michael would probably not survive a serious confrontation with the Enforcers. No one did. “He’s forbidden to use my services until I feel like forgiving him,” which to some active vampires was a death sentence, “and I will probably feel like doing that when he owns up to you for New York.”

            “Did you tell him that?”

            “It was implied, but I wouldn’t put my money on him getting it. You can tell him, if you want.”

            She looked away. Of course she didn’t have it in her to give Michael the reprimand he so clearly deserved, even if she was inching toward it. He was still her master and she was still his fledgling, and Aristotle didn’t doubt for a second that she still loved Michael as much as she had when he brought her across. Lovers were so uneager to confront and so quick to forgive. “Thank you for not calling the Enforcers.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            “If Michael was even thinking of speaking to me again, don’t you think he would have called before coming back to the States? He knows my number.” And she couldn’t sense him, because their link was very weak. She probably didn’t even know she could sense if he was alive, and wouldn’t realize it until he died and the link was severed. “But he is impulsive.”

            “A lot of vampires are. They think immortality comes without strings,” he said. “On the other hand, if he wasn’t so impulsive, he might not have made you. Most vampires are made on impulse.”

            “You planned Alex.”

            “Do I look like I do anything without as much paperwork as possible?” he said, which put a little smile on her face. “And I almost messed it up. He was on his deathbed when I finally turned him. Another few hours and he would have been too weak to accept the change.” The thought made him shiver.

            “Alex is going to be stronger than either of us, isn’t he? Because of the way you made him. He didn’t say it, but I think so anyway.”

            He accepted the change in conversation. He didn’t really want to tell her, but a non-answer would just confirm her suspicions. “Yes. But it has its disadvantages. He has a lot of dependence on me and he will for a long time.”

            “He was freaking out when you left. He did a good job of hiding it, I think.”

            She was fairly intelligent for a thirty-year-old. Aristotle reminded himself that age wasn’t necessarily a requirement for wisdom. “The way it used to be, you didn’t leave your master’s side for a hundred years, even if you could. If you didn’t like your master, too bad. He could destroy you.” The final law still stood, technically. Michael could destroy her and not have to justify his actions. But if she didn’t already know that, this was not the time to tell her. “Some customs have improved with time.”

            The morning light was now visible through the skylight. Even if she wanted to continue the conversation, she probably could not. “Thank you, Aristotle.”

            He smiled. “My thanks are not required.”

                        ************************************************

            The rest of the summer passed peacefully for the two residents of the Tahoe house. Aristotle was pleased that June was behind him, with both the visit to his master’s grave and the Solstice being the down points of his year, and Alex celebrated his (real) twenty-fifth birthday in August. Vampires didn’t traditionally celebrate birthdays, though in the last few centuries fledglings held on to the date as something more significant for a few more years before discarding it.

            “You haven’t been through enough calendar changes to have no idea when you were born,” Aristotle said, having been born in no less than four different calendars just within Europe.

            He was pleased with Alex’s progress. Alex was very smart to take the course, accidentally forcing himself away from Aristotle and into the company of dozens of humans for hours at a time, three times a week. When Alex came home one night particularly testy about it, Aristotle grinned and said he couldn’t have planned it better himself. Alex hurled a book at him, but not with enough force or accuracy to it to come anywhere near him. Aristotle was tempted to go on about showing some respect to Euclid instead of tossing him across the kitchen, but decided to let it pass. It was the vampire acting out, not Alex, and he was reluctant to punish them both.

            Now if he had thrown Plato’s Republic, that would have been different.

            As Alex was reveling in his new life, the vampire was reveling in its growing strength. Unlike Alex, it could not be reasoned with. The downside of teaching the vampire to hunt was it only fed its innate desire to do it, and Aristotle was definitely exceeding the limit to how many deaths in the Tahoe area could go unnoticed. The vampire would never be satisfied by the bottle; they all just were good at convincing themselves of otherwise.

            More disconcerting was that Alex’s natural human impulses, stifled so long by their weakness against the vampire and his avoidance of human contact as a necessity, were also emerging again. Desperate to please his master, Alex didn’t show his regret – or thought he didn’t. Aristotle didn’t bother to shake him out of it anyway. “They’re our food, Alex. If you don’t want to kill, you have that opportunity. Modern technology and all that. But if you keep your mortal sense of guilt, it will weigh you down. Eventually, it will kill you.”

            “You say that like it’s easy,” Alex said.

            “I never said it was. Every vampire has to make peace with the killer inside them, very early on. Usually in their first year. If they don’t succeed, no good comes of it.” He took Alex’s arm. “You are not mortal. You are not bound by their rules. They kill for their own sustenance, and so do you. A vampire has to control his thoughts and instincts, like a driver does a chariot.”

            Alex grinned. “You mean a philosopher. You’re quoting yourself.”

            He growled. “Maybe.” But he wasn’t truly annoyed. If he was, he would have stopped Alex from taking that damn philosophy class.

            “The chariot reference gave it away.”

            “I know it did!” But he would rather have Alex amused at his own annoyance than the other way around.

            There were other ways of placating the vampire, and Aristotle was more than happy to oblige on those occasions. Alex finally abandoned his sexual mores, driven by the adolescent vampire and his own nature as a healthy young man. He wasn’t strong enough to control himself long enough with his food, and he seemed to have some understanding of Aristotle’s restriction on feeding on other vampires, a necessary requirement for sex. For now, his master could provide him with everything he wanted.

            Aristotle had not been in a sustained relationship for centuries. Possibly since his years on the Council. He knew he wasn’t the most attractive of vampires, and he made himself less so by dampening his aura and hiding his age. Vampires were always attracted to power, wanting to taste it themselves. He would rather keep others at a distance, a method that had preserved him through the centuries, with the occasional friendship that was close enough to turn into something more. He knew it was directly related to his experience as a fledgling, but never saw any reason to overcome it and throw himself into the hedonistic side of the vampire scene. If anyone would reject him, it would be himself.

            Reluctantly he admitted that Alex was everything he wanted. A lot of that was the blood link talking, yes, but Alex was perfect in his eyes. Young, handsome, not overly built, and his body unscarred by Aristotle’s standards. All he had were tiny nicks from his various procedures and scarring in his skin from the dozens of IV tubes, and a few scrapes on his legs from his childhood skateboarding days, which amounted to nothing by any standard but the modern world’s. He would look this way forever – a young man, now just an adult, ready for anything the world handed him.

To top it off, Aristotle got more sleep than he did in years with Alex beside him.

            The phone woke him one afternoon, and he looked at the clock first. Figuring it was a European vampire and wondering why they were calling on the house line, he reached for the phone and answered it. “Hello?”

            “Aristotle? It’s Linda. From down the street?”

            ‘Down the street’ referred to the next complex on the shore, some half a mile down. The Cormans owned a yacht, and sometimes invited whoever was local and owned a fashionable enough house for a ride on it. As it was almost always during the day, Aristotle always said no. “Yes, hi.” He tried not to sound half-asleep and looked over at Alex, dead to the world. “What can I do for you?”

            “I know you work all day, but we haven’t seen you for years it feels like, and we haven’t met your son – “

            “Stepson, technically, but yes.”

            “ – so Richard and I were just wondering if you wanted to come by for a little shindig we’re hosting on Saturday – 7pm to question mark.”

            “On the yacht? I’m not really a water person.”

            “Then why do you live on a lake?”

            “The view.”

            “Anyway, it’s at the house. Just some locals, and Richard’s business partner and his wife are in town with us, and they’re a lot of fun. Will you consider it?”

            He looked at Alex. “Let me discuss it with my stepson and call you back tonight.”

            “Great! We can’t wait to see you.” Of course, she took it as yes. She was that sort of person. “And you don’t have to bring anything!”

            Of course he would, a bottle of red wine in case they didn’t have one open (unlikely but possible) to spike in the bathroom, but he didn’t tell her that. He let her hang up and replaced the phone, then rolled over and put his arm around Alex. He wasn’t tired and wouldn’t go back to sleep, but he didn’t want to move, either.

            Alex woke when the sun disappeared, yawning with his fangs, a bit incoherent and anxious until he bit into Aristotle’s arm, only drawing enough blood to soothe the beast. He licked the wound until he it closed. “Sorry.”

            Aristotle just ran his hand through Alex’s hair, a mess from sleep and blood sweat. “You need a bath.”

            “I’m not a baby.”

            “I didn’t say you were.” He got up, putting on a robe and retrieving a bottle from his mini-fridge. “The Cormans invited us over for some kind of gathering on Saturday. She called it a shindig.”

            “Wow, she was trying to be cool. She could just say barbeque but I bet she thinks they’re above that. A servant will just be grilling something. Why? Are you considering it?”

            “Mortal facades are worth keeping up. I’ve refused her so many times she’s probably positive I’m a loner with bodies in the backyard.”

            “The bodies aren’t in the backyard.”

            “And now I have a stepson for them to gossip about. If they’re going to do it, we might as well overhear them while drinking their wine.” He kissed him. “I have to get some work done. Unless you have a good excuse I’m telling her we’re coming.”

            “I have my final paper due!”

            “You did it already.”

            “Stop reading my mind!” 

            Aristotle ignored his pleas, smiling as he left.

                        ************************************************

            Alex returned from Carson City with a triumphant look on his face, and dropped the paper down on Aristotle’s desk. Aristotle adjusted his glasses and read the title page. “‘Aristotle on Mathematical Existence.’ Well, I agree with you on the first point, which is that math exists.”

            “You owe me.”

            “Ah, but knowledge is its own reward.” He frowned. “Who said that? Am I quoting myself again?”

            Alex opened his textbook to Raphael’s famous painting, The School of Athens. In it was, to his Renaissance imagination, every important ancient philosopher (and himself), with old Plato in the center pointing upwards, and a younger Aristotle beside him pointing forward, towards the world in front of them and the crowd. According to art historians, it was supposed to represent their stances on the physical world. Plato focused on the metaphysical one, while Aristotle used his philosophical learning to study biology.

            “Too much color,” Aristotle said to the painting. “White was so fashionable in Athens. And cheaper. No dyes. And I don’t know why Plato is barefoot. I think Raphael got him mixed up with Socrates, who was known for that.” He glanced at the representation of Plato’s favorite student. “It’s pretty close. My hair was redder and we kept our beards properly trimmed. This is why I hate portraits of me; they show me when I had hair.” He still had hair, just mainly around his ears and the back of his head, and it was all gray now. “Also Raphael wasn’t there. That’s just grossly inaccurate. Now what do you want? Should I get out your high school prom photos and comment on your acne?”

            “I didn’t go to prom and you know it.”

            “Chess club then. I’m sure I have something on you.”

            “Quiz club?”

            “Yes. That’s it. And no, I’m not telling you where the negatives are. I’m saving that for blackmail. Might need it some day.”

            “Fine.” But Alex wasn’t done. “I have other questions.”

            “I’m sure you do.”

            “I want to know about the death of Socrates.”

            Aristotle idly types a few words on his keyboard, checking his mail and his downloads. “I wasn’t there, as I’m sure you’re well aware. And it is a subject that is extensively discussed in literature from the time. I don’t really know what I can say that will clear up your questions. You’ll have to be more specific.”

            “Why wasn’t Plato there?” He meant at the execution, of course, when Socrates drank his court-appointed hemlock after a mockery of a trial. His most notable student’s absence was recorded in history.

            Aristotle stopped typing. “I believe it says he was ill. Sick to his stomach over the whole thing, to be precise. Which is, for the most part, accurate.” He could sense Alex probing the link, which was about as effective at hurling a snowball at a brick wall, but it also meant his son knew he was holding back. “I can’t tell you why he didn’t go. He never actually told me, but I think he regretted his decision. His relationship with Socrates was more complicated than it’s made out to be.”

            Alex, of course, wouldn’t quit. “Socrates was on trial for pederasty.”

            Damn, he was a good guesser. “Pederasty was not illegal. The charges were mainly irrelevant to the case, as history doesn’t disguise. Seducing the sons of Athens either for sex or philosophy was not a crime, certainly not one with a death penalty. But Socrates was an atheist, so they could nail him on impiety – which was a capital crime.” The historical Aristotle famously fled Athens at the end of his life when the same accusation was selected to eliminate him for being a Macedonian and political ally of the Macedonian court.

            Alex sat in the extra chair, having no intention of going away or leaving this subject alone. He was right; he had earned it. It wasn’t the only reason he took the course, but it was one of them. “Something bad happened between Plato and Socrates. Something not philosophic.”

            “I don’t know. I really don’t. He never spoke of it directly, though he took a rather aggressive stance against all sexual activity within the Academy. Which is where that damn word platonic comes from. He couldn’t put a stopper on society, but he could berate us – for hours if he wanted to.” He added, “It was the part of him I didn’t care for. I suppose I should account for his own emotional trauma, but Plato was above petty psychology. He was utterly devoted to the ultimate search for wisdom. Even if I have a perfectly clear lens doesn’t mean I want to look at something.”

            “That doesn’t sound like you. The only thing I love more than Plato is –’”

            “ – the truth, yes. Please stop quoting me. Yes, well, that’s all well and good in a night class at an American University, but real life is quite different.” He glared at Alex, who withered under the expression. “You can call me a hypocrite if you like, if that’s what you want.”

            “Ari, no – “

            “It would be an accurate description of me, being unwilling to assess a situation with a purely scientific eye. I wrote at great length about love and friendship; I should be able to apply my theories to myself. That was Socrates’ great victory, if the recorded speech he gave at his trial is accurate. He was willing to inform everyone of his opinion of himself and of them, and its accuracy was so stunning that it damned him. And he went happily to his death.” And Aristotle ran away, to die outside of his beloved Athens. “Believe me, I wish I could have known him. I wish that I was half the philosopher he was. And I wish Plato had been as brave as he had been, but he wasn’t.” His eyes, he supposed, were almost pleading. “Let me have one aspect of my life not open to introspection.”

            “I’m sorry.” Alex went for the open textbook, but Aristotle put a hand down to stop him.

            “Leave it.”

            “I shouldn’t have – “

            “No. You should have. No one should be afraid of seeking the truth.” He was more angry at himself than Alex, but he couldn’t express that. It was probably obvious enough. “I need to get back to work.” He just needed to be alone. After so many years of lamenting his loneliness, the very alive connection he had to the other person in the room was suddenly too crowding.

            His son knew a dismissal when he heard one. Aristotle sighed. He would have to explain later that it was fine, that Alex was just curious and didn’t know how far he was taking it, that Aristotle should have been more comfortable answering questions anyway, and that he still loved him. Fledglings were so sensitive, as he had been as a man of Alex’s age, a student to the greatest teacher in the world, one of the greatest minds in human history. When a young, brazen Aristotle defeated the elderly Plato in a public argument, the schoolmaster left Athens for three full months. Aristotle cried when he returned, in private, but unlike now, his tears were not of blood.


Chapter 6

            It was not very hard to make up with Alex. He only asked not to dwell on it, knowing full well his son would never bring up the subject again if he could possibly avoid it. He didn’t want to put him off his own decisions to study philosophy, and said so, but even Aristotle had nerves that could be struck. He didn’t want to think about it anymore, but instead of getting drunk (a usual method) or throwing himself into a new project (not always successful), he got drunk on Alex’s blood, as intoxicating as it had been the night he brought him across. He tossed concerns about the irony of their previous conversation and their current condition aside, but kept the link tightly closed between them. Alex would be spared his pain, and know only pleasure, and through the blood he would receive it in return. Such a perfect little circle they made.

            The old custom of a hundred years was looking better all the time. He wouldn’t hold him to it, of course, but it was a pleasant thought nonetheless.

            Friday they went to Stateline, to meet with a courier Aristotle liked to use for documents vampires discovered they needed yesterday, and celebrated Alex’s course completion by sneaking up on two very lost hikers on the way home. Scenic Tahoe had its advantages, especially in the summer. One of the hikers had a habit of eating coffee beans, and being Alex’s meal, the result was a hyperactive vampire tearing through the woods all the way home and nearly flying right through the glass doors on the deck. He stopped himself by grabbing the railing, and tore it right off. Aristotle wondered if any of the house would be left standing by the end of the year, but he did little to Alex beside looking at him with a ‘tsk tsk’ sound.

            Despite Alex’s soothing presence (once he calmed down), Aristotle got very little sleep on Saturday. Elaine called with a Parisian passport emergency her own people couldn’t solve, and he had to make the documents himself and have them overnighted. It was daylight and his son couldn’t help him, not that it was beyond his abilities to finish the passports and other necessary documentation for three different vampires in time for the courier to swing by at 6. A very relieved Elaine thanked him, sang his praises for a little while, then let him go. With barely an hour to sunset, he returned to bed still clothed, only kicking off his shoes, and slept.

            He woke when Alex did, and more slowly, quieting his own vampire as Alex reached for the nearest available bottle.

            “No wine,” Aristotle reminded him. “We have that party tonight.”

            “I forgot about that.” He looked at his fully-clothed master, himself only in a T-shirt and boxers. “Do you always get up and work when I sleep?”

            “Elaine just called me with some emergency.”

            “What if you weren’t available?”

            “Then she would find someone else who wouldn’t do as good a job.” He dressed while Alex showered. It was easier to dress for mortals, because he didn’t really care about their opinion. Vampires were all about image, especially amongst themselves. He would only know these neighbors until they flipped their house for a profit or another wildfire burned it down. Or he hoped so.

            When he made it down to the kitchen, Alex was filling his flask for the night. “What do you want? Blood, or a mix?”

            “Just blood. The bottle with the blue label.”

            Alex pulled out the bottle and uncorked it. Because he was lazy, he used one of his fangs. Or maybe he just liked doing it. “Do they really have donor centers for bottled blood?”

            “They say all of their donors are willing, but that’s nonsense. The high end stuff is obviously someone who was drained to death. That’s what makes it good. The fear of death. You can taste it.” He put his own flask down on the counter for Alex to fill. “The normal blood, middle grade and lower grade, I’m pretty sure that’s from those blood banks that pay homeless people in cookies. I used to be friendly with a major distributor before he was bought out, but I never asked him about it specifically.”

            “Are we going with the stepson story or the adopted son story?”

            “Stepson.”

            “Did you give a name for my mom?”

            “No. If it comes up, it’s too painful to talk about.”

            “Then they’ll be all embarrassed.”

            “That’s how you stop them from asking questions.” They hid their flasks under their jackets, and they were off.

                        ************************************************

            “You made it!” A very blond woman (with very brown roots) greeted them at the door, and accepted the bottle of wine Aristotle offered. “And thank you. Can I call you – “

            “Aristotle, yes. And this is my stepson, Alex. Alex, Linda Corman.”

            “So nice to finally meet you!” She was definitely way too excited as she shook Alex’s hand. She also had too many rings on, in his opinion. He thought the rich tried to be understated. “Let me show you in and introduce you. We have some friends in from Richard’s business, and the Feldmans from down the road, and their friends.”

            Alex looked to his master, who was much better at pretending to be way more excited to meet these mortals. Ari was going to owe him for this.

            It was a wine-and-cheese sort of affair, or at least that portion of it was, which was much better for them than sitting down for a meal. Catered, of course – Linda Corman didn’t look like she would be caught dead buying a cheese wheel in a grocery store. Her husband was stuffing himself, but stopped long enough to introduce himself. He was a portly, middle-aged and overly tanned fellow who seemed to think Aristotle was a day trader and was quickly after him for stock tips, and then when Ari corrected him (he worked in estates), asked him about the real estate market.

            The rest were a collection of people rich enough to own a summer house on Lake Tahoe and people lucky enough to be friends with them. One aggressive mother was very interested when Alex answered that he was working for his stepfather since graduating from Harvard. “What was your degree in?”

            “Doctorate in computer science.”

            “My son is a junior, and he’s trying to decide whether to apply to Harvard or Yale early decision – “

            “Harvard.” Even though he had never been there except once to tour the campus while looking at grad schools, he was ready to endorse it. “Yale is in New Haven, and New Haven is a terrible place to be.”

            “Brown has early action. You can apply early but you don’t have to commit. I’ve heard good things about it.”

            He shrugged. “It’s been awhile since I applied anywhere.”

            “He’s very nervous about college. Maybe you could speak to him.”

            As long as it ended the conversation, he would agree. “Sure. Who is he?”

            She pointed out the terminally-bored teenager on the deck, and he politely nodded, grabbing a little plate of various disgusting-smelling cheeses as he went, then depositing them all through the cracks of the deck.

            “You’re that guy,” said the girl sitting next to the high school kid. She was older – definitely in college. “That crazy guy who skateboards at like, four in the morning.”

            “I’m kind of a night person.” He tried to look at her face, and not her neck, which was so delightfully bare. “Skateboarding does not make you crazy.”

            “That’s not what I meant!” All right, so she wasn’t the brightest bulb. He cared more about her heartbeat than her brains. “I saw you grab onto a moving van. They didn’t even notice you. Isn’t that dangerous?

            “That’s what helmets are for.” He would have to pass her house less, whoever she was. “Hi, I’m Alex.”

            She shook his hand. “Summer. Yeah, I know, my parents were going through this hippie phase when they named me. Now they’re total sellouts.”

            “To what?” He pulled his hand back as quickly as possible because it was shaking.

            “What do you mean?”

            “What have they sold out to?”

            She blanked. “Like, their culture. They’re yuppies now.”

            “Selling out implies that someone bought your ideals.”

            “You know what I mean.” She huffed and grabbed a glass form the passing tray. “It’s not literal.” She seemed inclined to leave and he was not inclined to stop her, however much he wanted to needle her about her very shallow understanding of cultural change and the influence of wealth in society. She was just too tempting.

He shook his head, and sat down next to the quiet kid he was supposed to be talking to. “Hey.”

“Hey.” The kid looked up, and even in the poor lighting on the deck, his eyes were still bloodshot.

“You came baked?”

“The only way to get through these things. At least you’re old enough to drink. I’m having to cut back, anyway. Study for the SATs.”

“Your mom didn’t notice?”

“She thinks I have ADD or something. Connor, by the way.”

“Alex. Your mom wanted me to talk to you about college.”

“Why? Do you work in some admissions office?”

“No. I think she’s just asking because I told her I went to Harvard.”

“Harvard? That’s supposed to be awesome.”

Alex grinned. “Dude, you are totally the Brown type. And I did undergrad at MIT anyway. What the hell is that noise?”

“The Corman’s dog. He’s supposed to be all trained and stuff, but he isn’t. They don’t have the patience. He’s in the pen.” He stood up. “I’ll show you.”

The pen wasn’t used the train of a dog hurling itself against it, and when they approached by walking across the lawn, it made a horrible squeal as the dog began to bark more ferociously. “What the hell is that?” It looked like a dog with its face flattened. It had white fur like a poodle, but was way too big. And it was definitely barking at him.

“It’s a labradoodle. The latest craze in dog breeding. A cross between a Labrador retriever and a toy poodle.”

“Wow. That is ... I don’t know anything about dogs, and I can already tell that was a horrible idea.” And it would probably good idea to hypnotize this dog or move away, because it was really after him now.

Or it would have been was more accurate, because the dog managed to tear down the rusty fence door between it and hurl itself at Alex, sinking its teeth into his hand. “Ow! Shit!” He had so much trouble hypnotizing animals. Maybe it was like Aristotle said, that they were hard because they didn’t have too much intelligence, like this failed science experiment of a breed. Instead he did what came naturally to him, which was to bare his fangs and growl at the dog, who took off running with a whimper and actually went right into the dog house inside its cage.

“Holy shit,” Connor said, his reflexes fortunately dulled by his drugged state. “You’re bleeding.”

He was. He covered a hand over his eyes and closed his mouth, shoving down the vampire. When he was breathing steady again, he looked down at his hand, which was quickly healing, and wiped it on the inside of his jacket. “No, it’s cool.”

“Dude, you should totally – “

“I’m fine.” He presented his now-healed hand. It was too dark to see any remaining traces of his blood on the skin. “Look. Didn’t even break the skin. Don’t tell the Cormans, okay? They’ll just make a big deal out of it.”

“Sure, but you should still get it checked out.” Connor looked back warily at the dog pen, but that dog was not coming out of his shelter anytime soon.

When they returned to the party, Ari was waiting by the door, if a little hidden by the fake plant on the wall. “What did you do?” he whispered.

“Dog. Freaked out and bit me.”

Ari looked around, then grabbed his sleeve and dragged him back out on the deck, which was now empty. “Did he draw blood?”

“Yeah, but no one saw it before it healed.”

“Did it drink your blood?”

“What? I don’t know. Maybe it got a mouthful.” When he looked up from his hand, his master was gone, already standing at the entrance to the dog pen. Alex quickly caught up. “I’m sure it’s had all its shots.”

“It’s not you that concerns me for once,” Ari said, and reached in to grab the limp dog and pull him out just enough for the head to show. The dog was in some kind of trance as he pulled open his mouth to look at his canines. “Congratulations.” He unceremoniously shoved the dog back in its house, and closed the pen best he could in its broken state. “You made their dog into a vampire.”

 “What?”

 “Or a carouche. A lesser form of vampire. Hopefully a carouche. It depends what its first blood is, human or animal. If it drinks animal blood, it’ll be a carouche, and just go after animals. Vampire dog is going to go after the bigger kill.”

            “What the hell are we going to do?”

            “Nothing.” Aristotle started walking back to the house as if nothing was amiss. “Hope it eats the housecat first, I suppose. Or it’ll just bite someone badly and they’ll have it put down. Or try. Poison won’t kill it so it’ll just escape and become some wild animal.” He shrugged. “If it stays out of the sunlight, that dog is going to outlive its owners. Also, what the hell kind of dog was that?”

            “Labradoodle. It’s a cross between a Labrador and a – “

            “A freak of nature is what that dog is. You just gave it another step in that direction.” He shook his head. “Labradoodle.”

            “That was my reaction. Before it attacked me.”

            “It was scared. You’re scary.” But he was smiling as he said it, because their very unknowing host was approaching them to introduce them to a new arrival.

            Alex spent the rest of the evening – or the segment of it spent at the party – wondering what Aristotle’s real reaction was, and he didn’t find out until they got in the car and Ari burst out laughing. “Don’t ever fucking do that again!” But he was not particularly serious in tone, even if his words were. It even took him a minute to collect himself enough to drive.

            “Sorry. I didn’t know. I tried to hypnotize it, but it was too dumb.”

            “That’s what ultra in-breeding gets you, I suppose.” He was still chuckling. “New rule: stay aware from the neighbor’s pets.”

            “Yes, Master. Sure. Are you going to tell them anything?”

            “Of course not. Though I will have to find a way to inquire how this plays out without, you know, bringing up the subject myself. Vampire dog.”

            “Vampire Labradoodle.”

            “It’s like a children’s book.”

            “A really lame children’s book.”

            “Yes. Very, very lame.”

            At which point, Alex decided he was off the hook for this one.

                        ************************************************

            Summer became fall, and their area of Tahoe began to quiet down as the summer folks departed, shutting up their houses or leaving them with a sitter. The hikers came for the colors, but Aristotle was reluctant to push the limit on how many hikers could really disappear without serious media attention. The Cormans went back to their New York penthouse, intending to take their dog with them to see a dog psychiatrist in Manhattan (because apparently such people existed), only to discover he broke out of his pen one night despite the new reinforcements and disappeared into the woods. Linda was talked out of sending a search party to find him when Aristotle offered his sage wisdom that if the dog was found, it would probably be rabid and they would have to put their precious little overly-expensive monstrosity to sleep. He phrased it differently, and it worked. They preferred a theoretical slow death of starvation in the woods to having to face seeing him be put to sleep.

            “Do you think it’ll make it through the winter?” Alex asked his master.

            “Uh, yes. I think it will see more winters than this house.” Aristotle was perpetually amused by this, which was just fine in Alex’s book.

            There were very few visitors and they all came on business, of which there was quite a lot. Alex was not given drudge work unless his master was absolutely up to his fangs in it, and otherwise spent his time coding small programs to help Aristotle with his work. Security was always important, and the internet was making tracking programs for shipping and real estate possible. They were always in the market for new places to hide vampires.

            Alex was in the middle of lines of code when he noticed a little icon pop up that hadn’t been there before. After some checking, he removed his headphones and walked into his master’s office. “There’s someone on the remote server.”

            “Is it Larry’s IP?”

            “He could be using a proxy, but then he would just log in, wouldn’t he?”

            Aristotle pushed his chair away from the typewriter, leaving the birth certificate still loaded in it, and rolled in front of his monitors. “Is there a name to the user?”

            “No. Just the default guest. The IP starts with 161 – you’ll see it below mine.”

            Aristotle squinted at the tiny indicator on the very complicated screen. “That’s a Philippine IP. Proxy server. How long has he been there?”

            “It just came up.”

            “Find out what he’s doing before I shut down the server. If we can leave it open, I want to take the time to trace him.”

            Alex grabbed his laptop and plugged it into Aristotle’s station. “I need your administrator password.”

            It wasn’t that his master didn’t trust him. It was for his own safety that he didn’t know certain things, and Ari got up and typed it in on Alex’s computer for him, and set it not to save the password. “Go. I’m going to start the tracer, but if you see him downloading files, we’re pulling the plug.”

            “He’s not doing anything yet. Just looking around maybe. It could be a white hat.”

            “I don’t care. I don’t want anyone on my server, whatever their intentions.” A white hat was a hacker who broke into people’s servers to test their security barriers and then told the owner what was wrong with the security system and how to repair it. A black hat was a more stereotypical hacker, penetrating systems for his own reasons. “It’s a proxy. Probably several of them.”

            “There’s some downloading, but it’s like kilobytes in the double digits. Maybe just normal flow of data. Wait – there’s a spike. He’s taking something.”

            “No, he’s not,” Aristotle growled, typing faster than the computer could probably keep up with, and Alex’s screen when dark before reloading with just the desktop. The server was shut down. Aristotle sighed, and stared blankly at his screen for a moment, but his head was undoubtedly full of concerns, not empty. “How much do you think he got?”

            “Maybe a meg. Probably part of a small file. What did you have on there?”

            “Assorted things I share with Larry. And some contact information, all mundane stuff for if I get stuck somewhere without my computer and have to look something up in a café. I’m not even sure entirely. Definitely some socials. Definitely.” His voice still had an edge to it, the vampire just barely at bay. “We’re going to have to set something better up, ASAP.”

            “It could have been a white hat.”

            “I don’t are if it was a white hat or a government task force set to confirm the existence of vampires. I do not want anyone in my system. Anyone.” Even if he was very quite about it, he was still obviously very angry. “I’m going to take us offline for a few hours.”

            “What?” It was akin to saying they should exist without electricity and a roof over their heads.

            “Exactly what I said.” Aristotle rose, walked over to the multiple lines in the wall, and pulled out all the internet-concerned cables. “Until I figure this out, the only computers allowed an online connection are ones with no incriminating files on them. You can have my spare laptop until we get a new one, and we’ll move all the files off one computer and that laptop and use those two for internet.”

            “That’s shutting down a lot of programs.”

            “I made it 2300 hundred years without tracking programs. I can make it a few days more. Until this is sorted out.” His tone indicated he did not want further questioning; he wanted Alex to work.

            Alex soon fell asleep on the sofa near the computer station, waking in the exact same position twelve hours later to find Aristotle still at the desk, a tired fury in his eyes. “Here.” He tossed the laptop onto the couch. “It’s clean. The wireless is back up, password is Carson City blues, no capitalization, periods between the words. But I prefer you to use the Ethernet instead.” He turned back to his monitors. “I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with my system.”

            “Systems get hacked. It’s what happens,” Alex said, and went to fetch blood for himself and his master, who clearly hadn’t stood much less fed, since this happened. “Now we know there was a security flaw and we can get a whole new system. A better one.”

            Ari accepted the drink and gulped it with no mind behind it at all. His focus was rather absolute. “I wanted to put my files in Greek, but Larry can’t read Greek. We need to find some language we both know but isn’t common. But that won’t help with other people’s records.” His eyes didn’t move from the screen currently in front of him. “Thank you for noticing the intrusion.”

            “It’s what I’m here for, I guess.”

            Ari was a better hacker than he was, having years of experience, so he tried to trace back the now-dead signal while Alex was given the grueling task of crawling all of the files on every computer for possible intrusions. They worked for a long time in silence, the link between them just relaying frustration on both ends. By the end of the night, Alex was convinced whoever tried to get in only attempted to access the remote server and didn’t get far, barely a foot in the door, and now that that was down would get no farther. It was probably a spammer or a white hat. He mumbled these arguments to Ari, who was too worked up to hear them.

            Alex made the mind-numbing task of scrolling through several networks of file a bit more bearable by actually looking at some of the files, if only for a few seconds. Aside from lines of spaghetti code from outdated programs, Aristotle had a massive collection of data, not all of it on vampires and their current locations. He had scanned books and photography of places all over the world. He had files with seemingly random notations about something he’d seen or heard. Some of it was in Greek or Latin, but Alex could read both, even Ari’s shorthand versions. “I need another password.”

            “To what?”

            “Some locked directory called Antediluvian.”

            “Computer.” Meaning, he wanted Alex to bring the keyboard to him, so he could type it in instead of giving him the password. “You’re just looking for intrusions. But check it anyway, even with the password protection.” He opened the files for him.

            Ari said repeatedly that he liked Alex’s habit of asking questions, but Alex knew he was treading the line here. Still, Ari was too distracted to really punish him, so he asked, “What’s an Antediluvian?”

            “It refers to the biblical period between the creation of earth and the flood. From the Hebrew calendar’s year 0 to 1656 years after that.” He did not wait for the second question. “They’re my personal notes on Old Ones. The original vampires. And they’re not for your eyes.”

            “Understood.” He wasn’t going to fight over this one. Someday, when they didn’t have a major crisis on their hands, he would ask more, but instead he just scrolled through the file logs. None of the files were named, just numbered, and they hadn’t been accessed since they were loaded on to the computer when it was new. He closed the folder and moved on.

            Aristotle continued for two more days, quite obviously without sleep unless he passed out at various points on his desk because his clothing was unchanged, he was unshaven, and he only seemed to eat when Alex brought the blood to him. Alex wondered how long he could actually go without sleep. At first he was jealous, but after a few days, the grandeur of it waned. Vampires could look tired and strung-out too, even if they were well-fed. “Ari, you should really – “

            “Sleep. Yes. I have eternity to sleep. I have very little time to catch this guy if I’m ever going to.”

            “I don’t think you’re going to, unless you get attacked again from the same IP, and you can’t even be because you shut down the remote server. Which was remote, meaning it didn’t involve the computers you had online in this room. What are you going to narrow it down to? A country, maybe? It was probably a random hit, a hacker looking for something new.”

            “I know.”

            That was all his master said. He just kept working, doing whatever it was that was satisfying his desire for control. Every detail had to be attended to with extra attention. The doorbell was not his concern. “Get rid of them. If it’s Mormons again, eat one and save the other for me.”

            Alex was convinced that the last part of Aristotle to die would be his dark sense of humor. He was almost smiling as he opened one of the double doors. “Whatever it is – ” He changed horses mid-stream on that one at the sight of two angry-looking Enforcers, “ – can be dealt with in a calm and efficient manner. Won’t you come in?”

            Of course they would. They disregarded him almost entirely, heading for Aristotle’s office. His master must have sensed his alarm, because he was standing to greet them when they entered instead of pounding away at the keyboard. “I know about the hack of my server. It’s taken care of. Unless you have another lead.” His voice was not as animated as usual, but he was definitely putting all his effort into sounding stronger than he was.

            Both Enforcers were male, dressed in long overcoats despite the relatively warm weather. One seemed to never retract his fangs, perpetually growling softly while the other spoke, “This is not about whatever you’re speaking of.”

            “Oh.” He tried not to sound surprised. “Well. I’m sure you’ve come a long way, so why don’t you have a seat and some wine and I’ll be right with you.”

            “We have orders – “

            “I’m sure you have orders, and they don’t send Enforcers around all willy-nilly, but I need a moment with my son. Excuse me.” He was projecting authority, as much as he could muster, as he grabbed Alex and pulled him out of the room, shutting the door behind them. “No questions. They’re no time,” he said in Greek. The Enforcers probably didn’t speak it. “I have to suppress your memories of Marius ever being here.”

            “But – “

            “No buts. No arguments.” He held him by both arms, so tightly as to almost break bone. “You have to give your will over to me. I can’t completely hypnotize you unless it’s partially voluntary.”

            Not that he could voluntarily not agree to it, but this was not the time to press the point. “Will you bring the memories back?”

            “I don’t know. Probably.” His eyes were very intense, even if they were still his natural brown eyes. “Do you agree?”

            “Yes.”

            “Look into my eyes.” His voice was different, as if it could be heard on different levels and from different places. “You haven’t seen Marius since LA.”

            “I haven’t seen Marius since LA.”

            “You don’t know where he is and neither do I.”

            “I don’t know where he is and neither do you.”

            Aristotle snapped his fingers.

                        ************************************************

            The light faded and the room came back into focus. “What was that?” Alex said. He was discussing something, but it was fading, and there were Enforcers on the other side of the door.

            “I’ll tell you later,” his master promised in Greek. “Don’t try to lie to the Enforcers. They can sense if you do and they’ll be very angry. Only tell the truth.”

            “Okay.”

            Aristotle opened the door and returned to the office. The Enforcers were still standing, and the bigger one was still hissing. “Sorry, gentleman. What can I do for you?”

            “Your computers are not our concern,” the shorter one said. “We are looking for Marius.”

            “I suppose I would have heard if you had caught him, with me pressing charges and all,” Aristotle said, sitting down. Alex wasn’t entirely sure he could stand. He was putting so much effort into looking awake and aware. That much was obvious through the link. Why were they asking Aristotle about Marius? He hadn’t seen him since LA, unless it was during one of his two trips and he hadn’t said anything to Alex about it.

            “Do you know where he is?”

            “No.”

            “Are you sure?”

            There was no hesitation in his voice. “Yes. I am sure I do not know where he is right now.”

            “But you helped him disappear.”

            Aristotle’s voice was almost monotone. “I don’t answer questions about my business.”

            “You are required by the Code to answer all of our questions. Even you, Aristotle.”

            “I did answer your question, though you didn’t phrase it as a question. More of an accusation. I do not answer questions about my business. That is my final answer and I am not, according to the Code, required to give you anything else, even if I had something to give.” Here he was steadier, because he was on steady ground.

            The shorter Enforcer turned to Alex. “Do you know where Marius is?”

            “No,” Alex said. “I haven’t seen him since LA.”

            “Did your master help him disappear?”

            Alex looked to Aristotle, who just said, “Answer honestly.”

            “No. He doesn’t know where he is.” He didn’t like the Enforcers’ stares, but then again, he wasn’t supposed to. He was very relieved when they turned away from him and back to his master, who could deal with them.

            “We have reason to suspect you did help Marius, and that you are somehow lying to us.”

            “I have not lied to you. I do not currently know where Marius is and I do not answer questions about my business. Repeating it over and over to you is not going to make it more true, but if it satisfies you to hear it a second time, so be it. It is not my intention to break the Code by disobeying the Enforcers.”

            The shorter one sighed, but it came out more feral than that. “We have instructions to seize your computers if you do not comply.”

            “That’s ridiculous! I have complied with you, to the letter. You asked me a question, I answered. I’m sorry if it wasn’t the answer you wanted, but we can’t always have what we want. Moreover, no one, not even the Council, has the right to look at files pertaining to my business unless I authorize them. So if you take these computers and interfere with my business, you are breaking the Code, and Enforcers are only allowed to break the Code to preserve it. And since we are not currently in a Code-breaking situation, you have no such authority.”

            The shorter Enforcer looked down, then back up, his face pure determination. “As I’m sure you aware, in a matter in which the nature of the Code is in dispute, all parties involved must present their arguments before the Council in Tribunal. So if you want to protect your data and your bytes, you must come to us with Egypt – bringing said items with you – and argue the point yourself. You may win, you may not. I suspect you won’t.” He added, “Fighting us will just weaken your argument. Unless you wish to change your answer about Marius, we are taking anything we deem necessary to the search to our headquarters. Whether you wish to come with us to Egypt and dispute it is your decision.”

            The taller one moved to the closest computer, but Aristotle got in his way. If there was to be a fight, Alex suspected it would be over before he could even join the action, but he would, to protect his master. He could not imagine doing otherwise.

            But Aristotle’s fangs weren’t bared, his eyes a very soft brown. “Let me unplug them for you. You might damage them.”

            Alex wanted to scream, to hurl himself at the Enforcers with the full might of the vampire (however weak it may be in actuality), but a harsh look from Aristotle told him that it was not a possibility. They were going to rob him of his work and personal possessions, and he was going to let them, rather than face the alternative. He unplugged the main monitors from the towers beneath and pulled them out. He might have wrapped them in bubble wrap if he had any.

            “Are there are computers in this house?”

            “Yes.” Aristotle did not argue. He did not fight. “You can go through the whole place if you’d like. There’s nothing Code-breaking in this house.”

            The shorter Enforcer was staring at him, as if to make out if he was telling the truth or leading them along, but when he stepped toward Aristotle, Alex growled.

            “No,” Aristotle said, grabbing his arm. “This is not your fight. Sit down.”

            And he sat. Like an obedient dog. Not because he wanted to, but because Aristotle was blasting through the link that he would make him if he didn’t, and his master didn’t need the extra stress right now. He didn’t know how he was even still standing. Aristotle wasn’t in the best shape when the Enforcers arrived and this was making it worse. He just stood numbly and watched. When the moved on to the rest of the house, he sat down on the touch, his face pointed at the floor between his legs.

            Despite Aristotle’s many protests to the contrary, Alex knew when to be quiet.

            There were so many things they needed a handcart. The Enforcers let them see it, as if waiting for Aristotle’s nod of approval at the outright theft of his current life’s work. “If you put me out of business, you’re going to have a lot of vampires who are going to be stranded. You could make it easier by just going on Leno and announcing vampires exist.”

            “We’re not without our own resources,” the Enforcer said confidently. “Be sure to direct your customers to this number.” He gave him a card with only a number on it, no name. So they were robbing him not only of his property but his job as well. “If you want to challenge this, speak to Abasi.”

            Aristotle nodded. That was all he did. Nod. He looked down and didn’t watch them cart away all of his equipment, just listened to the door slam. The room was very empty, the desk a mess of wires that led nowhere and discarded power cords, and papers that had been hidden for years under the crushing weight of the monitors. Even though the rest of the furniture was still in place, the paintings still on the wall, and the half-finished glass of blood beside the telephone, it appeared to Alex utterly and painfully abandoned. No wonder Aristotle didn’t want to look.

            “Are you going to fight this?” He asked it more because he needed to hear his master’s voice at that precise moment.

            “I don’t know.”

            “Are you going to speak to this Abasi guy?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Do you want me to call anyone?”

            “I don’t know.”

            Alex suspected that would be the answer to every question he asked. Instead of continuing, he stood and went to the kitchen, and pulled the grain alcohol off the shelf above the fridge. The bottle was still sealed, and he returned with it, a fresh bottle of blood, and a tumbler, and put them on the coffee table before Aristotle.

            Aristotle stared for a long time before he spoke. “At least someone understands me.” There was no humor in his voice at all. He poured the alcohol first, probably enough to kill a human being, then the blood right on top of it, stirred it with his finger, and swallowed the entire glass in one gulp. “I want to be alone.”

            Alex was not about to contradict him. He did tug him to his feet before the alcohol took affect and helped him stumble to his bedroom. Aristotle barely made it to the bed. When he hit the sheets, it was quite literally a drop, his body completely limp.

            “I guess I can say anything to you while you’re legally brain dead. And I don’t mind that you drank yourself into oblivion because the faster you get rest, the better.” Alex checked the link, and there was silence on the other side. “First of all, you need new shoes.” His Keds were ten years out of style and falling apart, and they smelled even though vampires didn’t give off body odor. “Second, we all know you don’t really need to wear your glasses all the time,” he said, removing his glasses and putting them neatly on the dresser. “Third, you are a weird old man and I don’t understand why you do what you do, but I couldn’t imagine having anyone else as my master.” He flipped him over. Most vampires did not like to sleep on their stomachs and he would be alarmed if he woke that way. “Good night.”

            If Aristotle’s brain wasn’t soaking in sea of alcohol, Alex was sure he would have returned the sentiment.


Chapter 7 

            Before going to sleep himself, Alex put all the phone lines on Aristotle’s vacation settings, which would keep the messages to a minimum, and turned off the ringer. He found everything in his room overturned and his electronics gone, though he had to admit that an overturned room had the same basic level of organization as it had before it was touched. He wanted to stay with Aristotle, but his master said he wanted to be alone, and he would obey that.

            Alex didn’t understand the technicalities of the Code, which Ari had only said were boring and self-contradictory, but it was used and abused at the Enforcer’s whim. Did they really want to find Marius that badly, or did they just want a reason to take over his business?

            He woke with the same sense of heaviness in his heart, one that could not be relieved by the blood available in the house, though he gave it a try. He checked the link, but just the fact that Ari wasn’t up and working on something indicated he was still asleep. He didn’t want to leave the house and not be there when he woke, but Alex was in the interesting quandary of what to do. He ignored all the messages the machine, not knowing what he would say to people. All of the computers were gone, as were a lot of the gaming systems. Just because he didn’t feel like being useless, he wiped the empty computer station clean and neatly put the spare cords away. When he sat in Ari’s chair, facing an empty desk and table extension, and the loneliness set in. He could only imagine how Ari would feel.

            He couldn’t sit quietly and do nothing while the house was a disaster zone. Frieda wouldn’t be coming until tomorrow, and he couldn’t let her see the house like this. He put the empty bottles in recycling, finishing off the warm blood wine in the glasses. Books had to be set back in their place and fallen computer components had to be picked up. The safe in the study was torn open and beyond repair, but he closed it anyway, just to be neat about it and make the place look like less of a disaster area.

            The Enforcers had even gone through the basement. They weren’t interested in his boxes of files and old tapes and other outdated recording systems, but some spare monitors were clearly missing, the dust disturbed on the shelf. One of the old Apple monitors looked like it had once been a fish tank from the way it was hollowed out and its screen replaced with a glass bin. Picking it up, he even found a fake little castle inside it. He smiled and set it on the steps to take upstairs.

            Despite having lived in the house for almost a year, Alex had never spent much time in the basement. He had enough to do in the used parts of the house, and Ari didn’t encourage him to explore old files when he wasn’t allowed to see all of the current business. There were a lot of discarded electrical items Ari hadn’t seen fit to part with, and there was the boiler room, with its scary threat of fiery heat. Ari was the one who read the meter and posted the reading in the window. Ari was the brave one.

            Whatever compelled him to step into the boiler room he could not identify, but he was there, with the folded, rusted lawn chairs and a lot of dust and another door that had some serious bolts on it.

            He checked the link. Ari was still fast asleep. Nothing came over the link except the sensation that he was alive. “Well, okay. No creepy sex dungeons, Ari. Because I will be really mad if you’ve been leading me along about this whole vampire thing.” The bolts weren’t in place, and the heavy door swung open easily. There were no lights in the room, but his night vision worked just fine with the boiler room lighting the way behind him. The room was completely empty except for a set of steel chains that ended with a bolt in the cement floor. He picked up a length of chain. It was tough enough against his vampiric strength.

            He remembered his first days as a vampire. Not entirely clearly, but he remembered when he wasn’t strong enough to speak like a human being, when the urge to destroy everything in his sight and feast on the blood of his enemies blurred his vision, and Ari held him down, and waited for it to pass. How long had it taken? It must have been hours. How patient he was.

            Ari said there was madness in their line. It was dragged out of him kicking and screaming, but yes, he did admit it. Even after all the intimacy between them, he still blocked much of his time with Qum’ra, especially his earliest years as a vampire under his master’s iron grip. Maybe it had been more than a grip. If Alex truly went mad, Aristotle was prepared to deal with it.

            That or he was a weirdo sex maniac who really took his time about a kidnapping.

            Weighing the two options, Alex decided on the former, the vampire explanation. How strange my life has become.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle did not wake even well into the night. Alex was getting a little worried that he had caused some brain damage and had to heal, and would wake during the day and Alex wouldn’t be there. He was just hours away from suspecting Ari to have devious designs on him and now he was worried he wouldn’t be there for him.

            “You had to raise me the old-fashioned way,” he said to Ari, who must have been conscious enough to cross his arms over his chest. Alex almost never remembered crossing them, but when he woke, his hands were always like he was in a coffin unless they were otherwise occupied. Ari said it was because of the instinct to protect the chest from the stake. “I can’t be like everyone else, and just have a normal, distant, sexual relationship with my master. You had to tie me to you through a psychic link. You never make things easy for me, do you?” He smiled at Ari. It was actually kind of peaceful, watching him sleep, knowing Ari’s mind was far away from all the troubles that awaited him when woke. “G-d damn, I can’t stay mad at you for five minutes!”

            He cleaned up the room around him. With the computers gone, that left a lot of books, and his collection of elephant figurines from different catalogues and cultures. At least the Enforcers had the good nature not to shove those onto the floor. He busied himself positioning them out in a little caravan. If Ari didn’t like it, he could at least try to blame it on the Enforcers.

            On the top of Aristotle’s reading pile were books on math theory and quantum physics. The historical Aristotle rejected Plato’s obsession with pure math (Alex knew, having written a paper on it) and focused on biology, so the books didn’t make sense. Of course he had plenty of time to widen his interests but it was out of place with his current focus on computer programming. They were Alex’s subjects, his other major in college.

            He was trying to understand Ari, and Ari was trying to understand him.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle woke slowly, recovering from a long and deep sleep, his body and mind reluctant to return to the world when his most recent memories were of pain. Not physical pain – that, he was very good at withstanding. Something had been torn out of him, because he protected Marius. They were utterly merciless in their judgment of him, destroying everything that made him a worthy member of the community. Now he was just an old man, with two thousand years of secrets he could never reveal and no one he could relate to.

            He sat up. The window of the master bedroom was bricked up and covered by a bookshelf, but he could always sense the sun, even if it no longer frightened him. He couldn’t remember getting in bed – he couldn’t remember anything after pouring the alcohol – but here he was, and the sheets didn’t move with him. There was some resistance. Alex had fallen asleep on top of the covers, Aristotle’s physics book open on his chest. There was no sense waking him, not during the day. Aristotle removed the book and positioned him more comfortably on his bed, then went to the mini fridge to soothe a very hungry vampire. How long was he sleeping?

            His room was cleaned up, and Madeline never came into his room. He was content to stay there with Alex, and not face the troubles that lay beyond the door, but he could hear the vacuum cleaner and he knew she probably had some questions she wouldn’t dare to ask unless he brought it up first. Yes, a normal interaction with a mortal cleaning lady. It would serve as a distraction, if only for a little while.

            He went down to the kitchen and poured himself a mug of blood, sipping it slowly as she entered. “Mrs. Madeline.”

            “Mr. Aristotle.” Maybe she would just assume that it was a wild party that messed up the house. No, that wouldn’t explain all the missing equipment she was used to never touching. “May I ask if you’re planning to leave soon?”

            “What? No. I just ... I had to send my computers in for repair.” He couldn’t bring himself to lie, even to a mortal. How odd. “I know the place is a mess – “

            “It is not so bad. I just wondered about the computers.”

            Not so bad? He remembered the place as being a wreck. But he looked to the bookshelves, and though things weren’t all in proper order, they were definitely back on their shelves. The wine bottles were in the recycle bin and the glasses were clean. Alex must have cleaned up. “No, it’s not my intention to move soon. But, who knows? Things can sneak up on you. But you’ll have plenty of warning, I assure you. And I always need someone to check on the house when I’m gone.”

            “Yes, Mr. Aristotle. Sorry for intruding.” She continued on her way, leaving him alone in the kitchen. He could hear her heartbeat, but he felt no serious temptation there. He didn’t want to hurt this poor mortal, who was so unsuspecting and not deserving of an early death. No one was. He didn’t want there to be any more pain and suffering in the world. A coward’s response perhaps. A vicious killer like the vampire would be angry and seek revenge, or at least demand an explanation. No, he was not yet interested in their lies.

            His computer desk was empty. It had even been wiped clean, and the cords coiled and stacked on the empty bookshelf. For some reason, there was a sole monitor on the table – the old Mac he once turned into a goldfish bowl. Alex must have found it in the basement and brought it up. Maybe he was hinting that he wanted goldfish. Aristotle shook his head. He would never figure this kid out.

            There were fewer messages on the machine than normal, but then he noticed it was set to his vacation setting. Alex must have done that, too. The only calls were supposed to be extreme emergencies. Everyone else was directed to someone else based on their need in the menu.

            The only person he really wanted to talk to was Alex, who had only been spared because he took his memories of Marius away from him in time. There was no sense in restoring those. Alex was safer without them. But Alex couldn’t be woken, not for hours. It would be cruel to do so. He had to face his demons alone.

            After a rather long debate spent staring at the phone, he finally dialed. “Hi, it’s Aristotle.”

            “Hold please.”

            It was a long wait, even for Elaine. The Parisian elder was no doubt busy and he was intruding with his personal problems. Of course they concerned the Community and it was best to go to an ex-Councilman, but he felt guilty anyway, and was practically lost in his self-pity when she answered. “Oui, Aristotle.”

            “I need to talk to someone. Is this a secure line?”

            “Of course it is.”

            “Are you sure?”

            There was some hesitation on the other line. “Let me call you back on my new cell phone.”

            “Call my emergency line.”

            “That bad?” She hung up, and it must have taken her some time to find the phone, because it was a few minutes before he received the call. “Can you hear me?”

            “Loud and clear.”

            “I have this headset, but it ruins my hair. Modern inconveniences! So what can I do for you, Aristotle?”

            What could she do for him? What advice was he really looking for? How to get his computers back? How to get his job back? Whether he should bother approaching the Council at all? “Let me just start at the beginning and we’ll go from there.”

            And so he spoke. Saying it made it seem like an event in the past he was recalling, as if he wasn’t sitting at a newly-emptied desk and his answering machine wasn’t filled with very confused customers. He avoided telling her about his encounter with Marius. It was irrelevant and it would only endanger her. She just listened, occasionally nudging him on with an encouraging phrase, but said little until he concluded his speech with, “And so here I am, with a phone line and an empty desk.”

            She tried to look for the good news. “They didn’t threaten Alexander.”

            “Only because I’ve kept things from him, so he didn’t lie to them. He was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know anything that could help their insipid quest.”

            “And they failed to grasp the technicalities of your answer. Or they expected it, and planned to ignore it. You have made it sound like they did.”

            “They had a hand truck with them.”

            “So the first question I will ask and you cannot answer is whether this was about Marius, or an excuse to take over your business. There are forces at work that are very frustrated with your ability to move outside of their interests.”

            “I’ve never gotten along with the Enforcers, but that was when Marius was the head of it.”

            “And now, they are even more desperate for control, having lost their powerful leader. But they would protect their own, and allow him to disappear if they possibly could. So I must conjecture here that he knows something, and he took that information when he left, and it makes him dangerous to them and the Council.”

            “Yes. I would say that is a very wise conjecture. Not that I expected less from you.”

            “Hmmm.” Elaine was so good at softly prying at him. “You know something you are not saying. I will allow you to continue to deny you helped Marius disappear. He must have said something to you that gave you reason. So, let us discuss some unrelated rumor you may have heard from some unrelated person.”

            “I haven’t wanted to tell anyone. Alex doesn’t know. I put my life in your hands by telling you, though it’s not much of a life at the moment.” He added, “But I have Alex to think about.”

            “The very watchful father. In case I needed yet another reason to be sympathetic to you. No, what passes between me and you will remain so, and if I pass it on, it did not come from you.”

            He sighed, bracing himself. “Marius believes that the Council has gone insane. They’ve found some way to feed off each other and it’s poisoned their senses. They ordered him to torch that nightclub in LA. Only I was to be saved. Marius didn’t go through with the plans. He still drugged me, but he just spied on the New World Elders instead of blowing them up. He says their reasoning was that they would oppose the measure to approve new fledglings, but that couldn’t have been the real reason.”

            “Do you think Marius was lying to you?”

            “No. I think he didn’t know the real reason. He was preparing for the possibility of an uprising against the Council. He thinks it may still happen, just without him for the moment.”

            “I know you better than to ask if you’re serious about this.”

            “Yes, I don’t usually call and spread sedition. I’ve never opposed the Council, and I still don’t want to. But this is Marius’ theory, and he’s had more contact with the Council than either of us in the last few decades. And then, suddenly, my remote server is hacked. Four days letter, the Enforcers show up and get me on a technicality, seizing my equipment and firing me. Everyone who wants relocation help is supposed to call them now. I’m even supposed to give out the number.”

            “The Enforcers do know how to rub salt in the wound. Especially for an enemy they have no authority to kill, as they are so often wont to do.”

            “Maybe I am outdated. Maybe they can do my business better than me. I don’t know what goes on at Enforcer headquarters. They could have all kinds of cutting-edge equipment, young men brought across straight from universities – “

            “But they don’t have your mind, Aristotle. A thousand men couldn’t do the job you do. It is more than just making up false documents and finding safe houses. They are not ... creative. And besides, the Community will never trust them.” He could hear her tension on the other end of the line, the way she was weighing her words. “You are in a precarious position. This is an injustice and people who oppose this new system of control will rally behind your cause.”

            “I don’t want to be the center of cause.”

            “Of course not. The Council knows that. You will obey them, as you always have, and wait for them to destroy themselves from the inside, as Marius has implied they will do. But if you do not want to become a martyr any more than you metaphorically have been set up to be, you must act quickly.”

            Of course, she would be sensible. She understood the Council and the Enforcers better than anyone he knew who was not in either group. “Your advice?”

            “What is your wish? To completely lay down whatever argument you may have, however legitimate it may be, and willingly retire?”

            “It’s better than the alternative. I can’t go to Egypt. Marius made it very clear that was a dangerous place for me.”

            “I do not mean to be insulting when I say this, but do what you are so good at doing. Run and hide. Perhaps not to such extremes as wherever you sent Marius, but you have other concerns. You have a son to raise. You have all of those mortal hobbies. Admit your were forced into retirement, put up no argument, and withdraw from the Community and leave me to deal with the mess.”

            “Helena, you know I don’t mean to do that to you.”

            “With Marius gone and you essentially exiled from your post, I am the only ex-Councilman left in public life. Surely I am next on their list.”

            “I didn’t mean to alarm you.”

            “No, I much prefer to know a storm is coming. You have done me a great service. I would only ask that you stay in touch with me, and not completely disappear unless I tell you to or you feel you have no alternative.”

            “I have alternatives.” He just didn’t know them, off the top of his head. But she was right – he had an infant fledgling and he could find some way to busy himself until this all blew over. She had good sense. “I need to think. We will be in touch.”

            “Yes, take down this number, and call me on it from now on. If you need me.”

            “Thank you, Councilman Helena.”

            “Thank you, Councilman Aristotle. Au revoir.”

            Neither of them were actively sitting on the Council, and yet he had a sinking feeling they were the most sensible Councilman left.

            ************************************************

            Combined with the power of the hungry vampire, a brief panic overcame Alex when he woke alone, and not in his room. It took him a moment to orient himself. He was in Ari’s room, it was night, and Ari wasn’t there. He was in the house though, and from the link, he wasn’t in any major frenzy. Alex straightened his clothing and headed downstairs. The place looked a bit better, probably a result of the cleaning lady’s presence, but it was still so very empty.

            Ari was in the kitchen, sitting at the center island with a glass of blood wine and a cell phone. He seemed to be playing with his toy elephants. He still hadn’t showered or shaved, but he was at least well-rested. As his nervous hands seemed to be absorbed in their task of pushing two wooden elephants together like they were fighting, Alex went for the fridge to get his own drink. “Good evening.”

            “I have not, as you suspect, gone completely insane,” his master said calmly, not looking up from his current preoccupation. “Though people have always said I never completely was sane in the first place.” His eyes betrayed how tired he was, even after all his rest, and his face had a real beard to it now, not the little fuzz that served more as an addition to his goatee. “Thank you for cleaning the house. You didn’t have to do that.”

            “I wanted to.” He closed the fridge and drank his breakfast. It was too cold, too tasteless, but he wasn’t in the mood for something stronger. “I needed something to do.”

            “No one likes to feel useless.” Ari put down the elephants, arranging them neatly with the others on the counter. “I spoke to Elaine.”

            Elaine was the elder of Paris and a former Councilman herself. “What did you say?”

            “A lot of things.” He didn’t have a detailed response yet. It was unlike him not to have an immediate answer to everything, but Alex could hardly blame him. “I called Dell and they’re building two laptops. They should be here by Friday.”

            “Awesome.”

            “They’re definitely better than what Circuit City will have to offer. Not that we shouldn’t get a Circuit City computer. As long as it’s not a Gateway. They use such a terrible parts.” He sipped his own breakfast. “I should call Larry. He probably has some of my files. I don’t know what I would do with an empty computer, and the Enforcers took all my backups.”

            “They really wanted to clean you out, huh?”

            “Yes.”

            “Then I probably should have told them about the backups I made after the hack.”

            He’d never seen Ari’s eyes widen like that without the vampire. It was a normal, human response of shock. “How do I not know about this?”

            “You were really absorbed in finding that IP, so I guess you didn’t pick it up in the link. I didn’t really mean to hide it from you.” Whatever he was going to say next was cut off by Ari flying over the counter to grab him and hug him. “Ow!”

            “I love you, you maniac,” Ari said, kissing him on the cheek. “I knew there was a reason I made you.”

            “Well you didn’t make me indestructible!”

            He would have accepted a few broken bones to see Ari happy, but fortunately his master let him go before any serious damage could be done. “You got everything?”

            “Everything that was there to get. You were really freaked out about losing your files, so it seemed like the thing to do. Plus you gave me all those passwords. Opportunities like that don’t come up every day. Your Mystery Science Theater 3000 collection is intact. The external hard drive is under my bed.” He really wanted to keep talking about any topic that wasn’t what happened, just to see his master looking like he wanted to continue living again. “Are you going to keep your beard? Or just your normal one that makes you look like you couldn’t decide whether to grow one?”

            “No. I look too old with a long beard.”

            “You could shave.”

            “No!” He was rather adamant about this. “There was a time – well, most of human history – when a beard was a sign that you were a man. An adult. Someone of distinction because you made it to the age where you could grow one without having died of some illness or war.”

            “For the record, I think I would look really weird with a beard.”

            “Twenty-four is young. Maybe not to some cultures, but to mine. Twenty-five, twenty-six, you start thinking about getting married. Make some arrangements. Get to sit on committees.”

            “That’s the magic Greek age? Twenty-five?” An age his body would never be.

            “Twenty-five.” Ari finished his drink and sound down in the den, on the very comfortable couch, looking at what remained of their ransacked media center. Most of it was intact but out of order. “They took the Super Nintendo, but not the Gamecube.”

            “Yes.”

            “I like Super Nintendo better.”

            Alex shrugged. “It’s cheaper to replace. Ours was pretty burnt out anyway.”

            Ari took the phone off the stand and looked at the blinking message light. Alex sat down next to him, but waited for Ari to speak. He didn’t; he just grunted and put the machine back in its place, with the vacation settings on.

            “So what are you going to do?”

            “I don’t know.” It was so eerie for him to say that. Aristotle knew everything. But he was just human (not technically), as Alex had to remind himself, and he’d been hit pretty hard by the events of the last week. He wasn’t as hostile to Alex’s questions as he had been immediately after the Enforcers left. It was clear wheels were turning in his brain, but he was not putting forth ideas to give Alex any comfort. In fact, his stare at the wall unit was actually kind of blank.

            “Are you going to speak to the guy in Egypt they said to contact?”

            “No. Egypt is a trap. Marius said so and now I definitely believe him. I just don’t know what kind of trap it is.”

            “Marius?”

            Ari looked at him. “There are some things I’m keeping from you to protect you. You understand that.”

            “Yes.” He must have spoken to Marius since LA, but hadn’t mentioned it, and didn’t want Alex to probe in this direction. “So, no Egypt.”

            “No Egypt.”

            “Is Elaine going to do anything?”

            “Stay on her toes. She’s the only other ex-Councilman in public life. Marius, and now me. We’re both exiles.” He was forced out of work. Even if he used the files to start his business again, which could certainly be done, the Enforcers told him to redirect people to them. That implied they would no longer tolerate his separate operation. “People will come to me, but I’ll have to send them away.”

            “Do you think it will work? The Enforcers will be able to handle everybody and everybody will be willing to deal with the Enforcers?”

            “It’ll be interesting, but no. It’ll be a disaster. A disaster I won’t be a part of.”

            “If you spoke to people and told them what happened – “

            “They would take my side, of course. I don’t think there’s a vampire alive under a thousand years old who doesn’t owe me that. Even if they don’t personally like me, I’m certainly preferable to the Enforcers. But I can’t let them make me into a cause. That’s how you get killed – being the focus of a cause. I did not become a vampire to stand for causes. I became a vampire to pursue my studies without the restrictions of age or health. And I couldn’t leave you. No. Absolutely not.” This much he had thought out, or was very good at thinking out on his feet. “I’ll retire from public life. Tell people not to ask me about it and just accept it. They won’t accept it, but they won’t involve me.” Now his mind was moving again. “We’ll have to move somewhere. There’s nothing to do in Tahoe. What do you want to do?”

            If any question could have made him look like an idiot for not having an answer to it, it was that one. “... Whatever you want to do.”

            “Alex, you’re young, you’re brilliant, and you’re immortal. What do you want to do with your time?”

            He couldn’t answer. He’d been concentrating so much on growing with the vampire and controlling it that he had no plans, no things he considered. “I was never good at making long-term plans.”

            “Think about it. It doesn’t have to be decided tonight.” He took the phone again and put it in his lap. “What does have to be done is I have to talk to Larry Merlin, if the Enforcers haven’t already spoken to him. If they’re taking over my business, he’s the next guy they’d go to. Then there’s Feliks, but Feliks can manage himself, even at his age. If anything happens, he can fall back to his master, who’s twelve hundred and much harder to push around.” He picked up the phone, very much in his ‘I’m working’ mode now, which meant Alex should find something else to do.

            At least he was working again.

            Alex went to his room, and checked again. The hard drive was still there. He knew better than to call anyone, not until Ari gave him the say so, but he had to do something and felt useless without his computers. He grabbed his skateboard and went outside, into the autumn air. He didn’t feel the chill, just the wind on his face. He didn’t leave the vicinity of the house, but went far enough to find a massacred, bloodless rabbit body in the hedge. He wondered how long before someone set up a “monster of Lake Tahoe” website and started to capitalize on the white-furred, mysteriously dog-like wolf that seemed to be terrorizing the local animal population.

            When he returned to the house, still anxious but at least having blown off a bit of steam, the shower was running. So there would be some normalcy again. He was reading the latest PC Gamer issue when Ari finally came back downstairs, looking more like himself when he was clean, his clothes weren’t a week old, and his beard was trimmed. “Larry’s coming.”

            “When?”

            “It depends on when he can get a flight. Tomorrow night or the next. Feliks, too. I haven’t invited anyone else. I don’t want drama, but they both deserve to hear the explanation from me.” He looked at the old Mac monitor with the fish tank built into it. “Where did you find this thing?”

            “The basement.”

            “I killed so many fish with this thing before I decided to splurge on a water filter. It was actually cheaper just to buy a new goldfish every day, but it was also a hassle.”

            “So it worked?”

            “Of course. It’s just a tank positioned in a plastic casing that used to belong to a computer monitor.”

            Alex knew better than to spend time thinking over whether he was going to say what he wanted to say. If he lingered for too long, Ari would just probe the link. He probably already had. “While I was there, I went into the boiler room, and I found this room. What is it for?”

            Ari didn’t look up from his inspection of the tank. “You’ve already guessed what it’s for.”

            “So you just ... have a dungeon installed wherever you go?”

            “Since I made you, yes.” Ari was not apologetic about the terrifying dungeon in his basement. “It takes titanium to hold us.”

            “Oh.” He wasn’t tremendously interested in the actual type of metal that made up the chains in the basement. Ari must have known that. Now was not the time to continue pressing the point. Ari had so much on his mind.

            “It’s for when you’re strong enough that I just can’t hold you down,” Ari said. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Brief periods of madness do run in the family.” He picked up the speaker phone. “I didn’t mean to scare you. You have enough to worry about.” With that, he took the cordless phone and disappeared into the study.     


Chapter 8

            All of the vampires around him smelled of fear. Such an odd thing for vampires, but they were already sweating in their armor, not from the warm night but from the emotions that had spent so long forcing themselves not to acknowledge. The weeks and months and years that went into the night did not allow for a moment’s weakness now that the time was right, but looking up and seeing the sky filled with flaming arrows, so much that it appeared as if the stars had grown brighter and were swiftly moving towards them, he could not help but feel a terror unlike anything he’d ever known, the terror that came with the certainty that he was going to die.

            He tried to run, but only got to a sitting up position in his bed. It was still light out, but Alex was too terrified to sleep. His hands were shaking as if he was there. He would lay awake until the fear of the run overwhelmed the fear of the dream, so fantastically real, and then he would be lost in it again. Instead he tried to fight it by getting up, wrapping his sheet around him as if it would protect him any more than his clothes, and stumbled to the mini-fridge. His vision was blurry and he couldn’t get a handle on the bottle. It was too complicated to uncork without his fangs and the vampire was hiding in terror. He curled up on the floor, still trying to fight sleep but knowing it was an impossible battle.

            “Shhh,” Ari whispered as he fought him lifting him and carrying him back to the bend. “It’s my fault. It was my dream. Go back to sleep.”

            “No.”

            Alex,” Ari said in that very soothing, overpowering voice of his, so rarely used but so effective. “Sleep.” And he did.

                        ************************************************

            When Alex woke again, it was as if the previous events had never happened, or it seemed that way at first. The sheets weren’t soaked with blood sweat, he wasn’t gasping, and the beast was asserting itself and its normal nightly hunger, which he eagerly answered by nearly falling out of bed to get to the fridge. He sated himself with far more blood than usual, then collected himself. It had happened. The sheets were changed, but his clothing was still stained. Not wanting to work himself into a panic again, he tried to not think about it long enough to shower and change. He felt an obligation to be presentable when his master was such a mess. If Aristotle was busy on the phone, he would go outside and burn off steam with the skateboard.

            Ari was not on the phone. He was at rarely-used kitchen table, with a bottle and his MIT parent mug.

            Alex sat down. “Hi. Thanks for today.”

            “It was my responsibility. That was my dream. I shouldn’t have projected it, but I can’t completely control the link yet. I just don’t usually have dreams that powerful.”

            “So you saw it too?” Ari’s silence just confirmed it. “Were you there?”

            “No. Not on the night of the battle, anyway, but I am cursed with the memory of it.” He played with the bottle, leaning it back and forth so the remainder of the blood wine swirled around the bottom. “The soldier’s name was Tiberius. I found him still alive the following night, perhaps the only survivor. He was dying and he knew it. Maybe he could have been carted off and resuscitated, I don’t know, but he didn’t want to be. He wanted the sun to come and kill him. Which it did. But before he died, he asked that I drink the remainder of his blood so that someone would remember the battle, and because he had been kind to me in the past, I did. Tiberius had been a Spartan. He wanted to die on his shield, so I helped him out of the sand and what remained of him laid there as he became ash, then the wind took it away.” He looked up at Alex. “It was the end of the age of vampire kings, and they didn’t want to go quietly into the night. So they fought, and they lost, and the survivors – those who refused to fight – formed the Council.”

            “When was this?”

            “108 BC. The battle was in Lower Egypt, near an oasis called Magna. Rome was conquering the known world, picking up where Alexander left off. Our world as we had always known it was shrinking. The last vampire kingdom fell the year before to an army formed by the remainders of the soldiers of Carthage. King Dagar came to Egypt, still a great stronghold, and marshaled the entire vampire world behind him. The plan was to remind humanity that there were more powerful things than a mortal army. Everyone had to go. If you weren’t, you were a traitor. If your master was alive, he made you. By the end we had forty thousand troops – all vampires. More vampires than have ever existed since then. But we were betrayed by someone, who helped the mortal army prepare against our weaknesses, and the mortals collected a hundred thousand men. Maybe more – there was never an official count on our side. Very few of them survived, but they nearly wiped out the entire vampire species in one night.” His eyes drifted. He could never stay focused on one thing for long. “I promised Tiberius I would make sure when he died, his ashes would be collected and tossed into the wind from his shield, so the night after the battle, I went to the hill near Magna where our species lay dying, and found him. Maybe there were some other survivors who also didn’t last the night, but I kept my promise. A mortal scout in charge of finishing off the remainder put a wooden spear in my chest, but he missed the heart. I played dead until he left and hid under the shield, but I would have burned with the sun if I hadn’t been found by a scavenger from Rome, looking to make good on all the armor and scrap metal. I promised him that if he saved me, I would serve him for the rest of his life, and I did.”

            “This was when you were a slave in Rome.”

            “Yes. I was actually quite happy with the situation, being his house manager. I got to see a lot of interesting antiques that he collected and sold, and there was nothing he could do to me that hadn’t been done by someone more powerful and evil. He wasn’t a bad man, actually. I taught his children mathematics and rhetoric. It was the first time in my life that no one was giving me orders and I was happy where I was. I didn’t return to the vampire world until his funeral was over.”

            “Why didn’t you fight?” He did not imply that he thought Aristotle a coward. He would have had a solid reason.

            “I thought more of the advances in mortal technology than they did. I was two hundred, barely more than a fledgling, and everyone knew my master had been insane, so no one paid any attention to me. I wasn’t any military commander, but I wasn’t so sure about the superiority of vampires over human ingenuity. Many of the leaders were Old Ones, and remembered the days when humans were little more than animals in skins, so they underestimated the human mind. A few others – generally, masterless, young vampires – felt the same way and argued the point, but the Old Ones put them in a cell and promised to return to feast on them in celebration. Those, obviously, were the vampires that lived. Those and the ones who didn’t arrive in time, or didn’t come at all. That’s why there’s maybe two Old Ones left in the world, both in hiding. There’s almost no one who’s older than three thousand years. An entire society was gone, and time has buried the site in sand. I don’t know if I could find it again. I don’t think I would want to.” He shivered. His master actually shivered. “The Council doesn’t like discussing it. Obviously they want us to think they’ve been around since the beginning, that they weren’t the young upstarts themselves who survived by betraying their kind and hiding when they were called to arms. I must have been dreaming about it because of the state they’re in now. And because it’s time for me to hide again, like I did in Rome. I didn’t want to help rebuild. I didn’t care about other vampires. I just wanted to live my life and be happy. That seemed to require running away from the responsibilities other people assumed of me.”

            “People aren’t going to think you ran away.”

            “Maybe they’re not going to blame me, not to go up the big scary Council and the Enforcers when most think I’m still shy of my thousandth Conversion Day, but they’re going to know exactly what I’m doing. It is an apt description of the situation. Maybe ‘retreat’ is a nicer word. Implies I have some sort of long-term battle strategy.”

            “The best revenge is living well,” Alex said. “Or I guess in this case, longer. Do you think the others are going to rebel against the Council?”

            “If they continue their current course, yes, and it’s not like them to radically backtrack on something. It’s too soon for me to know how it will happen, but history is not in their favor. Tyrannical rulers either crush their enemies properly or are deposed.” He picked his head up at the doorbell. “That should be Circuit City. They deliver.”

            Alex got up, but Ari followed him and let him sign for the packages. Even with the order from Dell, Ari purchased a computer tower and all the necessary equipment to accompany it. It was a Compaq, and it required some time to set up. Ari let Alex start downloading all the programs they used as soon as the internet was running while he fielded calls. He’d changed the message on his answering machine to give the phone number for the new relocation services, and disabled calls through the public line. That didn’t stop people from calling him on the various private lines as soon as they heard the message, demanding an explanation. His voice was remarkably calm as he gave the same explanation each time, which was that it was now Enforcer business and he couldn’t help them, sorry. No, he couldn’t get into it. He would call them back when he could. He paced back and forth in front of the computer table, occasionally issuing Alex reminders about all the software, legal and illegal, they needed to put on the computer.        

            “No, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I know your records are with the Enforcers now, and you’ll just have to wait for them to retrieve them for you. Yes, it’s very inconvenient. Trust me, no one is more inconvenienced than myself.”

            As if they had any idea. Alex smiled at their ignorance and went about restoring Ari’s real estate tracking programs. He specifically wanted those back as soon as possible. “Just because I don’t work in the vampire identity market doesn’t mean I can’t buy and sell real estate.” It was a major source of income for him, as if he needed any more money.

            Ari was on the phone the entire night, and assured Alex that the likelihood of him his being on the phone all day meant there would be no bad dreams projected “all over the place” while Alex slept. However the day did progress, Alex slept through it, undisturbed by dreams or anxiety, and felt better when he woke.

            His master was up, but his clothing was different, so maybe he had slept a little. He was playing one of the Final Fantasies with the Playstation now hooked up to the TV. “The ringer’s off. My private line now tells people I’m fine and they should go fuck themselves.”

            “I’m assuming you worded it differently.”

            “Not that differently. How do you kill the Ruby Weapon?”

            “I think you have to start with like two of your guys dead and then resurrect them. Ruby Weapon isn’t worth it. You can defeat Sephiroth without the Ruby Weapon’s materia. Someone in my dorm could do it. Or maybe that was the Emerald Weapon. Emerald Weapon’s easier to kill.”

            “Larry and Feliks should both arrive at some point. They’ll probably stay the day, depending on how long it goes. Larry definitely will,” Ari said without taking his eyes off the very complex screen. “I can never get the mime spell to work.”

            “Is this your first time through this game? Because I’m gonna warn you, the ending sucks.”

            “I know. I read about it, but yes, this is my first time.” The doorbell rang. “Tell them I’ll join them as soon as I get to a save point.”

            Alex went to the front door and opened it for their guest. “He’s trying to find a save point.”

            Feliks Twist entered, removing his top hat, which went well with the suit he was wearing and would look good on anyone – in the 1880’s. He did not have a gift plant with him, just his briefcase. “Is that computer jargon I’m unacquainted with? It’s so very hard to keep up.”

            “It’s video game jargon.”

            “I think I can then assume I have not been summoned to a council of war. Though with Aristotle, you never quite know. How are you, Dr. Green?”

            “Okay, all things considered, Mr. Twist.”

            “Bah! That name is your master’s fault, you know that? I wasn’t born in a Dickens novel.”

            He certainly did dress the part, but Alex decided not to comment on that. Instead he ushered him into the kitchen, assuming the computer desk wouldn’t be of much use, and took out the bottle of wine quite obviously set aside for the meeting. Feliks was about to sit when Ari entered, and then actually embraced. “I am so honored to see you. I assume you are not accepting many guests.”

            “No.” Ari looked relieved to see him, but that couldn’t remove his serious demeanor. “Retirement has made me a very popular person.”

            Feliks was his usual self, which meant excellent manners. “I won’t burden you with explanations you’ll have to repeat when Larry gets here. Is there something you wish to discuss with me?”

            Alex served them (and himself, feeling that he would need it) but only Feliks drank as Ari began a rather complicated discussion of his finances. The vampire side of his business was not his main source of his income, which was actually real estate and extremely long term investments. Those had to be separated out from anything Community-related so he could maintain them. “There’s also the matter that I expect to be gone for a little while. A few months or a few years. It will depend on the situation.” Feliks was the executor of his estate, and in charge of his investments when he was unavailable. Feliks was quite talented in this regard; a number of vampires used him. Ari wanted everything straightened out before he disappeared. He was nothing if not practical. Alex didn’t know where they were going yet, but it was good to hear that his master had some kind of plan.

            Larry arrived shortly after midnight, a bit more harried than usual. “Alex.”

            “Mr. Merlin.”

            Whereas Feliks could be a quiet, still man, Larry Merlin was perpetually in nervous motion. He needed mousse to control his hair, which was slicked back but still rather curly, escaping even chemical treatment. “Am I late?”

            “No, right on time,” Aristotle smiled at him. Alex was going to retreat to the center island again but his master stopped him. “Sit down. This concerns you almost as much as it does me.”

            “First of all, what I told you on the phone is true. I can’t entirely, for your own safeties, elaborate on the situation, but the Enforcers appeared several nights after a break-in to the remote server. They nailed me on a technicality in the Code and confiscated all of my equipment. I could contest it by going to Egypt, but that’s not in my best interests. The little of it that I can tell and will ask you to keep to yourselves is that I have reason to suspect this was a personal attack on me for reasons unrelated to my business.

            “There are only three ex-Councilmen in public life, and now Marius is in hiding for his actions in LA and my status has been reduced by taking away the only reason people talk to me anyway. The last one is Elaine, so you shouldn’t be hugely surprised if she’s mysteriously called out of her post in Paris. I don’t know why they’re doing this, but I don’t want to find out by asking them. The people who only know me through my work probably won’t think me a coward for not listening to the Enforcers, because everyone listens to the Enforcers. The people who know my real age and past will realize something else must be going on, but I have no intention at this time of answering their questions. Keeping my head down is how I’ve made it as long as I have. Alex and I are going to disappear from the Community – not entirely, but essentially have no contact with vampires beyond what’s necessary. When it’s safe, we’ll come back.”

            “Do you really think the Enforcers can handle your business?” Larry was skeptical.

            “No, but I might be pleasantly surprised. I’m not the only one who knows how to make a fake passport. Their biggest problem will be dealing with the hassle of it. They’ll expect everyone to come to them, not the other way around.” He shrugged. “It’s not my concern how badly they succeed or fail. I just hope they don’t have the audacity to ask for my help when they find out I kept a lot of my files in dead languages. They should have asked about that before they stole every computer I owned. Larry, I assume they haven’t contacted you.”

            “No. I’m waiting for the call.”

            Ari didn’t seem surprised. “They might not realize how important your work is. The higher-ups don’t notice anyone under 300. When they do, if they offer you a position, it is my advice that you not take it. If they offer you anything less than what you’re completely comfortable with, walk away, even if it means early retirement.”

            “What am I supposed to do?” Like all fledglings, especially ones without master, Larry was especially image-conscious.

            “You could always try the mortal world of hacking,” Ari said. “But to be perfectly honest, I expect something more creative from you.”

            “What you’re advocating,” Feliks said, “is complete compliance with the Enforcers, short of joining them ourselves.”

            “Yes. Don’t fight battles where you already know the outcome. Most of your business won’t concern them, anyway,” he said to Feliks. “If they start asking banking questions you don’t want to answer, call me. There’s a lot in the Code to protect the property of vampires, but it’s all very obscure.”

            “You intend to stay in contact?”

            “I’ll have a phone and a computer. I’m not dropping off the planet. They would be far more suspicious if I did.”

            “Can you give us some idea of where you intend to go?”

            Alex looked at his master. They hadn’t discussed it since Ari asked him what he wanted to do. He hadn’t divined an answer to for him. To be honest, he would go to the North Pole of Aristotle thought it was a good idea. From the way it sounded, his master was considering somewhere very exotic for a few months, then returning to civilization (probably the States) to live quietly as the world collapsed around him.

            But Ari only said, “I have some ideas.”


Part 2 – 4 Months Later (2005)

Chapter 9

            “You are a difficult man to find.”

            Aristotle looked up from his notebook for the first time. He sensed LaCroix’s presence as soon as he arrived on the island, the only other presence this time of night. The tourists were gone, leaving no illumination whatsoever on this end of the island but the full moon, which was quite enough for both of them.

            At night, Española Island came alive. The iguanas were cold, and therefore aggressive, fighting with each other on the rocks. The birds – albatrosses, gulls, and finches - that scattered so easily in the sight of many humans were less cautious now, though the scattered when they sensed the presence of another predator, the vampire LaCroix.

            “Now you’ve gone and scattered them,” Aristotle said. He did not get up from his folding chair, still content to look out at the endless deep blue waves indistinguishable from the sky but for the way the moon reflected off them. “You have to hide your aura almost entirely to get near them. They’re not smart enough to be hypnotized. Seals are another story.” He looked up at LaCroix. “Tourists don’t generally wear black.”

            Lucien LaCroix had at least shed his layers of black and was down to a silk shirt and rolled-up pants. “Yes, well, we don’t all have your fashion sense.” He made no comment about Aristotle’s Hawaiian shirt and khakis, or his straw sun hat to protect him from the absent sun. “Your child was good enough to point me in your direction upon my arrival to San Cristóbal.” It was one of the largest of the Galápagos Islands, and the only one with a commercial airport.

            “Had I known your were coming early than I did, I would have had more to offer,” Aristotle said, and offered up his flask. After a long flight there and in anticipation of the flight back, the only way to travel between the islands at night, he accepted and took more than a sip for himself before handing it back. Not to make his guest wait on him, he folded up his beach chair, tied it to his backpack, and put both over his shoulders. If he was not a vampire he would have been overloaded, but he barely felt the weight. “There are very few times when I regret my condition,” he said as they began to walk along the beach, “but this is one of them. The full color of the scenery cannot be appreciated but in daylight. Though, you do get to see rather silly things.” They were not far from the rocks, there two iguanas were taking moments between long breaks of not moving to thrash at each other until one knocked the other over the ledge. “The lack of sun makes them very edgy. They can’t find a good spot to sit. Imagine if that was all you wanted in life – a rock to sit on, not too hot or too cold. With such an easy request and few known predators you would think there would be more of them, but they are so sensitive to climate.” Unlike the two of them, who only felt the weather when it was below freezing or nearing boiling.

            “I believe the subject of species’ survival has already been extensively researched,” LaCroix said, not hiding his impatient tone.

            “Yes, I knew Darwin. I think he is the only historical celebrity I actually went to meet while he was still alive because I was so fond of his work. He was still a young man then – 52 or 53 – and he was very analytical, of course. Less wordy in person than in his writing. I heard him give a speech on male parasites at the Royal College in London. Apparently he got a medal for it. Maybe he bought the gold with all the money I gave them to pursue their research. We underestimate the scientific achievements of mortals – or we did, though they’re becoming a bit hard to ignore.”

            “Yes.”

            “To be this patient, you either have some very bad news, or you realize you have no choice, having gone to great lengths to strand yourself alone with me, which doesn’t give you much room to walk out if my pace disgusts you,” Aristotle observed. “And to be specific, I am not a hard man to find; I am a hard man to get to.”

            “You’ve quite succeeded in that regard.” Even when LaCroix was utterly aggravated, he kept his voice even. Somehow that made it worse for most vampires, but Aristotle wasn’t in the mood to be bullied or frightened.

            “So. Who’s in trouble and how do you expect me to help them? Normally I would just guess Nick and be right, but I won’t rush to judge you yet.”

            “Nicholas is worried, but he will have the decency to call on you himself when it’s time for him to move on and the Enforcers refuse his request to take the good doctor and Katherine with him.”

            Aristotle laughed. “So now she’s the good doctor. I suspect you might be starting to like her.” But Natalie no longer stood between Nick and LaCroix, and hadn’t since she stopped her search for the cure. If anything, Nick was mellowed by his happiness and his relationship with his father was better than it had been in centuries.

            “I could mean it sarcastically.”

            “Ah! But then you would have said it sarcastically.”

            LaCroix actually looked at him with a hint of smile on his face. Perhaps he realized it was useless to not at least partially humor him. “Retirement has been good to you.”

            “I thought I would be terminally bored, but I quickly realized – or Alex quickly reminded me – that I had once very much concerned myself with the world around me, and not the insular immortal realm, and I had been very happy. Eventually the loneliness for our kind will catch up with me and I’ll return, but I would wager that some emergency will drag me back before that happens. Did you know the islands were his suggestion?”

            “I did not.”

            “Very clever, that one. A great mind would have been lost if we’d never met.” But he waved the thought away. “So it isn’t Nick that’s the problem, not yet. And the only other person who would send you so far out here so quickly would be Janette, and she’s more than capable of handling herself. Any trouble she would be in would be not by her design or influence, and I don’t know what I could do to extract her.”

            LaCroix’s voice warmed to the compliment. He took great pride in his children, however badly they misbehaved. “She is very resourceful.”

            “If it’s not a specific person - and I can’t think of another specific person that would drive you so readily into my useless hands – then it must be the Enforcers. No, too obvious. The entire Community would have to be in terrible trouble for you to be the first one to arrive, and I would have heard about that. I have internet back at the apartment, you know. And a phone. You could have called.” He stopped, holding his hat on his head against the strong winds. “You came all this way to pick my brains. Not about anything concrete, because you would simply act, not make idle chatter, if you were moving forward with a concrete plan. You think I have insight that you don’t, maybe from experience and maybe from perspective, probably a little of both. I am touched.”

            “I could have just given my reason.”

            “Where’s the fun in that?”

            LaCroix was not so amused. He rarely was. “Elaine is being maneuvered into a very bad position with the Council.”

            “Not a surprise. To any of us, I think. Unless you start waking sleeping Old Ones, Elaine is one of the last serious opponents of the Council. And no one is foolish enough to wake sleeping Old Ones.” He raised his finger. “I amend my statement. Some people are foolish enough to wake sleeping Old Ones, but they are usually fairly desperate.”

            “Is Abaish still alive?”

            “I assume I would have heard if he met his demise.”

            “Did you know him?”

            “I met him when I was very young, barely eighty.” Aristotle saw no reason to hide his meeting with Abaish-takal, said to be among the oldest (if not the oldest) of vampires, who had lived in India for as long as anyone could remember. “My master took me, of course. At the time, he was more receptive to guests, especially a relative. My master’s father was his nephew. He said some things to me I’ve never forgotten. If he can still be found, I will take Alexander to see him someday.” Abaish could be talked into revealing ancient abilities forgotten or disguised by thinning bloodlines. Aristotle knew precisely what LaCroix had gone to learn from Abaish – how to hide things in his blood, specifically the memory of killing his master, so no one could find them even if they completely drained him. It allowed a young Lucius to stay alive; killing one’s master was a capital crime. “He was last seen in the 1830’s, or so the Indian Community says. Even they don’t know where he is, only that they would feel his death. If you intend to fight the Council, he will not be the ace up your sleeve.”

            LaCroix pretended to be offended. “I said no such thing.”

            “What’s bothering you, Lucius? The situation as it has been conveyed to me is far from crisis mode, and you are above it. You almost never used my services, and you’re old enough to have the authority to protect your own against the Enforcers. The state of affairs can’t be bothering you that much.”

            “I don’t know.” It was a very strange thing for someone of LaCroix’s nature and stature to admit. “There is the matter of the Council growing ever more invasive in our lives, and using the Enforcers to do it, but that will balance itself without me.”

            “Meaning, you will stay out of it. A wise decision.”

            “It is not that. I think the Code is beginning to run its course. It has become too confining to our intrinsic nature. Or perhaps humanity is simply too observant. There must be some other way to balance hiding ourselves from humanity and hunting them for food without this legal nonsense.”

            “The Code used to be pure and simple. What is the first line of the Code?”

            Of course, LaCroix did not need to think up his answer. He knew it by heart. “‘You shall not kill your maker.’”

            Aristotle laughed. “No.”

            “No?”

            “You would think something so sacred would not be lost to us, but that is the second line of the code. The first line is, ‘You shall not kill your brother.’ It puts Qum’ra and Qa’ra’s betrayal in a rather different light, doesn’t it? Their brother killed their father, and then they killed their brother. At the time, it was the greater crime, and the one they were cursed for. There was a brief witch hunt to extinguish both their lines, led by a very vicious tribunal in Egypt. All of Qa’ra’s remaining children were killed, though they couldn’t find him. And all but one of my siblings. She lived a little longer by being deep in Asia, and she returned after the spell.”

            “And you?”

            “For that and other crimes I did not commit – they had to put me on trial for something – I was sentenced to a fate worse than death, eternal imprisonment in a tomb buried in earth.” He could see the horror on LaCroix’s face, imagining being slowly eaten away by the Hunger and helpless to do anything about it, until it drove him insane. “And my eternal sentence lasted an entire seventy-six years until the place was abandoned in a retreat of the vampire forces and grave robbers broke open our coffins. One of the other escapees now sits on the Council. I never asked him what he was in for. It didn’t seem polite. When we emerged, the four of us who weren’t instantly burned by the torches of the robbers, vampire society was in too much of an uproar to care about who we were and how we miraculously appeared. I don’t think they can prosecute me again – lack of evidence, double jeopardy, all that.”

            He knew what LaCroix was thinking, but did not dare to ask, so Aristotle chuckled and said, “So what’s it like? After the first few days – weeks, I’ll never know – you stop screaming and you’re too weak to move and scratch at your coffin, and a sort of quiet pain comes over you. Wounds that hurt seem very loud, when you think about it, because your nerves are screaming in pain in their own way. This was not nerve related, though my stomach did hurt badly, until even the feeling of having a stomach or a body at all passed away, and there was just hunger. It was freeing in a certain way, to be relieved of concerns about the body and the wish for death because your mind could process nothing else except the hunger, to the point where it became indistinct as to what you were hungering for. Even though every second is agony, you have no concept of the passage of time. One of the vampires who was freed by the bandits had been there for two thousand years. It’s not a state I would ever try to replicate considering it was unbearable agony that you were forced to bear, but it made me look at the natural world very differently. None of us – the three that survive, as one simply walked into the sun – are very settled. We lead lives seeking constant stimuli. The mind is not meant to be so quiet for too long.” He shook his head. It was one of the few truly unpleasant memories that was not immediately associated with his master. “The experience that was one of many that led me to believe in the balance of – to use the very outdated term – the two humors, the vampire and the human. To return to your concern, we all suspect that the Council is too isolated in Egypt. People think it’s because of electricity and telephones and cars, but I don’t agree. Even if humanity had not made a single scientific progress since the fall of Rome I reject the notion that removing yourself from the natural world is healthy.”

            “And the Enforcers?”

            “Initially a mere convenience, they are the arm of an increasingly paranoid and confused despot. And I say it singularly because the links between Councilman go so deep that they might as well be one when making decisions on their behalf – and, supposedly, our behalf. What do you do with an immortal tyrant? But let us not get too far ahead of ourselves. We will return to the original concern, Elaine.”

            LaCroix was not used to talking to Aristotle for so long, or being lectured, so he gladly moved topics to more specific speculation. “She is hosting too many people in Paris. She knows it, but they come to her with no other options. When they need to move on, the Enforcers give them passports to somewhere they have no desire to go. Africa is very popular. East Asia as well.”

            “Places with poor communications, constant warfare, and large populations that are always mysteriously disappearing. It makes sense on a practical level, but that doesn’t mean I would be willing to live in Zimbabwe.”

            “Precisely. They flee to Paris, and Elaine cannot turn them away. She does not have the heart to do it.”

            “Her weakness, in this case. As I’m sure she is well-aware.” As city Elder she had the right to ask any vampire in her city to leave, or deny them entrance, though she usually was expected to give a reason. “She is headed down a road with conflict at the end. What I am unsure of is whether it will be with the Enforcers or the Council itself.”

            “If there is a conflict, will you support her?”

            “Lucius, you know me better than to suppose I will declare myself without a careful assessment of the situation – in person, preferably. And she has not called me. She knows she can, and she probably will. I will be most amused to see if you stand with Elaine or not.”

            LaCroix avoided Aristotle’s eyes. “You imply I would not.”

            “And I have implied I would not, given certain conditions. Your whole life – your very long life – your ultimate goal has been self-preservation, followed immediately by the protection of your children. Whether they join the fray will determine your stance. What else?”

            His guest hesitated. “I normally do not traffic in unsubstantiated rumors.”

            “What other kind of rumors are there?”

            “The source was an Elder but not an entirely reliable one. They have reason to believe the Council is considering killing mortals forbidden.”

            “That’s impossible.”

            “That is why I qualified it as unsubstantiated.”

            Aristotle drew a circle in the sand with his foot, weighing his answer. “It’s been a long time in coming, but I imagined there would be some crisis in the mortal world, not the vampire one, that would force the issue. It’s sensible in that it would cause the Enforcers far less grief and people would have to move less suddenly. It’s impossible because it denies our intrinsic nature. Though to be fair, there are fledglings who have only known the bottle. Or if they have killed, it hasn’t been a proper hunt. Maybe their first hunger and nothing else.”

            “A practice I would discourage.”

            “I’m sure there are plenty of practices you would discourage. I would be very upset if some ancient customs went back into fashion. That said, I know myself well enough to not rely on the bottle for all of my needs, and I taught my son the same.”

            “He is young. He needs the strength.” LaCroix was a notoriously fierce and studied hunter, and schooled his children well. Even Nick in a bad mood could be particularly vicious. It was part of the reason he couldn’t make peace with himself, Aristotle supposed. He could not be the meek and G-dly Christian his strict Catholicism demanded of him. “You will disobey them?”

            “You cannot trap me on this matter. It is a rumor and I will make no comment concerning Alex until it becomes law – if it ever does.” He needed to think on this a while longer before he could address LaCroix’s concerns with is own speculations. “I offer my haven for the day, but you may find it a bit cramped to your liking. There are some fine hotels in San Cristóbal, though their cellars are not well-stocked.”

            “I accept your generous offer,” LaCroix said. Aristotle knew he would; he would take any chance to see how Aristotle was living in isolation and how Alex was doing. They washed their feet in the water and flew back together, across the quiet waves beneath them.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle’s apartment on San Cristóbal Island was more of a condo, part of a larger brightly-painted complex to disguise the relative poverty the locals lived in from the tourists. There were two floors, and one was just the stairway and a small storage area, where Aristotle deposited his beach accessories. “We’re home!”

            The apartment was tiny compared to the Tahoe house, but most things would be, and it was adequate for their needs. The only parts of the kitchen that were needed were the fridge and the sink, so the rest of the shelving was filled with books, papers, and computer equipment. The kitchen table was turned into an elaborate complete station, not the only one in the house but the biggest. The living room was tiny, with only a sofa and a small television that got six channels, five local and BBC World. The satellite dish in the window was entirely for their internet connection. The furniture was basically falling apart or taken from the hotels, and the condo’s bizarre choice in wallpaper was covered up by hundreds of postcards showing the islands in daylight.

            Alex greeted their guest very politely. “Mr. LaCroix.” He served them their best, which wasn’t up to Aristotle’s standards but would do for the time being. It was so difficult to get shipments without going to Ecuador, which was not known to be a Community haven in the first place. “Is there anything else I can get you?” He was desperately trying not to yawn, but the sun was coming and it was an uphill battle.

            “No, I am quite satisfied with my arrangements.”

            Since LaCroix would be taking his, Alex bade them goodnight and disappeared into Aristotle’s bedroom. The heavy drapes over the screen windows were always drawn, so they were safe in any part of the cramped apartment. “Obviously it’s not a long term arrangement here.” He knew LaCroix would settle for nothing less than buying the second biggest mansion on the island (just so he wasn’t the biggest mansion) if he chose to make San Cristóbal his home for any length of time. He cleared away the assorted books on wildlife on the islands and newspapers to make space on the table for their drinks. “If you want to report that I’ve shacked myself up in a cramped cabin in the middle of nowhere, feel free. It’s not an entirely inaccurate description.”

            “I would contest the notion that you are in hiding,” LaCroix said, “as it took me approximately three minutes to acquire your address. The arrangements took much longer.”

             “The Enforcers aren’t booking flights for you? And you would think they would want to monitor your activity.” He did briefly look at his new email, scanned the subject headers, and turned back to his guest. “Larry’s out of business.”

            “I understand the Enforcers offered him a position. He was very wise not to take it.”

            “People underestimate Larry because he’s so young. If you survive the Great Depression with circus tricks, you can’t be all that dim a bulb. He’s on to bigger and better things.”

            “And you?”

            “It depends if you classify studying wildlife as a bigger and better thing.” Aristotle did not feel compelled to explain his obsession. Let LaCroix draw conclusions however he wished. He was rather good at doing them. “You would have mentioned by now if they cancelled your radio show.”

            “No, I’ve not spoken to the Enforcers at all on that subject or any other for a year now. If they do make such a request, I will be interested to hear their justifications, other than to rattle me.”

            “You are now the oldest vampire in North America.”

            “Yes,” LaCroix hissed, not pleased with the idea. Normally he enjoyed the power his age brought him, but not when it came with notoriety. “Constantine wants to have a gathering in Las Vegas, but no one would agree to it. He is receiving the most hassle so he has the most objections, but there will not be a meeting in the New World anytime soon.”

            “Constantine always chaffed at rules. And nobody’s on their best behavior in Vegas.”

            LaCroix sipped his wine, moving at his usual conversational pace, which was very quiet and tempered. “Do you have any reason to believe Marius is alive?”

            “A loaded question, don’t you think? Anyone can guess at that. Not everyone wants to.”

            “I would prefer more than a guess.”

            Aristotle rubbed his beard. “You know my price.”

            LaCroix elaborately rolled his eyes and reached into his bag to retrieve the pictures, which he hurled across the table like they were so much garbage. Nor did he seem to appreciate Aristotle’s reaction. “She’s adorable! And what is the white dress about?” The picture was clearly taken in a church, with the wooden pews behind her. “There’s some name for this ceremony. It escapes me.”

            “Mass. You’re thinking of Confirmation. This is her graduation ceremony from kindergarten. Confirmation is in second grade.”

            “Yes that. Do they confirm she was baptized or something?” Modern Catholicism was not his area of scholarship. The next picture was of a very enthusiastic Nick holding his adoptive daughter, who was waving for the camera.

            “It is the first time they drink the blood of their Savior.”

            And eat his body, I suppose. And all we sacrificed were animals.” In the third picture was Natalie. Grey was starting to appear in her roots, but not very much. Some of it could possibly be attributed to raising Kate and dealing with Nick’s mood swings, which would test anyone. Though she was content, she was just going along with most of the rituals of Catholicism, not her native sect (Russian Orthodox, very irreligious), because it cemented their family in a very human way and made Nick so happy. “I take it you didn’t attend?”

            “Some of us prefer not to hole ourselves up in a church for an entire day for an hour-long ceremony,” LaCroix grumbled. “Aren’t you her godfather?”

            “When Schanke passes, the honor falls to me, yes. They made that decision when I was a lot more useful to have around as a godparent.”

            “My understanding is that the sole requirement is to send gifts on her birthday.”

            “And take on the sacred oath to look out for her for the rest of her life. Can I keep these?”

            “They’re yours. My question?”

            “I have good reason to suspect he’s alive,” he said, referring to Marius, “though I can in all honesty say that I don’t know where he currently is.” It was true on a technicality; Aristotle only knew where he sent him, not where he was. They had no contact after Marius left Halifax. “I would be hesitant to count Marius out. He does hold grudges.”

            “Long ones, I’ve heard.”

            Since LaCroix could tell there would be no further information on Marius’ whereabouts for the time being, he retired. Normally he slept very little, but overseas travel (both on an airplane and using actual powers of flight) was tiring on any vampire, and the Galápagos Islands were not easily accessible. He was given Alex’s room, which looked somewhat cleaned up, and the sheets had been changed. LaCroix preferred to live elegantly, but he was nothing if not resourceful, especially when dropping in unannounced.

            Aristotle sat up for a bit longer, reading his mail and aimlessly surfing the web, but his concentration was broken. After an hour or so he slipped into bed with Alex, who was of course oblivious to his presence, even when he shoved him over for hogging the mattress. The infant vampire merely rolled on his side and went back to sleep. His master, on the other hand, stayed awake for some time, one hand protectively wrapped around his son. He was protecting his own interests by hiding, just like LaCroix was protecting his.

            Normally Lucien LaCroix kept his own counsel, and would never fly to some exotic island to pick someone’s brains unless they had incredibly useful answers for him, and Aristotle had none he was willing to give. Then again, the Roman vampire didn’t have many people of his age and stature to speak to with complete confidence that they would keep his confidence. While he despised Aristotle’s very human habits and their personalities often drove a wedge between them, LaCroix’s tone had noticeably changed since Aristotle told him their familial connection. LaCroix was very interested in family. They were the last survivors of an ancient blood line, all but extinguished from the earth by other vampires before Caesar. And now they shared the ultimate concern, that for their children. If something happened to Aristotle, he was not sure Alex would survive. If either Nicholas or Janette got tangled up in increasingly tense vampire politics, LaCroix would have to exert more authority than normal to pull them out.

            Aristotle had imagined that the future would require more organization in the Community, not less, but the vampire nature was one of mistrust. The vampire in them, unable to adapt to notions of morality or domestication, would fight back rather viciously when cornered – and since the vampire sustained their bodies, they would always choose the vampire. Were the old bloodlines so thinned that fledglings could really survive on just bottled blood? Or was the beast just pent-up, waiting to emerge with more ferocity than would ever be manageable? How many of them would go insane trying to fight their own nature?

            LaCroix thought he understood the true nature of the vampire, as he regularly bragged to his son, which only greased the wheels of their arguments. The truth was that he didn’t. His worldview could not account for Nick’s spiritual quest for redemption and his physical quest for mortality, the latter of which was doomed. LaCroix had a rather wide set of notions about vampires, most of them accurate, but he was not able to account for abnormalities and he did not know what came before him. He didn’t know why he was here, chosen by fate to live eternally, going from one distraction to the next with no real purpose but survival. But the same could be said of any of them.

            Clear answers were not provided Aristotle by a sleepy mind. He dozed, never finding the deep sleep that Alex enjoyed, and rose well before sundown to shower and clean up the kitchen for his guest. He didn’t know how to give Lucius the answer that he was looking for, but he hadn’t been asked a proper question yet. He supposed he should be honored; Lucien LaCroix thought him important enough a thinker to fly halfway around the world just to have a chat with him. And LaCroix didn’t ‘chat.’

            Speaking of his guest, LaCroix emerged, looking much more pleased to not be roaming sandy beaches tonight. “Aristotle.”

            “Lucius. You can take whatever you want from the fridge. Try the red label wine. There’s not very much that’s decent here, but that should serve.” He sat down and briefly looked at his latest emails, all just mailing list stuff and unimportant news alerts. On top of the computer tower he had a wooden trinket resembling the blue-footed booby, a bird the islands were famous for. They purchased it in a gift shop.

            “You say it was Alexander’s idea to come here.”

            “Yes. Surprised the hell out of me. He’s been reading too much ancient Greek literature on biology, I think. Either way it was a very good idea. I have been very caught up in my work for the Community for the past ... two hundred years. Since then, so much has happened that I really owe it to science to catch up.” He plucked the cheap souvenir off its perch. Its plastic eyes stared out at both of them. “No one knows why this particular bird developed such distinct blue feet. Or, to be precise, how the process of natural selection determined that the species we know today would have blue feet. I suppose it could have been a biological accident millions of years ago. A bird was born with blue feet because of some pigmentation disorder and it was exceptionally randy, spreading its DNA everywhere, and within that popular traits emerged to help them survive where other birds of this nature with different-colored feet did not. A series of events of luck and happenstance lead to the creation of an entire species and the elimination of its presumably less-hardy competition. And winners have blue feet.” He shook his head and set the bird down between them. “Someday the mortals will do a massive genetic panel of birds in the area, and find out how they’re related to each other. That will solve some of the mystery.”

            “If it can be solved.”

            “Everything on this world has a scientific explanation. In our discovery of that explanation we are limited by technology, superstition, and the confines of human intelligence – assuming there are any.”

            LaCroix sipped his breakfast and said, “And how does this relate to vampires?”

            He could lie, and said it didn’t, but of course it did. Everything was connected. “I’ve always believed there is an entirely natural explanation for vampirism. Of course it takes the fun out of the notion of being damned.”

            “Have you told Nicholas this?”

            “Why does he need me? He has his wife to do that for him! But she’s limited by what he doesn’t tell her, being the bad patient that he is. Or was. I read her notebooks after they were seized. But Nick will never be completely sold on an explanation devoid of spirituality. His nature demands it. He acknowledges it when it is convenient to him, when he thinks it will provide a cure. Otherwise, he’s damned and his soul will burn in hell and all that.”

            “I am aware,” LaCroix said with no amusement, but he did look interested. “So what have these birds taught you? And none of that ‘knowledge is its own reward’ nonsense.”

            “I don’t consider it nonsense, but for the sake of argument, let’s say there is more to it, because there is. The interesting thing is that the theory of evolution can be probably applied to every living thing on this planet except vampires. Or maybe it can, but in a way I haven’t yet discovered.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because we don’t reproduce. Think about. Every organism, from bacteria to giraffes, has some method of reproduction, either by mitosis or producing young from within itself. Every species has to perform the basic replicating or reproductive act in order to pass on its genes and not become extinct, however long-lived it may be. We, on the other hand, not only don’t require young as anything more than as an insurance policy against the survival of the species should all the older among us meet violent deaths, but often see no impudence to do it other than loneliness. When we do try, we mostly fail because we’re so inept at understanding our own biology that we can’t accurately predict who will come across and who won’t. And it can’t just be the person’s decision as they lay dying. There have to be other factors involved for so complex a process.”

            “Then we are merely a parasite.”

            “No. Even parasites reproduce. They just do so without contributing to their supporting organism. We don’t even qualify for that. Alex has an interesting theory about it, but it’s his theory so I’ll let him tell it. Speak of the devil.” He smiled as a sleepy-eyed Alex wandered into the kitchen, who mumbled a greeting to both of them and stumbled to the fridge for his breakfast. He usually couldn’t do more than growl before he fed, but Aristotle didn’t have to explain that to LaCroix. “I was just telling LaCroix about your theory.”

            Alex emptied his mug and refilled it. “Um, which one?”

            “The origin of the vampire species.”

            “Oh.” He combed his hand through his hair and sat down. “Uh, where do I start? I feel like I’m coming in the middle of a conversation here.”

            “We covered the part about how evolution doesn’t apply to vampires.”

            “Right. Not in the technical sense,” Alex said. “You have to look at the vampire as a blood-born pathogen. Not a virus precisely, because its object isn’t to multiply at the expense of the host, but it is a pathogen. It’s transmitted from infected person to uninfected person by exposure. We’re not reproducing – the vampire is, within the human host. And a pathogen implies a source – an original carrier. Unless there are different strains of vampire that evolved on their own, in individual circumstances, there must be a biological beginning to the vampire virus. Didn’t the Old Ones count themselves by generation?”

            “Yes, Abaish-takal is supposed to be the only first generation vampire still alive. Qa’ra and Qum’ra were both third. There’ve been many quests over the years to locate the original vampire, young Alexander – and, as history tells us, no successes. This was back when vampires were capable of tracking remains of older vampires. They located quite a few burial sites of first and second generation vampires, but never anything beyond that.” LaCroix sounded his usual skeptical self. “Abaish refuses to speak of the subject.”

            “That’s assuming the first vampire was a vampire,” Alex said. “Ideal carriers of virus are just that – carriers – and they are able to spread the virus easily because they exhibit no symptoms so no one suspects them of being ill. They may not even know they’re a carrier.”

            “If the original carrier was mortal they’d be long dead, of course,” Aristotle said. “But we’re talking about someone carrying the vampire virus. They may not have been an ordinary person.”

            “Yes, well, this is all very interesting,” LaCroix said in that debonair way of his, “but you have only speculation.”

            “But vampires have their own DNA. It’s altered when we’re brought across,” Aristotle pointed out. “And not only that, we all have our own individual DNA. Therefore, in theory, a genetic survey could tell us conclusively if we have a common ancestor. I’d love to try it on that Conquistador vampire, who says he was turned by a native Aztec priestess. That’s the only report we have of a vampire native to South America. All of the Old Ones are presumed to originate in Asia Minor or Northern Africa – the cradle of civilization, if you will. If we can prove that the Conquistador – and therefore, his master – are derived from the same gene pool, that proves a common ancestor across continents. Or disproves it, pointing to multiple origins for the vampire pathogen. But this is all speculation, of course. Terribly Code-breaking stuff.” He picked up the wooden bird again. “Birds are harmless. Entirely unrelated.”

            “I believe I’ve heard of something of this nature before.”

            “From Natalie Lambert, yes,” Aristotle answered. “She always treated vampirism as a virus that could be eliminated, and Nick only supported her theory despite evidence to the contrary. She wanted to do a genetic panel on vampires, but I told Nick the Enforcers would shut her down, and that was the end of it. But it got me thinking. Of course, what do I know? I’m not a geneticist.” He gave one of his harmless smiles. “I’m a birdwatcher.”

            “Of course you are.” LaCroix was interested, though he was subtle about it as always. Not about the birds, but what Aristotle was really doing out here, other than hiding and playing video games. While the vampire world was changing, Aristotle was the only one he knew of doing serious research on their past, if in a very roundabout way. LaCroix could read Greek, though he seemed to have some trouble with Aristotle’s shorthand, but they let their guest read some of the notebooks, which were either observations or pure speculation, mostly about creatures other than vampires. He probably had other questions for Aristotle, concerning the Council, but just knew he wasn’t going to get an answer. He stayed well into the night, then they took him to the airport, where a private plane would take him back to North America and eventually, his home in Seattle.

            “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help,” Aristotle said on the tarmac. “I like to be helpful. I hope you found out about at least something you wanted.”

            “That would be a fair assumption,” LaCroix said, and without goodbyes, boarded the plane.


Chapter 10

            In no real rush, they slowly walked back to their apartment. “Is he always like that?”

            Aristotle grinned. “How do you mean?”

            “Evasive. Skeptical.”

            “No. He’s usually worse.” Aristotle waved to their neighbor, who was putting out her trash, and unlocked the front door to their haven. They were currently off, but the railings of the stairs had colored Christmas lights wound around them. After Christmas the lights went on sale and they bought out the store’s worth, illuminating their home with a multi-colored glow.

            It would be dawn soon, and Alex sated himself on a snack. He was increasingly hungry as of late. He didn’t know why, but the link told Aristotle his son was getting frustrated by the inability to hunt on the island. Tourists were few in number and there would be a major investigation if one went missing. They would have to go to Ecuador again soon and hunt there.

            “What do you think he really wanted?”

            “He didn’t know what he really wanted, which shows how unsettled he is. LaCroix never does something unless he’s absolutely sure of its worth and success.” Aristotle sat down in front of the computers. “He also doesn’t care for rules that interfere with his habits. Normally he’s old enough to throw his weight around and quietly do what he wants, but if even I can be pushed around and the former Chief Enforcer could be hiding from a death sentence, LaCroix knows he isn’t safe. At some point he’s going to have to choose between his own personal happiness and obeying the Council, and I’ve never known him to humble himself like that. He’s hoping one of us will move on it first – me, Marius, or Elaine. Probably Elaine.” He frowned. “There must be some reason they’re going after ex-Councilmen. There are others in the Community with more political power than me.”

            “You’re still linked to the Council, aren’t you?”

            He hadn’t considered the notion. “Barely. The link hasn’t completely faded, though it would have if they were all new members. I’m still linked – distantly – to Devana and Orpheus. So is Marius and so is Elaine. It’s a very hard link to manipulate, but very easy to reestablish. It’s easier for the blood to work with something that’s already there. Marius tried to reestablish something with me when I spoke to him, but I refused.”

            “When was this?”

            “Not telling.” And Alex would know why. He already knew too much, that Aristotle had contact with Marius sometime after LA. It would be cruel to remove those memories as well.

            “You didn’t mention anything about this to LaCroix.”

            “No. It’s Code-breaking to discuss how the Council operates.” And while he may not be on the best of terms with them, he was reluctant to step on any toes. For his own reasons and for Alex’s safety. Even though they were very remote, his behavior was undoubtedly still being watched, if from long range. Elaine’s concerns were probably very real. He owed her a call. Life in San Cristóbal was just so pleasantly distracting.

            He knew Alex was tired, but fighting it. “Go to sleep.”

            “Yes, Master.” Alex grumbled, but kissed him on his head before disappearing into his room for the day.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle knew he was in trouble. Not very much, all things considered, but his master was losing his patience.

            Their stay in Delhi was considerably longer than any previous site in the Maurya Empire, while Qum’ra awaited a response from his great-uncle, Abaish-takal. He hoped the response would be an invitation, and assured his fledgling it would be with a haughty demeanor. Abaish-takal did not see just anyone.

            In the meantime, Aristotle found a particular project to his liking. Twenty pillars of Ashoka stood not far beyond their lodgings, in broad daylight, meaning they were also easily accessible at night. Carved in them like hieroglyphs were the Edicts of Ashoka, a Mauryan king who had in his final years converted to the new faith of the Buddha and made public works of his dedications to his new god. The script was Brahmi, a script he’d seen before in artifacts brought back after Alexander’s eastern conquests, which ended around this area. One of the pillars, a guide told him, actually mentioned Ashoka’s attempts to convert via letter several dynasties in the west, including those founded by Alexander’s generals. One of them was Ptolemy II of Philadelphus, the son of Ptolemy I, whom Aristotle had known personally. As Aristotle guessed, Ashoka’s attempts were in vain; Ptolemy II did not accept this fascinating new faith, which eschewed the material world and sought a higher reality through prayer and meditation.

            Qum’ra was not uneducated – very much the opposite – but new ‘mortal trends’ as he called them did not interest him. He did not accompany Aristotle on his visits to the pillars after the first night, spending his time with the other elder vampires of Delhi, all of whom tasted Aristotle then dismissed him as a pale old man. If it meant being left alone, Aristotle much preferred vampires who didn’t like him. It was so much less draining than dealing with those who did. Nonetheless Qum’ra seemed to want him around, now that Aristotle was old enough to be physically separate from him for periods of time without being in agony. Qum’ra wanted him gone when he had guests, but there all the time. This borderline affection was more difficult to decipher than the Brahmi hieroglyphs.

            “Aristotle!” Qum’ra voice was the last thing Aristotle reacted to; he sensed his master’s presence as soon as his master left their haven and started moving in his direction. The real surprise was his voice was not as angry as it usually was when he came out looking for him, though it had all the normal urgency. “Enough with your mortal scribbling. We must prepare to meet Abaish-takal.”

            “Yes, Master.” So, the invitation finally arrived. Even the local Community had trouble securing one. They flew back to the haven and changed as quickly as possible but tried not to look like they had done so. Aristotle had already been lectured on how to show him the proper respect, but Qum’ra repeated the lecture for good measure.

            “And cover yourself,” he growled, putting an extra shall over his already layered cloth robes. It amused Aristotle that Qum’ra was so conscious about his body, always covering himself almost completely, so only his hands and face could be seen. In Aristotle’s lifetime, nudity had never been an issue except around unveiled women. “And stop smiling like that.”

            “Yes, Master.” But he didn’t, and Qum’ra was too busy to punish him.

            Abaish-takal lived not far from where they lodged. Aristotle knew better than to be confused when they flew to an abandoned temple near the water. There was no life here at all but temple monkeys who made their homes in the worn grooves of the stone. Whatever ancient gods had been carved so delicately into the walls of the pyramid structure were now worn away by wind and time so their features were indistinguishable, and only one pillar in what must have been several flanking the temple still stood, and it was quite a different type of architecture than the newer pillars in Delhi.

            As they set their feet on the ground and approached the entrance, Aristotle shivered. It took a moment to process the sensation, growing stronger as they passed into darkness. This temple had once been a holy site for some long-forgotten people, and it was never un-consecrated. It made him unacceptably dizzy, but when he reached out to find stone to steady himself, it burned him.

            “Yes, it is difficult,” Qum’ra said in a quiet voice, taking hold of his arm. “This is how he hides from us. You will sense him when we are closer.”

            Aristotle wasn’t sure what ‘closer’ meant, having lost all sense of direction in his desire to flee, but Qum’ra led him on. He would have to tear his arm off to escape his master’s grip. The touch was also soothing, as was the link, unusually alive between them.

            “Now there is a drop. Come.”

            He would have just fallen, but Qum’ra actually held him and flew down. The drop felt longer than it probably was, because the roof above them was still quite visible. “Here we go, yes.” Qum’ra grabbed a staff and used it on the hole, covering up the entrance by sliding a wooden board into place. And like that, it was gone. All the holiness did not follow them in here, and Aristotle could recover from the vampire’s fear and walk properly. Instead he felt a new sensation. He had been in the presence of other powerful vampires before, but this was different. It hit him like a wave, so quickly after being in a sanctified temple that it might have knocked him over if Qum’ra didn’t catch him again. There was no reprimand, just a patient wait for Aristotle to adjust before he let him go and slid open the next hatch, leading to the larger underground complex. It was nothing compared to the temple itself, but it was impressive.

            It was also lit. Torches lit the hallways, bringing light to the carvings on the wall, some pictures and some ancient scripts he did not recognize at all and could not even try to read. From the carpet, they were in some antechamber, and there was a raised platform, and indentations in the stone where a chair had once been. Now there were just pillows and carpeting in the local style.

            Abaish-takal entered from the side, but they both knew he was coming long before he was visible. His presence was almost too much to bear. They did not merely tip their heads to the elder vampire but actually put their faces on the dirt ground before him three times before daring to look at him.

            “Master,” Qum’ra called him, even though he was not his master or even a direct descendant. Abaish-takal was said to be among the oldest, if not the oldest living vampire. His presence was overwhelming, but the actual person was what he was – a person. He was not deformed by his age-old vampirism. Aristotle actually expected him to be younger in appearance, as most vampires were, but he was brought across (if he was brought across, per se) in his later years, and most of his beard was gray, with only hints of the black that had been there. Like Qum’ra, nearly all of him was covered. He wore a turban, but not like the locals, with pearls and jewels. It was a simple cloth turban like the tribesman they had seen on their way to Delhi.

            He bade for them to sit, and took his own seat across from them on the cushion where the throne had been. He was carrying a jug, and before saying anything, he poured them both dishes of blood. Aristotle did not hesitate to empty his. It was warm and fresh, a recent kill. Abaish did not seem disappointed. In fact, he poured him more.

            “There was a time,” Abaish said, “when every one of our kind did not feel compelled to present his child to me as if I were still a king. I cannot put a precise date on when that custom emerged. It must have around been the disappearance of my last brother.” Like Qum’ra when he was in a good mood, he had a very leisurely style around guests. “Perhaps I will miss it when people stop coming to me at all.” But it was his decision to stay out of public life, or so Aristotle assumed. He was a bit lost on the politics of the ancients because Qum’ra never enlightened him, even when he dared to ask. Abaish refilled his dish again. “Keep drinking. My presence can be very draining.”

            Aristotle gladly obeyed.

            “Master Abaish, thank you for your invitation,” Qum’ra said, and launched into a discussion that undoubtedly directly involved Aristotle, but was not in a language to decipher. Aristotle thought that was just fine; he was feeling a little dizzy, and having trouble concentrating. He didn’t want to reveal this to his master and certainly not to his host, so he said nothing, fearing retribution.

            “Come,” Abaish said, rising and offering his hand to Aristotle. “I will teach you as I taught your father.” Aristotle looked to his master for guidance, and Qum’ra nodded. Aristotle took his hand and followed him into another room, this one more dimly-lit. The exit seemed to disappear. Abaish poured him blood again. “Drink. You must be very tired.”

            Aristotle nodded and drank. Somehow this blood was more potent than the other jug, and he felt himself again. Even Abaish’s presence seemed dimmed. He sat across from him. “There is no need to be embarrassed. You should be tired. I have been draining you for some time now.” Aristotle looked around for bite marks he didn’t remember, but Abaish just laughed. “I do not require physical contact to drain. Only proximity.”

            So, Abaish probably knew everything about him that could be obtained from blood, only he hadn’t had time to process it yet. Or had he? Aristotle wasn’t really sure how long they had been there.

            “Your master asked me to teach you how to hide secrets in your blood, to a greater extent than he can. He does this to protect you. There will be situations where being a child of Qum’ra will be a very bad thing to be, and he intends you to survive them. He did not ask me to tell you anything else, leaving it quite up to me.” He added, “You can speak plainly to me. The link between yourself and your master is blocked.”

            “I am at a loss.” He was so accustomed to suppressing his thoughts that the notion of being able to think, feel, and say whatever he wanted was unfamiliar and he wasn’t sure quite what to do with it. “Can you teach me to block him?”

            “No. Your link with your master is sacred.” But Abaish did not seem disappointed at Aristotle’s lack of loyalty. Then again, he knew what Qum’ra had done to him. “You will never have anything like it, and when he is gone, you will miss it, however much you hate him now.”

            “I don’t – “

            Abaish waved his hand. “There is no need to deny it. A great deal of people do not like Qum’ra, and they do not have to be with him all the time.” He stood. “What is the first line of the Code?”

            Puzzled, Aristotle answered, “‘You shall not kill your master.’”

            “Wrong! History has obscured that the first line is, ‘You shall not kill your brother.’ The second concerns your master. So you see, Qum’ra and Qa’ra’s crime of consuming their brother is much greater than their brother’s crime of murdering their father, in the eyes of us ancients.”

            “Why is it that way?”

            “It was passed down to me from my father, and since then, it has always been. That is all I can tell you of that now. Someday you will be an ancient yourself in the eyes of others and you will return and I will tell you more.” He did not wait for a reply. “Yes, Aristotle. You have the wisdom to live a very long time. You are lacking the brutality that so often gets our kind killed. Your brothers and sisters were not the same. They will not have the patience for immortality. What is it you said? ‘The things we have to learn before we can do them ...”

            “ ... we learn by doing them.’” He smiled. At least someone appreciated his work.

            “Not an easy approach to science. The locals appeal to the metaphysical, to the lack of senses rather than the physical world. I learned it from their blood. I couldn’t drain the Buddha Gautama though, and after all the effort I went through to meet him. His blood would have burned me from the inside. Very inconvenient. So, you have a monumental task before you, because to learn all there is to know, you must do everything there is to do. But you have never taken the easy route.” He knelt before him. “I am going to teach you how to hide your memories in your blood. There will be people who seek to destroy you because you are Qum’ra’s child, and Qum’ra is guilty of the most heinous of crimes. There are those who will never be forgiving. There are those who have sought to wipe out the blood line. Ra’el, your grandfather, was my nephew and the only child of my brother. I cannot allow that family line to just disappear from history because someone wills it.” He took hold of Aristotle’s bare forehead and clutched his skull, forcing him to look his eyes. “First I am going to tell you some things, and you will not remember them for some time. When you need these things, they will activate and resurface. Even your master will not find them. That is my gift to you.”

            Aristotle swallowed, terrified. “Thank you.”

                        ************************************************

            When Aristotle woke, he was too disoriented to tell if it was still daylight and the window in his room was blocked. He growled and looked over at the clock. 4:30. Only two hours after he’d turned in, but long enough for him. He rose and went to the kitchen to eat something, but chilled blood merely put the beast off a little longer.

            He did not remember the final speech, but he was positive it happened. Lucius’ visit and all the talk of the origin of vampirism must have triggered it somehow. Now he was desperate to know the rest of what was said. He ignored his email and the other concerns he might have, and sat quietly, but nothing could push the memory into further recollection. He did remember other things about that night – Abaish teaching him how to control what came through his blood, Abaish telling him that his master couldn’t express how proud he was of him. At the time, Aristotle simply didn’t believe it, even after Abaish told him specifically to do so. Qum’ra was tainted by his sins and poisoned by his brother, Abaish said. He could not express goodness the way others could. That memory, Aristotle carried for years, and the words haunted him after his master’s death.

            Having no desire to feel alone, he crept into Alex’s room and laid down beside him. Alex usually came to his room, but it was just habit. Abaish said to treasure the connection with his master, one he would never feel again. He did feel something now, but it was the other way, master to fledgling. Still, it was very fulfilling. He could bask in it a little while longer as he drifted back to sleep.

                        ************************************************

            Glad that LaCroix was gone, Alex slept easily. That man always unnerved him, however much Ari reassured him. Though by a count of generations they were equal, he could not imagine himself as powerful and intimidating as LaCroix – not in two thousand years, not in ten thousand. He would never have that kind of confidence. But now the old general was gone, and they were alone again, away from all of the things that stressed his master.

            When Alex woke, he was not entirely surprised to find a dressed Ari on the bed next to him. It would be impolite to ask what spurred it. He just understood that Ari had been alone for a very long time, and found relief in being close to someone. Alex showered and dressed, and checked his email. His master was still sleeping on his bed. He must have really been tired.

            It was inevitable that someone would come looking for Ari to ask his sage advice, but Alex hadn’t expected it to be LaCroix. Feliks, Elaine, or maybe Constantine. Some city Elder or some independent businessman who was running into trouble with the not-so-efficient Enforcer machine. Instead, LaCroix was trying to probe at deeper problems in vampire society, to gain some wisdom on the outcome. Ari freely admitted he had none. He didn’t want any. He didn’t want to be their guiding light. He wanted what he’d always wanted, to be left alone, to be treated like everyone else. And now he was worried Alex would be treated differently, more than he already was, because he was Aristotle’s son. Usually Ari was good about hiding his parental concerns, but when his own safety came up, it was plain on his face. He would rather leave the entire Community behind than abandon Alex. They both just needed it not to come to that.

            “Did anyone call?” Ari said without opening his eyes or getting up.

            “No.”

            “Did anyone send an important email?”

            “Not to my account.”

            “Did the landlord leave another note under the door?”

            Alex got up and checked, returning with a sheet with a form letter in Spanish. “Yeah, they’re still gonna fine us fifty bucks if we don’t take down our ‘excessive holiday decorations.’”

            “The shutters might have been going a little too far.”

            “You can’t even close them now.”

            Ari got up and yawned. “I should probably – what were we going to do tonight?”

            “Uh, nothing?”

            “Hm. Seems like a plan.” His master returned to the kitchen, and the computer. He clearly needed some distraction.

            Alex followed him. “You know what’s still playing at the theater? Because they must have nothing else to show?”

            No.”

            “I bet there’s a late show.”

            “No.”

            “You have to be a little bit curious.”

            “No, I don’t. It’s not required.”

            “What if I’m a little bit curious?”

            Aristotle was not taking the release of Oliver Stone’s movie about Alexander the Great very well. “Ptolemy did not look like Anthony Hopkins!”

            “It’s not like you called them and asked them to change it.”

            “And it got horrible reviews. Horrible.”

            “Well maybe you should write a book about the life of Alexander the Great and then they can mess it up by making a big-budget movie out of it.” He held up the ad in the paper. “Colin Farrell has a dye job.”

            “Why? Why? Why couldn’t they just dye his hair completely blond? Why did they leave the roots?”

            Alex went into his room and pulled the sheet out of the printer. “I didn’t want to use this, but – “

            Ari covered his eyes. “I don’t want to look.”

            “It’s not so bad.”

            “No.”

            “Your chest isn’t as hairy, but – “

            “No.”

            “You have to open your eyes eventually.”

            Ari growled and snatched the print-out of the publicity photo from the movie Alexander out of Alex’s hands. In it, Christopher Plummer in a white toga had his hand on the young Alexander’s shoulder. “Why is his hair white?”

            “It’s supposed to look like the bust.”

            “That’s obvious. My hair was red – red! Can’t these people read history books?!” He tossed it across the table. “Are you ever going to give up?”

            “No. I want to see you have that reaction for a solid two hours.”

            “Did they at least make Alexander gay? Because he was.”

            “Actually I think these Greek lawyers are suing Oliver Stone over it. How it was too gay.”

            Ari snarled, but it was because now he was tempted. “Who plays Philip?”

            “Val Kilmer.”

            The worst Batman?

            “George Clooney was the worst Batman.”

            “I guess you’re technically accurate, but that’s a really low bar. You’re not going to shut up about this one are you?”

            “Not a chance. How many movies are you in? You have to keep up with Socrates. They keep making documentaries about him.”

            “It’s not a race,” Ari muttered.

                        ************************************************

            “Why? Why do they have Irish accents? And eye shadow?”

            Aristotle didn’t stop making some kind of gasp of pain throughout the entire movie, which meant that no less than four ushers had to be hypnotized into leaving them alone. Alex, too amused to leave, took care of them all so Ari could focus on who he was going to murder and why. Oliver Stone was definitely at the top of the list. He couldn’t quite decide if Colin Farrell or Angelina Jolie was second. Probably Farrell. Ari wasn’t a huge fan of Queen Olympias anyway, as it turned out. Christopher Plummer would be allowed to live because he brought some dignity to his role, even if the words his mouth were Plato’s, not Aristotle’s. “I never would have said that.”

            “What? That the world was a disc?”

            “No, I did say that. I mean, I might have. I believed it. I did not lecture on sexual morality. I would remember if I did that. Why do I have a cane?”

            “Because you’re old?”

            “I was forty-seven. I was young.” He shook his head. “Philosophers are not just perpetually old.” Alex looked him square in the eyes, and he muttered, “There are exceptions.”

            “Is Alexander gay enough for you?”

            “I wasn’t really with him at this part of his life, but I concede to them on that point. He just probably wasn’t such a pussy about it.”

            “How did he really die?”

            “I don’t know. I know how Anthony Hopkins is going to die, though.”

            “You won’t go through with it.”

            “I won’t. But I’m going to punch Oliver Stone. Put that in my social calendar. Punch Oliver Stone.”

            “I’m your secretary now?”

            “You are after making me see this movie.” But Ari wasn’t mad, per se. At least not at Alex. Fortunately as long as no one instantly recognizable as a cast member of the movie was vacationing in San Cristóbal, Alex figured they were probably safe, as Ari would move on to being angry at bigger and better theories about his mortal life.

            The theater was empty. No locals made it through his Greek cursing, or the movie was just that bad. They left before management could descend on them, deciding that next time, they should probably just rent.

            All in all, Alex could say that his plan for distracting his master from all those who would seek to ruin him was working fairly well, and Alex himself was enjoying the ride. Though still tethered to his master, he felt for the first time like he truly could go anywhere and do anything, especially with Ari so pliable to suggestion. San Cristóbal was not their first stop and wouldn’t be their last, but when Ari said he’d known Darwin, the Galápagos were a must. They saw every island, even the uninhabited ones, restricted only by the sun. Unlike the tourists who filled the hotels around them, they were not on a set schedule. They did not have dull, soul-crushing jobs to go back to. They were free to do as they pleased, whenever they pleased, and Alex was determined to make good on the opportunity.

            That said, they really needed to get back to the mainland, where they could hunt. Alex needed a fresh kill. He was jonesing for it like his old roommate from senior year, the one who did speed and then tried to quit before finals. Ari’s blood could do a lot for him, but this was a separate need that even his master couldn’t fulfill. He could taste it in Ari, too, though his master would never admit it. His frustration with the vampire world was just feeding the beast, as any kind of anger would. If they waited any longer there might be some kind of massacre.

            Ari booked a flight to Ecuador. Colombia was really the place to go, but he said they ran a dangerous risk when picking off workers of encountering cocaine, and he was not eager to repeat the experience of New York. There were a few vampire communities in the major cities of Latin America, all small with young Elders, but Ari hadn’t been in the mood for socializing and Alex was still fairly influenced by Ari’s mood, so he didn’t think of it until it was mentioned.

            They spent their last few days before their trip packing up the condo and ending email conversations, explaining that they would be even more away than normal and available possibly by cell phone. Very few people emailed Alex, mainly vampires he’d met and people he’d met anonymously online since becoming a vampire whom he discussed programming with. Ari always had an influx of emails, from people either disregarding his retirement or using some excuse to check in on his mental health by seeing if he would respond to them. Alex figured he wasn’t the only one worried about Ari, who hadn’t really been himself since the Enforcers invaded their privacy in Tahoe. Even when he was lost in some other distraction, however powerful or intimate or consuming, the underlying tension was there. Alex could taste it in his blood; even Ari couldn’t hide his basic emotions there, even if he could hide everything else. And to top it off, he wasn’t sleeping well.

            “Ari,” Alex nudged him in bed. He was mumbling in his sleep again. It was ancient Greek or some other dead language, impossible to make out at that volume. “What is it?”

            “Nothing,” Ari said, not raising his eyes to him. “Go back to sleep.”

            “Do you want me to bite you and find out? Because you’re making me pretty curious.”

            His master smiled sadly. “I wish you could.” He did look up, shifting his position on the pillow. “Abaish-katal told me something, and I can’t remember it.”

            “The Old One in India? The oldest vampire?”

            Ari nodded.

            “Did he have a reason to make you forget?”

            “Yes. He told me he did. He told me I would remember if it ever came up. I just remembered that he said that a few days ago, when LaCroix asked me about him. I’d forgotten it for 2200 years. He wanted me to know something, but didn’t want to tell me then.”

            “He can see the future?”

            “No, I don’t think so. He could do a lot of incredible things, but not that. Nothing he did defied science as I understand it through vampirism, but that would. People can’t see the future. Just make good guesses.”

            “You don’t believe in oracles?”

            “Do you?”

            “I’m not the one from crazy ancient goat-sacrificing time.”

            “Bulls. And roosters. A lot of roosters.” But Ari smiled. “I met several Oracles of Delphi. The best were good at making vague statements that the asker could then easily apply to their lives. The worst had their brains rotted by the drugs they smoked and said nonsense things. But no, none of them were doing anything more than guessing at the wind.” He yawned. “Abaish-katal was the first vampire who believed I would survive immortality. He was utterly convinced of it. I don’t know what he read in my blood that told him that, but he was like an Oracle in that he was a very good guesser. So he told me things and made me forget them, and said something would make them surface if they became important. That last bit only came up recently. Now I want to know the rest.”

            “You could go to India. Isn’t he still alive?”

            “I don’t think that’s what he meant. Besides, I’m not making the journey without you, and you’re not old enough.” He stroked Alex’s hair, which was a little overgrown, and ignored Alex’s grumble at this notion. “I was almost eighty when I met him, and I barely survived the journey. He hides behind holy structures to keep unsuspecting and uninvited vampires away. It’s not as if you can walk in to see him.” And Ari would of course go through great lengths to spare him unnecessary pain. “Everyone goes to him because they want something. All I wanted was to be left alone by my master. He never did, but he treated me differently after seeing Abaish. Maybe he said something to him, or Qum’ra was waiting for his approval of his choice of a child when so many people thought I was a laughingstock. I was too old to be brought across and my ideas too modern.”

            “But Abaish didn’t think that.”

            “No. He must have said something to Qum’ra. Our last decades together were actually borderline pleasant. Despite what everyone said when I returned after his death, he wasn’t mad. He was evil, but he was not insane. The curse was on his children, not him. Though if he was trying to drive me insane, he sure put his back into it.”

            Alex laughed and Ari almost joined him. The afterglow was about the only time Ari was willing to reveal some of his secrets, the ones he was still intent on keeping from his son. Maybe the blood bond was too fresh and overpowering, and he felt he couldn’t hold back. Or sex put him in a good mood, and he was willing to divulge a few carefully-guarded secrets before Alex fell asleep.

            Alex closed his eyes, pondering his next question, and when he woke, it was the next night, and Ari was up and doing something else. Damn. He never slept so long as a mortal, except when he was very sick. Now half his day was given up to it. He rose, dressed, and found his way to the kitchen. “Evening.” He drank straight from the bottle to finish it up, but after his master’s blood, cold human was just not very palatable. “What did you do today?”

            “Played Fallout 2,” Ari said. “Spoke to Elaine.”

            “About what?”

            “Nothing interesting.” Which was his way of indicating it was not his concern. Actually it probably was, he just didn’t want Alex to know it. “I suppose we should go to Buenos Aires if we’re on the mainland.”

            “It’s still kind of far, isn’t it?” He didn’t, offhand, know the distance between Ecuador’s capital and Buenos Aires. “Why?”

            “There’s the biggest community in South America there, and I should probably prove to some Elder that retirement hasn’t driven me insane by putting in a public appearance. Unless you don’t want to go.”

            “What’s the Community like?”

            “Young. The Elder’s only four hundred years old. And small – maybe ten of us in the whole country.”

            Alex was interested. He rarely got to speak with vampires anywhere near his age, and the current situation was only making it worse. “I’m cool with it.”

            “Good. Start packing.”

                        ************************************************

            Ecuador was glorious. Alex saw very little of the cities beyond the airport and their hotel, and then they disappeared into the forests. The old Alex preferred the sterile environment of computers and air conditioning, but once they were surrounded by the sounds of nature, the vampire took over. His senses were overloaded with sights, smells, and sounds that would lead him to his kills. The little heartbeats of the smaller animals were noticed, but did not entice him. He leapt into the trees, sure that his master would follow, following the distant sent of the human farmers who followed these jungle paths. He flew faster and faster until he found his first mark, a lost explorer, probably an environmentalist collecting samples to bring back to a lab. Some part of him recognized that he should give the first kill to his master, but he was too far gone in the hunt to stop now. He was too eager, and struck too quickly, biting before the man saw him. The blood was fresh, but the man barely had time to properly be scared. Alex was too hungry and he died too quickly; the beast wasn’t sated. He snapped his neck and dropped him. He could barely hear his master land beside him with the pounding in his ears.

            “More,” he said, his voice barely more than an inhumane growl. Ari didn’t contradict him. He wiped his face and took off again.

            It was time to leave the jungle. It was too empty of human life, especially as the hours grew later. People would be in their homes, or wandering the streets, maybe drunkenly. The nearest town was quiet, not well-traveled, and Alex and Ari perched in the tree above the road leading closer to town but still on the outskirts, where movements were obscured by the darkness of the wilderness. They waited, their eyes glowing bright like owls - not native to this area, but neither were they.

            The car was an old sedan. Alex didn’t know much about model numbers. The only thing he cared about was the hood, which provided ample landing space. He felt the metal give way under his weight as leapt down. The driver and passenger screamed and the car weaved off the road, but Alex hopped off long before it hit the tree.

            The crash didn’t kill either human, a pair of lovers, no doubt. They cursed in Spanish, in a local dialect he didn’t know that well. The woman opened her door by herself, and he was on top of her before her second foot touched the ground. She was terrified, her heart beating like a hummingbird’s, making her a far superior meal to his previous attempt. As her cries became whimpers, he tore dealer into her flesh, trying to draw as much blood as possible before her heart ceased pumping and she died. He felt her entire life flow from her veins to his mouth, flashes of beautiful imagery that belonged solely to him now, until the final orgasmic rush of fear before her death. He dropped her and looked up, seeing something other than red for the first time since his hands touched her shoulders.

            On the other side of the car, the metal was bent by the crash and the man couldn’t free himself. He might not have wanted to, but Ari tore the door off the car and pulled him out, letting the man get a good look at the blood-hungry golden eyes of the killer that would consume him before he tore away at him, his teeth seeking that powerful vein in the neck that would provide the vampire with everything it wanted. He dispatched with his prey quickly, and dumped him a bit deeper in the woods.

            They both heard it while it was still far away, their senses heightened from the hunt – another car, coming the same way. Alex did not get far before Ari grabbed his shoulder, pulling him back to the side of the road and the ground. “No.”

            He howled. He would not be denied another feast. Even if his stomach wasn’t growling, the vampire was. But Ari’s grip only grew stronger, snacking his arm around his neck and pulling him back, deep into the woods. “No! You’ve had enough.”

            Alex did not agree. Instead of letting his fangs retract, he sunk them into his master’s arm, tearing through the fabric and flesh. He could taste his master’s excitement, even bits of flashes from the life of his kill, the driver – until Ari pulled Alex’s head up rather painfully by his hair, keeping his mouth away. “Alex.” His voice was very stern, and very overpowering. “Stop. Calm down.”

            No! Why was he given so much and then denied this? What he truly wanted? What he was designed to want? After they had come all this way, after waiting so long, it didn’t seem fair. It seemed downright cruel. He wanted to scream, to be released, to strike his master – but Ari was so much stronger than him. He didn’t hear what Ari was saying, just kept fighting as they went deeper into the jungle. Ari never let him go. He got a few more fights in on the arms that held him, but the wounds always healed and didn’t provide any relief from his suffering. He was so hungry.

            He would have bitten anything that lived in his reach, but nothing was. His master held him and it was sheer torture, listening to the tiny heartbeats of the passing animals and knowing he couldn’t pursue. The beast was angry, so very angry, even at the sun as it rose. He tried to fight it, but as always, the sun won.

                        ************************************************

            When Alex woke, his normal instinct to quiet the vampire was unusually strong, and he swallowed the beast, still sated from last night. He was tired, and not just from the sun, which was gone now. He put his head back down on the wooden floor of what smelled like a cabin. The only furniture was the chair Ari was sitting in and the shelf with unlit torch lamps and first aid kit.

            Ari was not his usual cheery self. He checked Alex’s eyes, then his mouth. “Say something.”

            He was confused. “What do you want me to say?”

            “That would be sufficient.” Ari got up, his motions slower. Alex realized he had had to keep watch, and probably hadn’t slept at all. “How do you feel?”

            “Um.” Alex didn’t quite have an answer. The maddening hunger was gone, but he still felt a little empty, which was exceptional. Two kills should have been more than enough. “Okay, I guess.” He sat up and realized Ari was waiting for a better answer. “I – I’m sorry for biting you. I don’t know why I did that.” As much as he did like his master’s blood, it wasn’t for him to take unbidden.

            “You frenzied.” Ari relaxed a little, or at least the link between them did. With its retreat, Alex released how much it had been pressing when he woke, clamping down on his mind and preventing him from moving on his first instincts to feed. “It happens sometimes when you overfeed.”

            “Two was too much?”

            “It was in this case.” There was something methodical in Ari’s voice, or maybe he was just tired. “It occurs more often in young vampires. We just live in a time when an unexplained massacre is less acceptable to humanity.”

            The memory Ari fed him long ago, of the young fledgling Aristotle consuming his entire hometown after being starved by his master, rose unbidden in Alex’s mind. “If you hadn’t stopped me – “

            “You would have kept going until you were out of things to kill, someone stopped you, or the sun rose. Yes.” He frowned. “Maybe I could have controlled it through the link, if I hadn’t been hunting myself. I don’t know.” He stood, and offered a hand to Alex. “We should get going.”

            Alex knew he couldn’t further apologize, that it hadn’t truly been his fault, but that didn’t stop him from feeling guilty, and Ari was too lost in his own thoughts to say much as they flew back to the car. They were both full from last night, but far less celebratory than they should have been.

            If anything, Alex was eager to move on, to go to Buenos Aires and prove himself to Ari: that he hadn’t been lost to the vampire, that he could control himself around humans. He did gag at the first taste of cold, bottled blood again, which earned the first snicker from Ari since the hunt. Even after the excitement of nature and the sensual experience it could provide, he assumed they were both happy to be back in a more sterile environment, with laptops and hotel rooms that smelled of cheap cleaning products and unexcited human heartbeats.

            They had a few nights before their long flight, so they left Quito to go to Guayllabamba, where there was a zoo. There were no elephants, but that was expected. Ari was very interested in the wildlife anyway, especially because the tanks were lit up at night even if the zoo was closed, and he could see the tortoises of the islands in full daylight color. Alex tried to hypnotize the jaguar into liking him, and utterly failed at his self-ordained task. The black bear was easier, and he convinced himself he had some success in that area, as it sat calmly, chewing on a branch instead of growling at him.

            Ari’s mood improved considerably after the trip, and Alex’s did so in turn. They spent very little time outside the hotel, as Ari was completely addicted to Fallout 2 and Alex was using the time advantage to catch up on EverQuest, which meant a lot of typing and no other sounds in the room but sound effects form the video games.

            They didn’t speak of the incident again, and boarded a plane to Argentina.


Chapter 11

            Buenos Aires was the heart of Argentina, and the heart of social life in South America. It was also a good deal more multicultural than Alex thought it would be, judging from people on the street. Like any major South American city, it had its share of American touristas, young and eager to party, but it had a more sophisticated crowd as well. Though he had little intentions of thoroughly scooping the area, the club scene did not appear to be lacking. From their hotel they could hear dance music well into the early dawn.

            On their second night, Ari took him to meet the Elder. Acknowledging the city Elder was not the strictest custom, especially with such a short stay, but it was the proper thing to do.

            Buenos noches, Aristotle,” said Adrián, wearing a tan suit and with his hair slicked back. He shook his hand. “And this must be your son.”

            “Yes. Alex, this is Adrián.” Ari introduced them, as if he hadn’t told Alex who he was. Adrián’s real name was Arthur, though he hadn’t used the name since moving south after the American Revolution. He was from what was then the colony of Virginia, though he put on a good show of being from the area. There were almost no vampires in South America who were born there, and those who could make that claim were barely more than fledglings.

            A young woman served them. “My daughter, Alita,” Adrián said, and they were introduced. She was older than Alex, but not by much. Everyone was older than he was. “The wine down here is very much improved. It used to be awful, but now the mortals have their organic farming, and I don’t know how, but it has improved something.” He raised his glass. “To your stay. I hope it won’t be too brief.”

            Ari accepted the toast. “Thank you.”

            There was no arrival celebration for them, as Ari specifically requested. Eventually, people who wanted to see him for one reason or another would trickle into the city and Adrián would make sure their paths crossed. He was certainly a welcoming host, and provided them with enough blood wine for their estimated stay, to be delivered immediately to their hotel. He offered a rooftop tour but they declined for the moment; they were still getting settled and Alex knew Ari would prefer to explore for himself. There was a little chat about city life and some rules about the area, but Adrián didn’t bring up international vampire politics except in passing, and Ari didn’t spring to start up the topic. He let them go with much appreciation for their visit, and all the contact numbers they could possibly need.

            Instead of returning immediately to the hotel, they flew to the rooftop of a skyscraper, looking out over the city. It was a pleasure mortals could not enjoy.

            “How long have you known Adrián?”

            “Since he was Arthur,” Aristotle said. “I visited America after they broke off from Britain. I was very intrigued by this new republic, especially after talking to some American diplomats in France. They were products of the Enlightenment, and I did like the Enlightenment, or some of it. It scared older vampires – or I should say more traditional vampires, because it threatened to do away with all those myths and legends that they claimed kept humans scared of us.”

            “But you weren’t going to stand in the way of the progress of science.”

            Ari smiled at him. “Absolutely not. I met his master then, a former Frankish nobleman now posing as a diplomat. Gaston was his name. He’s back in France now, but at the time, he was most interested in what the New World could offer to vampires, and introduced me to his son. Maybe not the first vampire brought across in the States, but certainly the first anyone knows about.”

            “Did you meet Benjamin Franklin?”

            “I did. In France, actually. He spent a lot of time there during the American Revolution drumming up capital for their war against Britain. This was before the French Revolution, which drove most vampires at least temporarily out of France, so there were plenty of us around, and I wanted to see how he claimed he’d captured lightening. Unfortunately that ‘early to bed, early to rise’ thing really put a damper on the crossing of our paths. He did take the time to explain electricity as he understood it to me, though he couldn’t demonstrate anything on the spot.” He looked out over the lighted city. “And this is what he has wrought. He’s had more influence over the shaping of the world that most vampires, even the ones who were kings or advisors to kings.”

            “And people thought he was a queer old man.”

            Ari glared at him, but not too harshly. “And there’s that.”

                        ************************************************

            With the size of the community, there was only one club that catered to vampires, more as a necessary haven for transients and those without means to seek their own shelter. Someone else ran it, but Adrián oversaw the club’s activities from his VIP booth. They went not there because Ari liked nightclubs but because it was the only place that served blood wine, though almost the entire crowd was mortal and one had to know how to order it. Alex was well-fed before they got there, and Ari let him drink whatever he wanted and actually left him to his own devices, retreating to the lounge to talk with Adrián and whoever wished to stop by.

            Alex tried the gin and tonic, remembering it was one of the few hard drinks he liked in college, but it was foul to him. He did succeed in getting a mouthful down before chasing it with blood wine, for which he was excessively proud, and ordered a refill on the wine before finding a table to sit. He had no desire to dance, no matter how drunk he was quickly becoming.

            “Hey kid, want to buy a watch?” someone asked in Spanish, and Alex looked up a young man who didn’t quite fit the profile of a stolen watch salesman slipped into the chair across from him. “Sorry. That’s how I get people’s attention,” he said in English, his accent a mix of different things but heavily American. He looked more like someone who sold drugs at clubs. Maybe he did. “Aren’t you Aristotle’s kid?”

            “Why, does it say that on my forehead or something?” But he was too buzzed to be offended. “Yes. The answer is yes.” He offered his hand to the other vampire. “Alex.”

            “Fernando.” Whether it was his real name or not didn’t concern Alex. “I just heard he was in town with his son or something.”

            Alex gestured with a tilt of the head to the VIP lounge. “He’s up there if you want to talk to him, but he’s retired. You know that?”

            “I heard something about it. He’s gotten me out of more than a few tight spots, your father. But I guess almost everyone says that.”

            “They usually don’t admit it.”

            Fernando smiled. He was probably around Alex’s age when he was brought across, though clearly more at home with the social scene than Alex imagined he would ever be. “I heard he was on the run, but I don’t think he would come here if he was. To the city, I mean. South America is a good place to hide.”

            “He’s not hiding,” Alex defended. “He’s retired. That’s what retired people do – travel. He’s just not doing it on a cruise. The ship would get grounded if the passengers all suddenly came down with serious cases of anemia.”

            “And you?”

            He shrugged. “I’ve never seen South America. Before I met him, I’d never left New England and never planned to.”

            “The bars are the same everywhere for us,” Fernando said, “but it’s the quiet here. There’s more freedom for us than there is in Europe. Especially for people our age.” He was not a fledgling, but he couldn’t be much past his hundredth birthday. “Europe is very aristocratic.”

            “So I’ve heard.” They were speaking at a normal volume, which with the blasting music meant no one else in the club could possibly hear them except other vampires. “I guess that’s why we haven’t gone yet. Don’t want to be pushed around by old fogies.” He had no idea how old Ferdinand thought Ari was, and no intention of contradicting his assumptions. Most people guessed he was around six hundred.

            “Or Enforcers. They barely bother coming here. There has a to be a serious problem for them to fly to Argentina, and Adrián makes sure there’s no serious problems. Which is good for business.”

            “What is your business? Watches?”

            “Wine. No one wants to drink this Argentinean crap. I don’t care what Adrián says about it getting better. No, we’re waiting for the next shipment from California. It’s held up in customs again.”

            Alex sensed he had some business on the side – probably club drugs – but decided not to pry. “Is there anything interesting to do around here that doesn’t require some kind of toleration for trance music?”

             “There’s a little place just beyond Puerto Madero where some of us like to gather. Not every night – once a week, maybe less depending on the season and how many are in town. When we want to be amongst ourselves. Adrián comes sometimes, or sends his daughter. If you want to get out from under.” And by under, he meant Aristotle, and passed Alex his business card. “Nothing sketchy. Adrián would kill us all if anything ever happened at one of these things. Just wine and complaining about our elders. As if we have much to complain about out here. I can see when the next one is.”

            “That would be great.”

                        ************************************************

            Ari was not as skeptical about the Puerto Madero situation as Alex thought he’d be. Instead he put in a quick call to Adrián and said, “It’s fine.”

            “Really?”

            “Yes,” he said. “Have fun.”

            Alex got the call about it the following night that it was on Tuesday, when the tourist crowds were at their minimum along the beach, and he went with Ari’s blessing, the usual speech about staying on his guard, and his own bottle of blood wine.

            The gathering was on the beach, within easy distance of city life but isolated by rocks and warning signs about trespassing. There was a bonfire, though it was not roaring or particularly large, and Alex gave himself credit for not immediately freaking out at the sight of it. There were five people present, the oldest being Fernando, and the youngest being Adrián’s daughter Alita, and everyone else somewhere in between. He was still the youngest, but by decades instead of centuries (or around Ari’s friends, millennia). They spoke a mixture of English, Spanish, and a little French. They were hospitable, but not overly so. They treated him like he was a normal kid, and even with ‘kid’ implied, he was grateful for it.

            I was a Conquistador,” said the man who only spoke Spanish. He did look Latin, but he couldn’t have been older than fifty.

            Bullshit!” Alita said. “You were a barber in San Juan.” The would-be soldier fumed, but didn’t contradict her.

            “Everyone wants to be a Conquistador,” said the girl who earlier introduced herself as Christina. “We would try saying that we were ancient Aztec nobles, but no one would believe that.”

            “Were there vampires before the Spanish arrived?”

            She shrugged. “There is a legend about an Incan priestess, but it could just be she was brought across by the Spanish. And it is known that she is dead, and has been for centuries. That’s all we know about her.”

            “There was a lot of blood-drinking in Aztec and Mayan rituals.”

            “Blood-shedding, not blood-drinking. It’s different, no?”

            ,” Alex said, taking a swig from the communal wine that was going around. It wasn’t that bad. “Besides, that was all in Mexico.”

            “I’m sure the locals here had plenty of ridiculous rituals to appease their gods before the Spanish came and gave them new ones,” Christiana said. Like many vampires, she was an atheist, a method of dealing with the idea of being damned. “My grandmother used to put coins in the bowl of water once a month. No one knows why, or I didn’t at the time. Now they say it was some Marrano custom, a leftover version of the Jewish ritual bath and charity-tithing for menstruating women.”

            “I was a Lutheran, or so my mother told me I was. I couldn’t tell you much about Martin Luther beyond what I learned in high school history class. I just know he took the fun rituals out of church. And the Latin, which would have been helpful to learn then instead of now.” Latin was on the list of languages for him to eventually learn, as it really opened doors for him in the research department, or so Ari said. “Who’s that?” He jerked his head in the direction of the approaching figure, who radiated more power than all of them combined.

            “Oh, that’s Stephan. He comes every once in awhile.” She was far more nonchalant than he was, and must have noticed his distressed. “He’s not really active in the Community, which is good for Adrián I guess, because he’s twice his age. But he does stop by.”

            The name didn’t ring any bells, but Stephan didn’t raise any immediate alarms. He was very laid-back, not treating them as the fledglings they were and greeting them all in turn. He was genuinely surprised to be introduced to Alex. “Hello, Alex.”

            They shook. “Stephan.”

            “Just passing through?”

            “Yeah.”

            He nodded. “I can’t stay in one place very long.” And his accent indicated it, a mix of European inflections. He didn’t quiz Alex on anything, or even ask about his master. The conversation naturally moved on. The young were not concerned with the politics of the elders unless it influenced them or was particularly juicy material. A lot of names came up he didn’t know, and a few he did, and there was talk of normal things – music, movies, drugs: the ordinary things that would still concern vampires who lived in the world as much as possible. Fernando, he finally learned, dealt club drugs, but only on a very low level, usually in the clubs themselves. Getting into the actual trade was too dangerous. Some drugs, he explained when Alex asked, seemed to have no effect on vampires, or have too little of an effect to make them worth taking directly. Acid could be very powerful, but he didn’t recommend it except in a restricted setting.

            “You know for a dealer you’re remarkably health-conscious,” Alex joked.

            “When vampires take drugs, fucked up shit can happen,” Fernando said. “After all, we really can fly. Stimulants, serious hallucinogens are an Enforcer visit waiting to happen.”

            “I’ll keep it in mind.”

            As the evening progressed, Alex took off his sandals and put his feet in the water. Vampires weren’t water creatures, not because it harmed them but because it offered nothing to them, or so Ari speculated, but that didn’t mean he minded the sensation of the waves against his feet.

            “You’re Aristotle’s kid?” The voice was Stephan’s.

            “Yes.” Alex tried not to sound defensive about it, but so far, it hadn’t been brought up and he was enjoying it.

            “That’s tough.” They were standing some distance away from the others, who were talking amongst themselves. “You seem like a good guy.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Nothing.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry; I can’t do this.”

            “Do what?” Alex’s voice was more insistent as Stephan looked to turn away. “C’mon. You can’t leave me like that.”

            Stephan looked around for an escape, and seeing no obvious one, lowered his voice. “Look, I was friends with his last son. Or, I knew him at least. So I wish you good luck, but I’m not getting involved again.”

            “At least tell me what you mean.”

            The older vampire checked his sides again, to make sure the others were engaged. “His name was Matthew, and Aristotle killed him. He’s killed all his fledglings.” Since he was older, he was faster, and stopped Alex’s hand before he could strike him out of instinct and defense of his master. “You don’t have to like it, but it’s the truth. Matthew was five when I met him. It was Spain, 1520. He was a Marrano and he was very bright. Aristotle protected him. I had to leave Spain for North Africa, and when I returned, he was dead. When I asked the Elder in Madrid, I had to beg it out of him, and he said Aristotle exercised his right to destroy his child and that was the end of it, stop asking questions. I was barely more than a fledgling, and even if I wasn’t, what could I have done about it? It is his right.” He shook his head. “Clearly he didn’t tell you, but then again I could see why he wouldn’t. If you don’t believe me, ask him.”

            “He’s not that kind of master.”

            “Masters have to make hard decisions sometimes. If they’re good at making them, they stay alive. How old is Aristotle, anyway?”

            “I can’t answer that.” And he wouldn’t answer that. Stephan didn’t deserve it.

            “Well, I’d better get the fuck out of town, because you’re going to tell him I said it – and don’t bother denying it, I can see it on your face. I’m not offended. I shouldn’t have told you.” He patted him on the shoulder. “Good luck, man.”

            He was gone. Alex shrugged his shoulders and did not give a reason for Stephan’s disappearance. He was too angry to speak much. He said hasty goodbyes and flew off himself, stopping on hotel roofs to rest on his way home. He couldn’t feel the heat so much as the wind, and he wanted to feel something other than rage.

            Ari was not a cold, heartless bastard. He was the furthest thing from it. Even if Alex wasn’t his son, hadn’t seen proof of it, he would probably think that. Ari wasn’t like other vampires, and everyone knew it. They made fun of him for it. They didn’t know he had a cruel upbringing, spent years in prison, then avoided the greatest vampire massacre of all time by running and hiding instead of fighting. They didn’t know anything about him. They had no right to sit in judgment of him, as they did when he returned from America and they put him on trial for being the son of his master, the might and mad Qum’ra. With the tainted bloodline that made his children go insane.

            Ari had other children. He admitted he wasn’t good at bringing people across, that they died semi-instantaneously. He warned Alex about it in the hospital. He almost tried to talk him out of instantly agreeing to immortality. There were risks. He might not make it; his body might reject the change. It might drive him insane. But Alex was past all that, wasn’t he?

            The doubt was so much worse than the anger.

            He couldn’t keep stewing about it. Ari would sense it, even though Ari seemed to be giving him more space than usual and probably wasn’t constantly reading his thoughts like he used to. The link was quiet, though Alex knew that was no real indicator of anything if Ari was inclined to hide his presence. Alex took off and flew to the hotel, which sadly did not have roof access, and entered the normal way. He had to stay calm in the elevator, and not consume the other two people in there with him. He made it all the way to the room, and didn’t even tear off the door as he was so inclined.

            Ari looked up from his computer. If he was reading Alex’s mind, he certainly didn’t act like it. He shut the television off, but Alex cut him off from having the first word.

            “Who was Matthew?”

            It did take his master by some surprise. So, Ari wasn’t reading his mind. “I’ve known a lot of Matthews, but I assume you mean my fledgling. He didn’t survive.”

            There was no reason to hide his source. “Stephan says you killed him.”

            “Stephan?”

            “He knew him – and you – in Spain. 1520.”

            His eyes twinkled with recognition, and that recognition did not bring him any delight. “Yes, the fledgling. Matthew was friendly with him. I remember. He’s in Buenos Aires?”

            “Don’t avoid the question.”

            “I’ve already told you your answer.”

            “Not surviving and being killed are two different things.”

            “Only by the technical definition.” Ari’s voice was guarded. “Yes, he was my son, and yes, I did kill him. It was a mercy killing. He was insane.” He looked away. There was real sadness in his voice, but the only reason Alex heard it was because it came through the link as well. “I thought we would ride it out, but he didn’t get any better, and after awhile, it started to affect me. Through the link. Then it was just too dangerous.” He added, “I loved him.”

            “Did you love the other people you brought across?”

            “They didn’t survive. I told you that.”

            “Stephan said you killed them all.”

            “That’s a lie!” Ari didn’t bother to hide his anger, tempered as it might be. “Stephan is a child. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

            “Right, because no one understands what it’s like to be you. Except the people you make and then destroy. We have to find out the hard way.”

            You are not like them!” Ari’s voice was shouting, but it was also trembling. His hands were shaking, but he still didn’t rise. “Stephan was lying. I did not kill them. Some of them didn’t cross. And some of them killed themselves.”

            “And the others?”

            “And yes, I killed the others.”

            “Are you going to blame it all on Qum’ra’s curse?”

            “Of course I am!” He slammed his hand into the desk, breaking the layer of glass that covered it. “I would never harm anyone I brought across unless there was no other option. Unless it was the best thing for me and them. After Matthew I swore off bringing anyone across until – “

            “ – until you met me.”

            “Yes.” His voice was remarkably soft. He was not raging against his defiant fledgling. He wasn’t apologizing, either, but he wasn’t responding in anger to Alex’s words. “And I still didn’t want to do it. I went to LaCroix for help deciding, because he’s had more success than I’ve had. And still I did nothing. Not just because you wanted to finish your degree. Because I was scared. Because I would rather have you die than have to kill you myself.”

            Alex was flummoxed. He knew his master’s heartbreak was influencing him over the link, but he still had questions, and he had a right to be angry, not to just be forced to feel Ari’s emotions. “If you really cared, why didn’t you have someone else bring me across? Someone whose bloodline isn’t tainted?”

            “Because you’re my son,” Ari growled. “Do you think vampires just go up and down cancer wards, turning people out of sympathy? I cared about you, I loved you, I wanted you to be my son, not anyone else’s.”

            “I am not your property!”

            “You know that’s not what I meant. I know the idea is upsetting to you, that I didn’t tell you – “

            “Would you still do it?” Alex held his place, not fleeing or going to comfort his master, though he felt compelled to do both. “If I go insane. Matthew was five.”

            “Six,” Ari corrected. “He lived six years.”

            “Will you do it?” Alex demanded. “Did you give me life, just to take it away if it threatens you?” He moved so he was in front of Ari, so he could see it in his eyes. “Will I be another one of Aristotle’s mercy killings?”

            “No. I have hope.”

            “But if it does – “

            “If it does come to that, yes.” Ari did look him in the eyes, unwavering. “Yes, if Qum’ra’s poison takes hold of you and you go insane, I will put you out of your misery, and be left to mine.”

            Alex did not feel the sympathy he knew Ari so desperately wanted. He just saw red. “After all the shit I put up with, because I’m ‘Aristotle’s kid,’ now I have to fear for my life?”

            “You don’t – “

            “I didn’t ask for you as a master. I would have taken anyone over you, if you had been honest with me. Or maybe I just would have let the cancer kill me than live my life tied to you!” He stormed out the shared door to their adjoining room, slamming it so hard behind him that it nearly took it off the hinges. He contemplated going back, saying something else, but the phone rang and Ari answered it. Alex shut off the link as much as he could. He didn’t want to sense him. He didn’t want to feel him. He didn’t want to feel anything.

            The sun was coming. Still a ways off, but it was there, taunting him by entering his consciousness as the vampire picked up on its approach. He had until dawn to stew over his fate.

            Only that wasn’t his fate, necessarily. Aristotle was five hundred years older than he had been in Spain – no small amount, even for him. He was wiser. He sought counseling, from someone like LaCroix. And Alex could not for a moment doubt that Ari cared very dearly for him. He only wanted the best for him. He felt that way when he brought him across, probably months before that, and he felt that way now. And Alex threw it right back in his face. Yes, he had a right to know about the other fledglings, beyond the ordinary failures. Or maybe he didn’t. Ari was under no contractual obligation to tell him everything about every moment of his life before meeting Alex. It was not part of the Faustian bargain Ari offered him in the hospital.

            And yet, Ari always told him – eventually – everything he asked about, or at least explained that it was too painful to talk about. He could have lied about Matthew, or even covered part of it up, but he didn’t. Alex didn’t doubt that his master would even admit how he did the horrible deed if asked. Ari had been painfully, even dangerously honest with him. Knowing he would always come crawling back, of course. The link prevented anything otherwise.

            I can’t even stay angry at you! Alex howled through the link, but the resisted the temptation to say it out loud. Ari was still on the phone, talking in a hushed French. Alex didn’t want to apologize, not yet, but eventually he would. He was already starting to feel miserable about what he said not five minutes before.

            He paced his room, nursing a fresh bottle of blood wine. He wasn’t hungry; he just wanted the comfort it could provide. He didn’t like staying angry. It incited the vampire, who was so much harder to fight when they were in agreement. More than ever, he wanted to be sane. He wanted to prove to Ari that he was sane, that he was worthy of the life he had been given. He just didn’t want to beg too hard for forgiveness. Dignity was so hard to come by when you were a two-year-old vampire.

            He was still working himself up to it, hoping to at least have the courage before the sun rose when Ari entered, the door squeaking on his way in. “You have to go.”

            “What?”

            “There’s been an incident. I have to put you somewhere safe.” His voice was completely calm and methodic, as if their earlier conversation had not happened. “With someone I can trust. I don’t know who yet. I’ll know by tonight.”

            “What happened?”

            “Elaine called. An ex-Councilman’s been murdered.”

            “But you said – “

            “We’re the only ones in public life, but there are a few living quietly, away from society. One of them was Radovan, who served on the Council with Elaine before retiring to the Siberian coast. I haven’t heard from him since the 1200’s. No one has. But he made a child during the Bolshevik uprising, and that child felt his death and reported it to Elaine. She called me from Moscow.” That Elaine, the Elder of Paris, so quickly left her post was alarming in of itself. “He could have just walked into the sun, as all that his son found were ashes, but he doesn’t think it was likely. Radovan wasn’t depressed. And the timing is suspicious.” He sat down at the desk. “I have to go a meeting with Elaine, and I can’t take you. I have to put you with someone capable of protecting you while I’m gone.”

            “Where are you going?”

            “I can’t tell you that.”

            Alex glared at him.

            “I really can’t.”

            “You’re going to look for Marius, aren’t you?”

            Ari didn’t smile, but he didn’t look disappointed, either. “You’re too clever for your own good, you know that?”

            “Where is he?”

            “Where I sent him, probably, but getting there will take some time.” He continued, “I did forgive him, but only because you forgave him.”

            “When was this?”

            “In Tahoe. In the memories I suppressed to protect you from the Enforcers.”

            “I want them back.”

            Ari looked out the window, at the unforgiving skyline of very early morning. “Fine.” He rolled up his sleeve. “If I send you mine, it’ll trigger yours.”

            Drinking from Ari was not high on his earlier agenda. He was still angry and still sorry at the same time, but the light was coming and there was no time for it now.

            “I know you’re upset,” Ari said, at least acknowledging that their fight happened, but he was too distracted now to deal with it, “but if you want to remember, this is the only option I can offer you.”

            Alex took it. He wasn’t hungry so it was less tempting, so at least he had that, and didn’t rush into his master’s veins like a madman. Still, the familiar soothing sensation was the first thing to hit him, followed by the surface emotions Ari wasn’t bother to hide – anxiety, for the most part. Then it was shoved aside by the memory.

            Alex was holding a flamethrower, sitting in Ari’s chair on the deck, talking to Marius. Marius was practically begging him to help him, and Ari was contemplating making him actually kiss his feet. Some of the conversation was blurred out, and it ended when Alex saw himself come onto the porch.

            He remembered now. He pulled out of Ari’s vein, so he could concentrate as his own memories surged. Marius apologized for hurting him, said he wouldn’t have touched him if he’d known he was Aristotle’s son, of course, but he really meant it. He didn’t want to hurt Aristotle – not in LA, when he drugged him to protect him, not ever. He wanted forgiveness, and Alex granted it, then left them alone to plan Marius’ disappearance. Alex could even recall the brief conversation between the arrival of the Enforcers and their interrogation: Ari demanding to give his will over to him, and Alex agreeing for his own safety. And he answered the Enforcers honestly, because he didn’t know. Otherwise they might have interrogated him. They might have tried to find out more from his blood, and Ari wouldn’t have permitted it, and then it would have escalated. Ari did it all to protect him.

            “LaCroix,” Ari said, lost in his own thoughts. “He’s an Ancient and he’s family. And he’s in Seattle, which is safe.” He opened his cell phone and started to dial, then snapped it shut, turning back to Alex. “I’m sorry for taking your memories away, but it was necessary. You understand that.”

            “Yes.”

            “Yes, we’re going to find Marius and discuss what the hell’s going on. The Enforcers will have already guessed that when we both disappear, so there’s probably no harm in telling you. We will stay ahead if I don’t tell you where we’re going. All we want to do is discuss the situation, the three of us, and any other ex-Councilman we can find. There’s nothing inherently illegal about it, except for not turning Marius in when we find him.”

            Now the reality of Ari leaving him sunk in. “How long will you be gone?”

            “I don’t know. A couple weeks at most. I’ll call when I can. If LaCroix agrees to take you in, I’ll go with you to Seattle, then go on from there. I would put you with Nick, but he’s not old enough. And if it came down to protecting his mortal family or protecting you, Nick would choose his family. I don’t blame him for it, but it puts him out of the running in terms of safe housing.”

            “You’re going to be in danger.”

            “I can’t hide anything from you, can I?” Ari was smiling instead of being accusatory. “If anything, I’ll be in less danger because I’m going after Marius, who owes me and is one of the toughest vampires alive. He’s certainly stronger than his own Enforcers. And Elaine shouldn’t be counted out, either. Besides, she’s supposed to be untouchable. She’s still in public life. It’s very unlikely anything will happen to us. Yes, we will arouse some suspicion, but that’s different from something actually happening.” He looked around. “Pack as much as you can before you sleep. We may be leaving at dusk, depending on when I can get a flight.”

            He left the room. Alex was out of questions anyway, at least for the moment. He did not want to beg Ari to come back so they could have the conversation he wanted to have, or just because he wanted to be near his master now. Ari was busy arranging things for their safety or he wouldn’t have left. Alex knew that. The timing was just very, very bad.

            So much for eternity.

                        ************************************************

            Alex did not sleep easily, but he did not remember his dreams. They were gone the second he woke, and the vampire took over, and he finished the bottle of blood in the mini-fridge. He was packed, and from the look of it, so was Ari, except for his laptop, which was still open and would go on carry-on anyway. Ari was typing furiously on it, several empty bottles of blood in front of him on the damaged desk. He was in the same clothes as the day before, but he could go days without sleep, so it didn’t come as a surprise. “We’re on a 9:30 flight. It’s going to take three transfers to get to Seattle. I can’t get a private jet in South America, not this quickly. So it will take a couple days to get to where we’re going.” They couldn’t take a day flight because Alex needed to sleep; some older vampires were particularly deft at avoiding sunlight on airplanes and in airports and could manage. They would have to stop and sleep in a motel during the days. “LaCroix agreed to take you in. His protection is absolute. I know you’re not fond of him, but he’ll be on his best behavior. He’s not in deep with the Community in Seattle, which is small anyway, so it’s appropriately isolating without sending you to the North Pole. I thought that would be a little cruel. The internet reception is probably terrible.”

            Alex smiled for the first time in almost twenty-four hours.

            “I said our goodbyes, unless you have any you want to make yourself.”

            “No, not really.”

            “Then feed – a lot. It’s a long ride.” Planes were never easy. There was no escape from the dozens of heartbeats, some just inches away.

            They were both so consumed with their own thoughts that they said almost nothing on the way out. Ari hypnotized the concierge into accepting a check for the damages in the room without further questions and they were off to the airport, and the irritating security, made easier by the fact that they had no blood with them. Ari needed the time in the airport while the wireless connection still worked to keep at whatever arrangements he was making, so there was no interrupting that.

            It wasn’t until they were actually on the plane and in the air that Alex burst out with, “I’m sorry.” He said it in Greek. The chances of anyone speaking Greek in their small first class cabin were slim, and the chances that someone spoke Ari’s mixture of ancient and modern Greek were slimmer. “I’m sorry about everything.”

            “I know.” Ari was not unemotional. Alex probed the link, and just found him overwhelmed with worry, and not trying to hide it. “I do have a bad track record with children. And I did not bring you across until I was at least as sure as I was ever going to be that maybe this time, I would not fuck up so badly.” It wasn’t a sentiment that could just be discussed in words, but it would have to wait. The timing was still very bad. Ari was scared of leaving Alex behind and Alex was scared of being left behind. They didn’t have to say it, but they knew that the other knew. For now it would have to be enough.

                        ************************************************

            Ari did not sleep at all on the first stop. He stayed on the phone or at the computer in the motel while Alex slept. It was not until the second stop in Houston that he agreed to get away from his laptop for a few hours.

            “Don’t you need all your strength to go wherever the hell you’re going?”

            Ari smiled weakly and joined him in bed, falling asleep before he did. It was not the intimate reunion Alex would have liked. He did not feel settled with the plane apology, but Ari was in too agitated a state to allow real calm to return to their relationship. Instead, Alex decided to be very satisfied to fall asleep with his master’s arms around him.

            It was raining in Seattle, but not enough to delay their landing. They were still cutting it close in getting to LaCroix’s apartment; Alex was disappointed to learn Ari did not even intend to spend the day, getting on another flight (to where, he wouldn’t say).

            “LaCroix is not as creepy as you think he is,” Ari assured him on the cab ride, after establishing that despite the length of the cabbie’s name, he was Russian and not Greek. “He just has this presence from his army days, and he uses it to intimidate people. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t think he knows how to turn it off. You’re his guest, so if he asks you about me – well, he already knows more about me than most people, so just use your discretion. He’s also your cousin, so don’t let him talk down to you all that much.”

            “He had a two thousand year head start.”

            “He did, but he had less training that you do. Oh, and never, ever ask about his master. Qa’ra you can mention, but he doesn’t actually know anything more about his grandsire than what I’ve told him, never having met him. His master is a topic he will only discuss under pain of death, and even then, maybe not.”

            “Who was he?”

            “It wasn’t a he, and it’s a very painful discussion. Even I don’t know the story entirely. If you come up with any crazy theories that you draw from observation, don’t voice them. Just stay away from the topic. Far away.”

            “Okay.”

            “And don’t criticize his parenting. I don’t know when you would have the opportunity, but he’s very sensitive about his relationship with Nick. His relationship with Janette is better, but he doesn’t believe it’s for public consumption. Everyone talks about him and Nick, or they do when they’re in the middle of a bad fight, and LaCroix resents it. On the other hand, if he starts talking about it, take notes for me. And whatever he says about me – lies, all lies. Pay no attention.”

            “Okay.” Of course, Alex didn’t believe him. It would give him something to do.

            “Also, he’d better treat you like a fucking prince, because it was part of our agreement. Also, don’t tell him I said that.”

            “Yes, Master.”

            The exorbitant cab fair reminded Alex that they were truly back in the States. LaCroix’s penthouse was everything Alex expected it to be – well-furnished, sumptuous, and above all, dark. “Aristotle.” They shook hands, something Alex was willing to guess LaCroix was not in the habit of doing very often. “And Alexander. Welcome to my home.”

            “Thank you for helping.” Ari was overeager to thank him, and his tone made it clear. “I should only be gone a few weeks.”

            Alex was shown his room, which was mostly empty except for some bizarre paintings and a framed picture of Nicholas and Janette from the 20’s. In the kitchen, LaCroix and Ari were talking in Latin – not medieval Latin, which he might have made some sense of, but it was his hint not to eavesdrop, even though he could be the only possible topic of conversation that Ari would go into any detail about.

            It was late, and Alex was tired. Tired from the draining plane ride, tired from feeling Ari’s anxiety, and tired from his own worries. He missed his master and he wasn’t even out the door yet. He did not want to stay with LaCroix. He did not want to leave Ari’s side.

            “Hey,” Ari said, announcing his presence in the doorway of the guest room. “LaCroix knows about Marius. He can be trusted with a secret. He can even lie to the Enforcers.”

            “Does he know where you’re going?”

            “No. He will protect you and take care of you until I return.” He did not need to explain himself. They’d been over the territory about Alex being a mature adult but an infant vampire.

            Alex waited, hoping Ari would just pick up on the question in his mind so he wouldn’t have to say it himself.

            “Nothing is going to happen to me,” Ari eventually said, in response to the unasked plea. “But ... there is a contingency plan. LaCroix knows what to do.”

            “Which is?” He could not imagine being in LaCroix’s care for the next ninety-eight years.

            “When Qum’ra died, I went mad. I don’t really know for how long. A couple months, at most, but it did pass. LaCroix will make sure you don’t hurt yourself until it passes, then release you. Masterless vampires aren’t answerable to anyone. But it’s not going to happen.”

            “But you did make a plan.”

            “I always make plans.” He did accept Alex’s very undignified hug. “It’s not going to happen. I’m not going to let it happen. I care about you more than I care about Elaine or Marius or anyone on the Council.”

            Alex was crying and he was making a fool of himself, and he was getting blood tears on Ari’s shirt. “Then stay.”

            “I wish I could.” Ari unbuttoned the first two buttons on his shirt and let Alex feed from him. He needed the strength, but Alex needed the comfort, and he could always get more blood. “You think this is easy for me?” he laughed sadly, and his blood said clearly that it wasn’t. “I’m going to be fine. I promise.”

            Alex drew back. He couldn’t keep feeding, making his master any weaker than he already was. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

            “I know.” He kissed him on the head and released him, re-buttoning his shirt. “I have to go.” He swiped the blood tears off Alex’s cheeks. “It’s late and I tan very badly.”

            “Goodbye.” He tried not to be choked up in LaCroix’s hallway.

            “Goodbye.”

            And he was gone. Alex was grateful for the sun, because it meant he could shut the world off, and know only blackness.


Chapter 12

            Alex woke that night not just with the vampire, but with a sensation that took him a moment to comprehend – an overwhelming loneliness, like he was missing a limb that was torn from him. He was familiar with it, having been separated from Ari before, but never for more than a few days. Just the concept of it being longer was oppressive. Fortunately sadness was stifling to the vampire, and he could control it easily, showering and dressing a little more properly than he normally did before emerging from his room. “Good evening.” His voice was definitely edgy, but it always was before he fed.

            “Good evening,” LaCroix said in that very debonair voice of his. He was in the armchair, reading a very old book. Alex could smell the old paper from the kitchen. Like most vampires, LaCroix had nothing but blood and wine in his immaculate fridge, and nothing but crystal glassware to drink it from. LaCroix didn’t say anything else as Alex drank his breakfast, which was very good but not as soothing as he wanted it to be. Of course he was comparing it to Ari’s blood, and nothing could compare to that. He would just have to get used to this – and the crushing emptiness.

            “Aristotle assured me you were quite capable of caring for yourself,” LaCroix said. “This is fortunate, as I am sadly lacking in youthful entertainment.”

            Instead of just hooking up his computer to LaCroix’s Ethernet (which Ari assured him he had), Alex finished his breakfast and proceeded to the built-in shelves. All of the books were older than him, and probably his grandfather. “I would think that you would have read all of these by now.” He pulled out a copy of Herodotus’s Histories, an English translation but a very old one. He had to be very careful with it, as the binding was fragile at this point.

            “Very little of modern literature amuses me, though I am occasionally surprised.” He looked at Alex’s choice. “Have you read it?”

            “I never made it through it. Not in college and not when I tried last summer.”

            “They are a chore.”

            “Gibbons, too. And that wasn’t a translation. Though I did do Herodotus in Greek the second time. It didn’t make it any better.”

            LaCroix accepted the book back from him and put it back in its place, then retrieved another heavy volume. “Some people find Tacitus to be a bit easier, and he has some amusing descriptions of the enemies of Rome. The translation is shoddy, but serviceable.”

            “Did you know him?”

            LaCroix’s response was surprisingly honest. “No, our paths never crossed. I understand he was a very great wit in his time.” He seem pleased that Alex accepted the book. “I have a radio show and Aristotle has instructed me to keep a very careful watch on his beloved son, so that obligates you to spend a few hours in the studio. Or I can go off the air for a few weeks.”

            “I don’t want to be an inconvenience.” And sitting in the apartment wasn’t all that different from sitting in an unused broadcast booth.

            “Very well. The show beings at ten, and usually lasts about four hours. I suspect if you step into another booth and just begin talking, it will qualify as a show.”

            “Okay.” He was actually grateful, when he thought about it, for something to do. He sensed LaCroix was not the sort of man who ventured out unnecessarily, and certainly wouldn’t be taking him to any public clubs, as he took his task very seriously.

            The studio was very close and they flew. LaCroix didn’t own a car, he revealed after some prying, and Alex had a sneaking suspicion he never learned to drive. The studio was very quiet. A harried woman gave LaCroix an evil glare as they crossed paths in the hallway.

            “A call-in therapist. She’s written quite a number of popular books on parenting that I may or may not have made disparaging references to when given the occasion.” Most of the employees avoided him too, but they were just scared. He did have quite a presence, especially on mortals. He brought no notes to prepare himself despite launching into a very lengthy monologue, a rather depressing one (if in a very introspective fashion) about loyalty. As it didn’t seem to be connected to anything in recent events as Alex knew them, he listened for awhile while playing Warcraft on his laptop on the control room, then put down the headphones when LaCroix started mocking callers and switched to Tacitus’ Histories. For a thick history book, it wasn’t all that bad.

            Even though the booth was sound-proofed, he still stepped into the hallway when he got a call. “Hey.”

            “Hey yourself.” Wherever Ari was, it was a public place, with lots of background noise of passing mortals and intercom noise announcing trains. “I assume LaCroix hasn’t driven you crazy yet.”

            “No, he’s focusing on his callers right now. He really had a great radio voice, though. I couldn’t make out what the monologue was about.”

            “Nick.”

            “What about him?”

            “His monologues are almost always about Nick. He reads his thoughts and then tailors it to him, even when he knows Nick isn’t listening. But Nick usually is, or he tapes it. Both of them will fastidiously deny it, but it’s true. I think he started the show when Nick wasn’t speaking to him at all, and he wanted to make him listen. He didn’t really hide behind metaphors so much then, just didn’t actually name him. He never replays his really old stuff. It’s before it was syndicated so it’s impossible to get.”

            “Really.”

            “Really. Whatever he’s going on about tonight, I guarantee you it was on Nick’s mind in the past few hours.” Behind him was more background noise. “That’s my train. I have to go. Do you need anything?”

            You. “Just be careful. And call.”

            “I will, on both counts. Take care, kid.”

            “Sure, old man.”

            “I love you too.” Ari laughed and hung up, and he was gone again. But he was out there, somewhere, thinking of Alex.

            It took Alex a long time to find the concentration for Tacitus, but by the end of LaCroix’s radio show, he had succeeded.    

                        ************************************************

            Life at LaCroix’s apartment was actually not so terrible. He had a lot of interesting books, including some more obscure medieval texts, and he was more than happy to help Alex with his Latin, which was not as good as his Greek. LaCroix didn’t live in the dark ages, and had a computer room, if the machine was a bit outdated and a lot of the drivers needed reinstalling. Though he would never dare to go into LaCroix’s personal files or emails, the elder vampire did not bother to warn him against it. He seemed to trust him completely.

            Alex never had much of a passion for Roman Imperial history, but two things spurred him on: that his master had been there (he did not tell LaCroix how and where and LaCroix did not inquire) and that he had a real, mostly-live Roman who continued in mortal politics until the sack of Rome in 410. Before that, he had been a senator, somehow getting around his vampiric restrictions. He taught Nero violin, or so he claimed, though Ari warned Alex not to listen to every one of LaCroix’s tall tales.

            Alex finally dared himself to say, “I heard Nero was a terrible musician.”

            “Oh, he was,” LaCroix said, amused. “I just taught him. Whether the lessons took – as they clearly did not – was not my concern. I was quite talented, though that talent diminished when I was brought across.”

            “Why?”

            “Because music requires life, young man. A mortal spirit with a flame inside that for us has all but died out.”

            “There has to be a logical explanation.”

            LaCroix raised an eyebrow. “Some things are beyond simple logic.”

            “Why should they be? Why can’t everything have an explanation? Just because we don’t fully understand the world doesn’t mean it isn’t fully understandable.”

            “And what would your master say to such a notion?”

            “I think you know.” Alex could be braver when he was quoting Aristotle, not himself, however much he agreed with him. “He believes that there is an inherent logic to the entire universe, and that vampires are not exempt. If anything, believing in the myths and legends mortals teach about us holds us back from discovering our true nature.”

            “My earlier pronunciation was not a mortal myth but a observation of mine, made through the centuries. What would Aristotle say to that?”

            “That it’s interesting and requires further research,” Alex said, not backing down from the challenge. “It might be that the part of our motor coordination required for performing on instruments is dulled by the transformation. Or it might be that our advanced hearing doesn’t allow us to hear the music the same way mortals do, and therefore inhibits our performance. I don’t know – I’ll drawing at straws here. I’m not a biologist.”

            “I understand your degree is in another form of science. Nonetheless that does prevent you from educated guessing.” LaCroix put down his fiddle and sat down across from him at the table, which was covered in books and notes for translation. “Would your master, assuming that the world is explainable, divorce himself from all myths, legends, and beliefs?”

            “Not beliefs. It’s too broad a word. He believes in things,” Alex said. “If you’re asking whether he believes in G-d, I can’t really tell you because I don’t really know. He’s not the devout worshipper of Greek gods that he was as a mortal, but the notion that the understandable, logical world we live in was created by a divine hand is not a problem for him. That’s very different from religion but not atheism, either. Atheism is not a requirement for science.”

            “And you, Alexander? Are you a scientific agnostic?”

            Alex wasn’t sure why vampires always called him by his full first name, but he had mostly given up convincing them not to. “I was an agnostic before I was brought across. I wasn’t an atheist because it was so much harder to be angry at G-d if you don’t believe in him, and there were so many times when I wanted to be angry at G-d. I had no one else to really be angry with.” He wracked his brain for something that would suit his argument. “When I was doing my last rounds of radiation, I was in the cancer ward for months. I shared a room – for awhile – with a woman with pancreatic cancer. She was Catholic, like having the priest in the room every time she was near death – which was often – Catholic. I must have heard her final confession four or five times because that curtain between us didn’t do much. And yes, she still died. But her religion brought her comfort. I can’t say G-d didn’t answer her prayers. Maybe He just said no.”

            “You are citing faith as a psychological mechanism for dealing with trauma, and that I will not deny,” LaCroix said. “But it can also be harmful.”

            “Anything can be harmful when taken to an extreme.”

            “‘Nothing in excess.’”

            “Precisely.”

            LaCroix gave him a smile a week ago he might have considered creepy, but now understood was the mark of hesitant approval.

                        ************************************************

            When Ari did call again, it served to prove how much Alex hinged on his call, which he quite literally leaped across the room to answer. “Hey.”

            Ari was still calling from his cell phone, so wherever he was, it was still in civilization. “Hi. How are you holding up?”

            “Okay.” It was a lie in certain respects, true in others.

            “How’s LaCroix treating you? Though I assume the response might be tempered by him being in the room.”

            “He has a lot of interesting books. And to say he’s good with Latin is kinda, you know, putting it mildly.”

            “If there was ever a time to perfect your Latin, it’s now,” Ari said. “Look, I can’t talk very long, but I might be going out of range soon. Very soon. So if I call, it’ll be from payphone somewhere.”

            The feeling in the pit of Alex’s stomach just got worse. “How long do you think that will be?”

            “It could be a week or two. Maybe a little longer.” He added, “I wouldn’t do this to you unless I absolutely had to.”

            “I know.”

            “I’ll call as soon as I can. Will you be okay?”

            “I’ll be okay.” As if he had any choice.

            “You’re tougher thank you think you are. Hang in there.”

            It was debate to keep talking and know that the agony of not hearing his master’s voice was coming, or just face the fact that Ari was gone. They said their goodbyes. The sooner he was gone, the sooner he would be back.

            LaCroix offered him a glass of wine, but did not say anything. There was nothing that could be said.

                        ************************************************

            Three days passed with no call from Ari. Alex lost his patience with history and feverishly played video games until he broke his keyboard, then fixed it, then broke it again and had to buy a new external keyboard for his laptop. LaCroix was quietly supportive, but didn’t tell him to calm down, which he would not have appreciated. Alex wanted to prove he was resilient, as Ari said he was, and having it pointed out that he was not would not help in that direction.

            Called or uncalled, Nicholas Lambert arrived late Saturday night from Winnipeg, bearing new photos of his mortal daughter for LaCroix (who made a good show of pretending not to be overly interested in them) and of all things, a Nintendo 64 for Alex.

            “Your father introduced this to me,” Nick said. “I know there are better systems on the market, but if you can stand it, I haven’t found anyone in Winnipeg to play Mario Kart with me.”

            He didn’t ask about Ari – not immediately, anyway. Instead they played Mario Kart until the sun rose. It was very distracting, clearly its purpose. Alex thanked Nick profusely and went to bed, leaving LaCroix and his son to no doubt spend hours discussing him.

            When he woke, LaCroix was not around. He was in the computer room with the door shut, and Alex took the opportunity to slip into the kitchen and eat something without getting fully dressed first.

            “He won’t leave you,” Nick said, announcing his presence on the sofa. Alex shook his head; was he really that distracted? “I tried to convince him to let me take you out, but he insisted he has to go. I would say he’s being paranoid, but he takes his responsibilities very seriously.”

            Alex poured Nick a glass and joined him on the couch, his bare feet up on the coffee table while LaCroix was giving him space. “It is not actually as bad as I thought it would be. Not that I thought it would be bad – “

            “You don’t have to apologize about LaCroix for me,” Nick answered with a smile, accepting the wine. “I am the last person on earth you have to apologize about LaCroix to. Except maybe my wife.”

            “I read her notes.” He wasn’t sure the Enforcers wanted him to say that, but he wasn’t sure he could get in worse with the Enforcers than he already seemed to be, despite his best intentions. “Ari rescued them after they were seized.”

            “Her medical notes?”

            “Yeah. You were a very unresponsive patient. Also she took X-rays of your canines and I thought it was really cool. We tried to get a dental X-ray machine delivered to the house in Tahoe, but ran into some legal bureaucracy. Something about neither of us having dentist licenses.”

            “Aristotle couldn’t produce a dental license?”

            He shrugged. “We got distracted by other things. He hasn’t had to make a lot of them in the past.”

            “Is there a particular reason you read Natalie’s journals?”

            “I wanted to know about the vampire, and he said she was the only one ever to do serious research. He believes there’s a perfectly physical explanation for the vampire and I don’t see a reason why he’s not right.”

            “It’s a virus.”

            “No. It’s object isn’t to replicate at the expense of the host cell. The vampire pathogen does replicate by transmission, but it alters the host to accommodate the vampire. That’s not a virus. There’s not really a word for that, but that just means no one’s come up with one yet, because no one’s decided to. There aren’t a lot of pathogens that can alter the species of the host.”

            Nick was intrigued, not offended. “So you’re saying we’re not humans with the vampire pathogen.”

            “No. We don’t meet the biological requirements for being humans. We don’t have human DNA, we don’t require sugar and water as basic sustenance to live, and most of our organs don’t work. When we cross over, about half of them become purely vestigial. For all the alcohol we drink, the liver doesn’t get used. Our digestive fluids just process and eliminate the alcohol.”

            “Natalie’s conclusions were a little different.”

            “Dr. Lambert was looking for a cure, wasn’t she? The only way to look for a cure is to treat it like a virus, because a virus can be treated. That was her starting point. Aristotle has a more neutral one. He would understand the vampire as it is, not how he’d like the host body to be.”

            Nick regarded him for some time before answering, “You studied science in school, didn’t you?”

            “Computer science and math theory. Biology’s a little new to me.”

            “And LaCroix’s been teaching you all about the Roman Empire.”

            “He can make it really interesting. Besides, my master was there, so that makes it interesting.”

            “Can I ask how you met Aristotle?”

            Alex blushed a little. “I was the TA in a summer course at MIT and he was auditing. Then we were in the same project group for a programming course. I thought he was just a kooky old man.”

            “He does give that impression. He wants to give that impression. He likes to be accepted and underestimated,” Nick said. “Your father is one of the toughest vampires I’ve ever met. He’ll be fine.”

            Alex wasn’t sure how Nick knew to say it at that precise moment, but it was a help. “Thanks.”

            Nick departed early in the evening to catch a flight home, apologizing for not staying longer even when it wasn’t necessary. LaCroix hardly pushed him out (if anything, the opposite), but it was understood that he had responsibilities with his family and job that could not be ignored, and promised to stop by. That left them barely enough time to get to the studio for the Sunday night radio show, a particularly vague one in terms of LaCroix addressing Nick through metaphor. Maybe tonight he wasn’t, just having seen him. Alex was able to concentrate on finishing Tacitus, no mean feat considering the level of distraction in his blood. The link with his master was silent. He could sense Ari was alive and well, and nothing else. Focusing too much on it was no comfort, as it only served to remind him of his separation pains.

            They returned to the penthouse at three. LaCroix paused in the hallway.

            “What is it?”

            “Possibly nothing.” But he didn’t sound like it was. But he entered first.

            He made it four steps in before he took a crossbow bolt to his head.

            Alex’s predatory senses roared, but he was not fast enough to duck the figure emerging from darkness, who fired a gun at him. The first missile missed him as he swerved, but the second struck his arm, and he crashed into the bookshelf, nearly knocking it over. Howling, he pulled the item out, his fuzzy vision trying to focus on the dart in his hands. Fangs extended, he lifted his eyes to his attacker, who fired twice. Alex was out before he really felt the second dart, his last memory of the vampire’s anger before darkness consumed him.

 

Part 3 – Nicholas

            When LaCroix dropped a hint that he had a houseguest, and that houseguest was not Janette (as it usually was), Nicholas was intrigued. He was only further interested to learn it was Aristotle’s child, Alexander. The boy couldn’t have been more than three. What was he doing in LaCroix’s company? But LaCroix did not field questions on the subject, saying only he was entrusted with the boy’s care for a few weeks, and that was that.

            Which meant that Alexander was in some kind of danger. That or Aristotle was, and he was housing his fledgling with the oldest and most powerful vampire in the States until things blew over. LaCroix was exceptionally cautious and talented at dealing with Enforcers, if that was the trouble. Nick decided not to be offended that he wasn’t asked. He didn’t want the Enforcers in Winnipeg, and Aristotle undoubtedly knew that.

            “Still, it must be very difficult for him,” Nick said as he unloaded the dishwasher for Natalie. He wasn’t much of a cook; somehow not having a sense of taste really put a damper on his culinary abilities. When he put orange juice in Katie’s cereal, that was the end of his license to work in the kitchen unsupervised. “Alexander, I mean.”

            “I assume you didn’t mean LaCroix. Though what he plans to do with a kid on his hands – though I guess Alexander isn’t really a kid.”

            “No. He was brought across at twenty-four. LaCroix just doesn’t relate to fledglings very well.”

            “Does he relate to anyone?”

            “He thinks he does.” Mortals had a lot of different types of bowls and a lot of places to put them. He wasn’t sure why Natalie needed four different mixing bowls for her salad, but wasn’t about to ask. “It’s not entertainment. Alexander isn’t really old enough to be away from Aristotle.”

            “He’s not an infant.”

            “He is. If Aristotle brought him across like I think he did.” At Natalie’s overly curious expression, he sighed and sat down at the center island. “You can be brought across two ways. There’s just being exposed to the blood of your maker, and you turn, and from there you go on your way. The link between you and the one who brought you across is so weak you might not feel it until they die. But the way it used to be, your master would feed you his blood immediately after you came across, bonding you to him for eternity. And he would be responsible for you for years. Decades. It used to be a century. Not doing so was downright irresponsible.”

            “LaCroix has other children, doesn’t he? That he doesn’t talk about?”

            “He’s brought other people across, by accident or because he owed them a favor or because it amused him. But they weren’t his children. He nurtured no special connection with them. That connection can make the vampires on both sides of it very powerful. And in the beginning especially it’s very ... intense.” Though Natalie had a very close relationship with her daughter, she hadn’t given birth to Kate or nursed her, so he didn’t use that metaphor to describe it. “Your master is your entire world. You seek approval, like a young child. You would do anything for it. If he leaves you, it’s almost like it’s physically painful.”

            “I thought LaCroix left you with Janette when you were brought across.”

            “He wasn’t always in the same room, but we were always in the same area. If anyone left our group, it was Janette, when LaCroix wanted to train me privately. I didn’t leave LaCroix’s side for fifty years. He set it up that way, so I wouldn’t have to.”

            “Because he wanted you at his side – eternally. He still does,” Natalie said. Her relationship with LaCroix was always tenuous, especially when Nick spoke about him with any kind of affection.

            “Aristotle is older and more traditional than he seems. He may be intending to eventually let Alexander go his own way, but I would put my money on him bringing him across the old way, to give him as much advantage as possible. Which means if he left him now, Alexander must be in agony. I know Aristotle. He wouldn’t do that unless he absolutely had to.” He added, “I should visit. We don’t have anything going on this weekend, do we?”

            “We have theater tickets.”

            “To what? That terrible Shakespeare company?”

            “Yes. Because they hounded you for a subscription and you don’t know how to say no.”

            “I have a soft spot for Shakespeare,” he defended. “Can we give the tickets to someone?”

            “You’re serious about this.”

            “I don’t get many opportunities to do Aristotle favors that don’t involve some kind of dangerous rescue. I’ll take what I can get,” he said, and kissed her on the cheek. “And think of the money we’ll save on the babysitter.”

            Natalie did give in. He rarely went anywhere, especially without her. And she did like Aristotle, who arranged for their lovely house in Winnipeg and both of their jobs, all based on good pre-schools for Katie. That weekend he kissed Katie goodbye, who squirmed in his arms. “Funny face!”

            “We’ve got to break you of this habit.”

            “Funny face!”

            He called up the vampire and hissed at her, extended fangs, glowing eyes and all, and she giggled and swiped his cheek. He never frightened her, though he couldn’t explain why. “If you draw me in kindergarten they’re going to send you to a social worker.”

            “Better hope the state doesn’t send us a resistor,” Natalie said with a sigh, accepting Katie in her arms. “Have fun. If it’s possible.”

            He shrugged. “I’m not beyond trying.”

                        ************************************************

            He’d been to Seattle twice since sine LaCroix acquired his penthouse there, both as Conversion Day surprises and both when Janette was also there. LaCroix wasn’t set up for visitors, and would usually go to his children himself. He did have a guest room for their use, but Alexander was using it.

            LaCroix seemed quite impressed with the young man, and did not hesitate saying it when Alexander went to sleep for the day. “An extremely bright young man, a bit on the philosophical side whether he knows it or not. Not that I would have expected any less from Aristotle in his choice.”

            “Where is Aristotle? Can you tell me?”

            “I can tell you that I don’t know,” LaCroix said with no hesitation. “Nor does Alexander.”

            “Is there something going on that I should know about?”

            “I sense that Aristotle is off discovering precisely what the issue is, if any, and its sensitive nature prevented his son from accompanying him. He may fill me in when he returns, or he may say nothing. He is not one to inflict undue hardship on anyone, especially a child, so yes, you are undoubtedly correct. There is something ‘going on.’ And I do appreciate your presence. There is only so much distraction I can provide Alexander at this time.”

            Alexander also had some theories about the vampire as a physical entity that were not encouraging in the “cure” area but made perfect medical sense. His interest itself was impressive; most vampires his age wanted to get started enjoying the pleasures of immortality as fast as possible. He was also edgy and distracted, and his attention was hard to catch at certain points, but the reason for that was obvious. His master was going farther and farther away and he didn’t know when he would be back. A terrifying prospect for an infant vampire.

            Nick had to be back home, so he said his goodbyes on Sunday night and hurried to the airport, only to learn of an hour delay that quickly became much longer than that. He was seriously debating the prospect of accepting tomorrow’s flight instead of risking the uncomfortable inconveniences of a daylight flight when his vision went blurry from the sharp pain in his head. He dropped the magazine in his hands, then toppled over, taking the rack of Seattle T-shirts with him.

            Somehow he was able to convince them not to call for a medic, and just let him stumble out of the gift shop and sit down on the hard plastic seats, holding his head between his legs. It was very difficult to do and keep the vampire down at the same time, but he managed some words of reassurance to the concerned passengers and flight attendants that were less bestial than they could have been. The pain in his head did not completely dissipate, but over time it reduced to a manageable level, and he could focus on other things, like his phone ringing. “Hello?”

            “Nicolas.” It was Janette. He hadn’t expected anyone else. “Are you with LaCroix?”

            “No, but I’m in the airport in Seattle. I can be back at his apartment in half an hour, an hour at most.” He couldn’t fly, not in this pain. He didn’t know the area well enough. “I’ll call you when I get there. He’s okay, Janette.” He wasn’t dead, certainly, for them to be in so much pain still.

            “Call me when you get to him,” she said, and hung up, no more interested in a conversation than he was.

            Still disoriented, he made it to the desk. “Hi. Nicholas Lambert. I’m too sick to fly. Open up my seat. No, I don’t want to reschedule.” He did not answer any other questions. He could barely hold up his luggage, only carry-on, as he made his way out through security. Only when he was safe in the cab, on his way without any further effort needed, did he call Natalie. “LaCroix is in trouble.”

            “What?”

            “I don’t know. I just felt it. He’s hurt very badly.” She said something, but it didn’t come across clearly. “Nat, it’s very hard to concentrate. Let me go back to his apartment and I’ll let you know what’s going on from there.”

            “Be safe, Nick.”

            “I will.” Though really, he wasn’t up for much of a fight. He hoped he wouldn’t have to fight anyone, especially Enforcers.

            Fortunately for him, it was not to be. The apartment door was closed, and inside there was only silence. He found LaCroix’s body, not far from the door. The origin of Nick’s pain became obvious – he was feeling the wooden crossbow bolt through the link, which must have been rather unpleasant for LaCroix to receive if he’d had any comprehension of it before passing out. It was buried in his temple, so deep that the front end could be seen poking out the back of his head, piercing the skull on both ends. A fair amount of his blood stained the carpet. His face was expressionless, almost peaceful in its total oblivion.

            Head wounds were serious even to a vampire. They were not deadly unless it was a complete decapitation for someone of LaCroix’s age, but they were slow to heal and the brain would not function properly for some time if it was damaged. And in this case, the damage was severe, so much that he wasn’t sure how to approach it just yet.

            “Janette?” As if anyone else would answer her cell. “LaCroix’s been shot with a crossbow.”

            “In the head?”

            “Yes. It’s very deep – I’m going to call Natalie and ask her advice. It may have to wait until you get here.” He would need a second pair of hands. “He stopped bleeding.”

            “And his charge?”

            He looked around. It was the first time he thought of Alexander. “I don’t know where he is.” As much as he didn’t want to leave LaCroix’s side, he had to at least check. Alexander’s stuff was all still there, including his cell phone, which was on the floor. “He’s gone. Someone took him.”

            “I can be on the next flight, but I won’t be there until tomorrow night.”

            “He can’t get any worse.” LaCroix would just remain in this state until they removed the bolt and fed him. They had that small comfort.

            He got a fresh bottle of blood before returning to LaCroix’s side to call Natalie. “What do you know about crossbow bolts?”

            “Where is it?” Despite the hour, she was very awake.

            “The head. Entering in the left temple, out the opposite side.”

            “Ouch.”

            “Tell me about it.” He drank straight from the bottle. He still hadn’t moved LaCroix at all, figuring it would only hurt the situation. “You can see the metal tip on the other side. It’s buried in the carpet. The shaft is wooden, so he’s not going to heal no matter how much blood I give him.”

            “Does it have a tail?”

            “Yes.”

            Natalie paused. In the background, it sounded like she was making coffee. “I assume you are worried about further damaging his brain. The smoothest extraction would be with the grain, which I’m guessing is pulling it out by pushing it through. You’re going to have to cut the tail off without splintering the wood. If he doesn’t have a really good bolt cutter, go out and get one, or have it delivered. And you’ll want pliers for any splinters of wood left afterward. Long ones.” She sighed. “I’m sorry I can’t be there. Do you want me to come?”

            “I think I can handle it. The wound won’t kill him, and Janette will be here tomorrow.”

            “If it can wait, wait for her to help you. What about Alexander?”

            “Gone. Looks like a kidnapping. If he’s dead, Aristotle already knows. If not ... shit, I have to try to reach him.” That would not be a pleasant phone call. “They would have left the body if they meant to kill him. There would be no reason to take his ashes.”

            Natalie warned him to be careful several more times before she let him off the phone, and he went searching for tools. Fortunately LaCroix was not above having a tool box, and an early-morning run to the local hardware store supplied him with the rest, even if he got scorched on the way home.

            He could not put it off any longer. He picked up Alexander’s phone and scrolled to ‘Ari’ on the contact list.

            It went immediately to voicemail. “Nope, I’m still out of range. Trust me, I wish I wasn’t.” Aristotle’s light-hearted voice did not match the mood in the apartment. “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, I promise.”

            Nick swallowed as it beeped. “Aristotle, sit down. I have some bad news ...”


Chapter 13

            Janette arrived before sundown, unwilling to wait in the airport until it was save to venture out, but even the layers of black leather and cloth could not protect her, and her face was red from burns when he embraced her. “Nicolas.” She turned her head to the side in horror when she saw their father, now moved into a slightly more dignified position, but his head the same. Nick slipped a pillow under it during the day, to relieve any pressure the bolt tip might be putting on his head.

            “I know. I know.” And he did know, because he still felt it, if not so badly now. “C’mon. We have to get the bolt out.”

            Nick had everything laid out on the carpet. They put a pan underneath him to catch the blood he would lose so he could reabsorb it. “Hold his head still. I’m going to cut the tail off, and then we can pull it out.”

            “Have you feed him?”

            “He’s not responding to anything.”

            “Have you heard from Aristotle?”

            “No.”

            He had treated wounds before, many times in battle and a few times on his own master, but he was still uneasy about taking the bolt cutter and pressing it closed, which snapped off the tail of the bolt. He began the careful process of picking out the loose splinters that might find their way lose and into LaCroix’s brain. He could sense Janette’s anxiety as easily as his own. “Okay. I think this is done here.”

            They moved carefully to turn LaCroix over, so his head was facedown on the pan and the tip of the bolt was sticking up. Janette cut her palm, and then LaCroix’s and put them together so he would have some intake at the crucial moment. There was some chance his head could fall apart, and with no head, his body would follow. Nick crossed himself. “For luck,” he said to Janette, knowing she would disapprove.

            He really did believe it was more than luck that he needed, but this wasn’t the time for a theological debate. He braced himself and pulled out the bolt, leaving a sizable hole in LaCroix’s head. Blood burst forth into the pan, but LaCroix’s body was otherwise completely limp. Nick cut his wrist and held it to LaCroix’s other palm. Even the sickest vampire would draw blood from one open wound to another. The link to his master was further heightened by the physical connection, as was his to Janette. He could sense her agony and though LaCroix’s end was silent, his ravaged body was still able to feel pain.

            Then, slowly, the wound began to close. It was excruciatingly slow in doing so considering the size, but the skin closed over quickly. Deeper wounds would remain, and heal slowly, but he stopped bleeding. Nick passed Janette a bottle of blood, and she used her free hand to sip, and they passed it back and worth between them for what seemed like hours. There was a strange comfort in the pain, knowing it was spread between them and not welled up in their master, and that through their suffering he would recover. They had not experienced a physical blood union in a very long time, and it was not without its emotional affects. Nick loved Natalie with all his heart, but it was something she would never understand. He barely understood it himself.

            When LaCroix’s body reabsorbed the blood in the pan, they knew he was recovering, and turned him over. Janette offered her wrist under LaCroix’s nose, but it was too soon for that. His vampire had no response.

            She was crying. It was finally hitting her now, and she sat beside him against the back of the coach, leaning her head on his shoulder. “What now?”

            “We wait.”

 

Part 4 – Aristotle

            Aristotle was very good at disappearing.

            Toronto was largely cleared of vampires. Once a major vampire city, enough incidents had occurred in the 90’s to warrant a shift to other urban areas. A few remained, but there was no Community, and by the Council’s orders and his own advice, there wouldn’t be one for at least another twenty years. Feliks Twist still lived in the suburbs, being rather fond of the area, but Aristotle did not stop in to see him, or even alert him to his presence. That was not how one disappeared.

            In the likelihood that someone had tracked his flight from Seattle to Toronto (which was not likely), they would be lost quickly as he traveled north to the province of Nunavut. By all appearances, he was headed to the North Pole, or the magnetic North Pole, which was further south than the actual one. The major rails ended at Hudson Bay, where he found some cell phone reception and called Alex again. He hadn’t slept since leaving Seattle, and the hours of sleep he had in the days before that he could count to on one hand, but he let none of this show on the phone. His business was to show Alex support, to be encouraging that he would be home soon, even as the link between them weakened. Part of it would always remain the same, but Alex’s sense of his presence (and his sense of Alex’s) was down to almost nothing. Maybe with concentration, he could point himself in the direction of Alex, but nothing more specific than that. He just had more comfort than his son, knowing where he was, and that he was safe.

            It was late winter, and the bay was frozen solid. Polar bears wandered across it and trucks dared to drive on the ice floor. That wasn’t fast enough for him, so he hired private planes to take him further and further north, over the province line into Nunavut proper. He spoke a little Inuktitut, most of it learned from a guidebook he read on the train. Vampires were exceptionally good at languages because memorizing vocabulary was easy. The grammar was the difficult part, but he mumbled his way through increasingly rural areas. He bought himself increasing layers of clothing, as the weather was well below freezing and the wind was painful to his eyes. He stopped in a major center long enough to raid their hospital of packs of blood, which would keep easily in the freezing temperatures, but fed mainly from wildlife and the occasional available mortal.

            On his fifth day out, he crossed over into Greenland by private plane. He could have flown, but it was so windy and cold that he opted out of that, and arrived in Nuuk, where he made his final call for a while to Alex. The payphone wouldn’t call a cell phone, so he called LaCroix’s apartment. Alex picked up and they talked, though not for very long. It was agonizing to them both, to hear each other’s voices and yet not sense the other’s presence like they were used to. If it was this painful for him, he could not imagine what it was like for Alex. He felt inept, having no words that would relieve his son’s pain, but he promised to call as soon as he could.

            He took a room in a small motel under the agreed-upon name, closed the drapes, and finally allowed himself to sleep. Now the onus to move was not on him, at least for the moment. But he was too tense, and when he woke he was curled in a ball, his muscles aching. He was uneasy, so he fed on a drunken worker on his way home. The alcohol was very strong, more than he was used to, and he watched television in Greenlandic, not understanding a word.

            “I suppose there’s not much else to do up here, is there?”

            He woke and looked up at the woman registered as his wife. Elaine, Elder of Paris and former Councilman Helena, did not look so elegant now. She was dressed as he was, for traveling in the cold. She didn’t have his advantage of a beard to protect her face, and her hair was tied up in a ponytail. “Hello to you, too.”

            “Are you drunk?” She spoke to him in French, even though she was perfectly capable of English, just with an accent.

            “I’m coming out of it, I think. Strong drinkers, these Greenlanders.” He smiled warily at her. “Did you lose your tail?”

            “By Norway, definitely.” She came from the opposite direction, working her way up from Paris. She was far more likely to be tailed, as Elders of Paris didn’t generally leave their post for parts unknown. “So where do we go from here?”

            “North.”

            “You can tell me, you know.”

            “You wouldn’t recognize the name of the town if I told you.”

            “It would have been too hard to hide people somewhere with an airport, wouldn’t it?”

            He grinned. “Where’s the fun in that?”

            He had never been as close to Elaine as many others could claim to be. He was retired from the Council long before she was a member. Their friendship began when she became Elder of Paris, at a time when most vampires lived in Europe and were getting used to the idea of having to move around more constantly, and his services were coming more and more into request. When people disregarded him as a 600-year-old weakling, she never corrected them. They had a healthy respect for each other, but since he moved to the States in the 50’s their contact had been largely over the phone.

            Dawn was approaching. The drapes were already drawn, and as much as Aristotle knew he ought to get some rest, he was still unable to sleep.

            “Close the link,” Elaine said, out of nowhere. That did not mean he didn’t know precisely what she meant.

            “No.”

            “Worrying won’t make him feel better or you feel better. If anything, it’s just making you feel worse.”

            He wondered if she’d ever brought anyone across the traditional way. She spoke as if she had some experience, but that might just be with her master, who was much older. He couldn’t deny the inherent logic in it, and forced the link closed. If something happened to Alex, he would still know it, but otherwise the sensation of the connection faded to a minimum. He shivered, unaccustomed to the loneliness it brought. “Children are so overwhelming.”

            “If you’re doing it correctly, yes they are,” she said.

                        ************************************************

            They flew the rest of the way. It was over 200 km to the town of Ilulissat, on the coast, where Aristotle needed to stop and get his bearings as how to proceed from there. It was incredibly slow going, even for vampires their age, because of the snow and wind, but it was still faster than any other means of transport would have been. They feasted on whatever came along – villagers, tourists, wildlife – and still arrived very, very hungry.

            “I’ve only been there once, but if I’m right, it’s only another 100 kilometers,” Aristotle said in the diner, going over the map with a compass again. Elaine’s look was as icy as the roof above them. “Due East.”

            “Is there anything out there?”

            “Snow. Polar bears. Maybe some reindeer if we’re lucky.”

            “I’m starting to think you’re a little too good at hiding people.”

            Starting?

            They fed and stocked up by raiding a butcher shop of ox blood, which they poured into plastic jugs for their backpacks. Greenland’s interior was covered in snow and ice, and so far they had been mostly coastal. As they flew over land, there was far less wind, but almost nothing to help them orient themselves except their own innate vampiric abilities and Aristotle’s compass. Snow and mountains described everything around them.

            Burying themselves in the snow was not sufficient for the daylight, and downright dangerous if their blood froze, since their body heat was so low anyway. Instead they moved some boulders around to find dirt in which to dig and buried themselves in the frozen ground. Aristotle knew Elaine was putting a lot of effort into hiding her misery, and he made fewer jokes about their increasingly desperate situation. Also, he despised being dirty, especially when he had a longer beard. There was nowhere to wash themselves off without trying to create a fire and boil water, and they had no time for that. They could not lose a single hour of night.

            “Aha!” Aristotle shouted. “Marius. I knew that mountain looked familiar.” He landed on the ground, buried up to his waist in snow. Fortunately it was only his waist.

            Elaine hovered next to him. “You can sense him?”

            “We must be within a mile. Or less. It came on rather quickly. You see, there’s a cave around here – “

            At which point, a flare lit the night sky on the side of the mountain.

            “ – that’s rather spacious, or it was when I visited.” He took Elaine’s hand to help get out of the snow and they flew to the cave entrance. It had once been naturally-occurring, but now it was clearly made bigger by one person’s carving efforts. That person stood at the entrance, and lowered the flare as they landed.

            A bearded Marius smiled at them. “That bad, huh?”

                        ************************************************

            The caves went deep, turning to the side. He had a board up to keep the wind out. “Welcome to my lovely home.” He used the flare to light the lamps and started up the generator. “This will take a little while to get going. It’s the cold.” He had some Inuit-made furniture probably purchased on one of his trips to the coast. The former Roman general looked rather ridiculous with overgrown hair and mostly fur native clothing. He had books, hundreds of them. “I think this calls for the good stuff.” He showed them his store room, where he had bottles and bottles of blood. “Most of it’s actually ox or steer. Here we go.” He poured them blood in wooden cups, which they happily accepted. Sitting down, they could finally acknowledge how tired they were.

            “It might not be as bad as you think,” Aristotle said. “The Council still stands and so do the Enforcers. They haven’t passed any crazy measure yet that will change vampire life as we know it. This is more about us.”

            “Us?”

            “The ex-Councilman,” Elaine said. “With the exception of me, we’ve all been shoved out of public life or killed. They seized all of Aristotle’s equipment and took over his business.”

            “Their reason?”

            “They had me on a technicality,” Aristotle said. “Since I refused to answer any questions about whether you were a client, they had the Council’s orders to take my computers. I could dispute it and win, but that would involve going to Egypt, which I’m now positive is a trap.”

            “Radovan is dead,” Elaine added.

            Marius raised his eyebrows. “I didn’t know he was alive.”

            “He made a child in Russia a hundred years ago, a bit less maybe. The child felt it when he died. All he found was ashes, so he might have walked into the sun, but this is less than a year since they shoved Aristotle out of public life,” Elaine said. “The Enforcers have taken over Aristotle’s business. They haven’t made a complete disaster of it yet, but people refuse to go where they tell them. They want to send everyone somewhere obscure, like Africa or some war zone where no one can be tracked. People want to have normal lives.”

            “Those are harder to set up, obviously,” Aristotle said.

            “So they’ve been coming to me and taking shelter in Paris. If it continues this way, the Parisian population will be doubled by the end of the year, maybe tripled. That’s too big. I’m already catching heat about it.”

            “You could refuse them shelter. But of course you won’t do that.” Marius smiled wickedly. “And they know it. What does the Council say?”

            “I haven’t wanted to approach them – not alone. And neither does Aristotle. We can’t reach any of the other ex-Councilman.”

            “Except for myself.”

            “Yes.”

            “If they followed us here,” Aristotle said, “they’re fucking maniacs and I salute them.” He raised his cup as if to toast.

            They drank and Marius repeated what he’d told Aristotle so many months ago – that he felt the Council was sickened by their blood links and not capable of making rational decisions. Now that they were together, there was much thinking to be done, and both travelers were too tired to do much else than sit quietly.

            “Alexander,” Marius said. “You haven’t mentioned him, so I assume he’s safe.”

            “Yes. I would have preferred not to leave him, of course, but there was no way he could make this journey. He’s with LaCroix.”

            “That’s smart. LaCroix is an Ancient who doesn’t like the Council.”

            “Precisely. And I am smart.” He laid down on the mattress of furs, still wearing all of his clothing, and passed out cold.

                        ************************************************

            “’You shall not kill your brother,’” Abaish-katal said, drawing on the wall with chalk, adding to the tree. “ ‘Nor shall you drink from him.’ That line never made it into the Code, because it wasn’t meant for vampires. It was meant for us – myself, my brothers. Too much, how do you say, consanguinity?”

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle awoke with a start. He was sweating blood, but his inner layers were already beyond recovery. He growled at the further grime to his filthy head, and went right for a jug of blood, finishing it entirely. He was famished. He purchased the blood for Marius anyway; he would have to forgive the intrusion.

            He looked at the wall. It was empty. But in his dream ... “Marius.” Their host was awake. Elaine was still sleeping. “Do you have chalk?”

            “Chalk?”

            “Or something that can write on walls. Quickly, before I forget my dream.”

            Something about his isolation had done Marius’ personality wonders, because he was eager to serve his guests, and found an ink pot. Aristotle dipped his finger in and began to draw, cursing because he knew there was more to the triangle he was building, but it was already gone from his mind if it had ever been there in the first place. “It’s a family tree. I think,” he answered before Marius could ask, and returned the ink. “Abaish-katal drew it for me.”

            “When?”

            “Long before you were born,” he said. “Is there some way I can wash up?”

            Anything full-body was out of the question, but Marius heated water and had a little soap, so Aristotle could wash his face and beard and overgrown hair in the back, and feel decent again. Elaine rose and used the remaining water to do the same before it froze again. Aristotle stared at his drawing. “There was something he wanted me to know. About sharing blood. Or maybe he was just telling a story, I don’t know ...”

            Elaine looked to Marius, who shrugged. “He’s been going on about this since he woke. Abaish-katal told him something and he’s forgotten it.”

            “He made me forget it,” Aristotle corrected. “He said I would remember it when I needed to. When the subject came up. It’s been 2200 years, and only a month ago I remembered that he even said that to me.”

            “So why didn’t you go and ask him about it? Assuming you can find him.”

            “I don’t think that’s what he meant for me to do.” Of this, he was fairly sure. He would see Abaish-katal again, but not yet. “What’s the first line of the Code?”

            “‘You shall not kill your brother,’” Marius answered, to Elaine’s surprise. “Well, that was the original first line. The second is about killing your master. I guess when the ancients went to war with each other they scratched out the first line.”

            “He meant feeding. Abaish-katal’s master. Not just killing – feeding.” Aristotle paced between them and the cave painting. “What do we know about the Old Ones? There are legends that they all had different abilities, which could be taught through a blood exchange. That was how the three brothers killed their father. They wanted his power, and they learned how to get it from their uncle, Ra’el’s enemy. He taught them the secret. Then they turned on each other. Qum’ra and Qa’ra’s older brother consumed their father, and they consumed him. Which Abaish said was the greater sin, when they killed their brother, not their father. It poisoned the bloodline.” He frowned. “What if they were really brothers?”

            “I suppose it’s useless not to go along with you and ask whom you’re referring to,” Marius said.

            “Qum’ra, Qa’ra, and their brother. The one whose name they wouldn’t speak out of shame. Neither of them ever told me. What if Ra’el brought across three actual brothers?” He looked at the lines again. “In consuming their brother, they gained his power, but it was incest. He didn’t have any special abilities to curse them with madness – they cursed themselves by drinking his blood. They looked alike, too. I remember thinking that. Like twins, almost.”

            Elaine cut in. “Which one are you related to?” It was a delicate question, but since she had been on the Council, she knew something of his ancestry.

            “I’m Qum’ra’s son. Qa’ra outlived him, but not for very long.” He decided not to add that Qa’ra had living grandchildren and great-grandchildren. There was no need to involve LaCroix in this when he already owed him so much.

            “And this has to do with our situation how?” Marius had not lost all of his impatience, it seemed.

            “It has everything to do with it,” Aristotle said, though he could not yet back up his claim. “The original prohibitions in the Code were not just to prevent vampires from killing each other, but to prevent blood from mixing improperly.”

            “But the Councilmen aren’t related to each other,” Elaine said. “And the bloodlines are so diluted now that almost no one knows theirs.”

            “The principle is still similar. Marius’ accusation is that the Council is sick from feeding on themselves. Either they really found a way to feed on themselves without no outside mortals bringing in new blood, which just saves time and energy, or they didn’t and they’ve just been together too long. Two of them have been Councilmen for 1800 years. The others ... when was the last time there was a change to the circle?”

            “When I left,” Elaine said. “Three hundred years ago.”

            “This is why we should be doing genetic research into vampirism,” Aristotle said, indignant. “Instead of shutting down every attempt to look into our past, under the microscope or otherwise. Then we would know these things. We’ve just assumed the bloodlines are so thinned and mortal genes have changed so much that there’s enough genetic material in the system, but if Marius is right, then we’re wrong.” He continued pacing. “Do either of you know of vampires that have been in a relationship for more than three hundred years?”

            “You mean a romantic one?”

            “Any one where two vampires would constantly share blood. So yes, presumably.”

            Marius scratched his head, and Elaine was quiet for a few moments. “Not three hundred years,” she said. “Maybe two. Not even that, probably. It always ends, even between master and child. They always are driven apart by something. That’s why I discourage fledglings from getting married. They don’t understand that eternal vows don’t count for eternity.”

            “Nicholas and Janette were married for something like a hundred years,” Aristotle said. “LaCroix even gave his blessing, as I understand it. But Janette left Nick with very little explanation. I don’t think he’s quite gotten over it.”

            “Or her him,” Elaine said. Janette was often in Paris, so they were closer. “Vampires require variety. Everyone knows this. We can’t stay in one state for two long.”

            “Some vampires are very capable of staying in one place or ‘state’ for thousands of years,” Aristotle countered. “Randovan, for starters. Lived in solitude in Siberia for 800 years. Or Abaish. No one’s seen him since 1832, and before that, there was a long stretch. Some people are perfectly capable of removing themselves from society and all the relationships it requires. This is about blood.”

            “Assuming for a moment your thesis is correct, and vampires aren’t meant to feed on each other exclusively for too long, whether they bring new blood in through mortals or not,” Elaine said, “and that the Council has poisoned itself with the blood link. Why kill the ex-Councilmen? None of us can match the Council’s mental abilities.”

            “We could if we were united,” Marius said. “Hell, there are three of us right now and five of them. Add some c4 and we’re a match.”

            “You just like c4.”

            “I do. But that doesn’t change my argument.”

            Aristotle looked at Marius. “You wanted to renew our blood link in Tahoe. I pushed you out.”

            “I just wanted to talk more privately with you, but yes, I did. If I hadn’t been on the run, maybe I would have asked for more. It just felt secure. So many of my children are Enforcers, and I’ve had to close my links with them to stay hidden.”

            “I just thought you were trying to be more convincing in your argument, and at the time I wasn’t in the mood.” He had still been very angry at him.

            Marius stood. “I think we should do it. Renew our link, and add Elaine to it.” She hadn’t sat on the Council with either of them, so her connection to them was only by association.

            “What, to form a competing Council? I don’t think you could get more seditious than that.”

            “And what about this meeting isn’t seditious?” Marius said. “We’re actively discussing Council secrets outside the Council chambers and planning to take possible action against them – for their own good or just ours. And I assume you didn’t come all this way just to get my opinion on things. You’ve concluded more in the past ten minutes than I have in 6 months and you barely needed me for that. You could have done it in Paris with Elaine.”

            Aristotle looked at Elaine, who only shrugged. It wouldn’t be an easy thing to do and it could have drastic consequences, and at the moment, it would give them little advantage when they had no other game plan.

            While Elaine filled Marius in on the latest political news that Aristotle already knew, the elder vampire went for a walk along the mountain ridge, wearing a white, wide-brimmed hat to hide himself from satellite imaging and planes overhead. The moon was waxing large, almost full except for a sliver on one side, and its reflection on the snow was nearly blinding to his sensitive eyes. He opened the link to Alex, and could sense only the quiet that indicated Alex was sleeping, as he had been each time Aristotle checked the link over the past few days. At least one of them could sleep.

            When he headed back in the direction of the cave entrance, Elaine was standing outside, getting her own fresh air, as if they hadn’t had enough of it in the last few days. “I think we should do it.”

            Aristotle said nothing.

            “Are you holding back because of Alex?”

            “Councilmen are not supposed to bring people across.”

            “Because they’re busy on the Council. You wouldn’t be.”

            “True.” But he was not satisfied. He was unsettled, but couldn’t put his mind on why. Maybe it was the dream, so slow to reveal itself, or maybe it was openly discussing his own family’s incestuous past. He didn’t need another confirmation that he was the product of a diseased bloodline that the entire vampire Community had once tried to wipe from the earth. He hadn’t really made up with Alex about that; the accusations of Buenos Aires still stung and he had no good response to them. He had every right to bring Alex across, but yes, he was bringing him into a high-risk household. He understood that part of the reason Alex must have agreed to be brought across, at least subconsciously, was because he was terrified of death and didn’t want to ever have to face it again after looking it in the face more than once as a mortal. Now, with the story about Matthew, that prospect was very real, and at the hand of the person who was the center of his universe. And who now abandoned him to chat with their former enemy.

Aristotle didn’t truly care about the Council and how the vampire world chose to govern itself, as long as it didn’t interfere with his existence and happiness and the happiness of his son. Even if he remained uninvolved, someone would act if the Council stepped out of line. He resented them most for involving him by forcing him into inaction, then action. If only Randovan hadn’t been killed ...

“You don’t want to do this, do you?”

He could see his breath. His breath. That was how cold it was. “I’ve stayed alive by not getting involved in things like this. I wasn’t there when the last vampire kingdom fell. I didn’t fight at Magna. I was in Rome, living with mortals when the Council was formed. I accepted their offer because they were desperate and I felt bad for them, then stepped down as soon as I possibly could. I’m not brave, but I am alive. The last of my bloodline, as twisted as it may be.” He couldn’t look at her. He was too ashamed. “When my last sibling contacted me after Magna, I sent her packing. She begged for my help, and I told her she was on a suicide mission and I would have nothing of it. I was happy where I was, away from her and everyone else. So she left, and went to the last vampire fortress above ground, and the Romans laid siege. And she died, just as I predicted she would, when they lit it aflame. I felt her death, but I knew there was nothing I could have done for her but die by her side, and it didn’t seem worth it. We didn’t even like each other. I wasn’t going to die for her or anyone else.”

“Would you have died for your master?”

“Of course!” He didn’t mean to shout it, but he did. He lowered his voice. “I would have thrown myself on the pyre just to die with him if I physically could have.”

“I know a lot of vampires who wouldn’t say the same. And not just fledglings. People who should know better,” she said. “You have more loyalty to a 2-year-old fledgling whose survival is far from assured than you do to the entire Community. We need more people like that. I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to care about someone that much. I don’t blame you for not wanting to put that at risk.”

“Thank you.” But there was safety in numbers. And that was why he would do it.

                        ************************************************

            “I don’t actually know a lot about this,” Aristotle sat as they sat down in a triangle, and Marius passed out switchblades. “It used to be common among vampire groups, but my master was never invited into any of their circles.”

            “Then at least you’re on level with the rest of us,” Marius said. They pulled off their gloves and sliced their palms open. They had very little time before the wounds would heal. “Ready?”

            “As we’ll ever be,” Elaine said, nailing Aristotle’s sentiment on the head, and they put their hands together in a circle.

            Vampire blood did not clot like human blood. It would continue flowing as long as a wound was open. What prevented them from easily bleeding to death was that wounds closed exceptionally quickly, no matter how deep or bad. It took action to keep the skin open, and in this case, two open sources of blood would move to each other, creating a flow strong enough to preserve the break in skin. Their blood was a gateway to their minds, and the connection was instantaneous. It was almost never unpleasant – very much the opposite, in fact – and with three people, intense in a different way.

            Aristotle’s mind was constructed like a fortress; they would only see what he wanted them to see unless it was a very deep link and he wasn’t paying attention. He could feel intruders at the gates, but let his mind flow for once, sensing both Marius and Elaine at once. His connection to Marius, previously just a trickle in his memory, came flowing back, and his mind was overwhelmed with memories from the Council as strong as if they were yesterday. Marius was also trained to keep his thoughts to himself, though not to the extent that Aristotle was. Aristotle could break his defenses if he wanted to, but the younger vampire would know about it. Elaine, on the other hand, was an open book. He saw very little that surprised him, but he was only taking surface thoughts, not wanting to be rude.

            He wanted to show them his memory of Abaish-katal talking to him about bloodlines, but he couldn’t summon it. It slipped through his hands like water again. Instead, he focused on his memories of the Council when he visited them in 1947, his most recent trip. That was, after all, the reason they were doing this. He didn’t really want a connection with Marius or Elaine that badly, or at all. Still, he could bask in it, at least for a little while. He’d been so lonesome since leaving Seattle, and they could fill that hole, if only for a little while.

            If only for the stinging sensation, it might have been really enjoyable. No, he couldn’t remember that being there before. Was it his poisonous blood out of control? He’d never had problems with it before. But the explosion of intensity came from him, not anyone else, and he pulled his hands back and gasped. For a moment the pain was blinding, and he was unable to catch the breath his body didn’t truly need but always thought it did. His body was on fire and then it wasn’t. It faded quickly.

            “Aristotle?”

            He was on the floor, his limbs still so close he couldn’t move until he realized the pain was gone, and Marius was standing over him, licking his wounds as they closed, and Elaine was fetching a jug of blood. “Drink.”

            He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to waste time on his body, the one not in danger, the one that was stronger and could survive pain. He stumbled to his feet. “I have to get to Alex.”

            “Well, that makes sense,” Marius said, his usual calculating self. He must have felt echoes of it through their renewed link. “I don’t see how anything else could intrude on us. Isn’t he with LaCroix?”

            “He’s supposed to be.” He finally did accept some blood, because he needed the strength to open the link again. He cried out and shut it. “Fucking LaCroix! You were supposed to protect him!” He was still feeling an unusual intimacy with Elaine, and happily accepted her embrace, resting his head on her shoulder. “Fuck!”

            “You need to rest and keep the link closed. Then you can try – “

            “Don’t tell me what I need to do!” He snarled. He knew his eyes were yellow but he didn’t care. He didn’t need to apologize to them. “I need to get to somewhere with a phone line.” They had to hold him back from leaving right then.

            “There’s only a few hours before dawn. You won’t get far enough. You might not find shelter,” Marius said.

            “I crossed Greenland when I was a fledgling!” he growled. “Without your precious blood in a bottle! Let me go, and we’ll see how far I get.” If he kept the link closed, he could fly fast. He was very determined.

            “At least give us a minute to pack up,” Marius said. “I have a feeling that for an old man, you’re going to be hard to keep up with.”

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle did not sleep at all that day, which was spent so painfully close to his goal of a town but too far. They kept going until the sky was light, and then had to dig so quickly they all had burns and were happy to be under ground, in the cool earth and away from the hot sun. Well, the others were relieved. Aristotle knew he would not sleep at all.

            Playing with the link was like playing with fire – irresistible but eventually something that burned him. And it did burn, but not like the sun. The fire was inside him, or more precisely, inside Alex. It stung in his blood, and it must have been a thousand times worse for his child to hit him that badly when he was so far away. He bore the pain, screaming occasionally, in some attempt to see through it and into Alex’s mind. There were coherent thoughts, but it was like trying to hear them in a storm. The pain was too distracting for him to be sure he could project himself onto the other side of the link, assuring Alex that he was there and aware of his situation. He had no idea if the message got through.

            When it was dark and cool enough, he emerged from the dirt. The others insisted he drink something before continuing, and the vampire could not resist the smell of blood, however old and cold. It was too angered at being without rest and exposed to such constant pain. He needed the vampire to be calm so he could fly, and get to a phone, and figure out what the hell happened in his absence.

            “Hey, buddy, we’re closed – “

            He let Marius take care of the owner of the diner, who must have been alarmed when he tore the door off the hinges after finding it locked. His phone was in his backpack, but it was useless. What wasn’t was its voicemail, which he could access from a landline. Elaine closed the door to the diner, trying to make it look like less of a crime scene as Marius drained the owner and hypnotized the fry cook.

            He only had two messages on his private line. The voice was not Alex’s, but Nick’s. “Aristotle, sit down. I have some bad news.”

            To his own surprise, he listened to the machine, and took a seat on the stool.

            “I just got back to LaCroix. I came to visit, and I was in the airport when I felt something, so I’m back in the apartment now. It’s ...” He read the time off his watch, and the machine told him it was days ago. “LaCroix has a crossbow bolt through his head and Alex is missing. I assume it was a kidnapping, because Alex’s stuff is still here, including this phone. There’re no signs of a struggle. It must have been very quick. I ... I have to stay and help LaCroix. And I wouldn’t know where to begin searching for Alex. I’ll call when I know something else.”

            He swallowed and waited for the second message, dated two days later. “Nick again. You must be out of range. Janette’s here with me. She put out some discreet calls, but no one’s seen or heard from either you or Alex. The good news – though I know this is little consolation to you – is that we got the bolt out of LaCroix’s head without it collapsing. He’ll live, though I don’t know when he’ll be up and about. It went right through his brain, so it might be a while. Call the apartment when you get this message.”

            He slammed the phone down. “Two days ago. Christ.”

            “And you just felt it now.”

            “I thought Alex was sleeping. When I checked, he was always sleeping.”

            “Then he was drugged,” Marius said. “They don’t mean to kill him or they already would have. It’s a trap for you.”

            “I know it’s a trap for me!” What else could anyone want with Alex? “I just want to know who and where so I can walk into it and get him out!” He picked up the phone again and dialed LaCroix’s apartment.

            Someone answered after two rings. “Hello?”

            “Nick, I just got to a phone. Alex is alive, but I don’t know where. Is LaCroix up yet?”

            “Sort of.”

            “What the fuck does that mean, sort of?

            On the other end, Nick did not chide him for his rude behavior. “He just woke a few hours ago, but his brain doesn’t seem to be completely functioning. All he’s said so far is nonsense, and he doesn’t respond to either of us. Janette and I have been feeding him to speed up the process, but his brain is just going to take awhile to come back,” he said calmly. He sounded stressed himself, but nowhere near the level Aristotle had achieved. “We checked with the entire Seattle Community and they don’t know anything. Alex has dropped off the face of the earth. I think if LaCroix could communicate, he might not be able to identify is attackers. He was right by the door when we found him, so they got him quickly. There’s no other blood here – blood that’s not LaCroix’s.”

            “And it was a crossbow?”

            “Yes.”

            Aristotle finally decided to acknowledge that Marius was gesturing for the phone. “Hang on.”

He passed it to Marius. “Do you still have the bolt?”

“...Marius?”

“Yes. Do you still have the bolt?”

“I had to cut it to get it out of his skull, but yes.”

“Both ends?”

“The whole thing, actually. Just in two.”

“Get it.”

There was a brief pause on Nick’s end. “Okay.”

“I assume it’s wooden.”

 “Yes.”

 "Does it have a carbon core?”

 “It’s some kind of metal. Maybe carbon.”

“And does it have two or three feathers?”

“Three. They’re plastic. Solid plastic. Two are black and the other – “

“ – is red,” Marius finished. “You’re looking at an Enforcer bolt. That or someone’s taken to copying Enforcer bolts, and we don’t use them that often.”

“We?”

“You know what I mean.” He gave the phone back to Aristotle. “All yours.”

“Thanks for calling, Nick.” Aristotle didn’t feel all that grateful, as Nick hadn’t done anything on Alex’s behalf and his son was suffering, but he tried to sound like he had the ability to appreciate the call. “I’ll call you when my cell phone is back in range, to see how LaCroix is doing.”

“Thanks, but I don’t think he’s going to tell you anything you don’t know now. If there’s any other way we can help, just call.”

“Thanks.” Aristotle ended the call. He didn’t want to talk to Nick, who had a master who was on his way to good health. He wanted to move. He wanted to think.

            “Aristotle,” Elaine pleaded, “you should eat something.” And by something, she meant the remaining member of the diner’s staff.

            “I have to concentrate.”

            “You’ll concentrate better after feeding and resting. You know that,” Marius said. “Look, they’re not going to kill him. Then they lose the only card in their hand. It may feel like he’s dying, but they are going to do everything in their power to keep him alive. It’s you they want.”

            There was a logic to it, and with the new link, Marius’ words were especially comforting. He was just not in the mood to be comforted. “Where are we going? Enforcer headquarters?”

            “That’s where I would lay the trap. Not that it’s not obvious what they’re doing. They can’t find me and Elaine is too public, so they’ve gone after you, knowing you’ll lead them to me. Which you’re going to do because there’s no way you’re getting into Enforcer headquarters without my help.”

            Aristotle looked up at him.

            “I felt his pain, too. Just this time, I didn’t cause it.” He dragged the fry cook in front of him and practically shoved his neck in Aristotle’s face. “You’re not helping Alexander by starving yourself.”

            Oh, but the pleasure of a hot meal, after so many cold ones. He felt guilty taking every drop the miserable, disgusting fry cook had to offer, but he did anyway.

            They did not stay in town. They flew south as far as they could get, headed towards Nuuk, before the sun came upon them and they raided an old house and made shelter for the day. Tomorrow night, Aristotle assured himself, they would reach Nuuk, if they kept up their intense pace and the weather held, and then they could be on a plane to Europe, and to Alex.

            Or so he could only hope.


Chapter 14

Part 5 – Alexander

            The vampire was very, very hungry.

            It emerged first, guiding him out of the darkness where he had rested for so long. Alex feared he would never find his way out, and wondered if it matter, until the hunger took hold of him, and then the world became very real again, if it first inaccessible. The beast demanded action, but he could not act. There was a terrible pain at the pit of his stomach, but he couldn’t lift his head up until he smelled blood. Human blood, still warm.

            The vampire leaped forward. Or it tried, only to be stopped and pulled back, breaking skin but fortunately not bone. He did get close enough to the cup, and drank his fill, seeing only red until it was refilled several times. Then, his eyes could return to normal and focus. He was still very tired, and wanted to sit down, but his feet were soundly on the ground and his arms suspended above him, so the most he could do was hang. His wounds had already healed, and he tested his restraints, but they held.

            Both Alex and the vampire were irritated, and snarled at the figure in front of him, finally coming into view. The man – the vampire – was very much out of his range, and merely seemed amused at his attempts. “Do you want to know where you are?”

            It struck him as a very odd opening question from his captor. He looked around at the laboratory, but didn’t recognize most of the instruments, and it was clearly built into an existing stone structure, because the vaulted ceiling could still be scene. The harsh fluorescents hurt his eyes; his captor was wearing sunglasses. “Who are you?”

            “I’ve had a number of names,” he said. His accent was vaguely Germanic, maybe Slavic. “But you can call me Ivan. Or doctor. I was a doctor, originally. But mainly I bled people. So being a vampire came quite naturally to me.” He wasn’t wearing a lab coat, but he did have a lot of scary equipment on the metal cart beside him. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

            “Enforcer headquarters.”

            Ivan smiled. “Like your master. Too clever for your own good.”

            He hadn’t really wanted it confirmed. It was a guess, and now that he knew, it was terrifying. “I don’t know where Aristotle is.”

            “We know. Your blood would have told us, even if you managed not to. He’s gone after Marius, no doubt holed up in some inaccessible part of the world. But he was smart enough not to tell you where he was going before he left you to the wolves.”

            Of course, they drained him at some point in his transport. “How long have I been here?”

            “Two days. And the transport took about as long. We had to keep you happily asleep. No doubt Aristotle has been checking up on you.”

            “What happened to LaCroix?”

            Ivan shrugged. “By now one of his children has found him and I imagine he’s on the mend. Lucien LaCroix is notoriously hard to kill. His son tried, but only succeeded in wounding him. And with a flaming stake.” He picked up what looked like some kind of gun, only it had a cylinder at the end with a bladed edge, and capsules in the cartridge above it. “He really should be the least of your worries.”

            “If you kill me – “

            “We won’t. However much you beg, we need you alive, obviously. Aristotle won’t risk his life for ashes.”

            “He’ll know it’s a trap.”

            “Yes. And he’ll come anyway.” He held the gun up to Alex’s chest, just beneath the collarbone, tearing his shirt. “These are time-released garlic capsules. They’re going to hurt. A lot. But we’re not going to put enough in to kill you. In a few minutes, you might not find that concept so unpleasant.”

            “You don’t have to – “ But his protests went unheard as he felt the sting, and something heavy in his chest. And then, an explosion of pain. Fangs bared, he howled and flung himself at his captor, as if moving in any other direction would provide some relief, but he only succeeded in dislocating his shoulder. And it didn’t help the pain. Nothing did. It seemed through his entire system, so it felt like a million ants were filling his body, slowly chewing away at his insides and he couldn’t be rid of them.

            Don’t come don’t come it’s a trap it’s a trap. Aristotle must be out there, somewhere, feeling this. That was the only reason he could imagine for this torture. They couldn’t simply hold him and send out a note, could they? Because they didn’t know where Aristotle was. Either way he would come. His master didn’t deserve to die.

            The sun was coming. The vampire receded, and he was left to his own agony. His voice was already gone from screaming. Now he would rest, and tomorrow no doubt it would begin anew.

            “No,” Ivan said. Or maybe it was someone else. Alex didn’t really care; he couldn’t focus his eyes anyway. “We’re trying to send a message here.” And he fired another one into his stomach. The vampire emerged, briefly, then shrunk back. Even though there was no window in this laboratory/dungeon, he could feel the sun, as if it was burning away at his flesh, and there was nothing he could do about it, no way he could hide form it.

            He must have started crying around the time when he realized they weren’t going to let him sleep. And pleading, but his ability to speak and not scream went in and out. Each time he just collapsed in exhaustion, his body just slack, they shot him again with their nefarious little device, and what hadn’t really stopped began anew with a fresh wave of pain. Very, very distracting pain.

            “Please stop,” he said. “You’ll kill me.”

            “This is a very careful art, Dr. Nemcosky,” said a voice he didn’t recognize, as Ivan plunged a needle through his stomach and into his stomach and tied it up with medical tape. The red liquid moving through the tube fascinated him briefly, but he had trouble concentrating on anything for long. It was odd, not feeding and yet being fed. “You’re two years old, but you’ve taken more garlic than a thirty-year-old and you’re still able to talk. What generation is Aristotle?”

            Aristotle didn’t talk much about generations, just in passing when he mentioned that the Old Ones counted themselves that way. He bit his lip so hard it bled, trying to concentrate long enough to calculate it. Ra’el must be second, because he was nephew to Abaish, who was first ... “Fourth.”

            “Impressive. You’re built like a tank. Did you know that?”

            He shook his head, which was easier than speaking, even if it hurt to move. It hurt to do anything. If he could just sleep ... just for a little while ...

            “There are worse things we could do to you,” said the other one, the one who never introduced himself. Or maybe he had, and Alex didn’t remember, because he was having trouble remembering things, like how long he’d been there, and how he got there. “We could feed you so much Enforcer blood Aristotle would spend centuries trying to restore you. But we actually just want him.”

            “Why? He’s no threat to you.”

            “I can understand that your reasoning might not be at its best, so take my word for it that you are wrong. But if he dies, you’ll follow. Two years old and tied to him? You’ll throw yourself in the sun. So really, what happens to you doesn’t concern us.”

            He tried to sense Ari, but the link was too distant, too hazy, and concentrating was too difficult. Don’t come don’t come it’s a trap. He pleaded through the link; let his master save himself. Don’t let them win.

            Alex couldn’t tell if the sun was up or down. He felt cooler sometimes, hotter sometimes, and maybe that was an indicator, but time was really lost to him. He thought about sleep all of the time, the lack of it so much more agonizing than the pain itself. He was chasing it down a corridor that kept getting longer and longer as he ran. It was always escaping him.

            “Do Aristotle fledgling madness Council?”

            Nonsense. Their words were nonsense so he spit nonsense back. “There’s a dragon on your left.” He was fairly sure there was.

            “Master tempt hallucinating. Definitely hallucinating.”

            Maybe he would hallucinate that he was sleeping. That would be nice. He wanted to watch the dragon they couldn’t see, but he couldn’t keep his eyes focused. His head hung down, and he could see the tube where they fed blood directly into his stomach, keeping him very much alive. “Kill me.” Maybe it was not the first time he said it, or maybe just not out loud, but he was fairly sure this state could not continue. He could not bear it.

            “And spare your master?”

            He didn’t know; he didn’t care. He didn’t have a response. He tried biting his own arm, as if he could bite it off and free himself – it would grow back, wouldn’t it? – but his blood was like fire, and burned the roof of his mouth. His own blood was poison to him.

            He didn’t want more blood. He didn’t want his master. He just wanted it to end. He wanted to die.

 

Part 6 – Aristotle

            Returning from Greenland was far less dramatic. They weren’t hiding, but they weren’t announcing their presence either. Of course, even retirement didn’t stop Aristotle from being a master of inconspicuous traveling, however distracted he was. He didn’t know where Alex was, but he knew they were traveling in the right direction by going to Europe, and the comfort that brought him was offset by the increasing of the link, through which he felt only pain, and no coherent thought. He wasn’t close enough yet to know anything but that Alex was in agony. He stayed awake through both flights and the train ride. When they were deep in Bavaria, where Marius rented a car. He seemed to know where he was going and Aristotle wasn’t in the mood to question it.

            “We can’t get too close to Enforcer headquarters until we have a plan. They’ll sense me,” he said. “There’s a lot of castles in this area. I know all the families who live here, even the ones I didn’t tell my inferiors or children about. They close up for the winter and go to the cities – the castles are too expensive to heat. We’ll stay in one until we have a plan.”

            Everything was starting to sound good. He needed to think, and let Marius and Elaine handle the final leg of their journey. He was even starting to fade as they arrived at a white-washed stone castle built high in the mountains, and even higher on a rock foundation. The gate was heavily padlocked for winter, and they hurried to hide the car and fly over the gate, to the safety of indoors from the coming light.

            “Aristotle,” Elaine said as they removed their layers and layers of clothing, all ruined from dirty and blood sweat. “I suppose I don’t have to tell you to sleep.”

            “I need to think.”

            “Can you think very well now?”

            She was so attuned to him. He reminded himself that not three days ago, they were deep in the snow, linking themselves to each other through blood. “A few hours. Then get me up.”

            She nodded, and he didn’t believe for a second she intended to wake him. As Marius got the electricity up and running, Aristotle wandered around until he found a bedroom, drew the heavy drapes, and stripped. There were some old clothes in the drawers, and he just picked whatever looked clean and not moth-eaten, and collapsed on the bed.

                        ************************************************

            “Alexander! Come back here!”

            The golden-haired boy didn’t listen to him, of course, and went scampering off like the wood nymphs Mieza was named for. He hadn’t been in the mood to listen all morning, and the heat of the day wasn’t going to change that.

            Aristotle huffed and sat down on the most comfortable-looking stone available. Alexander was far from disobedient, just distracted, and he would not stray from the grove. There was no need for his dignified tutor to go chasing him like one of the guards. He was the famous healer of Stageira and philosopher of Athens, and if he was to wait on the prince, he would do it sitting.

            It was very hot and the sun very bright. He removed his himation from its regular position over his shoulder and draped it over his head. The growing bald spot on the back of his head was becoming bothersome. The silver hairs sneaking their way into his red locks was a sign of a distinguished age, whereas the bald spot was good only for burning easily in the light.

            When on a field expedition, Aristotle preferred to pair the boys in his class up, as a little competition would spur anyone their age on. The young prince worked best with Hephaestion son of Amyntor, who was visiting his father, and Alexander had been restless since his friend’s departure. At the same time, King Philip was more demanding of his son’s many tutors, wanting to see faster progress. Alexander seemed to think they were all Philip’s best friends, and could do no wrong, but Aristotle knew better than to be on the wrong side of his patron and king.

            “I’ve found it!” Alexander shouted, waking Aristotle from his light doze. He came running back, the red berries in his hand. So he had been listening to instructions. Maybe there was hope for the boy after all.

            “Ah yes.” Aristotle accepted his student’s offering. “Though your efforts were valiant, young Alexandros, you might do well to pay better attention next time. The leaves on the branch must be angular, not round. Had you ingested these berries instead of saving them for your tutor, I would be calling for purgatives in a desperate attempt to save your life. Each object in this universe has its place and function, and the function of these buries is to poison.”

            “Why would Demeter create food that poisons?”

            “It has other purposes. The juice may create a very potent dye. Or it may serve to prove the foolishness of young men who would stuff themselves after judging only the outward appearance of their food. We would all do well to be careful what to put in our mouths. I think our lives would be much extended if we simply paid more attention to the cleanliness of our water – a simple task a thirsty man may overlook.” He smiled. “Nature has provided a moral lesson I did not intend. Demeter has bested me.”

            “Do you think men can act as gods, Aristotle?” Coming from a man, it would be a charge of impiety, a death sentence in Athens. Coming from a boy, even one as old as Alexander as he stood on the cusp of manhood, it was a mere philosophical question.

            He stood and began to walk. He preferred to walk when he spoke, and Alexander knew to follow. “Men can act as though they are gods, though it never ends well. One does not test the temper of the Olympians.” Actually, ‘one does not test the temper of Olympia,’ referring to Alexander’s mother, was a popular saying at the court in Pella. “But men can achieve great things – god-like, in many respects. They may be viewed by their descendents as gods who walked the earth and did things seemingly beyond their abilities. Or, depending on the fate of their endeavors, they may be cursed as scoundrels. In Egypt, the old pharaohs of the pyramids were worshipped until their successors ruled, and would order the pillars attesting to the greatness of the ancients torn down or defaced. I have seen many an imported piece of Egyptian stone with scratch marks over the beautiful inscription, marring the face and name of the person it once celebrated.”

            “Why do their ancestors not curse them, then?”

            “I suppose if they were gods, capable of acting to influence the realm of mortal men of flesh and blood, that would not pose much of a problem. But men are fragile creatures, and where we ascend when our bodies cease to function is a discovery each man must face on his own. We can only hope to be honored for our virtues, and the easiest path to such a fate is to lead a virtuous life.”

            Alexander was not beyond understanding something of his father, though he was also wise enough never to say anything to oppose him. “When my father dies, am I then to build a monument to him?”

            “That will be your prerogative, Prince Alexandros. I will not venture into the territory of Philip’s legacy, not while he is still alive. It is still in his hands to decide.” He looked down to his favorite student. “I only hope you will honor me in some small way, when you are a proud king and I am nothing but bones and dust.”

            “Of course, Aristotle!” Alexander replied, the genuine smile on his face warming Aristotle’s heart more than the sun ever could.

                        ************************************************

            Aristotle woke to dogs barking, predators responding to an intrusion into their territory. He reminded himself that they were far off, and he could barely hear them through the heavy windows. He swallowed the vampire, who fought him for some time. He was hungry, and this hideout had nothing to offer him. A downside to being friends with mortals.

            He rose and drew the curtain. It was indeed night; he’d slept more than the few hours he would have allowed himself if he had been conscious to make the decision. He could see the hounds in the distance, playing together on the grounds, and he watched them for longer than he should have. Something about their wrestling dance as they nipped at each other was entrancing to him, at least for a time.

            Aristotle found the bathroom, which did have modern plumbing despite the castle’s age, and he discovered the water to be working. That it was only cold did not bother him in the least. He would sacrifice comfort on the alter of cleanliness, and he was used to being far colder. He washed himself and dressed in some mismatched clothing from the closet that seemed to fit him, and found Marius in the study.

            “There’s a groundskeeper,” Marius said. Feeding was no doubt also at the top of his priorities. “He wouldn’t be discovered for some time. A bit of a hermit. And he has two dogs, if you can stand it.”

            “No. Save the dogs.” But it was not out of any canine affection that he made this request. “We may need them.” Elaine was right, of course: he could think more clearly when rested. Better when he was fed.

            Elaine was up and thinking the same thing as them all. None of them had fed well since leaving Greenland. Sharing one human was always tricky in the mechanics, but they managed, and the groundskeeper was dead long before he knew what hit him. Aristotle took the strips of bacon the dead man no doubt intended for his dinner and used them to lure the dogs into the castle, where a more relaxed Marius could hypnotize them. He had always been talented with animals. “I suppose you want me to turn them for some reason. It’s going to take more than two dogs to get us into Enforcer headquarters.”

            “I wasn’t assuming we were going in the front door,” Aristotle said. “There’s a suicide mission and then there’s just ... suicide. But yes, please do.”

            Marius brought both the dogs to them and fed them his blood. They howled and collapsed. At least one of them would survive the change. Knowing Marius’ expertise, probably both. When he was low on Enforcers, he was known to his animals for his simpler and more brutal tasks.

            “I presume there is a plan,” Elaine said.

            “Well, I’ve come up with several ones that won’t work,” Marius said. He looked better shaven and with his hair trimmed, more like his old self. Spread across the desk were drawings of the layout of Enforcer headquarters, a fortress of his own design. “I suppose you could call that progress.” He looked to Aristotle. “You?”

            “It depends on if the dogs cross.”

            “They’re two dogs, Aristotle. What do you possibly expect to do with them?”

            Aristotle sat in one of the sumptuous and dusty gilded chair. “Are there any Enforcers you would save?”

            “How do you mean?”

            “I mean,” he said, his voice very soft and unassuming, “is there anyone in Enforcer headquarters whose death would be unforgivable?”

            “You’re serious.”

            Aristotle just raised his eyes to Marius, his expression saying everything.

            The former head of the Enforcers leaned back in the desk chair and considered the prospect. “I have a son. I have a lot of children who became Enforcers, but there’s only one that is my son.” Meaning, he was brought across in the traditional way. “His name is Thomas. He’s trained by now to disobey me, but I haven’t really attempted to force him to do anything, and I don’t think he could resist me without trouble.”

            “And he’s definitely at headquarters? Not on a mission?”

            “He does not go on missions. He is brilliant with logistics and explosives. Not all Enforcers are responsible for directly enforcing. But even you aren’t capable of exacting your revenge on every Enforcer. I know they have Alexander – “

            Aristotle opened the link with Alex, and blasted the pain through his new link with Marius. That was all he felt from his son – pain. It surpassed all coherent thought.

            “ – and they must be expecting some kind of retribution,” Marius said when he recovered, “but unless you have a plan –“

            “I have a plan.” He stood, not explaining himself any further. “Please fetch me when the dogs turn.”

            He didn’t take any questions. They both probed him through their weak new link, but he shoved them out. He needed to concentrate.

                        ************************************************

            It was several hours before anyone entered the room he claimed as his own. He was grateful for the time, as drudging up old memories, untouched for centuries, was draining while blocking his link to Alex. He felt guilty for abandoning his son to his pain, but he couldn’t concentrate otherwise.

            Elaine carefully nudged him out of his meditation. “The dogs are waking. Do you have a plan for their blood?”

            “Yes.” He followed her to the basement, which they were using for a kennel. “Their first blood has to be vampire, obviously, so they’ll hunger for it. For technical reasons, it can’t be me.”

            “We should spread the loss around,” Marius said, practical as always. They didn’t have a source of blood at the moment, and would soon be reduced to going after sheep in the area. “Elaine, I can take one. Or both, if you want.”

            “No.” She rolled up her sleeve. “We share the responsibility.”

            Aristotle opened the wooden gate to the wine cellar, and the hounds came bounding forward. Caught in the first hunger of their vampire lives, they could not be hypnotized or caught until they fed. Marius simply let one tackle him, but Elaine tried to remain standing. They were still dogs, and required less sustenance than vampires, but it didn’t make it a pleasant experience for either of them, and Aristotle pulled the dogs off by their collars as early as possible.

            Marius was amazingly resilient, and already on his feet and set about hypnotizing the dogs. They stopped growling and sat obediently in front of him as Aristotle helped Elaine to her feet. “Okay. Now care to share your plan with us?”

            “If it works, it’s not going to be pleasant.” He was not happy about it, even though it would free his son and punish Alex’s tormenters. “We’re going to send them some Trojan dogs.”

            He didn’t want to explain it. He let Marius get it; Elaine never would. “You’re going to poison the dogs.”

            “Yes.” He ignored Elaine’s questioning look for now.

            “How contagious is it?”

            “If it works, extremely. All it takes is one bite.”

            “And how long does it take to work?”

            “A couple hours, maybe, and then the subject becomes just as contagious. Depending on some logistics we have no control over, it will be an epidemic before they know anything is wrong.”

            “And how long has it been since you’ve done this?”

            “Very long.” He wasn’t even sure how long, but there was no use speculating. “But if it takes on the dogs, it’ll work on the Enforcers.” He looked up at Elaine. “Yes, my bloodline is poisonous. Literally, if I try.”

            Elaine looked to Marius, who just nodded. “Is there a cure?”

            “I’m not completely sure I can save an infected person. My master could. I know how, but it requires the presence of the vampire’s master to help, and it’s a matter of timing.” He looked at the dogs, so unsuspecting. “The poison drives the vampire insane. He becomes ravenous, feeding on everything in site, especially other vampires. It ends when someone kills him or he loses control and exposes himself to some danger. He might run into the sunlight.”

            “If we let the dogs loose in the kennel at Enforcer headquarters,” Marius explained, “which is not heavily secured – why would it be? – they’ll bite the other dogs. And the dogs will go mad, break free, and start biting vampires. And the vampires will start biting vampires. All we need do is wait.” He frowned as his mind went over the plan. “What about Alex? What’s to prevent him from being bitten?”

            “Nothing, but he has a natural immunity. And um, Thomas.”

            “You expect us just to sit back and do nothing?” Marius said.

            “Yes! They’ll all be highly infectious and I can’t cure either of you! You’re not going near that castle.” He calmed himself. The link with Alex was putting him on edge again. “Before I do this, does anyone have a better plan? Because I would rather not do this.”

            “I would need months to raise an army that could take the Enforcers there – if I could even do it,” Marius said. “And Elaine, I assume negotiations are out.”

            “They haven’t contacte