DESTINY and fate, the universal forces that drove me to the moment at hand. They are twin conduits, almost identical until you see them beside each other and they join as an unstoppable power. They provide the universe with its momentum.
My name is Mårten Larsson, vampire.
Destiny and fate: the rest of the world became a blur as I concentrated on the image at the business end of my sniper rifle’s telephoto sight. My entire life had led me to this moment. This was the reason I was born—destiny—but the situation was not something I had chosen. The events selected me—fate.
I pointed my sniper rifle toward the side of a small hill in the desert of Arizona near Las Vegas, Nevada, in the United States. A local vampire, acting as the official guide for this killing, had told me the rogue vamp would be returning to the hill before daylight. I only kill vampires who have lost their minds and are killing humans. I only kill those who have committed some capital offense under vampire law. I only execute those who have been able to evade the justice of the local vamps. You have to create an awful situation to rate my attention. The locals really want you dead or they wouldn’t pay my fee.
My name is Mårten Larsson, vampire and vampire killer. My training has been flawless, and my aim is always deadly. My training and skills were focused on that desert in a rising torrent of ugly-ass vampire justice in the form of silver shrapnel. One rogue vampire was about to go ka-boom, and my bank account was about to go ka-chink.
Movement. I saw it through my telephoto sight. It happened so far off in the distance that you would have seen nothing without lenses. It was dark, with only a little moonlight. No, I can’t use night-vision equipment, because vampires have no heat signature.
Movement. My sight is always adjusted based on the trajectory information that Oberon gives me. He and I are a team on this mission. He is my spotter, my light, my life, my husband. We have been a couple for more than a hundred years, and I look forward to spending another thousand years with him.
Movement. Front-to-back, and that is always a simpler shot. If the target is moving left-to-right, I have to calculate where he or she will be five or six seconds after I squeeze the trigger.
Relax… double-check aim… predict… squeeze… squeeze… ah-choooooo!
Skit. Skit. Skit. Sometimes Swedish works better, especially when I don’t care if anybody’s around to understand the words.
My name is Mårten Larsson, vampire, vampire killer—with the most embarrassing friggin’ allergies in the whole history of the planet. Oberon and I are members of the Obscurati. That’s my pretend name for our group, which is so secretive that just knowing the real name could get you and me killed. I mean, I could get over you being killed. No offense. But I’m sort of attached to me. The Obscurati are the “unseen death” that is feared by rogue vampires everywhere.
I could feel my Viking blood starting to boil. It can sometimes get the best of me, so I try to relax and to concentrate.
“I’m not sure how to tell you to adjust your sight,” Oberon said using sign language. “I think you put that round somewhere in New Mexico.”
“Fuck you,” I signaled using the kind of sign language the whole world knows. No codes: some sign language is universal.
My sniper rifle is instantly ready to fire again because it has a magazine of ammunition. Some snipers use a bolt-action weapon, but I stick to semi-automatics because I often have to lay down several shots.
The first shot was so far off-target that the doomed vampire didn’t know about it.
Relax… double-check aim… predict… squeeze… pop! Wait for it… wait for it… poof of sand.
Sand. Great. The vampire jogged a little to his left, and I had no way to adjust the bullet in the air. The wind could have helped a little, but it decided to gust the wrong way.
Skit. I mean, friggin’ skit. My freakin’ destiny tripped over my goddamn fate.
“Adjust three dots right,” Oberon signed; he could see the trace that my second shot made through the air. It didn’t leave a streak of light. Oberon can follow the bullet by watching the air it disturbs on its way to the target.
I know the weapon and the sight, and the sight matches the rifle exactly. I need the adjustment, not the rifle. The target changed direction, and a wind gust pushed the bullet the wrong way. Maybe I could send out for a bag of steadier wind.
And don’t go all smug on me. You try to make this shot. The rogue vamp was heading to his lair, a hole on the side of a hill overlooking Lake Mead. There was no place to establish a sniper’s nest on the bank. I couldn’t go for a high-angle shot by levitating because this vamp was also able to fly and would have detected an extra vampire in the air.
Directly across the lake was Scanlon Bay, which would have made the shot several kilometers beyond my range. I can make amazing shots using Oberon’s homemade bullets, but I have to be no more than two thousand meters from the target or else I miss. My rifle supposedly can make a longer shot if you fire it up like an artillery cannon, but I don’t even understand that kind of shooting. I have learned to cope with my own limitations, but don’t go spreading the word or I won’t be paid as much money for missions.
One nearby shore put me close enough. It was at my upper personal range, but I could do it. I think I can. I think I can.
The locals had offered to get us on a boat in the lake, but I had told them it wouldn’t be necessary. Waves in a boat: yeah, that will help me. Now I was in danger of losing the target for the day, and that would be bad news for the Obscurati. The sniper was out being cocky about his tough-guy reputation.
The target saw the second round but wasn’t sure what to do. He knew he was safe on the side of his hill. Nobody could cause him any trouble because he had picked his lair as a defensive stronghold. We were too far for him to sense our presence using vamp-dar. We were no bigger than little specks on the horizon, so there was no chance he could see us. It was hot, but vampires don’t sweat, so he couldn’t smell us. Our cover remained solid. Our stealth was intact. Only my reputation was in jeopardy.
Skit. Skit. I can make this shot. I’ve done it hundreds of times on our target range in Germany and in the field.
Oberon has computers and electronic targeting thingies.
Yeah, I have a super telephoto telescopic gonzo laser sight on top of my rifle. I have my lover at my side with all his targeting computer and weather gizmo thingies. But the bullet is in the air for more than six seconds. You try to predict where the tiny spot in your sniper rifle sight will be six seconds from now. Do it in the middle of the night without much moonlight and without any infrared night-vision equipment because vampires have no heat-signature.
Oberon and I get called in to finish off a vampire when the locals have run out of things to try. Oberon tells me how to adjust my sight and how to fudge the shot to account for wind direction and the friggin’ curvature of the goddamn earth. That was how far away we were from the victim. I was in a completely different state from the target, for crying out loud.
Years ago, I used a PSG sniper rifle. It was state-of-the-art then. I could drop a vampire at 800 meters, and that distance made me a very rich vampire.
When somebody needs a sniper, they contact the vampire queen of Europe. Oberon and I live in Bavaria, in southern Germany, but we have a house in New York City and a whole island in the South Pacific. We even own a big jet with vampire shielding on a big bedroom, so we can fly even when it is daylight.
It’s an empire. Fortunately, we have Lonny to run the family business. Lonny is a vampire and my husband and the love of my life.
Yeah, I already said the same thing about Oberon. Lonny and Oberon are both my lovers.
I was zero hits for two shots, and I was moving from embarrassed to really angry. My efforts to stay calm weren’t working. Don’t let my Viking blood boil. Calm. Focus.
My sniper rifle. I miss my PSG, the hardware that made me a very rich vampire. If I had still been using it, we couldn’t have taken the job at the Nevada-Arizona border, because that was far outside the range of a PSG.
My new popgun is a Barrett M82A1. It uses monstrous .50-caliber BMG ammunition, and caliber was why I held off changing. Oberon has machinery to custom-make ammunition. Changing my ammunition meant Oberon had to retool everything in his workshop.
Regular bullets can’t kill a vampire.
“Excuse me,” you might say to the clerk of a gun store, “I’d like a box of your best vampire-killing silver ammo.”
Yeah, right. Oberon makes armor-piercing bullets out of depleted uranium. He has a supply of incendiary ammunition to let me set buildings on fire at a sniper range. My favorite is his copper-clad, hollow-point silver bullet. It just explodes inside the vampire. You can only kill a vampire by blowing off his head or setting him on fire. Silver disables a vampire. So if you have a bullet that explodes with silver inside the vampire, there’s not much left for the locals to clean up.
Oberon makes all the munitions at his workshop in southern Germany, and we had a deadly assortment of his handiwork in the western part of the United States. Yes, the American authorities would have all kinds of issues with us bringing depleted uranium and exploding silver into the States. I don’t plan on telling them. If they suddenly know, I will know you opened your mouth.
Many snipers prefer a bolt-action weapon, but I like the semiautomatic because I need to lay down whole sheets of bullets. A bolt-action is good for single shots, and it would make me concentrate on that one shot. It doesn’t match my real-world situation.
The older PSG uses standard NATO rounds, and Oberon had been making that size for years. He had to retool all of his equipment. It was Oberon and Lonny who finally convinced me to try the Barrett M82A1.
It has an effective range of two thousand meters (about 1.2 miles). I mean, holy shit. Can you even imagine that kind of shot? Just reading the specifications made me pee all over myself. Almost.
The manufacturer says you can shoot much further than that, but I don’t see how. I can’t. You can’t tell me that anybody can. I think the manufacturer is a bit optimistic in their literature, but it adds so much more range compared to my previous sniper rifles.
The Barrett doesn’t even look like a rifle. It is more like a long rod with a trigger on the bottom and a handle on top. They don’t bother making something that looks like a regular stock. It has a thing to go against the shoulder, but it doesn’t look like it should.
It has a kind of shock absorber that cuts down the kick. I don’t think anything short of a battleship could survive .50-caliber recoils without the extra onboard baffles. The rifle still has a kick because of Oberon’s special ammo, but it is manageable.
There is a lever to pull to load a cartridge, and I knew I had a serious rifle the first time I tried to pull the lever. It takes lots more oomph than my previous weapons. I’m stronger than the strongest human, but I have to admit that I noticed the difference. I had to practice pulling the lever so I didn’t get into the field and embarrass myself: “Honey, could you come pull my lever?”
A .50-caliber cartridge going into the chamber makes an unmistakable sound. You never have to ask if the rifle is loaded because you just know. Releasing the lever produces a clank that sounds serious. You might as well be putting a projectile into one of those big guns on a battleship.
My ears rang for an hour after I first fired the Barrett. It takes powder to move a shell that is thirteen millimeters (a half inch) in diameter. Powder is loud. I had to get some noise-filter headphones quickly. It isn’t that I’m a sissy, but vampires have ultra-sensitive hearing.
I had to practice for months before I was worth a hoot beyond a couple of hundred meters. Even today some shots are just difficult. I have to know about the various wind directions and speeds between me and the target. Gravity is a factor at the upper end of my effective range. On a shorter shot, gravity doesn’t get enough time to pull the bullet. Listen to me: shorter shots. The PSG has a huge range, but it isn’t in the same league as the Barrett.
And to make things even more interesting for me, vampires usually don’t stay still. At over two thousand meters, the bullet is in the air for five or six seconds. I have to predict where the target will be six seconds from when I squeeze the trigger. It is easier when the vampire is walking directly toward me or away from me. When he is moving left to right, that is a ridiculous calculation. If the vampire changes tempo, it becomes an impossible shot. The job is always a SWAG—not merely a wild-ass guess but a scientific wild-ass guess.
Oberon invented a dot system for me to calculate movement. My sight has little dots in addition to the standard crosshair. Oberon has a telescope that has the same dots, so he can help me adjust the sight. I count how far the target moves across the sight in one second. Then I count the dots to the left or right or up and down for every second the bullet will be airborne.
There’s a reason we charge the local vampires so much money. I was a math major in college, but that was back before World War One. I was really good at using a slide rule, but that kind of calculation is slow enough to let a vampire be on a different continent before I know how to aim. Fortunately, my husband, Oberon, is really good using computers. He picked up his latest, a tablet PC, at a store in South Africa. It is a Sahara and has a touch screen without a physical keyboard, and it has custom software that he uses to come up with the adjustments on my sight. His electronic gadgets all plug into the PC and talk directly to his software without requiring any typing or other input. When he has to type something, the Sahara draws a picture of a keyboard on the screen, and Oberon touches the virtual keys.
There was a time when he used an iPad, but he got pissed at Apple one too many times. The iPad was always about limitations. He said it was almost impossible to get software to talk to his equipment, so he finally flew out over the Atlantic Ocean and flung it as high and as hard as he could. Hopefully his iPad didn’t hit the space station, the Hubble telescope, or any of the military’s secret telescopes or communications satellites on its journey into space. I’m sure it had escape velocity.
“I thought your iPad was the latest thing,” I said.
“Yeah, if you want to look cool. The minute you try to do something useful, you find that it can’t do it. Ugggh. You can’t even run Flash. Every goddamn computer on the planet can run Flash, but not if you have an Apple. No Flash… I want about thirty minutes alone with the ass-wipe who thought that was a good idea.”
“Intergalactic Vampire Frisbee?” I asked when he returned from his trip to the ocean.
“There’s an ‘app’ for that,” Oberon said as he tossed every widget and accessory from Apple into a garbage bag. He was through with that company, and nothing Apple could do would ever change that. He even threw out his music player. He wasn’t even worried that he might break the stuff when he threw it. I think he tried to break everything.
“Hand-held phone,” he said as he dug his telephone out of a pocket. “It only works if you put it on a table. Pick up the phone with your hand, and it loses its signal.”
Crack went the phone when it crashed into the pile of other Apple hardware in the bag. Oberon sent the iPad into outer space, but he kept the rest of the junk. He said he was finally ready to try out the Barrett for himself. I had been after him to try the new rifle, but I guess he was waiting to have a target that he really wanted to annihilate.
Note to self: do not piss off the Goth vamp.
Our new field equipment uses either Linux or Windows. He goes back and forth, but I think he currently has Windows loaded. The Sahara can handle both Linux and Windows, so Oberon is free to experiment. His weather goodies can talk directly to his computer without any wires, which is way beyond anything that the Apple stuff could do. It seems like a simple thing to get hardware talking to each other, but I guess I don’t understand enough about it.
For the first time, I have to take maintenance of the rifle seriously. I can’t just pull the rifle out of my bag and start firing. Aiming is so critical that I have to be a good little Boy Scout and run a cleaning rod inside the barrel. The tiniest bit of moisture inside could move a bullet by several feet downrange. They ship the thing in a waterproof container, and I think that I’m supposed to cart around this container. It isn’t going to happen, but I do know that I have to keep it clean and dry before I set up for a shot.
But I digress.
Back to the job at hand, and this one was beginning to annoy me.
“You aren’t cold bore now,” Oberon signaled.
“Bite me,” I signaled back. He was trying to remind me that the rifle would behave a little differently because it was warmed by my friggin’ wild shots.
“No, bite me,” I signaled again, “and then go fuck yourself.” I used all those international signals that work in most languages. I followed it with the kind of cold stare that told him I wasn’t in the mood for antics.
“I’m just sayin’,” he whispered.
So the vampire in Arizona thought he was being very clever. He was! Not clever enough, of course, but he made me earn my pay. This guy was murdering humans all over the place. He was getting noticed by the local law enforcement people, and that is a very bad thing for vampires to do. The locals want all the vampires in their territory to stay invisible to humans. There are plenty of voluntary blood donors, but some vampires just go crazy. They break and start terrorizing the natives. Maybe they were turned too young, or something snaps as they get older.
Teenagers only make good vampires in Hollywood movies. When somebody gets turned before their human brain has settled down enough to handle the extra stress, it never results in a good turning. The kid rampages through the human population, responding to an intense hunger for blood. The rest of us can’t do anything to teach the child vamp, so we have to kill him. The vamp’s Maker usually gets killed too. Every vampire knows not to turn a child, so there’s no mercy for those who break this rule. It is a kind of child abuse.
On the other end is a really old vampire who has been following the rules for hundreds or thousands of years. Nobody knows what causes some to snap in their old age, but there is almost always some kind of trauma, like the loss of a long-term mate or friend. Sometimes the vampire’s mind just gets addled, like a supernatural form of Alzheimer’s. These are tough jobs because old vampires are always powerful. They have hundreds of years of survival training, and they can taste danger long before they see it.
This vamp was just mean. He wasn’t particularly old in vampire time, maybe a hundred years or so. The guide told us that he had always been peculiar and brutal, but the locals had been able to keep him controlled. Six months ago he got tired of living with rules and moved out to the desert. The locals had lost several vampires in their battle with this guy. He would kill any vampire or human who got close.
He spent each day buried in the side of a hill in the deserts of Arizona. The locals even sent out humans during the day to try uncovering him. The rogue vampire killed the humans even in the daylight. He must have been burned by the radiation of the sun, but he could still hold off attacks.
There weren’t any trees to block his view. His hill overlooked Lake Mead, and he had a commanding view of everything.
Across the lake was Scanlon Bay in the state of Nevada, and that was where we started. The locals had gotten us a boat to move closer to the vampire, but I figured I could make the shot. Lake Mead was a little narrower at one place. It was an impossible shot: from Nevada, across the lake, into Arizona. Huge distance. To go across Scanlon Bay would have totaled more than six kilometers, well outside my ability. In theory the rifle could make the shot, but I would have to fire it up in the air like a mortar. I don’t understand how to calculate those angles. To kill a vampire six kilometers away, I have to know where he will be in seven-plus seconds, and I have to aim the rifle at Mars or Jupiter. Maybe someday, but just thinking about what I’d have to do makes my brain hurt.
The vampire in Arizona thought he was safe. When he got close to his lair, he slowed down. It was like a nice, nighttime stroll in the moonlight. He was walking from the lake up to his hole, and there was only the slightest movement right-to-left. It was enough to make me miss on my first shot.
I’m sure he saw the bullet hit the sand of the desert. It just didn’t register that somebody could be putting a bullet so close to him in that particular location. Jeez, you’d have to be… what? Across Lake Mead?
Impossible. In fact, the vampire turned and sat down on the side of his hill to watch the night sky. I suddenly had all the time I needed, and there was nothing moving. I didn’t have to use calculus or algebra or anything.
It was about twenty seconds between shots. I had to wait to see where the first one landed, and then I had to recalculate my ticks to the right. I could count a tick for a second, but the winds were messing up my trajectory. It was more like a third of a tick per second. There are usually landmarks between me and the target that tell me what the wind is doing, but I only had desert and a lake for this one. Neither gave me a hint of any breeze. I knew it was present because I saw what the bullet did. How do I predict this one?
If I had been an English major instead of a math major, I’d be useless.
Maybe I should leave the Barrett and launch an attack with one of the assault rifles we carry. That’s more fun than a sniper rifle. I like to mix things up. The sniper rifle is like a science project. It keeps me out of the fight. The only thing we use is my brain and finger—Oberon’s brain too—but we are far removed from the action.
One more round toward this guy, and I am going into assault mode.
Look… slide the safety knob to vertical… aim… confirm the target… predict the wind… tick, tick to the left for the breeze… squeeze… pop! Wait… wait… wait… six seconds and nothing. No, seven seconds and there’s a sizzle way across the lake.
My third shot hit him in the neck. I could tell that there was an explosion inside the vampire, but it was too far away to hear. Maybe my ears were ringing from being so close to the rifle. I do need to get some of those soundproof headphones. Is there a sniper supply store? There must be. Oberon reads all the trade magazines, so he’d know.
The exploding bullet blew the vamp’s head into a million pieces, thanks to the shards of silver shrapnel.
The locals would do any cleanup of the dead vampire, but my new weapon never left much that needed to be cleaned. When a vampire dies from an exploding bullet, the only thing left is a little pile of ashes.
I have a stash of handy-wipes in my bag, and I like to wipe my face and hands after a kill. This time I found that my nose was leaking. I sneeze blood. A vampire with hay fever is really embarrassing. Yeah, I’m a big tough assassin with blood trickling out of my nose.
Oberon and I both wear masks that Lonny made for us. They add to our mystery, but this time mine was streaked and splattered with vampire sneezeage (read: blood). I was going to have to do some serious cleaning back in New York.
Oh, come off it. You try lying down in the state of Nevada and taking aim across an entire lake to take out a skittish vamp in the state of Arizona.
Okay, smarty-pants. Try it with hay fever.
“Three shots?” Oberon said.
“Bite me,” I fired back using the soundless communication of mind-words. Before the shot, we can’t use mind-words because the target would be able to hear us. We have to maintain “radio silence.” After the shot, Oberon is free to try and make me feel even worse than I already do.
“Love to bite you, darling,” Oberon laughed in my head, “but we probably ought to head back to New York. Don’t let that blood on your mask dry.”
I shot him a look as I pulled the safety lever on the Barrett back to its horizontal position.
Oberon would gather his gear and get our payment. As soon as I saw the vampire’s head explode, I shot up into the air.
I was halfway to my cruising altitude when I remembered something. I had to turn around to pick up my spent shell casings. They all got dumped into a duffel bag. I’d clean the rifle later. Right now I just wanted to be away from Arizona and Nevada and Lake Mead and that awful desert. Fuck the gig and the desert.
“Forget something?” Oberon said to me using hand signals. We were learning sign language to keep all our communication between just the two of us.
I held up a shell casing. He nodded. Nobody needed to have these casings with my fingerprints and Oberon’s fingerprints or the marks made by the Barrett. We try not to leave fingerprints or DNA, but I am not going to clean up whatever I expelled during that first sneeze. If any crime scene guys think they can find it, they may have my DNA. Happy Yule.
Oberon took his time gathering his gear and getting our payment from the local guide. We never say anything to the guide. We just take direction and do the shot, and then Oberon gets the money. Oberon never has to rush because he is lightning-fast in the air.
The local guide may also be Obscurati or just a representative of the local vampire royal or master. We don’t ask. The guide usually doesn’t tell. Sometimes we get a chatty guide, but Oberon tells him (or her) to stay quiet.
“Do you want to go catch a show while we are so close to Las Vegas?” Oberon said when he caught up to me in the air. “You know it always helps you calm down.”
The last time we went to a Las Vegas show, an usher decided I would be her special project for the evening. She had hair spiked in a great fan or Mohawk on steroids, and she picked on me loudly until the show began. Her hair was a rainbow of colors that don’t exist in nature, unless her mother had an affair with a metallic peacock. The mutant usher made me part of the ambiance of the show. Picking on me was all part of her act.
We had great tickets and sat close to the stage. Unfortunately, this show used lots of fire, and our good seats put me close to the pyrotechnics. Vampires sizzle and burn easily. Oberon had a lovely time, of course.
To review: I was picked on by the creepy usher with weird, gravity-defying spikes of wildly colored hair and almost fried by stray embers. Yeah, that always keeps me calm. Sign me up.
I headed back to our building in New York. I can blast along at about ten times the speed of sound. Wicked fast, but Oberon is always faster.
“Okay, you’re just trying to run up the scoreboard,” I told Oberon using mind-words as he whooshed past me. I don’t even know how to calculate how fast Oberon can move, but he is one of the fastest vampires I’ve ever seen.
Oberon has blue eyes and long black hair that becomes a kind of tail or tracer as he flashes across the sky. The duffel bag full of his equipment stays flat on his back, straining against the rushing wind. Its straps are pulled taut by the force of his speed. Oberon had an aerodynamic bag made just for his flights through the air, because any ordinary bag would disintegrate in the wind and pressure, which would be a bad thing when you are hauling ammunition and computers.
The mask that Lonny made for Oberon fits so perfectly that the wind never knocks it off. Oberon dresses like a Goth person: guy-liner, black clothes, and sulking lips with faint traces of lipstick. He is the most over-sexed person I’ve ever known. Oberon is vaguely effeminate but all top in bed. No oral sex for him. He likes to fuck, and he can do it four or five times a day without any trouble. Our record is about eight times, just the two of us. We have an open relationship, and that really helps keep my ass from feeling like worn-out hamburger meat. We’ve been a couple for more than a hundred years, and I’ve loved every day of it.
He would probably be back in our New York building and in bed with a blood-donor before I crossed over the Mississippi river. We don’t kill humans. Vampires have been completely civilized since the 1500s. If you read about vampires being monsters, remember you are reading fiction. Those other authors know about as much about vampires as I know about making cheddar cheese, which is not very much. We keep a staff of human blood donors. They are mostly gay men. In return for their blood, we pay for their college educations.
After a blood donor graduates, we do a vampire mind-trick to make them forget about the very existence of vampires. They agree to all this up front or they don’t become a blood donor. We get blood, and they get education.
They can have all the sex with Oberon they want. When a vampire takes blood, it is a really sensual or sexual experience for the human. There is something in our saliva or bite that creates the most amazing experience for the human.
A few of our blood donors are heterosexual, and that’s okay. I don’t understand it. Maybe they are just born that way. They just give blood and get educated, and nobody forces them to have sex. We don’t even force any human to be a blood donor on any particular day. If the human is sick or not in the mood, we go to another donor. A computer program makes sure that we rotate through all the blood donors, never taking blood from anyone more than once or twice a week.
The Obscurati—the “unseen death”—had another notch on the scorecard. One evil vampire was put out of business, and all the locals in the Lake Mead and Las Vegas area were happy not to have to worry about unwanted notoriety. Humans were safer, and we were exorbitantly richer.
This job paid €50,000 (about $65,000), and the Las Vegas vampires were happy to pay it. There was no other vampire in the world who could have taken this guy down. The bad vampire would have sensed their presence in plenty of time to escape. He couldn’t sense our presence all the way across Lake Mead, and that was his downfall.
When I was over the Appalachian Mountains, I felt an updraft and slowed to take in the scenery, doing a few high-altitude somersaults. Sometimes my life seems funny. I grabbed my duffel bag and started dancing with it, singing, “If my friends could see me… if my friends could see me… if my friends could see me now.”
“Hey, can I help you?” came a voice over my left shoulder.
Crap. Vampire security. There must be something going on down below. When vampires need security, they get muscle to levitate. They create a kind of bubble of blood-thugs.
Crap. Crap. I didn’t even look around but flashed out to the east as fast as I could.
“Maybe you didn’t hear me, motherfucker,” hollered the vampire. I just looked east and didn’t acknowledge his presence.
No interaction should mean that I was just passing through. I was a vampire wearing a mask and carrying an oversized duffel bag. I made contingency plans to unzip my bag and pull out my pistol. Maybe I ought to just wear the pistol during the cross-country flights. No, that was crazy; this was the first time a vamp had been up at my altitude to question my passage.
“Hey, I’m talking to you, shithead,” he called out as he stopped somewhere over Pennsylvania. The vamp had anger issues and was on that invisible line where all my buttons live. Hopefully he won’t push any of those buttons, because I don’t want to have to clean up the mess that I know I can cause. I stayed my course through all the hostile words.
He grabbed my arm to spin me around, and that was when he noticed that I was wearing a mask streaked by blood. He recognized the mask. I didn’t know my mask was famous, but he definitely knew that the mask meant I was not a vampire to be messed with. He might have assumed that all the blood spatter was from a fight. I wasn’t going to tell him it was from a sneeze. The mask meant that I was a tough guy or that I was out on a drunken Halloween junket. I made sure my face didn’t show him any change: no smile, no frown, nothing.
I could dash down to the ground and stash the bag if I had to. It might even be fun to mix things up with a local vampire. I shoot rogue vampires, but I don’t enjoy it. What I really like to do is fight—alley-style with no weapons—and I was willing to do that if he insisted. I was on business, so I tried not to get involved in anything else.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said. He backed off, and I heard him tell some other vampire that it was the Obscurati, only he used the real name. I didn’t stop to warn him not to do that. He was on his own if there were other Obscurati in the area. I did what any vampire should expect from any member of our group: no interaction at all. We are the “unseen” enforcers of vampire law, and we don’t get chummy when we are out on a job. It is all business.
Crap. You never see other vampires over Europe. The United States has crowded airspace. Supposedly the air over China can be a complete clusterfuck sometimes, but I’m not an expert on anything Chinese. They take care of their own.
“EVERYTHING okay?” Oberon asked as I walked into the main room of our New York building.
“Yeah, fine,” I lied. I didn’t want to have to explain about getting caught singing part of a Broadway musical over Kentucky. That sort of admission would seriously compromise my tough-guy Viking image.
“Lonny sends his love,” Oberon said, giving me a pass on whatever he detected. “He says he misses us both and is really lonely.”
Lonny was in Bavaria at our main house. He runs all our facilities and has a big remodeling project going on in Germany. The house hadn’t gotten any structural attention in several centuries. Lonny wanted to add gamma-ray shielding to most of the exterior walls.
Gamma radiation is put out by the sun, and it will fry a vampire on the spot. That is why we never come out in the daylight. When the sun comes up, I die. It isn’t the light but the gamma rays that put me down. My vampire body goes into a kind of hibernation as the gamma rays rise during the day. The earth is the best shield, so we are all awake at night.
Aluminum is a great shield too. Anything with solid mass works, and aluminum is lighter-weight than other metals. The shielding on our big jet—an Airbus A330—is aluminum that is twelve millimeters thick (about a half inch).
Lonny’s house remodeling will put thirty millimeters (an inch or so) of lead and aluminum sheets on all of the exterior walls and the roof. Lonny likes lead because he can get mass with a thinner sheet of metal. He demolished all of the outside walls and rebuilt them using concrete, earth, and clay. He takes his shielding seriously. Once a new wall is up, he sets up equipment to test and record the gamma rays for several days. Lonny has gone through several designs, and he says the walls keep getting better and better as he learns more about materials.
He is moving some walls to make our sleeping areas larger. Lonny, Oberon, and I will have individual bedrooms, even though we all spend daylight hours in a larger community bedroom. Lechmont Manor will also have plenty of new guest rooms, and each will be fully shielded and lockable from the inside.
There is a conference room or sitting room in the bedroom wing, and that is where he is installing the best shielding. The steel doors of the conference room are bigger and thicker than the bedrooms’. These gonzo doors can be latched and secured and bolted closed from the inside. He used some kind of new paint made with nano-something. Electronic devices like cell phones don’t even work in the room. He thinks that vampires can be awake and functioning during the daylight hours in the conference room. Anybody who asks can get an earful about the conference room. Lonny says it is state-of-the-art vampire.
We call our home Lechmont Manor. It is a mansion far out in the country, outside of München (Munich). In addition to the main house (read: castle), we have storage and guest buildings.
There is even a church that my former mentor and friend built for the locals. It is an Old Catholic Church. The priest says Mass at night, and vampires from all over Europe pop over to attend. While other churches are closing their doors, our little church is growing. Old Catholic vampires: who knew?
Lechmont Manor is also a farm. Its main crop is hops, but it also has hundreds of solar panels that generate electricity from sunlight. We’ve always grown hops, but now we grow electricity.
“What do you grow?” you could ask.
“Beer and electrons,” I would say proudly. “Electrons grow wild in our part of Germany.”
“Herrejävlar,” you’d say if you knew Swedish.
“Ja,” I’d say. “Holy shit indeed.”
THE house didn’t need improvements on such a big scale, but it makes Lonny happy. Vampire time makes you think about houses and property differently. We blow through a century like humans go through a year. If we don’t keep our houses done right, they fall apart quickly. Lonny is doing work that we won’t have to revisit for several centuries. By the year 2300 or so, it may need another upgrade.
I missed Lonny as much as Oberon did. I love two men, and they love me. It makes me just about the luckiest vampire in the world.
Oberon turned Lonny just a few years ago. The turning was my idea, but Oberon did the turning because there is a bond between a vampire and his Maker. Oberon knew that we would end up in a ménage à trois with Lonny, so he made sure he cemented his rightful place. Vampires can be a little territorial. Three of us in a relationship is way outside the norm. I know, I know, but it is even further outside the norm for territorial vampires. Maybe that wannabe thug-vamp over Kentucky was just being territorial.
I was the one who fell in love with Lonny and his stunning bubble-butt. He has a fuzzy chest, which isn’t usually what I like. And I am usually a bottom, so it is strange for me to like to play with his ass-cheeks so much. I can sit in bed for hours, just stroking his bottom and playing with his crack. Cuddling, not sex.
Oberon will screw almost any human or vampire so long as he’s male. He has mellowed in the past few years, but he still wants more sex than me. Lonny and I usually have sex only with Oberon or each other. We keep it in the ménage, but that is by choice. We are free to have sex with anybody we want. We just tend not to want. Oberon and Lonny are quite enough for me.
I really missed Lonny’s ass. Bubble-butt, but not dispro-portionally huge. He has the cutest dimples on the side of each butt-cheek. What I’d give to let my mouth dig into his crack or cuddle against a dimple. I missed Lonny’s touch, stroking the back of his hand. That doesn’t mean I don’t love Oberon or love having sex with him. If I were away with Lonny, I would be missing Oberon.
LONNY kept us informed about the house and his other activities.
In addition to the renovations, he was working out finishing details on a kind of airline or charter service for vampires. He is sensitive to this because he can’t fly like his two husbands.
Back when I was first turned, the way for a vampire to travel was by ocean liner. It was slow, but an inner cabin gave plenty of insulation from the deadly gamma radiation of daylight. A simple cabin on a lower deck had several inches of steel to protect against the deadly daylight. The invention of jet travel was a negative for vampires because it made long distances impossible. No airline flew only at night, and the lightweight skin of a commercial jet blocked little of the sun’s rays.
Oberon and I barely noticed. Lonny was grounded without the Gulfstream we bought for him.
“I know there’s money to be made,” he told us. “What if we rented out the Gulfstream when I am not using it?”
“What if we just bought another?” Oberon said. “We don’t have to ground you completely.”
“We could call it Air Foncé or Air Noir,” I said to show off my French.
“Why not English?” Lonny said. “Cocoon Air or Obsidian Air.”
“Night Flight,” I said, “or Night Air.”
“Do you think you can make money from one or two jets?”
“It is just an idea,” Lonny admitted. “I haven’t really put it through any business models.”
“How would you do the plane? Full body shield? Shielded bedroom in the back like the Gulfstream or Airbus?”
“Or a regular jet with luxury boxes or double-wide coffins,” Lonny laughed. “Let me look at some numbers to see if it would even be possible. Cessna makes some smaller jets, but they don’t have a long range. By the time you get up to a jet we can fly across an ocean, the cost is about fifteen hundred euros an hour in the air. To make money, we would have to charge four or five thousand euros an hour.”
“Expensive,” I said using mind-words. He had been doing some homework.
“I want to contribute more,” Lonny said in our mind conversation. “Right now, I am an expense to you guys.”
“Oh, please,” I laughed at him in my head, “you are keeping our empire running. I couldn’t do that even if I tried. Oberon’s not cut out for details like you handle. Anyway, you are decorative, so you don’t even have to be functional. You do both. You do great work and you have the most awesome butt I have ever seen.”
“You can’t see me because you’re in New York and I’m in Germany,” Lonny said in his head, “but I’m blushing.”
“Lonny, you know the hardest lesson I’ve learned in a hundred years?” I asked him.
“What, great Master Vampire?”
“‘To thine own self be true’,” I said.
“Doesn’t sound… wait,” Lonny said. “Is that Shakespeare?”
“Yes, Hamlet—the play, not the nelly vampire in Switzerland. Point is, Lonny, what do you want to do?”
“What do I want to be when I grow up?”
“Yeah,” I thought.
“Useful,” he said in my head.
“You want to do things that other people will value. Is that really being true to your own self?”
WORKERS digging the foundation of a new wing of the Bavarian house had found some Bronze Age tools. Lonny said some local archeologists had almost cum in their pants.
“Even the woman archeologist,” he said. “I think she grew a dick just so she could get a hard-on.”
He can be a total chauvinist sometimes without realizing it.
What the workers found was quite an archeological treasure, and Lonny told them to take the time to excavate the area properly. He had plenty of other projects, and it would be okay for that extension to be delayed by a year or two. The contractor wasn’t happy, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Sometimes Lonny reminds me of Menz, who was my mentor and the original owner of the estate. Menz’s attitude was that we should do everything right. If Lonny was doing major construction, he wanted to get everything right. And if that meant putting a stop to one part of the project so archeologists could document a find, then he would order work to stop. If nothing else, Lonny was vampire-done-right. Menz would be really proud of him.
Construction workers found some old documents rolled up in a leather sheath and stashed inside a wall. It was the room that Menz had used as his bedroom for several hundred years. He had built the current house back in the 1600s; several documents dated to that time. They could have been modern documents when Menz built the place. One document was more recent, and it seemed out of place against the others. Most were in an old form of German. The modern document was from the twentieth century, and it was in Latin.
Lonny sent all the documents to the vampire queen of Europe. She lives close to a university in Bern, Switzerland, and she tries to send interesting projects to them. This was the kind of historical venture that would interest her friends at the school.
Queen Cécile told me that she held back the modern document because it mentioned the Obscurati. I couldn’t understand why a document in Latin that mentioned the vampire’s secret enforcement squad would be hidden away in a Bavarian wall.
She told me about it using mind-words. All vampires can communicate without words, but some are better than others. The queen is good enough that she can have a conversation just with me. When I chat using mind-words, every vampire in a thousand miles can hear me. It is like the telephones when I was a kid in Texas: about a dozen houses shared one phone line. They didn’t have enough technology for everyone to have their own private line. That’s me and mind-words: every vampire can hear.
The queen asked me not to reply to her using anything other than “yes” or “no” or “I understand.” She knows I can’t shield my thoughts.
This document in Latin was a contract. Someone had tried to hire the Obscurati to kill a human. We don’t do that. We don’t kill humans, and we only kill vampires who are out of control. We kill vampires who kill humans or other vampires.
Menz had somehow got his hands on the document and had hidden it in the wall. It was all mysterious. Menz was my mentor, and he was not part of the Obscurati. He was a thousand years old when he was murdered, so I’m sure he knew about us. We never discussed it. Menz was dead now and unable to explain why he would have such a document. He was a peaceful vampire, and I thought it was not in his character to have such a document.
“Who was hired?” I asked the queen.
“Never mind that now,” she said in my head. She didn’t want me to know who was being hired or what human was supposed to be assassinated, and that only made me even more curious.
QUEEN CÉCILE was born, and that is the only thing she knows for sure. It was around the year 4000 BCE, but that is just a guess, because calendars didn’t exist. The whole idea of “BCE” or “BC” or “AD” didn’t exist.
She thinks that she was born somewhere in what we know as France, but that is just a guess. Cécile was not her original name. What she remembers is that life was hard. Her parents were part of a collective of three or four families that kept domesticated pigs and planted what she thinks was wheat or barley. It wasn’t rice. They lived in a long and narrow hut with the sleeping area at the back and the working area near the door.
Cécile’s mother died from an animal attack when she was a child, and her father died a few years later. Almost nobody lived longer than twenty years.
An animal attacked Cécile while she was walking in a wooded area one evening.
“What do you want from me, Mårten?” the queen said. “It was six thousand years ago, for crying out loud. I forget some of the details.”
What had attacked her wasn’t an animal but a vampire, maybe one of the original vampires. Her Maker turned her about the same way as mine had me. The asshole turned me but then just left. Cécile had to figure out everything on her own, just like me. I was turned while I was a prisoner of war in the Great War (the First World War). My Maker was a sadistic German guard—or somebody dressed like a guard—who raped me repeatedly. He took my blood without permission, and that is against vampire law, as I found out later. He made me a vampire without my permission, which is a capital offense. The prison guard dressed me in civilian clothes and abandoned me in a cave. Hey, it got me out of the POW camp. If you are ever a prisoner of war, I don’t recommend you use the same method of escape that I did.
My revenge was that I got to kill the asshole. I got to kill him twice, because the first time didn’t get him as enduringly dead as we originally thought. Some friends rescued him so fast that nobody saw them switch out the asshole’s body for some ashes. The first time I killed him, it was more of a transient state.
The second killing was amazing, and he was truly and permanently dead. I flew up to the dickweed and ripped his head completely off his sorry body, and I chucked the head onto a bonfire. I winked at him as I saw the flames strike his head, and he had a real startled expression as he burst into an inferno. Snap and crackle and ker-sizzle. Those were the days. I’d like to try for a third time because it was so much fun. It was some of my best work, if I do say so myself (and I do).
The queen’s Maker just wanted her for sex. They had no common language other than sex. Within a few days, Cécile was as strong as her Maker and began attacking him. We all try to attack our Makers, but the queen became a threat to her Maker’s being because he was dead to the world longer each night. She was awake at dusk and ready to feed, and what better than the lifeless creature beside her? Vampire blood doesn’t help feed a vampire except at the beginning. We all have to feed from human or animal blood. Her Maker abandoned Cécile one night. It was to protect himself, but she was on her own.
She learned that daylight was something to avoid. That is something we all learn quickly, even without a teacher. Any vampire who doesn’t get that lesson doesn’t live past the first day or two. I learned about daylight through the School of Hard Gamma Rays. Without a teacher or mentor, I didn’t know that going out of my cave in the daylight would hurt. The damage to my skin was immediate, and I still remember my scorched flesh. It took decades for those gamma ray scars to go away. Ouch. I mean, friggin’ ouch. The experience of walking in the daylight gave me lessons unlikely to grow dim with the passage of time. It was a hundred years ago, and I still remember how badly my skin hurt.
The queen learned how to hunt and kill animals and thought it was weird that she only craved their blood. Human blood was even better than animal blood. Cécile kept the human population in her part of the world on the verge of extinction because she didn’t know how to stop killing. She didn’t know that her saliva could close a human’s wound. Most of the humans bled out. She kept a few hostages in a coma to make her hunt easier.
Cécile was as brutal to the vampire population as she was to humans because nobody had told her that she could exist without killing. She was naturally drawn to predatory behavior. It took a group of a half-dozen vampires to capture Cécile. They would have killed her, but their leader thought Cécile was attractive and decided to keep her as a concubine. They kept this wild killer in restraints until she was stronger than their biggest rope. Her captivity was a kind of lesson.
It was also her first exposure to a strange, new kind of restraint made from interlocking loops of a brown substance. The world had moved away from pottery and botanical ropes and into the Bronze Age. As soon as she was strong enough to pull the metal chain apart, the local vampires discovered she could be kept in a little cave that was guarded by a row of rocks someone brought from far away. The vampire leader had been burned by touching the rock, and he thought it might eventually be useful. The rock was gray and white and brown. It was a mixture of silver and some other minerals, and it could have come from somewhere around the Mediterranean. Whatever the source, it was the key to keeping Cécile in her little prison cave. The half-dozen small rocks did what metal chains and organic rope were unable to do: keep Cécile from killing others.
Cécile finally got the message that if she could control her hunger, the local vampires would treat her better. Over the course of several years, she trained herself. She was strong, but she learned to use her strength as a tool instead of letting it dominate her life. It took decades, but the vampire who thought she was attractive began to let her spend the daylight hours with him.
They all stayed in a massive underground cavern. The vampires shared the space with a colony of bats. It could have been the source of some fables about vampires being able to turn into bats. A storyteller could have seen one enter the cavern just before daylight but saw only a bat come out at sunset the next night.
Cécile learned about levitation when a visiting clan of vampires came through the area. None of the half-dozen local vamps were able to float or fly. Monkey see, monkey do. When the visiting vampires tried to take over the cavern, she was in the middle of the fight because she was the only one who could get all the way up to the fight. All vampires are strong enough to jump, but only a few have the ability to stay up in the air or to control their flight.
She had to learn about fighting in the middle of the fight. She didn’t know anything about battle at the start of the fight, but she was an expert by the time she was finished. What saved her was her ability to mimic. If you hit her with a kick, she then knew all about kicking. If you dodged her lunge, she could be an expert at dodgeball after a few tries.
Cécile was able to drive off the other vampires, protecting her own local vampires. She fought to save the vampires who had kept her captive for years, but the locals quickly learned that Cécile was much more valuable as an ally than a prisoner.
“It’s a vamp-eat-vamp world out there,” she told me.
“We don’t kill other vampires unless they—”
“Right,” she said, “but that’s a recent attitude. Vampires are territorial and don’t play well together. It was a hard lesson to learn, because we were always trying to grab new hunting territory. The first lesson was figuring out that a small group of vampires was more powerful than an individual, but they already knew that when I was turned.”
Cécile was already a thousand years old before the first stone was erected at Stonehenge in England. She was born before the first pharaoh ruled Egypt. She was….
“Knock it off, Mårten,” she said in my head. “Girls don’t like it when you talk about their age.”
“Yes, ma’am, but I think it is an amazing history.”
“What’s amazing is that I survived all this time. If you tell everything you know, it will amaze everyone—if I let you survive the day.”
“Sorry, Your Majesty. It isn’t that you’ve seen the written word change: you were around when somebody figured out the whole idea of ink and paint, stone tablets and parchment.”
“Are you going to tell them about how I seduced Alexander the Great?”
“No, ma’am,” I thought. “He was gay.”
“So was Marie Antoinette, but nobody ever mentions that.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I told her in my head.
“Have you ever heard me kid about Marie Antoinette?”
“No, indeed. I would never kid about Marie Antoinette, like you would never make light of Saladin being gay.”
“See, you make my point. Just leave it as my odometer has rolled over many times over the centuries, and vampires always get more powerful with age.”
“Or vinegar, if you make me angry.”
“Yes, ma’am. Saladin?”
“Sûrement,” she said, “but I think he was a kind of bisexual Oberon. I know that he was intimate with men, but he sired an entire brigade of Saladettes.”
“Whatever. I think it is impressive that you knew all these people.”
“Are you calling me a whore?”
“No, not that kind of ‘know’, Your Majesty. You were acquainted with so many people throughout history.”