Authors: Robert S. Wilson
"Well, nice to meet you, Toby. I've heard a lot about you."
Toby smiled in reply, still tired, and feeling oddly embarrassed.
"All right, come inside already, have a drink. I'm tired. I don't
be standing here at the door all night."
* * *
The natural vampire lay sprawled out on the floor as the Emperor wiped the blood from his lips and quickly licked his fingers clean. After all these years, he would settle for nothing less than quenching his thirst directly from the source. He sat back down on a huge golden throne with blood red upholstery and let the quickening bring him back to that extra heightened state of power he'd been longing for lately.
Even after all the centuries gone by, the quickening still gave him a rush throughout his very being each and every time. His hands gripped the shiny golden arms of the throne as his eyes faded from full black orbs to white with soft blue irises. He let out a long sigh of relief mixed with ecstasy. His hands finally loosened from the arms of the throne when the emergency phone line started ringing.
"This had better be good," the Emperor mumbled as he made his way over to the desk where both the ringing emergency phone and the standard phone, silent as the grave, sat waiting for someone to talk to them.
"The little bugger's flown the coop. His 'babysitter' took him as far as
responsible for tracking him got
of me. They haven't moved though. Maybe they won't be heading out too quickly."
The Emperor rolled his eyes. "Is that all? You have his location. Just get out there and keep tabs on him. The boy isn't worth much to me dead. If his father does as he's told, we'll need the boy to arrive back home in time to welcome him back. I can't have my best motivation for Mr. Evans up and dying just yet."
I'm already on my way."
Oh, and Draper?"
"Pick yourself up a snack on the way.
Just don't make it a habit. I don't mind making arrangements, but you go getting seen or leaving evidence and you know where you'll be headed."
"That's very kind of you, sir. I'll make sure not to spill a single drop. I might even make a toast in your honor."
"You do that. Just be sure you don't lose track of the boy."
* * *
Draper smiled as he looked at the family of four coming out of the rest stop.
"Oh, I won't sir. I'll catch up with '
soon enough. Goodbye, sir."
He hung up the cell phone and put it in his pocket and headed toward the vending machines where those two sweet little boys and their mummy and daddy were currently walking. Their smell was so sweet even over the cold crisp air filled with scents of motor oil, perfume, garbage, and dog shit.
He'd made a habit out of it already. There wasn't anything the Emperor or anyone else could do to stop him. Not only did he have a natural thirst to contend with, but he also had an insatiable desire long before he'd ever stopped being human... physically. Because before Jack Draper had even been a vampire he'd already long been a monster.
An eerie nostalgic sense of fear gripped Hank's heart as the car pulled to a stop just outside the border of the city. It was dark by then and the lights of the city cast an all too familiar glow. In the rearview mirror, the driver gave him a nod and Hank took that as his cue to get moving. He stepped out of the car, thanked the driver, and began walking toward the huge "welcome" sign he had never actually seen before in person.
Hank pulled the map from his pocket. He wasn't sure if he'd ever been on this side of town before and the map didn't give any indication that he was wrong about that. The sound of the car driving away behind him made him grab hold of the bag hanging at his side as if it was some sort of security blanket. He fought the urge to have another vial. It was best to save as many of them as he could.
He made his way along the sidewalk underneath that infamous sign looking up at it with a mix of wonder and dread. He reminded himself of his would be friend
in order to attempt to calm himself. As if on cue, Hank noticed a figure off in the distance. Judging from what Hank could remember about the master vampire, he felt there was a good chance either he was hallucinating or it was
himself waiting for him to arrive. The closer he came the more sure he was that it was him. The long straight black hair, short stature, and as he came close enough to see them, those frightening red eyes were the final confirmation.
"Mr. Evans, it's great to see you again."
"Didn't I tell you to call me Hank?"
"It's great to see you too, though."
looked at him thoughtfully. "The council is waiting—well, most of us are. I believe we'll have a late arriver."
"I have to be honest. I have no idea what to expect from this meeting."
"Indeed, it will be a new experience for us as well. We're used to spending most of our time trying to get through it without managing to break the blood pact. You'll be the first of your position to have already gained our respect, so to some it will be uneventful and confusing, I'm sure. But to
, it should be quite interesting."
Hank nodded, remembering what little he knew about the last mediator. "So, how is that last guy doing? He ever
"He did. In fact he's made quite the impact, but we can talk about that more on our way. Shall we?"
gestured in the direction of the city. The two of them continued to talk as they went ahead side by side. Hank was almost feeling at ease, but every now and then he remembered that every word being said was being recorded and knowing just how fast the Emperor could react to anything Hank seen or heard made him wary of where the conversation might go.
Here he was walking with the very "person" he had hoped to speak with alone and he had no way to write anything down. No excuse and no way to hide it.
* * *
Listening to Hank speak,
senses alarmed him. First of all, he could smell the blood of the ancestors on him. And not in small measure either. Second was his breathing and heart rate. They were far different than before.
Controlled, yet not quite masterfully enough to hide his immense fear.
At distinct moments it came off of him in waves. His heart rate only barely gave anything away. But his mannerisms, body temperature, and perspiration combined with the heart rate formed a telltale sign every time.
What was even more alarming was the faint sound of something
couldn't quite place. Could it be some form of machinery? He decided for the time being to keep his concerns to himself. There would be time enough to investigate.
* * *
Having previously only seen the Stratosphere from a distance, Hank was in awe of its sheer size as they came closer. He was surprised by how clean its tall white base had remained even after all the years since the war and the "removal" of the city's original inhabitants.
led Hank to a glass entrance way. Pulling open a door nearly camouflaged in all the glass, he motioned for Hank to enter first. Hank stepped inside, the sound of his footfalls echoing back at him from somewhere within the huge lobby.
returned alongside him and motioned toward an elevator door.
"We'll stop off at the floor your room is on so you can put away your things. With as light as
packed, we should have plenty of time to get there before anyone gets too impatient."
Hank smiled at
in response as the vampire pushed the up button in a motion just barely too fast for Hank to see. Inside the elevator,
handed Hank a key card for the room. Hank put it in his pocket and thanked him. When they arrived on the 28th floor and stepped out, the musky bitter smell of disinfectant made Hank's head feel like he'd been hit with a sledge hammer.
waited outside as Hank entered the room he would be staying in. He set his things down beside the bed and wondered if they were safe inside. As much as he didn't want to plant any of the devices the Emperor had provided him, he likewise didn't want the vampires to find out he had them in the first place before finding a way to explain without jeopardizing his son. Maybe even
He'd changed a lot since the last time he'd been in this place. He still had plenty of reason to mourn for the past, but he now had plenty of
to move on with his life. Granted some of that reason was likely to be the death of him.
He was about to laugh about this reflection when the Emperor's voice spoke up in his ears.
"I see you've arrived at your destination, Mr. Evans. Whatever you do, don't speak in reply. I know we've gone over this before, but I just wanted to remind you in case the heat of the moment was getting to be too much for you. Be ready for any instructions I give you during the meeting. I have a few things I would like for you to say. I would appreciate it if you didn't make any mistakes. I can assure you that right now, Mr. Draper is within a mile's radius of young Toby at the very least as we speak. And he'll be staying at such a distance until the time in which you return. Nod if you understand me."
Hank nodded, doing his best to hold back the fury within him.
"Good. And I must say
you've become rather superb at maintaining your heart rate, even though I know you must be very angry with me. Anyhow, go on and get moving. You've been in this room long enough.
Best to not keep the council waiting, no?"
Hank looked at himself in the mirror and made his face appear as normal and relaxed as he could manage and headed for the door.
stood waiting in the hallway with a smile. "Does the room meet your satisfaction?"
"Yeah, it should be fine. Thanks."
"Good. Then I suppose we'd better get moving."
Hank nodded and the two made their way toward the elevator at the end of the hall.
* * *
and Hank took their seats at the table, all eyes were on Hank. A warm dry breeze blew against his hair and he had to fight the urge to walk toward the edge of the building and look out at the city below.
"Simon will be here in a short while. He seems to be making friends with our newest citizen."
statement seemed to steal the attention of the vampires across the table from Hank. "So, we might as well get started. Hank, this is Edgar, Edgar,
." Edgar and Hank shook hands. "Hank,
Hank reached across the table to shake
hand, but no hand came up in return.
eyes went to
and with a look of
pulled his hand from under the table and shook Hank's a little too firm in a pace that drew out the process in an exaggerated manner.
eyes didn't leave
face for a long moment. When they did,
demeanor changed to one of formality immediately.
"I call into motion this meeting of the high council of Necropolis."
made a face as though a bug had gotten caught in his throat. "We're having an official meeting, master? Is this wise? The high council has never had an official meeting with one of
The Emperor's voice piped up in Hank's head.
Hank felt his self control slip for just a second and he fought hard to retain it. When he was sure he had managed to normalize himself, he went to speak but was interrupted by
"You will show Mr. Evans the respect he is due,
, do you understand me?"
nodded, some of the revulsion draining from his face as he continued to stare at Hank.
anyone have any major news to report to the council at this time?" They all looked around at each other.
"Voting for the final council member has been arranged for tomorrow night and the info packets should go out to each individual cell within the nest tonight," Edgar said.
"Good, we'll be back in full swing by the next meeting then.
Anything else before I start updating Hank on recent events?"
The two other vampires shook their head almost in unison.
looked at Hank, the whites of his eyes reflecting the glare of the neon lights in a strange circle of color surrounding the dark red irises. "I think the most pressing thing that I would like to discuss with you is the possibility of us running some blood tests on you, Hank. We've attempted to feed the ancestors' blood to several different individuals over the past few weeks
arrived in the city through the 'normal channel.' Not a single one of them survived beyond ingestion."
The air around Hank seemed to thicken and the lights beyond the building went fuzzy. "You mean drinking the blood killed them?"
"Indeed, it did. So far as we know, you seem to be the only living human being who has survived the effects."
The Emperor's voice chimed in, chilling Hank's blood. "
If you value your son's ability to breathe, you will refrain from divulging what you know, Mr. Evans.
Hank had no idea how to respond. He opened his mouth to speak and for a long painful second nothing came out. "H-how-how many did you test?"
"About a dozen.
All different blood types, races, genders, etcetera. So as you can imagine, we're eager to take a look at your blood and see if we can figure out just what it is that makes you so special."
Hank took a deep breath and nodded. "Sure, anything I can
just let me know."
will be glad to see you again. He should be ready to get started tomorrow shortly after the voting. Anyway, moving on, would you be comfortable answering some questions we have about your experience within the Empire?