“You will see the top of the tower.”
Day ? October 2007?
Emil: Have you ever lived in a memory?
Set yourself to sleep in one of those countless wrinkled canyons that provide their small share of a neurologist’s life purpose. You’ll want to bring a pillow, the fleshy floors are kept quite moist. Don’t worry about bringing a mattress, when you lie down in your cranial crevices, your body feels as soft or firm material as you find most comfortable. They call that memory foam.
Hard to live in there for too long, though, stuck in the dark surface beneath a skull. But there’s nothing to worry about once you go to sleep. Once your eyes are closed, you get sucked right down into the in-between, absorbed and assimilated, though the younger you are, the quicker it goes. It’s warm and dark on the inside, and you sink down slowly, it’s viscous like the syrup your parents poured over your first pancake.
You pass down these branches, long and spindly in their structure. That’s the home of your memory. Course, hard to place where the memory is. There’s just branches. Billions of them. But these are no regular branches, you see. They aren’t stuck hard onto the walls of some great bark-covered trunk. Instead they float, individually turning, growing, swimming. These branches live, speak, believe and if you stay inside long enough, you start to understand what they say. If you stay a little longer, you might figure out the point of all the structure.
The sparks in the branches. The passing of two by two. Sharing, if just for a second, a message between each other. It doesn’t matter really what they whisper, it could be the funniest joke in the world or a moment of shame. None of those things matter to the branches. When two branches meet, share that spark, it’s a recognition, if just for a moment, that they aren’t alone in the great warm darkness. That there’s more than just themselves in the world. And in the way they speak, in their words, there’s a hint that even more living beyond them. That’s what memory is.
The Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, stood next to the Tree of Knowledge in the idyllic garden in Eden. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was plucked and eaten but the fruit of the other tree was not. And the children of men were forever barred from returning to taste its fruit after their parents took their choice of Knowledge over Life. Course, what a waste of creation that would be for one of the garden’s two centerpieces to be unviewed, untouched, uncared for. God isn’t one to waste, and so he hid the other tree’s fruit in every sentient being. Life perpetuates itself, and so too does the other tree’s fruit take the form of smaller trees themselves. God breathes the seeds into the nose of the infants, a tree of life for each thing which speaks, hidden in the one place they wouldn’t look. In their heads, hidden under their skulls. Between their branches hide the memories of their whole life, every sentient being they interacted with, a blockchain testament to the booming echoes of God’s most important creation.
The rabbis say that the bigger saplings grafted from the tree are the scrolls of Torah around the world, and their original words, sitting on the tongues of every faithful member of the religion, and many of the tongues of those who are not so faithful, is the great tree itself, God’s word embodied.
And written on the leaves of the Etz Chaim, are commandments about its human purpose, about memory:
“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”
So we learn that memory is made to be held, to be cherished.
“Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you.”
And from this we learn that our memory only forms a piece of the tree. The life within us stretches out from split branches of older men and women. We are but extensions of the life that came before us, and in that old life lies the bulk of our wisdom.
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt: how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.”
And from this, we learn that just as we are granted wisdom by looking to our elders’ memories, our connection to the past is not free of responsibility. The baggage of our ancestors: old pains and unfulfilled promises, they are our responsibility to tabulate, to never lose. Our God is a god of contracts. And the contracts of God do not expire like our bodies might.
Amalek struck at God’s chosen children like no other nation. A great betrayal which we can never forget at the brink of our freedom from bondage. So they share a name just as vile as their act. עֲמָלֵק, the people who sup blood.
“Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
And so Emil sits upright, his legs resting under the hospital blanket, and is left to decide: which tribe does this undying man fit in? That of his own, that of sentience, that of being remembered. Or that of a new Amalek, one that’s slipped out from the ranks of those old Amalekites whom his ancestors put to the sword and the divine flame, one whose memory deserves to remain blotted from more than just the internet he hides from.
“Good to see you too, Carter,” he says, swallowing down the pain and hiding the fear he feels in the shivering of his cold, covered legs.
“I gotta say though, I’m getting a distinct sense of déjà vu.”
GM: The dead man offers Emil an equally cold smile.
There’s little that’s familiar to it.
Familiar to his memory.
Familiar to him as human.
“I’m sure you have lots of questions. Please. Ask.”
Emil: And yet he takes it gladly, God makes cold and hot in equal amount. And God is good.
“I told you to come pick me up, wrote that I’d be glad to come with you, quietly. Why didn’t you trust me?”
GM: “Why don’t wolves lay down with lambs?”
“It’s a cruel world. Trust is a luxury.”
Emil: “I wouldn’t go so low as to consider you a lamb, Carter, but style yourself how you wish,” he responds, the rasp of his damaged throat amplified by the adrenal rush of being kidnapped.
GM: That cold smile only spreads.
Emil: “That was clever what you did to Paul, very clean,” he commends the smiling face. “Do they teach you hypnosis in medical school?”
Emil: Emil nods with understanding at the terse reply. But curiosity shines through.
“How did you do it, then?”
Then, remembering the words of that once silent man, now eternally so, he amends,
“What are you?”
GM: Carter opens his mouth. Spreads his lips.
Emil sees two long, sharp, so very hungry-looking teeth.
The primal response to run pounds through his head.
But he can’t, and he doesn’t want to either. He pushes it down.
“I see. I saw those on you before, but you weren’t like this. You were angrier, crueler. You had hate in your eyes.” He pauses.
“I thought you were an angel, then,” he admits.
“Now… well now you look hungry. Angels don’t need to eat. They lack the נפש that keeps our muscles twitching. Our hearts beating.”
“They are divorced from the בהמות in that sense, unlike humans. Perhaps unlike you as well.”
GM: “Perhaps my species are angels, of a sort,” Carter answers. “Some of us have called ourselves that, albeit of a more fallen bent. A more gnostic bent.”
He closes his mouth. When he speaks again, Emil cannot see his fangs.
“Your species, however, calls mine vampires. We are men and women unable to fully die, damned to remain in a state of material existence forever. To humans, we are immortal, but we are unable to naturally pass on to what comes next—to ascend to a plane of pure spirituality and rejoin the corpus of the divine, as so many belief systems aspire to.”
He looks at Emil squarely. There’s a so-faint tightness to his jaw. A look to his eyes. A terrible, unspoken promise carried by those vanished canines.
A promise that on some level, Emil is simply food.
“And I am always hungry, Emil. The laws of thermodynamics are still just as true for my species as they are for yours. All organisms require fuel, life, to sustain themselves.”
Emil: “Oh.” Emil sounds almost surprised, he’s worried that he might be sweating more. He’s worried that he may end up in a loonie bin or a dumpster if this goes south. He has quite a lot to worry about right now.
“All right. You’re a vampire then,” he nods, trying to convince himself.
This is nuts. I mean the fangs were there but I’m crazy, I have to be seeing shit. But on the off chance he’s telling the truth—I mean is it an off chance though? On the not so off chance that he’s an immortal being straight out of a storybook… I suppose… when in Houston do as the Houstonians do… does that apply when you’re kidnapped?
GM: “Look at me, Emil,” Carter says slowly. “Look at my face. What your ‘friend’ did should have left me disfigured for life.”
“You saw him pour that gasoline. Drop that match.”
“Of course, you also saw yourself throw an SUV at six people—eight, if we’re including my kind—and kill four of them.”
Emil: “I’ve been told I’m schizophrenic. I know I’m not. But that doesn’t make it any clearer what I am. Whether anything I see is really happening, or even if it is, whether I’m the one doing it or whether I’m just overoptimistic and prone to nose-bleeds.”
He looks at Carter’s mouth, wondering where did those fangs hide, how did that hunger disguise itself when they first met.
Then, he asks, “How strong was I?”
His tone is far from gloating, more unsure, hopeful, and insecure, like a child asking their parent to look at their finger painted portrait awaiting comment, or perhaps identity defining judgment.
GM: “You are the one who’s doing it, Emil. And you are very strong.”
The vampire’s cold eyes gleam.
“Haven’t you wondered why?”
“Why you have these powers?”
“Where they are coming from?”
“What their use portends? What consequences that use has?”
Emil: Emil looks back with his own hunger shining apparent on his too-flat teeth, bared fully through his too-wide smile, and in his wide, almost bloodshot eyes.
“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes,” he answers each of the questions, unconsciously licking his lips.
He has a sly, near-arrogant look in his eye when he asks, "Have you seen the static sea, Carter? "
GM: “Describe it some more. There’s probably a name for what you’re thinking of.”
The vampire makes it sound so ordinary. Almost mundane.
Emil: That almost makes it better.
If this is ordinary, what else is out there that’s really shocking?
“It’s like a great big sea of darkness. It feels like it’s right under the city, under our feet. Everything there has the quality of television static. There’s whispers down there, the static tries to tell you things. Licks at your ears. It just goes down and down, one big endless sink.”
GM: It almost does.
“That’s somewhat like describing blood you’re seeing up close as ‘a great big sea of red,’” the dead man answers. “Or the function of a computer script based on the color of the window running it. There’s innumerable things it could potentially be when you’re attempting to quantify it from a perspective as limited as your immediate sensory perceptions.”
“There is so much more than what you simply see.”
Emil: He tries to give more.
Come on, come on.
It’s like a drug.
“The future. It lives there. Waits for the present to catch up to it.”
GM: “A form of prescience? That’s fairly common,” Carter remarks dismissively.
“Common for us,” he amends after a moment.
Perhaps he means other vampires. Perhaps he means Emil too.
But he can’t mean anyone even remotely normal.
“I haven’t personally seen the static you’re describing, but the sensory phenotype varies by individual.”
Emil: Sounds like he studies this sort of thing. That’s wild! Phenotype. Like it’s genetic.
“Which ‘us’ are you referring to, now, Carter?”
GM: “What do you believe, Emil? There’s you, there’s my species, and there’s the sheep who’d commit you to a mental institution for saying these things: who do you think such a pronoun is applicable to?”
Emil: “I’d say you’re missing out on a clear group, Carter. Us. You. Me,” he says, gesturing.
“We’re kindred spirits you and I.”
GM: There’s another cold smile from the fanged, pale figure.
Emil: “We’re so very similar to each other, it’s almost shocking, once you look past skin deep. Or maybe it isn’t.”
GM: “It isn’t.”
“You want to know, Emil. To know everything.”
Emil: “More than everything,” he corrects.
GM: “I am here,” says the dead man, still in his chair. “Ask what you would know.”
Emil: “How long have you been keeping watch on me?”
GM: “Several years.”
Emil: “Several, what an interesting way to phrase that. It stems from a word meaning to exist apart. Fitting. And yet so unspecific.”
GM: Laughter seems to dance in Carter’s eyes.
There’s little humor in it.
Emil: Those eyes… liable to be accused of losing it by someone who can’t see as well. You’re just like me. Imperfect. Real. It curls the edges of his lips upturned.
“For a time, Carter, I had a series of fugues. Do you know what caused them?”
GM: “No, I can’t say so.”
“There could have been any number of potential causes, mundane and otherwise.”
Emil: “I see. Then what of the barn I was brought to? That was you, wasn’t it, who took me from the library?”
GM: “I’ve reviewed your medical records, but I don’t know what you’re referring to there,” the dead man answers.
Emil: “Well that’s interesting. What about the cable car? Or the house? That must have been you? No? Maybe a friend of yours.”
GM: “It was, actually, though a friend who I’d asked to get involved. I owe her some favors now for that.”
Emil: Those jagged lacerations. They were claws. It was the woman.
The image of the stark white woman in a doctor’s coat flashes by his mind.
“She might have had her own reasons for doing it. I think she was the one who first put me in the hospital. You might’ve done her a favor,” he offers.
GM: “No, it’s unlikely she put you in the hospital or even knew you existed before I told her so. She lives in Los Angeles.”
Emil: Or maybe it wasn’t.
“You may want to check in on her. She might be in a lot of pain right now. I threw her at a tree when she tried to choke me out.” Emil feels a rush in saying that. It almost overrides his sympathy, almost.
GM: “That wasn’t her. She’s fine. Getting hurt doesn’t mean all that much to us anyways,” says the dead man with his hale, unscarred face.
Emil: “Well I suppose I understand why you chose to drug me. You never wanted to kill me, you had to get me back. To bring us together again.”
GM: Carter actually looks almost surprised.
“Why would I have wanted to kill you, Emil? How does your death benefit me?”
Emil: “It doesn’t. But a lesser person might’ve not trusted me to live after I was taken away by those men.”
GM: “Yes. I had to get you away from them. They’d have filled your head with lies.”
Emil: “It’s funny. They said nearly the exact same thing about you. Of course, I had time to think apart from both you and them. Time to seek truth.”
GM: “What truth have you found?”
Emil: “Those men hurt me inasmuch as they thought they saved me. You’ve hurt me as well, in your need to retrieve me. They distrusted me when I kept them alive. You’ve distrusted me too, and admitted as much. They lied to me, hid truths about their intentions. Before tonight, you did as well. In these ways, you each struck against me equally. So very similar.”
“And yet, I chose to come to you. Chose to come to the hospital where you would find me. Why do you think I did that? What do you think tipped the scales?”
GM: “You’ve said so yourself, Emil.”
The dead man smiles again.
“You want to know.”
Emil: He smiles back. “There’re always multiple paths to knowledge, Carter. And yes, our shared hunger is a great element of it, but we share more than that. Something much closer than that. Blood.”
There’s a dangerous glint to the vampire’s eye at that word.
Emil: “I see myself in you. We’re tied together. Like brothers.” He pauses, thinking.
“Who made you this way, Carter?”
GM: “Her name is Sarah Cobbler. She’s a psychologist. You’ve met her twice already, here.”
“She saw herself in me, too. We’re tied together like mother and son.”
Emil: “I don’t know what your life was like… when you were like me. But for a son to find a mother, and a mother to find a son, even through death, I think that’s beautiful.”
The thought warms his heart, but the knowledge of his own separation from that beauty, of how he caused it, wilts his smile into the halfway expression of nostalgia.
GM: “Blood makes all possible.”
Emil: He digests the idea, then nods.
“Why do I have power, Carter? I’m still alive, the blood hasn’t had a chance to touch me. What makes me possible?”
It occurs to Emil that he’s asking a vampire, a thing of legend, to validate his human existence. He realizes he’s stopped treating Carter’s vampirism as a hypothetical.
GM: “The Blood is only one path to power. There are many. ’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’” the dead man repeats.
“There are many theories about individuals with parapsychological abilities like yourself. Some posit you’re godlings in embryo. Some posit you’re creations of a hidden conspiracy. Some posit you are conduits for angels, demons, and similar extradimensional entities. Some posit you’ve simply mastered skills that anyone can learn with proper training. Some posit you are a new subspecies of humanity. Some posit you are the evolution of humanity, adapted to defend against the predators that stalk the night. Some posit you are throwbacks to a time of legend when all humans had some degree of supernatural power. Some posit you are able to tap into a ‘universal unconscious’ that comprises the collective memories and experiences who have ever lived. Some posit you have inherited a rare genetic trait. Some posit you have received a gift from God.”
Emil: “I’d like to find out, or at least to narrow down the possibilities. Who’s testing these theories out? Does the government know about…” he gestures broadly, “…all of this? Or are there enough of your species walking the earth to look into the matter on their own?”
GM: “There are elements within the U.S. government that are aware of parapsychological and other occult phenomena. If someone piques their interest, they’re usually apt to show up unannounced in unmarked black vans and/or helicopters with automatic weapons. People they kidnap are taken off to CIA or military or nameless federal agency blacksites from which they’re never seen again. Not everyone with an interest in individuals like you is as…”
Carter smiles that same dead smile.
“…gentle as I am.”
Emil: “Most of them don’t think like us. They have a status quo to keep. And the money and research is for weaponization. Wars are profitable. Anything that isn’t gets tossed away. It breeds ignorance.”
I sound like a conspiracy theorist. But is that so bad at this point? I mean seriously. Vampires exist. Why not blacksites too?
GM: “Yes. The first government-sponsored researches, or at least best-known researches, were conducted during the Cold War. Each superpower wanted another tool to steal the other side’s military secrets. Like you say, the search for knowledge can breed ignorance if it’s undertaken for the wrong reasons.”
“I’d be lying if I said my species were any higher-minded. Many of us aren’t. But there are some among us who aspire to be.”
Emil: “Like you,” he presumes.
“What are your reasons, then, for telling me the truth about the world? What ignorance do you wish to root out? What would I be providing?”
GM: “Like my fellows and I,” Carter amends. “But I told you the truth there, Emil. I think there’s a lot you can learn from us, and we from you.”
Emil: He hadn’t told me that yet. What the hell? Maybe I’m misremembering.
“Then you would treat me as a peer?” the injured man in the hospital bed asks the immortal corpse.
GM: That corpse offers an all-too cold grin that shows its fangs.
“Perhaps in time.”
“If my superiors judge you worthy.”
Emil: Is that what this all comes to? A chance at escaping death? To become worthy of that blood? God tells us how to be worthy. I’m not sure their requirements will align.
“For the moment,” he replies. “I am happy as I am. In fact I’m just growing into my strength,” he holds up his static-scarred hand and watches as the skin stretches and creases like a leather glove. “If you help facilitate that growth, and I yours, I am happy to treat you as a kindred spirit should you give me the same courtesy.”
GM: Carter smiles almost indulgently. The fangs withdraw. Slightly.
“I guess the best way to put this, Emil, is you’re a smart child born to poverty whose parents could only give him an old Commodore 64 with spotty, dial-up internet. You’ve taught yourself the basics of coding and managed some impressive feats, which are all the more impressive given your circumstances.”
“But you’ve been stumbling blind. You’ve been disadvantaged, cut off from a larger body of knowledge taught in a systematic manner with the latest technologies by accredited professionals. And now you’re here with us at MIT.”
“That doesn’t make you intellectually less than us. The circumstances of your previous education were beyond your control. We see your potential and you’ve impressed us enough to be admitted to our ‘university.’ Once you’re earned your degree, maybe you’ll be able to teach us too. We certainly hope so.”
Emil: Never underestimate the capacity for an analogy to provide context. It reminds Emil how limited words are on their own at conveying meaning we convey. Semantics were always the last thing they pushed onto students at the end of their study of formal grammars. It felt rushed, and when Emil looked into it further, it was both far too simple and yet astonishingly complex even to express simple meaning. The more you know, the more you know you don’t.
That he framed it in terms of computation brings a smile to Emil’s face.
“What’s the tuition, then? There’s always a cost, isn’t there?”
GM: But that smile dies on the dead man’s.
“Yes. Yes, there is,” he replies knowingly.
He looks at Emil for a moment, then says, “To start with, I’m afraid I can’t let you leave here. At least for a while. You’ve seen behind the curtain. My species has laws concerning that and they’re pretty harsh. My ‘mother’ and I could have been put to death if we’d failed to recapture you after all you’d seen.”
Emil: “To protect your family. I understand that.”
As with the rest of the words he hears this night, he digests them slowly, but they do get digested.
Just when he finds his father, his brothers, he’s cut away from them. It hurts him, but he copes with practicalities.
“The police will be looking for me in Los Angeles. They didn’t believe the story I told them about what happened on the cable car. Of course, they’re right not to, but the cop threatened me about lying. If I’m going to keep a low profile in general, I can’t have the potential of a warrant being put out for my arrest. Do you have a friend who can clear things up with the police over there?”
GM: “More like a friend of a friend. But I might not need to. The police aren’t going to find any body and false reports often don’t get prosecuted.”
Emil: “All right. What of the medical bills? Someone’s going to come looking for payment after this while stay is over. And Paul, what do you plan on doing with him?”
GM: “There’s no need to permanently harm your stepfather. He can stay in Los Angeles.”
“Your family’s well-off. They can cover what the insurance doesn’t.”
Emil: “I see…” he says, losing himself in thought for a moment. “Do you know what happened to my mother?”
GM: “My species has many ways of gathering knowledge that yours lacks, Emil, but I’m not omniscient. I wasn’t aware something had happened to your mother.”
“The night is vast and dark and full of terrors. We all have more questions than answers.”
Emil: He nods. The truth about his mother lies somewhere in that darkness, which is too vast to search from a hospital bed. His acceptance of Carter being a vampire, of anyone being a vampire for that matter, rubs Emil the wrong way. What the hell does that even mean?
“Why do you exist, Carter? No offense intended, but why does any of your kind exist? You said your ‘mother’ made you one. But who made her? And who made them in turn? When God made the heavens and the earth, the last thing he did before resting was form men. I don’t remember the Torah saying ’on the sixth day God made a race of blood-drinking superhumans from the corpses of my last creation— you do drink blood right? You were talking about it in a sort of symbolic way, but with the teeth and all it made sense. Was that a bad assumption?”
GM: Maybe the dead man’s grin is meant to be humorous.
But Emil can’t see it doing anything but sending chills up most peoples’ spines.
“It was the correct assumption. I can demonstrate, if you’d like.”
Emil: “I think I’ll take your word for it.”
He is totally willing to eat me. Or maybe just taste me. Good God what have I gotten into. He doesn’t want to kill me. He doesn’t want me dead. He doesn’t want me dead.
“There are two main written sources I’m aware of in my religion that refer to something similar to yourself. We spoke about one of them in our last phone call. Cain’s murder of Abel. We discussed how he killed his brother with a final bite into the neck from the sharp tooth of an animal’s jawbone. He wasn’t able to get food from the ground and was made to wander the earth potentially for eternity. As a consolation for not being told how poorly people would react to murdering his brother, God set him aside as one to be protected.”
“לָכֵן כָּל-הֹרֵג קַיִן, שִׁבְעָתַיִם, יֻקָּם”
(“Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”)
“This was an act of fatherly compassion. He then offered a similar blessing to the chosen children of Abraham.”
“וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר;”
(“And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse;”)
“Cain’s descendants were a nation of metal-workers, the Kenites. They introduced smithing technology to the world around them. And most importantly to my religion, they provided shelter and comfort to another fugitive, another killer of his fellow man: Moses. They treated him so well he even married a Kenite woman, Tzipporah, before he went to free my people.”
GM: “Oh, that’s interesting. I’d thought Moses’ wife was a Cushite. It definitely casts the story in… a different light.”
There’s that same spine-chilling grin.
“Yes, now that you mention it. The Cushite was his second wife.”
“There are some among my species who might make the argument that Moses was our slave. That Tzipporah was one of us, and some or all of the accomplishments Moses is credited with were due to his wife. Some members of my species might even make the argument that Tzipporah was the one to write the Ten Commandments for her own purposes.”
Emil: They have slaves?
The last claim actually makes Emil laugh.
“What evidence is there for Moses to have been a servant of anyone but God?”
GM: Carter’s grin looks frozen in place. Emil’s laughter feels very lonely. Very, very lonely.
“Well, let me get to that. You asked where my species comes from.”
“Our name for one another is Kindred. The Kindred who creates another Kindred, through a process known as the Embrace, is that Kindred’s sire.”
“My sire was Embraced in Charleston during the 1960s by her sire, my grandsire. He was Embraced in London long ago and fled to the Carolina colonies to escape the Black Death. His sire, my great-grandsire was Embraced in the British Isles at some indeterminate point following the Norman Conquest. My great-great-grandsire was Embraced there too, likely during the Wessex hegemony.”
“It’s anyone’s guess what happened to several of my ancestors, but my great-great-grandsire’s destruction in 1700 is corroborated by many eyewitnesses, as are the details of his unlife in London. We’re fortunate that he occupied a… I suppose you could call it a public office, among our kind. It’s made his unlife comparatively easy to research. Many of us can’t trace our bloodlines back that far at all.”
“The historic records start to get sketchier before him. We think his sire, my four-times grandsire, was Embraced in either Gaul or Rome, based on what little we know about her own sire, but it’s at this point that we run out of eyewitnesses. My sire has spoken to Kindred who witnessed my great-great-grandsire’s destruction. It’s with my four-times grandsire that we have to start relying on secondhand and thirdhand accounts. My kind aren’t known for keeping much in the way of written records.”
“Those accounts go to thirdhand and fourthhand with her own sire, my five-times grandsire. We think he could have also been Embraced in Gaul during Roman times, but he could just as easily have hailed another place or been born during another era. Or both. Many of my kind change our names over the years, for various reasons. ‘Carter Landry’ isn’t my birth name. It’s just as possible that my five-times grandsire’s name, which is of Roman etymology, was a pseudonym.”
“His own sire, my six-times grandsire, was a figure halfway out of myth. She was Embraced somewhere in the Middle East, long enough ago to make her childe seem young. We’ve not been able to conclusively establish her name, all but the crudest approximations of the time and location of her Embrace, or even whether the Kindred she is described as being actually existed. The historic record is almost nonexistent. We mainly have oral traditions and folklore to go on.”
“While we know very few verifiable historic details about my six-times grandsire, we do know that she existed thanks to ‘biological’ evidence. We have ways of testing and quantifying the Blood across generations of Kindred. We have, in fact, verified that other Kindred of her generation—the fourth generation—did exist through experiments that withstood the scientific method. So at this point, we’re essentially relying on anthropologists rather than historians to supply what we know for certain about my ancestor. The historic evidence is too scarce, but scientific evidence is still present.”
Emil: “Your lineage spans history itself,” Emil says, looking at the dead man in awe. “But you said the fourth generation. What do you mean by that?”
GM: “How many generations my six-times grandsire is removed from the alleged source of our condition. In many ways, though, it’s an arbitrary distinction. I could call you a member of your family’s second generation, if by ‘your family’ I’m referring to you and your parents. If I was including your grandparents, I’d call you a member of your family’s third generation. You could also be the fourth, fifth, 64th, or 308th generation, depending on how many of your ancestors I wanted to reference. The term is ultimately contextual. There are scientifically-minded Kindred who think we should refer to the fourth generation as the second or even first generation, but the idea hasn’t caught on.”
Emil: “I see. So then what was that alleged source? And why do those scientifically-minded Kindred prefer that definition?”
GM: “It’s because the fourth generation is the earliest generation of Kindred we can prove existed. The earlier generations are figures entirely out of myth. While there’s a very large body of what’s essentially folklore and religious scripture around them, there is no reliable scientific or historic evidence to substantiate their existences. The clinical trials and theoretical equations that I can perform to prove the fourth generation’s existence simply fall apart when applied to the third generation. In many ways, it’s like trying to perform a long division problem with a value of ‘infinity.’ You’re breaking the mold just by trying to.”
“Accounts of the third generation’s physiology challenge the basic assumptions of what we know about Kindred. In many ways, they’re as radical as claiming that early humans had wings or were actually reptiles. They make for interesting stories, and they can even tell us abstract truths about ourselves, but scientific evidence doesn’t back them up.”
Emil: “So up to and including the fourth generation of Kindred, all the way down through the eleventh, your ancestors are all thoroughly verifiable, but one generation up and everything is different? The fact that the fourth generation exists alone is proof of their sires’ existences. It’s not like God just pops down from heaven and turns random humans into vampires.”
“All things that exist have a causal reason to. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”
GM: “Further than the eleventh,” Carter corrects. “The last ‘viable’ generation of Kindred is considered to be the thirteenth.”
“However, I don’t accept that argument. You could just as easily apply it to the third generation, the second, or the first, saying that ‘because someone made them, then someone else had to have made them.’ You can go back as far as you want, but past a certain threshold, the scientific evidence disappears. Again, I can prove that the fourth generation exists through clinical experiments with a blood sample from any Kindred, and even what are essentially calculus equations. I can’t do that with the third generation.”
“If we had blood samples from the third generation, you could make the argument that our methodology is flawed and we need to reevaluate it based on new evidence. That’s what a scientist does. But that’s also the problem. There’s no evidence to substantiate the third and prior generations’ existence outside of scripture and folklore.”
“Ultimately, science can’t definitively answer where we come from, just as it can’t with humans. At that point, what we believe becomes a question of faith as much as evidence.”
Emil: “Well we can definitely track humanity’s existence more than thirteen generations back. And scientists have documented humanity’s evolutionary branch millions of years back with a good amount of specificity. Of course, humans live much shorter lives, but the point still stands. Science is pretty darn good at finding out features of the past. Hell, we have easy to observe evidence of the universe’s ancient structures from only a few hundred thousand years after the billions years old universe we live in first blipped into existence. We see a picture of it whenever we lose transmission to our televisions.” He holds his hand up, demonstrating the pattern of “the cosmic microwave background.”
“If anything, the reproductive methods of Kindred being a long, linear process is evidence enough to believe that the process didn’t suddenly change one generation before the last verifiably extant generation.”
GM: “Oh, but the process has verifiably changed.”
GM: “Every generation is different from the last and manifests a consistent set of traits to a different order of degree. The universality with which they do this would amaze any evolutionary scientist. It’s like if you bred generations of thick-furred animals in an arctic environment and the successive generations all had thinner fur, even when it was evolutionarily disadvantageous. Every Kindred generation is a little bit weaker than the last, no matter which sires survive to pass on the Blood. It’s as if natural selection simply doesn’t happen. While even the thirteenth generation can perform feats beyond any human’s capabilities, the fourth generation’s powers rival those of demigods out of myth. This difference grows especially pronounced from the seventh to eight generations—it’s a ‘bottleneck’, if you will, as the seventh and earlier generations can develop traits that are absent from the higher generations.”
“Kindred are still capable of evolution as a species in some areas, but it’s to a much more limited degree than humans are. We are inclined towards stasis. But that’s a separate topic.”
“There is another bottleneck, however, at the fourteenth generation. It’s much larger than the eighth’s. The fourteenth and fifteenth generations are so much weaker than ‘normal’ Kindred and exhibit such different characteristics as to seem an almost entirely different species. Most Kindred are disgusted by them, buy into all sorts of superstitions, and would prefer they didn’t exist. They have posed a number of social problems, so those prejudices aren’t without basis either. But they’ve also opened up the most fascinating theoretical questions and avenues of research concerning the earliest generations.”
Emil: “So then, if you would indulge a little bit of delving into the unsubstantiated, if we walk backwards in time, up the generations, we find an increase in strength and presumably an exponential decay in the population. That would imply that should you extrapolate a little further, you will find a singular concentration of power in one lone Kindred. Who does legend purport that Kindred to be?”
GM: “I think that we’ll leave you with facts rather than legends, for now. The night isn’t getting any younger and we’ll need to make arrangements to return to New Orleans, soon.”
Emil: “What’s in New Orleans that isn’t here? I thought you wanted to keep me under a low profile? People know me in New Orleans. People who would have some very strongly worded questions as to why I’ve come back so soon.”
GM: “I live there, for one. I was only back in Houston temporarily. That alteration with you and the hunters ended up significantly extending my visit.”
Emil: “Oh. All right. I know this might come across as ignorant, but do you sleep in a mausoleum or something? Would I be rooming with you? Cause I do have an apartment back there if it would be cramped.”
GM: “I don’t sleep in a mausoleum, and you won’t room with me. You’ve been a magnet for trouble.”
Carter looks thoughtful at that declaration.
“Taking you back immediately might not be for the best.”
“My sire can look after you for a while. Houston will be safer, though she isn’t as nice as I am.”
Emil: “When you say not as nice…” he asks.
GM: “You’ll be her property. Do everything you’re told without backtalk or complaint, or she’ll punish you severely,” Carter says.
There’s no attempt to blunt the harshness of the words.
Emil suddenly feels very, very alone in the too-cold room.
“It’s not a racial thing,” Carter adds. “We have white kine—our word for humans—in this sort of arrangement with black Kindred too.”
Emil: “It doesn’t have to be a racial thing for that to be absolutely fucked up, good God. You hadn’t finished explaining the costs of this. Was that what you left out, Carter? As long as I’m learning under you I’m your property?!” he asks incredulously.
GM: “The Greek slaves who tutored children to Roman senators enjoyed a higher standard of living and greater access to opportunities than many lower-class Roman freedmen. The janissaries were slaves who effectively ran the Ottoman Empire. Being the personal assistant to the president of the United States is a better job than being CEO of a failed, debt-ridden startup. How good a position someone has is always relative to where they have it,” Carter answers calmly.
“We’re all slaves in the end anyway, Emil. I have masters too.”
“But if you’d rather not be a slave, I could kill you.”
Emil hasn’t ever seen a more deathly serious look on someone’s face.
“I’m afraid it’s either you or us. Kine aren’t allowed to know about the Kindred without being enslaved or killed. If I let you go, they’ll find out, and they’ll kill us both for it.”
“All in or all out.”
“But I can promise this. What you’ve heard from me since waking up is only the first lecture in the 101 class with half the slides missing. You’ve barely even begun to plumb the depths of all there is to know about this world. About the truths that really govern the world. Be useful to my sire and me, and you’ll learn more than you ever believed was even possible. Serve us well, and I’ll promise you this:”
Carter stares into Emil’s eyes with a hunger to match his own.
Not for blood.
For so much more than blood.
“You will see the top of the tower.”
The dead man extends a pale hand towards Emil’s, as if to clasp in unholy pact.
Emil: He looks into the eyes of the dead man and realizes the cold truth of his condition. He’s a slave. A slave of a slave of a slave of a slave. Each of them slaves to undying masters so old, those lower down the chain start to doubt they even exist.
He extends his own bony, devil-marked hand and clasps the hand of the corpse. The first patriarch made a similar deal once. Four hundred years of slavery, then comes freedom.
GM: Carter’s too-cold hand clasps Emil’s as inexorably as any devil’s. He raises their conjoined hands to his mouth, and then there’s a flash of something sharp, white, and oh-so hungry. Red wells from between Emil’s fingers, and there’s a terrifying instant where he wonders if the vampire is about to feast upon his life right there, but he doesn’t feel anything. Just the wetness of cold sweat trickling down his back.
Carter raises their bloodstained hands to Emil’s mouth.
“Drink, and know power.”
Emil: I already do.
The throng of Jewish dietary laws fly through his mind. It’s wrong to drink an animal’s blood, and human isn’t quite kosher. Then again, he’s not much of an animal, and he’s not much of a human either. With a thought to pikuach nefesh and a short prayer to God, he brings his mouth to their pact. Coppery like blood, it smells. Fuller though, as if filled with an unnameable potency.
As he readies himself in that moment, he looks the vampire in his eyes, and realizes they are wrong. Oh so very wrong.
Time has long past for Emil to learn whether this creature descends from Amalek or Cain, but if i’ts any consolation, as he laps up the thick crimson, he’ll have plenty time with him to figure that puzzle out.
GM: Emil thought he did.
But his power didn’t course over his tongue like liquid fire, after he gets past the initial, gag-worthy metallic taste. It didn’t shoot through his veins like electricity and light him up to each of his fingertips. It didn’t wipe away the dull pounding in his head, the days of exhaustion and stress and inflammation, like it was all just a bad dream. Emil feels hale, energized, powerful, even giddy. He feels like he could do jumping jacks. Run a marathon. Punch out his first dad in a boxing match.
Their pact complete, the vampire withdraws his hand. It’s like being cut from a mother’s umbilical. Emil knows despair and feels an immediate impulse to lick up every last red droplet still on his hand.
And he knows, in his gut, that he’s done the right thing. That Carter is looking out for him. That the vampire has extended him an extraordinary opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. So what if he’s called slave? As if interns have it any better. At least Carter’s honest. Honest and so much more.
“You’ll be experiencing feelings of euphoria, but you can get out of bed now,” the vampire notes clinically.
“My species’ blood carries a variety of properties beyond the wildest dreams of modern doctors. There’s not many ailments it can’t cure. Aging among them.”
“For as long as you drink of me, you’ll live forever. We can take as long as we like to scale the tower.”
Yes, Emil can only suppose.
He’ll have plenty of time indeed.