Vampire 2.0 – Reboot


He awoke to sensations that were foreign to him, the way he imagined a New Yorker might find it foreign to wake in the morning with birdsong in their ears instead of traffic and gunfire. For centuries, there had been very little to divide his time awake from his time asleep; at one moment, he might be mistaken for a corpse, still and silent, while in the next his eyes would be open and full of a hellish awareness, though otherwise remaining still and silent. Internally it was only slightly different; he would leave the black oblivion of sleep and enter wakefulness with the only difference being that he could see. He had no heartbeat with which to measure time, no sudden rush of blood from one part of his body to another to mark a limb that had fallen asleep. He did not dream, and whatever sounds there were, he heard peripherally while sleep so they weren’t startling or remarkable when he awakened.
But this time, something was different. He lay still, somewhat perplexed at the darkness before him, for he was certain his eyes were open. He tried to determine what had changed. Finally, it came to him.
Always before there had been silence within. The only time he heard his body working was shortly after feeding, when the sweet wine of his victim’s blood would rush about his body, revitalizing him and making him feel – for a few minutes, at least – truly alive. but now there were sounds within, and not sounds that he connected to any of his experiences, be they the last few centuries as a corpse that walked and talked like a man, nor the thirty-some years he had spent as a mortal before that.
Clicks and whirs were coming from within him, mechanical sounds that seemed more at home in a grandfather clock than his own body. A little beep every ten seconds. A thrumming sound, more felt than heard, somewhere in his lower back.
More disturbing than the blackness in front of his eyes or the strange sounds was the way he felt. When one spends eternity in a given shape, one knows the feel of one’s self; one knows where a leg lies and to what degree it is cocked at the knee, or how tightly the hands were clasped in the night. But he felt strange, not himself. Parts of himself he was unable to feel; at his elbows, the right side of his face, much of his chest, the right leg. Other parts he could feel, but wrongly, like his left leg. That felt as though it was packed in ice, and there were numb spots scattered through it, full of the tingling of a limb that is trying to wake itself back up. That was a sensation he had almost forgotten, a small benefit of having been bereft of a working circulatory system for the majority of his existence.
Majority of my existence? What does that mean?
The thought sounded strange to him, and he stopped examining his externap input in favor of digging into his own mind. What he found there was slightly frightening. There were images there, feelings, discarded moments in time, but none of them seemed to flow in a linear way. There seemed to be no connection between them. What was worse is the number of faces he saw there that he was unable to name – the one he suspected of being himself was only the most obvious. The thought that he could know something was wrong without even knowing who or where he was was even worse, and he jerked upright, almost frantic as he pawed at his own face, trying to cement it by his touch and thus put a name to it.
“Hey, hey, easy there, Boss! Don’t hurt yaself!”
The voice, a nasal mess with a horrid New York accent, came from his left. He turned, and while what he saw might have disturbed most people, it eased his mind. The red-skinned dwarf in the business suit sitting beside him was a known quantity, one of the few faces in his memory that he could put a name to. He couldn’t remember everything, but there was a sense of trust and familiarity that he chose to allow in.
Brand was hopping down from the stool he’d been sitting on, coming towards the body on the table and reaching up with his tridactyl talons to pull his master’s hands away before they did any damage to his face. He smiled – as best as he was able, given the beak-shape of his face, anyway – and laid the man’s hands down before putting his own up in a conciliatory gesture.
“S’okay, Boss. Just simmer down. S’okay, am I right?” Brand glanced over his shoulder, bellowing out to someone out of sight. “Hey! The Boss is awake, get some damn grub in here already!”
He returned his sparkling black eyes to the man, giving him an appraising look before continuing.
“You hungry? Sure ya are. After what you’ve been through, hell, it’ll probably take a hundred of them fat chicks from that con in Vegas to set you right, am I right?”
The little red monster snickered, shaking his head.
The man glanced into his lap, where his hands now rested. The first thing that struck him was the sensible reason for his apparent blindness, and its quick departure when he sat up: he had been covered with a sheet that was no cast adrift around his waist. The second was that his hands weren’t hands, precisely; the wrists were okay, and the palm of the right was fine. Likewise, all but the index finger on his left hand and the ring and pinky fingers on the right. Simple flesh – ghastly pale with a bluish cast under the nails that was a trifle disturbing but that his gut told him was simple enough to remedy, though it chose not to elaborate on the how of it – marked those places. The palm and index finger on his left hand, and the thumb and first two fingers of his right were certainly not all right, however. There flesh ended and cold steel began. The index finger resembled a carving knife more than anything, and while the altered fingers on his right hand had the proper shape, there were all manner of strange extrusions along them. Almost as quickly as he thought it, the barbs, hooks and nodules along them withdrew, leaving smooth silver behind. He flexed his hands a time or two, and discovered that they responded as fingers should… except for the near total lack of feeling in them, of course.
His eyes trailed up his arms, noting that both of his elbows appeared to have been replaced by silver and copper cog wheels, and that there were numerous patches where the skin was broken, revealing gleaming steel beneath. His chest appeared to have been replaced with a metal plate, which seemed to be the source of most of the clicks, beeps and hums that he had awakened to. On the left side, a single greed LED pulsed, and after a moment, he realized the pulse was in sync with the beep he kept hearing.
“What am I?”
His voice sounded strange to his own ears, layered in a way that the fragments of memory he could find hadn’t suggested. There seemed to be a queer doubling, a reverb that started somewhere in the back of his throat that added a mechanical, artificial chorus to his formerly melodious bass tone.
Brand glanced downward, steepling his fingers and for a moment looking like he wished he could be anywhere but here. He cleared his throat, staring down into the darkness between his palms.
“Well, er… you’re the Boss. You know. Lord of the Castle. Master of the NIght, Prince of Darkness, all that shit. Just… um. Well, a little different. Upgraded, like. You know?”
 He tried to smile, his eyes flickering over the unimpressed and unamused expression of his employer – which the man knew himself to be, in some manner – then dropped again to his closed hands.
“The… Prince of Darkness?”
Somewhere inside, the title tickled a memory. Something about a church, a woman crying somewhere inside. A taste in his mouth, salty, sweet, hideous, delightful, and most of all, crimson. Thoughts of that taste brought a rumbling from down below, and he realized that the demon had been correct: he was hungry. His tongue – thankfully not “upgraded,” whatever that meant, but still lasciviously long and serpentine – flicked out over his lips.
“But… who… ugh. What’s wrong with me?”
Brand continued to look uncomfortable, shooting glances over his shoulder and towards the door as though hoping for a distraction. When none came, he sighed.
“Well, nothing, now. But jeez, when I brought you in, you were a mess, Boss. Head was all crushed, leg missing. Chest was blown out like you’d gotten into it with Elliot Ness or some shit. I mean, you looked like a paper dolly that some girl tried to rip in half.”
He glanced upward, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
“Stupidest part was that most of it was done by the cops, fa chrissakes! Stupid sons of bitches ran you down by accident! I mean, really, how hard is it to operate a basic motor vehicle? I manage, and I’ve gotta have all these extra dials and levers. Jeez, I mean, you think it’s easy to drive when you’re three feet tall, can’t reach the pedals, and have to work with these…” He splayed his tridactyl hands in front of him to illustrate. “…while you’re running all those extra things they snap onto the steering wheel to make up for it? but I never ran nobody over.”
He paused in his monologue, his eyes going skyward for a moment.
“Well. Not by accident, anyway.”
The man on the table found he could do nothing but stare at the demon as he ranted. The back of his mind said this was common behavior for Brand, generally tolerated because the imp was useful more often than not, but often frustrating. He raised his steel hand, shaking his head.
“Save the sidelines, Brand.”
The imp appeared both pleased and troubled that his name had been remembered, but quieted.
“Tell me who I am, why I’m here, and what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Brand stood straighter, spiffing the collar of his suit coat briefly before assuming a full at-attention posture.
“You’re Vlad Tepes, Boss. Prince of Darkness, King of the Vampires, Lord of the Dead. You’re in your estate in Palm Springs, because that’s where we put the lab – didn’t want it too close to your digs in Vegas, couldn’t handle the electrical modifications to the family castle, too much drywalling and drilling and messing with the portraits you said – and you needed the lab so we could fix ya.”
A smarmy smirk spread across his features as he continued.
“And you remember, five years ago, I told you, Boss, we’re gonna need a mad scientist, and you said ‘Oh, but that’s so expensive. You don’t think we really need one, do you?’ And, Boss, I says, you gotta have a mad scientist with an evil lab. It’s the in thing now. And you say…”
He was silenced as Vlad raised his hand and shook his head again, cutting him off. He continued, looking chastened.
“Anyway. We built the lab – under budget, I’d point out – and that’s where we are because you’d be dead, otherwise. Or… well. I dunno how to say it, but you know what I mean. Off to the fuckin’ Cadillac Ranch, you know? Not dead, anyway, because you’re always kinda dead, well, undead, but anyway. Yeah. So we’re at the lab and as far as what you’re supposed to be doing, hell, how should I know? You’re the Boss. But, and this is only a bit, you know, nothing personal, don’t let me tell you how to do things, but I’d say you should be getting better, getting your shit together, and kicking that little fucker Van Helsing’s ass from here to Coney Island.” He shrugged. “But, hey, like I said. I’m just the help, Boss. Your call.”
Vlad steepled his fingers in the front of his mouth, the gesture coming without forethought but seeming to calm him as he studied Brand. He realized he wasn’t seeing the gargoyle the way he had previous to his accident, though part of him was; on one level, he was looking at Brand the way he always had, but there were also strange floating words surrounding him, and there were brief flickers of other color spectrums running across the demon. Vlad closed his left eye, and saw nothing but the imp watching him warily. He closed his right, and saw Brand in thermal vision with a digital readout calling out the imp’s name, demonic classification, known weaknesses, age, blood type, sexual preference and six last known addresses and phone numbers. Vlad opened both eyes again and saw both images overlaid on one another. Disturbing.
“Van Helsing.”
He whispered the name, letting it roll over both his tongue and his strangely doubled vocal chords. The name evoked many conflicting emotions, foremost among them utter contempt mingled with traces of affection and competitive camaraderie. Closing his eyes, faces bubbled forth: one a fat, surly young man, tagged by the digital readout as Isaac Van Helsing, age 26, born 1986. That was the source of the contempt, Vlad was certain. His certainty was only increased when the readout scrolled slightly to highly “Van Hamstring’ as a popular nickname for the boy. The other was an elderly gent with slicked back hair, a thick mustache, and deep-set green eyes that reflected an agrressive sparkle. The ever-helpful readout tagged this one as Abraham Van Helsing, age 54, born 1862, died 1916. That was the source of the amused rivalry. He opened his eyes again, settling them on Brand.
“Isaac. He did this.”
Brand was nodding with excitement.
“Yeah, that was him, Boss. Best we figure, he busted in while you were… ah… occupied with dinner. Phosphorous rounds. Nasty, nasty shit, you know? Bastard ran off while the cops were busy trying to dig out out of their mudflaps, and the chick didn’t know nothin’ useful. Said some fat kid shot in the door and shot you.”
His eyes dipped slyly sideways for a moment as his mouth split in his version of a grin.
“Too bad you didn’t close escrow with her, Boss. I mean, I wouldn’t kick her outta the castle for eatin’ kittens, am I right?” He punctuated this with a cackle, shaking his head.
“Anyways, yeah, Isaac, he’s the one. Got most of the boys lookin’ for him.” He lifted one hand as though warding off interruption, though Vlad was still and watchful. “Don’t worry, Boss, they’re not gonna hurt him none. I know you’ll want him fresh. No fun fuckin’ him up when you’re just gettin’ the ghouls’ sloppy seconds, am I right? I know, I know, no need to thank me.”
Vlad opened his mouth – though what he might ask, he wasn’t entirely certain – then closed it again as the door opened and a giant string-bean of a man entered. Nearly seven feet tall and painfully thin, with thick white hair that sprung out from his head as though he’d recently been struct by lightening, Dr. Franks appeared out of breath and wild with excitement as he burst through the door, carrying a jelly-glass filled with thick red liquid. Vlad could smell it from the table, and as he focused on the glass, the readout helpfully informed him that it was blood. Type O, taken from a virgin female seventeen years old, clear of disease and spiced with a spring of mint and a dash of lemon-pepper. The blinking display indicated that it was his favorite, though he wasn’t entirely certain of that.
Franks stumpled, almost dropping the glass and sending it’s cavalcade of Pac-Man characters and the precious fluid within splattering across the floor. He managed to untangle his feet before that happened, and Brand moved to steady the doctor almost immediately. Taking the glass from the tall man’s shaking hand, Brand carried it over to Vlad, dropped to one knee and held it aloft like a priest’s chalice.
“To you, Boss. Drink up, and let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
Vlad took the glass – some internal instinct warning him not to grip the glass too tightly, lest his unnatural strength and steel fingers crush it – and drained it in a single humongous gulp. The taste of it set his brain alight, flooding him with the desire for more. He could feel it running down his throat – though there were numb patches there as well, and part of his mind seemed to be processing the chemical makeup of the blood rather than just enjoying the taste – and exploding in his stomach, suffusing him with the delirious feeling of pure life taken straight from the tap. Somewhere inside was comparing it to the first taste, the chalice in the church back in Romania, the first taste that all the others had tried to compare to and failed, and this time he found it equally as satisfying. It was like being reborn all over again. His fingers spasmed – crushing the jelly-glass into dust and provoking a pained wince from Dr. Franks – and his eyes rolled back in hsi head as the feeling surged over him. He felt some of the holes in his flesh knitting back together and knew without looking that the blood was surging to the places where his flesh didn’t entirely cover the steel beneath, pulling at it and trying to bring it more into alignment with his memories of himself. Finally, when the surge receded and he could think clearly again, he leveled his eyes at Brand.
“I need more. Then we will tend to other matters. Yes?”
Brand nodded, shooting an irritated glance over his shoulder at Franks. The doctor was muttering “Mein Gott, it’s alive” repeatedly, as though trying to force the sense of it into his skull. Brand returned his gaze to Vlad, shaking his head and twirling one finger beside his ear.
“See, you should be glad I fought to get that mad scientist thing through…” His voice dropped to what the gargoyle probably thought of as a conspiratorial whisper, though was closer in volume to a loud mutter. “But I think maybe I got one a little too mad, you know?”
Franks glowered down at the imp, his repeated mutterings ending as he clenched his hands into tight little fists, popping the veins in his forearms and the cords in his neck into vivid relief. His breath was coming in heavy, ragged gasps as he snarled at Brand.
“I am not mad! Merely eccentric!”
Brand wave this away with one hand, while using the other to steady Vlad as the vampire rose from the table.
“Yeah, yeah, not mad, I got it. Right, Boss? Just eccentric, he says. And Paris Hilton’s just a little slutty, too, right?”
The gargoyle squawked his cawing laugh as he led Vlad out of the lab, unheeding of the venom dripping from Franks’ eyes as the doctor watched them go.

(Want more? The story continues here…)

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