The Holocene Pax - Chapter 4

When Matt woke again, a quick check showed that he was back to his old self, except for his beard. He was glad to look perfectly human again, a feeling enhanced when he saw his clothes in a neat pile in Don's chair. Underneath his clothes Matt found a small laptop, which he switched on while he was dressing.

There was a short but stern audio warning that played while the machine booted up, telling him in no uncertain terms to avoid googling anything he had learned yesterday, even through a proxy. Matt smiled to himself and checked his mail, surprised by how empty his inbox was. It didn't seem like anyone was surprised by his disappearance: Matt could only assume that Don and the others had provided some kind of excuse to Matt's friends and family.

Feeling clever, Matt wikipedia'd a seemingly innocent topic his dad had forwarded to him, and spent the next hour slowly moving from one topic to another. Being careful to leave tabs open for a reasonable length of time before opening the next link, Matt innocently moved from article to article until he managed to end up in Ice Age flora and fauna. Opening a large number of tabs at once, Matt managed to get a fair amount of information on Dire Wolves and Smilodons in short order, though he was disappointed in the lack of information about prehistoric goats.

All of a sudden, Matt's screen went black and a few words appeared in the top right corner. "ok, thats enough" they said. "your methodology is good but we dont want you raising any more flags"

Matt blinked in surprise. So much for being clever. Feeling somewhat silly, Matt shut the machine down and decided to do something about his beard. Looking at the table beside his bed, he found a razor sitting on a handtowel, though it wasn't like any razor he had ever used. For one, it was a straight-edge, and more alarmingly, it seemed to be much more akin to a meat cleaver than a razor. The blade was frighteningly sharp though, so Matt began carefully whittling his very disagreeable facial hair down to a goatee.

Moderately satisfied with his work, Matt set the blade down, feeling glad in retrospect that there hadn't been any shaving cream. It had hurt a bit, but being unexperienced with shaving meant he had probably narrowly avoided slicing his own throat. As he rubbed his face with the towel to clean up the blood from where he had nicked himself, he noticed that the shallow but painful cuts were already gone, without even the faintest traces of scarring. Older scars appeared to have faded as well.

"You cleaned up surprisingly well."

Matt jumped in surprise. Standing almost a foot just behind him was a short, wiry woman who appeared to be in her thirties. A white lab coat sat comfortably over a black sweater and black leather pants. Her hair and eyes were a dark brown, and she seemed to be studying Matt intently.

"Gah! Who are you?" Matt asked, lowering his arms.

"I'm the resident doctor. Don and I have been charged with taking care of you until you get used to your new identity." She made a quarter turn and rapped Matt on the chest with her knuckles. "My name is Dr. Takamura. In this building, there is no authority higher than me, even Don."

"Gotcha." Matt rubbed his chest, surprised by how hard she had hit him. "So, wait, what's Don's job, if you're the doctor?"

"He's currently in charge of scouting out new arrivals. A cross between counselor and border patrol, if that helps you visualize his duties." Takamura was already walking in the direction she had turned, towards the end of the room. "Follow me, I want to verify a few things."

Matt had to jog a bit to catch up to her surprisingly long stride. "So, I'm guessing you're a vampire too?"

Takamura gave Matt an unforgiving glare. "You're new, so you couldn't know, but it's consider rude to ask. I'm a doctor in this facility, so clearly I'm a vampire."

"Is everyone here a vampire but no?"

"No, of course not." Takamura sighed a bit to herself. "Vampires are the most cool-headed and logical of the Blood Pact. We have the most patience and best memory, from a very fundamental level. Therefore, a doctor is probably going to be a vampire."

"So being a vampire gives you more patience? Or does being a satyr give me less?"

"You ask many questions." Takamura stopped in front of a tall cabinet and got a large bag from it. "Yes, being a vampire gives me more patience. The mind, as well as the body, shapes itself to the souls within. Dires have less patience because of this- satyrs are usually how they were before they were turned."

"Interesting." Matt eyeballed a metal rod that Takamura had pulled from the bag. The rod was about the width of a pencil and twice as long. "You know what I'm going to ask next."

"The tip of this rod is silver." Without any further explanation, Takamura jabbed the rod into Matt's arm, in the skin above his elbow.

"Ouch! The hell are you doing, I thought the silver thing was a myth?" Matt jumped back and examined his arm.

"The body can follow the mind, as well as the soul, and vice-versa. If you actually believed the silver thing, your arm would be sizzling right now, because your mind makes it so. This is a simple but effective test to find and then eliminate such beliefs."

"The silver thing was only ever for werewolves, wasn't it?"

"It doesn't matter if you believe that, only myths that you believe are true to yourself. Newcomers are highly suggestible, I like to dispel of any nonsense as soon as possible, as does Don."

"Indeed I do." Don walked into the room with a young man beside him. "I'm not a fan of that test however. Matt, this is Terry. Terry, Matt."

"Nice to meet you." Matt extended a hand.

"And you." Terry appeared to be in his early twenties, with spiky hair and an ear piercing that seemed slightly out of place. "I look forward to working with you."

"Beg pardon?"

"Working with you." Terry glanced at Don. "You haven't told him yet, have you."

"Haven't had a chance, no." Don did not seem uncomfortable in the least, though Matt felt that something was gravely overlooked.

Terry sighed heavily and closed his eyes. "Uhm. It goes something like this: we're stuck in something of a catch-22, which we can get out of by employing you to work with me part-time. Don, would you?"

"You never asked to become a part of the Blood Pact. Hence, some of us feel that you should be offered the option to leave us. However, this poses a risk to the Pact, as you could be captured by the Old Order and manipulated against us or used as a hostage. We have neither the men nor the inclination to protect all the noncombatants.

"So, we feel guilty about forcing you to fight, but if we let you go, then worse could happen. The way out is to offer you a job as runner or scout: there is no shortage of messages we need delivered quickly and safely. As you already know, we have to be careful on the internet: the Order has many fingers in the information network. Carrying disks and letters is a relatively safe job that warrants protection that we can afford to provide. Everyone wins."

"So you want me to work as a messenger? Running from building to building or something?" Matt crossed his arms. "Doesn't sound like a great job to me."

"Actually, you'ld be running from town to town." Terry lifted up his hand. "You probably can't tell yet, but I'm a Dire. My job is to accompany runners like you from town to town and watch your back, in case of interception."

"Just you?"

Terry's hand went from somewhat tan to black and covered in bristly hair in a blink. "Dires are tough. We get in a tussle, I'll give you plenty of time to get free."

"You guys mind if I think about this a bit? I never envisioned myself taking on a summer job quite like this." Matt sat down on one of the beds and rubbed the back of his head.

Takamura reached into her bag while nodding. "Sure. While you sitting, let me run this test on you..."

Previous Chapter

Note: Takamura is Japanese for "high village", a name that I made up on the spot. I was going for a name that would immediately indicate that the cast is not purely Anglo, like so many vampire stories are.