by Paul W. Marino
Like any deal made with the Devil, it was a high risk venture with no other options. It was the only thing Miriam could do, other than go mad. She told no one she was going—not the Police, not her mother—not her husband. She just went; grabbed a cross, her purse and her car keys, and drove.
The building was erected, long ago, as a factory. Its exterior was drab and functional, betraying none of what took place inside, nor what waited inside. She pulled into the lot and parked close to the door. She got out of the car and debated with herself for a minute or two over whether she should lock it or not. Ultimately, she decided not to. When she left, she didn’t want any delays; not even the few seconds it would take to unlock the door. Her hands trembled as she turned the knob and pulled the factory door open. Inside, it was just as nondescript as it was outside. The door opened into a tiny foyer, with a wooden staircase going up. The door closed, shutting out the fading sunlight. In its place, fluorescent lights glowed overhead. Trembling, Miriam went up the stairs in silence. The entire building was silent. Only her shoes clacked on the wood.
At the top of the stairs was an office. Like the building it was in, there was nothing special about it; old wood paneling on the walls, faded carpeting on the floors, a dropped ceiling. A wooden desk faced the door, with a door behind it and another in the wall to its left. A young woman was seated at the desk. Looking up at Miriam, she smiled.
"Good evening. Can I help you?" Miriam stuttered nervously, and the girl—appearing to be little more than a teenager—frowned sympathetically. "Sit down, please." She gestured toward a chair. "Can I get you a glass of water?"
"No, thank you." Miriam found her tongue, though her voice shook. "I need to see him." The girl cocked her head.
"Him! Your.......your master." The girl sighed.
"I think you’re in the wrong place, Ma-am."
"No I’m not! He’s here! I need to see him!"
"Just a moment, please."
She picked up the phone and dialed two digits.
"There’s a woman here, says she wants to see him. I think she means......yes, of course." She looked up at her. "What is your name, please?"
"Miriam Jones." She repeated the name into the phone, then set down the receiver and smiled at Miriam. "Oliver will speak with you. Will you come this way, please?" She stood, led her to the door behind her desk and opened it. The door led into another office, where young man sat behind a desk. He was slim, six feet tall and looked to be in his late twenties, with dark blonde hair.
"Good evening, I’m Oliver. How can I help you?" Miriam waited until the door closed.
"I want to see.......him." The young man looked puzzled.
"Don’t you play games with me! You know who I mean!"
"I promise you I don’t."
"You do!" Oliver sat back in his chair and regarded her with sober eyes.
"Mrs. Jones—it is Mrs, isn’t it?" Startled in the midst of her pique, Miriam nodded. "Mrs. Jones, the best advice I can give you is to go home."
"No! I won’t go without—"
"You may have to."
"No!" Tears were starting in her eyes.
"Mrs. Jones, what do you want?"
"He knows what I want."
"Perhaps. But I don’t. What do you think is here?"
"My daughter." He nodded.
"That’s possible. We have two hundred women working here."
"She’s not a woman. She’s ten years old."
"In that case, I can’t help you. We don’t employ children here, and we don’t give them tours either." Anger boiled up in Miriam’s chest again.
"Don’t play games with me!!!"
"I am not playing anything. What makes you think your daughter is here?"
"Because she is! I know she is and—...."
"And?" Miriam licked her lips, then blurted,
"Everyone knows what he does with little girls!"
Oliver blinked several times.
"What does everyone know, Mrs. Jones? I have a feeling it’s something I’ve never heard."
"Stop playing!!! I want my daughter!!!"
"I’m sure you do," Oliver answered, his voice calm and soothing. "Now tell me: You say she’s here; that you know she’s here.....how do you know?"
"I.........I just do."
"I see. And how did she get here?"
"He brought her here. He took her, and brought her here." Miriam broke off and began crying. Oliver regarded her in silence, moving only to offer her a box of tissues. After a minute, in asked in a gentle tone,
"Can I have someone give you a ride home? Or is there someone I can call for you?"
"You can call the Police!"
"Yes, I could, but if I did, do you really think they would listen to you? You’re hysterical, and you’re not making any sense. I’m sure what you’re saying makes sense to you, but I assure you it won’t make sense to anyone else."
"I don’t care! She’s here and I’m not leaving without her!"
"Mrs. Jones, I have every sympathy for your pain, but my patience is not without its limits. Your daughter is not here. You need to go home, now." He reached for the phone. "Let me get someone to drive you."
"Did it ever occur to you that your daughter might have wandered off on her own? She may be back at home now."
"Don’t you mock me!" Miriam shouted in rage. She reached into her purse, pulled out the cross and held it up, thrusting it at him. "Once he takes them, they never come back!"
"You’re holding that cross like it’s a weapon. What do you think I am?"
"You’re just like him!"
"And what is that?" Miriam scowled bitterly.
"Vampires!" She whispered.
"Ah. So you come into a nest of vampires armed only with a cross?" Miriam began weeping again. "Mrs. Jones, I am not a vampire. I’m as human as you are. Vampires are mythical creatures. Please go home. You won’t gain anything by chasing shadows." The phone rang, a light flashing red on one of its buttons. Oliver punched the button at once.
"Yes sir?" He paused, listening. "Yes sir." He set the receiver on its cradle and stared at Miriam with a kind of awe. "Mrs. Jones, I must apologize. Mr. Quince will see you, if you desire." Miriam stopped crying and stared at him.
"Mr. Quince? Is he......?"
"Yes. The Mr. Quince. But, if I may, I’d ask you to reconsider. Your appointment does not begin until you are in his presence, and until that time you may change your mind and call it off. Please, Mrs. Jones: Call it off. Go home, and don’t come back."
"Why are you doing this? Didn’t he just tell you he wanted to see me?"
"Yes, he did. My job is to turn people away. You see, Mrs. Jones, a lot of people come through this office. Many come innocently looking for work. Many more come a good deal less innocently, looking for......other things. I turn them all away; or most of them, anyway. Making sure that no one sees Mr. Quince unless he wants to see them; or they can’t be turned away. Please. Turn away. Go home." Miriam shook her head.
"No." Oliver nodded.
"Very well. Come with me, please."
He opened a door and led her down a long, broad passage with a metal floor. Wide rooms opened on either side of them filled with humming machinery, tended by men and women working in silence.
"As you can see, this really is a factory," Oliver said. "We manufacture electronic components and fine wire."
"A good cover," Miriam answered in a cool tone.
"It’s not a cover. It’s a business, like any other." Miriam didn’t answer, and Oliver didn’t say any more. They walked further and further, moving toward the center of the mill, then turned down a narrower passage that led to a freight elevator. Oliver put his hand on the door handle and paused.
"This is your last chance, Mrs. Jones. Change your mind now, and you can leave, no questions asked."
"Why are you doing this?" She demanded.
"Because it’s my job. And because I care. You’d really be better off not seeing Mr. Quince. Please think about it." Miriam shook her head.
"No. I’ve come this far, I’m going all the way. I’m getting my daughter back." Oliver nodded.
"Very well." He turned the handle and pulled. The doors opened like a great mouth, one gate rising and the other descending, revealing a wooden grate and a small, room like space beyond. Oliver raised the grate and they stepped inside.
The elevator went down. And down, further down than there could be floors in the mill. Several minutes passed before the car groaned to a ponderous halt. Oliver watched Miriam’s face as he opened the doors. Almost serene when she’d stepped into the car, she’d grown steadily fearful as it descended. Now, at the bottom of the shaft, she was visibly shaking.
"I’ll stay with you," he said in an offering tone. She blinked several times, then nodded.
"Thank you." He led her down a short passage with stone walls that arched over to form a ceiling. The stone floor was smooth as glass, carved out of the same bedrock as the walls. A steel door was at the end of the passage. As Oliver opened it, he held out his hand. Miriam paused only a moment before taking it. He led her down a broader passage, lit with electric lights, to another steel door, which opened into a broad, high-ceilinged chamber.
A large, throne-like chair stood at the far end, with a smaller chair of similar design close by. Letting go of Oliver’s hand, Miriam walked forward to examine the larger chair. She heard the door open behind her and turned to see a young woman standing in the doorway. Short and slim, with long black hair and a small bust, she looked almost childlike, but there was something about her that belied the illusion. Once she moved, Miriam could see what it was: Her carriage. She stood too straight and moved too fluidly. And the sight of her chilled Miriam to her very core. The woman stalked across the floor, heading straight toward Miriam. Oliver moved to stand in her way, but she brushed past him.
"Well, well, well!" She said in a low voice, full of laughter. "What have we here? I thought I smelled breakfast." Her smile widened, showing fangs. Miriam opened her mouth, but could only wag her jaw dumbly.
"Lily!" Oliver said in a warning tone. "She is off limits!"
The vampire ignored him and moved closer, greed and hunger and malice lighting her dark eyes. Miriam stepped backwards and the vampire moved forward, matching her step for step. Oliver moved quickly, grasping Lily’s arm and delivering a backhanded slap that should have knocked her off her feet.
"Remember who is master here!" The vampire snarled.
"It isn’t you, little one!" She hissed. Her hand moved with blinding speed, catching Oliver in the chest. He flew backward, skidding across the floor and rolling over twice. Even before he stopped moving, the vampire had turned her attention back to Miriam again. Miriam had backed up until she was against the throne. Lily moved in until they were almost touching, and Miriam could feel her breath on her cheek. The vampire sniffed her and smiled.
"You smell delicious!"
"Lily!" Oliver was dragging himself to a sitting position. "She is not food! She is a guest!" Lily laughed.
"But she’s here! And so....am....I." She tilted her head, gliding snakelike along the curve of Miriam’s cheek toward her neck. Miriam was still paralyzed with terror, too frightened even to think to pull the cross from her purse. The vampire’s tongue traced a delicate line over her throat.
Suddenly they were in motion. Lily shrieked as Oliver plowed into her from behind, toppling her to the floor. Miriam—one arm suddenly clutched in the vampire’s hand—was dragged down on top of them. She tried to roll away, but Lily was shifting, holding on to her as she reached with her free hand for Oliver’s throat.
"How dare you!" She hissed in fury. Oliver opened his mouth, but only gasped as the slender fingers closed on his neck.
"How dare you, one might ask." Another voice had asked the question, a deep, soft voice that seemed to fill the room. Miriam felt something wash over her, like a wave of heat from a hot oven. She looked and saw a man standing in the doorway. Lily shrieked and released both Oliver and Miriam, skittering away from them.
"Quince! I—I didn’t know! I—...."
"You lie," the voice said. It was still soft, but it boomed, as if amplified. "My son told you she was a guest, and what he has told you, I have told you."
"No, Quince, please! I thought—I thought she was mine."
"Nothing is yours." The voice was even louder now, slowly filling with menace. "Nothing—unless I give it to you. And I did not give you her. Who is master here, Lily?" The vampire groveled.
"You are, Quince! You are! Please!"
"I grow tired of reminding you of that, Lily. Go to the room."
"No, please Quince! I haven’t fed!"
"It will be a long time before you feed again. Go." The voice seemed to reverberate, shaking the very walls. Lily crawled toward Quince, weeping.
"GO!" Miriam felt the floor tremble and dust sift down from the ceiling.
Lily rose unsteadily to her feet and walked out of the room, still sobbing. Quince went to Oliver and picked him up, cradling him in his arms like a baby. The power that had washed through the room now rolled back, swirled around the two men. Miriam lay on the floor where Lily had left her and stared in dumb awe.
"Don’t speak," Quince said. His voice was as soft as before; no less powerful, no less intense, but no longer angry. It was full of tenderness and passion. "She will never touch you again." Oliver make a strange gurgling gasp as Quince carried him to the door. It opened and two other men stood there. Quince handed Oliver to them in silence, then turned back into the room.
He moved across the floor even more fluidly than Lily had, hardly even seeming to walk. He was fast, too, reaching Miriam so quickly he almost seemed to not walk at all, but teleport. One instant he was standing at the door and the next he loomed over Miriam, holding out his hand to her.
"I apologize for that," he said. She felt a whisper of the power she’d felt a moment before, and again, it felt different. It had felt hot at first, but now it was warm and gentle, caressing her skin and mind. Without thinking, she took his hand and let him assist her to her feet. His hand felt warm and alive in hers, and when she looked at his face, green eyes smiled back at her. His lips were parted, revealing ordinary white teeth. He had seemed tall to her at first, though now she saw he stood no more than five feet. He had dark hair, a square face and sallow skin. Studying his face, it took her a moment to realize he was still speaking to her. "......will be punished. It was never my intention to subject you to that. Can you forgive me?" She stared at him, uncomprehending. He smiled as if he understood and released her hand. In an instant, her head cleared, though she still felt the vague caress of his power.
"Sit down, please," he said, gesturing toward the smaller chair, sinking himself into the larger one. Miriam hesitated, then sat. Quince smiled, then grew sober.
"Now, Miriam, what can I do for you?"
Miriam hesitated again, then spoke, her voice shaking.
"I want my daughter."
"I’m sure you do. But what has that to do with me?"
"You took her from me." His eyebrows rose.
"Did I?" In spite of her fear, Miriam frowned impatiently.
"Don’t play games with me. She’s here. I know she’s here!"
"Really? And how do you know that?"
"I.......I just do." He laughed, a warm, gentle laugh.
"Come, come, Miriam! You’re young, but you’re no child to take refuge behind a non-answer! How do you know she is here? Tell me." She hesitated.
"I.....I can’t explain it. I just know."
"Indeed. Just as you have always known where she was at any given time: In her room, in the cellar, in the yard or at her friend’s house. You have always known."
Miriam gasped in horror.
"How did you know that?"
"Because I do." Miriam gawked at him, her jaw wagging helplessly. He smiled. "If you require a deeper explanation, I have been watching you for a long time. All your life, I have watched you."
"Why, because I was waiting for something; something I have now found. How—the explanation would be meaningless to you. What is relevant is that you are correct. Your daughter is here, but she is no longer your child. She is my child now, and will remain here."
"No!" She screamed it, and began weeping again. "I didn’t raise her to be eaten by you!"
"I have no intention of eating her."
"Drinking her blood is the same thing!"
"Perhaps, but she is not here to become food. Neither is she here to be made a vampire. Comfort yourself, Miriam. She is happy here, and healthy, and will remain so."
"Oh, God! I should have known better! You can’t reason with evil!" His eyebrows rose.
"I’m evil?" Rage washed through her.
"Don’t toy with me! You’re a vampire, aren’t you?"
"Yes, I am. But I assure you, I am not evil. Evil is as evil does, Miriam."
"Oh! And kidnaping little girls isn’t evil?!" Quince sat back, resting his upper lip on his fingertips. His eyes bored into her. At length he said,
"When you were a nine years old, you had a cat; calico back with white paws. How did you come to adopt him?" Miriam stared at him, startled out of her tears.
"How did you come to have a cat? Tell me."
"One of our neighbors had a cat," she answered slowly. "She had kittens and they offered me one."
"When the kittens were old enough, they let me pick the one I wanted."
"And I brought him home."
"I see. By your own logic, then, you are evil."
"What!? Because I had a cat??!"
"That kitten was a child; the equivalent, in fact, of a toddler. You took him from his mother, and why? For your own selfish pleasure."
"Oh, no you don’t! You’re twisting it around to suit yourself!"
"I am making a point. You took that child from his mother, with no regard for his feelings or hers. This is an act that you consider evil. Therefore, you are evil."
"But it’s not the same! A cat isn’t a person!"
"A cat isn’t a human, you mean. Can you truly say that your cat did not have his own personality? His own likes and dislikes, his favorite foods, toys and games? A favorite place to sit or nap? And couldn’t his feelings be hurt, just as yours could be?"
"Well, yes, but—...."
"Do you truly believe that he never missed his mother and siblings? That he thought nothing of suddenly living with a group of strange creatures, totally alien to what he knew? Or that his mother did not miss him, worry over him, look for him, or mourn his loss? This is the evil you accuse me of, Miriam. Yet you have done the same evil and think nothing of it. You don’t even think it evil. You think it normal. You think it common; an every day practice—which it is. Why isn’t it evil?"
Miriam dissolved into tears again.
"I don’t know! I just want my daughter back!"
"I will tell you why it is not evil: Arrogance. Another evil, by the way. A cat is not a human being. Neither is a dog. And that—in human eyes—justifies taking away their children, to be given away—or sold—for the pleasure of other humans. But what gives humans the right to do this? What keeps it from being evil? Arrogance, Miriam. Human arrogance. The belief that humans are superior to the other animals, who must therefore exist solely for human benefit. To provide labor, or food, or pleasure, but for no other reason.
"But the truth is that human beings are not superior to the other animals. They are different, yes, but not superior. They must eat, breathe, sleep. And they die. Exactly the same as the other animals. They die, and return to the dust they were made from."
"But not you?" Miriam asked in a flat, bitter tone. "You’re a vampire. You don’t die, do you? You live forever."
"Not exactly. It is true that I will not die the way other humans do, but I can be destroyed. I will avoid that for as long as I can; indeed, I have avoided it for many, many years. But if I have learned anything, it is that arrogance is as much my own enemy as it is any other human being’s."
"And what does that mean?" Quince sighed.
"It means that I have achieved a certain awareness that few creatures ever achieve. You are correct to a certain degree. Vampires are evil, for the most part, but we are not inherently evil, any more than human beings are. Instead, we are victims of our own arrogance. Upon finding themselves to be virtually immortal, vampires commit themselves to lives of sensual pleasure. They indulge their basest desires, much as humans do upon amassing great wealth, only on a grander scale. Our basest desires are more destructive than yours. Most humans fear facing divine judgement, but most vampires do not. After all, aren’t we immortal? You waste time, energy, resources; we waste other things. Greater things. I have, therefore, committed myself to a greater task. To an attempt to balance the wastefulness of my species. Indeed, of both our species."
The vampire stood and held out his hand, smiling.
"Come with me, Miriam."
"Where?" She asked in a wary tone.
"I cannot let you take your daughter, but I can let you see her."
"Why would you do that?"
"In part, because I am moved by her mother’s tears. And because it is right to put your mind to rest concerning her. She is my child now, but she is yours as well. Come and look upon her." Miriam frowned, tears sparking in her eyes again.
"And when I’ve seen her, then you’ll kill me, I suppose." Quince sighed again, sounding exasperated.
"If I desired to kill you, I could have done so a dozen times over. I had no need to see you in my audience chamber. I might have had you put in a cell, where I could deal with you at my leisure. Or left you to Lily’s tender mercies. No, Miriam. I intend to let you live. And to go free. But not, perhaps, unscathed. That matter, however, remains to be settled. In the meantime, you are my guest, and because one of my children is the fruit of your womb, you are a welcome guest. Please....come with me." He held out his hand to her again.
He led her through a maze of passages, each indistinguishable from the others, through several steel doors, up a long flight of stairs and finally into a room filled with filing cabinets and computers. An assortment of young people working there smiled with genuine pleasure when they came in. One of the women said,
"She’s in her meditation group, room five. The observation room is ready for you."
"Thank you, Olivia," Quince replied, leading Miriam through the room.
"How did she know.....?" Miriam asked.
"She is my child. She knew what I wished to know before we left the audience chamber."
"She’s a vampire?"
"No. She is as human as you are." They passed into a narrow corridor, all but lined with doors.
"How can she be your child if she’s not a vampire?"
"She is my child as your daughter is my child. Here."
He opened one of the doors and stepped into a cubbyhole of a room, with one whole wall of glass. Beyond was another, larger room, occupied by a dozen children, a mixture of boys and girls—all ten years old—and a single adult. The children sat cross-legged on thin mats, their eyes closed. The adult, a young man, walked among them. Miriam looked from the door, then gasped and rushed forward. Quince caught her arms and halted her.
"You may see her," he said softly. "But you may neither touch her nor speak with her. It would be too disruptive for her." Miriam all but ignored him, yearning toward the glass. One of the little girls began to cry. The young man knelt by her at once, placing his hands on her shoulders. His soft, soothing voice came through a speaker in the observation booth.
"What is it, Melissa?"
"I don’t know." The child’s voice was high and sweet, and distorted with pain. "I just feel really sad."
"Yes.....I feel it too.....but it’s not in the room, is it?"
"No......but it’s nearby!" Several of the other children began crying too.
"You’re upsetting them," Quince said. Miriam strained against him.
"She needs me! Please! My baby needs me!"
"She needs you to think warmer thoughts."
Miriam felt his power wash through her, warm and overpowering. In spite of herself, she began to feel calmer, more at ease. Several of the children wriggled.
"Father is here!" A boy squealed happily.
"Keep your voice down," the young man said. His voice was warm and gentle, and the children responded at once, settling down and concentrating once more. Only Melissa remained disconcerted. She opened her eyes and looked up unhappily at the young man.
"I’ve lost it, Peter." The young man smiled, caressing her hair.
"You’re new at this, Melissa. Start over, and you’ll get it. Practice makes perfect."
"You see?" Quince said, smiling. Caught between high emotion and the calm Quince had induced into her, Miriam stared in confusion.
"What is going on here?"
"She is learning; learning things she can learn nowhere else."
"But.......but what is all this?"
Quince led her to an office nearby. He eased her into a chair before taking the one behind the desk.
"Let’s start with you," Quince said. "Why do you live in this town?"
"Indulge me. You’re an intelligent woman, and a capable one. You could have done anything with your life. But you chose to stay here, in the town of your birth. Why?"
"I don’t know!"
"Yes you do." She stopped and thought a moment, opened her mouth, then stopped and thought again. Quince waited with seemingly infinite patience. At length, Miriam said,
"My grandfather, I think. It was always important to him that we stayed here."
"Did you ever wonder why?"
"Of course I did. But what does this have to do with Melissa?"
"A great deal. Your grandfather was one of my children." Miriam gaped at him in dismay and anger.
"He was no such thing! My grandfather was a good man!"
"He was, indeed. But not good enough for my purposes. So I reintegrated him into human society. He could have gone anywhere, done anything. But he chose to remain here and work in a hardware store."
"What’s wrong with hardware?"
"Nothing. It’s just that he had so much more potential."
"Then why did he stay here?"
"Hope. He hoped that I would select one of his children, or grandchildren, to take his place in my project."
"I don’t believe you."
"As you like. But that does not change the facts."
"So what is this great project of yours?"
"We were speaking earlier about human arrogance. It is the great flaw in human nature, and the greatest threat to human society. When you look at the enormous ills that have and continue to plague society, almost all of them can be traced back to arrogance: Elected officials with billions of dollars at their disposal, and so cease to listen to those who elected them, military leaders with weapons they don’t understand, only that using them will give them incredible power; leaders who take war over the globe, seeking to force everyone to live according to their standards. And ordinary citizens who ignore the ideals of their own societies, believing that in doing so, they are upholding those ideals. Businessmen who put immediate profit before all else: The fair and honest treatment of their employees, their stockholders, their nation. Who are willing to destroy the earth’s resources to wring the last drop of profit out of them, and to hell with the consequences. All of these are rooted in arrogance. All of these, and many, many more. This is the single element of human nature that is most toxic, most dangerous to human survival."
"And I suppose that—as a vampire—you’re immune to it?" Quince smiled.
"Sarcasm does not become you, my dear. It, too, is founded in arrogance. I’m better than you are because I’m not a vampire. A foolish thought, and a dangerous one. But as I told you earlier, I am not immune to it. After all, I was born human, and lived as one before I became a vampire. But you are correct to a degree: Most vampires consider themselves superior to humans, and many would like to see the human race subjugated......domesticated, if you take my meaning. I gave some thought to it once upon a time, myself. But that was long ago. For many years it has been more important to me that vampires and humans find a way to co-exist. To put aside our arrogance and work together for our mutual gain."
"And how are you going to do that? Who’s going to be friendly with someone who’s likely to kill them?"
"Vampires are not the only killers in the world, Miriam. There are many humans who kill out of madness or passion, or even because they enjoy it. One need not be a vampire to be evil, nor to be a predator. But to answer your question, I have already done it. I have, in this complex, an army of vampires who serve me and my will. I know you will say that only proves my arrogance, but it is, in fact, an element of life as a vampire.
"The Master vampire rules. For good or bad, it is necessary. If my minions were allowed to run wild, they would. Imagine if a hundred or a thousand like Lily were suddenly unleashed to do as they wish. It is not a comfortable thought. I prevent that." Miriam looked at him, her face bathed in distrust. He shrugged. "Back to the matter at hand. In addition to my vampire minions, I also have a large community of humans here. They are the heart of my plan, and what I perceive as the hope of the human race."
"Really? And what hope is that?" Quince smiled.
"I am breeding a superior human."
Miriam’s jaw dropped.
"Are you crazy?"
"I don’t believe so."
"But......." She groped for words, then had a sudden thought. "Hasn’t that been tried before?" Quince shook his head.
"Yes and no. The attempt you are referring to was called Eugenics, but it had no basis in science. It was founded upon arrogance, upon prejudice and hatred. It was an attempt to purify the human race by preventing undesirables from breeding. But not only did they not have any clear or logical idea of what made one person superior to another, no one had any understanding of the causes of the undesirable traits. They wanted to do away with physical and mental handicaps, feeble-mindedness, criminal behavior, promiscuity, homosexuality and things of that nature, but assumed that these traits were solely genetic in nature.
"What was done in the name of Eugenics was bad enough at first—wholesale sterilization and state sponsored racism—but when the Nazis adopted it, they took their arrogance to new depths. They turned to genocide, on a grand scale, setting out to exterminate anyone they considered inferior: Homosexuals, the physically and mentally handicapped. And, of course, the Jews. Millions were slaughtered in the name of prejudice and arrogance.
"My method is founded in science, and nothing else. My children come from all races and all strains. They breed as I direct them." Miriam was clenching her fists and shutting her eyes tightly, shaking her head.
"I still don’t understand what this has to do with Melissa!"
"Don’t you? There is a gene in you that was asleep in your grandfather. I needed that gene, so I could not let him breed here. Instead, I reintegrated him into human society. That gene was also asleep in your mother and uncles. But it is awake in you. This is why you always know where Melissa is; because of that gene. But it did not manifest itself until after she was born, and by then you were too old to be brought into the breeding pool." Miriam’s breath caught in her throat.
"Melissa has it too!"
"Yes, exactly. And it is more awake in her than in you, which makes her all the more valuable to me."
"But.......but that’s stupid! You can’t just breed arrogance out of people!"
"True, environment and upbringing are significant factors as well, but those are part of the community I have created here. All my children grow up learning to rely upon each other, to recognize their mutual dependence and the intrinsic value of their entire community—vampire and human—from the youngest to the eldest and from the most capable to the least capable. They all understand my goal, and they all work toward it. Someday, they will begin bringing their genes and culture to the world. What will the result be? I do not know. But I am hopeful. Your grandfather was a part of that, just as Melissa is a part of it now. This is why I took her, Miriam; to make a better human, and a better world."
Miriam shook her head.
"It sounds noble, but I still want her back. She is mine!" Impulsively, she reached into her purse, pulled out the cross and flourished it in triumph. Quince winced vaguely.
"What do you expect to accomplish with that?" Miriam blinked.
"I thought.......I thought vampires......" Closing one eye against the cross, Quince smiled.
"It has some effect, but very little. I am old, Miriam. I was ancient when the cross became a symbol of power. But even if it had the effect on me that you were expecting, it would gain you nothing. I have dozens of human children at my disposal who have nothing to fear from it. Do you have any weapons with which you can control them?" Miriam trembled.
"Then put the cross away. It is my desire that you should live, but if you force my hand, you will not. Please, Miriam. Put it away."
She sagged in defeat, and after several seconds, slipped the cross back into her purse.
"Good," Quince murmured approvingly. "But tell me, why didn’t you bring it out before?"
"I don’t know," she answered in a toneless voice.
"Yes, you do." She looked at him blankly, then thought a moment.
"I guess.....it didn’t seem necessary.......as if.......you just weren’t a threat."
"Correct. But even now, I am no threat to you. You, on the other hand, meant to use the cross as a threat to me, and I think this is another reason it was not as powerful as you desired it to be. Talismans of power do not like to be misused."
Quince stood up and walked to the corner of the desk. He regarded soberly.
"It is time for you to go, my dear. Dawn is near at hand, and your husband is worried about you. I will not say, Forget that you ever had a daughter. That task is beyond reason and your abilities, both. Rather, I will say, be happy for her. She is safe here, and among people who love her. She will grow up and grow well, and achieve great things." Tears welled up in Miriam’s eyes.
"Will I ever see her again?"
"Perhaps. I cannot sever the connection between you, so while you live, she will know it. Someday, maybe, her curiosity will draw her to you. But it will not be soon. She has too much to learn and do before she can be allowed back into the world."
He spread his arms wide, as if in invitation. She felt his power wash around her and through her, and felt rather than heard him say, Come here, honey bunny. Miriam gasped out loud. Her father had called her that when she was little. She stood and went to him, felt his arms close around her. She was a head taller than Quince, but in his embrace she felt like a little girl, and she burst into tears. His voice reverberated through her, cooing softly as if she was a baby. She felt his power sweep through her mind, pulling her thoughts loose. Let them go, little one, his voice murmured. Forget....... forget....... Memories were slipping away from her. She felt them go, but didn’t try to hold on to them. She sank, instead, into the warmth and comfort of his embrace and power until they overwhelmed all of her senses.
*** *** *** *** *** ***
It was morning when Miriam got home, and she was exhausted. She climbed out of the car and was halfway to the house before she realized she hadn’t locked it. She plodded back, stuck the key in the lock and listened to the dull clunk, then turned back toward the house.
Her husband, Frank, was dozing in an easy chair when she walked in. The soft click of the door closing roused him and he leapt out of the chair.
"Where the hell have you been all night! I’ve been worried sick about you!"
"Driving? Driving where?"
"I don’t know. Just driving." She looked at him and sighed. All she really wanted to do was go to bed, but he deserved a better explanation. "I went......to the factory." Frank’s eyes popped open in horror.
"Oh, no! Not the one that you think—...."
"Yes," she replied patiently. "That factory."
"My god! They could have had you arrested! Say! You didn’t accuse the owner of being a vampire, did you?"
"No, I didn’t." She sighed again. "They wouldn’t let me in. They were nice; sympathetic.....but they wouldn’t let me in. A sweet girl named Olivia offered to drive me home. I said no, and went for a drive. I don’t know where, I just drove. I’m sorry, Frank. I know it was stupid, but I—I had to do something." Frank folded her into his arms, holding her tightly and pressing his chin into her shoulder.
"Oh, hell! I know.......I know," He whispered, his voice shaking. "It’s okay. I was just worried, that’s all. You’re home now, that’s what’s important." Safe in the comfort of his arms, she sagged in relief.
"It won’t happen again. I promise. And.......I’ve come to a decision."
"Really? What have you decided?" She hugged him a little tighter.
"I know she’s alive." She felt him gather himself to answer and rushed onward. "I know what the odds are; I know what the Police said, I know what the psychiatrist said, but I also know, she is still alive." She drew out of the embrace enough to look him in the eye. "It comforts me to believe that, so I’m going to continue to believe it." Frank’s eyes were full of tears as he nodded.
"So I’ve decided that, if I can’t get her back, I’m just going to be happy that she’s still alive. And maybe someday, she’ll come back to us." Frank pulled her tight to himself again.
"I think that’s a great idea."