Several hours have elapsed since my capture. I have spent the majority of it sitting on the floor with my eyes closed, like a meditating yogi. But I enjoy no blissful nirvana. Inside, I seethe with rage: at General Havor, at Arturo, and most of all at myself. Arturo left signs for me everywhere, and I missed them all. Again and again my mind forces me to review the list.
1. When Joel was captured, he was brought be?fore Andy. It was Andy who confirmed the special nature of Joel to General Havor. But rather than stay to examine Joel, Andy left the compound and went gambling. What an odd thing to do right after the catch of the century! Of course Andy was not out for fun. He knew I would be watching. He knew I could be lured in.
2. I never saw Andy out in the sun, and it wasn't just because he worked the night shift. He was sensitive to the sun as a vampire should be. Yet he is not a pure vampire.
3. Andy talked about his highly classified work-- to me, a total stranger. I hardly had to prod it out of him. He planted all the right clues for a person dissatisfied with his job--not enough pay, a totalitarian boss, a lousy work schedule. He tricked me in the most insidious way--by handing me all the ammunition I needed to think I could trick him.
4. He protested when I asked him to help me break into the compound. He put on a great show of defiance. But the fact that he helped me at all, without my having to manipulate his brain, was peculiar.
5. Andy had Arturo's model of vampire DNA. I passed it off, figuring he had already examined another vampire and broken the genetic code. The only problem was--there was no other vampire. I had destroyed all of Eddie's bas?tards. The only one the government had was Joel.
"Because, you see, he was not a person. He was a fish, which is what he had been all along. As a big fish, he could eat only smaller fish."
In my dream, Krishna had been trying to tell me that the hidden truth was the most obvious truth.
Andy was able to construct Arturo's model because he was Arturo!
Why did he leave it out for me to see? To taunt me, no doubt.
I open my eyes. "Damn," I whisper.
Joel looks over. I have broken his chains; he is no longer pinned to the wall, but is able to lie down properly and rest. The chains have accomplished their purpose, however. Had Joel been at the door, I would not have walked into the cage. I have tested the strength of the walls. The guard was right--a nuclear bomb couldn't blast through them.
The walls of the cell are a flat white color, metallic. The space is square--twenty feet by twenty feet. A seatless toilet is attached to one wall, a single cot to the opposite one. Joel lies on the thin mattress.
"We all make mistakes," he says.
"Some make more than others."
"I appreciate your trying to rescue me. You should have left me to die after Eddie opened my veins."
"You're probably right. But then I wouldn't have the pleasure of your company right now." I pause. "How are you feeling?"
The first thing I did after being captured, before sitting down to berate myself, was let Joel drink a pint of my blood. The transfusion alleviated his more severe symptoms but he still looked gaunt. Yet I am reluctant to give him more nourishment. We both know I need to be at full strength if we are to break out.
"I feel fine." He adds, "Better than I have in days."
I reach out and squeeze his hand. "It must have been hard for you. Have they been examining you inside out?"
"That's a literal way of putting the question." He gestures to the screen. I have told him nothing of Arturo. "I take it he is an old friend?"
I know our every word is being recorded. I don't know what can and will be used against me in a court of law. But I do know I don't have the right to remain silent. I wonder if they will try to torture information out of me. It will be a waste of their time. I doubt they're going to let me call a lawyer.
"We go way back" is all I say.
"How was Vegas?"
"Fine. Won a lot of money at craps."
"That's great. Where did you stay?"
"At the Mirage." I sigh. "I'm sorry, Joel. Neither of us should be in here. I messed up."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. After all, you stopped Eddie."
"Yeah. Only to set up a situation where there might be a thousand Eddies." I abruptly raise my voice and yell at the monitor. "Did you hear that, Arturo? A thousand Ralphes running loose! Is that what you want?" My voice sinks to a whisper. "That's what you're going to get."
I don't expect to get a response to my outburst, but a minute later the TV monitor comes back to life.
Arturo is alone, sitting at a desk in the security room. Around the corner, as they say.
"Sita," he says. "None oho mat pensato che ti avrei rivista."
"I never thought I would see you again."
"Same here," I mutter.
"Are you comfortable?" he asks, switching lan?guages effortlessly. When he wishes, he has no accent. He must have been living in America for a long time.
"No cage is ever comfortable." I pause. "Are you comfortable?"
He spreads his hands. I remember how large they were. Suddenly, I recall many details about him: the warm gray of his eyes, the strength of his jawline. Why didn't I recognize him? There are the obvious reasons. He has aged twenty-five years since we last met, and yet, his face has changed more than the two and a half decades warrant. Probably since it has, in reality, been over seven hundred years.
Yet none of that should have fooled me. I didn't recognize him for two sound reasons: I knew he couldn't possibly exist in our time, so I never even considered the idea; and the Andy I stalked did not possess the same soul as the Arturo I once loved. This man who stares down at me--I hardly know him, and I slept with him for months.
"What would you have me do?" he replies. "You had to be stopped."
My voice is filled with scorn. "Stopped from what?"
"There were the violent murders in Los Angeles. I knew that was you."
"You knew it was not me! "You knew it was some other vampire! Don't start off our first conversation in seven centuries with a lie. You know I never killed for pleasure."
My wrath makes him pull back a step. "I apologize. I should say I knew you were indirectly involved." He pauses. "Who committed the killings?"
I forget my resolve to say as little as possible. The information cannot help them, anyway. My blood is all that matters.
"A psychotic vampire by the name of Eddie Fender started the murders. The LAPD and the FBI were doing everything they could to stop him. But it was I who put a halt to the killings. And what do I get for it? A medal? No, the entire police force comes after me."
"You killed two dozen of those officers."
"Because they were trying to kill me! I am not the villain here. You and the scum you are associated with are." I pause, settle down. "Why are you with these people?"
"I can help them. They can help me. We have vested interests. Isn't that the reason for most partnerships?"
"It is among people who have selfish goals. But I never remember you as selfish. Why are you working for the U.S. military machine?"
"Surely you must understand by now. I need to complete my experiments."
I laugh. "Are you stilt searching for the blood of Christ?"
"You say it as if it were a fool's errand."
"It's a blasphemous errand. You saw what hap?pened last time."
"I made an, error--that's all. I will not make the same error again."
"That's all? Just some error? What about Ralphe? I loved that boy. You loved him. And you turned him into a monster. You forced me to kill him. Do you know what that did to me?"
Arturo's voice goes cold. "It made you want to testify against me?"
"You had to be stopped. I didn't have the strength or the will to do it myself." I pause. "You had a chance to talk to me in the inquisitor's dungeon. You chose not to."
"I had nothing to say."
"Well, then, I have nothing to say to you now. Come, get your fresh supply of vampire blood. Send plenty of scientists and soldiers. Not all of them will be coming back to you."
"You present no danger to us as long as you are in your cell. And you will remain in there for the remainder of your life."
"We will see," I whisper faintly.
"Sita, I'm surprised at you. Aren't you curious how I'm still alive?"
I draw in a weary breath. "I have an idea as to how you survived. Even when you swore to me you weren't experimenting on yourself, you were. That's why you began to have visions of DNA. You were seeing it through the eyes of your blessed hybrid state."
"I did experiment on myself. That is true. But I never reached the full hybrid status. That must be obvious to you,"
I nod. "Because you have aged. Does it hurt, Arturo, that you're not the dashing young priest anymore?"
"I may yet achieve immortality."
"Hmm. And I always thought you wanted to die and go to heaven." He is right, of course; I am curious about those days. "What happened after the trial? How did you escape? I heard they burned you at the stake."
"The inquisitor granted me a private audience. He couldn't let me go, he said, but in exchange for my confession of witchcraft, he agreed to hang instead of burn me."
"And you recovered?"
"Were you not surprised?"
"Yes. It was a calculated risk. I didn't have many options."
I hesitate. "What did you do to Ralphe?"
For once, Arturo looks ashamed. "I exposed him to the vial of your blood--with the midday sun pouring through it."
I was aghast. "But you said you'd never consider that. The vibration would destroy a man or woman."
"You saw how the word was spreading about me. I had only a limited time to complete my experiments. Ralphe had been spying on us all along. Neither of us knew. He saw what we were up to. He wanted to try it."
Fury possesses me. "That's a ridiculous rationaliza?tion! He was a child! He didn't know what would happen to him! You did!"
"You were a coward! If your experiment was so precious to you, why didn't you perform it on your?self, with the midday sun pouring through my bloody vial?"
My words wound him, but he is still full of sur?prises. "But I did subject myself to the blood in the sunlight. That morning, when the mob approached the church, I heard them coming. I hurried down to the basement and let the full power of the vampire vibration wash over me. I believe that is why I have been able to live as long as I have. If the mob had not stopped me, maybe the transformation would have been complete, and I would have achieved the perfect state. I was never to know. The first thing the mob did was break the vial."
His words sober me. "Then what went wrong with Ralphe? Why did he turn into a monster?"
"There could be many factors that influenced his outcome. One was that I laid him on the copper sheets when the sun was high in the sky. Also--and I think this is the primary reason the experiment failed-- Ralphe was ordinarily fearless by nature. But when the transformation started, he got scared. The power of the magnetic field magnified his fear, which in turn warped his DMA. When the process was complete, I couldn't control him. He had the strength of ten men. He was out the door before I could stop him."
"You should have told me. I could have stopped him before he killed anyone. We might have been able to change him back."
Arturo shook his head. "I don't think there was any going back." He adds, "I was too ashamed to tell you."
"Finally, the high priest confesses." I continue to sneer at him. "All your talk doesn't disguise the fact that you experimented on a child before yourself. And that you lied to me, after swearing on the name of your precious God that you would always tell me the truth."
"Everyone lies," he says.
"Guarda cosa sei diventata, Arturo," I say, reverting to the language of his youth, out of frustration, hope. "Look what's become of you, Arturo." "When we first met, you wouldn't have hurt a fly. That's why I gave you my blood. I trusted you."
Even on the monitor, I see his gaze is focused in the far distance. My words stir painful memories, for both of us. My hatred for him is matched only by my love. Yes, I still love him, and I hate that about myself. He seems to sense my thoughts for he suddenly glances back at me and smiles. It is a sad smile.
"I cannot defend my acts to you," he replies. "Except to say I thought the rewards of success outweighed the possibility of failure. Yes, I should never have used Ralphe. Yes, I should never have lied to you. But if I had done these things--where would we be today? I'd be long dead in a forgotten grave and you'd be safe and secure in your own selfish universe. We wouldn't have your blood now so we could contin?ue with our noble quest to finish what was started seven centuries ago."
I snicker. "I can't help but notice that you apply the word selfish to me. What sickness was magnified in your field when you lay beneath the vibration of my blood? You have become a megalomaniac. You were a priest, a good priest. You used to humble yourself before God. Now you want to be God. If Jesus were alive today, what would you say to him? Or would you give him a chance to explain himself before stealing his blood?"
"Do you want a chance to explain yourself?" Arturo asks gently.
"I answer to no man. My conscience is clear."
He raises his voice. I have finally hit a button. "I don't believe you, Sita. Why couldn't you look at me when you accused me of witchcraft?"
"You were a witch! And you haven't changed! Goddamn you, Arturo, can't you see how dangerous it is for me to be held captive by these people? I just have to look at General Havor to know he wants to rule the world."
"He's not the monster Andy led you to believe."
"You talk about beliefs. What do you believe in these days? I never met Jesus, it's true. But you must know as well as I that he would never condone your methods. Your lying and ambushing and torture. The means do not justify the end. You did not watch
Ralphe chew on human flesh. If you had seen him, you'd know that this path you want to take stinks of the devil."
Arturo sits back from the screen. He is as tired as I am, perhaps shaken as well. In that moment, his face becomes much older than forty-five. He appears ready for the grave. Yet he is resolved, his destiny will be fulfilled. He shakes his head as he sighs.
"We can do this the hard way, Sita," he says. "Or we can do it the easy way. It is up to you. I need your blood and I am going to have it."
I smile grimly. "Then you'd better prepare yourself for a fight. Let me warn you, Arturo--I've shown you only a fraction of my powers. But if you come after me now, you will see all of them. There aren't enough soldiers and bullets in this compound to contain me for the remainder of my life. Tell your general that people will die if I'm not released. Their deaths will be on your conscience, Arturo. I swear in the name of my God, you will never get to heaven--in this world or the next."
The screen goes dead.
But not before I see the fear in his eyes.
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