Sean Ian O’Meidhir & Connal Braginsky © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Sterile. That was the name for a room like this. Brightly lit, the room had a mirrored wall reflecting the enormous, white, tempered glass-topped board table surrounded by at least forty, comfortable, white chairs. Sitting across from Nathen was a middle-aged, nondescript albeit impeccably dressed, man in a dark pin-striped suit that cost more than most people pay in monthly rent. He was sitting impossibly still with a demeanor of infinite patience and calm, observing Nathen with an unreadable expression. Behind him was a paper-thin monitor mounted on the wall that reflected the back of the man’s balding head, and Nathen. They were alone in the room, and there were two doors leading out on the side of the room opposite the mirror. What looked like an original Pollock hung between them, the only color in the room.
“Oh good, Mr. Hale. You are with us. Welcome to your new…position.” The man’s voice was as boring as his appearance, though there was something strange about the way he spoke. Nathen couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He even sounded blasé, as if he had given this speech a hundred times before. “It is good to have you as the newest member of the Impetus family.”
Impetus? Nathen knew that company. He may have only been twenty-two years old and more concerned about playing World of Warcraft than following Fortune 500 companies, but he knew that corporation had its hands in just about everyone’s pots. He became distracted by his reflection in the monitor and thought his raven hair, which was usually unkempt, looked uncharacteristically styled.
The man held up a finger as if to silence, though Nathen had not made a sound. “You have been recruited for an extraordinary purpose. And while I am certain you may have questions, please hold them until I am finished. Here is your on-boarding packet.” He referenced a single sheet as he pushed a small pile of papers across the table, sitting a mahogany Montblanc pen atop them.
“I will need you to read through this stack of papers and sign where there is highlighted space…” Nathen considered the huge stack of papers, then shook his head. Wait…he had spaced out again. How much did the man just say he was going to be paid?
“…As long as you remain with the Company, we will see to all of your needs. Of course, you are welcome to hunt as you see fit, as long as it does not reflect poorly on the Company. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Please, read and sign, and we will move to the next step. I will explain everything you need to know about your first assignment. Oh, and what being a vampire means.”
A whole slew of thoughts and emotions went through Nathen’s mind as he adjusted his glasses. The sheer amount of information was overwhelming, and because he didn’t have time to process it all. The only things he had paid attention to were the money figures and the fact they had mentioned benefits for his family. How did I get here? I didn’t sit for an interview, did I? Did I even apply for this job? And what is it about that man’s speech? He sat still for a long minute, sorting and retracing his steps after leaving the office of the psychologist. He had been there that morning after two days of testing the previous week, only to have the diagnosis of Autism confirmed, which he had not yet fully processed. The short of it was that he had a social communication deficit and didn’t pick up on everything in social interactions. It explained why he was confused when people were supposedly being sarcastic, and he never had been able to tell if someone was flirting with him. His doctor had told him he saw things as black and white, but missed the rainbow. It had made Nathen laugh at the time, though the doctor hadn’t laughed with him, so he stopped. But he had found it funny that he was missing rainbows. Nathen’s eyes darted as he was sorting his visual memory.
Finally, he admitted, “I’m sorry. I’m confused as to how I got here. And I don’t remember applying for the position you are offering. Um…what is it that I’m getting hired to do?”
As the words left his mouth, he noticed something strange about how his teeth and tongue moved, as if there was something new, though he couldn’t place what was different. He reached up to his chin feeling it for pain. Maybe he had been knocked out with a punch?
The man arched one eyebrow almost imperceptibly and stared at Nathen, speaking slowly, “You are being hired for your computer prowess, Mr. Hale. We are aware of your unique abilities to find your way into just about any system you attempt to enter, either legally or illegally. You will be putting your talents to work for us, and for the greater good if I may be so bold. Your first assignment will be to assist us in defeating those who are currently threatening children and their families, a story I am certain you have heard about. I will tell you more once you have officially accepted the position.” The man tapped the on-boarding paperwork that he had pushed over moments before. “And, you did not apply. You are being drafted.”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘illegal,’” Nathen protested, his mind racing as he tried to figure out if he had done anything to worry about with his latest online endeavors.
Quickly trying to cover up, Nathen explained, “I’m paid to find vulnerabilities in systems, hired by companies to discover and report. And how did I get here? The last thing I remember before waking up here is leaving the doctor’s office.”
Nathen picked up the forms and started reading them, then glanced back up as his thoughts replayed what the man had been saying. It sometimes took him a few minutes to catch up if he wasn’t paying strict attention. “And what do you mean by ‘Vampire?’ Is that the internal project name I’ll be working on?”
The man fixed Nathen with a stern glare. “Do not play games, Mr. Hale. You are what is known by many as a ‘hacker’ and engage in a number of extracurricular activities I am certain you do not wish everyone to know about. But we do know. And that skill set makes you valuable. Please sign, and I will move forward with explaining everything else.”
Nathen thought about it, reasoning that it was a competitive salary for California and appreciated that his family would be covered. Because his mother was an attorney, Nathen knew never to sign a contract without reading it first. Trying to be polite, Nathen asked, “Do you mind if I read over the contract so I know what I am getting into?”
The man waved his hand, a gesture of patient permission, with a slight inclination of his head as a way of acknowledgement. One of his hands gently came to rest on the other, both folded in front of him atop the leather portfolio as he stared ahead, returning to a state of perfect calm.
Nathen read through the documents, his eyes flying over the pages as he comprehended at a speed he was amazed by. It normally took him a long time to sludge through boring documents like this. He assumed everything was standard as nothing stuck out as concerning. Everything was as the man had suggested, a document that outlined the mundane tasks of bureaucracy. The emergency contact form was already filled out with his mother’s information, including her cell phone. The position title was generically Analyst, which left room for a variety of tasks that were not actually spelled out in any way. Instead of a work schedule, the contract had variable.
“Oh, most of this is already filled out. That’s good because my handwriting is horrendous.” Nathen smiled at the man, picked up the pen, signed in his name on the marked locations, and pushed the stack back.
“Very good.” The man opened the leather portfolio and pulled out a keycard that had Nathen’s photograph on it.
“This will allow you access to this building and those sections of this building which you are authorized to be in. Your office is on the twentieth floor, office number 14A. Of course, with your assigned laptop you have the ability to work from home, or any other location of your choosing. We only ask that any work that you do with and for the Company is done on your assigned laptop and not your personal computer. Many of our associates never step a foot inside this building once hired. Either way, it is up to you.”
Retrieving a black leather messenger bag, the man went on in a fairly monotone way, and Nathen focused in on his strange clipped way of talking, getting lost again. Wait. Did he say something was wrong with his thumbprint and he had a company phone now? He tried to focus. “…in it is my number. Do not call me unless there is an emergency, or you have completed an assignment. Should you have mundane questions, a text will do. Feel free to use this phone for any and all calls as you see…”
Nathen wondered what kind of phone it was and started going through the various types of phones that he had used, refocusing when the man said, “…Company’s car service. You have unlimited access to this car service, and they are aware of your unique sun sensitivity, so once inside you will not have to worry about ultraviolet light.”
Nathen sat quietly, listening without interruption. He tried paying attention so he would not miss anything, but internally struggled with so much information coming at him so quickly. Did that man say something about light sensitivity?
The man set the bag on the table next to him as he continued without pause, “With regard to your first assignment, you will find it in a folder on the desktop of your laptop, spelled out in detail. As mentioned, we are incredibly distraught about this group, the Sons of Discord, and what they are doing with the computer systems and data at the San Francisco Children’s Hospital. We have had to move fast due to their imposed deadline, and thus you have been recruited. We need you to gather as much data as possible on this group and report back. I will expect you to read through all information available on this”—he patted the bag—“and work to gather and report data as you find it. Feel free to use anything and anyone at your disposal. We are aware that you have quite the extended group of acquaintances online and encourage you to reach out to them. The only thing I would like to impress upon you is to refrain from telling them that you have been elevated to your current physiological status by the Company. Indeed, vampires don’t actually exist. Officially, you are an analyst, which you may tell them. However, the nondisclosure clause you have signed inhibits you from disclosing the specifics of things you are analyzing. That said, a person of your nature investigating this on his own would not be suspicious. Now, as to being a vampire. Please pay attention…”
Nathen listened to the man talk nonstop to him about dietary restrictions, being killed by the sun, and other strange information. When he finally asked if there were any questions, Nathen looked blankly and asked, “I’m sorry, am I expected to…uh…role play a vampire only while in the office or…I’m confused. I’m also still not sure how I got here. My memory is a blank starting from the psychologist’s office up to waking up in this room. I am not sure where I am.”
The man sighed, as if anticipating the questions but hoping for acceptance without question. “Mr. Hale, this is not a game. You are in the financial district of San Francisco at our office. You cannot remember the last eight hours because you have been undergoing a transformation. Your human blood needed to be removed and replaced with vampiric blood. Since that means you will have this countenance forever unless you choose to change it, we took the liberty of grooming you—nails, hair, etcetera. You will find you have fangs should you choose to use them, and they will likely extend automatically if you smell blood. At least until you get control of that. I can see this is going to be a challenge. Allow me.”
The man called out to the room, “Agnes, please bring a glass in.” He paused and stared at Nathen for a moment before one of the doors opened. A gorgeous brunette in a pencil skirt and blousy white shirt, with styled curls that bounced as she walked, entered carrying a wine glass of red liquid.
“Mr. Hale,” she greeted Nathen warmly, sitting the glass in front of him. “Welcome!” After depositing the glass, she immediately turned and left through the way she entered.
It was the smell that hit Nathen first. Whatever was in the glass was unlike anything he had ever had, and yet so familiar. Coppery, but overlaid with something else. There was an odd sensation that Nathen had forgotten. An itch beneath his canine teeth but also slow movement. The itch itself was also mixed with an odd sense of sexual emotions: longing, yearning, overlaid with the disturbing need to devour. He shot up from the chair, causing it to fly backward and hit the floor. His left hand clasped over his mouth, as if he was using it to stop a word from coming out—in his case a scream—and he took a large step away. Nathen realized he didn’t feel his heart catch up with the emotion he was feeling: anxiety, fear, and dismay. His hand went from his mouth to his chest, discerning no familiar pulse of life. Though he was feeling the emotions and breathing quickly, the rest of his body seemed abnormally calm. His right hand still on his chest, he started pacing, his left hand making odd repetitive motions and finger contortions, eyes wide with fear.
What’s wrong with my teeth? Is this guy serious? He must be, why would he lie? What’s wrong with my teeth!? He stabbed at his canines with his tongue, they were a lot longer and sharper. Rubbing at his chest, he searched for his pulse that was not there. I can’t feel my heart. It must be a heart attack! Hand in the wrong place?
The man sat with his hands folded in front of him and watched Nathen move back and forth, his expression unchanged. After a few moments, he interrupted Nathen’s internal dialogue. “May I answer any questions, Mr. Hale?”
Nathen snapped out of his thoughts, “This has to be a dream, right?” Talking was strange with his teeth in their new position. He sounded different, his tongue was not used to the new layout so his voice had a new twang. He stopped pacing, stood still and closed his eyes. He focused on calming himself and waking up. Wake Up, Wake Up, WAKE UP! repeating the words as a kind of ritual to snap his mind out of this dream. He opened his eyes and found himself still standing in the room with the man looking at him with a serene calm. “Is this a dream?” he asked the man again. “I mean, vampires are things you kill or play as in computer games. Or perhaps you have drugged me? Slipped LSD in my drink to see how I would react?”
“What you are experiencing is quite normal. Vampires are a thing of myth, legend. But they do exist, though are quite rare…”
Nathen’s mind spun with what the man was saying and his strange stilted language. He shook his head when the man started talking about the San Francisco Children’s Hospital. “I am certain you have heard of the hospital being hijacked by a terrorist group? Well, with your new gifts, you will be able to seek out information faster and with preternatural ability. So, no, Mr. Hale, this is not a dream and you have not been drugged. Nor is this a prank or a psychotic episode. Indeed, aside from Autism, you have no other mental health concerns.”
Nathen wondered if that was true. I’m being pranked.
“Please let me know if you think you might want to speak with a therapist about this.”
“We have one on staff who can certainly talk to you about your elevation, something that I know you would not be able to discuss with a regular therapist. That said, Mr. Hale, the clock is ticking, and we do need to focus on the assignment at hand. But please, working on the correct assumption that this is real, do you have any other questions that I may answer?”
Nathen quietly picked up the chair and slipped back into it, taking and releasing a deep breath. “Can I please have a few minutes to process this?” Nathen stared at the glass with the red liquid. He surmised it was blood and noticed he was salivating.
Silently, the man inclined his head in a subtle nod and made no other movement or sound, possibly to allow Nathen his request.
The Company seemed to be offering everything he could ask for: good pay, a nice bonus, insurance for his family, and new equipment. The car service was a really nice perk as well. Nathen hated taxies and ride-shares as the drivers usually wanted to talk, which he found awkward to do with people he didn’t know. With his mind processing concerns about his routine being interrupted, Nathen picked up the glass and smelled the contents. There was the familiar metallic smell, but also something else, something he hadn’t noticed before. In his mind he had an impression of a blurry impression of a woman, maybe in her thirties. He smelled the blood again and focused. A light scent of beef tickled his senses, but no smoke or tobacco. With a sudden urge to drink it again, a lump formed in his throat which came with a mild sense of nausea. “May I drink this?”
The man inclined his head silently.
Nathen brought the glass to his lips and took a small sip of the warm liquid. The intense flavor accompanied fast-moving blurry impressions of events that were not his own. He blinked as if trying to clear his mind, but he wasn’t sure if that was his imagination, or if that was imparted by the blood. It had a metallic taste, but the longer he kept it on his tongue he noticed it began to change and turn sweet. He swished it around and the flavor changed again to what he interpreted as a sweet orange taste, much like orange marmalade. Finally, he swallowed it, and something surprising occurred. Along with sense of taste, he was also overcome with emotions of excitement, sexual ecstasy, and a perverse sense of being used (and liking it). Were those the emotions of that woman? Nathen looked back at the man to see if he could get any reaction from him, but his face was blank. He took a bigger sip, then a gulp, and finally downed the glass. The taste of the marmalade was strong, and her blood ended up being incredibly sweet. He could feel it coat his throat and flow down to his stomach. He hesitated, waiting to be sick, though that didn’t happen. In fact, he realized that he felt better. His mind calmed.
“That was incredibly weird,” he said. “If I don’t like it, you will change me back? And all I have to do is find information about the guys that installed the ransomware at the San Francisco Children’s Hospital?” Nathen had learned when he was overwhelmed that the only logical course of action was to parse out the known from the unknown, as he did whenever he was working on the computer. In this case the known was that he didn’t know how he got here, but he was here now. This company was offering him a ton of money for something he was already good at. And…he was a vampire. Having no frame of reference for this last bit, he shifted that to the side to worry about later.
“Mr. Hale, I am certain you will appreciate the new senses, strength, and abilities you will come to notice in time with your new being.” For the first time, the man smiled, the gesture wolfen, almost predatory. “How did you find the drink?”