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Slums of Paradise coverSlums of Paradise cover

Slums of Paradise is Twilight Times Publications

In the 23rd century humanity is near collapse. Vampires are the new barbarians, and the fall is imminent. In desperation, Pope Antioch III uses holy relics to modify the resurrection of a vampire. What he gets is a warrior who has the strength of thirty men, can fire a machine gun aiming each individual bullet, and fights for humanity without reservation. However, he is also the last person Antioch would have chosen for this experiment.

The vampire fights in the narrows, that place you get to by draw bridges which close the place off at night. In the wealthier areas is where corruption and theological disputes rules.

Prologue

 

        Night lay on the twin cities of the western coast. It swept away the human habitants and released the vampires from their tombs.
        In the north the wealthy hid behind the sturdy walls and military force money could buy. East of the hills farmer families of uncles, aunts, and siblings still did not bow to the conqueror. To the south of the great river were the poor. Here houses huddled together with their backs facing the streets, walls touching. Chimneys lay dashed to the ground, back doors were the only witnesses to murders which filled the drains with fetid, swollen corpses.
        Here, on the edge of the river in the slums they called the narrows, the corpse heard footsteps.
        "Is he dead? Was he bitten?"
        A workman turned the corpse's head. In its neck were two ragged gashes of half-congealed blood. Together the four of them wrapped the corpse in a gray plastic shroud. Kept safe by soldier guards, they carried it away.
        They went by secret route to The Citadel where the corpse was tested, scanned, and photographed. Decided over and argued about by faceless voices until it was finally dumped and left like refuse.
        Inside itself the corpse began to scream.
        The bitten who have yet to rise spend three days needing to reach out and touch those they hear and sometimes see, to move, and to breathe. For three days they drown. Is it any wonder they go mad?
        "I won't go mad. I won't. I've been trained."
        Two men entered the room. One of them opened the corpse's eyelid.
        A hawknosed man; medium build with thin lips and sharp eyes. The corpse recognised Pope Antioch III. The corpse wondered that the leader of the largest religious organisation in the world should harbor it, making himself a rebel against the Civil Authorities.
        But rumour always had it Antioch was never short of ambition.
        "You're moving too quickly, holiness. You will face opposition."
        "Agreed, Giuseppe, agreed. But his demonic affliction follows its own schedule, not our mortal whims. We shall have to face what comes."
        "As you wish, holiness."
        The lid remained open, for that at least the corpse was grateful. He could scan the room, know something of it if it needed to escape.
        A metal egg of dusted metal. Light came from no obvious source and cast few shadows. The corpse reckoned its head pointed toward the door, at the broader end of the egg. To its left was a chair which, like the slab on which it lay, seemed to be formed from the floor itself. The floor and the slab were silver mirror perfect.
        Antioch sat in the chair, grasping his bishop's crook for security as his barrel-chested friend paced about the room. The corpse racked its brains before remembering Giuseppe Muzarious, Cardinal of the Ecumenical Senate of the Church, Bishop of Malta, Naples and Sicily.
        The cardinal pinched the corpse's arm, ran a finger across the ribs.
        "He's very strong. Well fed, too. Who do you suppose he is?"
        "Does it matter, Giuseppe?"
        "How do we know what cult he comes from, holiness? Do we know whether he is slave or freeman? Soldier or bounty hunter? Aren't these important?"
        "I'll still not take a volunteer. Let God provide what God will provide."
        Antioch closed his eyes, began to rock gently as if in time to some prayer.
        The corpse moulded its intent into a fist. If the muscles would not respond, it would try to force breath by psychokinesis.
        It was a thin enough thread of hope to cling to, let alone try to crawl along.
        "Your holiness. . . .YOUR HOLINESS?"
        The Pope ceased rocking, though his eyes remained closed.
        "Would it not be better, holiness, if we waited elsewhere? The time is getting very close."
        "He's still no more than a corpse."
        "But the time factor is not certain. It is only about three days in most cases. I..."
        "You may go if you like."
        Muzarious stood, rubbing his stole between thumb and forefinger in nervous twitch until Antioch bid him leave. When he had left Antioch returned to whatever prayer it was. The rosary beads clicked slowly but steadily.
        The corpse continued its efforts, undistracted until Muzarious and another man entered.
        ArchCardinal Valentieve, leader of the Orthodoxals. Muzarious, thought the corpse, would be here as watch-dog.
        "God save your holiness from all demons."
        "Your grace."
        "Even those you would create."
        The Pope sighed audibly. "The matter was settled by the Senate long ago, ArchCardinal."
        "You did not say in those debates, holiness, that you would be using five of our most holy relics in this project. For though I have passed through many degrees on initiation in this Church, I have yet to learn that a Pope is allowed to practice necromancy."
        "Take it up with the Senate, Valentieve."
        The Pope turned, felt eyes slicing his neck, turned back.
        The corpse watched Valentieve dominate the other two men. A muscular man, about six foot four tall, with brown eyes ablaze with conviction. He was a known as a zealot genius whose IQ was rumoured to be over 200, though the corpse knew the paucity of the rumour.
        "I will not take it up with the Senate. Righteousness needs nothing to hide behind."
        "As Lazarus was raised to do work, so this man shall be called to do the work of God."
        Whatever other accolades a spineless Senate may have given you, that one has escaped their notice. You have no right to do such a thing, for you are not holy."
        The implication sunk into Valentieve as soon as he said it. But it was too late. Antioch smiled, pulled a scroll from one of his balloon sleeves.
        "Here, Valentieve. Read this. It contains the plan I laid before the Senate. Perhaps you recognise the paper, or the handwriting as that of Antioch the Uniter. He was, I think you'll agree, a holy man."
        Valentieve held back the scroll without reading it. It was clear he thought the matter settled in arbitrary manner.
        "Votes do not control holiness, Antioch..."
        "...holiness..."
        "...holiness Only the will of the Lord our God can do that."
        "And you alone are better able to determine that will better than all the others who are each moved by God?"
        Valentieve's nostrils flared. For an instant Antioch's head moved slightly aback, as if Valentieve might attack him, physically.
        "The matter is closed."
        Antioch's voice was too high, his words too fast. Valentieve turned, ignoring the Pope's authority to dismiss or retain him, and left the room like a victor.
        "He won't give this up, holiness."
        "I know, Giuseppe. I know."
        Antioch sat down, rubbed the back of his neck the rested his face in his hand.
        "Holiness..."
        "Giuseppe, no. Just go see if the relics are here."
        Muzarious turned, the door shutting behind him with a pneumatic hiss.
        Antioch took out his rosary, began to pray, decided against it. With a sigh he balanced his crook against the chair and walked around his small kingdom.
        The staff slipped. Antioch jumped, reminded himself, "It's only a corpse."
        The confrontation with the Senate was wearing him down. Antioch needed supporters in the Senate and as disciplined a vote as the Orthodoxals could not be ignored.
        Antioch had been a compromise candidate; the one to whom no one objected strenuously at a time when a Pope had to be elected quickly. In the emergency he had had the obvious credentials. Since then opposition to him had grown.
        He had survived by a mixed bag of compromises, deals and deft use of patronage. That plus residual guilt over his predecessor kept his regency alive.
        The Diet of the Diocese had already turned against him. He survived by plundering it of its power. Dividing that between himself and his then-ally, the Senate. Now he desperately needed a Senate majority.
        Valentieve was part of that authority. But while he supported Antioch, the Orthodoxals increased their power. Having taken the Ukraine, the Balkans, and the Egyptian and Cypriot clergy, Valentieve had launched a campaign of support in the outer planets.
        Already the Free Copts were a rump confined to the east coast of Africa, between southern Egypt and Tanzania. How would he keep them in the coalition with Valentieve squeezing them?
        Antioch couldn't stop his drive and Valentieve would never relent upon his. The problem was, Valentieve would split the Church rather then let someone else control it.
        "Damn!"
        Antioch's fist hit the table. He groaned, cradling the hand, probing the bruise for broken bones. Antioch sucked in pain, swallowed, then calmed his mind. At last he seemed to notice the corpse, to see it for the first time.
        "Poor wretch. I don't know who's sinned against you the more: the vampire who stole from you your life, or I who shall steal from you your peace. Perhaps a simple stake would better serve us, or at least take from us the sin we are about to thrust upon one another.
        "I doubt my faith, and in turn my faith doubts my success. So I confide my fears in you, a corpse who can neither hear nor tell what he has heard. In your decay you become the perfect confessor to a man whose ambition has led him to dare more than his faith will allow."
        Antioch picked up his staff. With the edge of his sleeve he wiped it free of fingerprints. He looked at his reflection: a wide-faced creature with a long, distorted mouth and saw-like teeth. A kind of grinning spider.
        "And which reflection is truer: the one from the flat mirror or yours? Do you, perhaps, simply return a vision truer to the soul than the flesh?"
        He shuddered. The corpse groaned, inhaling, but otherwise did not move.

* * *

        Cardinal Muzarious could run unhindered in a corridor which had no branches, no chance of meeting other people. Some metres from the other door he stopped to catch his breath, to cough a couple times in a handkerchief.
        Composing himself he entered his own offices.
        About twenty metres square, the room held everything Muzarious had managed to salvage was still stored. Until recently many people worked here in identically small cubicles, whatever their rank. But the secret door and the project made that impossible. Now it was a storage shed and a place of privacy.
        "Deacons." There was no animosity in his voice, but the deacons froze.
        He sat between the two of them, an amused look on his face. He threw an arm around each with crushing force.
        "Snogging can be so much fun - if my memory serves me right - but the Church frowns on it before you're ordained. It's a punishable offence, so don't do it again."
        He looked at each in turn.
        "Don't let me catch you again."
        He stood, the girl standing with him. Her eyes caught his.
        "You won't report us?"
        He looked closer at a girl a head taller than him. She had the dark skin of some Egyptian ancestor, almond eyes, and the unbound hair which was the style among acolytes.
        "You waxed your moustache. I thought moustaches were supposed to be very sexy?"
        She covered her lip. He punched her arm.
        "Anyway, you're too sexy to report." He chuckled to himself until he saw Valentieve round the corner. "Oh, God."
        "Intervention isn't impossible, Muzarious, though I'd say it to be unlikely. How well does the cross know the rose, in these offices?"
        Muzarious grated at the sexual connotation: Valentieve knew full well both deacons were in the Order of the Rosicross. The infringement was minor, even common; but it was all someone like Valentieve needed in the Byzantine politics of the Church.
        "You are aware, Cardinal Muzarious, the punishment the Pater Roseacrucis would meet out to them?"
        "I...could guess."
        "Do not be swift, Cardinal, to offend an important member of your Pope's coalition."
        "ArchCardinal, I...don't...condone their actions. I can only say...I...forgave...them a venial sin. It is after all no great thing."
        "Remember your words at vespers, Muzarious."
        Valentieve left, his robes sailing after him, leaving the impression he did not walk on carpet but on some other surface.
        "Will he cause trouble?"
        Muzarious looked at the girl.
        "No. If he intended to do that he would have announced it. He's not a dishonourable man. Quite the opposite. He's just rather more zealous of the law than he is of its followers."
        "Besides," Muzarious added sharply, "he's not at fault, you two are." He softened. "Have the relics arrived?"
        "They'll be here in fifteen minutes." said the male deacon.
        "I'll wait." said Muzarious.
        He sat, seemingly unaware he was anything but alone.
        The relics had been chosen with care. They had each been scientifically tested to ensure they were valid, that they would do the job assigned to them.
        And for Muzarious, that was the rub. Religion was no longer being disproved - quite the opposite. Since the late twentieth century most of the tenants of religion had been proved or were parts of purely scientific theories.
        Miracles had been verified, the powers of prayer and meditation quantified, and the existence of God was a reasonable scientific hypothesis. Only life after death remained elusive, outside of human grasp.
        But science always meant manipulation. It meant instruments divorced from any human feeling or experience. What had been the object of veneration had been demoted to an object of study, as if God were falling rocks or chemicals.
        Put more holiness in. Take it out. Generate it, conduct it along silk and copper. Measure it with computer-enhanced instruments and put the results on charts. But whatever you do, get it out of the hands and dedications of the rabbi, priest, minister, mystic, or high magician.
        How long, now, before someone thought how to manipulate God?
        Muzarious regretted he was in the tallest building in the world. It seemed too much like a tower of Babel.
        "Cardinal?"
        "Hm?"
        "The relics are ready."
        "Terrific." He sighed. "Well, let's get this show on the road."
        He whistled a tune. The secret door to the metal-egg room opened. From the ceiling a trolley was mechanically lowered into place. On the trolley were five relics.
        They wheeled the trolley down the corridor. `Honest of it to creak,' thought Muzarious, for a carried tray would have done the job as well. It was only the importance of the task which inspired someone to design and build the special trolley.
        He watched the two deacons as they struggled with the weight of the trolley, sweating hard under their black Rosicrucian robes.
        `They could be entering the room where a vampire has just murdered the Pope.'
        When they came to the door of the chamber, itself, Muzarious whistled another section of the same tune. A three-panel set of doors swung outward. With the bowed walls of the corridor, it made an analogy complete. Muzarious felt he was in the body of some metal creature, but could not be certain if the panels made the room the heart, or if its purpose made it the belly.
        The carefully designed trolley had its revenge. It would not fit through the door. Muzarious smiled as the two deacons had to crawl around. The walls were sheer, making them slip often. It was less amusing when Muzarious caught his foot in his robe and hit his chin.
        "Holiness, your hand..." Antioch waved the girl off and caught Muzarious' eye.
        In a silence they hoped would do for solemnity they wrapped the corpse in the shroud, placed the head of the holy spear over its heart, diadem on the head, and grails at his feet. By one a clay dish of death, by the other a silver cup representing life. Then they stood, realising more and more that there was nothing left for them to do.
        "Maybe we should go."
        "No, Muzarious. He'll need someone here when he wakes."
        "For what, breakfast." Muzarious muttered. The Pope's eye silenced him.
        "Deacon?"
        "Yes, holiness?"
        "Tell the Pater Roseacrucis the relics are in position."
        "I...you mean go see him?"
        Without warning, Antioch drove his hand down her cleavage. The other deacon made move as if to attack, then seemed to remember he shouldn't.
        Antioch withdrew his hand, carrying a small transmitter as prize. He opened the link, and the Pater's voice was heard to acknowledge. He held the device in front of the girl.
        "Pater," she said, regarding Antioch's eyes, "the relics have been put in place."
        "Has it risen, yet?"
        "No it hasn't and I'll see you in my office tomorrow. Don't leave the building until then." Antioch closed the link, returned the device to the girl.
        Whatever Antioch might have said was cut short. There was another groan from the corpse. Then a twitch. Then heaving as the back arched.
        The shroud tore like a membrane as an arm jolted free. The fingers were still half caught in rigour mortis. Blood flowed along the ridges of muscles, caking the flesh red. He groaned again, stopped, then screamed.
        Inside the corpse-cold prison, the prisoner saw a light pass his field of vision. It turned and pressed into the centre of his vision.
        His mouth opened. He screamed and nearly drowned in blood. New and unfamiliar teeth pushed out those already there, tore at his gums, cut wide inside his mouth.
        Blood overfilled him. It throbbed in his eyes, his ears. Veins burst of their own accord. His face turned into a characture of the human.
        He raked his own skin, tried to tear away the flesh which pained him. He hardly felt the hands which tried to hold him down. He dimly saw the heat of the bodies, barely heard the sound when he threw one of them against the wall.
        He curled. The pain stopped.
        Slowly, carefully, he extended himself. Experimentally. Waiting.
        The pain did not return.
        He fell from the table, lying there wet with blood and sweat. He examined his arms, watched them move. He breathed deeply, began to strip the shroud from himself as if breaking free from a dirty cocoon.
        He looked around, seeing as if for the first time the group which crouched, huddled together. He leaned back, still half swaddled, and smiled.
        He had seen both shores of death, and that would make him different for the rest of his life.





Chapter I


Awake!


        The vampire sat, arms around his legs, head resting on his knees. With his tongue he felt the unfamiliar insides of his mouth, probing near but never really touching the extended incisors.
        Deacon Amanda d'Aquitaine silently watched him. Finally, bothered by his nakedness, she got out an acolyte's robe. Ripping the insignia off violently, she threw the thing, still folded, at the vampire.
        The robe hit the side of the couch and fell to the ground. Amanda made no move to pick it up.
        "Turn around, please?"
        She made no move. With a shrug of his shoulders he took up the robe and put it on.
        "Do I get shoes, or do I stand on holy ground?"
        Testily she got a pair of white slippers, then picked up a tray of coffee and set it on the table before him. He sipped carefully, savouring the liquid.
        A rat-red iris slid in its eye and caught her staring at him. His mouth twitched, showing fangs. She recoiled.
        "I'm sorry," he said. "I forgot my smile is going to look threatening."
        "No, it's all right," she lied, adding, "there's a delegation coming to meet you."
        And come they did. Between these twenty lay most of the power of the Church. There was Antioch, Valentieve, Muzarious, the Pater ArchCardinal Roseacrucis, Cardinal Vadbatten, and others. They came without underlings, which might be a mark of their confidence in hidden weapons to cut down the vampire if he attacked - or a mark of conspiracy.
        He watched the walls as he was led to a room set like an auditorium, but could see nothing which offered escape. He waited as they arranged themselves, expected the Pope to explain what was going on. Instead, Antioch sat in the back, facing him.
        "We're here," he said without preliminary, "to ask you some questions."
        "I'd like to ask the first question, holiness."
        "Agreed, Roseacrucis."
        The ancient Pater leaned forward in his chair, bracing himself against its side.
        "Whom did you worship, while you were alive?"
        "Divinity."
        "Which divinity?"
        "I thought, ultimately, there was only one?"
        "There are those who have a better view of that divinity than others, as I'm sure you will agree. Now, do not try my patience. We have, after all, only your best interests at heart."
        "You're a liar."
        "I'll forget you said that."
        "Then I'll remind you; you're a liar."
        The Pater soured, gripped the armrests of his chair. His ancient frame rustled under his black caftan with its embroidered rose-cross chestpiece.
        "Holiness, I'd like to ask the next questions, if I may."
        "Of course, Valentieve."
        "I wasn't finished, holiness!" Roseacrucis turned to look at the Pope, was caught by the eye of Valentieve, and surrendered quietly.
        "Vampire; who were you when you were alive?"
        "I'm still alive."
        "But changed considerably, you'll agree."
        "Yes."
        "Thank you." Valentieve drew a breath. "Who, then, are you? What is your name?"
        "None of your business."
        "Be aware, you can still be a cancelled project."
        "That, Valentieve, is your intention. And let's not be shy: this project is not sanctioned by the Civil Authorities. We all know the penalties they will inflict on you if word gets out - if I speak to the CA."
        "You'd die before your third word was out."
        "There'd still be an investigation which would turn over stones until it found dirt."
        Members of the crowd looked to one another. Some licked their lips as if they were about to speak. The vampire sat back and templed his fingers.
        His face was set in a sardonic smile, as if he had enjoyed his death. His ears were becoming more pointed by the minute, his skin losing the sallowness of a corpse. His hair was turning white, some side effect of the experiment.
        A prelate in quiet robe with gold trim stood. He kept a hand on his gilded sword, gesturing with the other hand. A scar crossed his face, remnant of active military service. Now in his sixties, this was Vadbatten, whose victories for a time turned the tide of war.
        "I understand your reluctance to provide information. Listening, I had come to the awful conclusion that if I sat in your place, I'd think that if I weren't a member of the Church, I'd be put to death.
        "We've made enough of our questions, and done no more in return than cast aspersions upon you. Let me make amends, and ask you to ask questions of us."
        The vampire nodded, almost a bow, and thanked the general.
        "I know what the project's for. I'm to be a more effective vampire killer than your soldiers..." He stopped as a wave of murmurs swept the small crowd. "It's not that hard to figure out: you didn't risk all this for some academic inquiry.
        "That aside, I want to know the details. That means access to the raw data and an explanation why you think one vampire hunter will make such a difference."
        "You ask a lot of us, I'm afraid. More than we can answer, even to ourselves. The data, yes, by all means. But the hopes and dreams are more nebulous, and the arguments might be couched in terms unfamiliar to one not...trained...in our way of thinking."
        "Yes," said Muzarious, "have you been initiated?"
        The vampire did not answer. The game continued. Each side tried to turn every question into a counter-question. Nobody gave information willingly, or cultivated more than hostility.
        "You are not providing the information we are seeking!"
        "Maybe that's because it's none of your business! How many times do I have to tell you that?"
        The vampire wiped sweat from his face. When he looked at his hand it was full of flesh. He let the bits of skin fall. They were large enough to still show the impressions of prints and veins.
        The vampire wiped more of his face. More flesh.
        He stood. Skin fell like snow from his caftan. The sleeves, the hem, everywhere. With a terrified look the vampire turned on the crowd.
        "What?" He grasped his chest, feeling the skin come away in a lump. "What have you done to me?"
        He turned away, bumped into his oaken chair, breaking it.
        "Damn you. Damn all of you! What have you done!"
        "It's all right," said Antioch. "It's a normal phase of the change. We expected it."
        "Then why didn't you tell me?" Behind the tone of menace lay a small child betrayed.
        "We planned to - after the interview. It was you who lengthened that. But to the matter; the flesh will all fall off, but there is living skin beneath it."
        A courier came, delivered a message to Valentieve. As he made his way he crept along the wall ever watching the vampire.
        Valentieve felt the Pope's disapproving eyes on the back of his neck. He ignored the feeling.
        "You are all dismissed! Constantine, Amanda, you two remain with me. The rest of you can go."
        "Holiness, is this wise?"
        "Giuseppe, its wisdom isn't your concern. It is an order of your Pope and you will obey."
        "Holiness, I..."
        Even Valentieve didn't dare finish his sentence. Whatever his thoughts of the man, he loved the position of the Pope.
        The group followed Muzarious, each one bowing to the Pope on the way out. The depth of the bow was a measurement of the allegiance. Some dipped to knee, some bowed hardly at all.
        "You didn't tell us much. Why?"
        "Mainly because it's none of your sodding business."
        "So you've said. However, we brought you back from the dead - I think that entitles us to some consideration."
        "You don't need information from me if all you want me for is to hunt - unless there really is more to this. I'm willing to kill the vampires, I just don't believe advantaging the position of your church in secular politics should come into it."
        Antioch looked at the vampire for a very long time. His eyes seemed tired, as if he were having trouble concentrating on the problem. Pinching his hawknose between thumb and forefinger he exhaled, held his lungs empty, then seemed to come to a decision.
        "Come with me."
        The Citadel was never made to a single plan or pattern. Its ziggurat appearance was the result of adding storeys in bulk lots, or allowing the outer walls to bulge year by year with extensions.
        Within there was little organisation. It was possible to travel down a hallway, come to a t-junction, turn left into a y-fork, take the left again and follow the downward slope, take the stairs up to a three-way junction, go left then angle right, turn right, and be back where you started. In that time one might pass through four security gates, six secret and four armoured doors.
        The complication had reached such heights it was continually rumoured there were sections of The Citadel secure against every living being, or that some secret room held whatever dark secret was grist for the mill at the time of telling.
        The fact was even Antioch did not have access to everything.
        The vampire was soon lost as Antioch's papal ring and/or palmprint opened one section after another. They walked in silence, and never once did the vampire see or hear other people pass by.
        "How do we know we've succeeded?" Antioch asked, shattering the unhappy quiet. "How do we know you won't join the vampires as soon as you're with them? You may feel you won't, now, here in the security of this building. But how will you feel when surrounded by your own kind?"
        "You're not afraid to be alone with me."
        "I'm not entirely defenceless."
        Antioch looked at the vampire who was unable to read his face: conspiracy? threat? A chess player skilled at his game.
        "No, I don't suppose you are."
        The vampire fell silent again. Antioch regarded him carefully. Though he still looked like death warmed over - which in fact he was - at least he had moved into the living end of the spectrum. The skin had lost its yellow tinge when its outer layers had peeled off, and now no longer sagged. The blood from burst veins had been swept aside in the moulting process.
        The Pope turned, placed his hand on what appeared to be a blank wall. There was a hum, a large section of wall slid back revealing a suite of rooms.
        There was a central area, sleeping rooms for several people, a cafeteria, projection and conference room, medical facilities, gymnasium, and an arena where fighters in a pit could be watched by a small crowd.
        "We'll be billeting you here, for convenience."
        "Protection, you mean What good will I do north of the river? It's the narrows which need help - in the north the threat has been held back."
        "We've developed our plans carefully. We will not allow you to change it, now. Though we've high hopes for you, we still need to be careful.
        "We have to know if vampires will think you one of them or if they will attack on sight. If the latter you might survive the narrows no better next time as last time."
        "That was an accident. It won't happen again."
        "Indeed."
        The vampire turned to Antioch. They were in a pit, empty seats allowing ghosts to watch their combat.
        "What is this for?"
        "We want to let you fight vampires under controlled conditions. That way we can see how well you do, and if you are injured there are medical facilities right here."
        "You're sick."
        "And you've got to be tested! We've put far too much into this to let you..."
        "Let me?! What makes you think you could stop me? I'd be within my rights to..."
        "You have no more rights. You lost them when you died - or have you forgotten? If we kill you, not only will the Civil Authorities shed no tears they'll pay us a bounty for your head."
        The vampire flexed his muscles as if he were crouching for the attack.
        "Be angry with us if you like, but you still have a duty to defend others. Accuse us of neglect, or threat of violence, but only if you are free of the same accusation."
        "I am not a threat."
        "Your existence is a threat. Every vampire is a threat and you must prove otherwise, for you no longer have a record to stand on. I suggest you co-operate: we can obtain another subject easily enough."
        The vampire turned away to look over the pit.
        "See things from our side. We set the project, then built these facilities to its requirements. But since we could not ask a volunteer for this, we took a victim at random.
        "We took copies of your retina patterns, your finger prints, and your DNA trace. We found no record with the Civil Authorities or any other data base. It takes power to erase records so thoroughly.
        "You see, we never assumed training would be unnecessary. We never guessed we'd find a military man of such rank in the gutters of the narrows - there would be little legal there for him."
        As he said this, Antioch drew a small silver cylinder from his sleeve. It looked like a small penlight.
        He pointed it at the vampire's form, which blurred as if to turn invisible.
        There was a flash. Antioch hid his eyes.
        The alpha particle accelerator lay in two. Remnant chemicals burned on the vampire's hand.
        The flesh melted, became black with scars. The vampire didn't show a trace of pain or even bother to put out the flames.
        When the flames had finally died of their own accord three fingers had melted together.
        With his other hand the vampire gathered the front of Antioch's robe. Without effort he hauled Antioch into the air and brought their faces close together.
        Antioch looked into the eyes of a madman.

* * *

        The smile was rare. Constantine was not a man to grin, or to reveal much about his feelings at all. It was only the odd moment, when he was relaxed or off his guard that she felt she came close to knowing the man within.
        "Deacon Amanda Kleopatra d'Aquitaine." He let the words roll off his lips. He had always enjoyed the sound of her name, but now there was a bitterness there.
        She felt tension begin to flow out of his back. He released it slowly, so as not to lose control.
        He ignored the concern in her eyes. She took her hand, explored his face. Found a hair already gray. She probed scars a pacifant should not have, that made lie to the man the Church thought it knew. Surgery had disguised the scars to sight, but sensitive fingers could still discern their lines. She touched his lips, but he merely opened his mouth and bit her finger.
        He pulled their bodies together, kissed her.
        "If Cardinal Muzarious catches us again we'll be in real trouble."
        "Don't let him catch us." he said, but he relented nonetheless.
        He rested on his back, looking at the ceiling of her room. She lay her head on his breast facing away from his. Amanda realised that even here she was not with the private person.
        "How much do we really know about each other, Con?"
        "Enough."
        "Not enough for that." She took his hand away.
        "I think you're just afraid."
        "It's not a right. It's a privilege I may bestow."
        He clenched his hand, gripping her caftan. For a moment she didn't know how to interpret it, then realised it was agreement of a sort.
        She turned to look at a face which wore no mask. Then the disguise was in place and he no longer looked with eyes that had seen too much for so few years.
        She told him she loved him, hoping it wasn't a lie. He said he was in love with her, and she hoped that wasn't a lie, either.
        "What are you hiding from me?"
        "I told you there's nothing to hide." He sounded annoyed. They'd had this talk too many times, now.
        "You know you can trust me."
        He looked into her eyes. Ran fingers through her hair. Knew.
        "I can't say."
        "It doesn't matter what it is. But I can't keep going when this thing is between us. I can't know you while you hide so much of yourself from me."
        He didn't respond.
        "If you tell someone about it, it won't seem so bad. And you have to tell someone; it's gotten worse these last few days. It's gotten out of proportion."
        He smiled, a sad smile. "It's in proportion," and he kissed her in a way he never had, before. He made to turn away, then an iris slid back to look at her.
        He suddenly grabbed her, held her, made her hurt.
        She thought of that eye, seemed to see it from memory. See it on someone else.
        Amanda held him, unconsciously dug her nails in his back. He sobbed, once, regained control. He put his mask back in place.
        "Why didn't you say anything?" Her voice was a whisper.
        "What do you think they'd have done?"
        She looked at her room. Filled with what physical memories she had salvaged from the evacuation of her town. Small things from before the death of her family.
        Con's room had nothing. Nothing to reflect the man. She remembered when she thought that was the humility of religious vocation. Face wetted she held him to her. Wanting to give him what he wanted, unable to do so.

* * *

        Breakfast was in the projection room. The vampire, Antioch, Muzarious, Valentieve, and the deacons attended. As they ate they were briefed; a map of the solar system was put on the big wall screen.
        "The white areas," said Constantine, "are where the vampire threat is contained. This includes Mercury, Venus, and Luna. Mercury's long days and ducted sunlight are what keep it free. Venus has diffuse sunlight and strict quarantine laws. On Luna the two populations migrate across the surface: humans on the light, vampires on the dark side of the moon."
        A small viewscreen on each desk provided details.
        "The areas in red show threat which has become a crisis. They are the Earth, Mars, some of the larger asteroids, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
        "The days of the asteroids and the moons are too short for the vampires to be really effective. Though sunlight is weaker, the continual exposure eventually destroys them. But by then they have often eliminated the whole human population.
        "Earth and Mars, on the other hand, provide environments almost perfectly suited to humans and vampires. In both cases each side holds territories where their form of existence is dominant, though the situation is still fluid."
        Constantine waited while the small viewscreens provided the bulk of information. They projected raw statistics followed by a series of diagrams of varying colours - schematics designed to allow a maximum of information to be easily recalled.
        "The areas in black are where the crisis has come to a head. It includes the moons of Uranus and Neptune, Pluto, Charon, and Persephonie and its moons.
        "The problem is at this range the sun looks like nothing more than a bright star. In many ways the vampire is better suited to the environment than we.
        "In these black areas we have to accept the eclipse of human life is immanent."
        The vampire sat impassively, his eyes only on the viewscreen. On this he called several specific maps, barely stopping to grow accustomed to the system.
        "Why are so many asteroids left unmarked?"
        "Those are areas of truce or where the asteroid always keeps one side to the sun. In those cases neither side impinges upon the other."
        "How do the vampires survive without blood?"
        "Most asteroids have a blood-for-something trade agreement. On some asteroids the two communities even mix - Janus is a perfect example of this."
        There was a pause before the vampire spoke again.
        "Could these treaties be extended to the rest of the solar system?"
        Valentieve shot a glance at the vampire but deferred to Antioch, more out of tactics than respect.
        "That sort of suggestion has been made before. Any agreement would be hard to enforce. Vampires have no central government to sign or enforce a treaty. It's the special circumstances of the asteroids which allow these treaties to exist, only there are communities small enough to allow every individual a say in what is agreed and only there can the two sides trust one another to keep their word."
        "Did anyone ask these communities their opinion?"
        "Filth! You're protecting your own kind!"
        Valentieve grabbed, shifted his weight, and threw the vampire into the far wall. He dove over the table and was on the vampire before he could move.
        The two rolled, came up trading one blow for another. Constantine made a move to join, then felt Muzarious' hand on his shoulder. The elder man shook his head, took the weapon from the deacon's hand.
        "I knew you'd defend that soulless filth!"
        The vampire broke free, ripped a metal table from its moorings and hurled it Valentieve. While the ArchCardinal caught it, the vampire rammed his shoulder into the man's gut.
        "If I killed victim after victim until their blood carried to my ears their every scream I would still no more wet the soles of my feet compared to the genocide you would have from me!"
        Valentieve kicked. Ichor sprayed. The vampire retaliated, catching Valentieve in an armlock.
        "I wonder if you aren't like the cow which fears the butcher, but who is unaware if it weren't for the butcher it would never live."
        "This is not the place for eloquence, vampire. We are not cows: no butchers await us. Now let my ArchCardinal go. He will not attack you again if he does not wish to suffer my wrath."
        Antioch's voice was strangely calm. The vampire relented, and Valentieve restrained himself.
        "It's true you've been wronged. But you've also received a far better lot from us than you would have if you had resurrected without our help.
        "Our fight is with the vampire, not with each other. I have already said, complain as loudly as you want, for it is clear to me you owe us no better debt but gratitude. But you may complain in my hearing only so long as you are free of the accusations you level against us."
        The vampire looked down. Valentieve was unrepentant, as if he were the wronged party.
        Antioch leaned forward, took the vampire's hand.
        "I value your..." He looked at the hand. The perfect hand, bearing no scars, no sign it had been burned beyond easy use.
        "I won't fight in that pit. And I want to start tonight - in the narrows."
        "Agreed. But there are tests to be run."
        "Tests?"
        The Pope turned his back.
        "After our discussion last night you disappeared. Your bed wasn't slept in, nor were you to be found. Since you weren't in The Citadel, you were out."
        The words hung like threats. But the tests showed no blood, only ichor in the vampire's mouth. He had not fed.
        Further he was producing blood cells at a slightly higher than normal rate. His muscles had become incredibly compact; the number of strands had tripled and each was apparently increased in strength tenfold. The haemoglobins were near one hundred percent efficient, compared to the fifteen percent most humans lived with.
        "A superman. Giuseppe, do you realise what this means? That table he picked up weighed a tonne!"
        "Yes holiness. He pulled it up, and when he threw it, Valentieve caught it and was about to throw it back."

 

 

 

 

 

"Slums of Paradise" Copyright © 2002. D Jason Cooper. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.