Bad Blood

by Tin Star

> From a chummer in Seattle comes this file on a murder investigation that turned up some unexpected results. Just for those of you out there thinking that the dragon’s death doesn’t matter much to your life. Be careful because it may when you least expect it to.
> Capt. Chaos

I really never figured the particulars of Dunkelzahn’s will were going to affect me. I mean, the wyrm didn’t leave me anything (despite our deep and lasting friendship-yeah, right). Why should I care that the dragon got offed? It happens when you don’t watch your back. Get careless, get greased. That’s life. I didn’t vote for him anyway.

So, as the famous saying goes I was just hanging out, minding my own business, when it happened. Old Man Resnik came banging on the side of my van late one night, waking me up out of a perfectly good four-star dream. I fragging needed it after all of the drek I had been dealing with the past few days. I checked out the window and opened the back door after making myself presentable. Resnik must have been having an amazingly lucid evening, or whatever he had seen had shocked him sober, because he was actually coherent.

“Mista Tin,” he says, ” you gotta come check this out.” Never one to refuse a request for help, I got back into my working clothes and went out with Resnik to do my duty. I just hoped that another local wasn’t about to turn up missing like the last couple of days. I also hoped one of the missing wasn’t about to turn up dead. I see enough regular people turn up dead all the time.

I’m a cop. Well, not exactly a cop. More like a lawman. Not one of those trumped-up mall cops that pass for law enforcement in this sorry city. I make sure justice gets done in my little corner of the world, not what the corps and the politicos decide that the law happens to be that week. Laws come and go, but justice is justice. And out here in the Barrens, the ‘Star isn’t very interested in enforcing the law for the people who can’t afford to pay their rates. So that just leaves someone like me to make sure that they get a fair shake.

> What planet is this guy from? He thinks he’s some kind of super-hero!
> Cynic

> Gently, Cynic old boy. Ol’ Tinny is one of the good guys, one of the last of the good guys. He’s kind of the unofficial sheriff of his little section of the Redmond Barrens. He looks out for the locals and handles a lot of their disputes and criminal cases, the kind of stuff that Lone Star can’t be bothered with because the overhead of operating in the Barrens is just too high for their bottom line. He lives in this minivan he drives around town and even wears a fraggin silver badge like an old time sheriff. He’s kinda cracked, but he does good stuff and the people in the Barrens respect him. Remember that before you go shooting your mouth off.
> Reddy

> Lawman my butt. He’s nothing but another Barrens thug. Collections protection money from the locals no to roust ’em or mess up their homes and stores.
> Jonsey@red.seanet

> That’s not protection money, omae, it’s what the locals decide to pay ‘Star for helping them out. It’s what he lives on, and let me tell you, it ain’t much. He sure as hell isn’t getting rich off this scheme.
> Reddy

> Tin Star is actually a Lone Star washout. Wanted to be a cop because his father and grandfather (and if you believe him) great-grandfather were all lawmen. His dad was in the Seattle PD before it got closed down and ‘Star tried getting into Lone Star but washed out of the academy. I think he’s got a real cop-fantasy complex he’s trying to live out. Like Reddy says, he does some good, but he’s a fraggin loose cannon that had better stay in the Barrens if he doesn’t want Lone Star to throw his hoop in jail sometime.
> X-Star

Finding a dead body is no big surprise on my beat (hell, having a day go by without a stiff turning up would be a refreshing change of pace) so I wasn’t shocked when old Resnik took me to an alley not five blocks from where I was parked and showed me a body laid out there. Finding the stiff wasn’t the surprise. It was the fact that he didn’t look like he belonged in this part of town. The clothes he was wearing and the overall condition of his skin (which was intact) said that he spent about as much time in the Barrens as I did in corporate territory.

The victim was a male Asian, approximately 25 to 35 years old, wearing a lined overcoat over some threads that looked like they could have come from the Renraku Mall or one of those other downtown company shops. Not surprisingly, he had no identification and nothing else on him. No credstick, wallet or ID card. They might have been taken by anyone who found the body, but the fact that his nice armor-lined coat and pricey uptown shoes were still there I figured that nobody from around here had touched the body.

I figured out why when Resnik pointed a shaking hand at the corpse and nodded his head towards where the guy’s head was lying. It was obvious from the strange angle of the head that the guy’s neck had been broken. I took a look and there were two small puncture wounds along the neck, small traces of blood still visible around them. Great, that meant only one thing, a fragging vampire was loose.

I gave Resnik ten nuyen and told him to get himself something to calm his nerves and then forget about what he saw. I figured that a bottle of Old Redeye would quickly ease his memories and keep him for spreading word around too fast, or at least keep anyone from believing him while he was plastered off his hoop. I covered up the body and brought my van around so I could gather as much evidence as possible before I had to trash the thing. No way that the coroner was going to bother coming out here, although I wondered who might be missing this guy and if this was one that Lone Star was going to bother coming into the Barrens for. Too bad for them that I was already on the case.

The Victim

I got scans and all of the data from the body there was to get. Fortunately, the scanning equipment I can carry in my pocket is enough to get pretty complete finger- and retina-prints. I took the clothes, since I might be able to trace where they had been purchased and then delivered the body to Mickey’s Chop Shop. I don’t have the facilities to keep a stiff on ice myself, but Mickey can handle the storage and when the case is over he gets whatever is worth salvaging. I’m a big believer in recycling. Mickey wasn’t crazy about taking a body that was geeked by a vampire, not after what had happened with that Wendigo a couple years ago, but I told him that the guy was definitely geeked when the vamp broke his neck. Obviously the bleeder didn’t want his (or her) victim getting up in three days and coming to look for him. Smart move.

The next thing to do was start running some checks. If you want to be an investigator in this day and age, you need to know how to get around the Matrix as well as you know the back streets and alleys of the Sprawl, because that is where most of the answers are going to be. I was willing to bet that my John Doe wasn’t a typical SINless resident of Redmond and that meant that I should be able to track him down in somebody’s database out there, which made a nice change from trying to identify a no-name corpse by flashing a picture around town to anybody who might of known him.

I started off with the simple stuff and got lucky right off the bat. A basic pattern-matching program to the DMV database downtown pulled up the slag’s driver’s license. Lucky thing that most people look dead on their license pictures. It made the match-up easier to do. Blood type and physical data clinched it.

My John Doe was one Daniel J. Takama of 119-32B Pioneer Way in Tacoma. Tacoma suggested Yakuza territory, but this guy didn’t have any Yak tattoo and he had all of his original fingers, so if he was working for the Sons, he was pretty small-time.

> C’mon ‘Star, the Yakuza isn’t that stupid. Not every kobun around is going to advertise membership in the Sons of the Neon Chrysanthemum by covering his body with tattoos that scream “hi, I’m Yak.”
> Water Boy

> You really are all wet, WB. The Yakuza aren’t stupid, they’re traditionalists. The tattoos are a tradition and for the Yakuza, you don’t break tradition simply because it’s not convenient for you. Besides, most members of the Yak are pretty fragging open about it. They have their clan’s influence behind them and the implicit approval of the Japanacorps who need their “services,” so they have nothing much to worry about from so-called law enforcement.
> PaperDragon

I checked the telecomm directory and dialed up Mr. Takama’s apartment in Tacoma. The auto-answer on his ‘comm picked it up after a few rings. I didn’t bother to leave a message, but it looked like Mr. Takama lived alone. So much for that option for finding out what it was he was doing out in the Barrens getting cacked by a vampire in the middle of the night.

I sent my little search critters off into the Matrix to hunt down a few more possible leads while I did some of the research the old fashioned way. I pride myself on the fact that I keep a good beat around here. Everyone knows me and knows what I’m all about. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem, but most people respect someone who’s up front with them and does them a good turn now and again. That gets me the kind of cooperation that Lone Star would never get. My grampa told me that cops used to have a real relationship with the people they protected. They were part of the neighborhood, like part of a big family, not someone who sent you a bill every week and referred to their relationship with you as “customer service.”

I started asking around to find out if anyone had seen somebody who might be my perp. If a vampire had started hunting in the area, that would go a long way towards explaining why people had been disappearing lately. I talked to some of the friends and family of the missing persons about any strangers they might have seen or any kind of weird stuff like strange fog or drek like that coming up. I hoped maybe having a new angle on the perp might help me pick up something I missed the first time around. I also checked about any strangers that had been seen around, especially ones that didn’t look like they went out into the sun a lot (which, unfortunately, describes a lot of the people around here, including me). There wasn’t much to go on.

Good thing my little matrix critters were better at tracking stuff down than I was. By the time I got back, they had compiled a pretty complete profile on my victim from available information in the public datastores and records there weren’t too difficult to hack into.

Mr. Takama worked for BioGene Technologies, Inc. as a “special courier.” BioGene was a corporation based in San Diego with branches throughout North America, including Seattle. They were owned in turn by Yakashima Technologies, an up-and-comer on the Japanacorp circuit that had bought BioGene out from under the nose of Aztechnology only a couple months ago. Curiouser and curiouser. If Mr. Takama was some kind of courier why was he here in Redmond and what might he have been carrying that would have gotten him killed? It could be that the vamp was after whatever Takama had with him. Or it could have been a random incident where the vampire decided to pick someone who looked like they didn’t belong here.

> Anyone heard anything about vampires working for Aztechnology?
> Smitty

> One or two, but they’re generally freelance. Rumors have been flying around for a couple of years about some connection between vamps and that blood magic stuff they’re doing down Aztlan way, but there’s been no evidence of it so far.
> Pyramid Watcher

The Clinic

A talk with a friend of mine over at DocWagon told me that BioGene had undergone some “restructuring,” like most of the corps that Yakashima bought out. She also told me that it looked like Yakashima was thinking about going into the medical business, because BioGene had just recently opened clinics in several cities along the west coast under the company name LifeSavers. Not only that, but they had also opened a lot of charity clinics under the LifeSaver’s name in “underprivileged” areas as part of their new PR-blitz, including the one that had opened up not ten blocks from where Takama’s body was found.

> They way most free clinics in the barrens end up being fronts for some corporate black operation or another it’s a wonder that anyone even bothers going to them.
> Raze

> Don’t measure everything by that Project Hope/Universal Brotherhood fiasco, chummer. There are some actual free clinics in the Barrens that really do some good work and try to help people out. Of course, most of those are run by individuals brave enough and tough enough to keep their operations running by themselves. The corps don’t give anything away for free. Even the ones that are on the up-and-up (yeah, right) are only running free-clinic scams to have some good deeds to trot out in front of the newshounds when they need to.
> Grade

I stopped by the clinic to get a look around. It was typical of what you would expect from a free clinic in the Barrens: everything done in shades of off-white and “soothing” pastels, cheap plastic furniture that could have come out of a spray bottle and a fair assortment of guards to protect the place’s medical supplies from being looted. There were about half a dozen people in the lobby when I got there and a couple of them recognized me and said hello, or tried to look engrossed in a two-month old issue of The Yakashima Journal and pretend they didn’t see me. Too bad I knew they didn’t read Japanese.

The nurse at the front desk gave me a very practiced smile that slipped only a millimeter when her eyes flicked to the badge I wore and then back to my face. My lack of obvious corporate affiliation and my less than “official” uniform seemed to confuse her for a moment.

“Yes? May I help you?” she asked. Must have sounded like the safest approach at the time. I nodded and glanced around a bit before answering.

“Yeah, I’m looking for a friend of mine, Daniel Takama? Is he here?” Nursie turned back to her computer terminal, obviously glad to have some reason to consult a higher authority.

“Is he a patient?”

“No, he works here, that is, he said he was making a delivery and I was supposed to meet him here.” She tapped a few keys and shook her head slightly while looking over the computer screen. Her body language sent one message of having no idea what I was talking about with a subtext of being made rather nervous by my inquiry.

“I’m sorry, I don’t show his name on our delivery schedule.” I shook my head and held up a hand to steady her.

“Don’t worry about it, I must have the day wrong, maybe it was tomorrow. Thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. I headed out, knowing that I wouldn’t be gone long before Nursie or someone asked one of the people in the waiting room who I was. Hopefully that might shake up some curiosity in the clinic.

An Unfriendly Warning

I knew when I got back to my van that something was wrong. I’m not a big believer in precognition or any of that drek, call it a finely honed sense of paranoia, but I definitely had a bad feeling as I left the clinic and made my way back to where my van was parked, like I was being watched. I hadn’t expected anyone from the clinic to pick up on me so soon, but I kept it cool as I made my way back. It was getting dark out and the streets seemed unusually quiet, the twilight time between the daytime residents of the neighborhood carefully hiding themselves indoors and the nighttime residents slowly awakening and stretching in their dens to get ready for their day to begin.

I got back to my van and everything looked in order. I hit the remote to tell the security system that I was home and popped open the back door. I climbed in and stopped about halfway when I saw a person sitting in the passenger seat, casually leaning over it to look into the back of the van. The small semi-automatic he held casually in his left hand was far less of a concern to me than the smile he flashed at me, revealing his sharply pointed canine teeth.

“Good evening, enter freely and of your own will.” He smiled again. “Sorry, a bit of an in-joke, but do come in, we need to have a little talk.” I stepped the rest of the way in to the van and kept my hands visible the whole time. I made no move to close the door and Fangs didn’t say anything about it, so at least I might have a viable escape route if it became necessary. The Colt holstered under my arm felt very heavy as I eyed the gunman and my hands itched to reach for it.

Now that I was over my initial surprise, I could see that he wasn’t really all that old, at least, he didn’t look it. He looked like one of the punks that I have to rouse all of the time on my beat, no older than eighteen or so. He had longish blond hair that kind of feel into his eyes and wore a leather jacket over a t-shirt that had some kind of black-on-black design on it that I couldn’t make out. His eyes were ice blue and seemed faintly luminescent in the dim yellow light inside the van.

“You have something you want to report?” I said, trying to keep my tone conversational and not show any fear in front of this creature. From what I heard, they could sense any weakness you might show.

“Came to deliver a message.”

“I didn’t catch your name,” I said. He smiled again.

“You can call me Damien.” Not his given name, I suspected, unless his parents had known something in advance. “The message is this, you’re fragging off the wrong people with this stiff in the alley. Forget you saw him and go back to busting heads with the little ganger kids and chippies. You’re messing with drek you don’t want to get into. Next time, there won’t be a warning.” He gave another smile and licked his lips. Then he dissolved into a cloud of mist and disappeared through the ventilation system like a fog-machine in reverse.

The first thing I did was grab my gun and close the door (like that would do any good). The second thing I did was sit there in the dark for a long time wondering what I was going to do next.

> Interesting. If the punk that Tin Star ran into is who I think it is, that means there are indeed some important people interested in his case. Damien sounds like a member of a group of vampires that call themselves the Coven of the Crimson Moon. They’re based out of the Redmond Barrens and the group owns a nightclub called the Styx. Damien himself is the leader of a gang of punk vampire wannabes that called the Lost Boys, but he’s the real only vampire among them, so far as I know.
> Daikoku

> So ka? Now we know why the bouncer at the Styx recruits “fresh blood” every once in a while…
> Killroy (was/here)

> Couldn’t be. If there were vampires operating out of a fraggin’ downtown club why wouldn’t the ‘Star do something about it?
> Bulldog

> There’s one in every crowd. The Coven (as the vampires call themselves) keep a very low profile and they’ve got enough money and influence among them to keep Lone Star off their backs. They’re very careful in choosing victims, making sure to feed on the SINless or on those who can be easily controlled and not likely to be missed. They’ve been at it long enough to be very good.
> Daikoku

> Wasn’t there some kind of shakeup that went down with the Coven last year?
> Walker

> That was an “internal” matter that resulted in the destruction of three of the Coven and Vlad Malkovitch joining their ranks.
> Daikoku

> Malkovitch? You mean Nosferatu the hitmage? He’s really a vampire?
> Road-Runner

> He is now.
> Daikoku

> Hey Daikoku, how do you know so much about these guys, anyway?
> Road-Runner

> Made the mistake of working for them once. If you happen to see Malkovitch, tell him I haven’t forgotten and that he’ll be seeing me again some day.
> Daikoku

With Friends Like These…

Getting threatened by a vampire is definitely not routine in my line of work, but I’m not the type who gives up easily. A visit from this guy Damien told me that I was definitely on to something, that I was shaking the right trees. All I had to do now was figure out how I was going to get my perp without bringing fangs and his friends down on me like a ton of bricks. Hell, for all I knew, old Damien had done the deed himself.

Since I had known pretty much from the beginning that a vampire had done the deed I had been thinking about counter-measures that I could take to deal with the blood-sucker. I knew that vampires didn’t have as many weaknesses as people liked to think that they did. Only a few of the traditional standbys, namely a good wooden stake or sunlight, would permanently harm them. Some vamps had a complex about religious icons, but I couldn’t count on that. Problem with using a wooden stake is that you have to get right up close to the vampire to do it, and I didn’t like the odds of me against someone who could rip me in half in hand-to-hand. I decided on another possibility and went to check it out.

No sooner had I left my van and put the security system back in order-despite the fat lot of good it did me against friend Damien-then this guy comes around the corner and starts walking towards me. He was tall and thin, wearing a long black coat that he seemed kind of folded into because of the way he stooped. His blond hair hung over his collar in the style favored by a lot of young mages these days and he pinned me with a stare from the palest pair of ice blue eyes I have ever seen. He reminded me a lot of my recent visitor, in fact.

Who is this guy, Damien’s older brother Lucifer? I thought. He stopped a short distance away, keeping his hands in his pockets-a suspicious gesture at best-and seemed to look right through me.

“You are the man they call Tin Star, yes?” he said eyeing my badge. He had a strange kind of accent that I couldn’t place though I tagged it as European-something.

“That’s me, can I help you Mister?”

“de Vries, Martin de Vries, and perhaps it is I who can help you. I understand that you have encountered evidence of a murder committed by a vampyr.”

Wow, news travels fast. de Vries paused for a moment for me to confirm his statement, then continued when I remained silent.

“I am something of an expert on these unholy creatures and would like to offer my assistance in locating this murderer. Most likely where there has been one vampiric murder such as this there will be others.” I looked de Vries over and decided that there was something I didn’t like about him. It was nothing definitive, I just didn’t get good vibes from him. On the other hand, I didn’t have a lot of leads or a lot of information about vampires in general. If this guy knew what I was dealing with, spooky or not, then maybe he could help.

“C’mon, Marty,” I said, pleased with the slight wince the mangling of his name evoked from him, “I’ll buy you a beer and we’ll talk about how you can help out.”

> de Vries was in Seattle recently? How come I didn’t hear anything about it? Martin must be getting more subtle in his old age.
> Maxxer

> Old age is one thing that Martin de Vries is never going to have to worry about, priyatel.
> Cobalt Blue

> Why is de Vries being so deferential to this Tin Star guy? Martin is more the take-charge type who hires teams of shadowrunners to do his dirty work killing off bloodsuckers. Why is he playing chummers with this guy?
> Rusty Razor

Martin de Vries acted like a man who could definitely use a couple of beers, too, but instead he just sat and chain smoked and watched me drink a couple of the neo-alcoholic kind while we talked (I don’t drink the real thing on a case, old habits die hard). Wreathed in bluish smoke, de Vries told me how he was a mage who had begun hunting vampires many years ago and had become a capable bounty hunter that specialized in the bloodsuckers. He didn’t look old enough to have been hunting vamps for years, but he certainly knew his stuff. He told me more about vampires in a couple of hours than I had heard in my entire life, including reading some of Lone Star’s files on the things.

> Does this guy not know that de Vries is the same as the bloodsuckers he’s out to get?
> Chance

> Tin Star isn’t exactly a Shadowland regular. He might have missed that upload on de Vries way back.
> Capt. Chaos

“So you think that this killing was just random?” I asked him.

“No, no,” he said quickly, “not random. They rarely do anything at random. I just said that I don’t think it has anything to do with the victim’s background. More likely he was chosen because he was obviously a stranger and less likely to be missed by the locals. As you said, the locals would have taken his possessions had you not found him so quickly and that would have ended the trail. The authorities wouldn’t have found him before it was far too late.”

“Sounds reasonable, but what does that give us to go on for the killer?” I decided not to tell old Marty about my little visit from Damien, not yet. Call me cynical, but I don’t trust anyone who is as quick as he is to offer help, even if he did claim to be a vampire hunter.

> Strange policy considering what you do for a hobby, Tinny.
> Cynic

De Vries wanted to examine the body, so I explained about my deal with Mickey and said I would take him over there in the morning. He said that he had some things to take care of during the day and wanted to meet up there tomorrow night. Fine by me, I said.

Gathering Evidence

The next night, I took de Vries over to Mickey’s and asked to see the body. Mickey got the stiff hauled out of the freezer and gave us some space so that de Vries could do his thing. I figured from his look and manner that he had to be a spellworm of some kind and he did some various mumbo-jumbo over the body, working spells and spending a lot of time just staring intently at different parts of the corpse, with special notice towards the neck wound. Finally he announced that he was done.

“Well?” I said.

“He was definitely killed by a vampire attack,” de Vries said. “His body was drained of its vital essence and then he was killed. It was quite sudden.”

“Any clues about the killer?”

“Nothing for certain,” he said slowly. “I have some suspicions I will need to check out. Do you know what became of his possessions?” I nodded.

“Yeah, I have them, like I said last night.”

“I would like to examine them as well.” That was fine by me and I gave de Vries my evidence bag. He turned it over in his hands a few times without opening it.

“Is this all there was?” he asked in a tone of studied disinterest.

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s all. Actually, I’m surprised he had that much on him.” de Vries nodded absently and said that his work would take several hours. After checking with Mickey to see if it would be okay for the spellworm to do his thing in the shop, so long as he didn’t disturb anything or anyone, I told de Vries that I would be back in a few hours. I had my own investigation to follow up on.

The LifeSavers Clinic was mostly dark when I arrived. The night shift was in full swing by then and visiting hours were over, but then I wasn’t looking to see any of the patients. I had checked the place out a bit when I had been there before and the building layout looked pretty simple.

A PANICBUTTON link-up isn’t that hard to disable when you know how. In not time I had that worry out of the way and I was inside the side entrance. Just as I closed the door behind me I heard soft footsteps coming down the tiled hall. I flattened myself against the wall of the corridor off to my left and did my best to become part of the decor. The sound passed by and there was a gentle woosh of automatic doors that cut the sound off.

The hall I was in was a dead-end containing a closet on one side and another door. I borrowed from just about every vid I’ve ever seen and borrowed a set of scrubs from the closet to throw over my street clothes. There wasn’t much chance of convincing anyone I was a doctor, but familiar clothing might make someone hesitate for the second or so I would need to react. Old trick, but it works.

> For someone who is supposed to be so law-abiding, Tinny sure does know his breaking and entering.
> Cynic

> I think that it’s justice that concerns our friend Tin Star and not the letter of the law. He is, by his own definition, a vigilante.
> Reddy

The other door led into a lounge area of some sort with the usual sofa, table and row of lockers and vending machines. The lockers were a promising place to start, so I began checking. A couple were locked, and I bypassed them to go right on to the others. Unfortunately, the didn’t have anything in them other than dirty clothes, half-eaten food and various assorted junk. Nothing that would connect up with my man Jiro Takama or what his little errand might have been.

I heard the sound of footsteps approaching too late to do anything about it. The hall was a dead-end and there was no cover in the room (fitting into a locker was right out). Time to bluff.

A man entered the room and pulled his surgical cap off to reveal a slightly balding head of dark hair. His mask was dangling around his neck over his slightly bloody scrubs. He looked at me with a start as he entered the room and I did my best to look like I belonged there. A badge hanging from his scrubs identified him as Doctor Tanzer, Albert.

> Dr. Albert Tanzer? He’s one of the foremost hematology experts in North America. What would he be doing working in a clinic in the barrens?
> Doc

> Query:hematology?
> Whitewash

> The study of blood and blood-related illnesses.
> Doc

“Hoi,” I said, thinking wow, that was original.

“Evening,” he replied. “You new here?”

Hai, Doctor, I was just transferred this week.” I decided to fall back on a touch of Japanese and maybe invoke a bit of the spirit of the parent zaibatsu Yakashima, which later occurred might have been a bad idea.

“I don’t recall any transfer. Can I see your” Then I hit him. Dr. Tanzer wasn’t much of a pugilist and one punch took him down. I caught him under the arms and slid him to the floor, which is when I noticed the small bunch keys hanging from his pocket. I picked them up and looked over the locked lockers. There was a narrow magnetic key on the ring and only one of the lockers had a sophisticated electronic padlock. Let’s hear it for high-tech, I thought and slotted the lock.

Without protest, the lock popped open and I checked out the locker. There was a data-reader and some chips and a pretty nice suit. Stuck to the mirror on the back of the door was a KleenTac note with “ASCLEPIUS” scrawled across it. I pocketed the chips, took one last look at the note and smiled at myself in the mirror. Closed everything back up and arranged the good doctor on the couch. Then I left as quietly as I came in.

Lucky for me that the maxim holds true: most people simply cannot recall their system passwords or are too paranoid about possibly forgetting them. Against all recommendations to the contrary, they still write them down, just in case something happens. At least, I was hoping that was why Dr. Tanzer has the name of a Greek god taped to the inside of his locker and not some “daily affirmation” to remind him of his duty to his fellow man.

I called up a decker friend of mine who owed me a favor for helping him out of some trouble a while back. Once I gave him the lowdown on the delivery, Dr. Tanzer, BioGene and the possible password, he said that he would check and see what he could turn up. I went back to Mickey’s to find out what de Vries turned up on his spook search.

I found the vampire hunter where I had left him. He was putting a collection of strange gear away in the bag he carried and dusting colored traces of what smelled like chalk from his hands. He seemed pretty satisfied with himself, so I assumed that he had found something.

“Any luck?” I asked.

“I don’t believe in luck, Mr. Star, however, I have found some additional information. The victim was definitely killed by a vampire-not one of the other life-drainers-and the vampire is still nearby. Definitely still in the metroplex and more than likely still in this district.”

“That means he might kill again here.”

“Unlikely,” de Vries said as he packed his gear. “This feeding will sustain the vampire for some time, I could be months before he feeds again.”

“I thought vampires had to drink blood all the time.” de Vries gave a silent snort that I think passed for a laugh for him.

“Hardly. If that were so, no vampire would last more than a week anywhere in the civilized world. Vampires only need to feed every few months or so. They can often go upwards of five or six months between feedings, although they prefer not to. Most, the ones smart enough to survive, confine their hunting to places where a few additional people will never be missed, like this area.”

“And why did he break the guy’s neck? To prevent him from becoming a vampire?” Again the silent chuckle.

“No. The virus has to be transmitted by contact with infected blood. If everyone who was killed by a vampire became one, there would be an exponential growth in their population. We would have a plague of vampires inside of a few years. Creation of another vampire is a deliberate act, they keep their population low to avoid competition for food sources and good hunting grounds. If I didn’t know better I would say that breaking the victim’s neck was an act of mercy.”

“How do you mean?” I asked. I didn’t see how getting killed one way was more merciful than another.

“Death by the loss of your essential life force is most painful, Mr. Star.” Hmmm. A merciful death didn’t exactly fit the descriptions of any vampires I had ever heard of, I needed to do some more checking on old Damien and see if he lived around here. While I was thinking about it, de Vries shut his bag with a snap and brought my attention back to the here and now.

“It is very late,” he announced like it was a revelation. “We can discuss this further tomorrow night. I will come to collect you.” Yes, sir, I thought. Whatever you say , sir. I think de Vries was starting to forget whose case this was.

> That is sounding more like the sociopathic obsessive we all know and love.
> RainMaker

> de Vries or Tin Star?
> Bitter Lemon

> Does it matter?
> RainMaker

The Project

My decker friend came through with flying colors. By the time I got back to my van to crash for the night there was e-mail awaiting me.

The Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus

The Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus (HMHVV) is a retrovirus similar to the virii that cause AIDS and Herpes. The virus incorporates itself into the genetic code of the host organism and uses that genetic code to replicate itself, in effect, it alters the genetics of the host in such as way as to assure its continued survival and propagation.

Unlike the virii mentioned above, HMHVV appears active only in a mana-rich environment. The virus is dormant in lower-levels of mana, only manifesting symptoms when the ambient magical energy reaches a certain threshold, as we speculate it did in mid- to late 2021.

> Right around the same time as Goblinization Day.
> Tuskidero

> Bang on. Also the year the first vampire was believed to put in an appearance with a string of mysterious murders that occurred in the summer of that year in New Orleans. Vampires weren’t scientifically proven to exist until late 2023.
> NightStalker

Effects of the Virus

The magically sensitive nature of the virus alters the genetic code of the host to increase awareness and sensitivity to magical phenomena. This grants the host organism a variety of magical abilities based on the original phenotype of the host. Most common among these are greatly enhanced strength, sharpened senses and superhuman recuperative abilities.

A significant majority of infected hosts also demonstrate active as well as innate magical abilities. Hosts that retain their normal cognitive faculties can develop their abilities through training as well as trial-and-error. There have been documented cases of the virus inducing active magical abilities in hosts who displayed no such abilities before infection, so we theorize that the virus may stimulate areas of the DNA code specifically related to magical potential (cf. “A genetic basis for magical talent,” Dr. Etienne Dumas, Journal de Magique, June 2032).

> Most, but not all. There is still a signification portion of vampires-about 30% or so-that display no active magical abilities apart from their innate powers. Does that mean the virus does not always bring out magical talent or only that it develops and existing latent ability in many hosts?
> Doc

> It is also possible that the virus grants active magical ability to all hosts but a portion of them never learn how to use their talent and it goes undeveloped, just as with many normal magicians.
> Magister

The virus also induces in the host a requirement for the infusion of vital energy. The presence of the virus causes a breakdown in the host’s astral integrity, resulting in a slow loss of vital life energy. This is compensated by the virus granting the host the ability to “feed” on the vital energy of other living creatures to replenish its own supply. This feeding process appears to be vital in the propagation of the virus through an eco-structure.

The feeding process is usually accompanied by the stimulation of strong emotion in the victim. This creates a temporary astral link between the host and the victim, allowing the host to drain a portion of the victim’s energy. Often the process will also involve the consumption of some physical portion of the victim such as blood or flesh as part of the feeding process.

> Common misconception Number One: Vampires and the rest of the Infected do not live on blood. The blood is just a symbolic link to the true vital energy they draw upon. Research has show that this vital force (I hesitate to use the terms "spirit" or "soul") is finite in us and does not regenerate. A vampire can only drain a given victim so much before they die. The time intervals between feedings appear to be irrelevant. Get vamped enough time, you're dead. It's that simple. The arguments that vampires can live off of "donated" blood and coexist with normals is simply not true. Vampires must kill -or at least inflict permanent injury-to survive. That means it's us or them.
> King

> Nosferatu also seem to have to ability to tap and drain emotional energy from their victims, causing them to swoon and pass out, but causing no permanent harm. They don't appear to derive any "nourishment" from this, only a temporary boost in their strength since the emotional energy dissipates quickly.
> Nachtschreck

Affected Metatypes

All sub-species of homo sapiens are affected by HMHVV. Homo sapiens pumilionis was believed to be immune based on no recorded infections over the course of ten years until the first documented case in France in 2046. Each distinctive phenotype yields a different expression of the virus, but all hosts maintain the characteristics described here.

Pesvastus pilosis, is also subject to infection by HMHVV. The only non-homo sapien creature to exhibit infection, pesvastus does not exhibit symptoms like those found in homo sapiens. This leads to the conclusion that the pesvastus infection is the result of a similar, distinct and possibly mutated strain. Efforts to identify this strain have met with no success.

> Bandersnatch (infected sasquatch) do not drain their victim's life force. Their behavior and mutation more closely resembles the effects of the Jarka-Criscione strain, suggesting they might be infected by the same-or similar-virus.
> Doc

> How come Sasquatch are the only non-sapiens affected?
> Dixon

> Perhaps because someone got their classification wrong. I would suggest that the mysterious Sasquatch is more closely related to (meta)humanity than most people would like to admit.
> Sagan

> Brother John

Lower primates and other animals infected with HMHVV do not provide a suitable host for the virus, which inevitably causes death within hours of infection.

> Not quite true. Yes, animals infected with HMHVV-I quickly die, but I have heard that Nosferatu are able to infect critters with HMHVV-III and turn them into vampiric pawns or even lesser vampires. The dogs protecting a Nosferatu's manor house might be much more than they appear.
> Rabid

Viral Mutations

HMHVV appear to be subject to rapid mutation, which had made the development of treatment difficult. Four separate strains have been identified since the isolation of HMHVV-I in 2035. These are described below. It is presently unknown if these mutations are due to magic, biochemistry or some other environmental factor. The ongoing mutation of the virus makes isolating and treating it difficult.

HMHVV-II: The Jarka-Criscione strain. The only metatype known to have been infected with this strain is homo sapiens ingentis, resulting in what are commonly known as Fomorians in Western Europe, notably Tir na n’Og. Since the hosts of this strain do not exhibit to energy-draining needs or abilities of hosts for HMHVV-I, there is support for the possibility that this might be a radical mutation or a different, but related, virus.

HMHVV-III: The Bruckner-Lager strain. This strain of HMHVV is fatal to all known metatypes except for homo sapiens sapiens. The infection results in a loss of body hair and a general rictus to the facial muscles in addition to the other symptoms of HMHVV-I. Hosts gain considerable innate magical abilities and all documented cases have possessed active magical abilities as well. Speculation that this strain is the result of increasing magical activity worldwide has not yet been proven.

HMHVV-IV: The Kreiger strain. Isolated in 2049, this strain affects all homo sapien metatypes equally, causing a loss of body hair, blindness and a hardening of the nails into claws. Hosts suffer from a necrotic condition where body tissues lose their self-repairing ability and must be supplemented with fresh tissue consumed from other homo sapiens. This causes the skin of the host to take on a gray coloration and results in a strong odor of decay. Hosts do not display any loss of vital essence from failure to feed but will eventually suffer from biological breakdown if they body’s needs are not met.

> I thought ghouls were goblinizations like us.
> Goblin Boy

> That's what the lab boys thought, too. That's because by the time ghouls showed up, it had already been proven that goblinization (turning into Orks and Trolls) wasn't a "disease" but a natural genetic change. The wheels of political correctness quashed any efforts to prove that Ghouls were any more "diseased" than any other metatype. That was until the 40s, when a lot of social organizations were trying to help improve ghoul living conditions in places like Chicago. That's when they found out that ghouls had some kind of virus that made them the way they are and that they could pass it on to other people and make them ghouls as well.
> Doc

> In fact, that's the only way that ghouls (and the other infected) can reproduce: by infected others with the virus. Studies have shown that anyone infected with HMHVV becomes sterile and unable to produce offspring, so this is how they increase their numbers.
> Gurth

> There has been a lot of debate over whether or not the viral agent that causes the ghoul condition is actually a strain of HMHVV or a totally separate (but similar) magical-virus. It and HMHVV-II might be more closely related to each other than to the other identified strains.
> Double-Domed Mike

> If the Infected can only reproduce by infecting others, where did the first vampires and drek come from? Who infected them?
> Breezy@nightcom.noms

> Unknown. The most commonly accepted theory is Hartz's "metagenic expression" that says the HMHVV (which is a retrovirus) incorporated itself into the genes of its hosts and lay dormant while the magic was low. It was passed on as a recessive genetic trait. Since the virus wasn't active, it didn't inhibit breeding amongst its hosts. When the Awakening happened, people with the virus spontaneously became Infected. Some even goblinized and then were changed by the virus, which confused the hell out of some doctors trying to come up with an explanation for goblinization and was the main reason why it was first believed that vampires (and ghouls and all the rest) were just goblinizations at first.
> Doc


Transmission of the virus requires the potential host to come in direct contact with infected blood or flesh. It also requires that the host’s vital energy be at a very low ebb. Fully healthy hosts that come in contact with HMHVV quickly reject the virus and destroy it. Their high level of vital energy appears to fight off the infection. For this reasons, potential hosts are generally drained of their vital energy before they are infected.

The process of infection and the resulting genetic changes require an incubation period of 48 to 72 hours before the new host has completely assimilated the virus.

> Vampires usually force a drained victim to drink some of their infected blood to make them a vampire. I've heard that wendigo's have even more horrible rituals that involve cannibalistic feasts to transform the potential victims and feed off of their energy.
> Walker

> Common Misconception Number Two: Everyone killed by a vampire does not become a vampire. Like de Vries said, passing on the infection is a conscious act. However, there is a lot of evidence that it is instinctual with many vampires and may be as difficult for them to resist as it is for us to resist mating with each other at every opportunity.
> King

> Something occurs to me. Remember in the Aztlan download how Dunkelzahn and his mysterious chummers seemed so torqued-off about the blood magic stuff they're doing South of the Border? Dunkelzahn even tried to get the Big A to ban using it with a bribe from his will (fat chance). Well, Vampires drink blood, right? You think maybe that's some kind of blood magic? Maybe that's why Dunkelzahn wants the vamps taken care of. Just a thought.
> DRH@plains.nodak

> It's not the same thing at all.
> Magister

> Why else would Dunkelzahn want a cure for the vampire virus?
> Arioch

> Oh, I dunno, concern and compassion, maybe? Does everything have to have a fragging angle, Arioch?
> Bung

> Yes, it does.
> Arioch

> Hmmm, maybe, maybe not. Interesting idea, DRH. I'll get back to you.
> Doc

Possible Treatment

Treatment for those infected by HMHVV takes a two-pronged approach. The first issue is the elimination or suppression of the virus itself, preventing further replication and infection of the host organism. Preliminary studies has shown that this might be accomplished through genetic cleansing treatments and extensive viral gene therapy to remove the viral agent for the host’s DNA.

> This procedure would be similar to the process used for the Leonization process mentioned in the ShadowTech download. It would "clean out" the host's DNA and restore it to the same state as it was before the virus infiltrated it.
> Sagan

> I've also heard of studies using various drugs to suppress the effects of the vampiric virus, with mixed levels of success. Overall, it appears that drug therapy can slow the onset of the virus, but that generally involves curing the disease by killing the patient.
> Doc

The complication of the gene-therapy treatment is the host body’s loss of vital energy. Once the virus has been cleaned from the host’s system, their life force quickly ebbs and their aura fades, resulting in death in a matter of hours. Attempts have been made to stabilize the subject’s aura through magic as well as conventional medical treatment, but so far they have not been successful. However, I believe that the works of Dr. Elizabeth Kleinburg may be a guidepost towards a possible solution. Her “auric stabilization” theory suggests that it is possible to “hold” a fading bio-astral aura in a stable state. I strongly recommend that we consider acquiring Dr. Kleinburg’s assistance for further research.

> Who's Dr. Kleinburg?
> 'Shroom

> Doctor Liz Kleinburg is a thaumatic researcher and medical doctor with the Bruckner Klinic in Germany, owned by Saeder-Krupp. Rumor has it that her research was part of the basis for the development of cybermancy, the technique of arresting the loss of the spirit following extensive cyber-modification.
> Magister

> Cybermantic vampires? No way!
> zoomer@zoom.zoom.zoom

> Definitely not. Vampiric regeneration precludes the implantation of cyber, they simply heal too fast to operate on. But Dr. Kleinburg's technique might be used to keep a subject alive once their system is clear of the HMHVV. How "alive" they would be, I have no idea. Cybermantic subjects are often little more than zombies, so it might not be much of a life to look forward to.
> Doc

The Killer

de Vries arrived not long after sunset, as I had expected. He was smoking again and the pale orange light of the nic-stick cast a glow over his gaunt features.

“Are you ready to continue our investigation, constable?” he asked when I opened to door to my van. I shook my head.

“Investigation’s over, chummer. I know who killed Takama.” I showed the hand that I had kept hidden behind the door of the van, the one with the gun leveled at de Vries’ heart. “It was you. I’ve been doing some checking up on you and found out some interesting things. Like the fact that you hunt vampires out of revenge because they turned you into one. Like how you are desperate for a cure for you condition. Desperate enough that you would kill to get some important research into a cure that was going to the LifeSavers’ clinic.” I have to give him credit, de Vries didn’t even bat an eye. He was as cold as the grave.

“If you know all that,” he said calmly, “then you must know that,” he nodded towards my gun, “can’t possibly be a threat to me.”

“I know a little more about vampires than before, with some thanks to you. I know I can’t kill you with this, but I can take you down. Even a vampire isn’t going to ignore a high-caliber slug where it will do the most damage. But I’m not interested in killing you. What I want is the truth, what I’m after is justice.” de Vries gave one of his silent little laughs at that one.

“Justice? There is no ‘justice’ in this world, Mr. Star. If I have learned anything from my struggle with these creatures, I know that. There is only the struggle of life and death. It is a world of predators where most everyone is prey. I used to believe that there was some kind of safety, some kind of protection from the law. But the law means nothing to creatures like these. They are outside of your foolish concepts of justice and morality. They exist only to survive and they will do whatever is required to ensure that survival.” de Vries was talking to me, but he practically didn’t even notice if I was listening. He was almost raving.

“They are like an embodiment the disease. They are a cancer that spreads through humanity, drawing on its life blood for their own twisted survival. And like any cancer they must be cut out if the rest of the body is to survive.”

“You killed Takama for the research, didn’t you.”

“Yes. The possibility of a cure. An end to this plague. Some of us may yet be saved, constable. But there are others who revel in their unlife. They will have to be destroyed and I am one of the only ones willing to do what it takes to make sure that happens, no matter if it takes me an eternity. Unless you are going to stop me?”

I considered that for a long moment. Despite my outward confidence, I had no idea if my gun had enough stopping power to take down de Vries long enough to disable him. I had never fought a vampire before. And de Vries was a mage to boot and could have all kinds of magical defenses and abilities I knew nothing about. But he was also a killer who had made the mistake of killing where I had chosen to enforce the peace and the law is the law. I looked him in the eyes and saw no fear of death there, de Vries was someone who would welcome death.

I lowered my gun.

“Get out of here. I don’t ever want to see you around here again.”

“You won’t, constable, you won’t.” And with that he was gone, like the fog.

I don’t know if I did the right thing in letting de Vries go. I know that the other vampires are going to be looking for the research that he took and plenty of other people, too. He’s a hunted man who is busy hunting down his own kind. Whatever he might have claimed to me, I think that Martin de Vries is desperately looking for some kind of justice in this life.