D Jason Cooper
From Hercules, the sun was merely a bright star, if you happened to be standing on the sunward side of the asteroid. On the dark side the sun didn't even offer a glow.
"Are you sure you're up to this, old man?"
Dense metals like iron, carbon deposits, some stray amino acids, some unexplained salt deposits made up most of the asteroid. Once upon a time there was plentiful gold but that had been mined in the second half of the twenty second century. By the twenty third it had made the fortunes of those who would leave behind those who had to stay.
"I've been up to this for nearly sixty years, vampire. This year is no different."
That was a lie. He could feel it was different, or rather, he could no longer deny to himself that it was different. There had been too much he had had to do over the last few years, too many things to arrange. The old man and the vampire sat on opposite sides of a table, behind each of them the door through which they had entered the negotiation room. The two negotiators began to prepare.
Lopsided, now, Hercules put only one face to the sun. Humans lived on the sun-side, vampires on the dark. If truth be told, the sun offered little threat to the vampires. Not this far out. Even if it did, life in the asteroids existed underground, not on the surface.
The old man eased himself into the seat. It was a formality. In the low gravity of the asteroid, nothing that wasn't tied down could really be said to be stable. He looked at the vampire, whose youth he could envy. Pale skin, as asteroid dwellers tended to have, black clothing in an ornate, antique style. The collar was high with gold filigree surrounding a bloodstone for a choker. It was said that on Earth vampires no longer affected the antique. Perhaps so. But the vampires were winning that world, so perhaps the modern did not seem so threatening to them.
"You're looking well," said the vampire.
"I'm alive. That is as much as one can hope for, these days. Sometimes more."
Despite the low gravity his posture was still stooped. Age had wearied his joints until they had tried to contract, leaving him hunched yet unable to bend over and painfully afraid even in the low gravity that he might fall over. This was going to be the last time he conducted these negotiations. He could not possibly wait another year.
"Let me begin," said the vampire, "by saying that on the whole our society is please by the way your side has fulfilled the obligations of the treaty."
"You weren't so happy six months ago when your kind was dying."
"You sent aresenids. People who had fed on increasing amounts of arsenic in order to build a resistance to the poison. We did not have that resistance."
"We did not vouch for them. They came from an asteroid that didn't have vampires. They were slated to die for some crime or another."
"They were booby traps for civilians. You may not have known I like to think you did not know but you were certainly pleased when we started to die."
"And the rest of you were too sick to do anything about it."
The vampire was standing, now, his eyes seemingly becoming even redder with anger. The old man had practiced for years, seemingly for his whole life, and knew exactly how to get under his skin. The vampire regained his composure if not his equipoise, and sat.
"You called me what?"
"I called you a monster. I also want to say our society will not be accepting food from other asteroids which is not vouchsafed as safe. Any further traps like that one and we will declare war."
"How dare you? If you are going to call soldiers we can end negotiation here and now."
It was the old man standing, now, breathing heavily. No war, not now. The old man regained his composure if not his equipoise and sat down. He knew he could not out stare a vampire so he arranged the tabbed negotiation points on his laptop.
"We have all but won on Earth, you know."
The old man continued to tab through the negotiation points on the computer. It was a relational database with voice recognition. His tabbed notes would pop up when key words were spoken, but he liked to run through them and have everything in his memory crowding out the things he didn't want to think about.
"Since the great Pumic victory, Mercury is ours. Your attack on Luna was repulsed. Mars is not so much yours as you imagine. And from what I hear, Earth has a new weapon and he will put paid to your kind in the twin cities on the western coast."
The vampire smiled. Had there not been fangs there, it might have seemed genuine.
The vampire had no computer, just paper and a nibbed pen with resin ink to allow it to be used in low gravity. It was said than on Earth vampires no longer affected the antique. His father had promised to take the old man to Earth, but that was long ago and was simply another thing that would never happen.
There was a sudden shudder. The old man was tossed out of his chair, his leg hitting the underside of the table. The laptop flew through the air. With a reluctant cry the old man grabbed the leg.
"Are you all right?"
The old man looked at the vampire. Their serene faces were also an affectation, as the vampire had proved.
"The treaty says you stay on that side of the table!"
It took a moment for it to register but the vampire withdrew. The old man got back into his seat with difficulty, despite the low gravity. It was movement he found hard, always harder.
"That leg will bruise the heat of the leg shows through the cloth."
"All that blood going to waste, eh? Just discoloring my old, old skin, and not wetting your throat."
The vampire looked disgusted and changed the subject.
"Did you expect any ships?"
"Not for another two months, as we've logged. Still, that's a small vessel which will simply pace Hercules. Solar sails take too long to retract and extend." He turned to the old man. "Strange, is it not? We still talk of months when there is no moon to mark them."
"What, are you scared of werewolves?"
The briefest of pauses.
"Those are just fables."
They faced each other, an annual ritual of trade and the cessation of the act of war. Vampires traded with their own kind on other asteroids, humans did the same. Increasingly in the asteroid belt, the two populations traded with each other. Blood for something. Peace for concessions. Peace had prevailed. Families had grown, but the old man sometimes wondered if some of the children weren't merely the assurance of supply.
"Our numbers dropped after the tainting. They have since been restored "
"There is not to be any emigration without human concordance!"
"But the principles state that one side shall not diminish the numbers of the other.' Surely the principle shall over-ride the advantage of the moment."
So the vampires had brought population in. If that was true then the vampires had the capacity to respond to a planet's emergency in less than a year. That was better than the human side could do. If that were the case then clearly the vampires were forming governments, rather than every coven bowing to their own Lord of the Vampires.'
"How many of there are you, now?"
"We are one to three of yours, and fifteen less."
Feigned antiquity, again: a simple number would have done as well. Better, since this answer depended on the vampires knowing exactly how many humans there were. Then again, maybe they did. If the answer was true then there were about 400 vampires who knew human affairs far too intimately.
"You must be crowded," said the old man, "with all those immigrants."
"As are you. Hence the proposal to shift some of the central stone out to provide more space."
The laptop popped up a note.
"Our engineers say the plan is feasible and work can begin anytime."
"Starting on your side or ours?"
"Our side, vampire. The material will be mined and moved to your side, melted and sealed before work begins on tunneling. Otherwise there's not enough material on your side to rebuild."
It was agreed to. The negotiations for that had been going for better than twenty years, there was little left to argue over. As it was there was not the space for the two sides to wholly separate and both sides would appreciate the change.
The old man looked at his hands. They were shaking. They always did that, now. When he'd started negotiations for the human community, he was younger than the vampire by twenty years. Now he was forty years older. Once the vampires had decayed, died quickly, they did not do that, now.
"Are you all right?"
"What do you care, vampire? So long as your kind gets their blood?"
"For which we trade. We do not hunt."
"So, the great hunters are happy so long as they are given suck."
"I've had enough of this, old man old, old man. Once a year you come in here wanted to spew your hatred into these negotiations. I have spent sixty years trying to build understanding between our peoples. We used to have to negotiate on opposite sides of a steel grid."
"You're not allowed to lean that far over the table. There's a line where the grid used to be."
The vampire withdrew. Regaining his composure was harder, and eventually impossible."
"You are a lousy son."
"And you were a lousy father!" The old man was standing, now, shouting into a dam that held back sixty years of bile and anger. "You abandoned your family, you wife my mother "
"I did what I had to do. If I hadn't "
They were both shouting, now, shouting their side of the story as if it might batter down the story of the other side. The old man wore out first, hunched over and panting hard.
"Are you all right?"
"Stay away, vampire, stay away."
The old man sat down to arrange the notes on his computer to the minutest detail.
"So you will not need an increase in the blood supply formula."
"No, son, we will not. However, we do have more gold, so we have a new offer for trade."
"Here it comes "
"We want to purchase artworks "
"You want mementoes."
"Is that so terrible? I have no picture of your mother or of you as a child "
"When you die your estate passes on to your heirs. That is the natural order of things." The old man let that sink in. It's in the treaty."
"That was your doing, son."
No yelling this time, just a cold, sharp-edged silence.
"Digital photos mean nothing to you. You could give us the photos and still have them I'd have pictures of you and "
"Don't speak my mother's name."
"She was my wife."
"Until death parted you."
"We are still family, son."
"A decayed, stagnant, dead end of family."
"Don't be too sure of that, son."
"Like I'd ever believe you again."
"You'll have to grow up, someday, Julius."
The name hung like a poison in the air. The same name, as if there had been a continuity expected between the generations and the failure of that had to be explained.
"I was bitten, so the vampires knew my words were true. If I had not given myself up they would have never signed the treaty. The war would have continued. As it was it nearly destroyed both sides. My sacrifice saved us all."
"There were other ways, if you had not been so eager to give yourself up to the monsters that had fascinated you for years."
"I carried out certain secret studies "
"I was your son. Don't give me some public speech. I saw you at home and how you collected every bit of information you could about the bloodsuckers. I saw the excitement when you spoke of them. I saw the light in your eyes when they were brown like mine."
"If I hadn't given myself up the war would have gone on. Humans would have been mere food and your forgotten corpse would be lying naked at the bottom of some forgotten crater together with the rest of the last of the colony."
"We would have won. There were troops finally on the way."
"Who never arrived."
"They were called elsewhere when the treaty was signed. They should have come regardless and set things to rights. We would have won."
"I think it's about time you grew up, son, don't you? You're nearly eighty, now, after all."
The old man looked at his screen. He remembered being young, younger than his father. Now he merely clung to life, holding to the status quo his father had imposed sixty years earlier by giving voluntary suck to vampires.
"I did what I had to do, son."
"Your wife didn't think so, when she died."
"She thought so the night I delivered myself up."
The old man hit a key on the old laptop and turned it around. The vampire watched a clip of his wife's delirium as she lay dying. He could almost smell the blood turning dry inside her.
"She would have wanted you there, father."
"I could have been."
"Your precious treaty would not allow it, and it was you who inserted that clause."
The vampire looked at his hands, only briefly. As if his head was pulled up by the hair, the vampire watched the streaming to the end. Dead. Unmistakably dead and her blood drained for low grade trading goods.
"You might have drunk her."
There was another shift beneath them. This one was not enough to throw them from their seats but enough to knock them to one side.
"The ship had freelanded. Sounds like somebody put the old clamps to use, so it's locked to the asteroid. There hasn't been a ship that large here since the big mining stopped."
"Some ArchCardinal is making a trip to Jupiter. Maybe he's trying to convert our Pagan souls "
"Jupiter's conjunct it's on the other side of the sun. Jupiter only means trade when it's close."
The vampire suddenly stopped and stared at his son as if from an angle he had never used before.
"But you know that, everybody does."
There was a pause, then a sound not heard for many years. The old man smiled like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders, one not made easier by low gravity.
"I am willing to die for my cause, father, am I not your son, Julius son of Julius?"
The vampire closed his eyes.
"Troops. That ship carried troops."
"Yes, father. That ship carries troops enough to wipe your degenerate kind from the face of my soul. They troops we were promised have finally come."
There was the sound of fighting. Sound carried easily through asteroids, solid as they were. The old man looked more tired than ever, but he smiled, anyway. It was an effort, but he smiled, anyway.
"Your imported vampires will not be enough to save you."
"Son, vampires have been able to breed among themselves for years, now. Your arsenids killed our children." He stopped to listen to the approaching sound of gunfire. "You have a half-brother and half-sister who wanted to meet you."
The old man didn't hear what his father said next. Troops burst into the room, bolt blasters tearing flesh from bone and spraying ichor in a wide arc. The vampire died in an instant. The soldiers in the ichor and blood-splattered armor saw the old man and patted him, saying how well he'd done.
Then he saw the crosses. The soldiers were Church of the Covenant, not Pagan. The blood would be the blood of the Pagan priests of Hercules. The Covenant would put their own kind, here Hercules would now have a Covenant population and they would proselytize without mercy.
He looked up, the soldier repeated himself for the old man's benefit.
"That's it, the asteroid St Joan is free of vampires. The priests have set up a chapel where everyone will give thanks. Come with us."
And with that the soldier's grip tightened.
D Jason Cooper was born south of Toronto, Canada, grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Perth, Australia. He has a wife and two children, a girl, Shadra (aged twelve) a boy, Darius (aged eight), and two cats.
He holds a BA from the University of Western Australia and is the author of severl books, including Slums of Paradise, Understanding Numerology, Using the Runes, Esoteric Rune Magic, The Power of Dreaming, Mithras: Mysteries and Initiation Rediscovered and The Astral Grail. He is a regular on Perth radio and has occasionally appeared on TV.
Published by permission of the author.