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The Lorraine Project


Volume II



By Just call me Nik





Project Lorraine Chapter # 18: Betwixt & Between...


After coffee, I made my excuses, left Pete in the Café, went back to my room. I stripped, emptied my valve, locked through and emerged as Rhys. Her lighter bag held only baby cream, talc and body wash. With that inside, I locked her door and set off into the Nest's maze. Again, her sandals' wedge helped, but keeping to Rhys' small, short steps was difficult.

There was a note on her hanging space in the Diner's changing area, 'Rhys, your spare clothes & clogs in Café, help Lara. {J}' I deliberately went the long way around, looked for a staff door. There was none, but I did spot the nearby His & Hers washrooms. Deep breath, set nerve, ease into Café...

Behind the counter, Lara's head jerked up. The others followed her gaze. Silence fell. "Ook !" Pete managed, "Hello, Rhys ! Come in, come in !" "H-- Hello..." I stuttered, ghosted a clumsy curtsey. It wasn't hard to seem nervous. Those in the know gawped at my transformation, the others stared in naked curiosity. "Hi, Rhys ! Glad you found us !" Lara waved, "Come around here-- We've locker-space in back !" "Y-- Yes, Ma'am." I sidled through, glad to step out of sight. Lara pointed to the hanger with my spare uniform, badge and new clogs beneath. I nodded, changed into Rhys' catering clothes, washed and scrubbed. Going house-front was less unsettling because they knew this Rhys from the Diner. Even so, Pete hid a smirk behind his mug, and Lara kept a hand to her mouth to suppress incipient giggles.

"S-- Start clean." I showed my hands, hoping to sound nervous but professional. Lara inspected them thoroughly, nodded, waved at the coffee machines, "Okay, Rhys, have you ever used equipment like this ?" "S-- Sorry, Ma'am..." I allowed, "Only basic machines..." That was a simplification. My coffee-mad family owned enough gadgets, beans and blends to stock a shop. I preferred brews that took longer to drink than make, processes and equipment that did not require a Rocket Scientist or Chemical Engineer to run. Yes, I drank OwnBrand Instant. And, yes, my sibs claimed they could taste the difference... "Okay." Lara nodded, "We'll start with these, as there's two of them..." She took it slow, I focussed. My first attempt looked odd, but tasted okay-- in my opinion, of course. The second was better. Lara drank the third and enjoyed it. Then we took the beast apart and cleaned it out. Re-assembled, it not only gleamed, it made coffee.

"Other's the same." Lara explained, "We've hand-washed, but the parts will go through our dish-washer." A smaller version of the Diner kitchen's tray-loader, it was bleeping at the cycle's end. "How often is that run ?" "When a basket fills. Don't hand-wash cups, mugs or plates, Rhys: They need too much rinsing to shift the detergent taste. And don't wash more than one coffee machine at a time. We usually do one before Supper, one after, so Day Watch can still have caffeine with their breakfast..." "Day ?" "Nest's like a ship, runs 24/7. They liase with the Surface, run the Laundry and such..." "Ah..." Well, I should have realised, "What about that big coffee machine ?" "Leave it alone." Lara stated, "At least until you've studied its DVD !" "That bad ?" I shuddered, "Okay !" "Just make simple coffee, serve cake and rolls from the chiller. More in the fridge. Anything gets short, the intercom goes through to the kitchen." Lara chuckled, "Watch the water levels. Keep the place clean and tidy..." "Yes, Ma'am. And if I need a quick break ?" Lara pointed under the counter to a cheerful sign, 'Back in five.', "Put that up, go as you are, re-scrub when you get back. Okay, I'm helping with Second Breakfast-- See you later !" "D'uh ?" "Have fun, Rhys !"

"Ook..." I managed as she scooted out. A dozen heads tracked her exit, turned to me. I hastily grabbed that sign, "Sorry, my first day working this Café-- Any Café ! Please, give me a minute to check the stock..." That was fair enough, drew nods and several chuckles. I worked my way around the shelves and cupboards. Here, boxes of napkins and swizzle-sticks. There, clean mugs, cups, saucers and small plates by the dozens. Spare trays of plastic cutlery. More milk, rolls, carrot and fruit-cake in the fridge. Dirties ? Half a tray, a few more to add. Washer ? I eased it open, ducked the usual gush of steam. It was a mixed load, I'd time to wait for it to cool. Water levels ? Fine. Milk jug ? Ready...

I turned, took a deep breath, removed the sign, "Café is open--" "Two LARGE Lattés--" "A Medium Mocha--" "Small, black--" I held up a hand, "Two Large Lattés to start ? Okay, wish me luck..." My victims hooted, began playing 'Scissors, Paper, Rock' to determine who'd risk the first sip...

When Lara returned, the floating clientele were sipping passable coffee and nibbling rolls. After deciding I was safe, Pete was gone on Nest business. The washer gurgled in mid-cycle. A pair of cheerful Youngsters had found Oswestry with GoogleEarth, were teaching Rhys to map-read. "Hi, Rhys ! Any problems ?" "No, Ma'am, nothing no-one could drink..." I allowed. That drew hoots, but it was true. "That's fine, Rhys !" She chuckled, " Not bad for your first session: Now, could you go help with Elevenses in the Diner ? I'll take over here..." "Yes, Ma'am." I nodded to the Youngsters, "Thank you for your help !" I slid into the back, washed my hands and changed to Rhys' belted tunic and sandals. When I stepped out, Lara was checking the stock as I'd done, "Okay ?" "Oh, yes, Rhys ! When you come back, could you bring another four-pint of semi-skimmed ?" "Yes, Ma'am; After Elevenses or before Lunch ?" "You skipped Second Breakfast ? Grab Elevenses first..." "Yes, Ma'am !" Lara was enjoying herself, "Now go !" "Yes, Ma'am !" I was happy to play along. I ghosted an exceptionally gawky curtsey, waved to the grinning clientele, zig-zagged out. I'd changed too fast, had to stop to adjust my left sandal. The Nest was very quiet compared to city living. I missed Lara's question, but heard most of the Youngsters' innocent reply, "Sure, Rhys did okay... She's a bit odd, must spend a LOT of time around Saps. But she's cute..." I allowed myself a small smile, crept away.

After that moment of calm, things got hectic: Serve Elevenses then clear tables in the Diner, ferry the milk, another hour in the Café, change to Chris for a quick, early Lunch. I spotted Pete as he stepped in the door, waved him over. He'd just missed Rhys at the Café. He'd arranged an after-Dinner appointment for Chris with Elder Fern, I'd to wear my Lederhosen and meet her in the Diner. I doubled back as Rhys to clear Lunch tables, returned to the Café with more milk, was called to the Diner to help serve then clear Afternoon Tea. Sue let me load the kitchen's big washer, helped me scrub a ton of pans, some of them twice. After a session serving Dinner, I doubled back as Chris to grab a bite to eat...

"Ah, young Chris !" Elder Fern chuckled, "I was hoping to find you here earlier..." "Sorry, I took a wrong turn some-where..." It happened to be true. "Young Pete mentioned that you enjoyed seeing the Watergate and Tannery. May I show you my small hobby ?" "I'd be delighted..." I waved at my half-eaten snack, "Would you like a glass of juice while I finish this ?" "Oh, yes ! Tomato, please !"

Elder Fern led me to an un-marked door onto narrow steps hacked into a steep tunnel. Their variation and the single, feeble bulb by the door meant even she needed the rope hand-rail. A dozen yards down, there was another old, steel watertight door with porthole and storm cover set in a strong bulkhead. Beyond that and its single armoured lamp, we edged --almost by feel-- down a sloping, semi-natural passage cut by weeping faults. Chiselled grooves guided drips to a rough drain on the pathway's left, led them ahead.

Gradually, a faint brightening developed before us. It wasn't the dull, ruddy hue of the Nest's lighting, it was diffused, natural day-light. "Compost ?" I sniffed, "Ooh ! Smells like a Bottle Garden !" Elder Fern eased a screen door aside, let us in. Perhaps twenty feet across, the space was weakly lit by an eight-inch frosted port-hole in the roof. A hinged storm-cover was latched back, but in reach from a centrally pivoted 'library' ladder. The illumination was weak, the quality changed from moment to moment as if shadowed by clouds or trees. Around us, not a square inch of wall lacked a potted fern. More hung from brackets and ceiling hooks, larger specimens stood in planters. Beneath the mobile steps, shelved trays of sporophytes --fernlings-- waited their turn in the sun.

"Wow !" I whispered, "This is so beautiful !" "I am glad you agree." Elder Fern smiled, "Most consider this an Elder's Folly." "Is it the only garden ?" "Sadly, yes..." She nodded, "So few plants will thrive in the Nest. We have a few wan Bonsai, but their growth is un-natural. These belong here..." I breathed the heady air, glanced up at the roof-light, "Did you re-cycle a bore-hole, or adapt a swallet ?" "A little of both..." She allowed, "After the Great Flood cleared this swallet, I discovered some ferns growing, thought to tend them. Since then, a light-well has been installed, and the ground sealed--" "Don't tell me how you hid the stack !" I cautioned. "Nor would I !" She grinned, "Do you garden ?" "Only stuff that thrives on neglect..." I sighed, "I have some hardy shrubs in patio pots, but most of my small yard is wild flowers and herbs to attract bees and butterflies. My neighbours' cats love to hunt along the shadows, nibble the ornamental grasses or bask in the sun." "You live alone ?" "Yes, I'm a loner. It suits my job."

"I would find solitude very difficult..." Elder Fern sighed after some moments' thought, "Do our Nest numbers trouble you ?" "Here ? I was surprised by the count at the Diner meeting, I did not realise you had so many visitors..." "Ah, my apologies... I meant the crowd itself. We find such comforting..." "Um, I was my parents' youngest, my elder sister started her family soon after, as did my brother. There were always neighbours, friends, cousins about, also their many pets... Which the Nest seems to lack ?" "We do not... relate... well to such." She sighed, "Perhaps we are too much a Predator species ?" "It is your Hunter heritage." I nodded acceptance, "Which makes this beautiful and restful place even more remarkable..."

"They are not as splendid as I remember..." Elder Fern sighed, "They need more exhaled breath to flourish, yet the way becomes steeper with each year..." "Can you add a little Carbon Dioxide ? I'd worry about a night-light candle's wax contamination, but perhaps a little smudge-pot ? Trick is keeping the Monoxide and Cogeners low... Could the Youngsters find something on the Internet with Google ?" "I-- I had not thought of that..." She wondered. "May I visit again and contribute my breath ?" "If you please..." "I would be honoured." I stated, "This place will be one of my treasured memories."

Our hike up from the Grotto took longer than I expected. I'd thought Pete had exaggerated that difficult climb from the Tannery, but Elder Fern really struggled. After our third stop, she let me take her elbow and help her up the slope. Okay, I jogged and used my modest gym machine methodically, but I was no athlete. Perhaps my comparison with the Cheetah's genetic bottleneck was more than a simile ? Could it be that most Vamps had even less stamina than SOTM thought ? Might they be literally 'One-Rush' Predators ?? It would explain some of their non-Porphyrial anomalies. It suggested a trigger for their 'idiosyncratic' reactions to some routine HomoSap treatments...

Good news for Vamps was my insight would improve their treatment. The bad news-- Well, I could probably develop three better ways to kill Rogues...

And there-in lay the rub: SOTM collected the £ 5000 UKP bounty for each Rogue I killed as their agent, of which I got 25%, tax-free. Every Vamp who took Amnesty got a £ 1500 UKP 'Golden Hello', and their sponsor could claim a £ 100 UKP Finder's Fee. So, an Amnestied Rogue earned me £ 25 UKP, exactly 2% of a dead-at-scene Rogue's worth, and much, much harder to collect...

I'd tried to claim the difference as a 'business expense', but my Tax Inspector brusquely refused. Seems our cold-blooded Inland Revenue could teach even a HotZoner something new about the value of human life...

Bizarrely, this was the single point on which VampAiders and I might agree: their agitation for the Rogue Bounty to be 'Dead or Alive' was not only ethical, but valuable. Of course, I could neither support nor oppose such amendment, for that would be conflict of interest...

I waited with Elder Fern by the upper door until she'd regained her breath. "Steeper than it looks !" I allowed. "Would you walk me to my room ?" She asked. "Surely, Ma'am !" I smiled. Our slow walk took us into a part of the Nest new to me. As Chris, I could let myself notice passing Olders and Elders. Several looked unhappy at my prescence, but Elder Fern's polite nods to them meant they had to acknowledge us. "Not all of us welcome you, young Chris." Elder Fern sighed, "Few are entirely comfortable with the revival of the archaic Office of RogueBane, never mind a HomoSap in the rôle-- Yet, you do this already..." "I was surprised to be asked." I stated, "I needed convincing... Meeting Monty helped." "And the disguise ?" "I'm pushing my limits now. I've a couple more hours before I can do much to relieve my skin irritation." "It hurts ?" She puzzled, "You have made no complaint..." "Elder Weft obtained baby-cream and body-wash for me. That should help."

We went some yards in silence. "Do you find the disguise disturbing ?" She asked. "First time I wore it, my reflection frightened me." I admitted, "My reaction scattered the FX team stood around me. I'm getting used to it." "You have made friends quickly..." Elder Fern mentioned, "And so has Rhys..." "Ah ? Welsh Catering Student ?" I hesitated, "Room next to mine, I believe, but we seem to miss each-other..." "Quite." Elder Fern chuckled, "Given your trick with that tabard, I'm not surprised..." I didn't know what to say. "You should knock on the dividing door and speak with Rhys." Elder Fern advised, "Our large, Progressive Nest must seem so strange to her. She will be lonely. Although her Nest was small, she may have had a Pet Sap when younger. I'm sure she will welcome you." I glanced to her. She winked. "Ah..." I nodded, "I've been too busy to ask. I do know she's Amnestied, the Catering staff mentioned it..."

"Here is my room, thank you." Elder Fern stopped, "I know Elder Broderik of old, and he has not mellowed. Your ethics are of no concern to him. So, you and Rhys must spend time together to allay suspicion. It will help your cause if you are considered a potential Aspirant--" "Sorry, what's that ?" "A Sap who requires little or no Bending for compliance." "Ah ?" I worked through the probable root, "One who aspires to Vampirism ?" "To become, or merely to serve. Willingness is implied..." "Within SOTM, we call them 'Sucker Bait'." I shuddered, "I'll try to get it changed." "Though a joke in poor taste, that is most apt !" She chuckled, "Again, it will help your cause if you are considered a potential Aspirant, hence secretely sympathetic. And, if Rhys is striving to Induct you with her female wiles, it would explain your scent on her person --" "Gotcha !" I grinned, "Like the song, 'Lipstick On Your Collar' !" "Indeed !" She chuckled, "Also, both of you may then speak the truth of your relationship-- such as it is !"

"If you were a Sap..." I wondered, "I would suspect you bore a grudge against Elder Broderik." "If you were a Vamp..." Elder Fern chuckled, "I would regret I was too old to Call !" "D'uh ?" "May I suggest discussing the interpretation with a certain Catering Student ?" I stepped back, made a compact Dojo bow, "My pleasure, Ma'am !" She clutched her robe-seam and curtseyed, rather better than Rhys could manage, "That is how 'tis done !" "Thank you, Ma'am !"



Project Lorraine Chapter # 19: My head hurts, too...


I needed a while to find the way back to my room. Eventually, I followed the re-hung signs for the Diner, went from there. With Lederhosen folded, I emptied my valve and chose a different tunic. The Club was quite busy. I got a glass of tomato juice, found a quiet bench seat, had twenty minutes before Supper.

"Ah, there you are, young Chris !" "Elder Frank !" I nodded, slid along to make space for him, "Something on your mind ?" "Have you been here long ?" "Not really. I was delayed after walking Elder Fern to her room." "I did not see you come in..." He shrugged, "However, I have news: Elder Broderik, his Second and three Assistants will arrive around Lunchtime, night after next." "Umm..." I was still trying to adjust to the Nest's time reckoning, "48 hours from Lunch just gone ?" "Yes. They made a fast connection--" "Don't tell me how or where !" I cautioned. "Nor would I if I knew !" He chuckled, "Although, like the texture of your body-glove, I may surmise..." I nodded, "And the bad news ?" "You are an un-Bent, hence essentially perfidious Sap. Elder Broderik wishes no contact or direct communication with you." "Elder Broderik fears contagion." I shrugged, "He must. If he was not paranoid, he would not be your Delegate..."

Frank chuckled, then studied me as I shifted in my seat, "You look uncomfortable..." "I itch. I can only wear this body-glove for a limited time without resting my skin. I'm past that now." "Ah... I wish you prompt relief ! Hmm, have you met your neighbour, the young Rhys ?" "I hope to. " I nodded, "Elder Fern mentioned that Rhys may be lonely. Certainly, this Progressive Nest has been as much of a surprise to her as it was to me..." "True, true !" Frank chuckled, shaking his head, "However, she seems to be settling in well... A thought-- Elder Broderik has demanded a Top Table and waitress service: Need this concern you ?"

"Doesn't bother me-- I'm not invited !" I grinned, "But I hope he wasn't planning to ask for Rhys as his personal servant ? I'm told she may be a gossip-- Mind you, that could just be nerves and local tattle..." "Ah..." Frank nodded seriously, "Yes, that is a consideration. Best not share any confidences with her lest she is quizzed !" "Not even my idle remarks on the purblind, Traditionalist ways of certain Delegates ?" I smiled, "I'm told Rhys will not speak of her own, small Nest, nor of her New Sire's plans. Perhaps she may be trusted in larger things..." "That is good !" Frank grinned, "Ah, the Diner is opening ! Will you join me for a light Supper ?"

I nibbled at my light meal as Frank spun a tale of Medieval escapade and adventure. Paris ? A dissipated artist's studio ? A visiting sculptor who glanced up to Frank's perch in the rafters, met his gaze, winked, then immortalised him as a Gargoyle ? I did not know much of Paris beyond The Pasteur Institute, but Notre Dame was on even MY must_see list. Yes, a younger Frank may be the one on the postcards !

Frank was old, Old, OLD. I gathered his Sire ejected most of the Nest's male Juniors as too dim, too lippy or too sharp. The young Frank scored two of three. That adage about keeping friends close and enemies closer does not apply to Vamps: Given the stark options of Bend, Fight or Fledge, Frank left and n'er looked back. The Sire ? Well, he put too many of his Missies in litter: A few years later, their dozen Juniors mobbed, killed and ate him...

Finally, Frank was talked out. I escaped, clutching a borrowed salt-cellar and tea-spoon. My first priority was to lock and bar my room. I put my fangs and contacts in soak, prepared for the painful part. I coaxed the back-zip down to its stop, doubled over and tried to wriggle out. Shedding 'Brendan' had been easy. The Vamp glove was much tighter, and stuck. I could not apply much force, as I'd peel the raw skin it had stuck to ! I had to stand in the shower, flood each limb in turn to expand it and flop off. The 'head' was even harder. I managed to fill the 'scalp' and free it without flooding the washroom or half-drowning myself. After that, I girded my loins and eased out the catheter. Rinsed thrice, I left it to soak in the diluted 'baby bottle' peroxide.

I took a long, long shower, let my blisters and saddle-sores breathe. That was my outside bathed: I mixed up a glassful of precisely salted water, drank it and four more. I knew my kidneys' response, had time to thoroughly wash the body-glove and hang it to dry. At last, I could put cream on my damage, then crash on a bed-spread towel. An hour brought my carefully salted drinks to their conclusion. And, yes, it stung. I drank another five glassfuls by the clock, napped, read for a while, then eased on my night-shirt and slept like a log between calls of nature. For once, I did not have apocalyptic dreams-- merely weird...

Two alarm-clocks woke me. I was curled snug against a long, well-filled, and rather feminine night-shirt, could not remember where I was. Explanation came when I touched my still partner. Her shirt held pillows, not a Vamp or Sap. I sat up, looked around. The communicating doors were open. I was in Rhys' bed. At some point, I must have thought to put my scent on the outside of Rhys' night-shirt. Yeah, right: I could only hope I'd not been for a 'midnight' stroll, too...

The good news was my sores were not infected, and had ceased to throb. The bad news, I must don my body-glove unaided. The baby-cream helped. Half an hour found me plumbed in, zipped up, be-fanged and red contacts fitted, belting my tunic ready for First Breakfast as Chris.

I was almost finished with mine when Pete showed up with his usual, heaped tray, "No sign of Monty or Frank ?" He shook his head, "Didn't expect them-- They were talking to other Elders until the small hours..." "Protocol ?" "Probably... There's a fine line between offending Elder Broderik by shunning his table, and offending him by glowering across it. Seems he is not popular..." "How's it looking ?" "Well, a couple of visiting Elders have not declined the dubious honour, while Frank and Monty have no choice. Several are still undecided..." "Waitresses ?" "Ha !" Pete chuckled, "Seems Rhys is off the short-list due suspicion that she may be a gossip... Not proven, of course, but too risky under the circumstances." "Of course." I agreed, "Any takers ?" "Yes, if the price is right..." Pete grinned, "You may have seen two of the Candy triplets helping with Supper ? They usually work DayWatch for the money, but were switching to Nights and jumped at the chance. Elder Weft's running up some Traditional costumes for all three."

"I hope they're okay..." "They're good kids..." Pete grinned, "You'll meet them at the Sleep-Over !" "D'uh..." I struggled with the time-line, "That's tonight ? Today ? After today's Supper ?" "All of the above !" Pete chuckled, "Also, that invitation to Hunt Zombies-- Be at the Café after Tea ! We've managed to clear the PCs' schedule and get 29 Days up on all of them ! Wear your Lederhosen-- It does not sweat-stain like a tunic ! Couple of hours fun, grab a bite to eat, then have a nap. Meet at the Café after Supper. Wear a casual tunic to the Sleep-Over. Bring your night-shirt if you like, but you won't need it..." "Oh ?" "We're too young to Call or Strut, so we can have a snog-fest. You'll enjoy it..." "Ah... 'We' ?" "I'm to report on your demeanour." Pete grinned, "This job has its perks !" "D'uh..." What was I getting into ? "Contacts ? Fangs ?" "Hmm... Go better if you can wear them..." "I'll use my spares." I decided, "What about a wash-room ?" "Two, en-suite." "Er, okay..." I hesitated, "But if anyone tries to unzip me unasked, I'll scream..." "Fair enough !" He grinned hugely. Yeah, right ! There had to be something he wasn't telling me, but I couldn't see what. Oh, well, it would all go into the report... "Okay." I shrugged, "I'll see you later !"

I walked to the food counter, waved to Sue, "Hi, any message for my neighbour, Rhys ? She had a restless night, slept through her alarm..." "Ah... If you can, could you tell her to do a stint in the Café, then come here for Second Breakfast ?" "No problem !" "Handy having you around !" Sue grinned, "You can Pierce even the shyest student's Glamour !" "My fault she's late today." I admitted, "I sat up with her last night until she fell asleep..." "That was kind of you." Sue allowed, barely keeping her face straight, "We don't often get Singletons, and she seems nervous in crowds..." "Well, blame her Old Sire for that, too..." I shrugged, improvised, "I got the feeling he didn't believe in Sap medicines. There's a limit to what you can do with simple herbs, litters must have had a high mortality..." "Ugh !" Sue shuddered, "One of THEM ? We're all vaccinated, so we lose very few ! Oh, the poor child ! She must be so lonely !" Then, just to make the situation clear, she winked...

I headed back to my room, went in as Chris, through, out as Rhys. Lara greeted her sympathetically as she stepped into the Café, hoped she felt better soon. I guessed that the intercom had been busy. Serve coffees and rolls until Second Breakfast, return with milk, grab Elevenses in the Café as Rhys, change to Chris for a quick, early Lunch. Again, I spotted Pete as he stepped in the door, waved him over. He'd just missed Rhys at the Café, asked if I'd seen her: Elder Weft was concerned about her health... I knew a cue when it hit me, "Needs more time to settle. She didn't sleep well last night. Puts a brave face on it, but I don't think you'll see much of her after Tea..." "Okay..." Pete nodded, "I hear the two of you spent some time together ?" "Rhys needed Sap company, I was happy to help-- Smart of Elder Weft to make us neighbours ! Get past the shyness, she's a good kid. And she is rather cute..." Pete nodded politely, muttered silently, shook his head, "Strange days, indeed !" Then, just to make the situation clear, I winked...



Project Lorraine Chapter # 20: A Surfeit of Zombies...


With my light lunch gone, I nodded to Pete then strolled back to my room. Sitting a while gave me no clue to a SleepOver's hook, so I locked through and returned to the Diner as Rhys. There were plates to collect and tables to wipe. After that, I joined Mary in the wash-up area, scrubbed pans.

An unfamiliar catering Vamp put her head around the door, "We're just off to Elder Weft's workshop..." "Okay, Candy !" Mary nodded, "Oh, have you met Rhys ?" "Hi, Rhys ! I'm Milly ! Hope you sleep better tonight-- Sorry, gotta go !" "They're so alike !" Mary chuckled, "Maybe their Mum can tell them apart, but we can't ! We've tried tagging them, badging them, even sticking dibs on them, but they switch around too well... " "Sounds like fun..." "Gets better !" Mary giggled, "What happens when they Call ?" "Will that be a problem ?" A friend had dated twins, was never quite sure who was whom... "Oh, yes ! They may have to pull straws for the Strutter ! Can't have all three in litter to the same male, or related males !" "Skew the gene pool ?" "That's it." Mary sighed, "Traditional Nests are often less fussy, get more Runts..."

"Umm, I met Mick when I arrived..." I recalled, "Haven't seen him around..." "Day Watch." Mary hesitated, "Mick watches a lot of Children's TV, it seems to help." "Medical question... Difficult birth ? Disease ?" "Hmm, I think he's a Fourth ? Yes, Fourth. Litter was from a small Nest. Nothing odd at first, then he fell behind. He's still learning, though, which is unusual for weak-minded Runts. He's just so slow !" "Seems happy... " "He's a good kid." Mary allowed, "We agreed to keep him. Juniors love his company. He's so honest, so patient with them, doesn't tolerate bullying. And he's stronger than he looks..." "Is that why he's the GateGuard ?" "No. Mick may be slow in the head, but he can Pierce Glamour like Chris." "Oh ?" With three members of my immediate family eidetic, I'd learned to be *strictly* honest, "Can't cheat an Honest Vamp ?" "Something like that !" Mary hooted, "He gave Elder Frank quite a turn ! Okay, Mick can't do much Glamour, he'd never come up with that tabard trick, so Chris is still best in this Nest..."

"Funny, Pete said something like that..." "Chris is the Nest's Master Vamp by Glamour ? Oh, yes !" "But it was just a trick !" "Funniest thing I've seen in years !" Mary giggled, "Bent the visiting Olders and Elders, too ! They may not agree with Monty, they may not accept Chris' jurisdiction as RogueBane, but have they a Tale to tell !!" "D'uh..." I shook my head, "That is a hard act to follow..." "Rhys is doing well, at least so far." Mary nodded, "I hear you've wriggled out of Waitressing-- I wondered how you'd manage that !" "Pete found me a loophole !" I chuckled, "Right, I think this pan's done: Would you check it ?" Mary looked it over, nodded, put it to drain and air-dry, "Is Chris looking forward to the LitterDay SleepOver ?" "Nervous..." I allowed, "He's never been to one before --Nor have I-- and Pete just grins." "Ook !" Mary hooted, "He would ! He won't get many more before he turns Older and starts to Strut." "And you're not going to explain, either ? No ? Perhaps you wish not to disturb young Rhys' delicate sensibilities ?" "Ook !" "Yeah, right..."

Another thought surfaced, "Back to Mick: For what it is worth, SOTM could check his genes for gross oddities. The DNA database is just about big enough for comparison. All they'd need is his tag/code." "Hmm. Yes, his family might care to know..." "How's his Porphyria ?" "Same as ours: Sub-clinical." Mary shrugged, "Given caution and the right diet, we should be okay." "In a pinch, I'm a Registered Donor." I stated, dropping back into 'Chris', "I prefer the blood-bag route, but I've done it the Traditional way for an emergency Detox..." "Oh ! D'uh, what was it like to be Tapped ?" "Bad Trip." I shuddered, "I was wired for ECG & EEG, blood Oxygen and blood pressure. We had two cam-corders running. Our Phlebotomist was taking samples from my right arm while Ms. V slurped on my left. Then the world went very, very strange, tied itself in knots and floated away...

"Next thing I remember clearly is the ceiling of a 'rubber room'. I had an airway, a nappy and a Humane Restraint Garment-- 'strait-jacket' to you ! I sat up, spat the airway, demanded a de-brief session and breakfast. No-one came. I could not operate the door's keypad with my nose, tongue, toes or the air-way's corner, but I did press the Aid-Call. No-one came. After a while, I noticed the jacket fit was unprofessionally loose. Well, I did yoga with Mum and both Sis, so I'm limber. Still took me almost an hour to wriggle loose. Keyed the combo, opened the door-- to cheers ! My unprintable colleagues had run a pool on my escape time ! At least the winner bought me a packed lunch from her proceeds... I lost a day, SOTM got unique data..."

"Would you do it again ?" "If need be." I shrugged, "I'm a HotZoner." Like our other Vamp specialists, I was later vaccinated against some of the venom components we found in my samples. Best it could do was mitigate a Trip and prevent long-term nerve damage. A hostile Vamp would simply double-tag... I waited for the next question, wondered how Mary would phrase it. "Um, Rhys, have you ever Tapped a Sap ?" "Only in play." I smiled. And that, of course, was the other reason I'd been given those 'training' prosthetics. For ethical and safety reasons, I could not tackle a real, live target. I requisitioned some Phlebotomy training equipment from our neighbouring Teaching Hospital, got my teeth into them. For a while, my cellar was not a pretty sight-- I had fake arms with real fang marks on a camping table, fake blood in bags on stands, congealed splashes, puddles and drips all over the floor's tarpaulin, blood-curdling colour stills on the walls, Ms. V's Bite looped in stereo on DVD. My cover-story's cover-story was a Halloween Party gag. Practice helped: after a fortnight, I could ingest a half-unit of 'Cranberry Sauce' with only modest spillage... "Only in play." I repeated, leaving her very puzzled, "Any more pans ?" "Er, no, that's the lot... Okay, Rhys, you're done here for today. Go and get your head down, try to get some rest..." "Thank you, Ma'am !" "Set your alarm for Second Breakfast." Mary nodded. She barely stifled a grin as she twisted the knife, "And, please, let Chris RogueBane get his eight hours ? He's got a busy day tomorrow." "Thank you, Ma'am !" I now curtsied rather better, thanks to Elder Fern tip. "Oook !" Mary giggled, "We'll make a proper Missy of you, yet !"

Back in Rhys' room, I locked through, emerged as Chris in time for a hasty Tea, strolled along to the Café. Place was crowded. Lara handed out coffee left and right. The final Googlers finished their search and gathered materials. Two PCs already showed 29 Days' gruesome intro loop. Four Youngsters helped Pete optimise IntraNet settings on the other three. "Hi, Chris !" Pete called, "Which PC would you like ?" "The one nearest the door ?" They hooted. "No, seriously, I like that old 'stick & gun' pairing." "It is the oldest and slowest..." Some-one warned from under a table, "And the lowest spec display." "That's how I remember it !" I shrugged, "I may need to tweak some options, but it will suit me fine !" "D'uh... Want to get kitted while we wrestle with these ?" Pete offered. "Okay !" As I'd said, it had been a while. Still, my familiarity grew as I threaded the set-up options.

UI ? Diminish the screen resolution, drop the colour depth, kill the anti-aliasing and fancy texture mapping. Nudge the refresh rate upwards, but not so it slowed the interface. Adjust stick sensitivities and acceleration.

Avatar ? Yes, the Vamp / Sap Hybrid was supported. The only obvious benefit to a cross-over was some day-light tolerance plus improved night-vision adaptation. Second-order detail provided subtle gains beyond diplomacy...

Clothes ? Simple, strong 'hiking' wear, bump-hat. Stout, bite-proof boots, light and heavy gloves. Knapsack took a small-folded 'goodies' sack and two thermal blankets.

Weapons ? The H&K P46 came later, but the game had FN's equivalent 5_7: Similar weight and heft, 20_round mag, good grouping, and a weapon I knew. I took two, added lots of ammunition, a 'hold out' Derringer two-shot snake-gun, a Bolo macheté plus several fighting knives.

Tool-kit ? A neat pry-bar, lock-picks, fire-starter and other utility hardware. A small grapple with line. Several climbers' anchors.

Vittles etc ? Salt, water and simple food for the hike. Alcohol for disinfectant etc. A simple FirstAid kit.

Second look ? Check, check, check: I might be rusty, but I'd not forgotten much...

I entered the Range. My skill levels skittered upward from 'default' as I worked through the exercises. "Ook !" Pete peered over my shoulder, "You've done this before !" "Not recently..." I demurred, 'cleaned' the FNs and holstered them before switching screens. I was still not used to my talon nubs, needed more time on the lock-picks, but soon recovered the knack, "There we go ! Beats blasting locks if you've got the time..." "Uh-huh... We're playing the Edge Hill scenario, based out of the Williamson Tunnels." "I know it. Have you opened the blocked passage to the railway cutting ?" "D'uh ?" "No time for that now: Takes some finding and a dozen hours' digging. But it gives you a fast-track to the City centre. And, if you get out to the rail-yard near Speke, there's a maintenance crew's truck you can crank-start. Deploy its mini-plough, you can blow through any zombies on the line. Means you can trade with other Nests." "Oook..." Pete gulped, "Okay, we'll look into it ! D'uh, normally, we've only 5 PCs networked, but we're six-up today. Ready ?" "As I'll ever be..." I grinned, and pulled on my boom-mike head-set.

Pete settled himself at another PC, pulled on his head-set, "Okay, Team, sound off !" "Station One, Sindy: Katana, pistol and sawn-off !" She popped up in the opening cave, sleek and deadly as a Black Mamba in her snug leathers. "Station Two, Sandy: As Sindy !" Then there were two bald Kate WannaBees. "Station Three, Mike: Cutlass, two revolvers !" He looked as piratical as intended. "Station Four, Pete: Sabre, sawn-off, two pistols !" More like Zorro, a 'Dashing Blade', indeed... "Station Five, Phil: As Pete !" Somehow, he managed to wear the same outfit with a Musketeer's panache. "Station Six, Guest, Chris: Twin automatics, snake-gun, macheté, fighting-knives and tool-kit." Beside those five lean, mean killers, I looked like a Cub Scout off to his first Summer Camp. They looked at me, looked at each other, shrugged. What could go wrong ?

"Okay !" Pete announced over the game's audio link, "Try not to leave Chris stood on his own ? Lock & Load ! Open the door ! Remember there's always a group of Zombies nearby--" Bam-Bam, Bam-Bam. (4) "Oook-" "Can you see a fifth ?" I asked. "Nine o'clock, two !" Phil spotted. Bam-Bam. (6) "Oook." Pete gulped, "Er, Chris, how long since you've played ?" "Five years plus. And I've no experience-code--" Bam-Bam. (8) "So game thinks I'm a Rookie, is trying--" Bam_Bam. (10) "To mob us--" Bam-Bam-Bam. (13) "On our own door-step."

"Er, Chris ?" Sindy wondered, "You're taking single head-shots at that range ?" Bam. (14) "Because he can ?" Sib Sandy allowed, "How many more ?" "Four o'clock, singleton !" "Mine ?" Mike offered, took it down with a clean neck-cut. We looked around, but it seemed the game's A.I. was sucking its teeth... "Okay..." Pete shrugged, "Where to ?" "Bold Street ?" Sandy bid, "There's that Leather Boutique--" "Again !" Mike grinned, "Can we get down to 'Boots the Chemist' ? Nest supplies are getting low..." "And HMV ? We *really* need some new Musak..." Phil groaned. "Sounds good !" Pete chuckled, "Move out !"

We hiked for ten minutes without problem. I turned the unexpected numbers over and over. My recent lack of experience could not be the entire explanation. Suddenly, I had a bad feeling about this jaunt. If the A.I. decided I was a visiting hot-shot-- Bam-Bam. (16) "Where did they spring from ? " Pete gasped, "Ten o'clock and one: Team, split three / two !" Sindy, Sandy and Pete went left, Mike and Phil veered right. I kept their backs clean. Bam-Bam. Bam-Bam. (20, Reload) The sword-wielders hacked into their UnDead opponents as I watched for the A.I.'s hook. It came-- An over-grown grass verge erupted arms and teeth, "Five at six, I'm on it !" I shifted position. Get the right line with MilSpec 4.6 or 5_7, and a steel round could take two. Bam, Bam. Bam. (3) "Six clear." I closed with the group crowding Mike and Phil, hamstrung several with my macheté, let the swordsmen finish them. A dozen yards away, Pete & Co. were tidying theirs.

"What-- Is-- With them-- Today ?" Mike puffed, "Never seen-- So many-- So soon !" Bam-Bam (5) "Oook..." Phil wheezed, "Chris ? Is it your Hybrid blood they're after ?" Bam-Bam. (7) I shrugged as another pair of zombies collapsed with shattered skulls, "Do I look like a Tourist ? Fun, though !" They looked at each other. Phil voiced their concern, "Chris, just how much ammo do you carry ?" "Hundred in mags, five hundred boxed. One over." "D'uh, how much do you need ?" "Rarely more than half, but last one's mine." "Oooook--" "Incoming ! Twelve o'clock!" Pete called, "Here they come again !"

We looked up as a shambling mob turned the next block's corner. "I reckon thirty ~~ thirty-five..." Phil muttered, "Take them or leave them ?" "Our back's clear, our flanks are safe." I noted, "Take time for more to walk in. We can go through these sooner." "Pete ?" "Hmm..." "Gore-Fest !" Hissed Sindy, "Sis, left or right ?" "Right before, so left !" "Let's cull some Zombies !" Mike brandished his cutlass. "Let's do this right !" Pete commanded, "Advance at walk to meet them, retreat over clear ground. They'll stumble on their fallen. Chris, watch for gaps."

The five spread out, strode towards the mob. The first wave's arms and heads fell to slashing blades. The second wave stumbled, went down easier. The third wave was ragged, but no less threat. I studied the A.I.'s tactics, "Sindy, watch your left-- Go right, I'll take that clump !" Bam-Bam, Bam-Bam. Bam. (12) "Thanks, Chris !" "Welcome-- Mike, watch your right !" "On it !" "Pete, ease back !" "Sorry !" The mob shrank to a dozen, then three, then gone. Our five Vamps were breathing heavily. I kept scanning the street for more trouble.

"I-- I've never seen so many so close to home !" Phil heaved lungfulls, "I've never killed so many in one game !" "Best we keep moving !" Pete stated, "Chris, you do not look surprised... Is it you they're after ?" "I don't think so." I hesitated, "Could be my range scores have bumped the team's skill-level--" "Wow !" Sindy gasped, "You've moved us up a level--" "Fantastic !" Sandy hesitated, added, "Can we still go shopping today ?" I joined in the hooting.

The long, long slope down from the Williamson Nest was littered with wrecks and ruins, but we'd killed all the local Zombies. More would wander in to fill the void, but there was a lull and we took advantage of it. Left at the Inner Ring Road. The first and only section of a grand scheme lost to shifting local politics, it was now a piece of virtual archaeology. Though never built in reality, we could follow the splendid sweep to the top of smart Bold Street, now mostly shabby wrack and ruin. Several gaping store-fronts worried me more than those slumped in debris, but nothing stirred. The favoured boutique was at the further end, tucked into a short cul-de-sac. Windows and double doors were intact, but that was no surprise: you cannot eat, drink or burn leather !!

Sandy, on point, went to un-limber her shot-gun for the locked door. "Let me try, first ?" I asked. "Spare you a couple of minutes..." Pete allowed. I wasn't used to these talon nubs, but I'd demonstrated competence. The second Yale fell within Pete's deadline. I turned the two bolt releases on the right-hand door. "Watch for mummified assistants..." I cautioned, turning to watch the street as the five pushed by. "Ook, okay !" Sindy and Sandy headed for the 'Disco' racks, began stuffing their sacks with impractical garb. "New jacket for you ?" Phil asked me. "No thanks !" I chuckled, "Are they always like this ?" "Er, no, the stock's better than usual on this run--"

"Hey, Chris ? How about this for Rhys ?" Sindy --Or was it Sandy ?-- called, waved a fringed bikini top and matching micro-skirted briefs. "I really don't don't think that's her style..." I groaned, "Hey, it would show her knees !" "Is that the problem ?" Mike called, held up a pair of thigh boots, "Add these !" "Ook--" "Ooook !" Sandy hooted, "They're back in stock--" "Gimme--" "Mine--" "Easy now !" Pete cautioned, "You gotta carry what you take..." "Yeah, yeah..." "We'll stash the sacks, collect them on the way back..." "Okay, okay !" Pete shook his head, "Chris, you want that teaser for Rhys ?" "Oh, why not ?" I chuckled, "Goes in her trousseau, some lucky Strutter gets to paw it..." "What size does she take ?" "Now ?" I shrugged, "Based on a small sample, about the same as mine-- But when she Calls ?" "Oook !" Sindy chortled, "Now where was... Aha ! That's it, Sandy !"

Sandy held up a loosely laced bodice that barely contained her two fists, "She'll need this too !" "Yeay !!" Mike leered. I rolled my eyes, "Pinky curves ? Oh, go on, roll them small..." I stuffed my unwelcome loot into a corner of my rucksack, went back to scanning the street. It was quiet. Too quiet. "Pete, would you expect a few Singletons by now ?" "Problem, Chris ?" "Just a feeling..." I shook my head, "I really would have expected one or two, at least..." "Chris has a point." Mike agreed, "Much too quiet." "Check-out time !" Pete called, "Take it or leave it !" I closed the door with the bolt-turns, the sacks would be safe enough in the doorway.

We'd gone a hundred yards down-hill when Phil, on point, stopped suddenly, "I smell Zombies !" Sandy and Sindy split to opposite sides of the street, peered both ways into the next cross-road. "Oops--" "Oooops !" "How many ?" Pete asked. "Too many !" "And this way, too !" Phil glanced both ways, confirmed, "Two groups, and we're the meat in the pincer." "By the pricking of my thumbs..." I turned, looked back up-slope as the first of a third group blundered into sight. "Oook..." Pete drew a careful breath, "Options ?" "Forwards and out-run the pincer ?" "Retreat, cut through the third group ?" "Fort up in a shop ?" "Go out the back, or over the roof ?" I offered. "We could take one group, but the others would catch us mean-while." Pete estimated, nodded, "Okay: Back to the boutique, block the door, then out the back or over the roof. Let's do it !"

With only the boutique's turn-bolts to release, we were inside within seconds. The Sibs headed for the back to check exits. I set the bolts again, stepped back as Mike and Phil dragged a display table nearer, stood it on end to mask the door. "Does this place have roller shutters ?" I wondered, "I can see slides..." "Electric, Chris..." Pete shrugged, thought, "D'uh, maybe there's a manual winder, too ?" We played 'Hunt The Crank'. Phil found it hung beside the dead alarm panel, concealed behind a shabby display lost in deep shadow. Zombies were beginning to gather outside as we lowered the first section. They'd got our scent, but were distracted by where our group had stood while I'd picked the locks. That bought us time to crank the second before a press developed. The doors were the weak point, now. Those turn-bolts would probably baffle the throng, but enough pressure would pop the frame.

"Look what else I found !" Phil brandished a stout, steel tube, "Ram-raid bollard !" It fitted into a capped hole just behind the doors' centre, would prevent them swinging inwards. Now it braced the table-top, too. "Should hold them for a while !" I agreed, "Hi ! What's the back like ?" "So-so: Opens on a narrow, dog-leg alley to the cul-de-sac, gated at the street." "Bad news, the crowd's backed up solid..." "You are kidding me... ?" "Pete, I've--" "We've--" "Never seen so many Zombies in one place." "If we try to fight our way out, they'll pull us down, one by one." "Hundreds ?" "Hundreds." "D'uh..." Pete rallied, "Okay, what else is there ?" "Stairs up and down. We did not check them." "Okay, you pick one. Mike, Phil, take the other." "Sure !" "Okay !" "Beats listening to that lot shuffle their feet..."

"Chris, you are not surprised..." I shook my head, "29 Days' as hard as it needs to be. Play for fun, it goes easy. Get serious, it pulls out the stops." "So we can get out of this ?" "Probably..." I reckoned, "Shutters, intact doors, bollard and table-top behind them, several options still open ? We gotta figure the loophole." "You have a funny way of being cheerful !" Pete grinned. "I'm a HotZoner." I shrugged, turned, "Hello, what have you found ?"

"Cellar's a stock-room." The Sibs chorused, waving trophies, "Extends under the pavement, you can see them through the glass blocks !" Behind us, the shutters groaned like a sailing ship rising to a storm's first big swell. "Heard that !" Phil stated, "Upstair's small stock, wash-room and office. Windows face front. Street's heaving: we could kill fifty and make no difference. We couldn't cross their pile. Over the alley's L-wall is straight down into the railway cutting." "Right..." Pete nodded, "Fast track to the back door we don't have, so a trap. Neat... Any skylights ?" Phil nodded, "Over the desk in the pokey back room." "Where does it go ?" They looked at each other, headed for the stairs. Under other circumstances, it would have been funnier. We heard furniture moved and stacked, then a yell, "Anyone got a grapple line ?"

Pete shook his head, stopped, looked to my grin, "You do, though. Okay, let's check this out !" The secondary frame-locks were no match for even my modest pry-bar. I eased the sloping panel open, peered around. Both sides met the blind ends of adjacent buildings. The back gutter was a dozen feet below the corner of the station arcade's canopy roof. That had an access catwalk cantilevered over the alley, with a hooped ladder from service door to roof edge. It was tantalisingly close. Given the manky state of the boutique's roof-tiles and the drop beyond, getting there un-aided would be fraught. Pete popped up alongside me, took one look, nodded, "That door: Reckon you can open it ?" "Probably..." If it was barred, I could rip through the cladding. "Okay. Get started. Mike, you're anchor and rear-guard. Phil, check this floor for goodies. I'll try to prise our shopaholics loose..."

Took three tries to snag the platform frame with the grapple, then we tied off our end. I pulled on my lighter gloves and set off. The roof tiles were rotten, loose, slick with moss, bird-droppings, weeds and accumulated dirt. Without the line, I would have fallen thrice in a dozen feet. Even a pure Vamp might only have a 50/50 chance...

I clambered onto the cat-walk, secured the line and recovered the grapple. One end of the gantry overlooked the cutting's station platforms. A dozen zombies stared up. The other gave a view of Bold Street's throng. Enough sightseeing ! The door's lock was stiff, the hinges encrusted with corrosion. I had to inch the door open with my pry-bar. Inside, a low service level carried ducts and cables. The walk-way zig-zagged left and right, between various shops' H&V stacks. To my left, towards Bold Street, a 'Fire Exit' sign beckoned. Stark concrete stairs met a passage behind several arcade shops, would open on the zombie-filled street. As I remembered it, this arcade was 'T' shaped, with the Bold Street ramp at the foot of the 'T', station and cross-street exits on the others. This suggested there'd be another stair-well.

"Chris ? You there ?" "Hi, Mike ! This street exit's not safe. I reckon there's another stair-well that-away. What's up ?" "Shop-front's failing. Phil's watching the line." "Get them across, we can stay here if need be. I'll look for more stairs." "Okay..." Yes, there were more stairs, and they opened onto a Zombie-free side-street beyond the railway cutting. Even better, the mob would need to stagger three sides of the wide block to reach our exit. We had our bug-out plan. I closed the street door quietly, returned to the service level. Sindy had completed her crossing, complete with bulging sack. Sandy was not far behind. Neither had carried their loot, they'd clipped the sack to the line and towed it. I nodded approval. Phil followed with a third sack. I frowned, as such greed could slow us dangerously. Pete came out last, towing a bundle of thick curtain-poles. I grinned. That was better !!

Pete eased the skylight down, made his way across, "Phew ! Glad to be out of there-- They're almost in ! May give up now we've gone, may not... Owe you the grapple." "Cheap at the price." I shrugged, "And its just the line." "You're still thinking !" He chuckled, fed his poles through the access doorway, "Clear route ?" "Far side. Only problem is if our Zombies scatter too soon... I've an idea for that." I pointed along the gantry towards the street, "I'll pot a few while you move the baggage through, then follow fast." "How long ?" "Eight, then a full clip. Still have lots for an ambush." "Do it. Don't be too long, though." "Okay !"

I put eight into the crowd, the disturbance and echoes clumping them tighter. Reload. I kept glancing back, expecting a mummified service technician to stagger out of the door behind me, but nothing came. I was not taking head-shots, not from this angle. I aimed for centre-of-mass. I wanted damage and confusion to keep their attention, got that. Reload. Bug-out time.

Pete had slung the sacks mid-pole so we'd have an end and a free gun-hand each. A brisk quarter-mile took us clear of pursuit. We watched for Singletons or verge-bursters, but the mob's commotion must have drawn them all. It was a tiring, but safe hike home.

The Nest's NPC gate-guards looked us over, let us in. We headed for the Main Hall to reckon our loot. For a 'nearly got whupped' mission, we'd done quite well. Beyond the heaped table of superb leather-goods, we had the boutique's pristine FirstAid kit and complete Musak library. I had some gifts for Rhys, a good third of my expended brass, and Pete's IOU for the grapple-line.

By even my former standards, that run was tame, but it almost doubled the highest score those Youngsters had ever made. Between us, we'd killed 73 Zombies and crippled 31 more, without taking an inch of hurt. Given what the A.I. threw at us, that was remarkable...

We just had time for a virtual photo-shoot. The first few were routine, with battle-dress, weapons, trophies, grins. Then the Sibs popped out to change. Their Avatars returned as Hyper-Goths, in lewd basque, ruff and tutu, long half-gloves, fishnets, absurd heels, all midnight-black leather or lace. Within the game, they could and did wear black lip-stick, face-stripes and talon-varnish. "Group pose !" Lara called, over the audience's wild hooting. The Sibs sandwiched me, Mike and Phil groped them, Pete found a grip, too. "Cheese ! Screen-save ! Game-save ! Team exit ! Wow ! Thanks, every-one !! "

I took off the head-set, forced myself to relax. I had a puddle of sweat in my Lederhosen, aches in my shoulders, buzzing in my ears and, suddenly, a dozen hooting Vamps hugging me. "Wow ! That was great !" Sindy --or was it Sandy ?-- gasped, echoed by her twin, "Thought we were Goners, for sure !" "Nice one, Chris !" Mike allowed. "Owe you one !" Pete nodded, "And Lara had 'capture' running, so we can replay the action !" "I know I could have done better..." I grumbled, "I was slow picking up cues..." They exchanged glances. "Sure you didn't make the on-line rankings ?" Phil wondered. "No way ! I never joined a Tribe: I just played for fun and with friends..." "Yeah, right..." Lara chuckled, "Coffee ?" "Oh, no ! I'd be buzzing for hours ! Er, long fruit-juice if you have it..." I squirmed, "Gotta change, wring this out, then grab Dinner and a nap..." "Fair enough !" Pete hooted, "But remember to be back here just after Supper ?"

"Drink up !" Lara sent a pint tankard of juice, hand to hand. "Orange juice ? Perfect !" I sank it in one, burped gently, "Pardon !" I looked around at the astonished faces, "What ?" "We may gorge like wolves..." Lara grinned, "But we can't drink like a thirsty camel !" "Ah..." I burped again, grinned mischievously, "So does that finally prove I'm a Sap, not a Changeling ?" They were still hooting helplessly when I eased out through the crowd and headed for my room.



Project Lorraine Chapter # 21: Time Out...


I was very, very glad to reach my room. The puddled sweat itched and rubbed where I was already sore. The usual places were beginning to throb. I shed my Lederhosen, the sodden T-shirt and briefs, stepped under the shower. After easing my zip open, I opened the taps and let tepid water pour in. Most missed, of course, but enough sluiced through. It helped.

I tried to remember how to wash leather, shrugged. I'd left my clothes within reach, so rinsed the Lederhosen before the salt caked. The rest could take their turn in the hand-bowl. I shut off the shower, waited for the 'Second Skin' to do its oozing trick. The suede briefs handwashed easily. My T-shirt required laundering, but I'd need to ask how and where. I settled for soaking it, kneading it well, then hanging it to drip dry. By then, I was dry, too.

I smeared some baby cream into my tender corners, closed the zip. After pulling on spare briefs and a tunic, I headed for a hasty Dinner. The Youngsters greeted me with hoots and yells. "Bring your tray over here !" Pete called across their commotion. I'd stayed in the shower too long, the counters had a very limited range. I settled for drying fish fingers, the broken slices of a pork roast's end, some sad pasta and a dob of weary greens. "Sure they'll do ?" Mary asked, unhappily, "We could find you something better..." "They'll do fine." I stated, "Better than SOTM's canteen, thank you !" Mary nodded, loaded my plate. I landed my tray in the one gap left by the Youngsters, "What's up ?" "Hard copy !" Pete chortled, "Lara grabbed some 'Overseer' angles ! Look !"

The laser printed, grey-scale sheets were already weary from handling, but they showed highlights of our adventure. I recognised my long head-shot, annotated with Sandy's bleak, 'Because he can ?'. I'd not seen much of the team's in-fighting, I'd been watching for gaps. The others' points-of-view were filled with eyeless, peeling skulls, rotten teeth and clutching, near-skeletal hands, held a horrible immediacy. My tricky traverse to the catwalk was merely 'Technical'-- From Mike's perch at the window, it looked much, much worse. Then there was the view of me distracting the Zombie mob. I'd been too focussed to look beyond the moment. Now I could see the cul-de-sac was full, while more pushed in from Bold Street. All turned from that failing shop-front to swirl around the vortex cut by my gun-fire. The final print, pristine in a plastic sleeve, showed Sindy & Sandy losing their studied HyperGoth pouts to Pete's well-timed 'Dallas' goose.

"They let me live !" Pete chuckled, "We'll get some colour prints done when we can..." "Thank you." I stated, inadequately, "You've gone to a lot of trouble--" "You kidding ?" Phil laughed, "Best fun we've had in years !" I nodded acceptance, added, "Gets harder now: Elder Broderik sees things different." "I know..." Another Youngster sighed, "I've been researching his visits in the Chronicles..." "How's it going, Carl ?" "Hard, Jeff. Hard..." Carl grumbled, "If I did not know better, I'd swear Broderik was trained by those infamous Medieval Jesuits. Andy, did you get any Oral History from our Elders ?" " 'A difficult ally, an honourable foe-- He'll stab you in the front'." Andy quoted, "And that was the kindest comment. I don't think he has any friends." "Ouch..." I allowed, "Oh, well, if he's that predictable--" "Another thing." Andy warned, "He burns through Seconds and Assistants. Either he falls out with them, or they get carved up in fights. They don't seem to care, they are all Psychos. If they weren't on his team, they'd be Rogues." "Ouch..." I shrugged, "Oh, well, if they're that predictable--" The Youngsters hooted cheerfully.

"Okay..." I thought about it, "What should I say if I meet him ?" " 'Are you feeling lucky ?' " Andy quipped. The Youngsters hooted again. "Seriously." I stated, "I can't just ignore him. Besides, no harm in being polite to some-one I may have to shoot..." Several well-read Youngsters recognised the quote I'd adapted, most just gulped. "We're to call him Elder." Pete shrugged, "He may not speak to us at all. Just like he will not speak to Juniors or with Olders." "Ah... And what of his team ?" "That's easy." Carl stated, "He calls his Second 'Talon', and Assistants 'Nub'. They have no names, they have not earned them." "Ook..." I shook my head, "Are they Amnestied ?" "Are you kidding ?" Pete laughed, "He's already in a snit because Monty won't let them Tap our locals !" "You cannot be serious ?" Andy held up his hands, "One of the Elders had a line on his views, 'He's not a Traditionalist, he's a Fetlocking Fundamentalist !' What else can I say ?"

"Ook..." I thought on that, "Pete, do the Candies know ?" "They do." Mary leaned over, collecting empty plates, "They're good kids, they know how important this is. Besides, Monty's threatened to Dawn-Stake any-one who lays a talon on them..." "Okay." I'd come to another issue, "What about Rhys ? We've, um, shared a bed." That drew two types of snigger, told me who knew the gossip, and who knew the truth. No-one wanted to speak first. I had to add, "Look, the poor kid missed her Pet Sap-- What else was I supposed to do ?" They all hooted. "That's the spirit !" Pete grinned, "Does she know you're the RogueBane ?" "She does now !" I quipped, "Why do you think she avoids me in public ?" Pete groaned as the others hooted helplessly, "Okay, Chris, go and get that nap ! Remember, Café after Supper ?"

"Okay ! I'll bring my night-shirt, just in case. Do I need my toothbrush ?" "Please." Pete nodded, suddenly serious, "We don't want any accidents..." "Huh ? What do you mean ? I don't have venom--" "You don't need it." Pete shuddered, "Remember you told young Graham that sea water is a soup of life ?" "Ah, yes-- I remember the question." "We must shun the sea. Like Saps with peanut or wasp sting allergy, we risk anaphylactic shock from the proteins in a splash or spray. Outside the Nest, we'll carry Adrenalin pens. Same goes for a Sap bite. If allergy doesn't get us, the bugs can run rampant--" "Septicemia." I nodded, "Bacteremia with Sepsis, Toxic Shock, dead within days." "Used to be a major cause of death. Even Traditionalists now use antibiotics and Anti-Tet..." "Sorry, I never knew..." I shook my head, "D'uh, so there is a germ of truth in the legends about 'Holy Water' ?" Pete flinched, "Unfortunately, yes..." "Better that than Miracles." I allowed. "Agreed..."

"So how do Vamps cross oceans ?" "There's herbs that will dampen metabolism, reduce sensitivity to toxins." "Makes sense." I nodded, "We use steroids, Aspirin at a pinch." "But they're zonked: They can't travel alone." "Hence the 'Travelling in Coffin' stuff ?" "That, too." Pete pulled a face, "Must have been desperate to risk a crossing by Sail." "Bet they were glad when steam came in !" "Double-edged." Carl added, "Sure, it was faster and safer, but... A Great Nest died on the Titanic." "What ?" "Unsinkable ? Modest cabins for essential Trustees ? Plenty of big cabin trunks ? Lesser Trustees and their families in Steerage ? Too good to miss !" "D'uh..." "Of course, when trouble began, the Trustees would not leave their torpid Grand Master and his clan. Then it was too late to escape..." "Ook." What else could I say ? "And they must have been the Progressives of their time..." "They were." Carl stated, "Left the Traditionalists with a clear field. This Nest was one of the few exceptions: Our Elders declined the invitation. After the 1815 flood, they were wary of that 'Unsinkable' hype. Besides, it was rather early in the season for the Northern route..."

I shook my head, "A tragedy within a tragedy within a tragedy..." "But you're wrong about one thing." Carl added. "Oh ?" "There's been Vamps in the New World as long as there's been Saps." "They..." I thought about it again, "They came over from Siberia with the IceAge hunter-gatherer waves ?" "Must have done. Post-Glacial, they preyed on the tribes who hunted the MegaFauna." "Ook..." I shook my head, "But that's long before the DayWalkers died off in Eurasia !" Shrugs all around. "Ah... " I'd had a thought, "That issue aside, there's still the question of how Vamps followed the tribes. Could they have been Shaman to them ? My Anthropology is a bit ragged, but wasn't Shaman succession often independent of the tribe-- almost like our semi-symbiotic mitochondria ?" "Interesting hypothesis..." Pete allowed, "We've contacts over there-- have to e-mail and ask !" "We're talking about Trustees again." Carl puzzled, "Didn't some tribes carry their ancestors' bones with them ? Not a great step from hauling a mummy to hauling a Vamp..." "Duh, I would not care to be dragged around in a sack !" Pete moaned.

"Not far off what we do now." That quiet Vamp's eyes met mine, "Adrian. Small Nest in mid-somewhere. My Sire's here for trade and to argue for you. I bagged a ride to visit my school-friends again." "Worth the trouble ?" "Ook !" He chuckled, "Do we have tales to tell !" "Oh, no, not the tabard trick ?" "Ook ! That's one, of course ! No. Even wearing that remarkable 'Skin', you're the Sap we saw on TV. We-- We knew that Rogue. The Sire and I had warned him off our patch almost three Moons before you shot him. Then we got Monty's analysis." Adrian hesitated, "But we saw something else. You intended to take that Rogue alive. You shot four to cripple, instead once to kill. Those were expensive bullets."

The Youngsters exchanged puzzled glances. "Not so expensive." I quipped, "As SOTM's agent, I only get 25% of a Bounty." "I-- I didn't know that." Adrian wondered, "But it makes no difference. You put your life on the line to take him alive, and it costs you." "Anything else would be Murder." "Not in Law--" " 'The Law is an Ass'." I quoted, "And, this way, I get to sleep nights. Okay, I usually dream about HotZones, but no good deed goes un-punished..." "Ook--" "So those moans-- ?? " Andy groaned, "We thought you were making out with Rhys !" "I should be so lucky !" I shrugged when the hooting stopped, "I snore, too."

"We know !" Carl hooted, "We can hear you half-way down the corridor !" "Next time, can you ask for a room with a Coffin ?" Adrian grinned. "Sorry, I had one--" "Slept nine hours straight--" "Woke wrapped like a mummy--" "Oh, you heard-- or, rather, didn't ?? Well, I'm stuck with my current room until Elder Broderik leaves. Any chance I could borrow a Coffin / Sofa meanwhile ? No ?" I drained my juice, stood, "Sorry, I'm still buzzing after 29_Days. If I don't go now, I won't get my nap." That drew hoots, nods, even a few leers, but they understood. "Don't forget your souvenir !" Pete pushed the sleeve along, "And see you in the Café after Supper !" "Tunic and Toothbrush !" I nodded, "See you then !"



Project Lorraine Chapter # 22: Six of One...


I walked back to my room, shed tunic and briefs. After setting the alarm, I unzipped far enough to smear lots more baby-cream into my tender corners. The game run, the NewWorld Vamps' origins, the Titanic triple tragedy were buzzing in my brain: I lay awake on my bed-spread bath-towel for all of five minutes...

The alarm woke me after nearly three hours. I swapped out my fangs and contacts, brushed my teeth, put in precautionary eye-drops. With my spares in, I pulled on my briefs and tunic again, grabbed my tooth-brush. Time for Supper...

"Hi, Chris ! Is Rhys okay ?" Rhys knew this Dinner-Lady --or her look-alike Sibs-- but Chris did not. I had to phrase this carefully, "Would you be Milly ?" She nodded. "Rhys mentioned how brave you were to serve table for Elder Broderik." Milly beamed. "She's right." "Ook !" Milly beamed wider, "Don't tell her I said so, but Rhys has a good head on those young shoulders... Must have been a shock losing an old Trad Sire then landing in our Nest-- Trust her to grab the one and only Pettable Sap in the place ! Ook ! Does she know you're the Rogue Bane ?" "She does now." I wheeled out that gag again, "Why do you think she avoids me in public ?" Milly hooted. Clearly, she only knew the gossip... "Soup ?" Milly offered, "The Minestrone Special is really, really nice..." "Smells good..." I considered it, "No, sorry, just rolls and juice, thank you..." "Okay, see you in the Café in half an hour or so, then !"

I nodded politely, collected my supper and found a seat. This was getting silly: What had I said to Pete about bedroom farces ? Though I'd dodged that one, I was now playing my own Vamp mistress ! Was it healthy ? Nu: I'd begun to understand why Pantomime was so popular, why so many of those bizarre Denizens packed D's Den. Like my unforgettable Halloween Ball, it was a rare chance to step outside reality and be some-one else, if only for one night. Yes, I'd had great fun then. And, yes, I must admit to myself and Sam, SOTM's Psychiatrist, that I was having great fun now...

Of course, I was not doing this just for fun. There's no harm in enjoying honest work, and if it kept me off Elder Broderik's radar, well and good. If being thought a potential Aspirant or Pet Sap could save more lives than otherwise, then I had no choice. Yeah, right... I sighed, finished my final roll and downed the juice. Pete's comment that he was to 'Observe My Demeanour' concerned me. But, only one way to find out...

I stopped off at a wash-room, emptied my valve, washed well then brushed my teeth twice. Pete looked relieved as I arrived, "Good, now we're only waiting on--" "Sorry I'm late !" Milly skidded around the corner, "Elder Weft asked about our Catering clogs..." "Okay ! We're all here ! As this is Chris' first SleepOver--" He waited for the hooting to ease, "Please, try not to startle him ?" More hooting. "Let's go !"

We filed through the Nest's maze to another unmarked door, into a steep tunnel hacked with rough steps. We only descended a dozen feet before Pete stopped, "Where is that night-light switch ? Aha !" A few yards further on, an old, timber door opened at his touch, "Mind the odd step..." We filed in, waited while Pete closed the door and set the bar. I thought we were in a natural cave until I saw old chisel marks from the quarrying. Almost rectangular, it had two deep bed-shelves on each side, like a Roman catacomb. An alcove opposite the entrance held two modern 'portaloo' toilet cubicles.

"Okay, Folks ! As you know, I'm Pete. On behalf of this Special SleepOver, please welcome Chris RogueBane !" Hoots. "Er, hello..." More hoots. "Milly, Molly, Mandy--" "Sweet as Sugar Candy !" They chorused to cheerful hoots. "Sindy and Sandy, our virtual HyperGoths !" More hoots. "Old friends Alice, Bob and Dennis !" More hoots. "And the ever-reliable Jeff and Phil !" Jolly hoots.

"For Chris' benefit, I'll state the rules: No harm, no hurt, no better or worse, nothing but good clean fun !" Nods and hoots. Pete handed out wrist-banded keys, "Mini-lockers under each bed-shelf. Find yours, put your clothes in it, get snug on the shelf." One key-band came to me. I waited for the first disrobing to finish, headed for the gap-- Tunic, briefs, room-key, tooth-brush, close locker, tuck key into band on wrist. I eased onto the bed-shelf's futon, tried not to flinch from the shadowed occupants' exploring hands.

"Ook ! Hi, Chris !" "Hi, Chris !" "Er, hello, so this is what a SleepOver--" "Your 'Skin' feels as good as it looks !" "Er, thank you--" "And you smell good enough to nibble ! Come here--" One hand hauled me bodily sideways, another clutched at my crotch, "You have no slit ! That's not fair-- EEK!" "But you do !" Announced Third Dolphin, putting action to words. "Hey--" I began, before a Vamp nose rubbed mine, her lips clamped over mine and our tongues met, "Umf !" She backed off an inch, then jolted against me, "Eek !" "Oof !" I gasped. "Oook--" "That wasn't--" I began. "This is--" "Eeek !" "Hey, Chris' box has a ridge--" "Ook ! Yes !" "Let's try Chris as a Starfish !" "Erk--" Our tangle shifted, I was on my back, one Vamp on my front, another behind her, groping us both.

"Oof !" With our pelvises engaged, she began thrusting me into the futon, "Oof ! Oof ! Oof !" My face was squashed against hers. I managed to get both hands around, but the attempt to gain some air-space stopped at her up-stood nipples. How could I ignore such pert beauties ? "Eeek ! Ooooh, you Little Monster ! Ooooh ! Ooook!" Third Dolphin hesitated, then re-joined the fore-play. My catheter was an effective passion-killer, but the old hind-brain was definitely interested. My partner climaxed quietly, sagged to one side.

Was that all ? Dear Bon-Bon had taught me how to really treat a Lady. I rolled over with her, wriggled our hips together and set to work. Kiss-Kiss, nipples, the box-ridge-- "Erk ? Ook ? Ook ! Ook ! Ook ! Ook !" That was interesting-- a Vamp's g-spot must be in a slightly different place. Hmm... "Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK !" Around us, there was sudden silence. They'd not heard that one before ! "Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! OOOWWWWK ! Aaaah..."

"Oops." I'd forgotten Vamps' limited aerobic capacity. She was out like a light. Medical reflexes kicked in, "ABC ! Airway clear ! Breathing okay ! Circulation okay !" "Ook ? What happened ?" Third Dolphin wriggled up alongside us. "Richter 9.0 !" I quipped, relaxed with relief. That was a mistake. My quip about Earnest Anthropologists had come back to bite me. The Vamps' combined musk and my frustrated hormones hit like an earthquake's Tsunami. I twisted, pushed him over, writhed onto his front. "Erk ? Ook ? Ook ! Ook ! Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! Hey-- Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! Stop-- Ook ! Ook ! OOK ! OOK ! OOOWWWWK ! Please-- OOOWWWWK ! I-- I-- Aieeee-- Uhhh...." Now he was out for the count, too, "ABC ! Airway clear ! Breathing okay ! Circulation okay !"

"Chris ? What's going on ?" I turned my head. Four Vamps peered into our slot. "They're fine !" Then, before I could stop myself, "Who's next ?" They looked at each other, shrugged. "Swapsies ?" One offered, they nodded, she turned to me, "Trade places, Chris: I need a breather..." I eeled out, stood. She scrambled in, repeated my checks, "They're fine-- But they're zonked ! Sindy ? Sindy ! Say something !" "Mmmm.... Roll me over, lay me down and do it again... " "Ook !" By then, I was following two of the others onto their bed-shelf.

Time passed pleasantly. The faces and bodies changed, the results didn't. Later, I vaguely remembered singing-- off-key, of course. " ...Took six Missies, five Strutters and a Sap we stole from SOT-M, We didn't get much sleep, but we had a LOT of fun, On Grandma's feather bed !" Meanwhile, outside my slot, the few mobile Vamps chose their next sacrifice...

Came a time when they'd all had enough. Weary Vamps huddled on the other bed-shelves. I was alone. I whispered belated thanks to the insatiable Bon-Bon, rolled over and slept like a log.

I woke ravenous. I dressed, went via my room for an essential shower and more baby-cream. I changed my tunic and briefs, hit the Diner as the doors opened for First Breakfast. Mary, Sue and Annabelle stared as I kept pointing and they piled my plate, "Worked up an appetite ! Fun, though !" As one, they glanced towards the door. "Had a busy night !" I grinned, "Give them a chance !" I didn't just fill a glass with juice, I took a jug. Technically, I had a Full English Breakfast with pasta side. Given that I usually nibbled my food, the heap and its demolition drew curious looks. I had sufficient juice to wash all down. I burped behind my hand, considered a second helping, but thought better of it. I strode to my room, locked through to become Rhys and returned to help in the Diner.

The SleepOver's Vamps staggered in like Zombies at the very end of First Breakfast. I hadn't known Vamps could have bags under their eyes ! "What happened ?" Mary asked Sandy, the nearest. "Chris... "She moaned, cryptically, "Have you seen him yet ?" "Sure ! Came through here earlier, bright and cheerful-- Hungry as a wolf, mind !" "D'uh... I'm not surprised..." "Some mash with that ?" I asked politely. "Y-Yes, p-please, R-Rhys... I-- I need the fuel..." She gave me an unspeakable glare, pushed her tray along. Gallant Pete came last. He looked me in the eye, shook his head slowly, zig-zagged to their table.

"What's with them ?" Sue asked. I shrugged, "Chris did not say much, but I think he enjoyed himself." I'd seen that 'Precocious Child' blush. Now two Olders matched her pink. "Ook ? " Sue managed, "ALL of them ??" "And he seemed such a nice, young Sap..." I sighed, dreamily. Sue buried her face in her plate-cloth to stifle giggles. Mary and Annabelle stared between us, then fled into the kitchen before they, too, creased up.

Chef Joey put his head around the door, looked at my innocent expression, at Sue's giggles. He frowned. He scanned his Diner, steadied on those eleven weary Youngsters' slow refuelling. He shrugged, turned to me, "Ah, Rhys ! I've put those menus and nutrition tables in a zip-lock on your changing shelf." "Thank you, Chef !" "How are you, today ?" "I-- I've nearly caught up from my travels. I should be able to help a bit more." "Good ! Soon as you've finished clearing tables, could you take over in the Café ? I need Lara here to watch the special sauces..." "Yes, Chef ! Shall I take more milk ?" "That would be a good idea, saves dashing around later..." Joey looked over to the near-torpid Youngsters, "What happened to them ?" Sue had her breath back, "SleepOver ran late..." "Odd... I don't remember any LitterDays due. We usually get asked for a cake..." "I think it was a special for Chris." "Oh ?" Joey took a careful breath, "Rhys ? What do you know of this ?" I shrugged, "Chris does snore..." "Ah, yes... Of course !" Was that a wicked twinkle ? "Could you ask the Candies when their last fitting will be ?" "Yes, Chef !" I hung my plate-cloth, slid out.

The food and strong Breakfast coffee had restored some energy, but my approach still drew flinches from those in the know, "Excuse me, Candies ? Chef would like to know when your final fitting is due." "Ugh..." One took a hasty swig of coffee, "After Second Breakfast. We'll wear them to Elevenses..." Her bleary eyes focussed on me, "Rhys ? How was it for you ?" "D'uh ?" "With your Pet Sap, Chris ?" I gulped. What could I say ? The truth might do, "Chris wasn't wearing his 'Skin'. We huggled until I fell asleep. He says to roll him over if he snores..." "You didn't, er, do anything else ?" "Ook ? What else can you do with a Pet Sap ?" "Um, Rhys ?" Pete hastily asked, "Have you ever been to a SleepOver ?" That was easy, "No... But Chris said it was fun !" If asked, Mary, Sue and Annabelle could confirm it. Those who knew and those who didn't groaned as one. Over at the counter beside Joey, Sue was tapping her wrist significantly. "Ook ! Gotta go ! Tables to clear ! See you in the Café, soon !"

"How does he do it ?" Pete groaned, then covered his slip, "But Chris warned us: When that Junior asked if he can do it all the time, Chris said, 'Can, yes. May, no.' We can't complain..." "Oh, yes, we can !" Sandy moaned, "Who invited a Sap Strutter to our SleepOver ?" "You did. " Her sib Sindy stated, unsympathetically, "You thought it would be fun..." "Yes, but you suggested it first !" "Coffeeee !" Phil pleaded, "More coffee ! Lots more coffee !" "Oooh !" Another Candy moaned, "Can't understand it... Every time I look at Rhys, I see Chris' grin, feel his hands and-- Ooooh !" "There, there..." The third patted her sib's knee, "How many times did you and he-- ?" "Oook ! I don't remember !" "Nor do I-- Not after that first-- Wow !" Beside them, Sindy giggled, "Me, neither ! We need more coffee ! Can't have you asleep for your fitting ! Let's go !"

With their last table vacant, I cleared and cleaned it, washed up, then headed for the Café. Joey had his news about the Candies, I had my Diner study material and a four-pinter of semi-skimmed milk. I also had the interesting problem of what to put in my report.

Clearly, I'd need to read up on Embedded Field Anthropology techniques. I grinned. Of course, per SOTM's verbal agreement with Monty, none of this had yet happened...



Project Lorraine Chapter # 23: Trouble at Mill...


Lara greeted Rhys with a mix of alarm and relief. Between us, we ran both of the smaller coffee machines until the first rush eased. Lara hurried to Joey's aid. I kept the Youngsters plied, enjoyed their banter, watched food and caffeine repair their exhaustion...

By Sap standards, their recovery was almost miraculous. I'd triaged and/or treated enough victims of disease and mayhem to have mixed feelings at their progress. Within half an hour, they'd cleared residual anaerobic metabolites, shed their deathly pallor, returned to perfect, alabaster skin and near-glowing eyes. I would have needed a dozen hours sleep and IV rehydration...

It showed just how different Homo Vamps really were from us Saps. We'd evolved for aerobic endurance, they'd become ambush predators. And, like Cheetahs, they'd paid the price. Upside was that remarkable rebound. Two of the Candies were already trying to fake each other out, a game I could only call 'Duelling Glamour'...

It was fascinating: I'd seen Rogues use Glamour in anger, the Diner staff, Frank and Pete testing me, Elder Weft 'Busy' and her Tailor Twins lurking. Now, two of the Candies had a flickery border that drew my gaze. Even at the very edge of my peripheral vision, their heads and shoulders seemed to waver, not quite with heat-haze, more the shorter pattern of rippled water. I knew it was partly my eyes' natural saccade, partly my optic centre's repeated loss and re-acquisition. I wasn't immune to Glamour-- As Sam, SOTM's Psychiatrist cheerfully put it, my quisitive 'Inner Child' just would not let Vamps stay hid...

Hmm: Given poetic licence, that bald pair could almost have wisps of curly hair-- or snakes for hair ?? My nape crawled. I'd joked about a creche of Harpies, and now I was looking at Gorgons ! Could the infamous Medusa, that most memorable Gorgon, have been a Vamp ?? Okay, the time-line fitted, if vaguely. Against that, the young Medusa was renowned for her beauty, something these Youngsters rather lacked. Striking was surely the kindest Sap compliment !! Of course, as I'd proven last night, beauty was only skin-deep. Also, those early sailors did embellish their tales: to any-one who could describe seals, sea-otters and/or manatees as Mermaids, Vamps might look very, very cute.

Add in Glamour and Bite: I knew first-hand what the psychotropic components could do, even in a clinical setting. Survivors of Rogues' attacks had spoken of Rapture. 'Jack', a former saturation diver on oil rigs hence a trained observer, compared it to the feared Nitrogen Narcosis.

Jack's Vamp had drawn him off a lit street with a friendly wave, a half-remembered face. Then, The Bite. Hit in his fore-arm, the venom was enough to leave him docile and witless for the short hike to the Haunt. There, the Vamp had carefully punctured a wrist vein, lapped his fill then dressed the wound. Over several days, more en-venomed bites to his arms kept him placid through a succession of Taps. The Vamp had fed him left-overs from take-away meals perhaps snatched from drunks, induced him to sip rain-water lest he dehydrate and his veins collapse too soon...

Jack remembered little of his time, compared it to high fevers he'd known. Oddly, he did remember me. Rare among victims, he'd responded when I called to the Vamp. His half-dead bundle opened eyes, weakly exclaimed, 'Oh, look ! It's the Milky Bar Kid !!' and began a quavering rendition. I was too busy accosting the Vamp to cringe. That Rogue met my grim eyes, gulped and meekly surrendered.

Some-how, word of my body-cam's sound-track got out. The brand's owner offered SOTM *millions* for the footage, scarcely less for the the rights to re-stage it with their usual kiddies. When asked my opinion, I reminded Liz what a local comic had done to the 'Man From DelMonte' ad...

Across the Café, five Youngsters were now Duelling Glamour, urged on by the others. I grinned, kept serving coffee, plus a few rolls to top up their carbs...

What else was going on, off or down in those legendary times ? Santorini ? I'd stopped there for a post-HotZone chill-out, spent days watching the Dig or just staring out across the fragmentary remnants of that awesome caldera. The eruptions, cataclysmic explosion and tsunami were bad enough, but fall-out from the ash-cloud doomed Cretan culture. As with most environmental toxins, the fluoride was concentrated on its way up the food-chain, poisoning those already weakened by chronic silicosis. And, of course, any Vamps would be hit hardest...

I'd certainly needed time to think. Another session in the Unquiet 'Stans, it again saw a bunch of opportunist villains trying to leverage us. Again, it ended badly. This time, the local children betrayed them, if accidentally. Three of us were working a village, vaccinating, helping, caring, when those ever-present children *vanished*. That's a bad sign. Five of seven BlueHelmets were soon drawn to a noisy incident. The bandits' main group just pushed the remaining pair into our makeshift clinic at gun-point, made improbable demands for my safe return. They found the back window open, two modestly clad nurses, a queue of veiled patients, a slight, niqab-clad figure tailor-tucked on the bare floor beneath our folding table, silently keening over a bundle too small to have lived. Women ! Never mind, there were two Western nurses for the taking-- My P46 is a precision weapon, but that borrowed Browning suited this task. Shooting *upwards*, I gutted the first two before they realised their mistake. The third and fourth swung to cover the window, died puzzled. Our BlueHelmets felled the hesitant fifth without a qualm, then dragged out the dead. Just business as usual...

Ötzi the Iceman ?? He dated from the very start of that period, of course, before Bronze. He had that superb copper axe, and human blood on his flint arrow-heads. The reports held he was the victim of two hunting-parties' clash. But why should he attempt the Pass at that late season ? There was always the chance of accident or brawl collapsing dubious trust. Had they'd seen something untoward in the valley ? Dare I add 'Vampire Shaman' to the list ?? Perhaps not today...

I'd made and served another gallon of coffee when the intercom buzzed, "Café, Rhys speaking !" "Ah... Hi, Rhys !" It was Lara, "Coming up on Second Breakfast-- Would you like some kept ?" "No, thank you, Ma'am !" "Okay..." I heard stifled giggles, "Could you remind the Candies about their fitting ?" "Remind the Candies of their fitting ? Yes, Ma'am..." I looked around. They'd heard or been elbowed. They nodded. "Done, Ma'am !" "Any problems over there ?" "No, Ma'am, the four-pinter should last until Elevenses !" "Very good ! Carry on, Rhys !" "Thank you, Ma'am !" I could hear sniggers behind me, grinned. The more, the merrier !

While I was loading a dish-washer basket, I heard Pete & Co decamp, leaving the Café almost empty. I took coffee and finger-rolls to the pair of Youngsters still Googling. Two things jumped at me. They were slow readers: I could literally see their lips moving as they worked down the page. So slow ? Committing it to their remarkable oral memory ? Or, of course, both ? On image searches, though, they were as fast as the link allowed...

"Oh, Hi ! Thanks, Rhys !" "Thanks, Rhys !" "Um, looks complicated..." "This ? Elder Fern's got us researching Irish Myth & Legend !" "Then we gotta compare it with Elder Broderik's team !" "Oh ! Oh ?" "Sure ! They're coming over from the original Emerald Isle--" "No-one tell you-- ?" "Well, I don't think any-one's told Chris, and who else has time to chat to Rhys ?" "Yeah, right--" "Sorry, Rhys..." "It has all been a bit much..." "Hey, you've handled it well-- better than I--" "We--" "Would have done without Summer School here..." "Er, thank you !"

I peered at the screen, noted the old browser version and 'safe search' set, wondered if a different font might suit them better. And those weird desk-top colours were, "Umm..." They mistook my interest, "You use Google ?" "Er, that map thingy ?" "Google Earth--" "Charlene and Dennis said they'd shown Rhys Oswestry-- "Ah, yes, of course ! Doesn't it give a nice view !" "So strange..." I admitted, given that the view was *always* cloudless, "Must be like flying !" "Yeah... Funny that Saps used to think we could fly !" "Right ! Now, free-climbing--" "That's wild fun--" "We've a Victorian Folly near our Nest--" "And a real ruin--" "With bats--" "And owls--" "And badger setts !" "Wow !" What else could I say, as either Chris or Rhys ?

"Hey, Rhys, would you like to see what Google can find on Chris ?" "Yeah, you're the only one who's really seen him out of his Second Skin !" "D'uh... We just huggled..." "Try 'SOTM'-- Ugh, gazillion hits !!" "And 'Vamps' ?" "Okay, okay... Ha ! That's the Pier Head Rogue Interview ! Okay, Rhys, click 'Play' !" "Roll the ball to... That's it. Now press the left--" It was edited highlights, jerky, pixellated, with dreadful sound, but that didn't matter. I was seriously scary. The bulky body-armour boldly emblazoned SOTM, the neat holsters, the Paramedic pack just twisted the knife. Unlike L.C.'s 'Force of Nature' arrogance, driven by her athleticism and impeccable reflexes, I exuded quiet, technical confidence-- Welcome to the 21st Century, it told each Rogue, welcome to *my* world...

I shuddered suddenly, "Ook... He looks taller-- and scary !!" "He does that !" They agreed. "But he seemed such a nice, young Sap !" There, I'd said it again. "But he is !" They agreed. "D'uh... May I bring you some more coffee ?" "Oh, yes, please !" The dish-washer had finished its run, so I swapped trays and re-started it, too. "Here you go..." "Thanks, Rhys ! That was quick !" "Lara showed me a few tricks..." "Um, sorry, Rhys, we can't find much on Chris-- When he's not reeling in Rogues, he stays out of the social news..."

I glanced at their lonely find. Yeah, great headline, 'Rogue Hunter Tours Naughty Night Clubs To Hand Out Safety Pamphlets', could have written it myself-- Ah, but I did ! It was a Press Release ! One of the perks of being a local celeb was free tickets. I used a lot of mine to preach safety and, incidentally, scrape off persistent paparazzi. After all, you catch more flies with Honeys than with vinegar... "Well, there you go !" I smiled, "He is a nice, young Sap !" They looked to each other, shook their heads. "Oh, but he is !" I insisted, deliberately mistaking their reaction, "He may be the RogueBane, but when I was lonely for my Pet Sap, he offered to sit with me ! Um, isn't he very young for a RogueBane ??" "You didn't know ? Ook ! There are no other RogueBanes--" "Slayer Saps, yes, but no Official RogueBane--" "Recognised by other Nests--" "Used to be chosen by the GrandMaster Vamp, but we haven't had one of them--" "Since the Titanic !"

"Ook !" That bought me time to think, then improvise, "The Old Sire lost kin on that Sap ship... He-- He was very bitter..." "Oh, that's so sad !" "Gosh, yes, who wouldn't be !" "D'uh, is your New Sire nice ?" "He is the New Sire." I let my shutters slam, "I cannot speak of him beyond that." "Oops--" "Sorry, Rhys..." I shook my head, "He is the New Sire: What else can I say, even to my friends ?" They looked to each other, sighed. Naive, kept out of the loop, but loyal to her Nest ? Yes, a good kid...

I heard the sound of approaching Youngsters, turned, "Ook ! They'll be wanting coffee !" They piled into the room, demanding Latté, Mocha-- or even jug-coffee to save time. The Candies were conspicuously absent. The SleepOvers had fully recovered, were energetically discussing the Nest's arrangements for the impending visit. Monty had issued his orders, the Delegates were not to be teased, never mind provoked ! Chris must stay out of the way, messages would be passed by Pete or Rhys. Chef was in a *foul* mood, and Monty was still trying to find a quorum for the Top Table...

The Café suddenly went quiet. I looked up to find the cause, stared in equal surprise. At least I responded first, "Three strong coffees ??" The Candies nodded from the door. They stepped into the room, Vamps backed away. By silent agreement, a table was vacated and left for them. I wiped the top, placed three jug-filled mugs. "Thanks, Rhys..." "Need it..." "Don't suppose you had to dress like this ?" I shook my head, but the corner of my mouth twitched. "Say it." "My Pet Sap's friend had a Raggedy Ann dolly..." The silence was ghastly, and stretched. It was broken by my intrepid Googlers, "Rhys is right ! It is a Raggedy Ann costume !" "Call the list..." An end Candy grumbled. "Chemise, smock-dress, apron, knee-length bloomers, striped socks, clogs, mob-hat ?" "No hood ??" "No hood-- Raggedy Anns have a mob-hat, like our Dinner Ladies wear. And non-whites should be red or blue, not clover green..." "Not a hood..." I stated, "A hooded capelet." They all stared at me. I added, "My Pet Sap showed me in a library book. Is it cosy ?" The Candies nodded glumly. Pete put it in words, "If this is Broderik's idea of a joke..." The middle Candy shook her head, "We were expecting Coleen or Irish Dancer, too. But this is their uniform for a Serving Wench." "More coffee ?" I asked. "And pour yourself one." The last Candy warned, "Broderik likes his freshly hand-ground, black and strong, almost Turkish. Certainly none of our modern stuff... Now guess who'll be making it ??" "Ooook..."




Project Lorraine Chapter # 24: You Cannot Be Serious !!


When I dived behind the Café counter, Pete must have had a moment of doubt. I heard him stand quickly. As he hesitated, I reached up with the one of the tiny demi-tasse cups I'd remembered seeing deep in the cupboards. I dug around, found seven more in dark corners, then a stack of matching saucers. I already had a traditional coffee mill, ready hung behind our two modern electric widgets. I just needed an 'ibrik' with the wide bottom, narrow neck, and long handle. I'd prefer a traditional copper or brass design, but I'd seen at least one here in stainless steel-- and, yes, there were two in different sizes, with the larger just right for four !

I sorted through the utensil drawer for the right spoon, fetched a slim wooden stirrer from the tool pot, put sugar to hand. What else ? Ah, yes ! A small tray and a water glass, of course.

In silence, the Café's Youngsters watched me grind my selected beans to dust, measure the portions, then work through the centuries-old technique. Boil to froth, pause. Boil to froth, pause. Boil to froth, dispense froth into each cup. Boil, pour tiny portions of liquid into each cup by turn, around and around the four to get the traditional combination of froth and flavour. Finally, and very carefully, I negotiated the Café's obstacles, placed the tiny tray central on the Candies' table and pulled up a chair of my own.

"Coffee should be strong as love, sweet as sin and black as hell." Quoth I, grinned at a private joke, sipped mine, "Not bad for an unfamiliar ibrik: Next will be even better !" The Candies peered at my offering, exchanged wary glances. The middle Sib drew the virtual short-straw. She nervously gripped the tiny cup's miniscule handle, took a careful sip, shuddered, "Ooook ! Rhys is right !" The others tried theirs by turn, shuddered at the bitter-sweet brew, nodded their silent astonishment. Pete eased through the watchers, begged a taste, nodded, "Oook, yes... That-- That truly is Turkish Coffee. D'uh, it may even be better than Frank's !! Okay, Rhys, where did you learn--" "Family tradition." I stated, before he dug the hole deeper. "Ah..."

Okay, so it wasn't Vamp-old, as Mum & Dad had honey-mooned in Turkey and learned there. I much preferred 'Generic Instant' for speed --making & drinking-- but there was a time and place for Turkish. Oddly, one such was in HotZones. My skill with those traditional implements could be an ice-breaker. Custom, alone, changed the status of those who partook...

When our coffees were sipped to their dregs, I followed custom and spoke of business. I struck a prim pose, put my nose in the air, stated, "I must consult my Nest before I wear such immodest clothes." The Café's clientele stared at me in horror. Suddenly, the middle Candy cracked a grin and began to chuckle. Her sibs looked at her. She giggled helplessly, "Don't you see ? Rhys has Elder Broderik by the taste-buds !" Hoots rose around us until the Café rang with glee.

Such jollity made Youngsters thirsty. I set about brewing lots of modern coffee. Lara arrived after Second Breakfast closed, bearing another carton of milk. She sniffed the air, eyed eight tiny cups in the queued basket, noted the neatly rinsed and draining ibrik. "Yours, Rhys ?" "Yes, Ma'am." "Did it turn out well ?" "Oh, yes, Ma'am !" As I'd promised, the second was even better, "Very well !" Lara nodded approval, glanced around. The Candies' costumes made them conspicuous among the Googlers, "What--" "Standard garb for Elder Broderik's Serving Wenches, Ma'am." "Oook ! " Lara spluttered, "He cannot be serious !! They can't serve food like that ! It is not safe-- And not hygienic, either !!" The Candies turned at Lara's explosion, cheerfully chorused, "Hi, Lara ! What do you think ?" Lara hesitated, "You don't mind ?" "Not any more--" "Rhys found the funny side--" "And made us REAL Turkish coffee !" "Twice--" "Wow-- " "What a Buzz !!" Lara hesitated, "I-- I'll have to speak to Chef... " "Intercom ?" I offered, "And, Ma'am, could you take over while I use the wash-room ?" "Oh ? Oh ! Yes ! Yes, of course ! Just don't be long..." "Thank you, Ma'am !" Behind me, I heard Lara's almost plaintive query, "Will some-one please tell me what is going on ?"

I was longer in the wash-room than I'd expected, but such cannot be planned. At least the signs let me use one appropriate to my attire ! As naive, home-sick Rhys, I could probably sob my way out of a few blunders, but it would become harder as time went on. I was already struggling to keep track of who knew, who didn't. Pete had nearly tripped twice, but recovered well. At least one of the Candies had almost blurted the truth-- How they hadn't guessed was beyond me ! Unless they knew, too, and were making a huge joke of it ?? I had a growing suspicion that very little of my Nest doings would reach any 'Official' report...

Lara was pleased to see me return, "Oh, good ! Sorry, I was starting to worry..." "Thank you, Ma'am !" "I've spoken to Chef: The Delegation will be here just in time for Lunch, and you'll be on the Diner Counter. Mind you get some Elevenses ?" "Yes, Ma'am.... Um, will I need to change ?" Lara hesitated just long enough to realise she was wasting her time. Sure, she could tease me, but I would take it in character. "Ah, no. As you are now will be fine. Chef and Monty have reached an agreement-- Dinner Ladies bring food Front of House, Serving Wenches take it from there." "Neat, Ma'am." "Dress rehearsal at Elevenses. As almost everyone but Day-Watch and Chris will be there, Café can't serve between quarter-to and the end of Lunch." "Yes, Ma'am. Um, will Chris need a packed Lunch ?" "What a good idea !" Lara nodded, "Why not ask on your way from the Café ? You never know, he might like to share it ! And you could tell him what happened !" "Oh, yes, Ma'am !" Think fast, "Perhaps he'd like Elevenses, too ?" "Ook, perhaps he might-- But you'd better not stay for that, there won't be time !" "Yes, Ma'am..." Lara grinned wickedly, turned, called, "Candies ? Dress rehearsal at Elevenses, remember ?" "YES, MA'AM !" They chorused cheerfully. "See you four, then ?" "YES, MA'AM !" We chorused. Lara left, helplessly shaking her head as we hooted delight.

After that, there really wasn't much for us to do. I brewed coffee, the Youngsters drank it and used Google to search for, among other things, more Irish folk-lore, Turkish coffee preparation and Raggedy Ann dolls. After the usual laughter and happy hoots, I heard a sudden outbreak of loud giggles. "Sindy ! Sandy !" The Candies called, "Come and look at this !" "Nah..." They grumbled. Pete glanced over, stared in astonishment, "I think you should..." I looked too, fought to stifle my chuckles, lost. "What's with Rhys ?" Sandy wondered, turned, looked, hicupped, "Ah... Maybe so..." Okay, I'll go..." Sindy prised herself from the circle of gossip, ambled over, started, "Ook ! Sandy ! I don't believe it ! But we'll NEVER convince Elder Weft to authorise that-- or Monty to let us wear it !!" "Not You-Us." Corrected one of the Candies, "We-Us ! Five ! And, thanks to Brod--" "ELDER Broderik--" "He's not here yet ! Yes, thanks to him, she already has the main pattern--" "And that tunic is quite cute !" "But the accessories--" "Same pattern, just--" "Oook !" "Six." Stated Alice, "Count me in !" "Seven." Charlene added, "Nine with the Tailor Twins, who'll be doing most of the work..." "Who else would be game ?" Sandy wondered, "Lara ? Sue ? " "Perhaps... Mari ?" "Doubt it... Um, Rhys ? What do you think ?" I struck that prim pose, put my nose in the air, started, "I must consult my Nest before--" then creased up. We were still hooting when quarter-to rolled around, time for me to close the counter. And, yes, I remembered to knock on Chris' door and make the appropriate enquiries...


This is what the Candies found...


Project Lorraine Chapter # 25: Train hard...


By the time I'd scrubbed and reached House Front, Joey had confiscated the Candies' hoods. If Elder Broderik wanted their pretty heads covered, then they'd wear authorised Catering hats-- albeit with a token green tab securely safety-pinned atop...

Now the Candies stood in front of the Diner's counter, flanked by Chef Joey and Sous-Chef Henry. Us Dinner Ladies formed behind the counter, our line dressed to near-military precision by Sue's hisses.

The Diner's lay-out had mutated. The TopTable was not a couple of regular 'laminates' pushed together, it was a stout, sectioned wooden top on strong trestles. It was surprisingly rough, looked as if many wood-peckers had used it for a punch-bag. There were a pair of grand wooden chairs at rear centre, benches behind and at the ends. Several stools grouped behind. There was no table-cloth or table settings, just two trays with inverted tankards. Behind the table, a heavy, un-decorated curtain hid the back-wall.

This Medieval-ish TopTable was separated from the usual decor by a dozen open feet and a tasselled rope slung between two waist-high pole-stands. Suddenly, Lara's comment about 'Cannibal Klingons' seemed more than a cruel quip.

We waited. The Diner's wall-clock ticked up to the hour. The Diner's doors flew open. Usually, a torrent of Juniors would pour through and ravage the menu, but not today. Monty strode in, wearing a formal tunic. At his right shoulder, an unfamiliar Elder with a green tabard glowered around. One half-stride behind and to the right of Elder Broderik's stand-in, a green tabarded Youngster flew wingman. Three more green tabarded Youngsters followed, scanning for threats. Frank and several co-opted Elders trailed after.

As the procession approached, Joey and Henry bowed, the Candies curtsied nimbly. "Elder, our Chef and Sous-Chef--" "Huh ! None of your fancy sauces today-- We eat REAL food !" "And your Table Servers--" "Only three ? Bah ! At least they are passing comely-- For Wenches !" He peered at them, "Their heads are almost bared ! What is this ?" "Elder, to serve in this Diner, they must wear such. Yet, they have adapted--" "Ah ? Huh-- A token at best..." He swung on the counter, "And these are your Menials ? A sorry bunch of aged incompetents, no doubt-- Yet THAT one is fair comely ! Why does she not serve table ?" "She is but a Student: You wish your platter spilled ?" "Then she may pour my Mead ! Send her to change !" "Elder, she is not of this Nest: She awaits her Sire's permission to wear such immodest garb--" "A Traditional ?" He peered at me, snarled, "Your name ?" "R-- Rhys, E-- Elder... " I stuttered, managed an exceptionally clumsy half-curtsey. "Rhys ? Rhys ? A good Welsh name ! And well-mannered, too ! From a small Nest, else I would recall it in the Litter Lists... So my Wenches are immodest, eh ? Your Sire orders you well ! His name ?" "I-- I may not speak of the Old Sire, Elder..."

My refusal gave him a moment's thought, "Ah ? How then did he Fall ? ANSWER ME THAT !!" "H-- Hunting, Elder !" "Hunting ? Hunting, eh ? How so ?" "A-- A tyre passed over him..." " 'Hit & Run', eh ? Well, there are worse ways to Fall..." He shifted tack, "Are you Given ?" "I-- I am promised to another Nest in trade..." "Your New Sire must mend old bridges... Talon ? Nubs ? You hear ?" "YES, ELDER !" They chorused, and pretended disappointment. The Talon was Adrian, wearing a pair of studded leather half-gloves and looking remarkably grim. Nubs Bob, Charlene and Dennis tried to look vicious, managed absurd and knew it.

"Pah !" Elder Broderik's stand-in spat, "Enough courtesy ! Let us at the food-- Such as it is !" Elders settled around the top Table. Talon and Nubs perched on stools and kept scanning. Sue and Lara followed the Chefs into the kitchen, returned with large, lidded platters. They placed them on the counter, went back for more. Candies ferried them to the TopTable until the surface was hidden. Now they bore flagons, enthusiastically filled the grouped tankards. I wondered if there would be any ritual, or complex drink-swapping, but no. Monty stood, slapped his left hand on the table-top hard enough to further scar it with his talon nubs. He hefted his tankard, called, "A toast: Live Long and Prosper !" "Live Long and Prosper !" They chorused, slapped the table, took huge swigs. Elder Broderik's stand-in stood, hefted his tankard, called, "Confusion to the Saps !" "Confusion to the Saps !" They echoed, washed it down. Monty sat, slapped the table a second time, "Let the feast begin !"

Waiting Candies snatched off platters' lids. The TopTable's Elders fell upon the contents, ripping gobs of red meat from the bones, hurling discards backwards, against the curtained wall. Drink flowed. Candies hastened to refill tankards before snarled demand. More flagons were brought and poured, tankards sloshed. The platters emptied rapidly, were cleared. Flagons ran dry. Monty stood, slapped a third time, "The feasting is done !" Elder Broderik's stand-in burped, inverted his tankard dregs onto the table-top, "Passable quality, but ample-- Yes, ample !" Then he put his arms on the table, his head on his arms and began to snore...

Long seconds passed. Finally, Frank cracked a grin, said, "Cut !" Elder Broderik's stand-in opened an eye, sat up, "Whew !" "Thoughts, Ralph ?" Monty asked. "My compliments to the Chef, of course !" Ralph grinned, "And to our nimble Wenches-- You're the infamous Milly, Molly, Mandy ?" "Sweet as Sugar Candy !" They chorused, grinning. "You'll do." Ralph nodded, "But Broderik may throw bones without concern for where you're stood." That gave them pause. Perhaps the hooded capelets did have a function beyond old fashion ?

"Now I must apologise to that unfortunate student--" "No, really--" Monty began. "Small Nest ? Lost her Old Sire ? Bundled off like a passel of dried fish ? Dropped in with Monty's Krazy Kids ? Scared sick ? Yes ! But, witless ? No ! She held it together, and that took nerve. Hmm... Was she speaking the truth about being promised to another Nest ?" "It would seem so." Monty allowed. "A shame... She would make a fine partner for Adrian--" "Uncle !" Adrian blushed pink and nearly fell off his stool. "Can't stop trying, Lad !" "Uncle, you know very well that Lily and I..." "And so do her Kin, which is why they keep trying to wheedle discounts from us..." Ralph turned to Monty, "Any chance I could have First Refusal ?" "I could make enquiries..." Monty admitted, "But it may complicate matters at a delicate time: Rhys is here at short notice, more or less as a favour to both Nests. I'm not privy to all the circumstances." "My honour and courtesy demand I apologise, Monty." "As you must..." Monty sighed, "We'll be in the Club Room..."

Ralph strode to the counter where us Dinner Ladies held our line, "Ah, good, Rhys ! You are still here !" "Elder ?" Of his trailing Youngsters, Bob and Dennis surely knew, Charlene did not. But, Adrian ?? He was sharp. I had to play this very, very carefully, and trust to my wits. "Young Rhys, I must apologise for my foul language and uncouth behaviour as 'Elder Broderik'. I hope you can believe me when I say they hurt me, too. This is not a part I wished to play." "Thank you, Elder !" I fumbled another ghastly curtsey. Behind him, Bob and Dennis struggled to contain themselves. Charlene puzzled. Adrian stared at me as if he'd seen a ghost. I avoided his eyes. "You must think Progressive Nests are full of crazy Vamps !" Ralph was not going to stop, "Actually, you are here at a rare moment of history ! Our arguments have drawn Elder Broderik from his old Haunt, perhaps for the last time ! We have a RogueBane again-- and the Ancient Office is held by a remarkable UnBent Sap ! These are strange times, indeed !"

"Uncle ?" Adrian began to tug at his sleeve, "Uncle--" Dennis elbowed Adrian ungently, "Let it go, Ade, she's not for you." "But--" Something flickered in Charlene's eyes, something wicked. She turned, grabbed Adrian by the arm and marched him off, "Now, Cousin, what did I tell you about asking shy Missies for a date ?" "But--" Ralph abandoned his monologue to watch the by-play, shrugged, "Youngsters ! Ah, as I was trying to say, if your move comes un-stuck, we've a good place for you." "Thank you, Elder !" This time my curtsey was almost competent. Ralph grinned, "Now I'd best step aside before the Little Monsters are let in-- Oh ! Here they come !"

I set to shovelling food onto Juniors' plates, was too busy to worry. Candies collected the TopTable's empty platters, ferried them back to the kitchen. With the Juniors' rush over, others queued to be served. Small portion, big portion, SMILE. Big portion, big portion, SMILE. Small portion-- "Rhys ? Rhys ??" I focussed on the speaker, played it straight, "Oh ! Hi, Adrian ! Your Uncle is very nice ! And he played the terrible Elder Broderik so well !" "Oh, yes, but-- Look, I'm so sorry-- Must have been such a shock to find Chris RogueBane wearing a death-mask of your half-Sib..." I flinched. Seems I owed Charlene, "He-- He went a little crazy after the Old Sire-- I'm sorry, I may not speak of it." "Nor will I again." Adrian promised, "And, yes, I'd like mash, please-- Two dobs ! There was little meat on those Spare Ribs, and no veg with them at all !" Squidge, squidge, SMILE. Just another satisfied customer... Charlene came through with Sindy and Sandy, winked at me. I ghosted them a curtsey, winked back. I allowed myself a sigh. If my hair did grow back, I would not be surprised to find it had turned white !

When the queue eased, I caught Sue's eye. "Problem, Rhys ?" "S-- Sorry, Ma'am, I need a minute..." "Right ! Go, sit in the changing room. I'll send someone --Lara ? Thanks !-- through to see you're okay. Now, git !" "Y-- Yes, Ma'am..." Lara arrived moments after me with a tankard of water, "Uh, Rhys ? What's wrong ?" "Wrong sort of HotZone." I quipped. "Ook, yes... Elder Ralph was very convincing-- I was afraid I was next ! So what was all that with young Adrian ?" "Charlene's just convinced him Chris' Skin's face was cast from Rhys' crazy half-Sib's death-mask." "D'uh... No wonder Chris and Rhys avoid each other while he's wearing his Skin ! Oook !!" Lara glanced down at the tankard, took a hasty swig, "Does--" "I-- I think so... She's certainly in with Sindy & Sandy." I replied. The mad beauty of the notion made my head spin too, "Um, did the Candies ask you about a new outfit ?" Lara looked puzzled. "Based on the Wench pattern, but a bit more, um, darkly, um, Gothic ?" Lara shook her head, "But whatever those three--" "Probably nine by now." "Nine, eh ? What about you, Rhys ?" "I must consult my Nest--" "Before wearing such immodest garb ? Gotcha ! I'm in !"

I slowly drained the tankard, then followed Lara back to House Front. Tables needed clearing and wiping. I set to work. Why didn't the Diner have a collection trolley for used trays ? Was it an oversight, or a comprimise when self-service was introduced ? Gotta ask later ! I took a load to the wash-room, went out for more. Mary and Mari finished sweeping behind the TopTable, set to mopping both table and floor. I admired their skill and co-ordination, collected another load of plates.

"Ah, there you are, Rhys !" Pete called from the Club Room's connecting doorway, "Come in for a minute, please !" I glanced over to the counter. Sue tapped her wrist, held up four fingers. I nodded, replied, "On my way !" I put my plates on an un-cleared table, headed for the door. Rhys had never been in the Elders' Club Room, but it wasn't hard to look nervous. Monty, Frank, Ralph and the other Elders looked up from their discussions. Pete and Adrian lurked at the side. Monty waved to me, "Come in, Rhys, sit here with us ! Oh, leave those doors open !" That had to be a good start. Also, their body-language suggested Rhys was incidental, rather than the Main Course. "Elders !" I managed a respectable curtsey, perched on the very edge of the indicated chair.

"First of all... " Monty hesitated, straightened his face, "Well done, Rhys ! You kept your nerve, answered correctly and courteously ! Ralph tells me he has apologised for spooking you. I'm sorry, he didn't know you were new here, had to run with your reply..." "Thank you, Elder." I shuddered. For all I'd said to Frank about, 'I know the type', it was still the same as Rogue Hunting-- Next time is hardest... "Rhys ? Rhys ??" "S-- Sorry, Elder ?" "Look, we've still got an hour before Elder Broderik arrives. You've time to take him a packed lunch, just time to let your head clear. Tell Sue I said so." "T-- Thank you, Elder !" "Go on, then !" "Y-- Yes, Elder !" I caught a heel on the chair, made a gawky curtsey, managed to not quite trip over two chairs on the way out.

Because the Diner had emptied, and my nerves were strung to hunting pitch, I heard Ralph's quiet comment, "Monty, I would still bid for her if I could. That fey child does not know her own strength ! But the second time she Calls, perhaps the third, she will find it, become their next Creche Mother-- And woe betide a grudging Sire !" I nearly missed Frank's reply as I reached for my stack of dishes, "Ralph, I have rarely called a Vamp 'Master' since I Fledged, but if Rhys were a Strutter..." Banter ? Opinion ? Disinformation ? Grist to my mill...

I toted my laden tray to the wash-up area, caught up with Sue, "Ma'am, Elder Monty has asked me to take a packed lunch to Chris." "How very sensible of him ! Look, we've done a tray ready !" Sue grinned, "Mind you're back, scrubbed, for quarter to Lunch ?" "Yes, Ma'am !" I grinned, "Thank you, Ma'am !" I needed the walk and the quiet. Yes, next time would be the hardest. And, yes, it was the wrong sort of HotZone.

I knew what to do in my HotZones, they had a terrible simplicity. I remembered chatting to a CDC Medic in an airport lounge. A nameless Agency had tried to attach several covert operatives to his team, he'd been told. They'd got short thrift. Besides ethical considerations, there was the issue of attrition. Did the Agency not realise that mortality among trainee HotZoners could exceed 40 % ?? They knew the risk. And none of them might be fit for field-work again ? They knew the risk. And the working environment would be akin to 'implemented interrogation' ? They knew the risk. So, how many additional innocents would die because these Agents were trying to do two jobs at once ?? Collateral damage is inevitable.

Hmm... The mixed-load Jumbo is *full*-- who gets bumped ? Nurses ? That's hundreds more avoidable deaths. Doctors ? Cost a few thousand lives apiece. Why not some lowly lab-staff, who'd spend their days and nights huddled over Petri dishes and microscopes ? Sure, we could drop a couple of those, but if they miss something, you're talking PANDEMIC.

At that point, apparently, the senior No Such Agency rep went a dreadful shade of green and tossed his lunch...

Well, it made a nice tale and, for all I knew, it could even be true ! I'd seen stranger !!



Project Lorraine Chapter # 26: Green for Danger...


My first priority in private had to be the back-zip business. I dared not be caught short around visitors. I knew my wind smelled different. Vamps were not quite Obligate Carnivores, but they had a much shorter gut than a HomoSap, and it showed. I must expect paranoid Trad Vamps to notice such detail !!

Then I was too tense to have a nap or eat much. I nibbled a few spare ribs and a roll, barely tasted them. Still as Rhys, I walked back to the diner with twenty minutes to spare. Henry, the harassed Sous-Chef, put me to work stirring stew. Around me, the Kitchen's apparent chaos steadily crystallised into the menu items. "I'll take the stew, thanks, Rhys !" Mari toted it through to House Front, scooted back for a tub of mash. "What else can I do, Chef ?" I asked Joey as he passed. He glanced around, shook his head, "Just wait out Front and work on your curtsies." "Thank you, Chef !" "No, I mean it..." He grinned, "You don't want Broderik to think your usuals are a deliberate insult !" "Ook !"

House Front, I ran into the Candies. "Oh ! Hi, Rhys--" "Thanks for mentioning our pattern--" "To Lara ! Seems--" "Black is the new Black-- She's in !" "Okay ! Sorry, I need some help..." Their grins promised anything legal, their eyes asked, 'Chris or Rhys ?' "Um, your curtsies made mine--" "Oook-- !" "Right, stand over here--" "And watch me carefully. One, two, three. Now you try..." "Oook..." "D'uh..." They began explaining. Seems I had the wrong upper/lower leg length ratio, the wrong musculature, the wrong hips, the wrong education and/or the wrong sex-- Pick any three ! I might be nimble but I didn't dance, so my yoga and ju-jitsu skills were little help. Between us, we nudged my average up from cringe-worthy to clumsy. It would just have to do...

"Sorry, Rhys, that's as good as it gets..." "Appreciated. Thank you." "Do you know what Elder Broderik looks like ?" "Not a clue !" I admitted, "But I'm sure he'll be worse than his stand-in..." "Oook, yes--" "He was beastly to Mari last time--" "And threw a tankard at Jackie--" "But wasn't Elder Ralph sweet afterwards !" "And his Adrian would be such a catch--" "If Lily hadn't claimed him--" "Last Autumn--" "At the Equinox Feast !"

"Ook !" I allowed, "Um, have you any-one ?" "Nah ! Be--" "Four, five more years before we Call--" "Then we'll take who-ever Struts--" "Different in a small Nest--" "Yeah, they gotta really watch--" "Degrees of Consanguinity, but--" "Elder Book tracks all that for us--" "Tells Close-Kin to stay in their Cells--" "But I'll miss the SleepOvers..." "Me, too..." "Yeah, wonder what it feels like to go with a Strutter ?" "You mean you haven't listened to Mum ?" "Sure I do, but you've heard her: She goes all dreamy..." "Oook, if anything like our SleepOver--" "Ooook..." There was a sudden silence as they remembered who I was. "And he seemed such a nice, young Sap !!" They chorused before their giggles hit.

They'd told me enough to pique my professional curiosity, not enough to suggest what or how to ask about family dynamics. I had one essential question, "Do you get a litter every time ?" "Nah--" "We'd be knee-deep in Crechelings--" "Trads lose most of theirs to disease--" "We've got Sap vaccinations, antibiotics and stuff--" "And Contraceptives, of course-- " "Pill's better than the smelly potions Elder Fern learned to make !" "Ook !! Yes !!" "Um, doesn't Jackie have five and three ?" I remembered. "Ook ! Yes ! Aren't they sweet--" "Her Trad Nest's Juniors kept dying--" "Until Jackie was their only Youngster--" "The New Sire's Progressive." "They're making a statement." "Oook..." I nodded, realising I could use 'multiple survivals' to identify Progressive Nests. Provided I got out with my wits intact, of course...

"Five minutes !" Joey called, "Places, please !" "Ook ! Milly, is my collar straight ?" "Wait, I'll just fix this bit, yes..." "Ook, could you re-tie my garters ? They're loose again..." The Dinner Ladies were settling into line. I joined them, waited as Sue looked us over. "Okay..." Sue grumbled, "Elder Broderik is on time, but their transport was stuck in a tail-back on the M_62. They had to stay in their, um..." "Cabin, Ma'am ?" I offered. "Cabin, yes. They are not happy." "Ook..." "That can't be good..." "D'uh, bad start..." "Has anyone warned the Candies ?" I wondered. Sue waved to where Chef Joey was whispering to Henry and the Candies, nodded, "Sorted."

Behind us, the kitchen intercom buzzed thrice. "They're in the Nest !" Sue hissed, "Dress ranks !" We shuffled our line. "Rhys, try not to grin !" "Yes, Ma'am !" "Lara ?" "Yes, Ma'am ?" "The forthcoming fashion statement ? Count me in." "Yes, Ma'am !" "Mari ?" "Yes, Ma'am ?" "Interested ?" "Short of points, Ma'am..." "Cheer up-- If he picks on you again, I'll cover it." "Ook ! Yes, Ma'am !"

We waited. The Diner's wall-clock ticked up to the hour. The Diner's doors flew open. Monty stepped in, wearing another formal tunic. At his right shoulder, a stooped, gnarled Elder leaned on an equally gnarled black-thorn stick. He wore a green, tweed suit with matching waist-coat, also a ruffled shirt, bowler hat and a pair of heavy, leather walking boots with hand-knit socks. He looked the archetypal Leprechaun, as did his similar-clad Talon & Nubs.

I gulped. Suddenly, I knew SOTM's Prof. Sam had indeed missed a trick-- Those legendary Sidhe were Vamps !

One half-stride behind and to the right of Elder Broderik, his alert Talon held station like a barely-leashed attack dog. The Nubs followed, scanning for threats. Their very body-language screamed of Predator, the sort who ran in gangs. I could almost smell their seething disdain for this Nest, their loathing for its easy decadence. As at school, I knew their sort would take kindness, courtesy and education as weakness. As at school, I knew my modest demeanour would present an irresistible target. Given their attitude, I was not surprised to see a significant gap before Frank, Ralph and several co-opted Elders trailed after...

As the procession approached, Joey and Henry bowed, the Candies curtsied nimbly. "Elder, our Chef and Sous-Chef--" "Huh ! Hope you can cook, too ! None of your Hoot Cooee Scene today-- We eat REAL food !" "Elder, your Table Servers--" "Three ? Only three Wenches ? From a Nest of this size ? Bah ! At least they are passing comely-- " He peered at them, "What of their proper head-dress ? What is this silly thing?" "Elder, to serve in this Diner, they must wear such. Yet, they have adapted--" "Ah ? Huh-- A mere token..." He pivoted on his stick, glowered at the counter, "And these are the best of your Menials ? A sorry bunch of Crones and Crechelings--" His glare crossed Mari and cost Sue, "You again ! A clumsy Wench at best, and still as plain--" He noticed me, "Yet THAT one is fair comely-- Why does she not serve table ?" "Elder, she is but a Student: You wish your platter spilled ?" "Then she may pour my Mead ! Send her to change !"

Monty hesitated, replied, "Elder, she is not of this Nest: She awaits her Sire's permission to wear such immodest garb--" "A Traditional ?" He peered at me, snarled, "Your name ?" "R-- Rhys, E-- Elder... " I stuttered, bobbed a modest curtsey. "Rhys ? Rhys ? A good Welsh name ! And well-mannered, too ! From a small Nest ? Aye, aye, else I would recall it from the Litter Lists... So, my Wenches are immodest ? Your Sire orders you well ! His name ?" "I-- I may not speak of the Old Sire, Elder..."

My clear refusal held him for a moment. He hesitated, rapped his stick on the floor, "How did he Fall ? ANSWER, CHILD !!" "H-- Hunting, Elder !" "Hunting ? Hunting, eh ? In what manner did he Fall ?" "A-- A tyre passed over him, Elder..." " A swift and honourable Fall..." He allowed, shifted tack, "Are you Given ?" "Y-- Yes, Elder, I-- I am promised to another Nest in trade..." "Your New Sire must settle old debts, and so you go-- A dutiful child... Talon ? Nubs ? Hands off, d'you hear ?" "YES, ELDER !" They chorused, disappointed. The grim Talon clenched his fists, so his leather half-gloves' studs twinkled. The vicious Nubs looked like hounds baulked of their kill. Broderik peered at me again, nodded, "Dutiful Child: Call Well, May Your Litters Be Many And Strong !" "T-- Thank You, Elder !!" I curtsied hastily. Had he really given me a compliment ? That was one for Elder Book ! "Enough courtesy !" Elder Broderik turned, "Let us see if these over-dressed sauce-stirrers remember how to cook !"

Elders settled around the top Table. Talon and Nubs perched on stools and kept scanning. Sue and Lara followed the Chefs into the kitchen, returned with large, lidded platters. They placed them on the counter, went back for more. Candies ferried them to the TopTable until the surface was hidden. Now they bore flagons, enthusiastically filled the grouped tankards. Again, I wondered if there would be any ritual, or complex drink-swapping, but no. Monty stood, slapped his left hand on the table-top hard enough to further scar it. He hefted his tankard, called, "A toast: Live Long and Prosper !" "Live Long and Prosper !" They chorused, slapped the table, took huge swigs. Elder Broderik stood, hefted his tankard, called, "Confusion to the Saps !" "Confusion to the Saps !" They echoed, washed it down. Monty sat, slapped the table a second time, "Let the feast begin !"

Waiting Candies snatched off platters' lids. There were spare ribs again, but also a side of roast lamb, broken to joints and rack. A stack of red-rare beef-steaks dripped gore. Two half-boned sheets of roasted pork chops made even my mouth water. The TopTable's Elders fell upon the heaped contents, disjointing bones with a careless twist, ripping gobs of meat from the bones, hurling discards backwards, against the curtained wall. Drink flowed. Candies hastened to refill tankards before snarled demand. More flagons were brought and poured, tankards sloshed. Elder Broderik threw steaks to his Talon and Nubs who gnawed them hungrily. The platters emptied rapidly, then slower, were finally cleared. Flagons ran dry. Monty stood, slapped a third time, "The feasting is done !" Elder Broderik burped, inverted his tankard dregs onto the table-top, "Passable quality, but ample-- Yes, ample !" Then he put his arms on the table, his head on his arms and began to snore... Monty and Frank looked to each other, shrugged. Monty turned to Broderik's Talon and Nubs, "Guard your Elder. We have work to do." "Y-- Yes, Elder..." The Talon spluttered. Monty waved to Joey, "Continue, Chef !"

The Diner doors flew open again, a torrent of hungry Juniors poured in. We set to work. Seems I was on the stew again-- Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! For once, they didn't converge on their adopted tables and attack their meals. They quietly lined up along the rope barrier, peered at the unfamiliar, sleeping Elder. One of the Nubs made a dismissive gesture. A frisson of anger slipped through the Juniors. Nothing was said, no signal passed that I could see. Suddenly a second rank formed, then a third. Twenty one Little Monsters studied four guards, and not kindly. The Talon gulped. He back-handed the rude Nub, held up both palms, open, to restore peace. The Juniors calmly trooped off to their tables, tackled their lunch.

I shivered at that dark echo of Frank's Sire's fate --mobbed, killed and eaten-- knew why I'd spoken to these Juniors first. I'd read 'Lord of the Flies' at school, loathed it. Not the savagery, nor the gore-- but because it rang so true. My slight build and good manners made me a natural target for trouble. I soon learned to sense the vibes, take another route or joke my way out of trouble. When that failed, I was not easy prey. I never did reach Black at ju-jitsu, but I got close, young. I dealt with fists and sticks, bottles, boots and knives. Drop a boastful bully in front of his cronies, they laugh at him. Part a flick-knife from a would-be 'toller', other students ask which dojo you attend. Decline a 'Join Our Gang' offer by throwing two, the rest back off. But they were one-on-one affairs, with threats faced in sequence. None of my nimble moves could halt a mob attack...

Small portion, big portion, SMILE ! Big portion, big portion, SMILE ! "Getting low !" Small portion, big portion, SMILE ! Sue swapped my pots. Big portion, small portion, SMILE ! "Did well, there, Rhys !" Pete nodded. "Thank you !" I ghosted a fair curtsey to watch him squirm. Small portion, big portion, SMILE ! Elder Weft winked as she passed, as did Elder Fern. Big portion, big portion, SMILE ! Elder Book muttered something about Broderik and Blue Moons, took a large portion... The queue eased, thinned, trailed off to a trickle. "Okay, Mari, Rhys, take five then tackle the tables." "Yes, Ma'am !" We chorused, headed for the kitchen to grab drinks of water.

"There's nothing wrong with Elder Broderik's memory..." Mari grumbled, "But I only spilled the mead because he pinched me..." "Still, it won you an outfit !" I grinned. "Oook, yes !" She chuckled, "Have you seen it ?" "I've seen what inspired it..." I allowed, "But what was that about a Dutiful Child ?" "I-- I don't understand..." Mari puzzled, "Could he have mellowed ?" I shrugged, "Perhaps he has regrets ? And our world must be so strange..." "I didn't like the look of his Nubs, though." "Nor I." I decided, "Typical gang-members. Carve you without a care..." "How do you deal with them ?" "Talon has them in check." I thought about it, "For now. But how they'll handle Progressive Youngsters..." "Ook." "Yeah, right.." I sighed, "Door or Top end ?" "Top." Mari decided as we collected cleaning materials. "Um, why don't you have a tall trolley to slide loaded trays onto ?" "Ook ? That would be a good idea..." Mari thought about it, "Even if Diners didn't use it, we'd save a lot of time clearing tables..." "I thought it might be some old comprimise..." "Ook ? Like, okay, Diner's going self-service, but we'll still clear the tables ??" "Uh-huh..." "Nah..." Mari shrugged, "I think it just happened..."

At the Top Table, Broderik still snored, his Talon crouched protectively-- Too protectively ? Meanwhile, his three Nubs glowered about. I know their type, I'd told Frank, I know their type. Yes, I did. And that prial would be trouble...



Project Lorraine Chapter # 27: Come In To My Parlour...


Elder Broderik snored through the Diner's usual clatter and commotion, even through the table clearing. He kept snoring while Mari and Mary swept, then mopped around and across the Top Table. Talon and Nubs were asked nicely, once, then had to dodge both dancing broom and dripping mop.

The Delegation should not be left there, but waking Elder Broderik would be most rude. Monty, Frank and the Nest's TopTable Elders adjourned to the adjacent Club Room. Pete and Adrian sat to wait in the Diner.

I took my table-spray and wipes back to the kitchen, caught Joey's eye, "Tables finished, Chef !" "We've stew if you'd like some ?" "Thank you, Chef, but Chris RogueBane invited me to share." "Kind of him !" Joey chuckled, "And I'm sure he'd like to know what's happening ! Okay, when you're done, could you run the Café for a while ? We need Lara's deft touch with the sauces..." "Yes, Chef !" I thought it through, "May I take another carton of milk ? Saves swinging back..." "Good idea, Rhys ! And well done for keeping your nerve ! I wanted to haul off and hit him with my ladle !" "Thank you, Chef !" I curtsied to watch him squirm, added, "His stick's 'loaded': Balance, swing were odd..." "Oook..." Joey gulped, "Well, I won't ask what a nice, young Trad Catering Student would know of such, but that is, hmm, interesting. Hmm... Who do we have knows single-sticks ? May be worth asking around... Yes, and here's that milk !" "Thank you, Chef !"

Again, I was glad of the walk. The Talon's casual back-hand of his subordinate told me much. The glove's studs did not break skin, but must have stung-- and that took skill. Both stick and studs added new dimensions to what little I knew of Vamp combat...

My dismayed Tax Inspector had long since accepted my hefty gun-club, range and brass fees as legitimate business expenses. After the Unquiet 'Stans kidnap, he allowed 'Extended Self-Defence Training'. That gave me motive and opportunity. I visited a long list of dojos, traded tales, exchanged ideas, handed out safety pamphlets, picked up some non-canon moves to augment my ju-jitsu Brown.

The consensus was bleak: One on one, Vamps were too fast, too strong, had fangs, talons and, yes, Glamour. I could not out-react a Vamp any more than I'd out-run a lion. Of course, I might anticipate-- I'd proved that with my H&K. Beyond my reflex line, a Rogue was 'Dead Vamp Walking'. Within that zone, no time to aim, I might get a lucky shot or riccochet, both piss-poor odds. Then I'd be hand-to-hand.

Surviving that seemed impossible, but-- Think Bull Fighting. An appalling blood-sport, perhaps a last relic of pre-historic MegaFauna hunts, it yet held a clue. Like a rag to a bull, Vamps fixate on motion. Given that, you may anticipate, mislead and perhaps misdirect...

There are some counter-moves you never, ever use beyond a dojo mat because no real opponent is fool enough to oblige. You learn them, knowing the other place they're seen is a cheap movie's set-piece fight. Still, I practised some of them as a last resort. I knew they might buy seconds at most. After all, seconds can be a life-time in a brawl...

But armed Vamps ?? That's a deeper threat envelope, a different league. The best defence, as always, was be-not-there. Failing that-- A single-stick was 'point and flat', epée rather than sabre. Find something to block or trap the thrust, then close and throw. Studded gloves, like a mailed fist or brass knuckles, added no reach. As with any tall opponent, you dared not trade blows, must employ employ wits and feet...

Yeah, right. In truth, my real defence was novelty. I looked so very harmless without guns, what possible threat could I be ??

I reached Rhys' room, used the en-suite. I took the chance to put more cream in my usual corners. Then I went through the charade of knocking on the connecting door and inviting myself to lunch. Talking to yourself again ? You'd better believe it ! The ribs did not have much meat on them, but that little was delicious. Most Vamps enjoyed crunching bones for their Calcium. Rhys, of course, would pass up the opportunity as a courtesy to Chris. Happens I didn't mind, being a knuckle-nibbler myself-- though not with fake fangs !! The now 'cold-cuts' roast-lamb had a hint of mint, was tender, delicious and most welcome. I shovelled the cold veg as I needed the roughage. One nibbled roll and a long drink of water made my fill. I left two roast slices and three rolls for later.

To business: In theory, Rhys could repeat every word she'd heard. So, what would she and I discuss ? Elder Broderik, of course. Talon & Nubs, their stare-down from the Juniors, yes, surely. That unexpected compliment ? 'Dutiful Child: Call Well, May Your Litters Be Many And Strong.' D'uh, that was not a compliment, it was a Benediction-- And that was stranger again. As with Frank's ghosts, I may have touched a nerve. Given Broderik's evident age, the truth might lie beneath a thousand years of memories. If anyone knew, word would surely come to me. But what chance given such deep time ?? I shook my head...

Another trip to the en-suite, then I was out of Rhys' door with the milk. The Café's unusually quiet clientele were very pleased to see me. I made a jug of Instant coffee to hold them while the Latté and Mocha machine warmed up. No sign of the Candies ? Well, if they'd any sense, they'd grab a nap. Some-where around the second set of refills, the Youngsters' conversation flickered alight. One topic stayed un-mentioned.

I handed out a couple of Lattés, topped up the mugs of Instant, put my question, "E-- Excuse me, what did Elder Broderik mean by 'Dutiful Child' ?" "Elders only know !" Groaned Carl, "I've never seen it in that context... Andy ?" His eloquent head-shake sufficed. "Alice, Bob ? Charlene ? Dennis ? You're from more Trad Nests..." Carl prompted. "N-- No." Alice decided, "Not the sort of thing we'd say, even on formal occasions. D'uh, it is more like something from an old Romance !" "Or Copybook Headings ?" Charlene offered, "My Great Aunt Charlotte was one of the first students here, kept her copybooks. Mostly common-sense Sap stuff, some were Vamp sayings-- I think that was one..." "Does she have IM or e-mail ?" Carl asked. "You kidding ? She won't even answer the 'phone !" "Okay, can you head over to the Kindergarten and talk to Elder Vine ?" "Sure, Carl !" Charlene chuckled, "And I'll probably learn all about Great Aunt Charlotte's Junior misdemeanours-- make a change from hearing about mine !!"

I'd served more coffee, was loading the dishwasher tray when the room went very quiet. I looked around. Two Nubs stood at the door, glowering in. I took a careful breath. Beginnings are such delicate things... "Greetings and welcome to the Café !" I called, "What would you eat or drink ?" They stared at me. "Come in, sit down, take the weight off your feet !" I smiled, "There's tea, hot chocolate or juice if coffee is not to your taste !" "Two beers, Wench !" "This is the Café." I stated, "Perhaps some cake or rolls with your coffee ?" "Two beers !" "No beer..." I sighed, "Nor any Elders' Mead-- Perhaps a mug of Bovril ? That is a Hunter's Cup." Both Nubs sniffed the air suspiciously. "Come, now !" I coaxed, "What would you eat or drink ?"

It seems that they were finally convinced of the lack of beer. They exchanged glances. One asked, almost shyly, "Strong coffee ? From small, small jug ?" "Turkish ?" I nodded, "Sure ! Take a while, mind, so would you like a roll or a slice of cake while you wait ?" The Café's regulars watched us carefully. "Cake, then Turkish, Wench !" "As in the Diner, so the Café-- I am a Student Dinner Lady." I thumbed my badge, curtsied, "My name is Rhys, if you please." They knew that name. They hesitated, tried again. "Cake, then Turkish... Please." "Welcome ! Where would you sit ? Ah ! Perhaps to your left, by the wall, with sight of the door ?"

I'd pushed the correct buttons. They managed to get sat without breaking anything. I cut generous slices from our RichFruit, Carrot and Chocolate cakes, split each in half sideways. I put the laden plate before them, set side-plates with the usual plastic knives and spoons wrapped in paper napkins. The Nubs were still sniffing the cake when I returned with a jug of water and two glasses. "From the Deep Bore." I filled both glasses, placed the jug between them, "Enjoy !"

The Nubs' gazes tracked me as I retreated behind the counter, began the Turkish ritual. Using the smaller ibrik, sized for two, it went faster but not by much. Between grinding coffee and the first boil, I had time to refill our regulars' mugs. Third boil to froth, decant froth. Fourth boil, pour coffee in small portions to & fro. I served those cups on a small tray, included the traditional spare glass of water and a saucer with sugar cubes. "Coffee should be strong as love, sweet as sin and black as hell !" I quoted, and collected their emptied plates as they stared at my wicked brew. No scrunched napkins ? They must have wrapped portions to go. No cutlery ? Disposable plastic, those were poor souvenirs...

The Nubs sniffed the coffee, nervously gripped their tiny cups, took wary sips, shuddered. "Is-- Is-- Is good !" "Is good, too !" "You're welcome !" I smiled, "More cake ? Perhaps bread rolls to break ?" "Rolls ?" "Surely !" I smiled, returned with four rolls, more napkins and assorted cheese mini-portions. The Nubs stared at those as if they might explode. "Ah !" I nodded, "There is a trick to them !" I caught a cheese's arrowed rip-strip, neatly split the wrapper, "Cheddar: As Instant to Turkish." That gained nods. We were on the same wavelength again. They ate two rolls quickly, wrapped the others in napkins and pocketed them. After sharing that 'Cheddar' portion, they tried one each of 'Cheshire' and 'Leicester', pocketed the rest. By then, their Turkish was cool enough to drink. With those gone, they tackled the water jug.

I took several more rolls and mini-cheeses when I collected empties, put the basket on to wash. The jug's level went down rapidly. I replaced it before the Nubs reached the dregs. They'd relaxed slightly, and so had we. The Youngsters were back to Googling and Nest gossip, if quietly. I refilled mugs, collected empties, wiped rings and drips from table-tops and chairs. Finally, the Nubs' second water jug was emptied. They stood. "Is good !" "Is good, too !" "Thank you !" I smiled, curtsied, waited for them to get well clear before drawing a long, long sigh. I cleared and wiped their table, had a thought. The Café had some cards to label the day's Specials. I took one, printed, 'Reserved For Delegates' on both ends, then folded it neatly. Next time, there'd be a table waiting with backs to the wall, an eye on the door. My notion drew smiles and grins from the regulars.

"That went well, Rhys !" Carl allowed. "Hmm... Was it the third who riled the Juniors ?" "Yes." Alice stated, "I think he forgot where he was, thought with his fangs..." "Ah ?" That gave me an idea. I turned to the intercom, buzzed the Diner. "Kitchen, Sous-Chef ?" "Café, Sous-Chef-- Rhys speaking: Are Elder Broderik, his Talon and a Nub still there ?" "Er... Yes, they are, Rhys." Clearly, I'd met the other pair... "Excuse me, Sous-Chef, has any-one thought to do them a Plough Lunch ? Rolls, cheese and a jug of water ? These Nubs were starving-- I fed them cake, rolls and cheese... And they like Turkish." "I hear you have a knack for that, young Rhys !" A chuckle, "Hold the line... Chef ? Café... Nubs... Hungry... Tray... Okay ! Rhys ?" "Sous-Chef ?" "Good idea ! We'll do them a tray-- And I'll warn Lara to increase the Cafe's allocation ! Thank you, Rhys !" "Sous-Chef !" "Nicely done, Rhys !" Alice chuckled. "Thank you !" I curtsied automatically, causing some coffee splutters, "Perhaps English is their second language ?" "Oook !" That set off the Googlers, as I'd hoped.

After a while, the intercom buzzed. "Café, Rhys speaking !" "Chef here-- Good idea with that Plough Lunch, Rhys ! They fell on it like hungry Juniors !" "Thank you, Chef !" "Chris enjoy his ?" "Yes, thank you, Chef ! He kept a little back for a snack !" "Good. Perhaps when things settle, he can eat in the Diner again ?" "He hopes so, too, Chef ! Thank You !" "Take care, Rhys !" "Thank you, Chef !" The Youngsters waited for me to switch off the comm and turn away before they began hooting. They enjoyed Rhys' quaint manner and manners, loved the running gag. I just hoped it wouldn't end in tears. I'd poured some more coffee when the intercom buzzed again. "Café, Rhys speaking !" "Chef here, Rhys ! Elder Broderik's woken up and wants Turkish-- He's on his way !"



Project Lorraine Chapter # 28: If You Can't Stand The Heat...


I turned to the Café's clientele, announced, "Elder Broderik is coming here for coffee-- If you wish to leave, best go now !" There were a few gulps, more shook heads. No-one left... "Thank you." I stated, got busy. I did not know how many would want Turkish. I had two cups in the wash, six ready. Had I seen another pair behind the 'Big Machine' spares ? I spared a minute to search, found the two I'd glimpsed. They were 'stale', of course, and needed washing. I remembered Lara's caution about detergent residues, just left those cups and their saucers in the next wash basket. So, two, four or six ? Well, yes, all of them if I used the larger ibrik, too. Enough coffee beans and sugar ? Yes, yes. With both ibriks on to boil, I prepared two trays, had a quick wipe around, then just had to wait...

I heard Elder Broderik's stick first. Pete stepped into the Café, saw we'd got the message. Monty followed. He noted my prescence and preparations. I pointed a finger towards the Nubs' table. He nodded, turned aside. Talon and Third Nub entered. Monty politely gestured towards the reserved table. They looked about, checked sight lines, nodded agreement. Elder Broderik clumped in, glanced about and headed for the designated table. Our earlier pair of Nubs were close behind. With Broderik sat, the pairs flanked him, all stood against the wall. Monty, Frank and Ralph joined Broderik at table. I didn't recognise the two other Elders who'd come along, but they grabbed seats nearer the door. Pete and Adrian hesitated, stood by the door.

"Greetings and Welcome to the Café, Elders !" I called, "What would you like to eat or drink ?" Elder Broderik peered at me. Was this confident caterer the same Rhys as the Diner's trembling Missy ? Well, yes. The Café was less formal, more a 'farmhouse kitchen'. He was on my turf. Now came the hard question-- Would he call me 'Wench' ?

Elder Broderik sniffed the air, hesitated, turned to the three Elders at his table, "Would you join me in Turkish ?" "Surely !" Monty chuckled, nodded to me, "Four cups of Turkish, Rhys ?" "Surely, Elders !" I replied, began grinding beans, "Would you like a little cake while the ibrik boils ?" Monty nodded again. I cut cake onto a larger plate, set it and four side plates with napkin-wrapped cutlery before them. I returned with glasses and a jug of water. Now I had to watch the ibrik carefully. First boil, second, third and dispense froth, fourth around and around. Water glass, saucer with sugar cubes, the quote, "Coffee should be strong as Love, sweet as Sin and dark as Hell !"

Frank recognised the quote, grinned, sipped his first, shuddered, "Ook ! Elders, this is better than mine !" Monty gave him a dubious glance, tried his, "Ook ! Perhaps, so !" I knew what Ralph must say, "Ook ! Monty, I would yet bid for Rhys..." Then we waited. Elder Broderik sipped his once, sipped his twice, lowered his cup. "Indeed !" He allowed, "Had I not seen it done..." He took another sip, peered up at me, "So, Child, where did you learn this art ?" "E-- Elder, I may not speak of the Old Sire..."

In truth, my sisters had taught me, but they'd learned from Mum & Dad. And I was not about to go there. I did not have to fake much emotion for the Old Sire. Mum and I had been close. Dad and I had been closer...

Elder Broderik dipped his head in acceptance, savoured his bitter-sweet brew. He looked up, "Child, have you the makings of two more ?" "Yes, Elder." I nodded, "Two now, two more when this wash ends..." "Elder Frank, would you partake, again ?" "I would be honoured, Elder Broderik !" "If you would prepare them, Child ?" "Yes, Elder !" I curtsied clumsily, sidled away. I'd put a chipped bowl aside for Turkish dregs, so tipped the ibrik there, rinsed and stood it to drain. The Nubs' cups' basket should finish within ten minutes, the next basket would have six, or even eight. Memo to self: remind Lara to source some more...

I set about preparing the smaller ibrik, grinding coffee flour-fine and boiling water for the Youngsters' Instant jug. "Um, this cake is excellent !" Elder Broderik allowed, "More of young Rhys' work ?" "Sadly, no..." Monty sighed, "Our Sous-Chef, Henry, I believe ?" "Yet Rhys is a strange Child... Is she so troubled ?" "It-- It would seem so..." Frank replied, "I am told a half-Sib went Rogue with grief, soon Fell--" "How did he Fall ? To this Sap Hunter you propose as our RogueBane ?" "No, Elder. And our candidate captures, then Amnesties as many as he kills." "Eh ? I did not not know that... " Elder Broderik sipped his coffee while he thought, "So he is no Slayer ?" "Chris is more dangerous." Frank stated, "He is a Healer."

"A Healer who Hunts ?" Elder Broderik spluttered, "What of their much-vaunted Hippocratic Oath ?" "Triage." Frank stated, "Chris is a HotZoner." From his expression, Elder Broderik did not recognise those terms. "Emergency Healers who Rush to help with epidemics. Their terrible duties include selecting those who may live given a little care--" "For giving much to some would condemn many more ?" Elder Broderik replied, "I-- I have made such choices... And this Sap ?" "Chris' most recent deployment was central Africa--" Monty began. "The Haemorragic Fever ?" Elder Broderik shuddered. "Just so." Monty nodded, "He was very ill, but has since Felled two more Rogues." "Oook." Elder Broderik muttered, "An ethical Healer who Hunts ? These are strange times, indeed !" He pushed his half-eaten cake to the Talon who, in turn, split it with the third Nub.

The smaller ibrik was up to the first boil. I slid it off the heat, took my jug of Instant around the Youngsters' mugs. First, Second, Third boil, dispense froth. Fourth boil, pour to & fro, serve with a curtsey instead of the quote. I collected the empties, tipped dregs, loaded the washer tray. The machine bleeped. I ignored clouds of steam, switched trays and started it again without delay. I had a couple of minutes before even Broderik could call for more Turkish. I made Lattés for the lonely Elders by the door, began another jug of Instant for the Youngsters.

"Ummm..." Elder Broderik sighed, "I have not tasted such since that wrecked Galleon threw us some stray Spaniards--" "And replenished your Pot of Gold, no doubt !" Frank chuckled. "Of course !" Elder Broderik smiled, then turned to his Talon, "We are safe here-- You and Nubs may see how these Progressive Youngsters waste their time." "Yes, Elder !" "Thank you, Elder !" Our earlier pair sidled clear, then wandered over to peer at the Googlers' efforts, which already included maps and lists of Armada wrecks. The Talon took a zig-zag tour that kept both door and Elder Broderik in clear view. The third Nub vanished.

I'd lost sight of him for several seconds before realising he'd gone. I had to resist the urge to look around hastily. He'd not left the room, he would not dare. He had to be here. There was nothing to stand behind, so he'd used Glamour, powerful, powerful Glamour. He had to be here. Trick was to let my gaze sweep without seeming to search...

And, there he was, stood against the wall, barely feet from where he'd been. While I worked, I only dared watch him from the corner of an eye. I kept losing him. I knew exactly where he was, and I kept losing him...

He was good. No, he was very, very good. He was better than Pete, better than Elder Weft and the Tailor Twins. He was better than Frank's try in the Diner. He was so good, I kept losing him in plain sight. And, each time I re-acquired, he'd moved slightly. He was edging along the wall, edging towards the Café's counter, edging towards me...

My non-existent neck-hairs stood. Call me paranoid, but why else would he hide ? Okay, the question gave an answer-- Because he could. Perhaps he just wanted to play 'Poltergeist' ? He might swipe something as a gag, move stuff slightly, make a little mild mischief. Okay, I'd play along. He could play his parlour tricks, pocket some sugar cubes. After all, boys will be boys...

But what if he got physical ? So easy to leave a utensil drawer or cupboard door ajar, adjust settings, turn knives, segue into malice. So Be It: I'd dealt with the Persistent Pranksters, this Wannabe Poltergeist could take his chances if he stepped over the line...

First step was to run cold water into the sink's hand-bowl. With so much hot stuff about, I might need a cold douche in a hurry. Second, I removed the large, serrated cake-knife. There was no reason to leave an un-necessary hostage to fortune ! I gathered the essential measuring spoons lest they 'wander', put a second jug of water on to boil, turned down the heat beneath the still-tepid first. There was cake, rolls and cubed sugar within easy reach, napkin-wrapped plastic cutlery for the taking. Both ibriks were rinsed and draining, the knife was safe, the spoons were safe, the coffee grinder was hung out of reach. Now I just had to wait.

I busied myself by unloading the now-cooled tray. Mugs, cups, saucers, side-plates on their shelves, inspect plastic cutlery for re-use-- Third Nub was at the counter's open end. He had a choice of treats. He ignored them. He rounded the counter. He was behind-- I glanced up at my first jug, the one on the low heat. "Ook !" I muttered, took hold of its handle, turned-- Collided-- "EEEK !" I squawked as my jug sloshed on his right arm. "AAAAH!" He yelled, losing his Glamour, turning heads. "Your hand ! Your arm !" I cried, landed the jug, "Cold Water For Scalds !" I pushed him towards the sink, grabbed his jacket sleeve above the steaming elbow with both hands, lifted, heaved. The shoulder seam's stitches failed. I slid the sleeve off. I grabbed his blousant shirt-sleeve and did the same. Before he could object, I shoved his hand into the bowl's cold water, ran more down his arm.

Now to make the right noises, "I am SO sorry ! I didn't see you ! Why didn't you say something to warn me ! Oh, your poor, poor hand ! Keep it in the cold water, that will prevent blistering-- No, keep it in --" He found his voice, "Clumsy, stupid Wench-- !!" "ENOUGH !" Elder Broderik struck his stick on the floor, "Nub, do as she says !" Filling the bowl had run any tepid from the line, the deep bore's flow was a dozen degrees below Nest ambient. I kept chilling his hand, his arm. I splashed the rest of him with my enthusiastic haste. Finally, the tinge of blue suggested he'd had enough.

"There !" I smiled, "I think we've caught it in time ! How does it feel now ?" He opened his mouth. The Talon at his shoulder hissed, "Watch your tongue !" The Nub hesitated, flexed his numb but un-blistered hand with growing surprise, nodded reluctant thanks, "Is good !" I collected the two discarded sleeves, wrung them out and hung them to dry on the towel rail. Elder Weft might yet have an opportunity to study their cut...

I handed the Nub a towel. He mopped his arm warily. From his flinches I knew it was tender, but I could see it was barely pink and certainly not blistered. Okay, my jug water was barely spa-hot, but he'd not know that. Time for the lecture ? Yes... "Silly, silly child !" I set my barb, "You MUST NOT wander around in kitchens ! You could have cut yourself ! You could have leaned on a hot-plate ! You're so lucky that water was not boiling !" Now the wail, "Only my first week and I've had an accident ! What will Chef think ? What will he SAY ?? And you're a Delegate, too--"

"Enough !" Elder Broderik cut me off, "Talon, is Nub much hurt ?" The Talon checked by squeezing the injured arm un-gently, "No great harm, Elder-- That trick with the cold water--" "And rare boldness !" Frank interjected, almost gleefully. "Aye, that, also..." Elder Broderik allowed, sighed, turned to Monty, "Elder, I would withdraw to my suite for a time..." "Surely ! May we walk with you ?" "Most welcome ! For I must rest before we begin our discussions..." Elder Broderik glared towards the counter, "Talon, hold that Nub lest he stumble !"

The VIP convoy left, minus those two unfamiliar Elders who'd stayed sat. There was a long, long silence. Alice spoke first, "I didn't see him move... Anyone ??" Sandy shook her head, "That was powerful Glamour--" "Ook !" Sindy shivered, "He's not here for his manners, that's for sure !" Bob crossed the room, looked over the angles, "Are you hurt, Rhys ? That splash was so big..." "Thank you, no..." I curtsied for effect, "I was lucky." Bob eyed the second jug, now coming up to boil. He peered into the sink where I'd earlier run water into the bowl. He studied the remarkably bare counter-top. He gave me a long, slow wink, "May I have a Latté, please, Rhys ?" "With cream or sugar ?" "Both, please !" He grinned, "I think I'll treat myself !" "Two minutes ! I'll bring it to your table !" "Thank you !" Bob strolled back to his seat, nodding politely to the remaining pair of Elders. "Well ?" Alice whispered. "Mouse-trapped !" He chuckled, as quietly, "Hook, Line and Sinker !"

I took Bob his Latté, nodded politely to Alice & Co, cleared Broderik's table on the way back. Another jug of Instant was just ready when Charlene returned. "Wow !" She grinned, "I never knew Great Aunt Charlotte was a Wild Child-- The japes she pulled !" "Coffee ?" "Ooh, yes, please, Rhys ! Can you make it a Mocha ?" "Two minutes ! I'll bring it to your table !" "Thank you !" Alice dragged Charlotte onto a chair, began whispering. Charlotte's eyes widened, flicked to mine. I shrugged. "Well, I never..." Charlotte grinned, "Oh, Broderik's Blessing was NOT a copy-book heading, it was too long. But Elder Vine remembered the story-- Quite remarkable. Sad, really..." "Go on !" Sandy elbowed her, "You can't just--" "Yeah, yeah..." Charlene shrugged, "Rhys ? Hear you had a lucky escape ?" "Very lucky, thank you !" I allowed, "He really should not have stood so close behind me... Both of us could have been scalded-- Or cut by broken glass !" "Ooh ! That must have been scary !" "I-- I was too busy. I bared his arm, pushed it into cold water. Now I'm scared !"

"Elders, yes ! I can see you shaking !" Charlotte wondered, "So sit here with us while I tell Elder Broderik's story !" "Ook !" I delivered the Mocha, sat. And, yes, I was trembling. So much could have gone wrong but, given the choice between jug and cake-knife, hot water was safer. "Oh, come on, Charlene !" Sindy grumbled, "Do tell !" "Okay, okay... Mmm, this Mocha is delicious !" "Well, you missed Elder Broderik drooling over Rhys' Turkish !" Bob chuckled. "It really is that good ?" "Oh, yes ! Frank said it was better than his !" "Elders !" Charlene gasped, took another sip, "Mmm..." "Please, Charlene ?" "Mmm... ?" "We'll invite you to our next Sleep-Over ?" Sindy offered.

"After seeing you lot this morning--" "That was different !" Sandy objected, "How were we to know-- Oooooh ! I can feel Chris' hands !" "Why did you have to mention-- ??" Alice wriggled, "Oooh !!" "Ooooh !!" Sindy chorused, "So can I !" "Me, too !" Dennis squirmed, "Who would have thought he--" "All we do is huggle !" I complained, "What else can you do with a Pet Sap ?" "There, there..." Charlene patted my hand, "You'll grow Older, Call a nice Strutter, and then you'll understand..." "Oook ?" I mumbled, struggling to stay in character, "But I thought--" "Charlene ?" Bob spoke across Rhys' naive mutterings, "Put up or shut up ?" "Sorry, Rhys, perhaps another time..." "Oook..."

"Okay, then. Are you sitting comfortably ? Then I'll begin... "Long, long ago, on a pretty green island not a thousand miles from here, lived a nice Youngster. He was tall and strong, smart as a button, sharp as a fang. When he first went to his Sire's Master's Equinox Feast, he met a Pretty Missy. And, yes, she was very pretty. So pretty, that everyone called her The White Rose of Tralee. And, yes, it was love at first sight. They were inseparable. They seemed the perfect couple. Even their Nests agreed...

"But it was not to be: The Master Vamp claimed her as tribute. Her Nest could not refuse. Both Sires pleaded with the Master, but he would not relent. Both Youngsters pleaded, but he would not relent. He'd take her because he could, because it proved his power and strength, because it would crush a bright, young Vamp he already saw as a potential rival...

"So, weeping, the young couple parted for their first and last time. Her Sire, stony-faced, spoke those brave words. Then the Master's Talons led her off to the Harem. She fared badly. She was too young, too gentle for such a strong Vamp, was weak with misery. She died birthing her first litter, they were still-born..."

"Oh, how sad !" "Elders ! That is terrible !" "The poor, poor Child..."

"Yet, there is more... "Many years later, the Master Vamp realised his old alliances and treaties were all falling apart. Any way he turned, he lost more control. Yet, though his Talons sought, there was no obvious Challenger...

"Come the next Equinox Feast, when the Master's subordinate Sires should renew their pledges, they refused. He ordered his Talons to enforce his will. Instead, they pulled him down. 'Why ?' The Fallen Master asked, as they staked him for the dawn. 'Abuse of power.' Broderik answered, for he had made the plot, 'You were TOO greedy.' 'They will not make you Master in my place !' 'Nor would I take it !' Broderik smiled in the brightening twilight, 'But I shall place your parboiled skull upon my Haunt's bare wall.' And this he did."

"Wow !" "Oook !" "Gosh !"

"So, Broderik had his revenge. Henceforth, he served as Judge and Arbitrator. Though his wrath could make or break any Sire or Master, he acted rarely. Instead, he advised. When the Titanic took down that Grand Master, only Broderik's efforts prevented Civil War...

"Yet, he remains bitter and alone, inconsolable. The ancient wound still festers. He cannot --WILL NOT-- forget, nor will he forgive any who succumb to greed or misuse of power.

"And, now, he must decide for or against the wider recognition of this Nest's RogueBane."

"Bravo, Young Charlene !!" The taller Elder called, "A fine tale, well told !" "Indeed !" Echoed the other Elder, "Such a tale !" The Youngsters clamoured to add their praise. "Rhys ?" Alice wondered, "You say nothing ?" "I-- I do not have the words..." I whispered, "Such Tragedy deserves a Homer or Shakespeare..." "Well said, young Rhys !" The taller Elder nodded, "You are deeper than you seem !" "T-- Thank you, Elder !" Quick, change the subject, "I-- I am remiss in my duties !! Would you like more coffee ?" "Oh, yes, please ! Two Lattés ?" "Surely, Elders !" I nodded, turned, whispered to Charlene, "Thank you, twice." She beamed.

I set about making the Lattés. I was glad of the chore. I'd just learned a lot about Broderik, and it would take time to digest. He was no longer a simple Monster. He had a back-story. He was a Vamp of strong principles. And it seemed he judged himself as harshly as he judged others...

Okay, now I had some referents. What would he think of me ? My record was impeccable. My credentials were good. One point remained: Was I but a Talon for SOTM ? Did I have a will of my own ? He'd refused to meet me, fearing some arcane trick. So, he must ask those who knew Chris. Not today, perhaps not even tomorrow, for there must be argument and discussion. But, one day soon, Elder Broderik must enquire of the only Vamp who knew Chris in the flesh and 'off duty'. He must ask Rhys.

And how was I to handle that ? Again, the question gave an answer. Rhys would wear her near-Victorian rig, deploy the nervous stutter, honestly reply that we just huggled. And, yes, Rhys could honestly state that there were old Tapping scars upon Chris' wrist, the blood freely given in an emergency. One thing I would not do was bite my own wrist to allow Rhys to claim that she'd Tapped me. Anatomically possible --barely-- it was a last resort. Besides, was not Chris here under Monty's Protection ?

D'uh, but I'm a HotZoner. I might have volunteered-- Again !!



Project Lorraine Chapter # 29: A Little Learning...


"A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again."

I was still puzzling through implications of Broderik's past when the 'comm buzzed. "Café, Rhys speaking !" "Chef, here, Rhys-- Could you help with Afternoon Tea in the Diner ?" "Yes, Chef ! May I leave a jug of Instant here ?" "Sure, Rhys ! See you at quarter-to ?" "Yes, Chef !" "I, uh, hear you had some trouble ?" "Er, yes, Chef, sorry... I bumped into a Nub using Glamour, splashed my hot jug. I gave his arm a cold soak, injuries were superficial." "Serves him right !" Chef chuckled, "Take care, Rhys !" "Yes, Chef ! Thank you, Chef !"

To be scrubbed and in the Diner at quarter-to, I'd need to finish in the Café by half-past at latest. That was barely twenty minutes off... "Excuse me !" I called, "Café counter closes at half-past. I can take orders until twenty-past, and then there's Instant--" "No prob--" "Instant's ok-- "That's fine !" The Youngsters agreed. I nodded, put both jugs on to boil. There was enough milk for now, but who-ever re-opened the Café would need to bring more. Now, did I have time to tote 3rd Nub's sleeves along to Elder Weft ? Well, yes, providing I did not get lost or distracted... "Last call for Latté ! Last call !" I scanned the Café, collected head-shakes, "Okay, Instant's on, there's cake and rolls !" I brought the jugs to boil, spooned Instant, stirred it in, "Okay, here's the Instant and the milk. Sorry, that's all for now !"

I found Elder Weft's workshop after only two false turns. Knock and wait. No-one home ? I left the near-dry sleeves on the nearest clear work-top corner, reckoned the Nest's grape-vine would explain them. Those false turns meant I did not have time to detour and collect Chris' tray, I had to get to the Diner. Changed and scrubbed, I headed House-Front. The Candies were waiting nervously. We exchanged nods. Lara and Mari discussed fashion in whispered giggles.

Sous-Chef Henry peered out the kitchen hatch, "Sorry, Lara, need a hand with the sauce..." "Okay, Sous-Chef ! On my way !" "Oook... Hi, Rhys !" Mari grinned, "Hear you took out 3rd Nub ?" "Sort of..." I admitted, "But he has the best Glamour I've ever seen..." "Right, we'll watch for him..." "Hi, Pete !" "Oook !" Pete jumped, "Hi, Rhys ! Chef in back ?" "Yes, also Sous' & Lara... Problem ?" "Broderik's skipping Tea, having another nap." Pete grinned, "We're off the hook for now !" "That's a relief !" Chef Joey nodded from the hatch, "Okay... Candies ? Join the queue if you like ! Want to change, too ?" They exchanged glances, "Yes, please, Chef ! Can't risk spills..."

Mari, Pete and I exchanged grins as they skipped away. Mari giggled suddenly, "Elder Weft thinks those Gothic outfits would be a great joke, has ordered fabric. Also, they're cheaper by the dozen..." "I'm glad..." Pete sighed, "Oook... You didn't hear Talon laying into 3rd Nub as soon as their suite door closed. Stalking Rhys like that-- What was he thinking ??" "Hollow Man ?" I shrugged, "He must think he's untouchable." "Well, he's blown it. Now the entire Nest knows he's got powerful Glamour and a bad attitude." Pete took a long, slow breath, "If he tries it again, we'll Bell him." "Does that mean what I think-- ?" I wondered. "Ook, yes-- And if he refuses, he must stay in a cell. We can't risk him wandering." "Oook..." Mari allowed, "I've never heard of any but Juniors..." "Yeah, well..." Pete allowed, "Apprentice Nest Manager isn't all fun and games. I've had to study some dire contingencies..." Pete and I exchanged knowing glances. "Um, Chris sends his apologies for last night." I mentioned, "Musk surprised him..." "Surprised HIM ??" Pete rolled his eyes, "Most fun we've had in years and he apologises ?" I shrugged.

"Setting out !" Lara called, hefting a tub of mash, "Grab pots !" "Ook !" I nodded, "That's our cue, Mari !" We were waiting, ready, as the clock ticked up to the hour. This time, the doors opened on a familiar torrent of Juniors, ravenous as ever. Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! They took one passing glance at the empty Top Table, fell upon their food. The Candies filed through behind them, temporarily in casual tunics, "Big portions, thrice, please Rhys !" Big portion, big portion, big portion, SMILE ! Next ? "Hi, Rhys, big portion, please !" Sue was off duty for once. Big portion, small portion, SMILE ! Elder Weft paused to nod, "Adrian brought us the rest of Nub's suit, thanks, Rhys ! Fascinating style ! And soon repaired !" The Tailor Twins winked, "Hi, Rhys ! Are you getting--" "A Gothic outfit, too ?" "I'm sorry, I must consult--" "Small portions, please !" Small portion, small portion, SMILE !

The queue thinned out, stragglers trailed through. Pete had left quickly to relieve Adrian, who arrived near the end. "Hi, Rhys ! Big portion, please !" Adrian nodded, "Thought you'd like to know Broderik's Talon gave that nasty Nub a damn good thrashing !" "Oook..." But would it make a difference ? Or just embitter him ? "T-- Thank you..." "Well that looks like the end of Tea..." Chef Joey looked around, "Who's eating ?" Mari and Lara nodded, I shook my head, "May I take some milk and rolls back to the Café after clearing tables ?" "Sure !" Joey nodded, "Lara, d'you want to follow and fire up '29 Days' ? Give both of you a breather before Dinner..." "Ook ! Thanks, Chef !" Lara grinned. I set to work on the tables. When I returned the cleaning kit, Joey had rolls and milk ready, "There you go, Rhys ! You'll be back to help with Dinner at quarter-to ?" "Yes, Chef !" "Um, you've had a hectic day... Care to skip Supper and have an early night ?" "Yes, please, Chef ! Thank you !"

The Café's clientele were pleased to see me. I put more coffee on, nibbled a couple of rolls while I worked. Lattés, Mochas, pots and pots of Instant...

Lara arrived, had a Latté, negotiated for three PCs and switched them to '29 Days'. Sindy, Sandy and Mike teamed up to explore the Williamson Tunnels' bye-ways, went looking for the blocked passage I'd mentioned. I knew exactly where it was, they knew I knew, but they were being strictly honest. The Googlers couldn't resist the challenge, though, were soon finding maps and piccies. The snag, as any '29 Days' aficionado knew, was that only part of the ground-plan was based on reality. Some was extrapolated, some hypothetical, some sheer whimsy, and all dated from a decade or more earlier. Some of the etchings were easily a century old. The ploy was deliberate, of course. It prevented undue use of street-maps, it preserved copyright, and it restricted the scope of 'local knowledge'. So, would our intrepid searchers take the next step ?

I heard hoots, wandered across with my jug of coffee, refilling mugs as I went, "That looks like fun ! Is it a maze ?" That gave them pause: Several present did NOT know about Chris / Rhys, others were not sure about who knew what. Consensus was to play it straight. "Hi, Rhys !" Sandy volunteered, "It is a maze, really, because none of the maps are quite right..." One Googler, carefully comparing the game's 'hand-drawn' sketches with the 'Friends of WT' official diagrams, had found some anomalies. The obvious differences were in the Eastern wall of the cutting, and not yet accessible. There were three possibilities to the West. A Nest side-hall was cut skew by the railway, but that inserted wall was flawless Victorian ashlar, megalithic in its solidity. Our virtual treasure-hunters checked, of course, tapping carefully on each level and in any alcove. No luck. On one real map, a dog-leg passage to the 'Artillery' vault turned remarkably close to the cutting, would bear checking. Again, the wall was flawless ashlar. There was no-where to begin. Beyond that weapons store, several minor passages splayed out. All but the Eastern-most were tidy dead-ends, facing native rock. The last vanished under slumped rubble...

"He cannot be serious !" Mike groaned, staring at the Eastern-trending passage's roof-high debris fill, "We must be fifty feet from the cutting ! That's worse than the others !" "Think about it..." Sindy warned, "A dozen hours for a team of five ? Bet you *all* those lumps and stones are individual objects, not just rubble on top of a 'heap'..." "No bet..." Sandy groaned, shifting the top layers and picking one at random, "They are..." "So we could clear it by hand..." Mike shook his head, "We'll need shovels, gloves, a wheel-barrow--" "Or hand-cart ?" Sindy offered, "There's one about." "And we'll have to map-save after each dig, else it defaults--" "And it will take for ever--" "Which is why no-one here has really tried..." "I'm on it !" Lara called, "I'll designate it 'Mole'-- Oh, thanks for the Latté, Rhys ! Um, would you like to learn how to play ?" "Ook, it looks very complicated..." That was honest, "Er, no, thanks, Ma'am-- Perhaps another time..."

The trio found tools and gloves, maneuvered their cart into the Eastern passage, set to work. Fortunately, there was enough space in the adjoining passages to tip spoil. I grinned as their initial work-rate fell off rapidly. Even as virtual Vamps, they had limited aerobic capacity. Now they must be wondering if my time-scale included that...

The Café suddenly fell quiet. I looked around, saw two Nubs peering in from the corridor. I reckoned it was our original pair, doubted 3rd Nub would be off the leash so soon. "Hello, Welcome again to the Café !" I called, "Come in ! Come in ! Your table is waiting !" They edged in, nervously sidled to the reserved table, tried to ignore the hostile glances. "Turkish again ?" I offered, "And perhaps some rolls, or a little more cake ?" "Turkish ? And rolls ? Please ?" "Surely !! Sit, sit !" Behind me, Googlers, Gamers and other Youngsters relaxed slightly. I set out a plate with rolls and cheese portions, two side-plates with napkin wrapped knife, returned with glasses and water jug. The washer run had finished, so I had clean cups. Boil, boil, dispense froth, boil, pour to&fro, serve. "Here you go !" The Nubs had made the rolls & cheese vanish, but stray crumbs suggested they'd also eaten some. "Is good !" "Is good, too !" "You're welcome !"

By the time the Turkish was drunk, the Nubs had even taken an interest in the activity around the computers. It drew them step by step, until they were peering from just behind the crowd. Googling was book-work of some sort, their disinterest suggested they were barely literate. But the changing '29 Days' views held them. The three screens' resolution was not fantastic, the lighting was poor, the scene confused. Still, they were looking into a tunnel, watching recognisable Vamps doing stoop-labour. Yet, the three were also sat here tweaking and twitching little buttons and levers, pausing to sip coffee, exchanging quips both on-screen and off...

"What is ?" One Nub wondered, added, "Please ?" "It is a game." Lara accepted the challenge, "It teaches skill and dexterity, team-work and planning." "Do Sap work there-- but sit here !" "Is not Television, is other..." "Oook..." Lara groaned, turned, "Googlers, could you pull up some marionette piccies ??" "Aaah !" Seeing those strings did the trick, "Is good !" Never mind that the software held arcane complexities, that one weary graphics card had more computing power than the entire Apollo programme or three players were interacting with a remarkable world-model in real-time: They'd grasped the analogy. "Is mine ? Dig gold ?" "Re-opening an old Nest tunnel." "Ah... Why not make Saps dig it ?" "Secret tunnel." "Aaah..."

Sindy and Sandy took to throwing virtual rocks onto the cart. The thumps and bangs were real enough, their misses' bounces alarming. "Go easy !" Mike grumbled, both on and off screen, hopped back as some rubble slipped down the steepened slope, "And pass that lamp..." "What ya got ?" "Dunno..." The lamp light edged out the shadows, showed a narrow gap near the right edge of the rock-cut ceiling. "Can you give me a hand up ?" "Sure..." They steadied his legs while he clambered the scree, "Well, I never..." "Tell !" "All this rubble has come out of a side-tunnel or shaft on the left-- There's clear space beyond, and a hatch or door in the distance... I can see a line of daylight ! " "Wow !" Normally, that was bad news, but not here. Still, that left tons of virtual rubble to shift... Sindy hesitated, "Um, if all this has spilled out of a side-tunnel..." "Ook !" Sandy groaned, "The more we dig, the more will fall out !" "And it could collapse, just pour out--" "Not if we have planks and beams and wedges to hold it in place--" "Which could be rigged to collapse in emergency !" "We could use a couple of old tables as a digging shield--" "Their castors can lean on the right-hand wall--" "Put more castors on the sides of the legs--" "To roll on the floor--" "Pick through the mess a lump at a time--" "Wow !! Skill points for Mining--" "And Innovation--" "And Campaign points !!"

I allowed myself a private grin, checked the time, began another jug of coffee. The Nubs also eyed the time. They turned to me, nodded politely, "Is good !" "You're welcome !" I smiled as they crept out, called Lara, "Ma'am, time's flown..." "Ook ! Thanks, Rhys !" She sighed, "Sorry, folks, need to stop in five-- Shall I game-save, or just the map ?" "Game-save, Lara !" Mike decided, "Easy to get three players, we can work on this between forays ! Um, if you'll give us a chance to step back-- Okay, save now." "Mole_1." Lara nodded, "Okay, saved once, saved twice. And exit... Rhys has more Instant brewing, then we gotta go." We both left early. Lara went on ahead to tackle the sauces, I stopped at a rest-room. The privacy gave me time for a quiet chuckle. I'd remembered several methods to tackle that slide, but they'd found a novel way-- Yes, they'd have problems, but they were literally ahead of the game...

When the clock ticked up to the hour, we were all scrubbed and ready in the Diner-- Candies back in their Greens, Chef & Sous-Chef on parade, Mari, Sue, Anabelle and I on the counter. The doors opened, Monty and Elder Broderik came in, followed by the usual comet tail of Talon, Nubs, Elders and Go-fors. This time, Monty waved the Candies across, "Candies, could you take a tray each ? Elder Broderik wishes to sample a Diner meal."

Elder Broderik peered, sniffed, pointed, we served. A Candy pushed the tray. Monty took his own tray. Talon and closely-watched 3rd Nub --his jacket neatly repaired-- and the Café's Nubs got a Candy and tray per pair. Elder Broderik settled down to his conventional meal with knife and fork, napkin tucked into his jacket. Talon was happy with cutlery. The Nubs preferred finger food, in this case fish-fingers, fries and baby-carrots. It all went, and rapidly. Broderik enjoyed his, drank the fruit juice the Candies poured, burped cheerfully, "Not bad for a snack ! Progressive presentation, but tasty and filling !" Monty allowed himself a wary smile. "Well, I'll not need Supper after this !" Broderik added, "Early night, start our discussions tomorrow... Another Feast at Lunch ?" "If you like..." He glanced at the Nubs' empty plates, "Talon, if they mind their manners, Nubs may have Supper, too." "Yes, Elder !" The Talon nodded, tossing a cautionary glare towards 3rd Nub.

"Would you like to sit in the Elders' Club Room for a little while ?" Monty offered, "The Juniors--" "They are our future." Broderik stated, "Open the doors." Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! Small portion, small portion, SMILE ! They poured past, collecting food. The first bunch, always the youngest, came to a halt facing the top table. "Hello !" Elder Broderik smiled gruesomely. They studied him for a few moments, noted 3rd Nub's restraint, chorused, "Hello, Elder !" Then they turned to their tables and fell upon their meals with ravenous enthusiasm and careful cutlery.

"Admirable manners !" Broderik noted, "Do they know of me ?" "A little." Monty admitted, "They have asked many questions of Elder Vine, they know that you are a Great Elder, and have come to discuss Chris RogueBane--" "Has he spoken to them ?" "A little... Mostly, he took questions." "Ah... Did he speak well ?" "Had he not, you would not be here." "And his general demeanour ?" "Kind, generous, friendly, interesting, witty-- Were he a Vamp, you would enjoy Turkish with him." "And is he a Talon to be bid ?" "I-- I believe not. He sees his duty to all, rather than to one Master." "He would seem a better candidate than I expected." Elder Broderik hesitated, "So, I must seek his flaw." "That may prove difficult..." Monty allowed.

"Who knows him well ?" "Myself, Elder Frank, my Apprentice Pete, most of the Youngsters..." Monty hesitated, "And, of course, Rhys." "That Child ? How ?" "It would seem she wanted a Pet Sap to huggle, followed her nose..." "Bold Child !" Elder Broderik laughed, "And he did not gain-say her ? He had no fear ? He did not shun her visage ? Does she have such Glamour ?" "It would seem not..." Monty shrugged, "She but stated her need..." "Did she Tap him ?" "It would seem not..." Monty repeated, carefully adding, "She reported that he had old Tap scars on a wrist: At SOTM, he'd given blood freely to a Vamp in urgent need." "I'd thought they offered bags..." "That is their preferred method. They also wished to study the effects of Tapping..." "And did he care for it ?" "He did not like the loss of reality." "Ah ? Then he is yet more dangerous-- I must think on this at length..." Elder Broderik turned, "Come, Talon, bring Nubs."

With the Dinner queue down to stragglers, Mari and I tackled the trays and tables. Again, I took the door end to distance myself from the now-empty Top Table. Didn't matter with Broderik & Co gone, but it meant no-one else looked twice. Then I took more milk to the Café, put another two jugs of Instant on.

'29 Days' must wait for Lara, but that did not stop everyone Googling for primitive and/or minimal mining technology. Things worked differently in the game, mechanics and materials were necessarily simplified, so real-world solutions might not work, or be un-necessary. There was also a complexity issue. One reason this rubble slide was in such a small passage was the program's computational and modelling limits. I didn't know if the basic shield technique would work, or be pinned by friction. I didn't know if they'd need to clad it with sheet-metal or heavy cloth like a conveyor belt, perhaps drive planks. They must try and see. I remembered there was a limit on the side-tunnel's shaft's rubble, but it did vary. Shifting it the hard way would just take a lot longer. There was certainly much, much more than would fit in those small, near-by passages. They'd have to cart cubic yards of excess rubble else-where. With ingenuity, they'd finish much sooner, accrue lots of skill and experience points...

With the Youngsters' coffee mugs freshly brimming, I had time to nip out to the washroom. I was there a while. As ever, it was not a business to be rushed. Lara was in the Café when I finished cleaning myself. '29 Days' was running, Phil, Mike and Bob were moving a large table through the Nest. There was a tricky turn ahead that no complete table would pass. But, thinking ahead, they'd picked one with legs that unscrewed. And, yes, they remembered to stand the table-top on end before coaxing it into the passage from the 'Artillery' room. The 'square on the hypotenuse' would have caught them otherwise ! Re-assembled, there was a foot gap between table-top and left wall, about right for 'pick & shovel' mining. However it panned out, this would bear watching...

Brew more Instant, serve some rolls and the last of the cake, brew more Instant, sate a couple of Elders craving Lattés, indulge several of the older Juniors wanting their first taste of Turkish, watch the door for wandering Nubs...

Forty minutes to Supper, time for Rhys to go. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, today, so tired..." "That's fine, Rhys." Lara nodded, "Oh, you've made more coffee ? Thank you ! Okay, you head off now and get an early night. Sleep well !" "Thank you, Ma'am !" I stepped into the Café's cubby, changed my 'Dinner Lady' uniform for Rhys' slightly shabby Olders' tunic, then headed off into the Nest.

I was very, very glad to reach my rooms. I shed Rhys' clothes, went through to my own room and took a long, long shower. The usual corners needed cream, the remnants of lunch were most welcome. I'd had to ration my coffee intake, so the cold-tap water made delicious drinking. Finally, I could dress as Chris. Tunic seemed the best idea, it would fit in well. Time for Supper. I remembered to take the cleared tray, arrived just after the Juniors' Rush. I wasn't avoiding them, I just did not want more complications. Tomato soup and rolls were ideal for a quiet supper. By the Top Table, the Candies patiently waited for any Nubs to show...

I heard a sudden silence, glanced up from my bowl. One of the Candies had detached from their prial, was headed down the counter towards the latest arrivals. "Hello !" She smiled, "We have soup and rolls for supper--" "Two beers, Wench !" As an opening, 3rd Nub had everything wrong. Candy gulped, probably reminded herself of the new outfit this was buying, tried again, "We have Oxtail, Tomato and Farmhouse soups--" "Two beers, Wench !" "Only Elders drink brewed." Candy stated, kindly, "We have soup, rolls and juice--" "Two-" The second Nub was tugging his elbow, "No beer ! No beer !" "Huh... " He shook off his obvious sib, "Oxtail. Rolls..."

The Candies managed to shepherd the Nubs to an 'upper' table, so they could watch three ways. I spared them a glance, kept on spooning my soup. They lifted their bowls and slurped greedily, finished before me. Then they sat and stared around. There were enough Juniors left to make 3rd Nub avert his glare. The Candies were not to be intimidated, the two Dinner Ladies' clothing must have made 3rd Nub flinch. That left a scatter of Youngsters, Olders and Elders, plus me...

3rd Nub fixated on me. Okay, I bore a striking resemblance to Rhys, but there might be more. My proportions were slightly odd for a Vamp. The Youngsters had taken that in their stride, but it had rattled Frank. These Nubs might be barely educated, perhaps borderline psychotic, I could not assume they were stupid. Never mind. I'd finished my soup, wiped the plate, enjoyed the roll. Time to go. Seemed odd just leaving my tray and plates, but tidying the table would be out of character, might remind them of Rhys. I didn't even glance back as I walked away.

But I did peek as I turned out of the Diner. As I'd proven to Pete, my peripheral vision was better than a Vamp's, so my part-glance would go un-noticed. Yes, 3rd Nub had crossed to my table, was sniffing about. I sighed, aligned my mental map of the Nest. lt was still partial, I had no idea where other workshops or private apartments lay, the creche was probably off-limits, but those interlocking quads gave me alternative routes. By turning right at the next junction instead of left, I could go around the block. Took me two minutes to determine they were not following...

I shook my head. I should not risk retracing my path, better to go right again and come back parallel. No problem. Of course, my nerves were on edge. Every shadow along the dim corridor had fangs and talon-nubs. Every one of my footsteps echoed like a Vamp's stalk. Had I heard a whispered, "Sapling" ? Paranoia, I told myself, pure paranoia. Was that rustling of tweed, then linen doffed ? Nah, why should that be...

Besides, I had Monty's Protection. All I had to do was not confront the Nubs. All I had to do was ignore them, walk away. Okay, one more turn and I was home-free...



Project Lorraine Chapter # 30: Rogue Bane.


"Little Sapling ?" The tone alone could start a fight. I spun to a defensive stance, "Who wants to know ?" A naked Vamp stepped from the shadowed cross-passage. He was alone. His expression was some-where between snarl and sneer. The blotchy pink on his right arm told me this was 3rd Nub. "Time to die, Little Sapling !" "Too kind !" I grinned, yelled, "HELP !" He flinched from my bellow, hesitated, Glamoured up. Our eyes met. His widened with surprise. "Boo !" I smiled. He Rushed me.

I can't out-react a Vamp any more than I'd out-run a lion. But I can anticipate. I stepped into the charge, raising an arm as if for a feeble block. Then I fell back, slapped down, a leg rising. He ran on to it, swan-dived across me, struck the wall hard.

That crash would stun most HomoSaps, but HomoVamps are tough. He picked himself up, shook his head, spat blood and teeth. I grinned. If he'd read the Greek Classics, he would have known to swallow that evidence, lest it encourage me.

"HELP !" I yelled again, improving my long-term chances, but reminding him. He turned, blinked at me like a boxer who'd taken a slow count, "No tricks this time, Sapling..."

He came at me slower. I feinted, caught at his arm, twisted and pulled. He went over my hip and landed heavily. "HELP !" I yelled, "HELP !" He got to his knees, shook blood from his face, stood, "Nowhere to hide now..." "HELP !" I yelled. He took one step, two, flew at me. I parried his first strike at my throat, blocked a flurry of slashing blows. He recoiled, "Why don't you bleed ?" "HELLLLP !"

"I will tear out your tongue !" He snarled, grappled. He clawed at my back, bit at my face. I had my hands up. I clung to his face, held his jaws away. He was trying to push me off balance, but I'd a wall to my back. He brought up a knee, thudded into my 'box'. We danced. I got a heel behind his.

We went down hard, him first. No time for holds. My fore-arm dropped my weight across his throat. He gagged. We struggled. He flailed. His left hand crossed my face, clawed at my eyes. I bit it, clamped down for my life. He howled as my fake fangs hit, instincts expecting venom that I lacked.

I had one more trick. He was nude. I had his left hand, if briefly. I caught at his right with my left. I pinned his legs open with mine for a long moment. I jammed my right hand into his genital slit and clawed upwards. He shrieked, convulsed. It threw me off. He staggered to his feet, blood dripping from his face, his hand, his crotch. He took an unsteady step towards my heap, hesitated, stumbled back into the shadowed cross-passage.

"H-help..." I wheezed, winded, my eyes streaming, "Help..." Fast foot-steps pattered behind me. I peered back. Nest-clad ! "It's Chris !! What happened, Chris ?" One of the three called. "Crime scene !" I gasped, "Blood trail... That way..." "How many ?" "One !" Two Rushed in pursuit. The other rolled me to sitting, "You were attacked ? What happened ?" " 'Time to die, Little Sapling!', He challenged. We fought. He fled." "Who'd dare ? Who'd breach Nest Rules ? Not one of ours-- Oh, please, not one of us..." "3rd Nub..." I wheezed. My tunic and briefs were in shreds, my body-glove had scuffs and scrapes, I'd be black&blue beneath it tomorrow. I wiped my face with the back of my left hand, came away bloody. My lips were split. I had bits of his flesh in my teeth. I could taste his blood mixed with mine. I giggled. I must look like a 'real' Vampire...

Pete and another arrived, "Mike ? CHRIS ?!? What happened ? You look like road-kill !" "You should see the other guy !" I quipped feebly, "Blood trail, two tracking. Bad bite on his hand. May have clothes now." Pete gulped, "One of OURS ?" "No..." I was pleased to say, "Speech wrong... Arm scalded-- 3rd Nub. Ugh, will I have bruises tomorrow..." "Your mouth is bleeding." I used my left hand, eased my dentures past my swollen lips, "Superficial. Evidence on these... I've spares. Lips ? Just split... Bruised gums. I'll live... Ha ! He really thought I'd tagged him ! Dropped his guard slightly-- So I tore him a new arse-hole !" Pete peered at my right hand's bloody talon nubs. He sniffed them, laughed, "Mike, smell these !" Mike sniffed, his eyes went wide, "Oh, the poor bastard ! And his hand ? Be a shame to kill him quickly !"

Footsteps returned. "Carl, Andy ? " Pete called, "What have you got ?" "Lost him..." "Dripped half-way to the next along, then stopped. Checked left / right, nothing..." "I said one..." I managed, "But when you two ran, it sounded similar. Another hid ?" "With clothes ? A cloth to wipe his talons ? And help him flee... " Pete grumbled, "Shit..." "Lock-down." I suggested, "No-one in, no-one out. Then search." The five of them looked at each other. "Makes sense..." Pete allowed, "But I don't have the authority. I'll need to find Monty. Okay... Carl, stay with Chris. Andy, secure the scene and guard those drips. Mike, Jeff, we've watched enough movies: Plastic bags and marker cards, pens, measuring tape and camera ?" "My pleasure !"Mike snarled. "Nest-Fouling bastard !" Jeff added, "We'll Nail him !" Reaction had set in. I slumped, "I'll need to sit a-while... Don't lose those teeth !" "You keep them." Pete put them on the floor beside me, "Hang in there, Chris... Carl, guard him with your life !"

It seemed no time, it seemed like for-ever. Mike and Jeff were back. They numbered cards, folding them to flag the blood drips and our fight's spatter. Jeff bagged my upper and lower dentures separately. He wiped my right hand's talon nubs with cotton buds, double-bagged them. Mike had the camera. Andy laid out the measuring tape, Mike fired off enough digital snaps for a full album.

Pete returned with Monty and Frank. "Blood and Sand ! Blood and Sand !" "Not from this Nest." I stated, weakly, "His features were different, and his accent... Scalded arm-- 3rd Nub." Monty took a careful breath, "Pete said-- I did not dare believe..." "A Guest ?" Frank growled, "One of MY Delegation ?" "Not your doing, Frank..." I shook my head, winced, "Dirty tricks. Besides, they botched it-- Not your style !" Frank allowed himself a feeble grin, turned to Monty, "So what do we do ?" "Lockdown, as Chris suggested." Monty stated, "He can't get out. If he hides for a day, his skin will heal, but we've DNA." "Store them cool and apart..." I cautioned, "We don't want any 'accidents'." "What about an 'Identity Parade', Elders ?" Carl offered. "If you're quick, he's the one with a bloody hand, bad teeth and a funny walk..." I grinned, "He can hide, but he can't run !" They winced. Frank snarled, "Monty, you need an Elders' Vote to breach Guests' Privilege. Though not their Kin, I am their chosen Speaker. I will search."

"Do you want back-up ?" I asked. Frank hissed, "They do this, yet hope to walk away ? If they kill me, Dawn-Stake all five with my blessing !" "It would mean Civil War..." I warned. "I know..." Frank sighed, "I know... I have seen battles between Settled and Rogue Nests, squabbles over territories and Mates, Blood Feuds over slights. Until now, we lacked the numbers for a Civil War..." "Go now !" I urged, "They'll be in shock !" "Yes !" Frank nodded, "Yes ! Yes, of course !" He strode away.

Monty looked me over carefully, "You are bleeding." "Superficial..." I shook my head, winced, "He was arrogant, over-confident. I got lucky. Just bruises." Monty fingered the scrapes and scuffs across my arms and back, "He grappled ? He did not Rush ?" "He did Rush, twice..." I pointed to marks on the wall, "But I used Ju-Jitsu throws, then fought dirty." "Didn't see those..." Andy apologised, began recording them. "These marks on you-- Is your body-glove so tough ?" " 'Second Skin' began as a stab-proof vest." I shrugged, "I know there's ballistic nylon mat for strength, PTFE for slip and water-shed, some silicone for stretch. The rest's secret... But it seems to work. Though I reckon that first fall rattled him..." "Did you pull some fancy Ninja move ?" Pete asked. "Oh, no..." I shook my head, winced, "I don't know any-- I'm not even a First Dan ! And no time to be clever. I used basic throws. They always work-- Frank ?"

"He's dead !" Frank glowered, "He hung himself !" "What ?" "Wasn't with the others. Nubs said he'd felt unwell, gone to lie down. When we looked, he was hanging from his bath-robe's belt..." "Shit..." I shook my head, winced, "A note ?" "Some scrawl-- Dishonoured the Nest, Don't deserve to live..." I thought about it. I'd been called to crime scenes where a HomoSap had tried to fake a HomoVamp attack. And, once, vice-versa, "Would they let me look ?" "No." Frank shook his head, "But they wanted to cut him down and eat him. I said not." "Thanks." Monty nodded, scowled, "We might get that Elders' Vote in an hour or two..." "Was his hand bound ?" I asked. "Hastily, but well... " Frank nodded. "Could he tie it himself ?" "Perhaps..." Frank nodded again, "He must pull the knots with his teeth--" "Or not ?" I pointed to the marker's blood and broken teeth, "And the knots on the belt ?"

Frank hissed, "He could not tie it wearing that dressing, yet there was no blood on the fabric belt ! He had help ! They lied to me !" "Frank, Monty..." I'd had a thought, "This Nest's Elders declared me Rogue Bane. Does that help ?" "Blood and Sand !" Monty slapped his forehead, "We do not need the Elders' Vote !" Frank looked between us, "What do you mean ?" "The Rogue Bane acts with the Elders' authority ! Come ! If they will not open the door to Chris, they become Rogue, and we may smoke them out !" "We'll need back-up." I warned, "I'm un-armed." "You're the Rogue Bane !" Monty chuckled, "You've faced a challenger one-on-one, and you're still standing !" "And they have their witness..." Pete added, "Elder Monty, Elder Frank, I will bring some help lest logic fails..." "More witnesses. " I added, "Good... Frank, lead on. But, please, go slow. My knees are wobbling..." Pete Rushed off to find reinforcements, Frank led us to the Delegation's suite in the Guest Wing.

Their door was barred. "Open this door !" Frank called, and beat on it. Some-one heard, replied, "We have spoken enough tonight... Let us mourn our kin." "Let me..." I took a breath, rapped on the door with my talon nubs, called, "I am Chris, Blood-Kin of Montague, Rogue Bane to this Nest. OPEN THE DOOR." The silence stretched. Frank went to knock again, or speak. I waved him off, shook my head, winced. I put a careful finger to my bruised lips. Frank nodded, waited. We heard raised voices, an argument, perhaps several blows. Then the bolt was drawn.

Elder Broderik stood there, showing all of his years. He looked me up and down. He noted my ripped clothes, the Glove's scuff marks, and my split lip. He sighed, "I expected some-one taller..." I shrugged, "May I come in ?" He nodded, stepped aside. Behind him, his Talon grimly wiped shreds from bloody nubs. One Nub huddled in a corner, bleeding from a raking slash. Another sat and sobbed, holding his scored scalp. I sighed, "Do you know the truth ?" "Now." He nodded sadly, "Two planned to kill you, to destroy this Nest and discredit Progressive ways. The third would lie to conceal their absence. But, you fought well-- You lived ! You won ! To make the crime seem like the act of a single Rogue, they strangled their sib and faked his suicide. Their lives are forfeit. Also mine, as Elder of this Delegation..."

I had other ideas, "Did you know ? Or suspect ?" "No--" "Did you have the slightest warning ?" "No--" "Elder Frank was told to use lawful means. Were you ?" "Yes--" "Have you done so ?" "Yes--" "Can you vouch for your Talon ?" "Yes. He--" "So, Elder Broderik, I have no quarrel with you or your Talon." I shrugged, "If you consider your lives forfeit, I revoke the sentence." They gaped at me in astonishment.

I gathered my breath, turned to the two Nubs, "Now, You ! And You ! Kin Slayers ! Oath Breakers ! Nest Foulers ! Your lives are forfeit to me ! But, I offer a Stay of Execution:

"First, your full confessions ! I want the plot peeled ! Copies for this wronged Nest's Chronicles, my School of Tropical Medicine, and to go with you.

"Second, you must make formal apology to this Nest, to Elder Broderik and to Elder Frank.

"Third, I release you into the custody of Elder Broderik. Return to your Nest with him. Explain yourselves. Then get an education. Study, learn, wonder, doubt, perhaps find the rudiments of wisdom. I'll expect progress reports via SOTM. And send copies here, for the Chronicles.

"Fourth and last, your lives are not yours for you or others to take. They are mine. Do you accept ?"

"Elder Chris--" Elder Broderik began. "No." I shook my head. He took a careful breath, "Master-" "Never that." I stated, "Just Chris, please." He gulped, "C-- Chris, Blood-Kin of Montague, RogueBane: As Elder of our Delegation, I humbly accept. And know you have condemned them to a life far harder than any slow death I could devise..." "Death is too tidy." I nodded, "Dead, buried, brushed under the mat of History ? Alive, they stand witness. And they can refute Revisionists." "You have them, too ?" Frank chuckled. "Another part of the Human Condition..." I shrugged.

"What of the body ?" Elder Broderik wondered. "I do not know your customs." I admitted, "But you'll NOT eat him." "He is a victim, too." Frank observed, sadly. "We cannot take him home." Broderik sighed, "We cannot leave him here !" "His actions were Rogue." I decided, "That makes him mine." "Would you stuff and mount him ?" Monty wondered, "He deserves no less..." "No thanks..." I shook my head. For a mad instant, I wondered what Deid-- Er, Desiré/ Demona would have made of him, "No. SOTM can have him for study." Everyone flinched. "It isn't so bad !" I explained, "He'll be treated with dignity, and his legacy will endure... Ha ! Given ten, twenty years, if the bugs are out of Human cloning, he may get a second chance !" "You would clone him ?" Monty doubted. "Why not ?" I shrugged."And split his genes for sisters, too." Broderik laughed. "Who knows ?" I quipped, "Given cloning's gene-tweaks, they may be Day Walkers !" Broderik choked on his laugh, stared at me, nodded slowly, "You would do that. Elder Frank warned me that you were more dangerous than I could possibly imagine..."

Elder Broderik shook himself, "This Nest's Blood Kinship with HomoSaps is anathema to us Traditionalists. Times change... Chris, BloodKin of Montague, RogueBane, would you do me the honour of becoming my BloodKin, too ? Perhaps some hope may be salvaged from this mess..." "And me, too, Chris." Frank spoke, "Before I lose my nerve..." "Er, yes..." I blinked, "It would be MY honour, Elder Broderik, Elder Frank..." "Blood and Sand !" Monty gathered his wits, dug in his pouch for a small, suede wrap. He produced my tiny flint arrow-head, still as sharp as the day it was knapped in pre-history, "This was Chris' gift to me ! It bound us-- May it serve now ?" It did.



Project Lorraine: Press Cuttings.


... until, following extensive discussion, Traditionalist, Independent and Progressive representatives accepted SOTM arbitration in HomoVamp affairs.

Sadly, one session was marred by a body-guard's attempted murder of a female catering student, then remorseful suicide. Mr Jones is to be commended for his prompt and skilful investigation of this Crime Passionale, allowing conference proceedings to remain on schedule. We extend our deepest sympathies to all concerned...


Vamp Student Denies Kinky Romp With Rogue Hunter

In a statement issued through SOTM, 'Ms R', the Vamp catering student allegedly attacked by a Traditionalist bodyguard dismissed suggestions of impropriety. Denying rumours of an all-night orgy, she replied, "Don't be silly-- He's not a Strutter, and I was not Calling."

She added, "It was a terrible, unprovoked attack. I'm lucky to be alive. After that shock, I needed a Sap shoulder to cry on. Of course we just huggled-- What else can you do with a Pet Sap ?"

Chris Jones, Rogue Hunter, is currently on vacation and unavailable for comment. Neighbours and colleagues would only say that he is a nice young man, and they are very proud of him.

Ms Deidre Monaghan, the flamboyant NightClub and Boutique owner often seen dining with Mr Jones repeated her usual assertion that they are 'Just Good Friends'.


'29 Days' -- The Return ??

Dark Dreams Software's SpokeSap, Egan 'Egghead' Evans, has admitted approaching SOTM with a view to updating and re-issuing that controversial game. He stated that the possibility of real, Amnestied Vamps playing on-line changed everything, and they were exploring several options.

Asked about famous Rogues playing themselves, he agreed that the ethical issues were 'intimidating', but it might provide a way for them to repay their debt to society.



Project Lorraine: 29 More Days


It was one of those ideas that found a life of its own: 29_Days: 12th_Night includes the Amnesty system...

Mixed Vamp / Sap Hunting parties range out from The Nest across that despoiled countryside. They cull Zombies, protect beleaguered Sap farmsteads, intercept Rogues and Ferals, explore towns' and cities' ghastly ruins, even rescue survivors. They also convoy the daring wagon-trains trading between Nests, the few military Safe Zones and SOTM's Strangelove Shelter...

The game's landscapes and maps are drawn from life. You can hike and/or drive many of the trails and routes, locate camp and ambush sites. There are differences. The Nest's fortified entrance may disappoint in life: That disused mine entrance's uncompromising grille carries grim signs warning of the protected bat roost, perilously unstable roof, unpredictable flash floods and lack of Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles (TM) within...

The Nest's crown of Medieval ruins are real. They form part of the modest Priory Enterprise Centre that houses the game's UK servers, support team, FX studio and a Visitor's Centre with semi-interactive virtual tours. If you want to get your hands dirty, nearby farms run franchised 29_Days paintball and laser-tag role-play courses. There's been talk of a Theme Park, but the locals seem content with the curious status quo, which fills their farm-house tea-shops and guarantees steady B&B bookings...

The Nest itself is disconcertingly realistic, as are many of its 'NonPlayer' characters. The Diner Queue webcam is compulsive viewing. The Café's floating clientele play a game within a game on their old,oft-cranky PCs. The Fern Grotto has drawn critical acclaim for its subtle lighting and fractal detail. The Traditional Tannery has revived interest in that craft. Meanwhile, arguments rage on-- What is staged ? What is morphed and/or mo-capped ? What is BlueScreen ? What is CGI ? All such enquiries are rebuffed by courteous shrugs backed by a grim NonDisclosure Agreement...

In addition to the '12th Night' post-apocalyptic world, there are 'flash-back' mini-scenarios. Could you stop the infamous TB3 Rogue ? Could you take down the PierHead Rogue despite the shrill VampAider ? Some of the characters are artifacts or actors, some may surprise. SOTM's SaltMine holds many IT-empowered ex-Rogues, most of them delighted to reprise their misdeeds in VR-- and be paid for it. 29_Days also signed up *that* VampAider: In life, a mild mother of three, her Avatar is again young, passionate and infuriating...

If Players abuse The Nest's hospitality, they become fair game. Should the need arise, the Rogue Bane's door-flag turns beyond In/Out to Hunting. No less deadly in VR, his inconsequential figure slides into The Nest's shadows, and prompt justice ensues. Notorious for Rhys, his giggly, gawky, virtual Vamp Mistress, he remains a figure of fear. Spotting Rhys working in the Diner or Café is a rare treat...



Project Lorraine: TNG.


Downside of being The Rogue Bane with Vamp BloodKin was they counted as Dependent(s). That blew my HotZone 'A-List' rating, kept me in UK.

So, yes, I did propose to D.

Our pre-nuptial agreement was odd, to say the least: I'd make no claim on her inheritance or business, she'd accept SOTM's strict Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).

It was a minimalist, Civil ceremony-- No fuss, no reception, no ring or name changes, just the legalities to make our curious 'Spouse & Spouse' partnership official.

And where did D wish to honey-moon ? 'Surprise me !' she'd said. So, when I unzipped her mask, we'd vanished from the face of the Earth. We'd gone UnderHill.

The Nest feted us. D joined a Youngsters' sleep-over, even got to sleep in a Classic Coffin. Our stay begat the quip that Vamp females Call *for* a Strutter, but Sap females Call *while*-- and enough said about that !

Liz, our first child, was going to be different. From her first yell, with a tooth, green eyes and red hair, we just knew that family life would be *interesting*. She was the first Sap child in centuries to spend much time in The Nest. A robust 'Little Monster', she'd race the Juniors up their Jungle Gym, then swan-dive into the safety net...

She inherited D's eidetic memory, did only what formal schooling she pleased. This led to some problems, but her honesty, athleticism and engaging grin melted official concerns. If I didn't know better, I'd swear she used Glamour, too. I was one of only two people --Sap or Vamp-- who could reliably find her...

Aged sixteen, with a bunch of begrudged school qualifications, two BlackBelts, shooting, fencing, sky-diving and SCUBA certificates, plus several Junior Athletics medals to her name, Liz announced her plan to become L.C.'s Apprentice. Yeah, right... Okay, go for it ! Weeks later, we got a cheerful phone-call. She'd traced L.C. They'd bounced each other off several walls, then shared a nice pot of Earl Grey Tea with her and the Reverend Peters-- Gosh, the Things they Hunted !! Oh, and L.C. was Good In Bed: Mum would like her... D and I exchanged astonished looks, chorused, 'Well, I didn't tell her !' Our sons David and Peter chuckled quietly: They knew their eldest sib better...

David liked Vamps, but had higher ambitions. He'd go to Mars, or Know Why. After his medical degrees, he collected Masters in Flight Engineering, BioPhysics and Robotics, qualified as a Heli, Single and Multi-jet pilot, then made the European Space Agency an offer they dared not refuse...

Peter was always the kid with the wry quip. He spun his Nest experience into both an Anthropology thesis and a best-seller, then teamed up with Frank. Those two developed a novel 'good cop / good cop' routine for the UK's Vamp hold-outs. If even Frank could not talk a cantankerous Old Sire around, 'Talon' Peter would mention that Eldest Sis was L.C.'s Apprentice, Dad was The RogueBane, and he, too, could Pierce any Glamour. Sign-ups followed like a thaw in Spring.

After decades of dithering, the EU adopted the UK's successful Amnesty scheme. Handed such responsibility, The Pasteur Institute requested SOTM's help. Frank & Peter took their act on tour...

Mary-Anne, our youngest ? She's with SOTM, too, working on Vamp genetics and reproduction. Given her success with Vamp IVF and surrogacy, DayWalkers are several steps closer...



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