Evan is still typing at his desk when Sam and Gil reach his office. He closes a window on his screen and turns to look at them. “Does this happen often? The denial of service attacks?” he asks Gil, scrutinizing the shorter, heavier programmer’s face.
“It’s never happened before. And why are you certain that is was a denial of service attack?” Gil counters, trying to see what else is still up on Evan’s monitor.
“I was inside Star and everything just stopped. When I looked at Star’s incoming traffic I noticed lots of requests from specific IP addresses, then they quit coming, and things got normal again.”
“I’ll need to look at the logs,” Gil announces, and leaves Evan’s office abruptly.
Sam decides to look for Dean one more time. She encounters Mary instead and learns that Dean has left the office for the day. She gets a disapproving look from Mary when she then announces her own intention to leave early today. She thinks about quitting on the spot, but decides she wants to see Dean and tell him in person. For some private satisfaction?
Gil reappears and blurts out at Mary, “I’m locked out of the Star account. How am I supposed to get any work done? I’ve got some uncommitted changes-”
“You need to take this up with Evan,” Mary shoots back. “Dean has made him programming manager of all the accounts.”
“As of when?”
Mary doesn’t like Gil’s tone. “This morning.”
Sam watches Gil storm off to Evan’s office, then turns to Mary, momentarily forgetting her role as Sam. “Gil has done great work here. Furthermore, he’s honest and conscientious. Why isn’t this new guy reporting to him?”
Sam realizes she has shocked Mary. Mary opens her mouth, stops, then finds her words. “Dean is the founder of BubbleTrendz. I guess he’ll make decisions as he sees fit.”
Sam checks the cheeky rejoinder she has on the tip of her tongue and gives Mary a deferential nod. We’re still in guise, she reminds herself.
When Sam arrives home, Sandor is still glued to her computer in the library. He wants to show off the new features of his application before he uploads it to the free software site. Her mind is distracted, but she makes the effort, this is her main link of communication with him right now.
After Sandor’s demo, she excuses herself and draws a hot bath and makes herself a Red Mimosa. While the bath is filling, she texts Ambrus and orders a dozen cases of ‘wine’ to be delivered via a licensed liquor broker. All the careful protocols of the state with its long Puritan tradition amuse Sam; they’re conscientiously trying to regulate the movement of alcohol across state lines. Wonder what they’d think if they knew what was really being shipped.
Sam sinks into the frothy tub, becoming Zaira again. She reaches for the Red Mimosa and takes a long sip, puzzling over the events of the day.
Dinner, such as it is, is consumed from two silver thermoses. Zaira is trying to accommodate Sandor, annoyed at her own pandering to his squeamishness. He sips slowly, sparingly, through a straw.
“There’s a job opening at your company for a Python programmer. Actually two openings,” he announces looking at her across the dining room table. They’re eating in the dining room tonight, not the butler’s pantry, in the hopes that dinner will seem more festive.
Zaira flashes a look of surprise at him. “That’s true. Internships.. How did you know?”
“Job sites on the Internet.”
Zaira shrugs. “Well, I’m ending the Sam Guise tomorrow. They didn’t take our offer, they went with someone else. Time to move on to the next thing.”
“Could I apply for that job? It’s entry level.”
Zaira is mildly shocked. “Work at BubbleTrendz? Please don’t feel you need to work, Sandor, money is no issue at all, believe me. I was actually thinking you and I might take a trip.”
“I just took a trip.”
He’s right, he hasn’t been in Massachusetts one week yet and she’s contemplating Brazil and Hawaii.
Zaira looks at him frankly. “You’d have to go in guise. You’ve never done that, have you? Capped your canines.”
“Maybe they could just accept me as I am?”
His naiveté is breathtaking. She tells him gently, “We look pretty wolfy to humans when we smile at them with our natural teeth. It scares them.”
“Why do teeth matter so much?” The youth sighs in frustration. “I suppose I could wear caps. It would be fun to write programs that are actually being used. You spoke highly of Gil, he could teach me a lot.”
“They’ve hired a second guy as of today, and the interns will report to him. I’m not sure I like him as well as Gil. The company is about to expand, it might not be as casual and friendly as it has been. And, I’m leaving, Sandor. I would have quit today except that Dean, my boss, left before I had a chance to tell him.”
“Could I go in with you tomorrow and inquire about the internship? I don’t have a resume, but I can show them my application code.”
“Why is this so important?” she asks him, suddenly frustrated by these new complications. She’s not even certain she’s got teeth caps that will work for him. She reaches for the bottle of blood on the table and pours more into her thermos, taking a long swallow. She is aware of Sandor’s eyes watching her, unhappy and judgmental. She asks him, “How will you take your meals in the workplace?”
“I won’t eat at work. I’m used to fasting.” He looks directly at her, then looks down. “You should try it sometime. Fasting.”
Sandor, I assure you I’ve experienced long spells of being without, um, sustenance. It isn’t a healthful thing for a vampire. You’ll understand this better when you make your first long stride.”
Zaira feels her own blood pulsing in her temples. She hadn’t meant to stray on to this topic.
Sandor launches into what’s on his mind. “Are you really okay with all this? I mean, no wonder they hate us, the humans. I would if someone took hold of me and sucked my blood.”
“Sandor, humans raise animals and slaughter them for food. Vampires rarely kill prey, usually by accident.”
“It’s not fair! They are so weak compared to us. They live short, perilous lives, and we live seemingly forever.”
She had not intended to have The Immortality Talk with him so soon, but he was heading straight into the belly of the beast.
“There are not many of us, compared with them,” she tells him quietly. “If they really believed in our existence nowadays, they’d put us on the Endangered Species list.”
“You don’t need many when no one dies.” He looks at her with pure defiance in his eyes.
“You know full well how we can be killed.”
“Why can’t we find a way to change ourselves?”
“Do you expect a tiger to change itself? Or an eagle? And, Sandor, humans are not without their faults, they are capable of conducting horrific, large-scale wars amongst themselves.”
“I have read histories,” he retorts, “I know what they’ve done. But why is that an excuse for our conduct?”
“We’re vampires, dammit!” Don’t raise your voice, he’ll only get madder. “Sandor, no one knows whether we are truly immortal. What does that mean? Great-uncle Istvan is perhaps the oldest among us, and he doesn’t remember history farther back than ten thousand years or so. Perhaps our minds shift and rearrange our memories over such time spans. We can’t be certain.”
“How old are you?”
“Some of my earliest recollections are of Phoenicians. I might be three thousand years old, though.”
She looks at him with tolerance. “You have no idea how young you are, your life now is more in tune with humans because you match their own experience. But, this will change, Sandor, and you must accept it.”
“It’s not fair! I’ve read the greatest human literature, their aspirations and loves; they walk in the shadow of tragedy, their mortality stripping away their joys, the meaning and worth accumulated throughout their lives. It’s amazing that they aren’t all terminally depressed! They show bravery in the face of all this, and what do we do? We catch them and drink their blood.” He looks down, covering his head with his arms.
“Sandor, there’s good reason to believe the sun will become a red giant one day, and it will likely cook the earth at that point. It seems extremely unlikely that the chemistry of our bodies could survive that. Forever is a very long time; we aren’t immortal if you measure our lives on a cosmic time scale. It’s just that our biological clocks are running far more slowly than the other living beings around us. We didn’t choose to be this way, we just are.”
“I’m going to my room.” Sandor leaves the table without another look at her.
Zaira remains sitting there a long while. This was not the dinner she had envisioned with her young cousin. Were all teenagers so volatile in mood? Would it be good for him to work among humans, learning this Python language? More exposure to people might serve to temper his idealism about them.
She takes another sip from her thermos. The liquid suddenly tastes flat, old. It’s been too long since her last fresh draw. She needn’t tell Sandor.
Zaira leaves her house an hour later, dressed in a short black dress, high heels, makeup and pearly canine caps. She walks to her carriage house and opens the wide door, going inside. The rarely used red Porsche Carrera is parked there, gleaming and waiting for her. Time to cruise the bars of Lynn and Swampscott.
— to be continued —