The small pub is full of loud happy noise. Rina waves to a couple of friends sitting at the bar as the foursome from BubbleTrendz heads for a booth. Sam wishes she could be alone with Gil here to puzzle things out more leisurely, but she can see that, right now, he is preoccupied with Rina. They settle into a booth near the back; Sandor slides in against the wall and Rina immediately moves to sit across from him. Sam hesitates to let Gil decide where he’d like to sit and, when he sits down next to Sandor, she scoots in next to Rina.
They order a pitcher of beer and some bar food. Sam glances discreetly at Sandor and he gives her the faintest acknowledgment — an almost imperceptible nod of his head that conveys to her: yes, I know to go sparingly here with food and drink.
Sam mostly listens to the three programmers talk shop; she occasionally looks at her cellphone to read two additional messages from Deborah and to scan Twitter for news of the flash crash. There isn’t substantive information, just a multitude of repeats and retweets about the huge, momentary blip-dip in the markets.
Rina looks flushed and radiant. Sam realizes it’s because the young Russian is flirting with her cousin Sandor. It appears to be a one-way effort; Sandor is evidently equally immersed in both his companions from BubbleTrendz, now relentlessly peppering Gil with questions about the Ruby programming language, now looking attentively into Rina’s eyes when she embellishes Gil’s explanations.
Sam listens to the dialogue, delighting in the intelligent, passionate conversation pouring forth from these truly young people, none of whom has circled the sun even twenty-five times. When you have centuries, millennia, you develop quite an elaborate matrix for the seasons and what your own preferences are for what constitutes a vintage season.
It’s after ten when Sam unlocks and opens the front door of her small Somerville apartment. The air is a little musty in these rooms which have been closed up and unoccupied for a while. Sam turns up the heat and goes to the kitchen to find some bottled blood.
With momentary chagrin she remembers there are no opaque drinking containers in the place. Then she bristles; she shouldn’t be pandering to Sandor’s phobias. He’s a vampire and he needs human blood to thrive. Nothing is going to change that.
She pulls two wine goblets off a shelf, then pops the seal on a box of preserved blood, Type O. She pours a generous amount into each glass. Admittedly it tastes like crap, but the nutrients are intact. A packaging process developed by her ex-brother-in-law Ferenc. She’d funded his explorations into the process and they both would have made a small fortune if only there were more vampires walking the earth. Unfortunately, the market is quite small. Nevertheless, this ‘fast food blood’ with the long shelf life certainly comes in handy with the lifestyle she has chosen to live in the early 21st century.
“Don’t you have a thermos?”
Sam, now Zaira, turns to look at Sandor’s disapproving face behind her.
“I don’t.” Her eyes flash at him. “Just drink it, okay? It’s really not hard to do and you will feel the difference immediately.”
Sandor’s tall frame leans slightly away from her. “Could you drink that knowing it came from Gil or Rina?” he asks pointedly.
She takes her time before answering him. “If my survival depended on it, yes.” She shakes her head slowly at the accusing disappointment in his face. “But it wouldn’t kill them because I am practiced in the art of the hunt. You would do well to learn something of it before passing so much judgement.”
“I want to be a hacker, not a bloodsucker!” Sandor storms out of the kitchen and flings himself on the couch.
Zaira takes a deep breath and resolutely picks up the two goblets and walks quietly into the living room. She sits down on the chair opposite her angry young cousin and sets the two goblets gently on the coffee table between them. The dull red processed human blood shimmers in the soft light. Zaira picks up one of the goblets and raises it to her cousin.
“Let’s drink to our ancestors, to the beautiful Carpathian mountains, to our long-lived traditions. Be proud of them, Sandor.” There is true passion in her voice now as she looks at him with deep familial honesty.
Sandor looks into her eyes and she is startled by the profound longing within them.
“I want to be human,” he tells her softly.
Just as softly, she answers him. “That, my dear cousin, cannot be.”
By noon the next day Dean has still not shown up at the office. Sam asks Mary whether Dean’s meetings ran over to Friday, but Mary is noncommittal. Sam concludes that Mary may not know what’s going on either, but is reflexively pulling rank on the mere office manager.
Evan is at his desk early and works intensely throughout the day. He doesn’t stop for a lunch break. Sam encounters him briefly in the hall mid-afternoon and directs a swift penetrating glance at him, but his face is an impervious block as he walks past her in what is clearly a social snub. Evan’s social postures mean nothing to Sam, but she does wonder whether he knows anything about the New York meetings.
Work is slow that afternoon so Sam spends time on the Internet trying to find meaningful clues about yesterday’s flash crash. As she bounces back to a major news site the headline that is moving across the top of the page rivets her to the screen:
Apparent suicide in midtown Manhattan identified as social media entrepreneur.
— to be continued —