The Mansbridge Experiment
Up and Adam, announces Marty as he springs barefoot from his coffin onto the cold stone floor. He enjoys being the perpetual thorn in the side of his fellow conspirators. He never wanted to be recruited for this Experiment, but when the Aids epidemic of the 20th century hit, he had to seek alternative blood supplies. Dr. Murdochs treasure chest of globular synthetics was the perfect antidote. So he joined the program that promised him an endless supply of the red stuff.
Stuff it, Marty, moans Karl. He isnt about to move from his cushioned cabinet. I need five more minutes. Karl is the youngest Vampire of the group, made only one year earlier, with a solitary kill to his name. But his passion for change has earned him a special place in the hearts of his Elders who see in him the chance for a true Vampire hybrid half beast, half human. But with that most prized of all mortal possessions: a conscience.
One by one the group rises: Essie, the blonde and deadly siren whose roster of victims rivals the size of the national debt; Merrill, whose serene beauty and presumed innocence belie a lethal interior and Drew, the moody, brooding romantic who constantly distances himself from his peers. His reason for joining the Experiment was profoundly simple: to find that elusive human emotion called love. Hed read about it for centuries, witnessed it countless times in his travels, and envied mortals for this one great faculty to love.
Drews perpetual reverie is shattered by Dr. Murdochs piercing call to order. Tonight, they will conclude their final lesson for the year and take the exam that will advance them to the next level. Should one fail, they will all be considered failures, and forced to repeat the entire primary level of their training.
They are a team, at least in theory. Loners by nature, this team thing was the first barrier to crack, for a Vampire has an instinctual distrust of everyone and everything. To overcome this block, Dr. Murdoch had them drill each other on such simple things as sharing their food supply, tutoring each other on their studies, and even partnering in Bridge.
Their resistance slowly melted, and they became more and more comfortable with the notion of working together. At least for a while, but then the inevitable outbreaks would occur, the violent threats, the blood-red eyes and extended fangs. But these outbursts would eventually give way to softer discourse and reconciliation. And all would be calm&ldots; for a while.
The oral testing will begin in one hour, announces Dr. Murdoch. I will call your names at random and when summoned, youll meet me upstairs in the main library.
Grumblings and mutterings follow as the not-quite-awake brood saunters over to the locked cabinet to take their morning meal of synthesized haemoglobin.
If you screw this test up, Marty, youre a dead man, threatens Drew.
Im already dead. And besides, as I recall Im the ace student around here in the last five tests.
You cheated on four of them, adds Merrill. She was already sucking on her morning repast.
Says who, challenges Marty.
I caught you thinking you got away with it.
Oh, thats right, Merrill, I forgot youre the mind reader around here. Well maybe I was thinking that I got away with cheating on our last card game. Ever consider that?
Stuff it, Marty. Essie has lost patience as she partakes of her breakfast while brushing back her long flowing hair with her one free hand.
What is it with this stuff it crap tonight? First Karl uses it on me, now you. Did I miss getting the memo or something? Marty is already back to his normally agitated self. Just everybody worry about your own performance today. But Ill tell you one thing, if one of YOU screws up, youll have to deal with me.
Essie looks completely nonplussed.
Dont push me Essie Marty threatens.
Essie throws him a smirk, then turns away heading straight for her favorite mirror to finish her daily cosmetic ritual.
Drew meanwhile has drifted off to a far corner of the main room, the central meeting space for the suite of rooms that constitute the underground school. Sealed from the outside and accessible only by a coded entry system, this bunker is a haven to the chosen five, a safe house in which to conduct the Experiment.
Drews thoughts are not on the exam, nor his prison-like existence. Instead, his mind wanders to his last encounter with a mortal, a day student who stumbled into his life through sheer co-incidence.
Her name was Dylan. A vivacious redhead who discovered a note written by Drew and carelessly left in the day school library. Her fascination led to a planned encounter with her mystery author that went horribly wrong. Karl, in a rare psychotic break, attacked Dylan as she waited for Drew, and feasted on her. An old-night vigil by Dr. Murdoch and the others, and some powerful ancient remedies prevented Dylan from turning and becoming one of them; but not before Drew felt a soul connection with Dylan that could only be described as infatuation, or maybe something more.
Their relationship was cut short when the elders ordered Dylans return to the mortal world, but not before Essie erased Dylans memory of these events with her trance-inducing voice a skill that had served her seductive nature extremely well for centuries.
Once returned to the land of the living, Dylan continued on with her studies as part of the Mansbridge day school none the wiser. Fortunately for her, for if she had turned and become one of them, Vackal would have ordered her immediate death.
Merrill is watching Drew, her oval eyes sad with the fact that he is thinking of Dylan and not her. She is convinced that Drew is the One as prophesized in her dreams, but he refuses to acknowledge it. Drews destiny, he devoutly believes, lies with the mortal world, a life he aspires to, and craves for. He wants out of this perpetual darkness and yearns for the light, and that deep ache that twists your insides and makes you scream from the sheer exhilaration and torment of knowing that you love another.
Merrill knows love, feels it for Drew. She doesnt need the experience of mortals to understand its power. Drew is her destiny, and she will never disavow it. Nor will she ever let another, Vampire or mortal, come between her and her true beloved. She swore that to herself, and heaven, or hell, help the one who tries to steal her Drew away.
Her wistful contemplation is interrupted by Dr. Murdochs first summons to the oral exam Karl.
Terrific, he spits out sarcastically. Im not even awake yet.
Like it would make any difference, snipes Marty.
Karl is at Martys throat in a millisecond, holding him suspended a foot off the ground with one fiercely strong hand.
Hey man&ldots;it was&ldots; a joke. Martys words are barely audible through his constricted air passage.
Karl pauses for a moment, then lowers Marty to the floor and lets go of his neck, convinced hes made his point. Saying nothing, he shoots a dare-me look to the rest of the crew and heads for the secret passage that leads upstairs to the day school library and Dr. Murdochs exam.
Not until hes gone does Marty let out a sigh of relief.
Had you scared, didnt he?, Merrill snickers.
Stuff it, answers Marty and goes off to an adjoining room to be alone.
The moment over, Merrill, Essie and Drew settle down to wait their turn with Dr. Murdoch. Inside their stone fortress buried forty feet beneath the surface there is silence once again.
Karl enters the wood panelled library to find Murdoch sitting at his usual oak desk. His face shows no emotion.
Nice to see you Karl. Make yourself comfortable.
Will this take long?, Karl asks.
Thats up to you. Get the right answers and youre out of here in no time.
So whos to decide if theyre right?, Karl replies. I mean, youve been preaching about developing judgement, about how truth is often subjective and that we have to learn to weigh our decisions based on our own perception of whats wrong or right.
Dr. Murdoch breaks into a slight smile. Im impressed. Seems like my classes havent been a complete waste of time.
So, in my judgement, Karl continues, I am equally qualified to say whether I answer your questions correctly?
Dr. Murdoch stops smiling, his face turning stern with his grey eyes focused on his apt pupil. Good judgement involves a contemplation of the most optimum solution for ones survival. Your survival and that of your group depends on passing this test. Am I clear?
Karl considers the logic for a moment, and backs down. Letting out an audible sigh, he takes his place in a large armchair across the desk from his mentor.
As Dr. Murdoch pulls a single hand-written sheet from out of a leather folder, Karls eyes dart towards an ancient grandfather clock nestled against the opposite wall. Three oclock in the morning. For this Vampire, his night has just begun, but he senses its going to be the longest one of his life.