“Do you like what you see?”
Ordinarily, Helen would not have been able to make out a thing in such darkness as this, cobwebbed and near-total. For many years, even seeing in light had been an ordeal, given her murksome cataracts. From today on, however, she was extraordinary; her night vision had been rarefied. She could not see Igor’s face, but discerned a smile in his voice, and thereby knew that he wanted her to celebrate.
Was that the glint of white teeth in the hand mirror?
She was sitting upright on the operating table, holding the mirror before herself, unsure what to make of everything. She shifted and brought her knees up below her chin, cradling them with her free arm; some bodily sensations should have resulted, but her nerves were buried so far under metal that she could not feel a thing.
That shine in the glass was not his teeth…it was something round that levitated. A ball?
When Helen said nothing and seemed not to react, Igor jumped into explanation. “If it’s a little bit, ah, patchwork, that is only because I started and stopped over the course of years—well…decades. And if you can see the old face in there, then I haven’t done my job.”
No. No, she could not see the old face. In fact, it seemed to her that the former Helen had been not polished, but blasted away.
She turned ever so slightly, and what came into view must have been his head. She moved a hand from her legs to her mouth.
“Listen, this was the only way. The only solution I could figure out. Let’s face facts: you were never going to be a beauty. Inverness was never going to embrace you. But at least”—he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and suddenly his whole form, hairy, lurched into mirror vision—“at least there is someone here who cares about you. Perhaps not a lover, but at the very least a friend. Nobody would appreciate your company more.”
Helen shook violently, and the mirror slipped from her hand! It shattered across the floor!
At the nexus of her facial circuit boards and right tear duct, an electric current came loose in form of blinding bolt and lashed Igor’s face! He stumbled backward—she leaped from the table and screeched, and not even her screech sounded like herself. Escape—escape! —she could not breathe in here… Oh no! She was a robot, she could not breathe!
What kind of deluded, unprofessional scientist would leave in place the capacity to cry, but not to take in and profit from air? What mishmash of nature was this? What misunderstanding of the joys of our human state? It came from one who had long been denied so many of them. From the forsaken hunchback…the vampire…the werewolf!
She smashed her way out of the crypt, side-arming a concrete wall to reveal a still, tranquil office. From this heart of Dracula’s castle she rampaged unceasingly, ululating all the while, pausing for nothing, hunting only for escape.
One companion was not enough, and certainly not such a one as this. One would never be enough. The yearning could ne’er be staunched, not unless she had the world and the world had her in an endless flow of love.
Eventually she found the castle’s mouth. Since Bistritz was in full flight at the time, she skydived a thousand feet, plummeting to Earth below. And because Igor papered over her escape with white lies, the master of the castle would never know.
Was it she who inspired Igor’s political mission? Was the war for a new world fought over “the face that were’d a thousand wolves?” Or was Helen only one factor of many, a final domino?
Henceforth, bleak thoughts entered Igor when he gazed out the windows of that castle: wondering without wonder of how a mechanical monster was faring alone. How he could have ruined her, and how this mistake, perhaps worse than fatal, could possibly be fixed. Could science un-wreak what it had wrought?
The Brown House un-exploded.
Just as suddenly as it had erupted, the House was reborn.
The fires stopped raging. The mushrooms ceased devouring. The grassy ground even moved to close itself. Still, the roar from the chaos was legion, for prisoners continued to run free, swift on the high of mild vampirism, and the lawful citizens tumbled about in confusion as if windswept.
The cacophony could be heard from the top of the Brown House, but it was merely a distant gale. It was not the focus of Igor’s mind. Nor was Dracula, nor was Helen.
On the top of that Brown House roof stood many things worthy of our attention. There was the billowing World flag. There was the newsreporterwolf, as grateful and flabbergasted as everyone in the House to have both his body and his microscopic video camera back. There was also a pretty large safe, which the reporter had given nary a glance. However, there was no Igor in sight. Not, that is, until he opened the safe and stepped out.
The President of Earth walked into the darkling air, running a hand through his head-hair. He walked slowly and with his face to the sky, dazed. In this bewildered state did he approach the on-the-spot reporter, pausing by his side.
It took a moment for Animal Wolfin to turn and see him, and another to realize who he must be. He actually jumped with surprise. “W-wowzers! Mr. President? I never dreamed I’d see the day! Can I get an…”
But the president only looked up.
He was watching not the skies, but the flying object therein. His eyes had landed square on the silver Flutoid saucer!
The aliens had resurrected the house with a healing beam; thanks to the peace-cannon sticking out from the silver ship’s underbelly, the Brown House’s flaming grave had been soaked and soothed in light and power. All smoke and all death had disappeared. Like time-lapse reversed, the Brown House had risen anew, with not a hair askew.
Igor gasped gently as the saucer lowered, coming for him gently as a swan. Igor’s heart beat like that swan’s wings, and he felt oddly light within his frame. He struggled even to stand up straight—in his nervousness and excitement he could almost sense his back-hunch.
The Flutoidan ship moved…right past him.
It soared into the stratosphere, a throwing disc narrowly missed.
Igor blinked. Was there a problem? But how? They had exchanged numerous communications, his government and theirs—the Flutoidans knew what he looked like, and surely they recalled their agreed-upon meeting place…
Alas…can any Earthling comprehend the motives and moves of aliens?
Igor stood there in silence. Mr. Wolfin snapped a few pictures before shrugging and heading off to the far front edge of the roof, to film the continuing carnage below.
Had the camerawolf maintained a little more patience, he would have stuck around long enough to observe the coming of another. Igor assuredly observed it. Its smell was oddly burnt, almost ozonic…
A nail gun with a silver stake. This weapon he drew, loaded, and aimed directly behind himself, over his shoulder. Igor aimed with precision; the sight aligned with Count Dracula’s chest. The president’s old tussling days were not so far in the past, as he now demonstrated.
Dracula came no closer. “This is not what you wanted, is it?” said the cautious fiend.
The double entendre was not lost on Igor. Not only the sky, but the very city he had crafted now wobbled on the verge of collapse like so many tumbling toy blocks. Yet even this was not the heart of Dracula’s statement. He meant the whole world, not this mere slice; not just today, but centuries.
Igor said, “It’s close enough.”
“Then I will ask you for my sake and for Adam’s. For Robert Fishman, and for Trials the witch cat. For your former commander. Will you—”
“Reverse everything I’ve done.”
“…Well, in a sense.”
CHIK! Igor fired the nail gun. Dracula, however, had predicted this and reserved a brief snatch of vaporcraft for just such a contingency. He faded, and the nail phased through him ineffectual.
“Igor,” he said, re-selfifying, “we are your people too.”
Now Igor turned to face his old friend, compatriot, and the closest being he had to a father. “If I am anything to you besides a president,” he said, “forget me the same way I have forgotten you. You disgust me. Do you know that? I’ve come to realize it in the years since I left. You barely worked to understand me, as if taking me in was understanding enough.” His face, once stern, began to break. “All while I struggled to keep up with you.”
A shiver coursed through Dracula’s veins.
“The years have changed me.”
“Ha!” Igor dismissed. “Have they.”
“I am sorry.”
That brought a real laugh out of Igor, an honest-to-goodness larf. “You say that now. Can I get a bit of encouragement? Or sympathy?”
“You have forgotten—”
“The scraps you tossed me now and then. Dracula, you were a cold soul sometimes.”
Dracula stood there inert, dripping blood tears.
Inability to understand his “son”—or refusal? Clouds of nostalgia wafting through the mind, or impenetrable steam bright as cataract film? A step forward and a trip back? Lies to friends to ease the stalwart mind of a hero? Silence, now, inert, unable to apologize, unqualified?
Humanity approached them both like the tides of the sea—approached, then backed away; came, then ebbed. Another curse of centuries, to go hand-in-hand with lost memories: lost feelings, sunk empathy! If Igor had the higher ground, it was chiefly because Dracula’s arrival had reawakened his past with such force that a tidal wave brought back the victim. A million moments of scorn add up to a tyrant, though mingled with charity they may be!
“But the worst part is,” said Igor, shaking, “I became something. I fancied you were helping the both of us, but you were only after yourself. You were nothing to no one.” He lowered his nail gun at last. “And you were fine with that until a minute ago. A minute in vampire terms.”
“Well…I did not come to discuss the past.”
“But that’s what tends to happen when you embody the past.”
An interruption. Below them, rumbles like the rolling-open of a thousand garages made the whole rooftop shudder.
Igor ran toward the rear edge of the roof; Dracula turned with a swish of his ragged-edged cape, but halted.
Machines were bolting out of the Brown House! Not crowd control drones to assuage the destruction on the lawn (which is just an idea, Brown House, just putting that out there), but the Secret Service sky speeders! They would more accurately be called “wheelless motorcycles.” For power, their engines combined hovercraft technology with the secret sauce enabling lightspeed: the handy and ubiquitous laser!
As Igor ran to the edge crying “wait, wait! here I am,” one speeder and its SWAT rider rose before him on air blasts created by some mighty strong fans. The lightspeed component began to charge up, emitting a high-pitched whine.
When he was as close as he could come without jumping, Igor said, between pants, “Take me with you!”
PEW PEW, PEW! PEWWWW! WHHHRRRRR! A veritable racetrack’s worth of speeders took off from the garage, from literally under their noses! Pink, blue, orange bolts of laser light blasted out behind the small crowd of speeders as they hurtled toward that far-gone flying saucer.
“Take me, my arm! HURRY!”
Igor stretched and reached. The rider brought her speeder closer in, parallel with the roof. She was not sluggish, but watching the speeder pull in when a new speeder launched free with every passing moment was exasperating.
“Take me too,” said Animal Wolfin, for his news footage of the lawn had gotten redundant. “Wherever that speeder’s goin’, it’s the story of the century! Not to film it would be a crime, sirs!”
“Take me too!” said—Dracula!
The SWATer’s head swiveled! The reporter took photos at lightning speed! Then there came a deafening rattle—that rider swung out a gatling gun and pumped out six silver shots!
She had hit a certain werewolf vampire, who collapsed and hissed most deathly into the night…and his arm bled out on the rooftop.
His arm, not his chest? But how? How could she have misfired at such close range?
After the thermostat of adrenaline had lowered one degree, the rider saw the scene with clear eyes. On the left was the photo-snapping reporter, equal parts spooked and determined, and on the right were two vampires—one evidently having saved the other.
Alice removed her helmet. “Dracula, don’t you want this to be over ASAP?”
“Not with his death,” said the fiend of some moral fibre. He stood over Igor; the president merely breathed, for he was still paralyzed by the gunshot panic and pain. “We are not here to stage a coup!”
“Oh, really? Then I suppose the prisoners running out of the earth were just a side effect?”
The speeder-rider edged forward on her craft. “Alright. Take him aboard.”
“Agh! Ghh…” As the situation dawned on Igor, he sputtered back to life. When Dracula took him in his arms, at first he reached forward to claw him—only to draw back, bemused, when the senior vampire set him upright behind Alice.
“I presume your talk with Igor isn’t over, then,” she added.
“We may finish on the way.”
“I am starting to see the value of keeping him alive. If one side’s going to have the moral high ground, make it us.”
“That is not my reasoning. We must keep him alive because he has kept his humanity alive.”
As Alice revved the speeder up, charging its light blast to the limit, Igor laughed aloud. Having been given what he wanted and placed in this rather villainous role, he knew no better way to react than to speak sardonically. “Whatever you say, Count. As long as I touch the Flutoidans, the result will be the same.”
Since there was no more seating room, Dracula placed a hand and foot on the side of the vehicle. “And that, we will not allow,” he said simply.
“Taking off!” Alice announced, not a Planck unit before that speeder jetted into stratos. Thanks to Mr. Wolfin and his jittering camerafingers, footage of this encounter and the odd familiarity between Igor and the infernal would hit the airwaves later that night, when the rest of the buzz died down—if it died down!