Chapter 2: The Attack on Tesseract

Isaac brings his new prize–Paul’s body–into the Chantry and directly to Maximilian von Strauss, the head of the SF Chantry and, naturally, the Primogen of the Tremere. They don’t know much about him besides the fact that he both the head of one of the most powerful corporations in the world and a very young, very naive vampire. These things in combination are irresistibly enticing. The two start discussing secret schemes….

The next thing any of us know, Paul is waking up in the middle of Civic Center plaza with no memory of most of the evening and no idea how he got there. Last thing he remembered, he was in a car heading to the cement factory with some guards and the ghoul of Elsa’s. Luckily he still has his phone, so he calls his people and has them send a car around. Somewhere in all this, he gets a message from the Prince’s people, formally requesting his presence at Elysium that night. He makes plans to attend after visiting his SF penthouse for a change of clothes and a shower.

#

I arrive at Elysium not long before the formal court is set to start. As I said, although I am not some high-falutent political-manipulator or social-climbing snob, I am armored with a cadre of social skills gleaned from decades of working the private intrigues of the local BDSM and general leather-scenes. Still, just because I have these skills doesn’t mean I alway use them. Often when I visit Elysium I end up standing around quietly to keep from snarking at the douchey Ventrue and the like that litter it.

Also I am discovering something interesting: many of the more machismo-minded forces in the city try and rile me up by impugning my masculinity, as has been the cultural norm for generations. However, such verbal attacks lose something of their power when their target is someone who is actually gay and is willing to own up to it in this, this modern era of public-and-self acceptance.

Example: Not long after I get to Elysium this night, some weasely guy sidles up to me and starts talking some  political gossip I don’t particularly care about. He takes offense that I am not enthralled by his conversation and snaps at me that maybe I should just to try and suck the Prince’s cock. I shrug it off, saying, “Why do you think I come here?” He stares at me for a moment, then snaps, “Fuck you, man!” and storms off.

Elysium is called to order. The Prince is a Ventrue by the name of Van Nuys. He’s an average age for a vampire but fairly young for a Prince. He works hard to keep up levels of respect for him by sporting an intense demeanor. This act is helped by his Sherriff. She is a woman nearly always at his side, but no one knows anything about her, not even her name. She never speaks, few have seen her in action, but almost everyone is terrified of her nevertheless. Tonight, she is once again at his side as he scowls out at the crowd and delivers some very upsetting news.

Someone has been killing Primogens. In the last 24 hours, both Daunte and John Edmundson–the Toreador Primogen–have been found dead. Daunte I suspected, but it turns out Edmundson was the man beheaded by the mysterious Englishman at the cement factory explosion. The Prince calls on me–as the last person to talk to Daunte before he died–and Paul, Elsa, and Isaac–as people known to have been around the cement factory during the recent incident–to share what we know. Paul has no information to share, Isaac is characteristically terse and dickish, but Elsa talks about meeting the Englishman and witnessing his attack on Edmundon. I, for my part, talk about my trip to Colma and my encounter with something I dub “the Costco Monster.” Both Isaac and I–who recognized each other the moment we stepped foot into Elysium–leave out the part where he had to escape out of a moving ambulance and I chased him down and I chased him down and fucked up his face.

The Prince considers these facts, then orders us four to team up to investigate this mysterious Englishman, like some sort of asshole Fellowship of the Ring. Paul and Elsa look confused but accepting. Isaac and I glare at each other but don’t make any comment.

The Prince finishes his official business and Elysium breaks up into schmoozing. The four of us gather to introduce ourselves and discuss strategies (and, it is later assumed, exchange phone numbers). While we’re talking, a new vampire comes up to us from out of the crowd. He is well-dressed in late 19th-century stylings, with a long face and long hair, and carries a cane. His voice is lilting and mellifluous and his words and actions indicate he’s taken an immediate liking to me, ifyaknowwhatImean. Anyway, he introduces himself as Sebastien la Croix, the Malchavian Primogen. He is somewhat of a socialite in the local community, best known for his exclusive club, Salome, located under the St. Francis Yacht Club in the Marina. He points out that as a Primogen, he has a vested interest in helping us with our investigation, so he invites us to visit his club two days hence to meet with him privately. Everyone hesitantly agrees, so he excuses himself an saunters off. (My reaction, both in-game and IRL, on seeing how uncomfortable he made the rest of the party, was to lean back in my chair, grin, and announce, “I like that guy!”)

At this point it has been a rather long night, so once it’s clear Elysium is wrapping up, we all head back to our homes and go to bed.

#

The first task the next day is to take care of chores. The most important chore on the list is, unfortunately, feeding.

So here’s the deal. Tom isn’t just a cool, swagger, leather-daddy gay vampire. Tom is a cool, swaggery, leather-daddy gay vampire…with AIDS. Or, HIV-positive, rather. Tom moved to San Francisco when he was still a starry-eyed human teenager in the early 80s. He got active in the local scenes and thus was on the front lines during the Plague Years. Fortunately, he avoided getting infected himself until the late 80s/early 90s. By then, AZT was on the market, so once he was diagnosed he started treatment right away, sending his infection into remission. Deep down he knew he wasn’t cured, but he still believed that he had things under control and was out of the worst of the woods.

That is, until a few years later, when his viral strain mutated and the AZT didn’t work anymore. This was before the drug cocktails were fully introduced, so basically he went from thinking he was safe to being completely out of options, overnight.

Tom panicked, terrified to be facing a death sentence, again. It was at this time that he found by a wandering Brujah, deep in the club scene, who convinced/tricked Tom into becoming a vampire as a way to cure himself for good. Desperate, Tom took the deal.

It wasn’t until a few years later that Tom learned how foolish this “escape” actually was. Yes Tom was not going to die of AIDS, but that was largely because, technically, Tom was dead already, and the “unlife” he was now living was a mere shadow of its previous self. He can’t eat, can’t drink, can barely have sex, and of course can’t do any of his favorite daytime activities anymore.

But most importantly, even though he cannot be killed by the HIV virus, for some magical reason he still carries a live strand inside him and his feeding carries a risk of passing it on to others. It took him a while to figure this out. His early years as a vampire were more haunting than most, as he was forced to stand by helplessly as his community of friends and lovers slowly rotted away, leaving him standing alone, eternally youthful in a shell of his former life, knowing all the while that he was responsible for at least some of the deaths around him.

In more recent years things have gotten easier. He is still engaged in the human world–working random night jobs like bartending, doing some modeling and acting for art and porn, occasionally doing some pro-dom work in the scene–but keeps his emotional connections to a minimum. More to the point, with the development of new drug cocktails shifting HIV from an immediate death-sentence to something more of a long-term, manageable condition, his feeding strategies changed. He now uses his extensive connections in the local club scenes to maintain a “herd” network of known people of HIV-positive status that he tries to feed on exclusively, to eliminate the risk of spreading the virus to new people. He also takes advantage of pre-packaged blood whenever he can, although that carries with it the risk of blood-bonding him to another vampire, if the source is secretly spiked with their blood. He figures the trade-off is worth the risk.

Unfortunately, emergency situations do sometimes arise where he has to take some blood from a stranger. In those cases, he tries not to think about it too much, besides hoping for the best.

So, anyway, on this evening, before I do anything else, I swing by my clubs to visit my herd and grab some “safe” blood while I can.

Once that is done, I go to the shop to pick up my bike. They didn’t have time to touch up the paint or the scratched chrome, but they did fix the headlamp and check out for internal damage. There wasn’t anything serious, but they do mention, it’s the damnedest thing, but when they were checking it out, they found almost every screw and gasket on the bike mysteriously loose. Nothing was stripped, in fact some of the pieces were good as new, they were just…all loose. I remember the incident from the freeway the night before but am just as perplexed as ever. I thank them and head out.

#

We have all agreed to meet to discuss plans for finding the Englishman. The first place suggested is The View at the Marriott, the cool top-floor bar and lounge with stunning views of downtown and the skyline (seriously this place is baller check it out sometime). Unfortunately, all of us–including Kara–forgot that one of the key features of the Nosferatu clan is that they are hideous monsters who cannot be seen by regular human beings without the humans freaking the fuck out instantly. Jason saw fit to not remind us until we were already at the bar.

We then somehow settle on meeting at the Tesseract campus in Mountain View. This is convenient for Paul, but it is also convenient for Chris because it allows him to role-play a company board meeting for almost 15 minutes before Jason is able to pull out some shit and bring the rest of our suffering to an end:

Paul receives a call from his head of security, Klaus, reporting some strange occurrences. Apparently there’s been some intrusions at the perimeters of their network. Paul says to keep an eye on it and goes back to the board meeting. Not long after, though, theres another update from Klaus. Without warning, the minor intrusions had turned into a full-on assault. Someone broke through and was now in the process of downloading terabytes of data from their private servers. Security immediately tried to shut everything down, but for some reason their usual protocols weren’t working. Klaus suspects that part of the attack may be coming from someone on or near the Tesseract campus itself, so we fan out to investigate the property.

Isaac ends up wandering the perimeter of the campus, around the parking lots. He sees a car and some people at the edge of one of the more distant lots, partially hidden behind some landscaping. He wanders over to check it out. He discovers a small knot of guards and goons lead by a man–a vampire–with a heavy South American accent who introduces himself as Alejandro. He and Isaac exchange empty pleasantries wherein he avoids answering any questions about why he’s lingering around Tesseract. At some point, he says he has other plans for the evening he needs to get to, but perhaps Isaac would like to join him? He gestures at the open door of the car.

And then, for reasons that we still do not understand to this day, Isaac is like, “Yeah sure, why not!” and gets in the car with him. He drives off with Alejandro and doesn’t tell anyone where he went.

Meanwhile, in my search, I make my way to the on-campus server room. I don’t know much about computers but I keep my eye out for anything unusual.

Fortuntately, I find that, when a ball of fire coalesces out of nowhere and hurls directly at my face.

I dodge the fire and just barely manage to keep ahold of myself and avoid the instinctive fire-phobia panic known as Rotshriek. I get to my feet just in time to see a small figure appear to step OUT of the concrete wall in front of me and dash out of the room. I follow.

The figure exits the campus buildings, heading straight toward the parking lots. I get close enough to pick up some distinguishing details. It’s a woman. Or, well, actually, a girl; an older teenager, in simple teenager-y clothes and a backpack. She sees me following and shifts to an oblique path across the parking lots that takes her–and me–crashing through strips of landscaping separating the lots. As we pass the main lot, I pull away from the chase just long enough to race to my bike instead. I kick it on and into gear as fast as I can and return to the chase. She still tries to lose me by ducking across meridians, but I just crash right through on my bike anyway. Finally she shifts her path to make a bee-line for the dense housing and condo developments near campus, many of which are ringed by fences and walls. As she approaches one, she launches herself at it and scrambles over. I donut and roar off to find another way to enter the development.

About a block away I find a clear drive into the complex and head in. I round a corner tangential to the path she was taking, expecting to see her somewhere along the road, but instead I see…a wolf. A smallish wolf, about the size of a labrador. It is loping away from me along the drive through the middle of the development.

And it’s wearing a backpack.

I rev up and follow, although I am starting to get a little concerned by this development. I’ve heard tales that some vampires can change into a wolf form, but I also can’t ignore the possibility of a werewolf either. I’ve never seen one so I had no idea if their wolf forms look like wolves or…something else. All I know about them is that if this was a real werewolf, then by all accounts I would probably already be dead by now, so I decide to push my luck and figure out whats going on.

The wolf turns a corner and scrabbles to a halt. It’s a dead end, blocked by at least a 20-foot concrete wall. I pull up at the mouth of the cul-de-sac and stop, idling. The wolf stares at me. I stare right back. Nothing happens for almost a full minute.

Maybe it was some sort of bait-and-switch, I think. Maybe this is some trained, pet wolf that the girl dumped her backpack on and sent to distract me while she got away. I lean forward to pat my thigh and whistle a “come here!’ pattern at the wolf.

The wolf growls…then explodes into a hulking, hairy, semi-bipedal monstrosity with a long snout and razor fangs.

Still growing at me.

Still wearing the backpack.

I lean back on my bike, nonexistent heartbeat racing. Apparently I was right the first time. Curiously, though, I am still not dead. The werewolf is still standing in the cul-de-sac, whole body heaving with its breath and radiating rage, but for now it is just glaring at me. I glare back.

After a few moments, I rev my engine at it. Its eyes narrow and the growl deepens. I rev the engine again, higher this time. The werewolves’ hind claws clench, digging into the cheap brick flagstone of the drive. It raises one forearm and curls one enormous talon in an unmistakable “come hither” gesture. I can’t help but grin to myself.

I rev the engine one last time, but instead of using the energy to roar forward, I squeal my way around in a 180 turn. During the turn, I whip out my phone and snap a picture of the werewolf’s surprised face. With one last jaunty wave, I race out of the housing complex and head back to Tesseract.

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