Paradigms Lost — Chapter 27

Chapter 27: Empathy and Electronics

“Jason, you need your rest. It’s been twenty-seven hours. Go to bed.”

I was too tired to jump at the sudden voice from a formerly empty space. “Verne, I’ve got work to do. I’m going to find that bastard and silver him like a goddam mirror. I don’t have time to sleep. You heard what Winthrope told me.”

“About her assistant being found dead? Yes.”

“Then don’t talk to me about sleep. Every hour I sleep could get someone else killed.” I rubbed my throbbing forehead. “Besides, every time I close my eyes, I see Syl getting slashed by that other werewolf.” Fury took over. “That other werewolf, dammit!” I shouted at Verne, feeling my eyes sting. “You said there was only one, the last one, and all of a sudden it’s The Howling III around here!”

Suddenly Verne looked tired himself, tired and very, very old. “I know, my friend. It was my arrogance and stupidity that lead to that mistake. I should have realized that to exterminate an intelligent race is well-nigh impossible; these are not passenger pigeons or dodos. Virigar must have survived and sought out the few that remained, perhaps only a single female, and for the past century they have increased their numbers, awaiting the time of revenge.”

My anger evaporated. “Damn. Sorry, Verne. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. We all should have realized that where there was one there might be more.” I wiped my eyes, half-noticing how damp they were. “It’s just that Syl… Syl of all of us should have been the last to be hurt. She saved Renee and me–did you know that?”

He bowed his head. “I had not known. But I would have expected no less from her.”

“She did. Then the last one got her. Now …”

“She will make it, Jason. I give you my word on that. Sylvia will not die for my mistakes.” His dark eyes held mine, lent his words conviction.

“Thanks,” I said, and meant it. “I hope you’re right.”

“I have never broken my word yet.”

“Why didn’t you go after Shirrith when he ran?”

“Because …” He hesitated, staring down at his hands. “Because, I am ashamed to admit, my past centuries of soft existence have made me slow and not as adept in combat as I was in years past, and even the small strikes they managed had caused me pain to my soul, and with weakness and pain come fear. I must remedy that. And, alas, it would have done no good. He would never have led me to Virigar, unless that was his plan… in which case I would be dead.” He sighed, and glanced at the odd tubular object on my workbench. “Since you will not rest, perhaps you can explain what you are doing?”

“Sure.” I picked the tube up, showing the lens at one end with the eyepiece on the other. “This viewer fits onto this little headband, like this.”

“I see that, yes. But what function does this device perform?”

“Well, it …” I broke off, thinking for a minute. “How well versed are you in the sciences?”

He made a modest gesture. “I am sufficiently educated that I consider myself a well-read layman.”

“Good enough. Then you know that visible light is just one small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, right?” He nodded. “Well, I thought for a long time about how to find a hiding werewolf. Normal methods can’t work. Their physical imitation seems to be so perfect that they may even be duplicating the DNA of the subject. But if that was true, then they must be more than merely material beings–you follow me?”

He thought for a moment, then nodded again. “I believe so. You are saying that if they were purely physical beings, once they assumed a perfect duplicate form, they would then become that person… and lose all their special powers.”

“You’ve got it. So if they aren’t just matter, that leaves some additional energy component. A werewolf has to be surrounded, permeated, with a special energy field.” I locked the viewer into the holder, checked the fit. “That’s where this comes in. That field has to radiate somehow, in some wavelengths outside the visible.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I see. But what wavelengths? And would psychic powers, or mystic ones if you prefer, radiate in such mundane ways?”

“At some point I’d think they would,” I answered, clipping on a power lead. “If these fields interact with matter, matter will produce certain emissions. As to what wavelengths, I’m betting on infrared. In the end, all energy decays to waste heat, you see. But I’ve also added an ultraviolet switch to this viewer, and these two little gadgets cover other areas–magnetic fields and radio waves, respectively.”

He smiled. “I am impressed, Jason. I had thought you were only proficient with your computers and databases; I had no idea you were adept with the technical devices as well.”

“Any real hacker has to have some skill with a soldering iron and circuitry,” I answered. “But I just happen to like gadgets. The Edmund Scientific catalog is some of my favorite bedtime reading. Heck, most people think I named my car Mjölnir just because I’m weird. Actually, I’ve put thousands of dollars into gadgetizing the hell out of it. Mjolnir doesn’t fly and if you drive it into water it just stalls like any other car, but it’s got some optional features that no major manufacturer never thought of installing.” The phone rang; I grabbed it fast.

“Hello? Doctor Millson?” I said.

“No.” The voice was deep and resonant in a peculiar way; it sounded like a man in a tin closet. “We met earlier, though you did not realize it at the time. I am Virigar, Mr. Wood.”

Adrenaline stabbed my chest with icy slivers. “What do you want?”

“To deliver an ultimatum, Mr. Wood. You know why I am here. I presume that you care for the young lady, Sylvia? If you wish her to survive the night, you will do one of two things: either you kill Verne Domingo for me… or you deliver him to me, that I might kill him myself. Do this, and my people–who even now walk that hospital’s corridors–shall spare the lady’s life.”

“You bastard.” I barely recognized my own voice. “If I’d known–”

“Yes, well, we all have things we’d have done differently ‘if only,’ do we not, Mr. Wood? You are worthy prey; it makes the chase and the kill sweeter. But for Domingo I will let you and your mortal friends live. Bring him, or the ruby ring he wears, to the old warehouse on Lovell Avenue within the next six hours. Any trickery or failure on your part, and the lady shall die… painfully.” The line went dead.

I put the phone down slowly and looked up. Verne looked grimly back at me.

“I heard it all, my friend,” he said softly.