The Eternity Factor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Short Story part of a Writers' Group exercise

Submitted: March 23, 2018

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Submitted: March 23, 2018

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THE ETERNITY FACTOR

By A Guinevere Kern

Copyright A. G.Kern *February 1996

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Leviticus 7:26

Moreover ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or beast, in any of your dwellings.

BLOOD: from the book '10,000 Dreams Interpreted, A Dictionary of Dreams'

"If blood appears in your dream, beware of strange friendships."

 

 

"They use to tax bachelors extra, you know."

Tilden Hughes had been sitting at his small desk, gazing absently at the human skeleton which his assistant Rhea had propped up on a chair in the corner of the room. The previous owner of said skeleton had been a dwarf, and thus Rhea had puckishly seated the deformed bones on a pile of New Jersey telephone books. A Macanudo cigar had been wedged between the dwarf's jaws; the skull wore an old dust-furred fedora pulled low over it's hollow sockets. The stunted leg bones were crossed, in the manner of a man in a barber shop, awaiting his turn. Rhea had not stopped with those disrespectful, but nevertheless harmless alterations however. Ah no. She had also wound a set of tiny flashing Christmas lights around the skeleton's crooked ribcage and pelvis, and then coiled the rest of the cord all the way down the femur before plugging it into the nearest outlet. She had dubbed him her "Osteo Glitterati Lover."

Tilden had thought the appellation very quirky and yet strangely enough, also oddly touching. Rhea had suggested that the lights represented a resurrection energy field which might someday bring her gnome-prince back to life. Tilden laughed aloud, and then told her that she had quite an imagination, and by the way, he didn't celebrate Christmas, so the lights would have to go. It *was* his office, after all.

That was several weeks ago, and still she had refused to honor his request, and he didn't have the heart to unwind her electric spell. Tilden had been thinking, "Rhea's a fine assistant, and a very very lovely young woman, but really, her humor sometimes seems to verge on the profane and the sadistic," when he heard the comment . . . 

Bachelors, something about bachelors.

But Tilden had concerns, so many concerns: the grant fund evaporating, his proposal rejected, his research study aborted right before the breakthrough . . . 

"Yes, sir! They did indeed. Heavy taxed the old bachelors in Rome and in England, too, if you can believe that. You'd have been a target, to be sure. How is that you've never married, Dr. Hughes? Is it because only midget relics turn you on?"

Tilden abandoned his abstract musings with a sigh and gave the purveyor of this curious announcement his full attention.

"Beg your pardon?" he blurted, wondering how anyone had gained entry into his private quarters without him being aware of it. "And he was a dwarf, not a midget. There's a difference." He appraised the intruder's outlandish attire, then sniffed: "Who are you, and how did you get in here?"

The man standing to Tilden's left was not a lab technician. In fact, as Tilden further scrutinized his unannounced visitor he became at once convinced the man wasn't even a heartbeat-carrying member of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

"You wonder at my appearance."

Tilden nodded dumbly, then glanced quickly at the door to his office.

The stranger followed his gaze. "Oh no," he said with a gentle laugh of understanding. "I locked the door behind me. You see, we can't be disturbed. This is a matter of the utmost urgency. Otherwise I would not have taken the liberty of depriving you of *your* liberty."

Tilden inhaled his lower lip and looked disturbed enough for the stranger to reach forth in a gesture of reassurance. Bracelets of current briefly appeared around his extended hand, like an electric glove. Tilden couldn't believe what he thought he couldn't possibly be seeing. Before he could absorb and examine this freakish phenomenon, the digital fizgig had faded away.

"Say, who are you? What do you want?" Tilden repeated, rearing back in his chair with such force that he nearly toppled over backwards. Anything to avoid touching the stranger's hand. His fingers scrabbled over his leather blotter. He briefly considered arming himself with his brass letter opener, then dismissed the idea as ludicrous and quite possibly dangerous.

The creature who had so rudely obtruded upon Tilden's afternoon reflections did not look as though he could be intimidated by a letter opener, no matter what it's length or sharpness.

He could be American Indian, thought Tilden, were it not for his eyes.

Celadon green, they were, hooded by heavy lids and kholed by dark lashes. Such chatoyant eyes were incompatible with flesh the color of burnt sandstone. In fact, the man was a study in chromatic extremes and hyperbole of style. Tall and structurally robust, his physique reminded Tilden of the ancient statues of Greek or Roman warriors. He had thick wrists meant for lifting and wielding heavy weapons, large bones able to bear armor without complaint. He wore a Byzantine mosaic patterned silk scarf around his head like a pirate, below which his hair writhed over his shoulders in glossy nightwaves.

The simile was apt, for his was a roguish elegance. From his aristocratic brow to his rubicund mouth, from the fussy-laced shirt to his black velveteen pants, the man reeked of Watteau-quality swash-buckling exuberance. Still -- the eyes, though given perhaps to an occasional backfire of humor, were clearly used, not to include or tranquilize, but to charm, to stun, to terrify. They stared back at Tilden with a singular, predator-like awareness.

And if the stranger were Extravagance Exemplar, Tilden Hughes was a Practical Cat. His mother nick-named him 'Lean', and so he was still; a narrow-minded man in a narrow skin suit, all sinew and bone and somber rectitude. He had inherited his mother's stucco-colored hair and diluted-blue eyes, as well as her tenacious religious streak and aversion to frivolity.

The man withdrew his hand and slipped it into the pocket of his velvet coat. He used his other hand to describe an inscrutable design in the air as he spoke.

"You are Dr. Hughes, are you not? Dr. Tilden Hughes?"

Again Tilden nodded, more out of habitual courtesy than a wish to comply.

"You are a hematologist here at NIH?"

"Yes, I am. And you are---?"

"You wear a bloodstone ring," the stranger observed keenly. He smiled and a dimple in his left cheek perked. "How apropos." The green eyes flicked from Tilden's left hand to his face. "My name? Oh, I am sorry. Yes. Dr. Hughes, I am---"

The intruder paused. His burnished cheeks deepened in tone and his face assumed an expression that Tilden would certainly have categorized as embarrassment . . . except that shame usually suggested a person possessed at least a modicum of sensitivity or self-awareness. He did not believe for a moment that this man suffered such inconvenient emotions.

"Yes?" Tilden prompted.

The man suddenly crossed to the other side of Tilden's office and plucked up the only available unoccupied chair in the room. He brought it over to the opposite side of Tilden's desk, sat down with a great rustling and readjusting of his voluminous attire, and then leaned back, bringing his leather-booted feet down on the top of Tilden's desk with a loud *thumpthump*. Tilden eased back into his own chair resignedly. The man was undoubtedly psychologically unstable, if not outright certifiable. A patient gone astray from the psychiatric wing of the hospital . . . but of course! The wards would come looking for their AWOL Whack-Boy soon enough, so all Tilden had to do was bide his time and play along.

"I am Nikola Tesla," the strange stranger announced. "Well, that is, I used to be."

And now you are Jesus Christ or Napoleon Bonaparte, thought Tilden with a grim smile of satisfaction. The fellow was Mad as Alice's Hatter, just as he had presumed. He hoped he had remembered to lock his windows. The last thing he needed during President's War on Medical Progress was for some Haldol-compromised patient to go hurtling through the panes, over the ledge and perform a triple swan off of the seventh floor. The resultant media scrutiny would reflect badly on his department, and after that alleged radiation poisoning . . . 

Mr. Tesla/Jesus/Napoleon was talking. Tilden folded his mantis legs beneath his desk and tried to appear interested.

"I am what your legends have often termed a vampire, Dr. Hughes . . . and I am in need of your kind and informed assistance."

Tilden just barely checked a ripping good urge to laugh aloud. "A . . . a vampire? Indeed?"

"You imagine that I have lost my reason---"

"But no, no, certainly not---"

"Yes, Dr. Hughes, you do! Don't even bother to deny it. "'Tis always thus when I first reveal my condition."

Tilden Hughes gave a long, fluttering sigh and began to massage a white-hot disc of agony which had developed in his right temple. He gazed at the dwarf skeleton and wished for a moment that they could trade seats; he'd gladly take the corrupted bones with their festoon of glittering lights.

"Look," he said finally, "Mr . . . Mr. *Tesla* -- I hardly know how I can be of help to you. I'm a hematologist. I study---"

"Blood," Tesla provided with another of his Court Jester dimple-busting grins. "You study blood and blood-producing organs. I am well educated in your science, and I have followed your career with great interest."

The disc of agony dilated, and Tilden rubbed his temple harder.

"Problem?" Tesla asked.

"It's nothing. A headache," Tilden answered.

Before he realized Tesla's intention, the self-proclaimed vampire had righted himself in his chair, leaned across the desk and was touching the knotted pain near Tilden's right eye with two of his brown fingers. As he did so, Tilden felt a queer dizziness pass through his entire body, as if his nerves were magnified, electrified. His heart hummed in somatic sympathy, and his blood vessels --- yes! He could feel them all: branches, roots, forks, antlers of arteries, hectic with ecstasy, drumming to the rhythm of the heat beat. Before the vampire's healing current completed the circuit, Tesla touched his other hand to Tilden's left eye. The doctor felt, not only the agreeable sensations of warmth provided by the touch of Tesla's fingers, but also a lewd pulsing excitement in his lower regions. Such disconcerting and unseemly excitement often preyed upon him in his lonely bachelorhood, and against such temptations he was forced to utter many prayers, and indulge in many icy ablutions.

"Stop!" he cried, as he reached to pull Tesla's hands away from his head. Tilden did not know what was happening to him, nor did he understand why this merry lunatic's physician had not arrived to collect his or her wayward charge. But what he DID know was that he was not about to semen-soil his Jockey's like a rut-happy teenager.

Tesla grabbed Tilden's face in his hands and yanked him forward over the desk, until they were nose to nose. "It's only my passion, man!" he bellowed. "Let me give some of it to you. Don't try to break the contact, you'll give us both a hell of a shock."

"I'm just a hematologist!" Tilden bleated nonsensically.

"You're a man without Passion!" Tesla fired back.

"What's that to you, you long-haired flake! Let go of my head, darn you!"

"I am trying to HELP you," Tesla grunted as he bookended Tilden's face with his palms.

"You're the one who needs help!" Tilden cried, trying to break loose from Tesla's head lock. He'd just gotten an up-close-and-personal view of the maniac's eyes, and what he saw was an ophthalmologist's nightmare. Mr. Tesla's irises were faceted like green honeycombs. He had no pupils, none. Tilden swallowed, hard, and continued his appeal to reason. If he could not convince Tesla of his insanity, perhaps he could at least convince *himself*. Anything was preferable to admitting that he was in the presence of one of the ignominious undead. All of the world's phenomenon were susceptible to the critical faculties. Dr. Tilden Hughes was a learned and logical man, despite his religious undertones. There had to be a scientific explanation as to why Tesla had no discernable pupils and why he appeared to have eaten amps for breakfast.

"Come on. I mean, listen to yourself, would you?" Tilden begged him. "You're claiming to be some eccentric electrical engineer who died over fifty freaking years ago! How deluded can you get? Who's your doctor, man? Do you remember his name? Let me call down to the Psychiatric wing and see if we can't get this mess straightened out, huh?"

Tesla threw back his leonine head and broke out into riffs of husky laughter. As he did so Tilden could see *them* quite clearly . . . 

The dogteeth.

parked on either side of Tesla's Lateral Incisors like stalactites spiking off the gum rim.

"You're . . . you---" Tilden found himself stammering the impossible: "You *are* a vampire!"

Tesla released his grip and Tilden flew backwards into his chair again.

"Badabadabada BING!" Tesla trumpeted with a savage leer. "Give the man a cigar!" He strode over to the dwarf's desecrated bones and snatched the Macanudo from his mandible. Whistling energetically, he then stomped back across the room to where Tilden sat dumbfounded in his chair. With a magician's theatrical flourish, Tesla swung the cigar through a couple of aerial figure eights before finally swooping over Tilden and poking it into his mouth.

Tilden spat and the cigar landed on his lap. He no longer had a headache. When he looked up at the panting and wild-eyed Mr. Tesla, Tilden felt a worrisome pain in his own chest. No doubt he was cruising for an end-stage myocardial infarction. The escaped loony in his New Age Opera gear was a menace to Tilden's mental and physical health. Somehow Tilden was going to have to lure Tesla out of his office so that he could phone Security.

"I don't smoke," he said truculently as he tossed the cigar into the trash can. "Now listen here, Mr. Tesla---"

"I favor a good stout Dannemann myself," Tesla replied, poking around in the trash in an attempt to retrieve the Macanudo.

"Get out of there!" Tilden bellowed. He snatched up the can and stuffed it under his desk out of Tesla's reach. "Vampire or no, you can't smoke in here! This is the National Institute of Health!"

Tesla shrugged and began patting his numerous pockets and chuckling good-naturedly. "A little ganja then, my friend? I've got some reefer here somewhere that is guarrranTEED to smack your karma off the ionosphere. I've experimented and I *know*, Dr. Hughes"

"What? Pot? Is that what you're talking about?" Tilden gasped. He looked uneasily at the door, then back at Tesla, who had located his marijuana stash and was hoisting it aloft for Tilden's inspection and admiration. "Put that away, you fool!" hissed the mortified doctor. "I'm a reputable physician here; if someone should walk in and see . . . and for God's sake, it's illegal!"

"Are you actually suggesting that an *immortal* would be worried about incarceration in one of your pathetic penitentiaries?" Tesla snorted, spinning his chair around and sitting in it backwards. "I would like to see the jail that can hold this old boy, I would."

Tilden rolled his eyes and smacked himself in the forehead. He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. A Bloodsucker, he thought. Yeah, right. And to think that only fifteen minutes ago he had been worried about a silly insignificant matter like research funding for his pet project: Prophylactic platelet transfusion practice in hematology and oncology patients. Now he had a potentially homicidal Vampire in his presence, and a very non-standard looking Vampire at that.

He snuck a peek at his framed print of Salvador Dali's "Last Supper" which he had hung on the side wall of his office; his sole concession to Culture. There, plainly visible on the glass, was the unmistakable reflection of Mr. Nikola Tesla. Tilden had to confess to himself that his knowledge of Vampire legend was surely inadequate, nevertheless he was fairly certain that one wasn't supposed to be able to view a Vampire's reflection in a mirror. Then again, there was the testimony of the teeth, a definite indicator of undead-specific appetites.

Tilden sighed. If he did not find a way to conclude this bizarre scenario, and soon, his mother was going to be left playing killer backgammon by herself that evening. Tilden could not bear the thought; he was a dutiful son.

"I give up," he muttered at last. "Just tell me what the heck you want and then leave me in peace. I'm a very busy man, you see. I---"

"You are about to go belly-up in the doubloon department," Tesla interrupted. "If you don't find a worthy and wealthy Patron fairly soon, your precious research is gonna walk the proverbial plank."

"Yeah, so? What's that to you?" Tilden asked tiredly. "Say, I've got a great idea, Why don't you just walk on down to the Blood Bank and entertain yourself with---" He paused to vent a bitter laugh. "I mean, you vampires are supposed to go wawa over blood and all that, aren't you?"

Just enough time. That diversion would give him just enough time to phone security. No doubt they'd need two or three rent-a-cops with mammoth billy clubs and liberal applications of Mace to subdue Mr. Fancy Fangs here, but it could be done. It MUST be done.

"Funny you should mention it," said Tesla. "I was just thinking that I might coax you into doing that for me." He raised a bushy eyebrow and winked. "A tad clairvoyant, are you, good Doctor Hughes?" 

"You can't be serious!" Tilden scoffed.

"Of course I'm serious, sir. You don't really expect me to barge in there and avail myself of the donated booty, do you? Dressed like this, I might very well attract undesirable attention." He grinned broadly, showing his teeth. "I am a little parched, though. My last meal was . . . on the anemic side, shall we say." He coughed discreetly, then: "Well? How about it? You're a hematologist; nobody will look askance at a little purloined blood."

Tilden thought he was going to gag up his cafeteria meat loaf. Somehow . . . somehow, he found it easy to imagine Mr. Nikola Tesla, Rococo Vampire, happily snarfing on his victim's severed carotid artery. Bathing in the scarlet majestic, shivering with demoniacal ecstacy . . .

Bile rose up his esophagus like mercury. He brought his hand to his mouth involuntarily. "I can't do that," he croaked. "You see . . . I'm a Jehovah's Witness. I have enough problems trying to justify my career activities without . . . "

"Wha' What ho!" Tesla exclaimed with genuine surprise. "A Witness did ya say, now?" He laughed heartily, his scarfed head bobbing up and down. "But they have a prohibition against blood! You couldn't accept a transfusion if your life depended upon it! I say, this is a comical and ironical state of affairs!"

"And I see that you did not dig deep enough when you set out to investigate my credentials. Furthermore, I'll thank you to not laugh at my religion. I happen to take it very seriously."

"I have read of this alternative current of thinking, these Witnesses! You imagine that you yourself, will become an immortal!" crowed Tesla, slapping his thighs and guffawing. "And I was going to offer you eternal life! Oh, but this is greatly amusing!"

Tilden gaped at his self-professed savior. Tesla continued to ramble, something about favors, exchanges, enormous financial windfalls, but Tilden could not get past the words, 'And I was going to offer you eternal life.'

Tesla was crazier than he had originally supposed. Perhaps he did suffer from a Messiah complex after all. Tilden leaned forward in his chair, pointed one long thin finger at Tesla's head and announced: "You're in serious need of a doctor, pal. If you'll just calm down and listen to me, I'm sure I can help you."

Tesla was still wheezing with laughter. "And you, Dr. Hughes, are in serious need of cash." He halted his fit of levity and sniffed loudly, then he wiped his eerie green eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. "Oh hell's apocalypse," he groaned. "This was supposed to be what you moderns term a win-win proposition. I've no hope of convincing you now."

"Mr. Tesla, you're ranting like a mad man."

To Tilden Hughes great amazement, the vampire began to weep silently.

"I was going to offer you my blood, and all the treasure you can measure," he whispered in his husky voice. "No, no Dr. Hughes! I wouldn't touch that phone if I were you. I can disappear in an instant. If you try to convince the guards that you'd just been engaged in conversation with the infamous Vampire -- what ho! You might find yourself dragged off in a long-sleeved jacket. Think about the repercussions to your career before you act," he continued quietly. "You have no wife, no life outside the Institute. And while you're feathering your crazy ass in the cuckoo chamber, *I'll* be off to play backgammon with your sweet and devout little mother. Do you want that, Dr. Hughes? Do you?"

Tilden's hand, which had hovered over his desk phone, returned to his lap.

"What is it that you want, you lecherous monster?" hissed Tilden. "Huh? You seem to know that Mother and I . . . have a special relationship. You see---." He faltered, wondering why on earth he was bothering to convey very personal and painful information to this unholy and highly imperfect stranger.

"Mom lost one child, a daughter, to what's now called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. This was before I was born. Then I was an RH baby, born five weeks prematurely," he explained finally. "It was touch and go for weeks, I almost died."

" A what? RH baby?" Tesla asked. He scowled in confusion.

"Yes, yes." Tilden sought to clarify, and in doing so he assumed his professorial demeanor and tone of voice. "RH is a factor found in the red blood cells of most people. Eight-five percent of the population is RH positive, as am I. But my mother is RH negative. When this happens, the mother's blood builds up antibodies to the blood of her unborn child, in this case, me. This can result in severe anemia, brain damage or even death for the baby. Despite our religious restrictions, Mother opted to go against the church, and allow me to receive six transfusions of fresh blood. For permitting a procedure that saved my life, she was ostracized, shunned."

Tilden hung his head. Pain scrambled his features as he remembered his mother's anguished description of the shame and humiliation she had felt. "It nearly killed her, all of her closest friends in the congregation were instructed to avoid us. They forgave her years later, of course, but she was so afraid that it would happen again, she decided not to have any more children." He sighed, his cheeks coloring slightly. "I suppose that Dad paid for that decision . . . in the bedroom, if you, ah---know what I mean. He died six years ago, and I'm all she has left in this world." He looked at Tesla, fury in his pale eyes. "Damn it, man. Mother means everything to me!" 

The vampire waved his hand as if to cavalierly dismiss Tilden's sincere proclamation. "Your story is yet another foul, but all too familiar illustration of man's inhumanity to man, Doctor Hughes. You ephemerals love to be cruel, all that negative energy to shed freely and so forth." He treated Tilden to yet another fang display before continuing: "I enjoy ending my victims' sordid lives for that very reason." Tesla fell silent, nodding sagely as he mentally reviewed this newest information about Tilden Hughes. He touched the tips of his fingers together and Tilden saw a shower of sparks emit briefly. "So, so," said Tesla after a few moments. "Your mother means 'everything' to you, does she now? And yet you are a member of the very cult which caused your mother such acute pain. I find that interesting. Doesn't she mean more than Jehovah God, Dr. Hughes? More than Yeshua's New and Improved Kingdom which you envision will become your future and everlasting domain after the Second Coming?"

Tilden did not answer, because he daren't not.

"I will give you a sheik's worth of wealth, and the Vampire's deathless blood, if you will . . . what's the matter, Dr. Hughes? You're white as caulk."

"You want me to drink . . . blood? Your . . . blood?" the doctor asked, appalled. He gulped. The room began to loose it's horizontal and vertical hold and he grasped the edge of his chair in an attempt to steady himself. "I can't drink blood," he managed to gasp. "Not your blood or anybody's else's blood. For one thing, it's an emetic, I'll most likely start to vomit. Besides that, blood's the breeding site for every pathogen in town, not to mention the virus loading dock supreme. You're mad. Got to be. Utterly insane. My God," he wailed to the Dwarf's twinkling skeleton, "what's happening to me?"

The dwarf maintained his rictus grin, no doubt pleased to be rid of his stale cigar.

Tesla frowned. "Well, no. Not exactly. I wouldn't ask that, considering the revulsion many of you ephemerals have towards the notion. I was thinking of an exchange transfusion. It wouldn't be the first time for you, what ho!"

"My god!"

"Don't touch the phone, doctor. Think of dear old Mom."

Tilden had been gazing intensely at the telephone, hoping for divine intervention, willing it to ring. Under the circumstances he thought that even an intergalactic call from the most High would not be too fantastical to expect.

Apparently such an extreme entity as Nikola Tesla had been permitted to exist. Surely, surely Jehovah had his reasons . . . 

He forced himself to focus again upon the demon/mental patient sitting across from him. Tilden could not stand to look at Tesla's fangs, which Tesla now bared threateningly, so he directed his answer to the vampire's abundantly hairy chest.

"No, I won't," he said, emphatically shaking his head in the negative. "I won't do it. I won't. A man would have to be as unbalanced as you are to---"

"Or a man would have to be desperate," Tesla interjected gently. "And you, Dr. Hughes, are a desperate man. This presidente of yours, this character---"

"Oh, please," Tilden groaned. "I'd rather have *him* as my commander-in-chief." He indicated the dead dwarf with a roll of his eyes.

Tesla snorted with laughter. "Ah ha! Just so! Just so! In any case, this prez has gutted your financial cash cow, and I suspect that your research team was very close . . . *very* close to an exciting discovery. Am I remiss in my assumption there?"

"No, you aren't," Tilden admitted sadly. "This is the worst time for Bush to cut bait. We are close indeed." He clasped his hands together in the first show of passion Tesla had observed in him. "So close that I can taste my victory!"

"Really?" said Tesla. "Well, you're familiar enough with this new Government. You know damn well that if your president has his way, you'll be granted a pittance of what you require for your investigations. Instead you'll be set to labor on minor drivel projects with few emotional dividends and no earth-shattering potential for success. Soon you will be bereft of the filthy lucre, doctor, and many will continue to suffer horribly and die."

"Yes, that's so," Tilden sighed.

"You're a religious man, a sensitive man. You have a quest, a mission; to alleviate suffering, to find a medical solution to a problem against which even God seems humbled into silence. The leader of the free world, on the other hand, only cares about numbers, politics and power." Tesla spread his arms wide. "He has all the heavy voltage." He nodded at Tilden meaningfully. "But you have me. I will give you the consummate power. You can cheat the grave, Dr. Hughes. You can heal for all the centuries to come. Where before you only studied the dynamic red stream of life, now you can immerse yourself in it, and come to know it's nature absolutely. What was subject, will become object. Blood is the force, the source of life itself, Dr. Hughes. You understand that intuitively, or else you would never have chosen the field of hematology for your career. Against your conscience, against your religious convictions, you are drawn to the blood, and soon, doctor, soon . . . if you wish it, you can draw it straight from the vein, fresh from the heart---"

"Stop, I beg you! This is terrible, what you're saying. Terrible!"

"Terrible and marvelous, like all mysteries, Dr. Hughes. Nothing lives without blood," Tesla said. "Cut off the blood supply, the organ dies, the body dies. Your life depends upon your blood. I challenge you to be courageous, to make this one inconsequential leap: accept a life where your body will also depend upon other people's blood in order to remain vital, just as it did after you were born."

"That's not an inconsequential leap," Tilden protested angrily. "You're talking about cold-blooded murder!"

"I am talking about hot-blooded Passion!" Tesla retorted. "Man, have you ever been eclipsed by Passion, and liberated from the guilt or shame associated therewith?"

"You mean SIN," Tilden said with a prissy twist of his thin lips.

"Passion!" Tesla roared. He leaped up from his chair and began to pace the length of the worn carpet, pounding his fists upon his chest. "To care about the health of others, to be a force for good or for evil, you must be overtaken by passion! Inspiration! Energy! How do you think I developed all of my incredible inventions! The Tesla Coil! The Rotating Field Motor! The High Potential Magnifying Transmitter!" He halted his speech and commenced to whirl around and around like a fiendish top, his great coat flapping high above his knees, his long hair in wild orbit about his head.

Faster and faster Tesla rotated, until he was a phantasmagoric blur of vibrant garments outlined in a body halo of scintillant light. Tilden smelled ozone, or the sharp odor of combustion; precursors to explosion. He dropped his torso to his knees, covering his head with his hands, and muttered every prayer he ever knew under his breath. He heard the rustling of his papers as Tesla's electro-magnetic force swept them from his desk and tossed them about the room like reams of confetti. The Banker's lamp on Tilden's desk exploded, as did the Dwarf's skeins of Christmas lights. Tilden heard them popping, one by one. The clock on the wall stopped waving its hands. His computer emitted a crown of smoke-ghosts and then the screen burst in a shriek of shards.

Suddenly Tesla ceased his dervish gyrations and turned to face Tilden, his arms extended upwards in a broad V. Tilden slowly lifted his head. He had to squint his eyes against the fulminant light radiating forth from the Vampire's body, which furious illumination had quenched all the shadows in the room.

Tilden again found himself speechless with shock. The tiny hairs on his arms, his face, his legs, quivered in salute. Even his crewcut bristled with expectation. "I'm about to be electrocuted," Tilden whispered softly, "by Nikola Tesla himself. Mother, ya should have let me die."

Between the two points of Tesla's index fingers a double-stranded tightwire of fiery current crackled and flashed as it arced back and forth over his head. Tilden stared, his mouth opening and closing like a fleshy valve.

"For you to be charged with passion in the service of mankind's health, you must accept your passion for mankind's blood, even for mankind's *death*!!" Tesla roared. His voice was vibrating weirdly, for it was not his voice, but the efforts of sound threading itself through a charged atmosphere. "Until you cause death, you will never understand its purpose or its correctness in the scheme of things. That is the Faustian trade-off, if you will. Otherwise you risk all and save none! Everything, everything, everything is electric! Nothing really dies, Doctor Hughes! Matter and Energy dance their inseparable dance eternally!"

Tilden winced, and then pleaded in a small, contrite voice: "Could you . . . could you stop that before you burn this place to the ground, man? I'm willing to listen to you, Mr. Tesla, but you have to stop . . . whatever it is that you're doing."

The Vampire glared back at him, then dropped his hands to his sides. There was an immediate corresponding cessation of the buzzing and crackling noises which had attended his fireworks display. "Passion is what I have to give you," he said simply. "And passion is what you need."

Tilden started to speak . . . stopped. Opened his mouth again . . . stopped.

"You know I'm speaking nothing but the 1000 watt truth," said Tesla.

Tilden looked directly into Tesla's geodesic eyes. Truth, he imagined, was as multi-faceted as those eyes, and just as difficult to stare down. "Perhaps," he admitted with a thin smile. "And if I agree, and I'm not saying at all that I will . . . but if I agree to accept your, your ghastly blood -- what do you want in exchange? Why have you come to *me*?"

"Oh, that's a no-brainer," replied the Ampire. "I want you to give me *your* blood. I want to unplug from the Immortal Outlet. I want to be an ordinary man."

Tilden found himself laughing out loud, an expression to which his facial muscles were woefully unaccustomed. "You were never an ordinary man, Mr. Tesla!" he chuckled.

"Whatever!" Tesla cried, resuming his seat near Tilden's desk. "The point is: I want to be human again! Mortal! I want to be able to bathe with a lover without electrocuting her to death! I want to slurp milkshakes and gnaw raw steak! I want to drink frothy beer, I want --'

"You have *Got* to be kidding me," Tilden scoffed. "After all that glorious speechifying in order to convince me to become an Immortal, now you're telling me that YOU --"

"Want to become matter," finished Tesla. "And you will become Energy. I want to be mortal, and you are a specialist in transfusion therapy, a man who is deeply attracted to blood and the study thereupon. You desire your assistant Rhea . . . "

"Hey!" Tilden protested angrily. "I never said a word about lusting after her! I'm -- I *was* a very moral man."

"Hmm," said Tesla. "Listen, Doctor Hughes. Scripture is sometimes literature, but Lust is always electric. She can be yours, easily. With my power, you can have whatever you want. Just don't . . . "

A huge grin lit up the ordinary features of Tilden Hughes, hematologist. "Bathe with her," he said. "I believe I have the big picture here." He eyed Tesla shrewdly. "All the money I need for research. All the women I can cozen into my bed. All the blood I can consume, all the blood I'll ever require for testing, for study, for experimentation. I won't have to hunt, maybe I won't even have to kill, seeing as I'll always have whatever I need, right here."

Tesla nodded, smiling. "And have no fear of divine retribution, my friend. I assure you that the great Generator is not at all what you imagined." 

"But . . . you'll die," Tilden said. He found horribly distressing the idea that the noble genius Nikola Tesla might at last permit his inner light to expire. "Don't you understand that without the Eternity Factor in your blood you'll pass away like all the rest of humanity?"

Tesla winked, his green eyes pulsing with fathomless energy. "Matter never dies," he said. "Trust me. I will have my transformation transaction in the grave. You and I will intersect again, I have no doubt. New forms, new forces, perhaps, but we will cross wires again."

Tilden exhaled, whistling. Excitement perked his capillaries, his entire body flushed with the thirst for fresh adventure, fresh blood. Thoughts of Rhea's long brown arms, her delectable wand-waist, her oily black cap of curly hair, her sloe-eyed, flirty expressions: these flickered suggestively under his eyelids like visual volts of desire. He would embrace her and teach her to research his new Passion. There would be exhaustive studies. He would prove himself vastly superior to her "Osteo-Glitterati Lover." Yes, Lordy.

He would sing her body Electric.

"Nikola Tesla," said Doctor Tilden Hughes. "After hours, meet me in my laboratory. You've got yourself a deal."

"Grand!" Tesla boomed heartily. He whipped out a huge Cuban stoagie. "Got a light? I'd like to smoke one last cigar."

"Forget it," Tilden sniffed. "This is still the National Institutes of Health."


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