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Anno Drakensis: 1887

By Eric Oppen


August, 1887 — Earth/3


Gwen was falling. Falling, through what smelled like the gods' own idea of the Perfect Smoke; thick, oily in the lungs, sulfur-stinking. At last, solidity, coming up under her feet with a jolting thud, as she lit on the balls of her feet and rolled across what felt like a roof, stinking of hydrocarbons and bird-excrement. Before she could arrest her fall, she found herself tangled in what had been someone's pigeon-cote, with the feathered occupants cooing in terror as they struggled to be free of the wreckage of their home. Finally, she came to a halt, sitting up in a chaos of wooden slats, pigeon-feathers, pigeon dung, and other substances she couldn't identify right away.

"'Ere, now, 'ere, now, what's this, then?" came a voice, thickly accented with what she recognized as a British working-class dialect, something she hadn't expected to hear in real life ever again, after the Final War. A line of light on one side of the roof turned into a trapdoor, and a moustached face peered through. "Oh, bloody hell, me prize pigeons! You damned vandal, I'll 'ave damages out of you or see you in prison!" The owner of the face, a podgy-looking feral wearing impossibly archaic clothing, came out onto the roof.

Instinctively, Gwen snapped into self-defense mode. As she did, the feral came at her, incredibly fast, and she smelled him for the first time. There was something wrong about the way he smelled—there was a strong tinge of blood on his breath, and a slight, ineffable whiff of decay and the grave. Snarling, she leaped to the attack.

Half an hour later, Gwen leaned against the wall of a dark, fetid alley, heedless of the thick stench, of shit, sex, cheap grain spirits, and ferals, that filled her lungs. Her mind was racing, trying and failing to assimilate the data it had been given.

How could a ferala primitive feral, at that—have been anything like as strong as that? Her mind shrieked the question. He had been untrained, and hadn't known a lot of the tricks her combat instructors had drilled into her, and that had been all that saved her. He had been impossibly strong, and had fought her like nothing she had ever encountered; it had been Gwen who broke off the fight, throwing herself off the roof and landing in a nearby back street, to pelt off up it at top speed. She had managed to scoop up her plasma gun as she fled; one of her opponent's first moves had been to snatch it from her surprised grasp and throw it far away.

Where is the Web, and where am I? Is this Alpha Centauri? As she considered that question, her mind rejected it instantly. There was no way the Samothracians could have anything like the city that hummed and rattled around her. Still, the satellite system that should have given her a precise location was nowhere, and she couldn't feel the Web; it felt like suddenly being struck blind, or amnesic. Or like losing a couple of limbs.

Well, no matter where she was, she wasn't getting anywhere by letting her primitive instincts rule her. Consciously, she calmed herself, wiping sweat and blood from her face. At least, in the alley, in her blacks, she was very hard to see, and she already had a good idea that she didn't want to be seen here. She had seen that dress here was very different, in brief glimpses as she had fled through the tangled streets of this incredible, Hellish metropolis. A snatch of poetry ran through her mind:

Hell is a city much like London—
A populous and smoky city.
There's all sorts of people undone
And little or no fun done
Small justice shown and still less pity.

When she had read it, centuries before, she had been amused that Shelley's vision of Regency London was so much like his descendants' ideas about the Domination of the Draka. Now, seeing what he had been writing about, she could see his point. This city was like nothing her ancestors would ever have tolerated, and she had been in sims of the great cities of the Alliance as they had been just before the Final War.

What she couldn't place, above all, were the smells. There was far more of a tang of blood in the air than she had imagined would be the case; not as much as there would have been on a battlefield, she remembered, but still, far more than she had ever smelled off a battlefield or a hunting ground. Other than the smells, the clothing wasn't quite like any historical data on fashions outside the Domination she had in her transducer's memory store. In general, the styles were what the transducer's data said were late-1880s, but she had seen some men passing by in what she assumed were the latest, most stylish fashions, and there had been a lot of details wrong. At least, she was pretty certain that at no time in the 1880s had there been such a fad for what she knew as "gothic" motifs… skull charms, silvery-looking spider-webs, and other mortuary-looking decorations.

Still and all, she knew she needed local-style clothing, first of all. And, speak of the Devil, here came what looked like her new clothes, on the back of a drunkenly-reeling man of about the right height, arm-in-arm with a giggling blonde girl with whore written all over her. Gwen shrank farther into the shadows, listening, as they drew closer and came into the alley.

"Here, love. For what you've got on you, we can do it right here."

"I was hoping—hoping for a bit better—" The man's voice was thick with drink, and something else—lust? Fear? Anticipation?

"This is all we should need, lovey. Now, give me your neck, ducks. This won't hurt a bit. Let Carroty Kate take care of you…" Gwen's sensitive hearing picked up the sound of sucking, and gasps from the man. The background noise was too loud to hear anything else from whatever transaction was going on in the alley, to her regret.

"There, that wasn't hard, was it? Now, ducks, see, I'm sticking myself, and you drink from me, like I drank from you." Curiosity overcame fear, and Gwen peered out of her hiding place down an area stairway, to see the man fasten his lips to a small wound, dribbling blood, on the prostitute's bare breast. He looked much weaker than he had before, and his trousers were still firmly fastened. A couple of small wounds on his neck dribbled blood, black in the dim light, as he suckled his partner like a huge baby. Finally, he collapsed, and she efficiently relieved him of a purseful of coins, the jingle coming to Gwen's ears.

"There, ducks, that'll do you, then. When you wake, you'll have turned. The Prince Consort'll be pleased to have you take the Dark Kiss." Blowing her unconscious partner a kiss, the girl left the alley, unconcernedly doing up the front of her dress, as Gwen scuttled out and came closer to the man. She needed clothes, and he had them…

Dressed in some rather ill-fitting men's clothes, her blonde braid tucked up under one of the cylindrical hats that men wore here, Gwen moved along the street, looking around her in wonder. The tang of blood was everywhere, and no wonder; when she had stopped into a pub, hoping to trap a feral with her pheromones, the facilities had included a half-conscious pig with a spigot in a wound in its throat. She had watched, wonder warring with revulsion, as customers ordered their gin with a "daffy" of pig's blood. When the publican had told her to either order or get out, she had fled to the street; the customers all had the same odd, not-right smell she had first noticed on the moustached feral she had fought when she first came here, and if they were as strong as he had been, even with her drakensis enhancements, she would have stood no chance at all.

As it happened, there were more coins in the pockets of the suit she'd appropriated, and she spent one to buy a newspaper. Standing in the yellowish light of a gas streetlight, she read, wonder and amazement fighting in her mind. This was London, the year was 1887—but in no history she remembered had Queen Victoria re-married, taking Vlad Tepes, Count Dracula, as her second husband! At least this explained a lot of things—she had always dismissed legends of vampires as silly superstition, but in her fight with the feral, on the roof, she knew she had scored some hits that would have killed any normal feral, and would have discommoded even a drakensis… not to mention slicing him with her layer knife; she had felt it cutting him, but he hadn't even seemed to notice much. She reviewed what she remembered about technology in the 1880s, and wasn't particularly pleased. Around her, things looked even more primitive than what she would have expected in her timeline's version of this time; no steam-powered vehicles on the roads, as far as she could see, and no mention of them in these newspapers. Neither was there any mention of the Domination of the Draka. Had it ever even existed, here?

She knew that she had a lot of work to do. To build a beacon so her own people could find her, she would have to introduce centuries' worth of technology to these people. She knew what she needed to know, and could pass along the knowledge, but it might take decades. Obtaining wealth might be a problem, and might not—the first steps, getting the money to make money with, would be the hard part. However, once she had her beacon, however crudely it was made, set up, and had called home to Prime Timeline for help, what would be the next step?

Most Draka would have immediately have thought of conquest, and the idea was attractive, but these ferals were like no ferals she had ever seen. In this odd version of Britain, more and more people were "taking the Dark Kiss" to become vampires, and apparently even a newly-made vampire was a very formidable foe, even for a fully-trained drakensis. However, she wondered what offers of technology from her own timeline, or even Metic Citizenship for the more powerful "elders," as vampires who had survived centuries were called, would do.

First things first, she thought. I need to raise some money, and there are enough "warm" non-vampires around that I can use my pheromones to good effect, finding followers and informants. She sauntered down the street, looking for a pool hall or some such place where gambling went on. One of her hobbies on her own timeline was pool, and even against fellow-drakensis, she was considered very good indeed.

# # # # # # # #

In a dark field, under a starlit sky, Kenneth Lafarge drew on his clothes. Around him, the remains of his craft were dissolving into untraceable atoms. He was wearing black overalls and boots, but he knew he would have to get local-style clothing soon. In the distance, the lights of a huge city reflected redly off what looked like clouds. He scanned the sky to learn where and when he was.

Kent, England, 1887, came the voice of his transducer in his mind. The smell of the plants in the field told him that he'd landed in a hops field. That fit with the data he had, and with his own memories of history lessons on distant Samothrace. If this was Kent, he couldn't be too far from London, and the glow of the city's lights in the distance confirmed that. In London, he could disappear and find some way to make funds—and look for the damned snake. With his faber, he could easily put together all sorts of things, from local banknotes to diamonds, and dealing with the Draka infestation would be a lot easier with wealth. Unless this was very different from the 1887 of his history lessons, he could also plan on not having to deal with too much in the way of security services, curious about a strange, wealthy man appearing from nowhere. Time was wasting, so Kenneth set off toward the lights. When he came across a road, he took it, his long stride eating the miles. He knew that the East End of London, which he would be entering in a few hours, was mostly lower-class, and he anticipated little trouble finding a place to doss down in peace. Unless this place was very different from the late-Victorian Britain of his own timeline, there'd be all sorts of cheap flophouses. All he needed was a few days of seclusion, and he could start building a fortune to deal with the snake.

# # # # # # # # #

In a much better-fitting suit of men's clothes, with her braid carefully tucked away down her back, Gwendolyn Ingolfsson looked around. She had had a rough few days at first, learning her way around this chaotic metropolis, but she felt that she was finally able to form a plan. Building a Gate to contact the Domination would be very difficult, but she had all the time she needed, and she knew some names of people she'd be asking to enter her service once she had the money—Tesla and Edison, to name two. At last report, they were both still in the United States, which meant they were almost certainly still "warm," as they said here, and she anticipated little trouble with them once they were within pheromone range.

She had already started her new Household—a Jewish tailor she had run across being taunted by some thugs turned out to not only be a very acceptable mount, but to have a magical touch with the tools of his trade, and to be quite willing to dress his Mistress in whichever clothes she preferred. Money had been tight at first, but she had found out where gambling was going on, and her centuries of skill at pool had served her well. Later, with the money she had won at pool, and her new clothes, she had set her sights on worthier targets. Like this one.

The "men's clubs" of London hadn't been changed much by the alterations in British culture that had come with the advent of the new Prince Consort. They were still oases of luxury in an increasingly chaotic city, with smoothly deferential servants, deep stuffed chairs, well-stocked wine cellars, and highly-skilled chefs. She smiled to herself, thinking about how much they reminded her of her childhood. The details were all wildly different from the Ingolfsson plantation in Italy, after the Second War, but the overall effect was not too different.

Even here, though, there were some changes. Among the other players were a couple of members of the Prince Consort's Carpathian Guards—elder vampires, some of them centuries old, that he had invited from their various exiles to serve him. One of them, Peter Plogojowitz, a Serb, was wearing the full uniform of the Carpathians, with its glittering breastplate and weapon-festooned belt. The other, Arnold Paole, was in civilian clothes, and looked as ill-at-ease in them as she would have expected from a soldier of long service. Several of the other players were vampires, as was the man who had called the party together, a Colonel Sebastian Moran. His long fingers riffled the cards expertly.

"Well, shall we play?" She had not come here for luxuries, though. She had managed to get herself invited through the good offices of a warm youth she had met, who had turned out to be a rich young man with a penchant for slumming. He thought that his new friend was a man, and she had not disabused him; the sexism of this place amused her, since she could easily enough pass for a man in the clothing worn here, and the nudity tabus of the British in this time hadn't been changed by the Prince. She had also found out that most "new-born" vampires were still as easy to read as they had been in life, if not easier—they were often foolishly overconfident. She put her stakes on the baccarat table, and Moran began to deal the cards.

Several hours later, Gwen arose from the table, her winnings nicely heavy in her pockets. In this place, all gamblers settled their debts before being allowed off the premises, on pain of the displeasure of a shadowy figure she had heard referred to, in terrified whispers, as "the Professor." I must find a way to meet this person, she thought to herself, mouthing polite platitudes at her companions of the evening. From clues she had picked up, this "Professor," whoever he was, controlled at least a great deal of the crime in London, and his help would be invaluable in her project.

The money she had won would go a long way toward buying what she needed—a large derelict warehouse she had noted in her wanderings through the East End, which seemed to her to be ideally suited for her needs. By Draka standards, or Samothracian, for that matter—at least the Samos were somewhat civilized, for all their other faults—the East End of London was a squirming, incredibly-overcrowded chaos. Still, such a place had its attractions for such as wanted to go about business without attracting the attention of the local law. She smiled rather ironically, thinking of what the Prince Consort might do to her if he caught on to what she was doing. To end up impaled, herself, was not the sort of irony that appealed to her.

# # # # # # # # # #

Kenneth Lafarge looked down at the rapidly-cooling bodies of the two local thugs who had tried to rob him, climbing into his window, without a trace of emotion. He had been discreetly visiting the local jewelers, selling them one or two at a time of the diamonds his faber was turning out, but not discreetly enough, it seemed. He'd have to change his lodgings again, and this time, he thought he'd go farther into the West End of London than he had previously done; at least, he could probably count on the police there more than he could here in Limehouse.

He had hardly been able to believe what he read in the papers and heard around him, when he had arrived in the East End, a couple of weeks ago. He had always dismissed talk of vampires as superstitious rubbish, and finding himself surrounded by them was a shock. Not to mention what he had read about the behavior of the Prince Consort… Vlad Tepes had returned to the methods of his days as a warm man, impaling those who displeased him. He might as well be a Draka himself, Lafarge thought grimly. His name of "Dracula" only reinforced that resemblance.

At least this timeline would be very difficult for the snake to call home from. The Draka, or the servus, would have to invent a century's worth of electronics, and that couldn't help but be difficult. It would also be easy to mask the Draka's death, once he found it… at least here, in the slums, where murder was common and little-remarked. With the Thames not far away, a drakensis' heavy body could be sunk there with little trouble.

The recipe for dragon stew, he reminded himself ironically, began "First, catch your dragon." In this seething, chaotic, primitive London, finding one person who didn't want to be found was going to be incredibly difficult, and without the computer networks to turn to his own uses, it would be much more difficult. However, he had a solution to that.

One of the people he had been selling diamonds to, an ostensible moneylender and actual fence named Angus Baird, had given him a name of a man who could help him, when he had voiced a complaint at how difficult it was to track someone who didn't wish to be found.

"If you want to find someone who is trying to stay hidden," the money-lender had said casually, peering at the gems Lafarge had brought him through a jeweler's loupe, "the man you want is in Baker Street. 221B, as I recall, up on the first floor. Ask the landlady to show you to Mr. Holmes, and he'll see you right."

# # # # # # # # #

Gwendolyn Ingolfsson entered the main door of the house she had moved into; a bowing servant took her hat and coat and hung them up, adoration writ plainly all over his face. She still had trouble thinking of servants as anything but serfs, but by this time, the whole family, servants and all, was part of her household. She had allowed the original owners to stay on in their own rooms, for the sake of appearances, and was merely posing as their cousin from "out of Town," staying with them for an extended visit. She found the pretenses she was having to use rather annoying, but she didn't want to attract attention just yet. The Prince Consort's Carpathian Guards were formidable foes, even individually, and she wasn't sure she could take on a whole regiment of them at once.

She knew she was lucky finding an upper-class family where all the members were still warm, and vulnerable to her pheromonal assault, and didn't want to upset the applecart just yet. Besides, the family, and their servants, included some very nice mounts indeed, and it had been a while.

The head of the family, Alec D'Urberville, came up to her, deferentially. Within the Household—that was how she thought of it, and there was nobody to say differently, now—she was as much the absolute Mistress as ever she had been in the Final Society. With her pheromonal control and her willingness to demonstrate absolute physical superiority, even these primitive ferals were willing to bow down and kiss her boots. Almost shyly, Alec offered a kiss, which she accepted absently, as though taking a bouquet from a servant.

Gwen sat down in the main chair in the parlour, and the family gathered 'round, almost like faithful dogs. Her little Jewish tailor, Joey Kosminski, crouched among them, his eyes worshipfully following his Mistress' every move. She spared him a quick wink; unlike these upper-class Britishers, he was uninhibited to an extreme, particularly after her tutelage. She couldn't quite believe how repressed the British upper classes felt themselves required to be, even after the Prince Consort—I must meet this person; he could be an incredible help—had shown them how much they still didn't know about the world they thought they controlled.

"How go our projects?" She threw out the question casually, but she was anything but casual about the answer. Every penny she brought in, and every penny that wasn't needed to keep up appearances, was earmarked for the Project. She had long since figured out what steps she needed to take to build a Gate to call home with, and had begun buying the necessary scientific equipment to make the first "breakthroughs." Even so, every penny she could spare went into the Project.

"Well, Mistress, very well indeed." Alec approached her deferentially. "We have located the gentlemen whose services you require—Mr. Nikola Tesla and Mr. Thomas Edison—and have sent them both very tempting offers of employment here."

Gwen smiled. Making such offers was cheap enough; once they were in range of her pheromones, they'd be as much her serfs as any servus ever born, but getting the targeted people into range was sometimes a problem. Even after being here for months, she still had trouble remembering just how slow communications and travel were here. Instead of the light-speed at which she could contact anybody at home in the Domination, here she had to rely on the slow, clumsy, insecure telegraph system, and wait on the recipients' pleasure for an answer. It rather reminded her of hunting in the nature preserves at home; here, as with hunting, as much depended on the prey's response as on her own will and skill."How about finances?" she snapped. "We've got to get more money ahead, and as

soon as possible."

Alec looked regretful. "Unfortunately, Mistress, most of the D'Urberville properties are entailed—" at her questioning look, he explained—"which means they can't be sold out of the family. Some of those inventions you've introduced have had good receptions on the market, though; we've been licensing them to various entrepreneurs at very good rates."

"Excellent." This 1887 was even more primitive than the one in her timeline had been, and whipping up some things to raise money wasn't too difficult, even though she had not been a specialist in such things before coming there. Steamhaulers, for instance; she had seen enough casual abuse and mistreatment of horses to make her very certain indeed that steamhaulers were desperately needed. She was planning to demonstrate radio and its uses fairly shortly, which would bring in a great deal of money for the Project.

# # # # # # # # #

"Astounding. Utterly unbelievable." The tall, thin, hawkfaced man sat forward in his parlour chair, all British reserve forgotten, as he stared at the holoprojector. "Sir, I must confess, at first your story seemed the ravings of a madman, but no madman could bring proof such as you have shown me. Please accept my apologies, but I have often been besieged by people suffering from various delusions. My reputation draws them, and I never turn them away without hearing them out."

Ken Lafarge turned off the holoprojector, and the images of the Final War died, the room darkening as they disappeared. For a second, silence reigned in the Baker Street flat, broken only by the calls and cries coming from the street outside, as the lamplighters lit the streetlights to set off the evening fog with an aureate glow. "You can see, sir, why we are very determined that this creature should not be allowed to complete its plans here—whatever they may be."

"Of course. This—drakensis, did you say? This drakensis appears to be an incredible menace to the safety, not only of this kingdom, but of the world. My brother is a power within the secret councils of the government, and will know whom to contact." A brief sadness passed across the aquiline features. "At present, despite having performed some services in the past for the Royal Family, I am out of favor at court, I am told. Indeed, were it not for my public reputation, I might well be spending my days on Devil's Dyke."

Lafarge looked grim. He had heard of the holding camps the Prince Consort had set up for those who opposed him, and had heard nothing good of those camps. More and more people were restive under the arbitrary, savage rule of Vlad Dracula, sometime Prince of Wallachia, later styled Count, and now Prince Consort and effectively ruler of the empire of Great Britain. His Carpathian Guards—vampire elders all, some of them in his service for centuries—roamed the streets as arrogantly as Draka among serfs, casually abusing anybody not able to fight back. He had seen them shoving inoffensive costermongers around, tipping over their little pushcarts and laughing as their wares were scattered in the dung-filled streets. If he could catch the snake unawares, after it was taking a nice, long nap at the bottom of the Thames River, perhaps he would do something to even up the score with the Prince Consort.

The consulting detective shook his head. "These matters of theoretical science you speak of, sir, are beyond my own capacity. My own specialties are more in the practical vein. My esteemed colleague, Dr. Watson, might understand some of them; he's far more intelligent than he allows himself to be portrayed as in those little tales of our adventures he sometimes pens, which has saved our lives several times when one of our foes underestimated his intelligence, courage or ruthlessness. I do know a man, though, who could understand the most abstruse scientific questions you have raised. He is, unfortunately, the worst man in London. Nonetheless," his shoulders slumping as though he was assuming a heavy load, "I will summon him."

"Astounding—almost unbelievable," murmured the scientist. His cadaverous face was transfixed with an almost holy ecstasy as he examined the artifacts Kenneth Lafarge had produced with his little faber. "Such a device would be of incalculable value—but no. Not at this time. I never expected to be in these premises by invitation, and I fully believe you, Mr. Lefarge, when you say that you are from the future—from a future, I should say. Some mathematicians have speculated on the possibility of many alternate universes, each with its own slightly different history, existing side-by-side, the inhabitants of each believing it to be the only possible one." The pale face lit with an unholy ecstasy. "By all that's holy, if I could but publish the proofs, I would have those fools grovelling at my feet, begging me to teach them! It wasn't enough that they drove me from my position, but to mock my mathematical genius…" He broke off, clearly in the grip of strong emotion.

"Do you think that you can help us?" snapped the detective. Ever since the scientist had made his appearance, the detective had been morose and snappish, as though forced to confront a former lover with whom he was now on bad terms. "If Mr. Lafarge's story is true, we face a greater peril even than the activities of the Prince Consort."

"Peril? From the Prince Consort? My dear, dear ex-pupil, have you been foolish enough to openly oppose our dear Queen's husband?" The arch surprise was rather overdone, and the scientist stood up straight, his head oscillating from side to side in an ophidian fashion. "It is I, rather than you, that stand in daily peril. You know, Mr. Lafarge, that my former pupil and I are on bad terms because we stand on opposite sides of the law?"

Raising a hand to forestall an exclamation from the detective, he continued, "Since I, to finance my scientific researches, am forced into what some folk would call illegal activities—in which I act, I assure you, primarily as a counselor and consultant, not unlike my former pupil—I am, no less than the humblest sneak-thief, in daily danger of impalement. Although I have embraced the changes in society in some ways—" he smiled suddenly, revealing fangs—"I am, I assure you, no partisan of the extreme methods by which the good old laws of England are now enforced."\

"Then you will help us?" The detective leaned forward, his resemblance to a hawk even more pronounced than before.

"Help you? My dear former pupil, my little organization—which, I may say, is nowhere nearly as all-pervasive as you have so flatteringly described it—is at the disposal of our friend Mr. Lafarge. Between my associates, your brother's contacts at the Diogenes Club, and your own organization of street urchins—a touch of genius, that; they are everywhere and few people note them particularly—we should be able to run this alien being to earth eventually." A glint of humor enlivened the skull-like face, as the scientist pointed a finger upward. "If, that is, it is still within London."

# # # # # # # # #

"Gods damn it!" Gwendolyn Ingolfsson was not normally much of a one for swearing, but ever since she had recruited the brains she had needed, she had spent a lot of time doing just that. "Prima donnas are bad enough when they's artists—prima donna scientists are a thousand times worse!"

What made things even more frustrating was that a lot of the people she had intended to recruit, selected from the more interesting contributors to the scientific journals, to which she had subscribed as soon as she had the money, either were not answering her queries, or pleaded severe overwork. Some of them were people she recognized from her own timeline, and not to have their counterparts was not something she had counted on. As for the two best ones she had managed to recruit—ah, there they went again! Cursing her fate, she stalked downstairs, intending to nail someone's ears back for this latest contretemps.

In the laboratory she had rigged up in the warehouse she had purchased deep in the East End, Nikola Tesla was raging at Thomas Edison, waving his finger under the American's nose and shouting, red-faced, as though he intended attacking. Edison was giving back as good as he was getting, and things were rapidly building to a climax. Behind and around the quarreling scientists, the beginnings of a molehole device were scattered.

Part of Gwen's problem was that she was having to have her new serfs kludge together a molehole device out of the things available in this primitive version of her own timeline's year 1887. Once she had explained the theory, Tesla and Edison had separately agreed to join in; she hadn't even needed pheromones or sexual attraction. Tesla, in particular, was an odd fish. I wish I had the finest alienists in the Domination here, she thought; they might be able to figure out where his wiring's crossed.

The main thing, though, was that although they both accepted her dominance, Edison and Tesla did not get along together at all well. She couldn't just kill them and get others; in their line, there were no others, and they themselves were more than able to do a great deal of the work she needed to do.

"Hold it, you two!" she shouted. At her angry shout, they both subsided, giving each other looks that would have led to a duel, had they been drakensis. "What are you quarreling about this time?" At her question, they both erupted in angry shouts, and it took several minutes to calm things enough so that she had an idea of what had gone wrong. Tesla, as usual, wanted perfection, while Edison, far less of a scientist, wanted to just go with whatever worked. She decided quickly. No time for perfect, I just want this done!

"We're goin' with Edison, this time, Nikola." At his mutinous look, she turned her pheromonal assault on him, full force. When she had met him, he had had so many neuroses and phobias, she had thought that an alienist on Prime Line could make his reputation just describing them. She had been heavily instrumental in breaking most of them down, along with providing him with his sexual initiation, and he was now a very nice mount indeed. Not that she was planning to let any other drakensis of either gender near him; he was gentled, but only for her. Between that and his endless insights and creativity, she was looking forward to turning him loose on Prime Line's science. She smiled rather nastily at the thought of how surprised the Samo scientists would be. For that matter, if she could isolate what made Tesla so unique, and splice it into the drakensis genome, she could repair her long-ago creators' mistake.

"Yes, Mistress," he finally acquiesced. "I will write down how it should be done, so that when we contact your timeline, your scientists can show this, this mechanic Edison how science is truly carried on."

"So long as we manage to make contact, Nikola." Stalking out, Gwen began to shake with suppressed rage. Dealing with ferals, especially prima-donna scientist-type ferals, was taxing her energy and patience to the limit—gods, she would be glad to get back to her own timeline, even if she had to leave behind everything she had built up here! It was a lot more fun scrambling for a living in a North America wiped clean of humanity and turned into a wilderness preserve; there, at least, nobody contradicted her. Her Household kept out of her way as she stomped toward the door. Yes—that was a good idea. Go out and find some deserving target, a member of those arrogant Carpathian Guards, for preference, and work off her anger.

# # # # # # # # #

Lafarge was taking a report from one of the consulting detective's semi-tamed street urchins. Fangs glinting in a dirty face, the street child was describing activities at a particular town house in the West End, far from where Lafarge was holed up.

"Excellent, Wiggins. You may well have found what we were looking for. Here's a couple of shillings for you, and you know I'll pay well for further information, if it's truthful." As the vampire urchin scampered off, Lafarge exchanged glances with the detective, and they both shook their heads.

"Deploring the harshness of life on the London streets, my dear, dear ex-pupil?" The scientist's voice broke in, sardonic as always. "You know, of course, that life, perilous as it may be, on the streets is far better than what many of these children face at home." His head waving from side to side in a peculiarly reptilian style, the scientist went on, "My own organization has far more recruits, and treats them far better, than well-meant efforts like Toynbee Hall, or the Salvation Army. Once accepted as a member of what I may call my little family, a likely lad is taught useful skills, and is reasonably sure of a bed, food, and of not being wantonly flogged."

As the detective filled his lungs to answer, Lafarge interrupted. "Wiggins has told me about a house in the West End—32 Cranley Gardens—that might very well be the snake's lair. Can you put a watch on it and see who goes in and comes out?"

"Certainly." The scientist preened. "My assistant, Colonel Moran, can arrange that. I have no doubt that my dear ex-pupil would like to be part of the surveillance team; he has a natural facility for disguises. Would you like to participate?"

# # # # # # # # #

Gwendolyn Ingolfsson, wearing her usual male costume, stalked down the sidewalk, seething with rage. Of all the things she had had to do in her centuries of life, she thought that this was easily the most difficult; keeping control of prima-donna scientists and engineers in a feral-filled timeline long enough for them to cobble together some sort of beacon or link to Prime Line made the worst she had ever faced on Prime Line look easy. She didn't dare kill them or treat them too roughly—that might well break their dependence on her. Worse was having to keep them confined, lest they decide to seek the Dark Kiss. She didn't know if her pheromones could ensnare a vampire, and, as she remembered too well, even a new-fledged vampire could give her a dreadful fight.

She consciously decided to put her anger aside, and look for some fun. London was very like Archona—all things were available for a price, whether unorthodox sexual practices, drugs, or anything else the mind of man—or drakensis—had ever conceived. Gwen had money in her pockets, and all of London spread out before her like a huge banquet of various delights. I've been working too hard, she decided. Time for a little fun.

From a roof nearby, Kenneth Lafarge drew in his breath. It was a snake, all right, although he couldn't tell whether male or female. A male would be bad enough, but female snakes could reproduce themselves, with the right equipment. Through the consulting detective's connections, he had managed to recruit Thomas Henry Huxley, the foremost biologist of this time. Luckily, Huxley had not yet taken the Dark Kiss, and he was eagerly absorbing all the Samothracian could teach him about biology and the life sciences. Even without Huxley's help, he dared not assume that the snake was unable to reproduce itself. Scrambling down from the roof, he made ready to follow. If the snake led him to somewhere lonely, and he could get in a shot with his weapons….

Gwen stalked along, her body language and upper-class clothing enough to clear a path for her. Costermongers and street-arabs shrank into themselves as she passed, much as small animals made themselves inconspicuous when an alpha-level predator went by. She ignored them, looking for more worthwhile sport. After a few minutes, she spotted something ahead in the gloom, and smiled to herself. Even through the thick haze of sulfurous coalsmoke, she could tell the aroma of a ripe young girl when she caught it. A glottal Cockney accent implored passersby to buy flowers, as she offered her wares. It was late for a flower girl to be out and about, and Gwen would cheerfully have bet her estate that flowers weren't the only thing she was selling.

"Buy some flowers, kind sir? 'Elp a poor girl an' buy some nice flowers!" The girl looked up at Gwen in some awe; Gwen's clothing was of a style denoting much higher status than her own. Gwen casually flipped her a coin. "Here you go, lass. No, I don't want flowers right now—I just want to talk."

As she spoke, Gwen hiked her pheromones, and the girl blushed and giggled, seizing the coin from midair and secreting it somewhere in her ragged clothing. "Coo, y'are a real gent, y'are! G'wan, then, what d'yer want to talk about?" She flushed involuntarily, a different response from the startled embarrassment she had shown before. "Me name's Eliza Doolittle. What's yours, then, love?"

"My name is—" Suddenly Gwen found herself roughly interrupted, as a hand grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. She was suddenly looking into a pale, rather drawn male face, framed by the sort of long hair affected by poets in this time. Shoving her out of the way, the stranger, whom Gwen noticed was wearing genteel garb, addressed the flower girl, clearly relishing her obvious fear.

"Here, my dear, why waste you your time with his likes, when I'm available?" He smiled, which only seemed to frighten the poor girl more. Frightened or no, she visibly gathered her courage, stepping up to him and allowing him to put her hand on his arm. He smiled evilly, whispering in her ear and gesturing toward the nearby darkness of Hyde Park. When she nodded, he escorted her toward the park, leaving Gwen standing there, astonished. Her centuries among her own kind had not prepared her for such deliberate rudeness, and she hadn't had any such treatment since coming to this strange timeline and setting up her own Household.

From astonishment, she went to rage. This primitive had not only treated her with studied disrespect, but had cheated her out of the bit of sport she had chosen for the evening? Well, he'd pay for that little affront, and pay dearly!

Moving far more quietly than she really needed to in the London din, she stalked her chosen prey, who was following her supplanter along into the depths of the park despite showing signs of not being happy about the situation. As they went deeper into the underbrush, Gwen gave silent thanks for a moment to the slackness that had infected public services since the rise of the Prince Consort. Had the park been as described in the pre-Dracula guidebooks she had obtained and read while studying her new home, she'd never have been able to get as close as she did unobserved. Finally, she was just behind the strange gentleman, and neither of the two ahead of her had apparently heard a thing.

When she caught up to the stranger, she deliberately jostled him, sending him sprawling on his belly. "Gadsooks, what mean you by that?" he snarled. Quicker than she had thought he would be, he was on his feet facing Gwen. "What mean you, sir, entreating a gentleman in such a fashion?" The flower girl took the opportunity to flee, dropping her nearly-empty basket of flowers in her haste to get away.

Now that they were close together, Gwen suddenly noticed things she hadn't been paying attention to. This gentleman's gray eyes were tinged with red, his fingers were tipped with claws that he was now clashing together, and as he faced Gwen, his scent came to her, clear as could be, even through the stink of sulfurous smoke that was so much of the London atmosphere. This was no ordinary warm gentleman, but a vampire, and from the tinge of archaic accent in his voice, an elder!

Still and all, Gwendolyn Ingolfsson was a Draka, and a drakensis, and was hard-wired not to back down from a challenge, even one she had precipitated. She swung at the vampire's face, hard and fast, before springing at him. Quick as a striking cobra, she lunged for the elder's throat, snarling deeply as her fingers clutched for his flesh.

The elder was staggered for a second; his own senses had clearly told him that she was "warm," and had also possibly told him that something was different about Gwen, but he clearly hadn't anticipated any such challenge. He rose to it magnificiently, though, bringing both his hands up between her arms to pry her fingers from his neck with superhuman—even super-drakensis—strength. As Gwen was forced to let go, he grabbed her in turn, leaping for her and bearing her to the ground.

As they rolled on the ground, the elder tried to get his jagged fangs into Gwen's throat, while Gwen concentrated on breaking his grips on her and getting a good grip of her own. He had strength beyond hers by a factor of five-to-two, and centuries of experience, while she had martial arts that this world had never developed, or never had seen spread to the West. Her weight also surprised the elder, being so much greater than her build and height would have suggested.

From a nearby vantage point, Kenneth Lafarge stared at the fight. Apparently the snake had gotten bored, gone out to stir up some excitement, and now found itself in a situation that was more than it had bargained for.

Cybernetically-enhanced suicide agents do not snicker, he reminded himself, rooting for the vampire with every fiber of his being. He had been delighted when the snake had gone off into the underbrush, as though it was cooperating with his desire to put an end to it, but this was more than he had hoped for—how could even a snake be stupid enough to go out of its way to pick a fight with one of the vampire elders who now dominated Britain?

Gwen was getting desperate; she had tried every trick she knew, and was improvising madly, but her enemy still wouldn't give up. Again and again, she just barely managed to avoid his fangs sinking into her throat; again and again, she nearly gagged at the blood and carrion reek of his breath. When she got a moment's opportunity, she took it, breaking free and speeding off through the trees as fast as she could, her clothes in ruins and her mind awhirl. Part of the trouble with fighting a vampire elder, she had found, was that with centuries of practice, his mesmeric ability was extremely good. She had had to expend incredible effort to not just give up when he had managed to lock gazes with her for a second. If that hadn't been a factor, she thought she might have had a better chance. As she sped back toward her familiar, safe Household, she cursed her own impulsive decision to go out at night in London to look for fun.

As the vampire elder rose to his feet, his elegant clothing in tatters and his face a bestial mask, Kenneth Lafarge stepped out of the trees. He held up a hand in sign of peace as the vampire turned toward him, snarling.

"Hold it—I'm a friend of yours. I know who that was you were just fighting. She's a menace to everybody in London."

"She? She?" the vampire repeated, shaking his head as he fought for control of himself. "Gad's wounds, man, I thought I scented a mort—but there's something wrong about her, something different."

"There certainly is," Kenneth confirmed, stepping forward cautiously. The elder seemed to be in control of himself, but he had heard terrible stories of what they were capable of. This one, without any cybernetic enhancements, had driven a fully-aware drakensis into flight, which argued that he was extremely dangerous to anger. "She's not human—not warm, not nosferatu, and from centuries in the future. I'm putting together a group to deal with her before she conquers the world with help from her future, but I need someone with influence at Court."

"You've found him, sir," smiled the vampire, stepping forward to shake Lafarge's hand. "My name is Varney—Sir Francis Varney. I have some slight influence with our dear Prince, and I might be able to help you."

# # # # # # # # #

Back at Baker Street, the scientist and the consulting detective were sitting across from each other in the sitting room, staring daggers at each other. Behind the detective, his longtime friend and biographer was the picture of outraged respectability even having to share the room with such evil, while the scientist's assistant, a bulky man with traces of an India hand's tan on his pallid vampire features, stood at silent parade rest like a statue. One of the scientist's friends came into the room, looking shaken.

"Mr. Holmes, sir, Mr. Lafarge's back." He looked at the scientist for reassurance, his pale moustache livid against his chalky-white face. His demeanor suggested a rabbit, for all his fangs and red eyes, and his pallor was not enhanced by his dull-blonde hair and eyebrows.

"Well, show him in, Manders. Show him in!" As the vampire scurried to obey, Holmes and the scientist shared a rueful glance. "You know, his partner would have pulled the wool over my eyes even more easily than Irene Adler—who, after all, would suspect one of the finest cricketers at the M.C.C. of a double life as a cracksman? Poor Manders, however, was never cut out for this sort of life."

"Bunny has his strengths, and his uses, Mr. Holmes," chimed in the cricketer, from his post deep in the shadows of the parlor. "My poor rabbit was a loyal chum as far back as school days, and his loyalty is still unsurpassed. If I may say so without offense, I also feel that he's a finer writer, with a better feel for the English language, than your own biographer."

"Now, see here, Holmes, are you going to let him speak of me so?" snarled the detective's partner, leaning forward, his mutton-chop whiskers quivering with outraged authorial pride. "I'll have you know, you cad, that I'm published in the finest magazines, while your partner's effusions can't be published. What do you say to that?"

"What I say to it is—" said the scientist, raising his hand to still the angry cracksman, "is that it is immaterial. Manders' writings can't be published easily at this time, since they would implicate his chum in his double life. Only my and Colonel Moran's assurances that Holmes has given his word to overlook and forgive their past activities would have brought them out of their double lives to aid us in this matter—of course, my own assurances that if they failed to help us, no bolt-hole in Britain or Her Majesty's empire would be deep enough to save them from my anger may have done something to help."

"I say," murmured the cracksman, "this is a rum go, now isn't it? Once I heard what the nature of the menace we're fighting was, I came right out with offers to help. Couldn't let the side down, could I? It wouldn't be cricket. We've got to bowl out this bally 'snake,' strip her whites and send her back to the pavilion."

Manders came back in, looking even more frightened than before. "Mr. Kenneth Lafarge, gentlemen, and a couple of new friends of his." Behind him, the sitters could see Lafarge, with a couple of shadowy figures behind him.

Lafarge stepped into the room, looking like the cat that ate the five-hundred-pound canary and then got it blamed on the dog. "I've made some new friends who can help us out a lot, gentlemen."

As one, the scientist and the detective stepped to their feet in defensive reflex when they saw who had followed Lafarge into the room. First came Sir Francis Varney, who swept the assemblage with a sardonic grin while making a bow that would not have been out of place in his warm days, when he had been a partisan of Oliver Cromwell. It was the person behind him, though, who caused the whole group to gasp with fear.

Dressed in the height of fashion for a gentleman out on the town of an evening, a tall elder stepped into the room, his red-rimmed green eyes seeming to glow in the dim light. He bowed very slightly, an ironic smile quirking under a long, drooping moustache, as he put his heavily-furred palm to the snowy breast of his shirt. Behind him, a red-lined black opera cloak fluttered slightly in the smoky breeze from an open window, looking rather like huge wings.

"Good evening, gentlemen. I am Vlad Tepes, Dracula—Dracula, Prince Consort, these days. I am somewhat hurt that your Mr. Lafarge did not see fit to confide in me, but now that that ommission has been properly rectified, I would like to be included in your little consortium."

# # # # # # # # # # #

At D'Urberville House, Gwendolyn Ingolfsson was listening to the reports from her tame feral-human scientists. Between her data, Tesla's genius at theory, and Edison's grasp of practical engineering, they could begin building a Gate to her own world. For a second, she let herself be gripped by nostalgia—the servus, so easy to use and so eager to please, so different from these prima-donna geniuses, the hunting, the knowledge that she was herself a member of the elite, instead of a hunted alien on a world not her own—all of it came crashing back. Shaking her head, she forced herself back to practicality.

"So what do we need?" She was addressing Edison; Tesla was in on this part of things, as well, but Edison was the more practical of her pair of geniuses, and so she had placed him in overall charge of the building.

"We'll need the services of a glassblower for some of these components, Mistress. Some metal-workers, used to working in copper, would be required as well, and several chemists—not pharmacists, but chemical scientists—to mix the substances we'll need for the batteries and other things we'll be building. We'll also need to have the use of the entire ground floor of D'Urberville House, and the entire staff. For that matter, we may need to hire more staff."

"You shall have them," Gwen assured Edison. "Some of my 'inventions,' such as dry ice—solidified carbon dioxide—for refrigeration purposes, have been selling remarkably well. I can also raise further funds, if I must—Alec, here," indicating her main mount, who crouched at her feet looking up at her worshipfully, "can raise considerable sums himself, and can introduce me to people who can help us raise more."

In the background, a noise intruded on Gwen's sensitive hearing. She turned, snapping at the woman in a maid's uniform who was dusting: "Are you finished? Good, get out!"

The woman bobbed a curtsey, begged pardon in an unmistakable East End accent, and left hurriedly. Many of the servants had been recently hired, some warm and others not, because the increased number of residents and the projects that were afoot required many more hands than the house had had available, even with the D'Urbervilles themselves pressed into service that they would once have scorned.

Once outside the presence of the Mistress, as all the household called Gwen, the woman straightened, walking down the hall with a purposeful stride. When she was sure that she was unobserved, she took a pen and paper from a nearby escritore, and began to write down all that she had heard. When that task was done, she put the list into an envelope, sealed it, stamped it, and put it out with the rest of the outgoing mail. Even under the Prince Regent's rule, mail service in the West End was still regular as clockwork, and the ten o'clock delivery and pickup was no more than five minutes away.

# # # # # # # # #

"Ah, another report from one of our eyes and ears," chortled the scientist, slitting open the envelope and scanning the contents. "It looks like our enemy is beginning to build her infernal device. This should afford us an unparalleled opportunity, and I, for one, propose to take advantage of it."

"How so?" asked Lafarge. "How were you able to get so many people into that mansion so quickly?"

"Well, my friend," said the scientist, "here and now, there often isn't any way to get things done but by somebody doing them by hand. Washing clothes, preparing meals—although that's less of a burden these days—there are a thousand and one tasks around a large household that must be done, and an incredible army of poor folk willing to do them."

"And some of these poor folk work for you?"

"Exactly! People like these D'Urbervilles think nothing of engaging servants on a temporary basis, if there is some sudden need, and who do you think has an interest in several of the best servants' agencies in London, but me?" The scientist's head swayed back and forth, rather like that of a snake, as he went on. "Even before I applied my genius to organizing that part of society that the rest does not choose to acknowledge—an organization, I may add, that they have been sorely in need of since the days of Jonathan Wild of blessed memory—servants were often in the pay of those with an interest in the doings of a household. A disgruntled servant, or one in need of money, could often provide information that would reap incredibly rich rewards."

"Which was one of the first things I would investigate, when a wealthy family would summon me to learn where their family silver had disappeared to." The consulting detective flashed the scientist a look of pure disapproval. He pulled out his pipe, and tamped down a load of the rough "shag" tobacco he favored. Lighting it, he wreathed himself in a cloud of smoke, as he continued, "For that matter, I've taken on a servant's role myself, either to investigate the goings-on below stairs, or to have a more intimate look at a suspected person's life and doings than he thought I ought." Suddenly, the detective's manner changed, becoming dignified yet subservient, as he intoned, "Shall I fetch my lord his breakfast, or would my lord prefer to continue sleeping?"

"Marvelous," marvelled the scientist. "If only we saw eye-to-eye, what pluckings we could have—but no, it cannot be, and I know it as well as you do." He passed the list across to the detective. "We received this from one of our eyes in the D'Urberville house. See what you make of it, Holmes—I must say, I myself am more at home with the theoretical mathematics of this 'Gate' than the practical, mechanical aspects of it."

# # # # # # #

Gwen was happier than she'd been in a long time. Quite a few of her innovations had begun bringing in great amounts of money—the simple introduction of dry ice to keep meat cold in butchers' wagons had proven to be a great money-maker, as well as reducing the strain on the butchers' ponies. She had had the idea after seeing a butcher's boy flogging his pony nearly to death to try to get through a jammed street so that the meat he was taking to a fine lord's house wouldn't spoil.

She had been toying with the idea of abandoning the whole Gate project—after all, as far as she knew, the Domination of the Draka was still there, and still getting along perfectly well—and settling in to rule this whole world. To be sure, she would have to reproduce herself eventually, but the science and technology at this level was too primitive to make results anything like sure, and she didn't care much for most of the potential brooders she had available.

The run-in with the elder in the park had convinced her that she needed to get into touch with her own people, though. Not only was this world just ripe for conquest, but the nosferatu were challenging opponents, and her people's biggest foe was their own boredom. She sighed, inwardly, thinking of some of her friends and relatives who'd fallen in duels that wouldn't have happened, had the Race had a real enemy close by to absorb their energies. No matter what those self-righteous Samothracians thought, her race had emotions, and felt grief at the loss of loved ones.

"Alois," she said aloud, addressing a painting she had done recently, of a blond-haired young man with features not dissimilar to hers, "I wish you were here."

That, at seventh and last, was the main reason she so wanted to get back into touch with the Domination. Gwen was lonely for her own kind, and more homesick than she really cared to admit, even to herself. Although this house had the most luxurious features available in this year of 1887, it was almost as primitive in some ways as camping out. The English apparently did not believe in heating much, and the constant stink of this city irritated her. Worse, even, than the constant odor of shit, coal-smoke, and blood, was the cooking, or so-called cooking. By now the Household was used to her ways, and didn't object so much to her demands or show surprise at her appetite, but if she never, ever ate anything boiled again, she would be deliriously happy. She allowed herself a moment's pang of nostalgia, thinking of the great dining establishments of Archona, with their deferential servus staff serving up incredible creations to their masters with the devotion of true artists.

Well, she told herself, rising from her chair, this wasn't going to get her home. At least the materials she had ordered had been coming in more easily of late; for a while she had suspected sabotage of her Project, except that that was totally impossible. Most of the components she wanted had no meaning to people of this time, or even of the time of the Final War—a Samothracian, on the other hand, particularly a Samothracian deep-penetration agent, would have known just what they meant.

When she reached the ground floor of D'Urberville House, she found the main parlor taken up with an incredible-looking contraption. To a scientist of her own timeline, it would have seemed like the most incredible mishmash, but it was still light-years ahead of the science—if that was the word for it—of this timeline.

# # # # # # # #

The Prince Consort's eyes glowed red with anticipation and delight as Lafarge's faber began producing the parts for the weapons the Samothracian had determined would be needed. When the parts for the first plasma gun were there, and Lafarge had put it together, carefully leaving the power pack out, the Prince Consort hefted it, getting the feel of the weapon. He said something in his native language, an archaic dialect of Romanian.

"His Royal Highness says that he'd have sold his soul for these, when he was warm and fighting the Turks," came a translation from one of the Carpathian Guard, a tall vampire named Iorga who had followed the Lord of Vampires for centuries. A low growl of agreement came from the other Carpathians, crowded into the sitting room of 221B Baker Street, uncomfortable in their civilian clothes.

"The Turks gave the Snakes a good solid fight, but they weren't as dangerous as the Afghans. Until the Eurasian War, the Snakes used Afghanistan as their definition of a rough war." Lafarge had been captivating the Carpathian Guards and other vampire elders with tales of his own timeline's history, as well as with the capabilities of the gadgets his faber could produce.

"I'm not too surprised that the Afghans gave these—Draka—a very bad time, sir," rumbled the consulting detective's companion from the depths of his armchair. "They nearly wiped out the first army we sent to Kabul, you know. Only two survivors, one of them a member of my own profession, and the other was the man who we know as General Sir Harry Flashman."

The Prince Consort's expression changed at the mention of Flashman's name. Ken Lafarge gathered that Flashman was not in favor at court. An incongrously motherly-looking female elder leaned over, whispering: "Before our dear Prince wooed and won the Queen, she was quite mashed on Flashman, and our Prince is a jealous husband."

"Thanks, Mrs. Amworth," muttered Lafarge. Working with these creatures, with centuries of friendship or discord between them to be dealt with, was difficult. However, their incredible durability and strength, combined with their experience at combat, would probably make it possible to destroy the Snake, and with that at stake, he'd have happily dealt with far more fractious allies than these. He reluctantly acknowledged that whatever Prince Consort Vlad Dracula's faults, he had to have a real talent for command and rulership, to be able to keep such powerful, individualistic creatures overawed for centuries—his tenure as acknowledged overlord of all vampires far predated his marriage to Victoria.

"Our eyes-and-ears tell us that the drakensis' device is all but finished," reported the scientist. "Your idea of not restricting the purchase of the materials they needed, but merely keeping an eye on what they bought, made it very easy to determine when the device was completed."

"Good," said Lafarge. "When it's done, I expect that the snake will try calling its home. When it does, that will be the time we strike."

# # # # # # # #

Gwen Ingolfsson looked up at the Device, and felt triumph such as she had seldom felt in all her centuries of life. Despite all the difficulties, all the prima-donna feral scientists, the necessity to build the tools to build the tools to build the tools—she had done it!

The device she had built bore almost no resemblance to what it would have been on Prime Timeline. It towered over Gwen, and incorporated incredible amounts of finely-machined moving parts, glass tubes she'd had to have fabricated especially for this purpose, and more yellowly-gleaming brass than she'd ever seen in one place. But, her tame-feral scientists assured her, it would do its job….

The power requirements had been a real challenge, particularly since she couldn't just tap into the electrical power lines any civilized Prime Timeline city would have had. She had considered batteries—Leyden jars, as they were usually known here—but had rejected them in favor of a dynamo. She had managed to lay hands on a very suitable small steam engine, which was now being stoked by some of the servants in the basement of D'Urberville House, and was turning the dynamo more and more rapidly.

# # # # # # # # # # #

"We move!" At the command of the Prince Consort, the Carpathian Guards snapped to; in civilian garb, they began infiltrating the streets of the West End, heading for Cranley Gardens. In twos and threes, they attracted little notice; the spring evening was warm and pleasant, for London, and there were plenty of pleasure-seeking gentlement out on the town.

Dracula had been quite, quite specific. "If this creature gets any hint that we're so much as in the neighborhood before we strike, because one of you gave the game away, the one who let her get wind of us will be impaled. On a thick, blunt stake, with the bark left on." The Carpathians had nodded, knowing that Dracula was fully capable of doing that, or worse.

The Prince Consort himself stalked directly to the front door of D'Urberville House, with Kenneth Lafarge and a recently-fledged police inspector named Lestrade right behind him. In his evening clothes, he passed unnoticed, mostly, thought Lafarge, because people didn't expect to see the Prince Consort out on the streets. The news had been full of him that day, but he had been reported at Balmoral, planning a long stay with the Queen and the pick of the Carpathian Guards. If he's in Scotland, he can't be in London, now can he? thought Lafarge.

The butler at D'Urberville House came promptly to the door, and Dracula's mesmeric gaze had him pinned within a second; Lestrade's authority was not needed. At Dracula's silent signal, the Carpathian Guards came trooping in, incredibly quietly for such big, powerful men. They systematically spread out, locating and neutralizing all the servants and family members, as Dracula led Ken Lafarge toward the basement, where the servants in the scientist's pay had told him the Device was to be found.

# # # # # # # # #

Gwen purred with satisfaction as the power hummed and the familiar blue glow began to appear. At present, they could only manage a steady pinhole-sized hole through to Prime Timeline, but she had been able to determine that they had hit her own world—once or twice the hole had grown larger, and she had seen an unmistakable ghouloon. She had signaled that she was sending data through, and had tossed through a bundle of papers covered with tiny writing, explaining everything she could about this new timeline. When they got the power up to the level that she'd need, she was sure that her people would be ready.

At a sound behind her, she whirled, and found herself staring down the barrel of a plasma gun. Her mind reeled, trying to make sense of this impossible apparition—a plasma gun, in the hands of what looked to be a gentleman of this timeline. The gun was steadily aimed at her head, and she could see that it was fully powered up and ready to fire. One squeeze of that trigger, and her head would be reduced to its component atoms. All she could do was play for time.

"Good evening," said the strange gentleman, his voice deep and soft, an odd accent almost completely overlaid by the upper-class speech of this London. "My name is Dracula. It grieves me greatly that you did not see fit to consult with me before deciding that this kingdom needed to be put 'under the Yoke,' in your own charming phrase."

How did he hear of that? And how in HELL did he get that plasma gun? The questions screaming in Gwen's mind faded to a meaningless babble in the background, as she found herself caught up in Dracula's gaze. Her will faded out, to something that was pacing around in the back of her mind, howling for release, as she surrendered her will to the King Vampire.

Once he was sure he had her under control, Dracula gestured, and the members of Gwen's Household were hustled in, each one in the grip of an elder vampire. "Now, to the next stage of the plan. Miss—pardon me, but what is your name?"

"Gwendolyn Ingolfsson," Gwen found herself responding, before she could wonder why she was simply obeying this creature. Her mind, in the back of her skull, wailed to be free, but she ignored it.

"Miss Ingolfsson, we do not intend to stop you calling your home. On the contrary," Dracula's smile grew very predatory, along with those of his companions, "we insist on you completing your task."

"We were most interested to be apprised, by Our loyal subjects, of your plans." This came from a vampire that Gwen hadn't noticed, a small woman whose male attire did nothing to conceal a rather zaftig figure. "We were most distressed to find such things going on in Our capital city, and…" the woman's slightly-protuberant eyes suddenly flashed red, as her serene expression altered to a mask of bestial fury, "We… Are… NOT… Amused!"

# # # # # # # # # # #

From his unobtrusive vantage-point, Ken Lafarge watched with utter delight as Dracula smoothly took control, placing the Snake under his hypnotic influence with the ease of centuries of practice, while his Carpathian Guards located, subdued and brought in everybody in D'Urberville House.

"This plan of yours is brilliantly simple," commented the consulting detective, in an undertone. "So far, it's working perfectly!" As he spoke, the dynamo's whine changed notes subtly, and a Gate opened in mid-air, in front of the Snake.

Ken could see through the Gate, and he drew in his breath to see the Snakes waiting on the other side, dressed in combat blacks, with ghouloons in serried ranks behind them. "Service to the State," the foremost Snake said, "Planetary Archon Ingolfsson." From the angle of the Gate, it looked as though the Snake was alone in the basement; the Carpathian Guards were keeping themselves out of sight, as was Dracula, although Dracula was very close to the Snake.

"Glory to the Race," responded Gwen. Dracula's instructions to her, to act completely natural until he gave the signal, were working, and Ken couldn't tell that the Snakes could tell that anything was wrong. "I see that you received my message."

"We did, Planetary Archon. Are you ready to return home, and allow us to begin occupation?"

"Now!" roared Dracula, and the Carpathian Guard, as one man, dropped their captives and ran toward the Gate, Dracula himself in the lead. Grabbing Gwen by her shoulder and picking her up as easily as though she weighed nothing, he leaped through, his Guard behind him. Howls of bestial triumph erupted and echoed off the walls of the basement of D'Urberville House.

The second the last Carpathian was through, Ken yanked out his plasma pistol, and fired it at the Device. It exploded with an indescribable sound, sending bits of components in all directions, and a huge cloud of steam came from where the overloaded steam engine's boiler had finally given way.

When the destruction was over, Ken poked his head out cautiously. The Device was in ruins, and all the Carpathian Guards were gone. "Your plan worked perfectly, Mr. Lafarge!" said the detective. Forgetting his British reserve, he threw his arms around Lafarge and embraced him. "We're free! Free!"

"As are We," said the small woman. She smiled suddenly, showing her fangs. "Our second husband had his good side, but he was much too prone to meddle in Our Royal affairs. Now that he is gone, We can certainly keep Our Prime Minister—dear Lord Ruthven—under control." She turned to go up the stairs. "Know, Mr. Lafarge," she said, turning to face Lafarge, "that should you need the help of Our Government, We shall see that you receive it. Although We have very little power officially, We wield a great deal of unofficial influence." She was met by a fussy, officious vampire wearing the livery of Buckingham Palace, and escorted out with a great deal of deference.

"Will you take me up on my offer?" asked the scientist. He had been along, keeping well in the shadows. "Just studying this device, and the notes I've found, will keep me occupied for a very long time. The right to the inventions that this creature brought in will go to the D'Urbervilles, in compensation for what they've been through at its hands, but your own innovations, and the things I've found, will transform society in ways we can hardly dream of!" His head moved from side to side with excitement. "And with this source of income, I can give up my consulting business. That will, no doubt, please my dear ex-pupil here."

"In a way, it will," said the detective. "However, without you to match wits with, London will seem dreadfully dull. I may even come back and study with you; the scientific attainments of Mr. Lefarge's people are far beyond anything we now have. Mr. Tesla and Mr. Edison would also like to get in on it."

"So. From crime to business. Quite a leap, in some eyes; not far at all, in others. Mr. Lefarge has had his revenge on the Draka, by turning the Carpathian Guards and Dracula loose on them, and they'll never be back." Arm in arm in arm, Lafarge, the scientist and the detective started up the stairs, back to the streets of London.

The End



Editor's Note:

This story is still available in the original form at the Stirling online discussion group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stirling/. However, access to the Files section is for members only. So, I may have gone over the line by providing this story... But it certainly is a longer—and perhaps better—version of what I remember reading quite a long time ago. That was an earlier incomplete version, where Gwen attacked one of the Carpathian Guards in a park for (IMHO) no good reason. I disagreed with the motivation for that event, but it's been several years since and I had no idea the story had eventually been finished until now. Eric apparently posted the complete version to the group site on 2002-12-10.

The original file was made with Microsoft Word 97, which causes certain kinds of validator errors. The usual spell-checking was done too, before addition of code to fit my site design.

 Peter Karsanow
 October 31st, 2005


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