Welcome to the RatLab!
Sure it’s a Mary Sue – that’s the point!
Hmm, when you think about it, I guess blood really could be the perfect food source. Teddy sat at a computer in his home office staring at a blank word processing screen. Sarah thinks I’m too much of a scientist to write a vampire story, but I’m going to do it just because of the challenge. I have to come up with a reason though.
For the past 10 years he had taken time away from family and work to write a few words of science fiction here and there, trying to sell some short stories and work up to that Big Debut Novel. In the previous two years he had corresponded with several SF authors and attended a few conventions in which the emphasis had been on writing, rather than movies, TV and video games. More recently he’d begun corresponding with Sarah, a moderately successful fantasy and science fiction author. Sarah believed Teddy had talent, but his characters tended to fall too much into the stereotypes of either scientists or Boy Scouts. Teddy argued that he had to write what he knew. Twenty five years as a professor and scientist had left its mark, hence his current obsession with trying to write a vampire story based on logic and science.
Blood carries oxygen, glucose, small proteins and essential nutrients to all of the cells in the body. If I postulate a disease that affects a person’s ability to metabolize complex foods, then it could be logical that the creature would turn to human blood to fulfill its nutritional needs. Teddy tapped a few keys, started an internet browser on his computer and pulled up a national database of medical literature. Cystic Fibrosis affects the digestion, but our fictional vampire wouldn’t last long with the side effects on the lungs. Some form of gastrointestinal parasite? Or maybe a virus that blocks absorption. That way it could be contagious about 1% of the time, accounting for a vampire bite turning the victim into a vampire.
Teddy typed a few notes into his word processor, wrote an introductory paragraph and outlined the next couple paragraphs, but didn’t yet know which direction he wanted to take the story. He had a department faculty meeting tomorrow evening and would be late coming home. He’d think about it for a couple of days and perhaps get back to the story next weekend.
It was more than 3 weeks before he got back to working on his story. Despite best intentions to get up a little earlier each morning, exercise and spend at least 30 minutes writing, he found himself occupied with work and emails with colleagues later each night. After one extreme evening of grant and manuscript writing, he found himself going to bed as his wife was getting up for an early start at work. As a result, all intentions of early morning activity were lost to catching up on sleep.
It was late afternoon, working on evening. The latest grant application had been submitted and yet another scientific manuscript had been sent off to the editor. With about 45 minutes to call his own, Teddy returned to the topic of the vampire story.
Oh-kay. Blood as a food source to replace essential nourishment. Our fictional vampire is going to want the blood as clean as possible. Iron rich, low cholesterol… hmm, add in a bit of estrogen for the antiaging effects and their natural food source would be young women. Huh. To keep the potential contaminants down, make that “nubile” young women. That’s another stereotype down. Now, how to kill a vampire…
Intent on the story outline, Teddy didn’t notice the pale graduate student standing in the door. Wondering if his advisor would ever look up from his typing, the student decided to knock discretely.
“Wha’? Oh, John, sorry, I was involved in this outline.”
“Another grant? Something that can pay for another technician in the lab? I really need some help in the daytime.” John was studying sleep cycles in rats and needed to perform most of his experiments during the night when rodents were most active.
“Not yet, that particular grant should be reviewed this week. Once I know for certain how it scored, I’ll post a position for the daytime tech.”
“Oh, good. Thanks. Actually, I came to ask if you could talk to the committee about my Comps?” John was due to take the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam that would allow him to start working on his Ph.D. “With this all-night experiment schedule, it would be a lot easier if I could just take the Comps at night. I could come in, start the experiment, then go to the conference room for the exam. We get breaks every two hours, and that would be sufficient to check on the experiments. Nigel and Keisha are checking with their advisors, too. If would be a lot better for us, after all, you’re the one that taught us about the dangers of disrupting an established sleep-wake cycle. Prof. Rose is willing to proctor the exam overnight, so we just need the committee’s permission.”
“I don’t know, John.” He frowned and continued. “I’m not entirely comfortable with you students working all night out of the eye of the professors. We had a few unfortunate incidents when I was a student…”
“I know. You’ve told us all about the homeless dude in the restroom and the guy that accidently killed himself. It’s okay, we’re not alone. There’s the security guards, and Profs. Rose and Tepes. They have to run experiments late at night to avoid vibrations from the traffic outside and construction of the new hospital tower.” John paused, and pushed back his long black hair. “After all, it’s not like we’re trying to avoid you – you told us yourself that you used to work until 5 AM, catch 4 hours sleep, then be right back for a lab meeting. It’s just until we get these experiments done.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to the committee. They’re meeting tomorrow at 5, so I will see about it then.”
“Great! Thanks, Doc!” John left so fast, Teddy barely saw him go.
That kid needs a girlfriend. Thought his advisor. So pale and thin. I’d worry about his health, but he’s been the best player on the departmental volleyball team for the past two years. Just doesn’t get out in the sun much.
Sun. Yeah, Vampires drink blood, so they’d have extra hemoglobin breakdown products in the body. Hyperbilirubinemia. It makes a person sensitive to sunlight. That’s another one down.
Silver bullets? Stakes through the heart, cutting off the head? Th ose are all pretty obvious ways to kill anyone, let alone a vampire. Holy water and religious symbols? Make that a myth. Fast healing, though… I’ve got to figure out a reason why they’d be hard to kill.
Hmm. For now just leave it that they heal fast. They’d have to have pretty good control of clotting and bleeding factors to keep from contaminating their food source. Yeah. Control your own bleeding and you could survive quite a bit of damage.
Teddy stopped typing as the phone rang. “Yeah, honey, just finishing up. It is? Wow. Okay, I forgot. I’ll meet you at the concert.” He replaced the phone, tapped a few keys, saved the outline and turned off his computer. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date…” he muttered as he left the office.
Teddy pulled his car into a numbered parking spot, grabbed his lunch, a notebook, and several portable memory drives. Inside the building, he checked the mail room and stuck his head in his secretary’s office.
“Afternoon, Jen.” He called out.
“Good morning, you mean, Doc,” she responded cheerfully. It was their usual joke. Jeannette’s secretarial duties were shared by the three Assistant Professors in the department, but the other two faculty seldom showed up before mid-afternoon.
Jeannette looked a lot like the stereotype of a 50’s era school teacher, but was the ideal person for organizing the schedules, mail and manuscripts of the admittedly most disorganized of the departmental faculty. “Would you like your messages, now? Or are you going to retreat to your office for 30 minutes and then call and interrupt me in the middle of my lunch break?” Fortunately she asked it with a smile to show she wasn’t really upset.
“Sure, give it to me straight, Jen.”
“Okay, Journal of Neurochem wants to know when they can expect their review, you’re two weeks late. Journal of Behavioral Pharmacology says you’re… three weeks late with their review. The Office of Research reminds you that you have a progress report due on your sleep cycle grant in three days. Dr. Rose wants to know if you’ll switch lectures with him next week, and you have a call from ‘Russ in D.C.’ no last name, just said you’d know who it was.”
“Thanks, Jen.” I handed her one of the memory drives. “The reviews are on here, ‘JNC’ and ‘JBP’ files under ‘Reviews.’ Put the progress report due date on my calendar, and check if I’ve got any conflicts with Geoff’s class. I don’t mind switching as long as it’s clear.”
“The calendar items are done, and the class period is clear. You’ll be happier with his nine A.M. class than the 5 P.M. one any way. I know you’re happier writing in the early evening. Don’t forget ‘Russ from D.C.’ and your meeting with the students at four o’clock.”
Once in his office, Teddy inserted the memory drive into his computer and printed out the latest version of his story. He had to get to work on that progress report, but surely he could spend a few minutes proofreading what he wrote last night.
Robberts looked around at the bloody scene.
“Vampires? You think vampires did this?” She looked at the policeman in disbelief. “Haven’t *any* of you people read my book?”
She carried it with her like a shield any time she got called out to one of these scenes. Even now it was visible sticking out of the top of her backpack: ‘Blood Science: The Medical Truth about Vampires by Prof. Mary Sue Robberts, M.D. Ph.D.’
“Look, officer, to a vampire, blood is food. It’s life. There are essential nutrients that it can’t get any other way. This… this is wasteful. A hungry vampire would never let this much blood get away. It’s like going for fast food, ordering a cheeseburger, then smearing it all over yourself instead of eating it.
“I mean, you wouldn’t leave donuts all over your patrol car…” She stopped as she looked closely at the trail of powdered sugar that started about an inch below the officer’s double chins and trailed down over his rather large belly.
Teddy pulled out a red pen and started writing in the margin. ‘Needs a better intro. Too slow. ‘ He struck out the reference to the book title, then wrote:
“Van Helsing ain’t got nothing on me.” Thought Prof. Mary Sue Robberts, vampire hunter and author of “Blood Science: The Medical Truth about Vampires.”
He set the printout aside and got to work on the yearly report for his sleep research. Later that afternoon, once the lab meeting with students was over, he returned to editing his manuscript, but was quickly interrupted by Professor Tepes.
“Theodorrrrre. Could I haff just a moment?” Tepes’ heavy accent revealed his Romanian origins, as did his particular approach to hygiene. Never a favorite of the students, they had taken to calling him ‘Vlad the Impaler’ after an incident where he had accidently stuck himself with a hypodermic in the process of injecting one of the lab animals.
“Sure, Emil. Sit down. “
“T’anks. I just vant to ask if you could talk to the students in your class about my lab space? I don’t mind them using it during the day. I only need it at night, but they need to do a better job of cleaning and restocking during the day.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to them. Maybe I can get Jen to make up some signs.”
“T’anks, Theodorrrrre.” Tepes said as he left.
Teddy reached over and turned on the small fan beside his desk. Emil had a certain… “air” about him. Probably something in his diet. A little extra air circulation wouldn’t hurt, either.
Now there is someone that would make a perfect vampire – black, greasy hair, widow’s peak, thick eastern accent. If only he wasn’t so… so unpleasant to be around. I just can’t picture him having his way with a nubile maiden.
But what if it’s all an act? A clever disguise? Yeah. I can use that! What better way for a vampire to hide, than to purposefully drive people away? Sort of like an undercover cop masquerading as a homeless person. Right. I need to find a place to work that in.
Teddy started writing in the margins of his manuscript, oblivious to the time until the phone rang. He looked at the phone, looked at the clock, started to reach for the phone… and stopped.
“Sorry dear. I must have jus t left when you called.” He hastily stuffed the manuscript and memory drive into his backpack, turned out the lights, and was out of the office door before the phone stopped ringing.
Teddy reached for the bedside phone. It was on his side and not Trish’s, since she wasn’t likely to be getting calls from students in the middle of the night. He made an effort to not sound sleepy, but couldn’t stifle a yawn, “Yeah, um, ah. Oh. Hello? “
“Doc, this Mike with Building Security. I hate to disturb you at three AM, but there’s an alarm sounding in your lab.”
“Hmm? Uh, yeah. Prob’ly the freezer. Was ‘ere a power blip? “
“Yes, sir. That thunderstorm this evening knocked out the power for about 30 minutes. The emergency generators took a minute or two to kick in, but we’ve had power since midnight.”
“S’okay. Prob’ly tripped a breaker. Jus’ tell John to hit the reset. S’long as he doesn’t open th’door it should be good ’til I get there in the morning. There’s nothin’ crit’cal in there and the rest doesn’ have to stay at minus eighty. “
“Doc, that’s the problem. John’s not here. None of them are here. The usual night owls didn’t come in this evening.”
Teddy finally came awake with this latest information.
“None of them? Dr. Rose? Dr. Tepes? John or Nigel? What about that Goth girl, what’s her name, Keisha?”
“No sir, this is the first night in the three years I’ve been working third shift that I haven’t seen anyone else here. It’s kind of creepy if you ask me.”
“Okay. I’ll be right there, in about 20 minutes. No wait…” Teddy looked at the clock beside his bed. 3:11 AM. “<yawn> ‘s Friday, right?”
“Yes sir, Friday it is.”
“Good, Suzie’s Diner is open. I’m going to swing by and get a cup of coffee before I head in. Be there in 30 minutes.”
Teddy had the all-night talk and news station playing on the radio during the drive to work. Talk radio was usually not his preference, but his headache wouldn’t tolerate music this early in the morning. It was one of those call-in shows dedicated to insomniac UFO abductees and conspiracy theorists.
“They’re real, I tell you! I looked in his window last week and he had a coffin instead of a bed.”
“Thanks for calling, Helen, but why were you looking in his window in the first place?”
“Well, he’s so creepy, ain’t he? Greasy hair, funny accent, says he’s a professor. Has few visitors, just some creepy looking college kids. He only comes out at night and on rainy days, that’s not normal!”
“I don’t know Helen, sounds normal for college kids to me. Are you taking precautions?”
“Oh, yes. I have the garlic over the doorway, a wooden stake by the bedside, and my Ned had a priest come over and sprinkle the holy water just like it says on the website. Oh, and I only wear high-necked gowns.”
“Very sensible Helen. Right after the break folks, we’ve got Bill in South Dakota who says his cat was replaced by aliens. Be right back.”
<beep> Dramatic music played for about 5 seconds, then a familiar recording came on…
“Watch it in the evening, read about it in the morning, or Hear It Now on XVPR, News Talk for the Triad.”
“This morning’s top story, county health officials have ordered the recall of thousands of units of blood from area hospitals after discovering faulty storage units at the local blood bank. Three thousand homes in the Greene Park subdivision are still without power after last evening’s thunderstorms, and area police are investigating a pair of suspicious deaths…”
Teddy turned into the nearly empty parking lot, and switched off the car, silencing the news announcer in mid suspicion. He walked up to the front door of the building and used his Faculty badge to unlock the security door. ‘Mike from Security’ was on the phone at his desk and looked up in surprise.
“Oh, you’re here already.” he put down the phone. “I was just calling to tell you that John showed up about five minutes ago.”
“He did? Did he say where he’d been?”
“Just muttered something about a migraine. He looked pretty pale.”
“He always looks pale.”
“Paler than normal. He looked pretty sick, to me. I told him you were coming in, but he said he’d take care of it.”
“Okay. I’ll go check on him then head back home for a few more hours’ sleep.”
“It was just a breaker. He’d already reset it. So I sent him home, told him not to come back until tomorrow. Then I checked the readouts on the other equipment and drove 20 minutes back home, only to get 2 hours sleep and be back here for the nine AM class. That’s why I could do with another cup of your fine coffee, Jen.”
Jeannette was leaning against the door frame of his office. “Get it yourself. Besides, you’ve got your own coffeepot.”
“Yes, but I’ve only got a mild blend, too much acid otherwise. You have truly Wake-the-Dead coffee!”
“Flatterer! Did he say what it was?”
“He thinks it’s either the flu or food poisoning.”
“Really? I’ve got messages from Nigel and Keisha to their advisors saying pretty much the same thing. Either they had dinner together, or someone’s been sharing germs!”
“Huh. Those three live in the lab, I can’t see them getting into the sort of trouble you’re implying.”
” ‘Stranger things,’ Doc. Nerd love is the finest.”
“Get out of here. We both have work to do. Any word from Geoff or Emil? “
“Not yet, but then since you just taught the class you traded with Dr. Rose, I don’t expect to hear from him until this afternoon. Dr. Tepes only interacts with me via email, and frankly, that suits me just fine.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. Anything else?”
“Oh, right. I almost forgot. You need to approve the safety protocol transfer on the blood requisition.”
Blood? As in blood banks? Why does that seem familiar?
“What, human blood? What am I requisitioning blood for?”
“It’s for Dr. Tepes’ stem cell cultures. You cosigned the protocol as the Department’s representative to the Biosafety Committee, so you get to approve the tran sfers.”
“FIFTEEN UNITS! Why the devil does he need fifteen units?”
“It’s there on the protocol. The factor he’s extracting is in nanomolar concentration and he needs a few micromoles to test on the cultures.”
“Riiiight. But the original protocol stated 5 units each month. What’s he doing? Drinking it?”
Teddy looked up at Jen. She tried to stifle a giggle, failed, and finally let it develop into full blown laughter. He just stared. She was getting short of breath from the laughter and gasped out: “Drinking it? <gasp> Vlad the Impaler? <laugh> Are you serious? <gasp> you’re serious! <giggle> That is so funny!”
Teddy began to smile. “Yeah, now that you mention it. Maybe Vlad – I mean Emil, Geoff and the Night Crew students all got sick from drinking bad blood. Oh! Bad Blood. Yeah, I gotta write that down. Ha! Great title, great story idea.”
Recovering her composure Jeanette gathered up the signed papers and quickly retreated from the office, the occasional giggle still escaping between deep breaths.
Good thing I don’t have any impending deadlines, Teddy thought. Freshly inspired he brought up his short story on the word processor, erased the title and quickly rewrote the opening scene of his short story…
Bad Blood, a short story by Theodore Edwards
“Van Helsing *never* had to deal with this,” thought Prof. Mary Sue Robberts, author of “Blood Science: The Medical Truth about Vampires.”
She looked around the blood bank. “Vampires? You think vampires did this?” Her glance took in the broken glass, overturned boxes, empty plastic IV bags and blood smeared over every surface. She looked at the policeman in disbelief. “Haven’t *any* of you people read my book?”
It was late afternoon when he wrote the closing scene:
“So, they contaminated the blood and trashed the blood bank to force the vampires out in the open?” asked Inspector Gordon.
“Yes, the Twenty-first Century is oh so convenient for the modern vampire.” Prof. Robberts couldn’t pass up the chance to lecture. “Fresh blood comes in convenient disposable bags. No hunting and no risk of contracting a rare disfiguring disease. Not to mention all of the intoxicants and drugs you find in the blood of ‘nubile maidens’ these days. It’s so civilized, but without the blood bank they had to get their blood the old fashioned way.”
“So the trap was set, and now we have three less vampires in Triad City. But who were the hunters?”
“We may never know. An ancient order, at best guess. We owe them a debt of gratitude whoever they are.”
“We owe them a place in my jail” growled Gordon. “There’s no room for vigilantes in Triad City.”
“Don’t be so harsh, Inspector. After all, you called *me* a vigilante when we first met.”
“Ah, but you’re the prettiest vigilante I’d ever met.” Gordon stopped, embarrassed, and stared at his feet. After a moment he cleared his throat. “Ah, I don’t suppose you’d care to have a cup of coffee?”
“Why Inspector! I never thought you’d ask!” Robberts put her arm through Gordon’s and steered him out the door. “I know this great little diner that’s open all night Thursday to Sunday…”
Teddy breathed a sigh of relief, closed the file, opened an email window and quickly sent the manuscript off to Sarah before he changed his mind and re-wrote the story for the third time.
There was an email from Jen. Dr. Rose had called in sick and asked if Teddy would post a note for the class and refer him to the review material on his website. Dr. Tepes would be in at six and thanked him for approving the transfer.
A notice popped up on his computer. Sarah was online and wanted to talk about the story. Rob opened the messenger client and began to type.
(17:41:13) Tedd09: Here.
Announcing yourself on the chat manager was usually polite. Announce then wait for a response. Sarah came back almost immediately, she had been expecting him, after all, she had requested the dialog after he sent the manuscript.
(17:41:42) SWriter: There.
That was another custom of theirs. Teddy usually tried to start a conversation with a pun or joke. Fortunately Sarah usually got it and sometimes beat him to the punchline.
(17:42:18) SWriter: You named her MARY SUE?????
It was a bad joke about bad writers and fan fiction. ‘Mary Sue’s’ were thinly disguised versions of the writer him (or her)self.
(17:42:53) Tedd09: Sure, you kept telling me my characters were all Mary Sues
(17:43:26) Tedd09: and you bet I couldn’t write seriously about vampires
(17:43:37) Tedd09: because I’m a scientist.
(17:43:48) Tedd09: So I wrote logically,
(17:43:59) Tedd09: but not too seriously,
(17:45:21) Tedd09: and I named her Mary Sue.
It took a couple minutes for Sarah’s reply to come back.
(17:48:04) SWriter: LOL
(17:48:12) SWriter: You are a BAD man!
(17:48:39) SWriter: And I mean that in a nice way.
Teddy decided that deserved Sarah’s usual reply: ‘LOL’ – the email and messaging abbreviation for ‘Laughing out Loud’.
(17:49:17) Tedd09: LOL
After a few minutes without a return message, Teddy typed.
(17:56:34) Tedd09: Gotta go.
(17:56:40) Tedd09: Trish is waiting.
(17:56:47) Tedd09: Tired
(17:56:53) Tedd09: Didn’t sleep well.
(17:57:05) Tedd09: Tell you about it later.
(17:57:17) Tedd09: ‘night.
&nbs p; (17:57:43) SWriter: Do.
(17:57:48) SWriter: Tell.
(17:57:54) SWriter: But later.
(17:58:06) SWriter: get some rest
(17:58:21) SWriter: Say Hi to Trish for me.
(17:58:40) SWriter: ‘night.
They both signed off and Teddy shut down the programs he’d been using on the computer. He was glad to have the story complete. Once Sarah had looked at it, he’d consider where to send it. For now he didn’t want to even *think* about vampires and scientists. Maybe his next story would be about lumberjacks or car mechanics.
As Teddy was packing up to go home, he saw John walk past his office door.
“I thought I told you to stay home.”
“Sorry, Boss. But I’m feeling much better, now. Keisha gave me one of her herbal remedies.”
“Herbal remedies from a Goth? You trust it?”
“Naw, she’s not like that. She’s a nice girl.”
“I know, just kidding, but I heard she and Nigel were sick, too. Back in my day that usually meant wild parties with illicit substances.”
“Yes, yes, and you walked to class barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. It’s not like that. We were at a pizza place with other students. Nigel, Keisha and I shared a pizza. It must have been bad pepperoni.”
“Okay. Fine. Just so you’re well for Comps next week. You’ve got your evening exam. It seems that Pathology and Biochem have had to start dong the same thing. Must be something in the water.”
“Or in the blood.”
“Huh? What? What was that?”
“Oh, nothing, just a night crew joke. Don’t worry. I’ll be ready.”
“You’d better. I lost one student early in my career to bad Comps. Bright kid, couldn’t take comprehensive exams worth a damn. I hated to see him go.”
“Don’t worry about us so much, Doc. We appreciate it, but we’ll be fine. I’ve gotta get downstairs and start testing the rats. Mañana.”
“Yeah. Tomorrow. No, tomorrow’s Saturday. Give the rats the weekend off. Rest up, and study. Watch the ‘Buffy” marathon on Sunday. ‘See you Monday.”
“Buffy? I’ll pass. Nope, vampire hunters aren’t for me. Too much blood.”
“Oh sure, says the guy with fifteen units of blood in his fridge.”
“What? How do you know about that?” John said, a bit too quickly.
“Well, I had to sign for it. Dr. Tepes will be looking for it. Compartment B-3. Tell him not to drink it all at once.” Teddy turned and left the office, then called back over his shoulder. “Oh, and you’ve got some ketchup on your chin, you might want to wipe that off or people will be thinking you drank the blood!”
As he turned the corner and headed for the lobby, Teddy failed to notice the look of horror on John’s face.