In the first decades of the 21st century, it would hardly come as a surprise to learn that we are not alone in this vast universe. It is generally accepted that microorganisms populate the cosmos, however the existence of intelligent life beyond our pale, blue dot engenders a more robust debate among scientists, scholars, religious authorities, and the public. Many people are of the opinion that if ET existed we should have heard from him by now. The deafening silence screaming out from the void is proof that we are alone in our superior intelligence, as defined in Genesis. "It is our destiny to hold dominion over all the universe and every creeping thing that creeps within it, for we are God's chosen." Others assert that there must be intelligent life beyond our planet because there are too many worlds with too many throws of the evolutionary dice for intelligence to be a singular occurrence. SETI astronomer, Jane Carter, made the analogy that, "If you dip a glass into the ocean and there are no fish in the glass, does that mean there are no fish in the ocean?"
It was Eight P.M. on Easter Sunday. The clouds in the night sky were almost as inky black as the sky itself and tinged with just the slightest blush of pink. That delicate pink lent to the clouds a luminescence that made the heavens seem surreal. The combined voices of Rev. Blackard's congregation rose up to meet the stars in a rapturous thunder as the parishioners parroted in unison, Amen brother, Amen!
Sitting in the third pew of the center row, by the aisle, was a well-built young man with short, medium brown hair. As the pastor railed against sin, he furiously zapped aliens on his smart phone, oblivious to the roars of approval and shouts of elation that surrounded him,
"Matthew!" whispered the stylish blond woman sitting next to him, the force of her melodic tone gave additional weight to each syllable of his name as it went in one ear and out the other. "I know damned well you can hear me. Put that phone away." Her voice increased in pique the more he continued to battle aliens. The young man was, as usual for the youth of today, hypnotically enslaved by the electronic device that was almost never out of his hand. "Quinn," snapped the woman to the tall, muscular man who sat to her right.
"Matthew, knock it off!" he said with undisputed authority. Before the words could dissipate into the past, the young man powered down the phone and pocketed it.
The preacher's raspy voice was rich and resonant as it rose above the din.
"Times of the Gentiles will continue to the end of the age," Reverend Vomitous roared as he observed the heads before him nodding in agreement.
"The world's governments will be organized without a fight through satanic deception. The power prior to Christ's return to earth will be the object of a desperate attack by the major armies of the world for control of the land God has given to his people." The words rang out through the crowded church filling the incense-scented air with a fervor reserved only for those who have already drank the cool aid of truth and deception.
"I've heard all of this a million times before," whined the broad shouldered youth.
"Well you're going to hear it a million and one times, and next year you're going to hear it a million and ...."
"I get the picture," Matthew said impatiently as he fidgeted in his pew, trying to find a comfortable position.
"And you," said the blonde-haired woman as she poked Quinn. "You're not much better."
"Me?" complained the Roman. "What did I do? I came to Church. I'm sitting here. What more do you want from me?" asked the mystified man incredulously.
"An open mind," retorted the ageless beauty as she held her rosary beads firmly in her well-manicured hands.
Building to a crescendo the sun-bronzed orator continued, "When this day comes, the Lord will come to the place of his ascension in the same manner that he ascended in heaven." Rev. Blackard's arms thrust upward accentuating each word.
"This was the place of His agony and it will be the place of His glory. Then the Lord will come with all His holy ones. He comes to fulfill every word He has ever spoken."
"Amen brother, Amen." That was the common refrain among his congregation as they slapped their knees and flailed their arms jubilantly.
As their rapturous shouts and whistles filtered up to the ears of heaven, twenty five hundred miles above the parishioners bobbing heads, an intergalactic Ark slipped into Earth's orbit, unseen by man's technology until it removed its cloak and became a revelation in the minds and hearts of humanity.
Many telescope arrays can pick up a one-megawatt transmission from a thousand light years away and listen to over nine billion frequencies at once. While many people, on this Easter evening, were in their places of worship, a group of astronomers in their domed temple atop a dormant volcano became the first people on Earth to learn we are not alone, when an extraordinary spike on an ordinary computer screen alerted the astronomers to an alien presence far above them.
The people in white lab coats could hardly contain their excitement as they feverishly worked to confirm the signal. They had to rule out all human and natural sources. The signal was a repeating pattern filtered in the language of binary code: ones and zeros. All that remained was for another observatory to confirm the signal. Radio Telescopes act like radar. They bounce signals off objects to see their shape. The U.S. Space Command confirmed Mauna Kea's findings when their radar revealed the object to be cigar shaped and over two hundred miles long.
By Monday morning, the word was out. WE ARE NOT ALONE. The people of planet Earth turned their eyes and hands towards the heavens, in prayer, in hope, in fear and in absolution for their unatoned sins. Many people wondered whether these aliens would be our saviors or our destroyers. Would they liberate us from the technological Dark Ages or exploit us for their own gain? Social media was awash with every theory imaginable.
"Stop the world," gasped Ed Kendobbins excitedly from the television screen. "ET is knocking on our front door and we have the footage. Just five minutes ago NASA released the first images of the spaceship in orbit above Earth."
Quinn often watched the Ed Kendobins Show. The host's hyperbolic formula appealed to his recently acquired appreciation of the inane. As images of the spaceship flashed across the television, a wry smile crept over his ruggedly handsome face as he stroked his square, dimpled chin with his fingers. The images on the TV screen transfixed most eyes in the bar as it continued to show pictures of the alien ship from various angles.
"Exciting, isn't it?" asked the bartender.
"That depends," replied the former Roman General. "Will it still be exciting if ET is coming to eat you?" responded Quinn with a twinkle in his emerald-green eyes.
"Eat us," rejoined Jimmy. "I don't think so. If they have the technology to cross the stars, they are not coming here to eat us," he said with conviction. "I have no doubt that they are here to learn about us, like on Star Trek. They're explorer's man. All this talk of doomsday and apocalypse is nonsense. I don't buy any of it."
"Really, countered the immortal, his baritone voice sounded both mellifluous and convincing as he countered, "Technological advancement doesn't necessarily come hand in hand with altruism. That's a given."
He watched Jimmy closely as he continued, "Take ourselves for example. We have walked on the moon and landed rovers on Mars, yet we continue to wage war and oppress others. Even after all of our advancements, we continue to be an aggressive species. For that reason, I would be willing to bet you that aggressive aliens seem more likely than not. So my friend, I wouldn't hang my hat on that hope if I were you,"
Quinn could see by the bartender's affect that his words of caution fell on deaf ears. Jimmy's optimism was as impenetrable as the aliens' intentions.
Although Jimmy had stopped listening, Quinn continued anyway. "You know, intelligence is the end result of Darwinian competition: survival of the fittest. Intelligent brains like ours require massive amounts of energy, and scientific studies show that predatory behavior is the most efficient way to acquire that energy. It's an eat or be eaten universe," he said as he playfully licked his lips. Who knows, if you play your cards wrong, you might end up on an alien's dinner plate. Chances are, first contact will be with a predator species that developed an expansionist, war-like culture similar to ours. If you don't believe me, just ask the Aborigines, Africans or Native Americans about their experience with first contact."
Before the harried bartender could respond to Quinn's argument, the commercial ended and Ed Kendobbins resumed his hyperbole.
"On the show tonight we have a renowned astronomer, a military expert, a man of the cloth, and as if that weren't enough, a rock-star chef who's going to prepare a human feast for E.T. and any cannibals who happen to be watching. You heard me right folks. Humankind is on the menu tonight, and we are going to see how an alien chef might server up you or me for dinner, so stay tuned."
Ed's flair for the dramatic was tailor made for television and finely honed after twelve years in the Hoboken District Attorney's Office, where he prosecuted jaywalkers and loiterers. In his twelve years of service, he never lost a case. At the end of his illustrious career, Ed was 12-0 in the court of law. However, he had quite a different record in the court of public opinion.
"That guy is too much." exclaimed Jimmy as he finished slicing lemons. "I'd love to change the channel, but my customers can't get enough of his stick, especially since first contact."
"I have to admit," confessed Quinn sheepishly, his handsome features conspiring to hide a guilty smile. "I watch his show myself now and then. I know it's all theatrical hoopla, but I can't help it, it's sort of addictive."
The commercials were over and once again, Ed was back on air.
"With us tonight is star gazer extraordinaire and author of the best selling book Stars in the Sky, Dr. Carl Conniver.
"Dr. Conniver it has been almost twenty-four hours since that spaceship appeared above the plane of Megiddo and still no a word from ET. What's up with that doc? They traveled who knows how far, only to clam up once they get here. What the hay?" implored chat show host with all the urgency he could manufacture for the cameras.
"Good evening Ed," Thanks for having me here tonight."
"You're welcome Dr.," responded the host perfunctorily. "So tell me, what's got ET's tongue?"
"Well," explained Conniver, it's not unexpected that we haven't been able to open a line of communication between the extraterrestrials and ourselves. Look at our ability to communicate with other species on Earth: dolphins or chimps for example. We've had very little success with these species and yet we share the same planet. Now, try to imagine how difficult it would be to communicate with a species that is entirely alien from our own.
"Ah-ha, ah-ha" nodded the host agreeably. "So you're saying silence isn't unexpected?"
"That's right Ed. Think about how often you and your wife or kids can't communicate, and you speak the same language. Now multiply that by a trillion. That's what we're dealing with here, something that's totally outside our scope of understanding. For all we know they're trying to communicate with us and we're just not getting it. It's over our heads." Dr Conniver's hands darted about dramatically as he spoke and his cherubic face acquired an animated air.
"I see," responded the chat show host matter-of-factly.
"You haven't even touched your beer," remarked the stocky man behind the bar.
"I guess I'm just not in the mood tonight," replied Quinn who could not shake the feeling that someone was watching him. He looked around the bar scrutinizing each patron. He sat still and listened for a familiar sound to identify the source of his paranoia. He, like most of the bar patrons, were engrossed in the Ed Kendobbins show. Before Ed could say another word, the television picture cut out and the screen filled with snow and static, which could be heard above the collective groans of the evening crowd at Surf's Up, a neighborhood bar not far from Quinn's home on the beach.
The barman turned channels without success; each channel was the same, static and snow. Suddenly the static ceased and an aloof sounding voice replaced it, which repeated the same message.
"People of Earth the time of the Rapture has come. In two days, we will deliver all believers to their Lord in heaven. Come to the anointed places and our chariots of fire will lead the way to your salvation in Christ. This message repeated across the globe on every television screen and on every radio station in every language.
The crowd sat in stunned silence with their mouths agape as they listened to the alien's message.
"This has to be a hoax," intoned Jimmy, whose hand shook with nervous tension as he tried to pour a frozen drink from the blender into an iced glass.
"This can't actually be a message from the aliens themselves. What kind of religious nonsense is this? The Rapture, really?" Astonishment and confusion was written across his unshaven face, as his blue eyes narrowed, causing the area between his eyebrows to crease.
While Quinn listened to the bartender's nervous ramblings, he managed to control the frustration he felt at not being able to place any phone calls, they went straight to voicemail.
"I can't get a hold of anyone," complained the first vampire as he stood up to leave. "I guess this is my cue to go. He strode across the crowded bar towards the door, putting the phone back into the pocket of his mustard colored cargo shorts while wondering what the good Reverend Vomitous, with his religious obsessions, would make of this development.
Filtering out from the rectory and into the ether was the song which Vomitous had playing on repeat for the last thirty minutes since he started his rant.
"When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout, there's gonna be a great day".
"Angels in the sky, promise that bye and bye, there's gonna be a great day."
"Rapture my ass," bellowed Vomitous to no one as he paced from one room to another.
Butter, his longhaired cat watched silently from his perch on the windowsill as his rectory mate paced feverishly across the room.
"Gabriel will warn you, some early morn, you will hear his horn."
"Lift up your hear and say, it's gonna be a great day." As the song picked up-tempo so did Vomitous' rant.
"Deliver believers to the Lord in heaven! Chariots of fire. I'll give you Rapture! I'll give you chariots of fire." His dark eyes flashed with a fire that started in his stomach and rose like a phoenix until his eyes blazed with its heat. Each time he repeated this mantra, he punctuated every sentence with a cackling laugh and maniacal glare. Only a knock at his door could derail the clergyman's obsessive train of thought and stop his nonstop pacing.
"Lucrezia," said Vomitous, his voice dripping with feigned surprise. "What brings you by tonight? Do you need me to forgive your numerous sins?" asked the smirking man. "No Vomitous, I've already forgiven myself," replied the Renaissance woman with a sardonic smile and a mischievous glint in her hazel eyes. She walked, uninvited, into the living room and made herself comfortable in an overstuffed, green, damask chair.
"I don't know about you but this was the last thing I expected to hear from the aliens. I don't know whether to be angry or afraid," said the six hundred year old beauty with mixed emotions.
"I'm sure your father would have a field day with this," snapped Vomitous with a smile. "Refresh my memory dear, which hypocritical Pope was he?" The words rolled off his long, sandpaper-like tongue the way a drunk rolls off a park bench: with a thud.
Lucrezia was born in 1480 to Vannozza dei Cattanei and Rodrigo Borgia. Her father, Pope Alexander VI epitomized Machiavellian politics and sexual corruption. Her father ingrained these behaviors in her from an early age, and they were traits that would serve her well over the years.
"Vomitous, must we banter now." said the shapely blond impatiently. "We're got bigger issues to deal with. These aliens are blaspheming our God and making a mockery of our religion. I know damned well you are as angry about this as I am. I could hear you ranting from blocks away."
"He came in January, February, March, April, May, June, July, and August, September, October, November, De, De, De December."
"It was a great day. It was a great day." As the song swelled to its climax Lucrezia implored, "Please turn that song off. How many times are you going to listen to it?"
"It's inspiring me," countered the lean man.
"Inspiring you how?" inquired Lucrezia skeptically. She immediately wanted to kick herself for even asking because she knew that she knew better.
"It's inspiring me to greatness on behalf of our Father," shot back Vomitous defiantly. "The Lord our Father has plans for me and He is about to reveal them. Rest assured darling, His will, will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven."
"I'm more concerned about our own plans and how we're going to deal with this alien threat." As she tried to reason with Vomitous, Butter jumped down from the windowsill and lay on the floor, gazing up at her as he rolled over on his back and pointed his forelimbs towards the ceiling exposing big, fluffy white belly. The more she ignored Butter's appeal for attention, the more determined he was to get it. He rolled over several times, each time moving closer to her. Again, he lay on his back exposing his belly thinking this surreptitious tactic would yield results. Lucrezia paid no attention to him as she continued to observe Vomitous' bizarre behavior.
Lucrezia could see her words were not getting through to the still frocked preacher who had resumed his pacing and was now repeating the phrase "His will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. His will be done on Earth...."
His demonic laugh which punctuated the end of each phrase of his new mantra, bounced off the unpadded walls of the rectory and into Lucrezia's unwelcoming ears, temporarily distracting her from the song, which had just finished and was beginning again.
With equal parts exasperation and pique, the long legged woman, whose form fitting dress, showed off both her figure and her legs to their best advantage, knew she was wasting her time because there was no getting through to Vomitous when he was in one of his moods. Besides pathologically lying, she thought to herself, crazy was what Vomitous did best. And tonight, she could see by his behavior, crazy was the only thing on his menu.
'I'm leaving," she said curtly. "Don't bother to show me out." His guest strode purposely toward the exit, not caring to hide her nonplused frame of mind. As Lucrezia walked towards her car, she could hear a mélange of music, mania and chanting still emanating from the rectory as Vomitous continued his ritualistic pacing and mumblings, waiting for the time when God delivers to him The Word.
The sidewalk outside of Surfs Up radiated in rainbow of colors as the neon surfer rode the wave on the sign which flashed it's warm glow across the large picture window. Quinn's house on the beach was just a few minutes walk from the bar and usually the short walk home was uneventful.
A trio of young men exited the bar almost immediately after Quinn, one of whom spontaneously shouted, "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated; your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile." Their boisterous laughter was in stark contrast to the more foreboding pall, which permeated the psyche of most men and women after receiving the cryptic message from the alien visitors.
Once again Quinn stopped and held still, listening intently and searching his surroundings for the unseen eyes he felt watching him. Tonight as he walked home, instead of contemplating the aliens' cryptic message, his thoughts, strangely enough, turned to the past.
Publius Quinctilius Varus or Quinn as his friends and "modern family" knew him was born in the year 46 BC. He was a Roman General in the service of Caesar Augustus. His main claim to fame or infamy was that he (a claim he vehemently denies) led three legions of elite troops into an ambush in Germany's Teutoburg Forrest. Initial reports indicated no one survived the barbarian attack, including Varus.
While Quinn took the long way home and meandered leisurely through his eerily quiet neighborhood, he could not shake the feeling that this was the obligatory calm before the storm. He had experienced many such calms before. One such moment in particular intruded upon his consciousness. It occurred on a September evening in 31 BC. He was fifteen years old. He and his father, Sextus Quinctilius Varus, were aboard a Liburnian vessel on the Ionian Sea waiting for daylight so they could join with the rest of Octavian's fleet as he prepared to engage Mark Anthony and Cleopatra for control of the ancient Roman world. With dawn approaching, the knot in the pit of his stomach tightened. Never again, imagined the fifteen-year-old, would he participate in a battle in which the fate of the world, as he knew it, hung in the balance.
As he walked home, Quinn could not help feeling that history was about to repeat itself, but this time it would be on a truly global scale.
Quinn and Lucrezia's houses sat side by side overlooking the Pacific. The sunsets as viewed from their terraces were crimson and gold visions worthy of paintings. When the ancient returned home, he tried calling Lucrezia again. As he waited for an answer, his eyes fell upon a painting on his living room wall entitled The War God by Birger Sandzen. It, ironically enough, was a picture of an angry war god with a scared looking dragon by his side. Its carnival-like colors gave the painting a festive appearance, which was diametrically opposed to the hysteria that surrounded the media coverage of the alien presence in orbit over our world.
"Finally," said Quinn, whose gaze temporarily caught sight of a Luna moth through the window. Its wings, which fluttered gracefully and glistened iridescently in the moonlight, like lime green emeralds, entangled in a spider's web, causing its resident to investigate the disturbance. The spider, upon finding the welcomed visitor quickly wrapped it in a designer shroud of perfectly tailored silk before storing it in its larder for later consumption.
"I've been trying to get you for the better part of an hour," bellowed Quinn as his rich, baritone voice betrayed a tinge of concern, which did not go unnoticed by the recipient of his words.
"I'm sorry. My phone ran out of juice. The battery life on this phone stinks. I have to get a different phone. This happens too often and I'm sick of it. I swear to God, just looking at that damn phone is enough to drain its battery," complained Lucrezia with disgust.
"Where are you?"
"I'm on my way back from Vomitous'." The mention of his name did nothing to minimize her present feelings of disgust. "I finally had to leave because he ...."
"Let me guess," interrupted Varus, he was acting nuttier than a Christmas fruit cake and you couldn't get a word in edge wise."
"That's close enough," agreed the woman as she pulled into her driveway, which was lined with alternating lemon trees and orange hibiscus shrubs, that were nestled in cobalt blue, ceramic urns.
"He kept babbling on about God delivering to him a revelation of some sort. Trying to talk to him when he's in one of his moods is useless, so I left. I just hope he doesn't go off and do something half cocked," lamented Lucrezia as she swept her long, blond locks away from her supermodel face. As she did so, she was careful not to smear her carefully applied lipstick called blood moon. It came in a copper colored cylindrical tube with cutouts of blood moons and yellow stars.
"This whole alien thing has got me on edge," confessed Quinn as he watched his closest neighbor stride across her front yard and into his. As she walked, her heels made a clicking sound as they made contact with the pavement stones that led to his open front door. Without a hint of formality, the woman whose pearly white teeth framed her face in symmetric perfection, sat on the sofa and regarded her rankled host with supportive eyes.
"I can't stop dwelling on the past. I've been dredging up memories I haven't thought about for hundreds of years," confessed Varus. "The past is suddenly feeling very familiar, and it making me so uneasy," he said with a sigh. "I wish those aliens would just go away." His words filled the space between them with a sentimental melancholy, which rested heavily on the ocean air. Roses, and lavender from his yard scented the breeze that wafted into his living room, as he continued, "I haven't been able to get a hold of Matthew. What the hell is it with these kids today! They're glued to their gadgets and yet you can never get a hold of them when you want to," complained Quinn testily.
"Matthew's probably engrossed in his research or has his face buried in a video game. We can stop by the loft later if you want to check up in him," offered Lucrezia diplomatically,
"And that's another thing damn it!" muttered Quinn as he banged his fist on the coffee table. "Why couldn't he buy a house next to ours? What's with this whole loft bullshit?" The room almost seemed to vibrate from the heat that singed each word as it left his lips and drifted away on the evening breeze.
"Quinn, we've been over this a half a dozen times," said Lucrezia, trying not to let frustration creep into her voice. "It's only natural that he wants to strike out on his own and establish his own identity. It's just a phase. He'll out grow it and come back home. You've just got to ride it out"
"Ride it out," mocked Quinn. "Those are pretty big words coming from you," the now standing man quickly countered." Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't you the one who was all boo who-who, boo who-who when Matthew decided to go to college half way across the country? So I don't see where you get off getting all-logical on me. You're no better," cried the ancient, demonstrating self-righteous indignation with a dismissive wave of his massive hand.
"I'm not judging," Lucrezia said defensively. "I'm merely saying there's no way to change the situation, so just let it go. It will eventually resolve on its own. "Besides" she added, with determination, when Matthew went to that school, it was unexpected, so naturally I was not prepared for such a sudden declaration of independence. Now that he's done it once, it wasn't a shock or surprise that he would do it again. Remember that little girl in Interview with a Vampire who woke up one day and told Brad Pitt she wanted a coffin of her own. Well, this is Matthew's version of having his own coffin. Almost every kid goes through this sort of thing at one time or another. It's not the end of the world."
"Really, a vampire movie, that's the best you can come up with?" blustered Quinn. "I'm talking about real life. I don't want to hear about some stupid movie at a time like this"
"A time like this, asked his companion skeptically? "What time are you talking about? Aliens possibly invading Earth and killing us all or Matthew's choosing to live twenty minutes away?"
"Both," Quinn shouted back hesitantly. Why do you have to say it like that, you make me sound so superficial. WTF? I thought you were on my side," groused the imposing figure as he sat back down on the chair that offered a lovely vista of the ocean and carried the sound of crashing waves into his home with the welcoming embrace of an old friend.
"If I can't get a hold of him soon, I am going over there. Under normal circumstances, it would not be a big deal, but these are not normal circumstances. With everything that's happening, I think we're much better off sticking together right now. You know safety in numbers and that sort of thing "said the first vampire softly." There's too much we don't know and I would feel better if we were all together for the time being." The baritone of his voice was subtlety colored by a growing unease, which he was trying his best to disguise from Lucrezia's discerning ear.
"You know Quinn, we've been in each others lives for a lot of years now, to quote a Barenaked Ladies song, 'I knew you before the west was won...' and we've seen each other in a lot of different lights so I think I know you fairly well. This trip down memory lane isn't just apprehension about a possible alien invasion or concern for Matthew. I think it's more about concern for another twenty one year old, isn't it?" Each word, as it escaped her full lips, slowly peeled back the protective layers he used as a defense against any perception of weakness, revealing in his emotional armor a microscopic wound through which his true feelings could escape.
"As usual, you're right." His head lowered slightly as he continued to reveal his feelings. "I'm afraid the world could end without my ever seeing him again. My boy is out there somewhere and I don't know where." The first vampire's voiced cracked with emotion as he said, "He is never going to forgive me. He blames me for everything in his life that's ever gone wrong, just like Matthew does," Quinn spoke barely in a whisper and his eyes filled with imaginary tears that would have broken through his emotional barriers when he was human.
"The world isn't going to end, and time is on your side," said Lucrezia as she reassuringly reached for his hand. "Matthew doesn't blame you Quinn, and when pushed, he admits it. You're beating yourself up over nothing."
Her words were delivered with a softness which acted as an anticoagulant that kept Varus' emotional wound open long enough to allow his true feelings to emerge when he said," I hate being a failure, and I failed with QJ. That's why he won't have anything to do with me. His distain for me is a constant reminder of my failings as a father and as a man." Even the surf's hypnotic allure could not cushion the impact of Quinn's self-perpetuating angst as he buried his face in his hands, shielding himself from the comforting gaze of his closest neighbor and long time partner in crime.
The humiliation of Quinn's defeat in Germany extended to his family. It was customary for people in the ancient Roman world to take their lives after a public failure.
To escape the shame of his father's disgrace, Quinctilius the younger left the Empire altogether. He traveled to India and China where he spent several decades coming to grips with infamy attached to his family's name. It would be many years before he returned to the continent of his birth.
Finding the appropriate way to express his inner most feelings has always been a struggle for the man who slowly got used to loneliness and living a solitary existence. Sharing has been a gradual adjustment for Quinn and not without its risks. By reproducing his family in death, he revealed a potential weakness and opened himself up to exploitation. Feelings have consequences and hearts are made to be broken, not only by time, but also by chance and poor decision-making.
A breaking news story enticed Quinn to take his face out of his hands and sit upright. For the moment, the news distracted both occupants of the room.
"We interrupt your regularly scheduled alien update with the latest update. This unedited video has just come in," Ed Kendobbins emoted breathlessly.
"It appears that the v-shaped knobs covering the outside of the Ark have detached from it and are taking up orbit over the Earth's major cities. This is live footage of the craft hovering over Atlanta.
"First, we receive cryptic, religious messages and now this. Could this be a prelude to invasion? Keep it right here folks and you'll find out right after these important commercial messages."
As a commercial for adult diapers began, Quinn and Lucrezia exchanged incredulous looks.
"I know I may have been a little melodramatic earlier when I wallowed in self-pity and waxed unphilosophically about the end of days, but damn, this is disturbing. Just from a basic military standpoint, it screams invasion. If they invade with their technological advantage, we won't stand a chance," remarked the former Roman Commander.
"You mean humans won't stand a chance; we'll be alright, right?" The lack of conviction, which tinted her words, robbed them of any weight and kept them earth bound.
"That all depends upon the aliens and what they have in store for us. All we can do is react to whatever they do." Quinn's lack of optimism drained the room of all its energy, leaving it feeling more like a crypt than a living room
As they talked, they paid no attention to the young woman in the acne commercial who smiled because her zits would be gone by prom night.
The ringing phone snapped the fleeting gloom which kidnapped their better sense and made them unwitting slaves to a temporarily moment of despair.
"It's Matthew," exclaimed Quinn with sudden animation.
Lucrezia's heart skipped an imaginary beat as she tried to disguise her relief from Quinn's ever-observant eyes that Matthew had finally called.
"Why haven't you been answering your phone?" bellowed Quinn as he endeavored to subtract some of the ire from his voice and soften his tone mid sentence.
"Lucrezia has been very worried about you. It's very inconsiderate of you to cause her such distress, especially after what's happened tonight."
"I was in my lab, working. You know how important my research is to me. Wait, what do you mean after what's happened tonight?" The young man's voice suddenly took on a concerned tone.
"Turn on your television," barked the man on the other end of the phone. Matthew reached for the remote and turned on his flat screen. Immediately an excited news anchor greeted him showing live footage of the craft that hovered silently overhead as enigmatically as a sphinx.
"What does this mean?" asked the younger man as he regarded the metallic machine of alien origin that maintained its silent vigil in the sky. "Are we going to be invaded?" Matthew's voice betrayed the fear that began to bubble up into his consciousness.
"No!" interjected Lucrezia confidently from the sofa, the surety in her voice, on a subconscious level, had a soothing effect over her male counterparts. "We're survivors, and rest assured, no matter what happens, we, like rats, cockroaches and Cher will live to inherit the earth. The woman's levity brought a smile to the younger man's face and quelled his apprehension for a moment.
"Matthew," urged the vigilant man seated in a peach colored chair whose pastel calm brilliantly complemented the vivid aqua of the turgid surf visible through the patio behind him.
"Until we have a better idea of what's going to happen, I think it would be best if you temporally moved back here. If we are all together, we'll have a much better chance of reacting to whatever happens. It does not have to be anything permanent, but just for now. Your research can wait for a little while. A few days, weeks or months aren't going to make that much difference, and besides it would really bring Lucrezia peace of mind." Quinn remained oblivious to Lucrezia's raised eyebrows and disapproving looks as he continued, "I'd feel better too if you would stay here or next door for the time being."
"I'll think about it," offered Matthew wanly. "I don't have to give you an answer right this second. I'll call you later, Bye." Before Matthew could put down his phone and return his attention back to the television, he turned to see Vomitous sitting on his sofa contemplating copies of Van Gogh's The Angel and The Raising of Lazarus that hung on the brick wall directly before him. Van Gogh was Matthew's favorite artist, and fifty years ago, Quinn painted those pictures and gave them to him for his birthday.
Matthew, an only child, was born in 1904 in New York City. He was eight when his father died. The loss of his father devastated his mother so; she initially turned to the Lord for solace. In time, his mother became fanatical about her faith, to the point she resembled Sissy Spacek's mother in the movie Carrie. As Matthew grew into adulthood, she tried to instill in him the evils of sex. In fact, she wanted her son to devote his life to God and become a Catholic Priest. This was something Matthew resisted from the beginning, but after he graduated high school, his mother sent him to Seminary College where he tried to acquiesce to her wishes, but his heart was never in it.
It was the roaring '20s and NYC was an exciting place to be. That is what initially attracted Quinn, Lucrezia and Vomitous to the city. Skyscrapers, Speakeasies, Broadway, the Harlem Renaissance and Jazz, NYC had become one of the centers of the world. Matthew's school was only a fifteen-minute train ride from the new Sodom and Gomorra, as his mother now referred to their home. On the weekends, the seminary student would sneak off campus and into the city and go to the Cotton Club to drink, dance and enjoy the evils of Jazz. This is where he first came to Quinn's notice. The ancient could not believe how much Matthew looked like his son QJ. The resemblance was bittersweet and initially felt like a stake through the heart. Bessie Smith was on stage singing, ironically enough, Oh Daddy when Quinn first saw him. For what seemed like an eternity, the first vampire stood frozen, just staring at him.
"Quinn, what's wrong?" asked Lucrezia as she took his hand supportively. The blank look on his face alarmed her. She had never seen him like that before.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," remarked Vomitous as he pretended to drink a gin and tonic. He looked intently, trying to figure out what was so fascinating about the young man. "Are you thinking about going 'Roman' again?" laughed the Dark Ages Flagellant.
The General turned to the cleric and replied, "For crying out loud, Vomitous, no. He looks like my son." His voice cracked and he was almost unable to finish is thought. The wound was still so deep, that Quinn rarely talked of the younger Varus, except to Lucrezia. It was mostly around QJ's birthday that the elder Varus would go silent and sometimes go away for a day or two to be alone with is thoughts and his memories.
It was nearing four o'clock in the morning and Matthew had to rush to catch the last train. He walked out of the club and headed towards the station. At first, Quinn wanted to follow him, to see where he lived. Quinn knew Matthew was going to catch a train. He heard him say so.
"Come on, let's dance," said his mate, trying to distract him from the anguish she could see he was feeling. He tried for a few minutes to forget.
He tried to laugh when Vomitous approached a young Flapper and said "Hey doll, let's cut a rug," but it was no use.
He looked at Lucrezia and confessed, "I can't let him go. I have to know where he lives." Before she could respond, he was gone. When Quinn reached the deserted station, the train had already left. "No," he wailed. "No." It wasn't until he turned to leave that he saw the trail of blood. It led to an exit nearby. Half way up the concrete stairs, he saw Matthew lying in a heap. His jacket and empty wallet lay on the stairs next to him. It wasn't until Matthew refused to give up his father's watch that the two thieves stabbed him repeatedly. At first, all Quinn could see was his own son lying prostrate on the floor with a sword by his side and his lifeblood draining from him. It wasn't until Matthew looked up at him and pleaded, "don't let me die," that he snapped out of his stupor. The ancient knew it was too late for a hospital. The young stranger would never make it. Once again he was frozen.
"Please help me," the lad implored. His voice was much weaker this time. The boy had almost no strength left. Quinn knew it was now or never. The ancient said a silent prayer and then acted. When it was over, Matthew's lifeless body lay in transition. Soon the transformation would be over and his new life would begin.
"How... What do you want," asked Matthew snippishly, reluctantly turning his attention to his long-time acquaintance, whose presence in his home was an unwelcome distraction.
"Have I got news for you," giggled the cleric like a like a giddy schoolgirl. He rubbed his hands together and hunched his shoulders while leaning forward to face his younger kinsman directly.
"I received the Word," said the Dutchman who continued to giggle. "I know exactly what has to be done. God told me." Vomitous could hardly contain his glee as his grizzled face reflected the rapidity of his racing thoughts.
"Vomitous, said the youngest vampire with ennui, "I don't have time for your theatrics.
"You better make time," he said emphatically, pointing his index finger in Matthew's direction. "This involves you too."
"Involves me how," asked the young man suspiciously? "The alien's presence has nothing at all to do with me."
"That's where you're wrong," insisted the man whose dark eyes sparkled mischievously as he continued to explain further. "The alien presence has everything to do with you. You have as much business with those devils as I do."
"You're not making any sense Vomitous, muttered Matthew as he opened the door to the loft and motioned with his arm for his uninvited guest to leave."Why don't you go back to the rectory and plan your next damnation sermon. It's getting late and I want to get back to my experiments."
"Your experiments are what I'm talking about," explained the shorter man. The smile on his face extended from ear to ear as he added, "The alien's technology is the key to your research. For all you know, they might already have the answer you're seeking. That's why you need to come with me."
"Come with you?" shot back the youthful man. His eyes, like navy blue sapphires, narrowed when he said, "You're still not making any sense."
"I'm going aboard the alien ship tomorrow with the Rapture. You should come with me. While I convert the alien's heathen souls, you can get their scientific technology. You want to be human again, don't you?"
"You know I do," he answered testily.
"Then you need to come with me. This is the best chance you will ever have to regain your humanity. On the low end, they are hundreds if not thousands of years ahead of us scientifically, need I say more."
It was the early 60s when Matthew fell in love for the first and only time. Her name was Halley, and she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He was immediately smitten with her. Vomitous was still in his beatnik phase when he started experimenting with photography and film. Matthew worked as his assistant, arranging sets and setting up lights. Halley was one of his models. She had a lively wit and sparkling personality and the camera, along with everyone else adored her. Eventually, Vomitous expanded his operation and published a Men's magazine called Spread, he also started making and directing "art" films. It was watching Halley make those movies that sent Matthew over the edge because he could never know her in that way. He spiraled out of control for several years, taking out his frustration and rage on men in underground fight clubs. When he finally righted himself, he avowed to do what ever it took to become human again.
"I can't go aboard that alien ship with you," Matthew said with hesitancy, "It's a trap. You can't go either. It's too dangerous." He looked intently at Vomitous who appeared to be in a world of his own.
"The hell I can't, shot back the reborn preacher. The Lord God is my shield and my sword," he shouted, shaking his fist in Matthew's direction. The conviction in his voice alerted the youngest vampire to the fact that he would not be able to talk Vomitous out of his God-inspired mission.
"You can say anything you want right now," said the elder." You'll come with me in the end. I'm sure of it. You won't be able to help yourself. You want answers, and you want them sooner rather than later, and the only place you're going to get those answers is with me on that alien spaceship. I'm leaving before noon tomorrow. You know where to find me, and don't say a word to Quinn because you know he'll stop you from going, and we both know you want to go!"
The older man's confidence came off as smug and bordered on abrasive, which made Matthew want to be totally contrarian, but he knew in his heart that Vomitous was right. The siren song of superior alien technology would be too strong to resist. It would be like trying to defy the irresistible pull of a super massive black hole. Impossible, as impossible as it would be for a plain yellow pumpkin and a prince to join in marriage, Impossible!
"Be at the rectory before noon," the elder man repeated as he exited the loft. Vomitous' back, as he walked away, was a welcome sight to the young man whose chiseled features could fittingly adorn a marble bust in a Roman villa.
As high noon approached on the third day since the aliens' arrival, the reborn man of the cloth opened the door to his rectory and greeted his younger accomplice with a knowing smirk as he crossed the threshold into Vomitous' world of insanity.
"What on Earth are you doing?" gasped Matthew incredulously, as he observed his companion's arsenal of firearms spread out on the table before him.
"I'm packing heat for God," replied the former Dark Ages Flagellant with a snigger.
It was 1349 when Quinn first saw Vomitous. The Dutchman and a large contingent of Flagellants left Holland and converged on London in an effort to wart off the Black Death. Twice a day, the Flagellants converged on St. Paul's Cathedral to perform their fanatical ritual. Quinn, like many other people watched slack jawed while the men performed this daily spectacle.
As the Flagellants made their way past the crowd, to the Cathedral, they were nude except for thigh high hose and a white cap with a red cross on the front and back. In their right hand, they carried a scourge with three tails and a knot in the middle with nails affixed to them. The assembled crowd watched in horror and amazement as the naked Flagellants marched single file, whipping themselves until they bled. No Flagellant whipped himself more enthusiastically than Vomitous, who appeared to Quinn, to be their leader. As four of the men chanted in Dutch, four more would chant in response to their litany. Three times, each man threw himself on the ground, stretching out his arms like a cross. Their chanting would go on and on, until the man who was at the end of the line would step over each man ahead of him, giving him one lash with his scourge until he reached the head of the line where he would lay prostrate. This went on until each man had his turn, at which point the men dressed and returned to their lodging. Then the next day, they repeated this ritual.
As Quinn watched this spectacle unfold over several weeks, he was both repulsed and fascinated. It was like a modern day train wreck from which he could not turn away. And no one seemed to take more pleasure in whipping himself than Vomitous. Although he looked nothing like Quinn's father, something about the man reminded him of Sextus. For that reason, the Roman started following him each evening after the ritual ended, watching discreetly from a distance. It wasn't long before the immortal realized the Flagellant could not save himself from the Black Death that was everywhere.
"Those alien heathens will rue the day they ever blasphemed our Savior," railed Vomitous, and no matter what they think they're going to do to the humans who partake of the Rapture, they won't get away with it. I will smite them down with the modern equivalent of His terrible swift sword." The dead man's resolve was divinely inspired and his will unshakeable.
"Vomitous, this isn't a Rambo mission." said Matthew. His voice revealed the concern that his face betrayed. "You can't go in there guns blazing. You don't know what they're capable of. We have to go in there covertly. Sneak in and sneak out as best we can."
"You worry too much. You're worse than a little old lady Matthew. Maybe you should stay here and crochet a new doily for the church altar," said the Dark Ages monk with a sarcastic sneer. "This is no time to be a momma's boy."
"I'm not being a momma's boy," Matthew said defensively. "Perhaps we should let Quinn know what we're planning to do, maybe he could help," offered the young man hopefully.
"Help my ass!" bellowed Vomitous, slamming his fist on the table, causing some of the guns to jump slightly, and Butter to run from the room. You told me yesterday he wants you to move back home with him until this all plays out. If he learns about this, you'll never find out if those devils have the technology to cure you. Do you really want to take that chance?"
"But nothing," barked the determined cleric forcefully. "Keep your mouth shut.
We're only going to get one shot at this." The elder man handed the younger vampire a harness and said, "put it on. I've got guns for you too."
Matthew's eye's glazed over. Although he was an excellent sharpshooter, the young man hated guns and he hated violence. In the 1960s and 70s he spent a great many hours marching in peace rallies and protesting against the Vietnam War and against segregation. He preferred sit-ins to shoot outs.
Reluctantly, he did as he was told and put on the harness and inserted the guns into the holsters.
"Where did you get all these weapons?
"I've got people," answered the former Flagellant coyly. The twinkle in his eyes gave Matthew an uneasy feeling as he slung a shotgun over his shoulder.
"Here," ordered the crazed vampire, "put this on too." He handed Matthew a black leather jacket. "It will conceal your weapons."
Vomitous placed the guns in holsters strapped to his torso and placed the remaining gun in his back waistband. After donning a matching, leather jacket, he turned to his accomplice and said with a delirious laugh, "Now we look just like the vampires in the Evolution movies. We're badass now! Let's boogie."
As Butter watched from his perch in the window, the two men left for the mysterious hovering craft and their date with destiny and the Rapture.