Victoriana, Alternate years

Sophia's Journal - Second Entry

I have received a second treatment from Dr. McMillian, and have learned a number of interesting facts since my last journal entry. I have even had something which could almost be called an adventure!

First, however, let me speak about the treatment I have received. Since this journal may become reference material in a medical context, I feel it is important to record my experiences with the greatest possible accuracy. Dr. McMillian has been good enough to list the ingredients of the injection, which are as follows:

1 grain of Opium, diluted at 200:1 1 drop of Morphine, also diluted at 200:1 In a salt water suspension solution

It is difficult to say what effect the treatment is having so far; but I can say that I have not yet experienced either side-effects, or other symptoms. The mark from the bite has never gone away, and remains dark. It has not grown smaller; however, it has also not grown larger, and this is a promising sign. I was a bit worried that I should come to crave the injections that Dr. McMillian gives me, but so far I am much more interested in intelligent conversation than in the needle.

I have been corresponding with Dr. McMillian, and while he has been polite in every possible way, I find myself dissatisfied with the amount of information which is known about these Wasp-men. While we have a fairly clear idea of their presence, and the affects of their attacks (a point about which I shall speak in greater detail in a moment,) we know very little else.

Sir Gregory knows how to fight the creatures, and Dr. McMillian knows how to treat their bites – at least as much as any physician does – but I find I have questions remaining that neither Sir Gregory, nor the Good Doctor, can answer. Where did these Wasp-men come from? How is it that they remain unknown in our society? How far have they spread? How much of a danger do they really pose to the population of London?

Dr. McMillian hasn’t the time to research such things; he has his hands quite full with those patients who have encountered the wasp-men and are the worse off for it. Sir Gregory, as a military man, would like the answers to these questions, but is busy actually hunting these creatures down. (This is what he was doing the night I first encountered him, and it was very probably the scent or sound of this creature that spooked Edward so terribly.) He is a man of action, not inclined to a great deal of research. Furthermore, I am not certain that he reads all that well. I feel dreadfully sorry for this, as I am positive he would greatly enjoy the works of Jules Verne. I have decided to read these books to him if the circumstances should ever permit.

In the meantime, however, it seems a great deal of research needs to be done, and as there is no one else to do it, I have resolved to do it myself. To this end, I have purchased a camera. My tale is so fantastic that any proof I present will require photographic evidence to carry any weight whatsoever. I was surprised at the advances which have been made in photographic technology since my father purchased a camera many years ago. I was imagining that I should have to lug about a box with stilts and a tray full of flash powder; but the camera I purchased is small enough to be carried about easily, and the flash powder can be placed into a small glass phial specially shaped for the purpose. Luckily father still remembers how to develop film. One of the smaller store-rooms has been converted into a dark room, and he has taught me how to mix chemicals and so on. I have taken pictures of everyone in the family, and a number of flowers and other things as practice, and can now develop my own prints without assistance.

Dr. McMillian has encouraged this by stating that sunshine and fresh air would be good for me, and so it would be good for me to be out and about and doing things that interest me. Father has encouraged me to go out and photograph flowers, and I have done so in “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening” lighting. It was with my camera, in fact, that I have had my small adventure.

One of the things I have wanted to research has been the effect of the wasp-men upon the animal kingdom. It seems improbable that these creatures were created by God in the Garden of Eden; therefore it seems likely that another agency would be somehow be involved. Presumably there was an original Wasp-man; how had he come to be in existance? If he had been stung into being, what creature had done the stinging? Could it have been some sort of wasp? It seemed a logical enough premise to investigate.

But investigate how? I was hardly anxious to go about looking for wasp nests, particularly if those wasps might be able to sting a person into such a transformation. At length, however, I decided upon a course of action. Adelaide, along with most of the surrounding estates, sits very near a series of aquaducts, which fill and empty with the whims of the tides. One of these actually ran along the edge of one of our fields. I had only seen it from a distance, but there would be certain to be rotting leaves and things about, which should attract all sorts of insects.

In the early evening I took my camera and headed out across the field. It was a later than I usually went outside, and the shadows were very long indeed, but the sea could be a dangerous thing, and I only wanted to visit the aquaduct when the tide was at its lowest possible mark. Tidal charts are very specific things, and I didn’t care to wait for several months until the tides gradually came to match a schedule which was more convenient. I took a number of pictures of long shadows, as cover for the trip.

The aquaduct, when I arrived, looked exactly as it had when I had seen it from a distance. The particular spot I had chosen was sort of a long, deep trench, lined with stones. The trees grew very thickly around, and the ground was rather marshy, for the tree branches ensured that even in the daytime, there wouldn’t have been a speck of sun. Tunnel entrances were on each end of the trench, and though I had brought my lantern, I didn’t have any intention of tunnel exploration.

I had worn my riding-dress. Although it rather daringly exposed several inches of ankle, I wasn’t anxious to expose my hems to murky tidewater. I had obtained waterproofed boot-covers especially for the occasion, and took a moment to put them on and light my lantern before descending the ladder.

It was a bit like going underground, although the trench was open to the sky. The branches above were so densely packed that there was much less light than I had anticipated. There were, however, several grates which were as packed with leaves and dead bugs as I had expected. I didn’t want to touch anything with my hands, but poked about with a stick.

I didn’t see anything unusual, and was about to count the entire expedition as a dismal failure, when an angry chittering noise attracted my attention. I looked up just in time to see a large rat pounce upon something in the most ferocious manner. Did it have a stinger…?

I approached the rat with some trepidation. It noticed me at once and didn’t look at all happy with my presence, but I reminded myself that I was a thousand times larger than it was, and that even if it should charge at me angrily, it wouldn’t have much chance of biting through my skirts.

“Here now,” I told it, “Let me see that. Shoo! Shoo!”

I thought it was really a rather large and ferocious looking rat: but it backed off from my voluminous skirts, chittering angrily, then shot down the nearest tunnel. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The rat had indeed brought down a wasp. It was enormous, larger than any wasp I had ever seen. Thankfully, it was quite dead, its head all but severed by the rat’s attack. But it was there, and its little jewelled eyes reminded me at once of the terrible Wasp-Man. I didn’t want to touch it with my hands, but took out the small jar I had brought with me, and scooped it up with the help of the stick. I felt safer when it was sealed in the glass.

That feeling didn’t last long. I looked up from the jar to discover that while I had been occupied, the ferocious sewer-rat had returned, and brought all of his friends with him. There must have been hundreds of rats – thousands of them. They had come out of the tunnels on both sides, and while none of them was closer than three feet, I was completely surrounded.

I was deeply alarmed. It was one thing to shoo off a lone rat by swishing one’s skirts: it was quite another to face an army of them. I tried to move gingerly towards the ladder, but found that the volume of squeaking increased alarmingly at any step I made in that direction. It didn’t take me long to discover that the rats seemed reluctant to approach me, provided I remained where I was.

So I waited. The sun had been setting when I arrived at the aqueduct; it was almost fully down when a new rat came into the crowd. Unlike the other rats, this one was white, with pinkish eyes and a pink nose. The other rats were scruffy and dirty and angry; but the white rat was pristinely clean, with a gleaming coat. He was enormous, three times the size of the other rats, easily as large as a cat. The other rats parted to let him through, and he came to the front and sat up on his hind legs, and sniffed right at me.

I was nearly petrified with terror by this point, but thought of Sir Gregory, who had fought in two wars, and who regularly hunted down angry wasp-men. Surely if I had met Sir Gregory, I could summon enough courage to act in a manner which would speak well of my character.

I faced the white rat, and addressed it as if I should have addressed a person, though I felt ridiculous in doing so. “See here,” I told him in what I hoped was a brave voice, “I only shooed off that rat. I didn’t hurt him. I only swished my skirts at him because I wanted him to move. I – I haven’t done any harm. If I am not to be allowed to leave, then I – I ought to be allowed to make my case to your master. Won’t you go and get him? Er… please?”

I felt both silly and sick with fear, but to my surprise, the white rat turned at once, and shot off down the tunnel. I was afraid I was in for a long wait, but it was only a few minutes later that the last sliver of sun faded from the horizon. The very instant that the sun had set, the white rat returned – but this time, around the feet of a fellow I would later come to know as Blind Pew.

Blind Pew is difficult to describe. He is a vampire, the first I had ever encountered, and I had done enough reading to identify him as a Nosferatu. His face was sort of wrinkled and crumpled, and although I was certain that he possessed the fangs of legend, he didn’t seem to have two teeth to go along with them. He was raggedly dressed, and speaking to the rats as if they had been children, or beloved pets. ”’Ere now, me pretties,” he was muttering at them, “Yer stirred up right an’ proper! What ‘ave yer found fer Blind Pew tonight, eh?” He stopped in his tracks when he saw me. ”’Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! What’s this now?”

I swallowed hard and tried to answer bravely. “I had heard,” I gulped, “That vampires could summon swarms of rats… it’s true, then?”

“An’ ‘ow would yer know – ” But he stopped, and sniffed in my direction as carefully as the white rat had done earlier. “Arrrr, yer’ve been bitten yerself, an’ not by no vampire – don’t bother ta deny it, I can smell it on yer, just like ye can smell me. Now ye know, don’t ye?” He squinted at me. “Yer one of the foine ladies from the estates – what be ye a-doin’ down in Blind Pew’s back yard? Here now,” he shooed the rats, “We’re in the presence of a lady, we are! We ought ta act proper gentlemen-like, mind our P’s and Q’s. Off with ye!”

The army of rats melted away back into the tunnels. I thought for a moment I should faint with relief, though I wasn’t at all certain I was safer in the presence of a vampire. Blind Pew, however, turned out to be a likeable enough fellow, once one got past the shock of his admittedly dreadful appearance, and our subsequent conversation turned out to be most illuminating.

It seemed that not only were there wasp-men creeping about among the humans of London, but there were also vampires. Blind Pew declined to be photographed (“I’d break the camera like as not, Miss,” he said,) but was good enough to summon a large bunch of rats for a picture. The White Rat was his special pet, and, under the influence of Blind Pew, was as tame and friendly as any dog, though I shouldn’t have liked to meet him alone. He liked the camera, and wasn’t satisfied until I had taken several shots of him.

Blind Pew agreed at once that there were Wasps, as well as Wasp-Men. The Wasps were related to the Wasp-men, but Blind Pew didn’t know precisely how. What he did know was that the Wasps often flitted around areas such as dark storm drains, looking for victims to sting. He agreed that Wasps are known for living in hives with many thousands of individuals, but he – or more specifically, his rats – had never seen more than one at a time. The rats were under the strictest orders to kill any wasp that dared to approach the area, and were so efficient at this that the Wasps usually avoided the aquaducts. The Wasps had been stirred up lately, and he presumed this was because I myself had been bitten.

Furthermore, I gathered that the bites were a serious problem to the vampiric community. As the legends stated, they did indeed live off of the blood that they drank from their victims. Not only was the blood of bitten victims highly detrimental in some fashion, the Wasp-Men, once transformed, were actively dangerous to vampires. There had been several skirmishes between the vampires and the Wasp-Men, and sometimes the vampires had killed the Wasp-men, but other times the Wasp-men had succeeded in killing the vampires.

I had ten thousand more questions to ask of him, but the lateness of the hour precluded it; not to mention that I had been rather unnerved by the encounter, and was anxious to get home as quickly as possible.

Blind Pew laughed good naturedly, and told me that I could come any evening, and that I needn’t worry about being bitten by vampires, for my blood was, “Well, let’s just say poisoned,” he said with a raspy laugh.

But before I left, we reached something of a bargain; Blind Pew was willing to keep an accounting of the number of wasps killed in his “territory.” In return, when I came back, I would bring a block of fine cheese as a treat for Albert – for this was the name of the white rat.

I thanked Blind Pew for his assistance, and extricated myself as quickly as I could, whereupon I flew home at once and trembled for the rest of the evening.

A mere two nights later, I had an encounter with another vampire.

I had, by that time, become calmer in the aftermath of the expedition to the aquaduct – though I didn’t intend to go back there ever again. I had also had time to examine the wasp. It did remind me irresistably of the wasp-man, but although I examined it very carefully, even under the magnifying glass, it seemed to be a normal wasp, of the painful-sting sort, and not of an egg-laying sort. In the safety of the glass jar (which I didn’t open, as a precaution) and the bright light of the sun the next morning, it appeared much smaller. No doubt the presence of the rats had alarmed me so that it had appeared larger than it truly was.

Thus far, my theory, such as it is, seems to be a failure. I must admit that I did have hopes of perhaps conducting a Scientific Investigation, if I couldn’t become a Great Explorer, but I feel that so far I have made a muddle of it. Still, I believe that my questions are valid ones. My hypothesis, to date, goes something like this:

It has definitely been established that these Wasp-men have poisonous bites, and that they sting their victims. Those persons who are only bitten are not subject to transformation, though they may present other symptoms of the poison. Those persons who are stung receive an Egg, which will transform them into another Wasp-man. So far, so good (or so bad, as the case may be.)

However, after such an attack occurs, what happens to the original Wasp-man? I can think of only two logical scenarios:

1) The Wasp-Man, having expended his egg, retreats and lives the rest of his life (however long that may be) without ever producing another egg or 2) The Wasp-Man, having expended his egg, retreats and grows another egg over the course of time, to sting another victim.

Of course, there may also be other possibilities that have not yet occured to me. If I think of others, I shall present them in due course.

In either case, the idea of the stinging-one-victim-at-a-time concept doesn’t seem like a practical way in which to propogate a species – particularly for wasps. I have the idea that the Wasp-men function something like Drones, and that somewhere there is a wasp or Wasp-man of a type I have not yet encountered, who takes the position of a breeder. However, I have nothing whatsoever to support this idea. I believe if I were to meet a genuine scientist, or clever inventor of the sort that appear in Mr. Verne’s novels as main characters, they would tell me that additional investigation is needed to prove or disprove the idea. A Scientific Theory requires proof!

I haven’t any proof of anything yet, but I do have a wasp. It may or may not be related to the Wasp Men (that also requires additional investigation) but it does have an interesting characteristic. To be precise, it glows in the dark. I have previously encountered this phenomenon only with fireflies, and they only glow while they are alive. The pulsing glow of this wasp, even while dead, also reminds me of the way in which fireflies flash.

I haven’t brought it outside in the dark for fear of attracting more wasps, but I did spend some time in the south garden with a new jar, catching fireflies. I thought perhaps the wasps might be attracted to the fireflies, or vice-versa, since they both flash. I was successful at catching a number of fireflies, but I didn’t catch any wasps.

It was while I was catching fireflies that I met the another vampire.

I am beginning to believe that this ability to sense when a vampire is near may be another symptom of the Wasp-Man bite. I must remember to ask Sir Gregory if he has experienced a similiar phenomenon.

There is something about the presence of vampires that I dislike immensely. They are by their nature rather frightening creatures, and of course as a group they share the most vile and disreputable character. They are not the sort of folk that I should care to associate myself with.

However, I haven’t yet figured out precisely what to do about them. I worry that perhaps I have a streak of cowardice in me that speaks of a lack of character, but the sight of Blind Pew’s army of rats has made quite an impression upon me. I don’t have a method of making a vampire go away if one wishes to speak to me, and I should be afraid that if I tried one of the classical methods, meaning crosses and so on, and fumbled its usage, that I should then enrage the vampire, and he would summon a sea of rats to devour me.

Furthermore, I have my family to consider. It is an unpalatable enough state of affairs when I encounter a vampire who politely lets me go when I inadvertantly wander into his “territory.” It is quite another matter when one waltzes into the gardens of Adelaide itself! I have five brothers, and I am quite certain that they would be brave enough if the worst came to the worst. Phillip, who is just entering the prime vigour of manhood, should likely be a worthy opponent. But Father, who is by no means old, still isn’t as young as he once was. And what would happen to Ian? Would he hold off a vampire with his slingshot?

It therefore seemed prudent to treat the new vampire as a guest, so I turned and waited.

After a moment, he stepped from the shadows where he had been hiding. Although I had been looking directly at the spot where he must have been standing, he blended so perfectly with the shadows of the trees that he had been quite invisible. The garden was well-lit, and within sight of my front door, though some distance removed. Neither of these seemed to bother him.

His appearance was really quite remarkable. His coloration (though not his manner) reminded me a bit of the white rat Albert. He had white hair and a white beard, and rather pinkish eyes. He was immaculately dressed, and upon taking three steps forward, bowed deeply. “Good evening,” he said. “Permit me to introduce myself. I am Baron Heinrich von Goth-Faustus.”

I cannot accurately describe his voice except to say that I shall forever after think of it, whenever I read Brahm Stoker’s “Dracula.”

“Your Lordship,” I replied cautiously, dropping a courtesy. “My name is Sophie St. Claire.”

He looked at me carefully. “Undoubtedly you vonder vhy it is I haff come to visit… particularly unannounced.”

“The thought had crossed my mind, Your Lordship,” I replied.

“I am the Prince of the Vampires of London,” he intoned solemnly. “One of my… subjects… has mentioned your name in conversation. What is it?” He added, arching his eyebrows. “That is a ferocious frown.”

I was indeed frowning. “If you are referring to Blind Pew, I must say that while I am appropriately grateful at not being devoured by rats, I don’t believe he is the sort of person from whom I should wish a positive character reference.”

The Baron – or perhaps I should say, the Prince – blinked at me, and then laughed. “He said you ver a vell-spoken and polite child,” he said.

“Hmph. Well, I suppose that’s not too bad.”

The Prince looked at me sharply. “He also said that ven he encountered you, you were trying to catch wasps.”

Now it was my turn to look sharply at him. “Hm. Indeed. He said to me that you were having problems with wasps – or more specifically, the Wasp-Men…”

It seemed that there were indeed problems. What I had intended to be a five-minute chat turned into such a long talk that I was nearly late for dinner, and I had to come flying into the house with a bottle of fireflies that I had caught during our conversation, and hadn’t had time to release.

From what I gathered from the Prince, vampires held a predatory place in society, similiar in their own way to hawks that feed upon rabbits. The Wasp-Men had appeared a mere eighteen years ago, and were causing some considerable havoc among the vampiric ranks. It seemed that Wasp-man bites were not nearly so uncommon as I had hoped, and for the most part, the vampires weren’t able to tell who had been bitten, and who hadn’t. I gathered that the Prince had a special Gift that allowed him to make this distinction, and that Blind Pew shared this Gift, but also understood that it was extremely uncommon, and most vampires were not so fortunate as to possess it.

The unlucky vampire who attempted to drink from a bitten human would be driven quite mad by their poisoned blood, and fly into such a frenzy that the other vampires would have to kill him, lest human society as a whole discover their presence. The violent ferocity of these scenes was not to be imagined, and the entire vampiric community had been stricken with terror of falling to this fate. However, no amount of paranoia would produce the Gift by which a vampire could tell the single poisoned human out of a group of fifty or more of the unpoisoned variety.

As might be predicted, this was producing undesireable side effects.

The first of these had to do with the Gift itself. Once the problem of poisoned humans had manifested itself, many of those vampires who possessed this rare Gift had used it to gain for themselves enormous wealth and political power. Unfortunately, it seemed that the society of Vampires as a whole tended to move slowly (which makes a certain amount of sense for creatures that are effectively immortal) and was particularly ill-suited to such a meteoric rise in status. These newly-wealthy vampires had often made fearful enemies in their quest for power, with the result that many of them had subsequently been assassinated by their peers. These assassinations left vacuums of power, which caused a great deal of internal strife as lesser vampires competed against each other to win the newly-vacant title. Those vampires who possessed the Gift, but hadn’t been so foolish as to make targets of themselves, nevertheless found themselves seen as keys to survival and therefore objects of power. Many had been kidnapped and later killed by rivals; others who survived had been forced to go underground. Blind Pew was an example of a vampire who had quite literally gone underground to hide.

The net effect of all of this was that this Gift, which was very rare to begin with, had been all but wiped out. Its passing had proved to be a destabilizing influence in the Vampiric community, which might have torn itself entirely apart if the Gift had been a bit more common. The worst of this seemed to be over, but that also meant that there was hardly a vampire left who possessed this Gift, and absolutely no one could tell a poisoned human from an unpoisoned one.

This led to the secondary effects, which were the Prince’s prime concern. Vampires tended to stake out “hunting grounds” for themselves, and while some grounds were considered to be fair game for any vampire, others were considered to be private. The Prince didn’t go into detail as to how the ownership of such grounds was established, but indicated that there was a set of common rules involved, and these guidelines were generally accepted among all vampires.

The presence of poisoned humans had thrown the traditional territories out of balance. Once a poisoned human was found in a hunting-ground, public or private, other vampires would be afraid to hunt there any longer, lest there be more poisoned humans in the area. This meant that some grounds were being abandoned, while others were being overhunted. Worse, the unpoisoned humans were more likely to die, for if a vampire found a good meal, other vampires would sometimes mark that human as a “safe” one, and would either share the meal, or come in afterwards for a second sip. Both of these things were technically forbidden, but the hungrier and the more paranoid the vampire, the more likely he would be to disregard the possibility of disapproval from his peers and choose the “safe” meal. There was another entire set of rules which involved when and how often one might be permitted to cause the death of a human, for it was the wish of the vampires to remain hidden, and too many human deaths would draw attention to their existance. At the very least, the ability to drink from a human without causing their death was considered a mark of gentility and skill. Many were beginning to abandon these old ways because of hunger. The Prince considered this a very bad sign.

Finally, there were the Wasp-Men themselves. It was inevitable at this point that the society of Wasp-Men (if there was such a thing) and the society of Vampires were headed on a collision course. The Vampires hunted and killed Wasp-Men wherever they could find them. These kills were difficult enough without complications, but upon at least one occasion, a Wasp-man had been tracked or encountered with other Wasp-men. Those wasp-men that had been killed had not gone to their deaths easily, and the vampires had suffered casualties as well. Furthermore, a very few vampires were missing, and presumed to have been killed by the Wasp-Men.

Currently, the Vampires had the upper hand because of the strength of their societal structure, and because of their greater numbers. However, they did not seem to be winning the war.

The Wasp-Men had first appeared eighteen years ago. Since that time, the Vampires and the Wasp-Men had basically been at war. This war had had some bad side effects on the Vampiric community, such as the disappearance of the Gift. It had had some bad effects on the Wasp-Men, or at least any Wasp-man who was found by vampires. But the actual number of Wasp-Men, and more imporantly of poisoned humans, didn’t seem to be going down. After the vampires had spent eighteen years hunting down every wasp-man they could find, they were still facing just as many as they had before. In the Prince’s opinion, this did not bode well for the future.

So, I asked the Prince, why come to me?

It was because I was doing research, and because whatever I turned up was unlikely to be believed by the human community, while potentially being useful to the Prince and the Vampires. I was not at all pleased when he told me that many bitten humans lived barely six months after their bite; a great number of them went beserk and killed themselves in some spectacular fashion. However, I take hope from the fact that the Colonel is more than a year out from his own bite, and perhaps Dr. McMillian will be able to find the cure that we hope for.

But in the meantime, I must decide what to do. The Prince has offered me his assistance in research, and whatever numbers he has. I must admit that attempting to research in the Crewe Public Library has been an exercise in frustration.

This entire Wasp-Man phenomenon has become so complicated! All of these sides that I never knew existed! I cannot be on the side of the Vampires, nor can I allow myself to fall sway to the side of the Wasp-Men; I must remain on the side of honest, decent humanity. But how does one remain faithful to the principles of Good Character while surrounded on every side by persons of such evil inclination?

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