Rebecca may be just a typical teenager, but her DNA holds an astonishing secret. Her untroubled and rather tedious life is shaken upside-down after a routine blood test taken after an accident. Strangely she attracts the attention of three brothers, each of them possessing extraordinary skills. And they also harbour an ancient secret. As she adjusts to her new life as the world's most reluctant vampire, she is kidnapped, and must utilise her new-found powers in order to escape.
I'm not a believer. I'm pretty sure I never really believed in Father Christmas or the tooth fairy or any number of magical creatures that litter childhood like so much detritus from earlier darker weirder times. Let's face it, the idea of a tiny person sneaking about taking children's teeth while they sleep is just creepy. I've never been a member of any of the current world religions or their derivatives either. I don't believe that invisible pixies populate gardens, or that aliens spend their time cruising the skies looking for the worlds' most intellectually challenged individuals to deliver messages of goodwill and try out their latest in probes. And I'd certainly never have dreamed of believing in vampires.
I do read books, though, and watch movies, and I've noticed that one of the common theories about vampires is that it's a condition that is somehow transferable between two individuals, like some kind of freaky infection.
Turns out vampires do exist. But they're born, not made.
The story of how I ended up, not believing in vampires, but knowing without a doubt that they live and breathe, started a couple of weeks before my eighteenth birthday. I was walking home from school at about three one gloomy Thursday afternoon, watching the familiar cracks in the pavement glide by below my feet, when the sound of a car engine being revved made me glance up at the car hurtling towards me. I guess I should have known that it would never be able to stop on time, but I just stood there watching it, right up until it clipped my left leg and sent me flying through the air.
I landed painfully on the road, and slid for a few feet, adding various unbelievably painful grazes to my growing list of injuries. I lay there on the tarmac, stunned by the unfamiliar pain shooting through my body, while people started gathering around me, shouting for help and collectively dialling 999 on about eight mobile phones. A skinny woman wearing a purple jumper loomed over me, and pushed me back down every time I tried to sit up. I lay on that road, embarrassed and aching, and hoping against hope that nobody I knew would ever find out about this. Teenagers hate fuss, and I hated it more than most.
Next thing an ambulance had arrived - a huge yellow blob-shaped vehicle with a blue light flashing away on top of it. Two paramedics jumped out of the front of the vehicle, one really short with a big pervy grin, and one really tall with a vaguely sour expression. I wondered briefly if I was going to be continuously sliding down an incline between the two of them as they carried me into the vehicle, but fortunately they came equipped with a stretcher that was balanced beautifully on nice even wheels. They made sure I was breathing and conscious, and then they asked me loads of awkward questions before they lifted me carefully onto a hard board, and strapped the world's most constricting torture device around my neck. They picked up the board, yep, definitely an incline; and slid it onto the stretcher, where it turns out I had a great view of the tall guys nostrils. As they shut the doors behind me I tried to see what had happened to the guy that hit me with his car, but he was nowhere to be seen. The police later told me that he had driven off without stopping, and as nobody had gotten his number plate, the likelihood was that he would get off scot free.
They were wrong.
I remember that first call from my brother. I had arrived back at the hotel I'd been staying at for the past eight weeks. It was five in the afternoon, dark already and cold, and I'd just finished tracking down a man I'd been looking for for the past three days. He lived in a medium sized town about fifty miles from where I was staying, and I intended to pay him a surprise visit the following day. England is a beautiful country steeped in history and tradition, but it was also home to the type of man that I liked to, er, find. Hence my presence in the country when Marcus phoned.
When he told me that a match had been found, at first I did not believe him. He and Fergus had been searching for decades, and had so far turned up nothing. I thought he was playing some sort of joke. He has a tendency to do things like that; his sense of humour can be a bit peculiar. I suppose it may have a lot to do with him being the ultimate academic, plus the fact that he and Fergus lived in almost complete isolation from other more normal people. But when he repeated his statement, and I heard the suppressed excitement and elation in his voice, I knew that he was telling the truth, and I was pleased for him. And for Fergus. They had both worked so hard on this project, Marcus the geneticist, and Fergus the computer whizz. Thirty years spent sweating away at a seemingly impossible task that had been left to us by our equally frustrated father, and they had just achieved the second major breakthrough. The first had been when Marcus had isolated that little group of genes that separated us from the rest of humankind, that collection of base pairs that sat lurking in our DNA and that was ultimately responsible for both our strengths and our strangeness.
Marcus and Fergus had decided that I would be the retriever and general facilitator, mainly because I happened to be in the same country as the person with the alleged match, but also because I did not stand out in a crowd quite as much as they did. There was not much of an age difference between the three of us, unless you counted a few minutes. Besides, our father could never remember which of us had been born first, consumed as he was by the grief of losing our mother. Nonetheless, Marcus and Fergus had always behaved as if they were the older brothers, and ordered me about accordingly, and I had gone along with it. It had seemed too much effort to argue, and I had been far more interested in learning to use my own specific abilities.
As Marcus read out a name in a slightly breathless voice, I felt our narrow world changing and expanding, like a giant stone wall had unexpectedly morphed into an open window, and we were stood surveying the possibilities that lay beyond it. We weren't alone anymore. A seventeen year old girl was responsible for that revelation, and suddenly I felt very protective towards this young woman whom I had not even met yet. It didn't occur to me to write her details down. There was no point, really. I always remembered everything people told me. It was one of my talents.
That board was unbelievably uncomfortable. As the ambulance jolted and swerved its way through traffic, my discomfort grew, until I wasn't sure which was worse - the pain from every bony prominence in my body pressing onto that board, or the pain of my actual injuries. It was a tight call.
After what seemed like hours we finally arrived at the hospital, where I was finally rolled off that board, while someone prodded my spine for signs of injury. The neck collar was also removed once I was able to convince the slightly sceptical A&E doctor that I had absolutely no pain whatsoever in my neck. I rotated it madly and lifted my head right off the mattress to show him how little it hurt. He grinned at my efforts, and gave the nurse the collar. I wondered briefly if it would need to be incinerated. It deserved nothing less, in my opinion.
The doctor then asked me what had happened, so I told him I'd been hit by a car. He nodded like this happened all the time. I looked around the crowded A&E department. It probably did happen all the time here.
Then he asked me where it hurt, and I pointed to my left knee, which had by now swollen to the size of a small rugby ball. He pursed his lips, said, "Hmm," and mumbled something about x-rays. Then he listened to my chest and pressed on my abdomen, ordered a few blood tests, and left. A nurse appeared within seconds and asked me if I would mind if she took a few blood samples to send to the lab to check that I hadn't lost too much blood, and to cross match my blood type just in case I needed a transfusion. I thought that was reaching a bit, but I consented anyway. She also wanted to know if I wanted her to contact anyone to let them know where I was, and if I wanted anything for the pain.
I told her yes and no. Yes to the painkillers - now that I was off the board, the pain had become concentrated in my knee, which had begun to throb excruciatingly, and painkillers seemed like a wonderful concept right now. No to the contacting of relatives idea. My mother was a drug rep, who spent most of her time on the road in between visits to doctors and related medical professionals. She was also likely to panic if she heard that I was in hospital, and she always drove erratically when she got excited and I was afraid she would end up in here on a board too. My brothers were either at school or in college, and neither drove yet, so calling them would be a bit pointless. I decided to call my mother once I'd been x-rayed and sorted out and discharged. Then she would have no reason to panic. Hopefully. The nurse looked a bit doubtful, but I was seventeen, and Gillick competent, so I was able to make my own decisions with regards to medical treatment. My GP had explained all about that when he was trying to persuade me to go on the pill a few months back. I told him that I did not have a boyfriend, but he seemed reluctant to believe me. I bet in his mind all seventeen year olds are rutting like rabbits.
Twenty minutes later, and the painkillers were mercifully starting to work. The nurse had said that they were stronger than ordinary paracetamol, and I believed her. My head seemed to have detached itself from the rest of my body, and I felt very relaxed. The doctor returned to tell me that I had fractured my patella, and mentioned something about a cast, before running off to answer a call for a doctor in resus, wherever that was. I remember lying there wondering what exactly a patella was, and not really caring too much that I didn't even know if it was anywhere near the knee. I would google it when I got home.
Forty minutes later I phoned my mother from one of the pay phones in the waiting room. I tried to explain what had happened while I balanced awkwardly on two crutches and one good leg. The injured leg was encased in a hot, heavy cast, and felt like it didn't really belong to me. The phone was jammed between my left shoulder and my ear.
"What's a patella?" she wanted to know.
"It's a bone in the knee," I told her confidently, hoping I was right. Like I said, my mother has this tendency to panic, and I'd become used to behaving as if nothing serious was happening, just to prevent her from hyperventilating and having one of her "turns". My mum was a deeply caring woman, who had never quite recovered her equilibrium after my dad died nine years ago. I think she was terrified of losing one of us too, and any suggestion of trouble involving any of her three children sent her thoughts spiralling into a vortex of fear that she struggled to get back from. We had adapted to this, and we led fairly secretive and seemingly mundane lives as a result.
"I'm in Leicester!" I heard the alarm creeping into her voice, so I hurriedly told her that I would call a taxi, and meet her at home, and that there was no need for her to rush back. I briefly explained about the cast and the crutches, and said that my knee felt a lot better, which was sort of true and sort of not. It was starting to throb again. She seemed to calm down slightly, and reminded me that she would reimburse me for the taxi, and then she made loud kissing noises down the phone, said goodbye, and hung up. I smiled. Mum was mental, but I loved her to bits.
She'd already left by the time I phoned the hospital. I prevaricated and told them I was her father, and they eventually gave in and told me briefly that she'd fractured her patella, but that it wasn't a bad break, and would heal by itself within about six weeks. I thanked the nurse that I had spoken to, and hung up. Seconds later my mobile phone rang. It was Fergus, and he was calling to relay some information that he had obtained illegally by hacking into both the NHS database and the hospital's computer system. I grinned. I wasn't perturbed at all by the way in which he had achieved this. It was not so much a case of the ends justifying the means, although that did play a part. It was just that most ethical dilemmas had been dismissed from our consciences many years ago. They had been overwhelmingly irrelevant to our lives back then, and they still meant very little to us. Not being orientated with the world's moral compass had become a habit, I suppose, and I myself had done much, much worse than this before.
"I'm sending it to your phone now," he said, and rang off. Fergus the conversationalist.
I waited two minutes before I heard the phone buzz, and checked my inbox. As I read through the few details that had been so expertly stolen by my brother, I became aware of how little we knew about her. Name, date of birth, address, previous A&E attendances (one for a broken finger two years ago, one for a foreign body ear aged 3). Assorted bits of useless information, like date of last tetanus shot, and name of GP. Not a lot to work with, but enough for now. I wondered idly what she looked like.
Crutches are hard work. You'd think they would make life easier; I believe that's what they're supposed to do, but no. I was stuck at home for three days following the accident, trying to get used to the things so I wouldn't fall over and kill myself as soon as I went back to school on Monday. I was hampered by a five ton cast that extended from around my ankle to just above mid thigh, and it itched. Still, it could have been worse. As soon as my codeine induced fog faded, it occurred to me what could have happened, and I went into a kind of delayed shock. Admittedly, it was pretty minor; I am not one for histrionics - I don't see the point, but I came to realise how lightly I'd gotten off. And then I started being angry with that idiot that had hit me. He could have killed me, and he would probably have driven away then too.
Mum seemed to take it well at first when she got home that evening, but when I went up to say goodnight to her later, she was sobbing quietly. I felt awful, even though I knew it was not entirely my fault. I hated to see my mother cry, especially since crying was something I seldom did.
"You OK, Mum?" I asked lamely, knowing that she wasn't really.
"I'm fine, baby," she said, smiling ruefully through her tears. "I'm crying from relief more than anything else. How is the knee?"
"Not too bad."
"Don't forget to take some of those painkillers before you go to bed," she reminded me for the tenth time.
"I won't," I said, leaving the sentence ambiguous for a reason. I was tired of the hazy head feeling and the pain seemed to be settling. I'd be OK tonight. I'd take the tablets when I got the pain again. As I left my mother's bedroom I marvelled at how it was that some people could cry so easily, while others couldn't. I wondered if there was something wrong with me.
I drove past her address twice that Friday morning. It had taken an hour or so to get from the hotel in Oxford to Banbury, a medium sized town that squatted over the M40 just as the South East became the Midlands. She lived in a semidetached house in the middle of a long row of similar properties. Relatively new builds, it looked like. Maybe ten years old, but already showing minor signs of wear and neglect that seemed to pervade so called middle income areas. I found Rebecca's house easily. Neat garden, peeling paint on the window sills, elderly Peugeot in the driveway. The second time I drove past I examined the surrounding houses. No for sale or for rent signs. People must like living here. Interesting, but potentially problematic.
I'd been thinking about how to approach the situation ever since Marcus had told me that they'd found a match. Straightforward abduction was certainly an option, but it would inevitably lead to complications. Police involvement, media, that kind of thing. Not that that would necessarily stop me. I had abducted people before - it wasn't hard. I guess you could say that it's another one of my talents. It's just that the people I usually abducted, well, their opinions of me were more or less completely irrelevant. This girl, this Rebecca Harding, she was different. It was part of our vague plan that she become one of us, and the smoother the integration, the better. It would be counterproductive to have an infuriated or severely depressed girl on our hands back home.
I decided to move my base of operations to a nearby hotel for a few days. Oxford was too far away to be driving back and forth each day. I also needed to discuss a few issues with both of my brothers. It had been blind luck that I had been in the same country as this girl, but things needed organising now. I had considered various options for surreptitiously inserting myself into Rebecca's life, and becoming a neighbour seemed the most practical solution. It would mean that I would be able to keep an eye on her too. Fergus would have to buy one of these neighbouring houses for me. It wasn't likely to be difficult to persuade him to do it. He would relish the challenge.
I booked myself into a generic hotel above a pub a few miles from Rebecca's home, and phoned Marcus and Fergus at the lab, where I knew they would be at this time, and most other times too. Marcus was and had always been obsessed with his lab and his research, and Fergus had set up a wall of computers inside it so he could keep an eye on his brother, or so he said. I reckon he liked the company, though he'd never admit it.
"Angus!" Hearing my name always came as a bit of a jolt for me. I often wondered why my father had named us as he had, besides the fact that we'd all been born in Scotland over half a century ago. He had told us that he wanted our names to be similar, so that we could have a kind of collective identity. Pretty bloody ironic under the circumstances, really. Being fundamentally and extraordinarily different to everyone else and alike only to each other was a given for us. It was our affliction.