SUNRISE ON RUNNING WATER

BARBARA HAMBLY

THE DAMN SHIP was supposed to be unsinkable.

Do you think I’d have set foot on the wretched tub if it weren’t?

I embarked at Cherbourg for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the Titanic entered port from Southampton at sunset, and loaded in the dusk. I’ve never liked the thought of shipping myself in my coffin like a parcel, with the attendant risks of inquisitive customs-inspectors, moronic baggage-handlers, and all the tedious beforehand wrangling with a living accomplice who might or might not take the trouble to make sure one’s coffin (or trunk—most of us prefer extra-large double trunks for travel) hasn’t been installed in the hold lid-down under several thousand pounds of some imbecilic American dowager’s frocks. Half the time one has to kill the accomplice anyway. Usually it’s a pleasure.

“Are you sure you wish to do this, Napier?” inquired Simon, who had come down to the docks in a closed car to see me off. Being a century and a half older among the UnDead than I—one of the oldest in Europe, in fact—he is able to tolerate even more twilight, waking slightly earlier and, if need presses, can prolong his wakefulness for a short time into the morning hours, though of course only with adequate protection from the sun’s destructive light. “You won’t be able to hunt once you’re on board, you know. The White Star Line keeps very accurate manifests of its passengers, even in third class. It isn’t like the old days.”

“Simon,” I joked, and laid my hand on his gloved wrist, “you’ve been a vampire too long. You’re turning into a cautious old spook—what do they call them these days? A fuddy-duddy.”

I knew all about the passenger manifests. I’d studied them closely.

We’d hunted the night before, close to sunrise. I’d killed twice. I knew it was going to be a long voyage. Seven or eight days, from Cherbourg to New York. A span of time that bordered on dangerous, for such as we.

I hoped I wasn’t one of those vampires who turn crazy after four or five days without a kill—who are so addicted to the pleasure of the death, as well as to its simple nourishment—that they hunt under conditions which are sure to bring them to the attention of authorities: for instance, among a limited and closely watched group of people. But quite frankly, I didn’t know. Without a kill every few days, we start to lose our ability to deceive and ensorcel the minds of the living, a situation I had never permitted to occur.

This was the first time in a hundred and forty years that I’d traveled very far from London. The first time since I had become vampire in 1772 that I had crossed the ocean.

When the UnDead travel, they are horribly vulnerable. Money has always provided some protection in the form of bribes, patent locks, servants, and social pressure (why do you think it’s always Evil Lord So-and-So in the penny dreadfuls? It’s astonishing how much interest bonds accumulate if allowed to mature for two centuries). But, as I was shortly to learn, accidents do happen. And the longer the journey, the more the chances accumulate that something will go fearfully wrong.

“There’s a new world across the ocean, Simon,” I said, making my voice grave. “Face it, Europe cannot go on as it is. War is going to break out. The Kaiser is practically jostling statesmen in doorways in the hopes of being challenged. You’ve seen the new weapons they have. Airships, incendiary bombs, cannons that can demolish a city from miles away. It’s a wise man who knows when to make his break for safety.”

Ninety-five hours later I was kicking myself for those words, but who knew?

Simon smiled, something he rarely does. “Perhaps you are correct, my friend. Be that so, I trust you will act in the nature of a scout, and send me word of the promised land. Now go, if not with God, at least with the blessing of an indifferent Fate, my Evil Lord…” He checked my papers for the name. “… Lord Sandridge.” He put on his black-tinted spectacles and accompanied me to the barrier, where he added the subtle influence of his mind to mine in the task of getting my luggage through unchecked. I ascended the gangway, and from the rail saw him wave, a slim small form in dark gray, perhaps my only friend among the UnDead.

We are not, you understand, particularly pleasant company, even for one another.

Then I went down to the first-class luggage hold to make sure my coffin-trunk was both accessible and inconspicuous. Simon, I presume, returned home and slaughtered some unsuspecting immigrant en route for breakfast.

We put in at Queenstown on the Irish coast in the morning, before our final embarkation over the deep. It’s always a damnable struggle to remain awake in one’s coffin for even a short time after the sun is in the sky, but I was determined to make the effort, and it’s a good thing I did. Shortly after I’d locked myself in for the day—we were still several hours from Queenstown at that point—I heard stealthy steps on the deck, and smelled the stink of a man’s nervous sweat.

Of course someone had noticed the obsessive care I’d taken in bestowing my trunk, and had drawn the usual stupid conclusion that the living are prone to. Greedy sods. Skeleton keys rattled close to my head. I forced down both grogginess and the quick flash of panic in my breast—the hold was absolutely sheltered from any chance of penetration by sunlight—and fought to accumulate enough energy to act.

Get away from here, you stupid bastard! The living have no idea how commanding are the rhythms of vampire flesh; I felt as I had when in mortal life I’d gotten myself sodden-drunk on opium at the Hellfire Club. This ship stinks with American millionaires and you’re trying to rob the trunk of a mere Evil Lord?

The outer lid opened, then the inner. I gazed up into a round unshaven face and brown eyes stretched huge with shock and fright.

I heaved myself up with what I hoped was a terrifying roar, wrenched the skeleton keys out of the young man’s hand, and dropped back into the coffin, hauling the lid down after me and slamming shut its inner bolt. I heard outside a stifled gasping whimper, then heavy shoes hammering away across the deck and up the metal stairs.

I understand he abandoned ship at Queenstown and thus missed all subsequent events. A pity. Drowning was too good for the little swine.

It wasn’t fear of robbery, however, that made me struggle to remain awake through the boarding-process at Queenstown, listening with a vampire’s preternatural senses to every sound, every voice, every footfall in the ship around me. I had to know who was getting on the ship.

Because of course I had not been completely truthful with Simon as to my reasons for leaving England, or for embarking at Cherbourg for that matter. One never likes to admit when one has made a very foolish mistake.

Which brings me to the subject of Miss Alexandra Paxton.

I don’t know under what name she boarded the Titanic . She knew, you see, that I’d be keeping an eye on the passenger lists and that I would have changed my own travel plans had I suspected she was on board.

It is another truism of the more puerile examples of horror fiction that the victims of Evil Lord So-and-So or the wicked Countess Blankovsky are generally of the upper, or at worst the professional, classes. This is sheer foolishness, for these people keep track of one another, particularly in a small country like England. (Another motive for choosing America.)

Vampires for the most part live on the poor. We kill people whom no one will miss. Regrettably, these people tend to be dirty, smelly, undernourished, frequently gin-soaked, and conversationally uninteresting. And we do enjoy the chase, the cat-and-mouse game: the long slow luring, for days and weeks at a time.

Which is how I’d happened to meet, and court, and flirt with, and take to the opera, and eventually kill Miss Cynthia Engle, only a few days before she was to have wed Lionel Paxton.

Lionel and his sister had sounded like a remarkably boring pair when Miss Engle had told me about them at our clandestine meetings, edged with danger and champagne. I hadn’t allowed for my lovely victim’s craving for the melodramatic, which discounted her suitor’s native shrewdness. In any case, after a train of events too complicated and messy to go into, I had been obliged to kill Lionel as well.

Alexandra had been dogging me ever since.

She came aboard at Queenstown, at the last possible moment. This was an unnecessary inconvenience on her part, since, as I’ve said, the sun was high in the sky, and I couldn’t have come up out of the hold even if I’d been awake. But I was aware of her, as I lay in the strange, clear awareness of the vampire sleep: smelled the distinctive vanilla and sandalwood of her dusting-powder, heard the sharp click of her stride on the decks.

And my heart sank.

There was no way I could kill her on board the Titanic without causing a tremendous fuss and possibly being locked in a cabin which might contain a window, which really would give the good Captain Smith something to write about in his log.

But her goal, on the other hand, was not survival. I knew from a previous encounter that she wore about her neck and wrists silver chains that would effectively sear my flesh should I come in contact with them, and carried a revolver loaded with silver bullets, which she would not have the slightest hesitation about firing.

I also knew she was an extremely accurate shot.

I can’t tell you exactly how the UnDead know when it’s safe to emerge from their hiding places. There are those of us who can step forth in lingering Nordic twilights with no more than frantic itching of the skin and a sense of intolerable panic, others whose flesh will autocombust while the last morning stars are still visible in the sky. Our instinct in this matter is very strong, however—and those of us who lack it generally don’t remain vampires very long.

I quit my coffin-trunk the minute I felt I could do so safely, around seven-thirty Thursday night, and ascended the several flights of steps past the squash court and through the seamen’s and third-class quarters, down the long crew corridor known as “Scotland Road,” and through a maze of passages and emergency ladders eventually reached my own ? Deck stateroom in first class. The advertising for the Titanic had strongly implied that no first-class passenger need be even aware that such things as lesser mortals existed on the ship—another reason I’d chosen the vessel for my escape. Sharp-eyed stewards abounded to make sure those who paid for elevation above the Great Unwashed achieved it, but they, like most of the living (thank God) were prey to appearances. I was deep in conversation with the young and extremely pretty wife of an elderly American millionaire when the door of the stair from below opened and Miss Paxton slipped through.

She was clothed in a gown that must have cost her at least half of what her unfortunate brother had to leave: blue velvet with a bodice of cream-colored lace. A little aigret of blue gems and cream-colored feathers adorned the springy thickness of her mouse-brown hair. She was a tall girl, of the sort referred to by Americans as a “fine, strapping lass;” her jaw was long, her nose narrow, and her blue-gray eyes cool and daunting. She carried a blue velvet handbag and a trailing mass of lace shawl draped in such a fashion as to conceal her right hand and whatever might have been in it, and I fled like a rabbit before she even got a glimpse of me.

“That young person,” I said to the head steward as I pressed a hundred dollars American into his hand, “is an impostor, a confidence trickster who has been harassing me for a number of months. I do not know under what pretext she will attempt to get near me nor do I wish to know. Only keep her away from me, or from any room that I am in, for the duration of this voyage. Understand?”

“Yes, sir. Certainly, Lord Sandridge.”

As I slipped through into the dining saloon an American matron’s Pekingese lunged at me in a fury of yapping. They really should keep those nasty little vermin locked up.

Of course that wasn’t the end of Miss Paxton. Having guessed I’d be traveling first class, she had invested God knows how much in a first-class wardrobe, so I was never sure I could avoid her merely by sticking to the A Deck promenades. Nor could I afford to keep to my stateroom during the night hours when I was up and about. She would, I guessed, be looking for me. By whispers overheard from the cabin stewards and maids—and believe me, a vampire can hear whispers through both locked doors and the conversation of American socialites—I guessed she had garnered allies among them by some tale of disinheritance, persecution, and attempted rape.

She stalked me most of that first night, for she had a constitution of iron; I was eventually reduced to donning an inconspicuous pair of trousers and a tweed jacket and hiding out on the third-class deck among the Irish.

At sunrise I retired to my coffin-trunk again, but I did not sleep with anything resembling peace.

All through that day and the next I heard her footfalls, smelled her blood and dusting-powder, in the dark of my dreams as she moved through the holds.

I dreamed about her.

And I dreamed about the sea.

As Mr. Stoker so obligingly pointed out in his book Dracula , we—the UnDead—cannot cross running water, except at the hour of astronomical midnight, and at the moment when the tide turns. He is quite right. It was more than dread that seized me, when I and my vampire master stood on the threshold of London Bridge and he ordered me across. It was a sickness, a weakness that paralyzed me, as if death itself were rising from the moving river below us like poisoned mist. My master laughed at me, the bastard, and we took a hackney cab across the river to hunt. In later years we’d take the Underground. He’d keep me talking, to school me to focus my mind against the panicky disorientation that flowing water produces, but like all vampires I hate the temporary loss of my powers over the minds of the living.

That was the thing that most worried me during that April voyage. That while I could cajole, or manipulate, or charm, or bribe those luscious-smelling, warm-blooded, rosily-glowing morsels with whom I was surrounded every night, I couldn’t alter their perceptions of me, or of what was going on around them.

I couldn’t make them fall in love with me, so they’d be eager to do my bidding.

I couldn’t lure them in a trance into nooks and corners of the hold, nor could I stand outside their cabin doors and tamper with their dreams.

Except for the fact that I retained some, though not all, of the superhuman strength of a vampire, I was to all intents and purposes human again, and indeed a trifle less so. The touch of silver would sear and blister my flesh; the touch of sunlight set me ablaze like a screaming torch.

And if this wretched young woman—who was as tall as I, and strong for a mortal—managed somehow to tip me overside, once in the water I would be paralyzed. I would sink like a stone, Simon had warned me, for the vampire state changes the UnDead flesh and we become physically perfect: all muscle, no fat.

Fat is what floats a body. (Simon knows things like that. He’s made a scientific study of our state, and is fond of parading his knowledge, solicited or not.) Even in the sunless black of the deep ocean, I would not die, though crushed by the pressure of the water and frozen by its cold. Nor would I be able to move, save for the few minutes after midnight, or when the moon passed directly overhead and turned the tidal flow. Then the magnetism of the moving water would conquer again, and the sluggish currents push me where they would.

I would be conscious, Simon had assured me. (How the hell would he know?) I could think of no state closer to those described by Dante in his book of Hell.

And if Miss Paxton shot me with a silver bullet, even if it did not strike my heart, the logical place for her to dump my then-unresisting body would be into the drink.

All these things wove in and out of my dreams, with the clack of her shoe-heels on the storage-hold deck.

It was altogether not a pleasant voyage, even before 11:39 P.M . on the night of April 14.

I’d put in a brief appearance in the dining-room that Sunday night, enough so that no oversolicitous fellow-passenger or cabin steward would come inquiring for my health during the daytime. My story was that I was too seasick to eat. Most older vampires come to despise the stench of human food. I enjoyed it, and enjoyed too the spectacle of my tablemates shoveling away quantities of poached salmon with mousseline sauce, roast duckling, squabs and cress, asparagus vinaigrette, foie gras, and éclairs—to say nothing of gallons of cognac and wines. The flavors linger for many hours in the blood, another reason, incidentally, that we prefer to sup when we can on the rich rather than the poor.

My custom on the Titanic was to spend most of my night moving from place to place in the first-class accommodation. I hadn’t seen Miss Paxton anywhere on the A or ? Decks since Thursday night, but twice, once in the Palm Court outside the First-Class Smoking Room and once in the corridor near my suite, I’d caught the lingering whiff of her dusting-powder. She was still finding her way up onto the First-Class Decks.

She could be waiting for me, gun in hand, around any corner.

For that reason I was on the bow deck of the ship—as far forward on ? Deck as I could get and a goodly distance from what might have been supposed to be a gentlemanly lurking-place in the First-Class Smoking Room—when I saw a dark mass of almost-clear ice lying straight in the path of the ship.

Being on open water hadn’t affected my ability to see in the dark, any more than it affected my ability to detect Miss Paxton’s cologne. The iceberg, though several miles away, would be almost invisible to human eyes, for there was no moon that night and the ocean lay flat calm, eliminating even the telltale froth of waves breaking around the dark ice’s base. The previous night, in my ramblings around the ship, I’d heard the men discussing a warning of heavy pack ice received from an American steamer coming east, and around dinnertime the temperature of the air had dropped.

I worried no more than did anybody else on board about the Titanic actually sinking, of course. Her hull was divided into watertight compartments that could be closed at the touch of a button. But I did worry about there being a period of confusion in which one passenger—that is to say myself—might easily be incapacitated (say, with a silver bullet in the back) and dropped overboard without anyone’s seeing it happen. An investigation might later focus on Miss Paxton’s purported vengefulness, but that wouldn’t do me any good.

I descended to the C Deck well and down the stairs to the cargo holds, where the “Scotland Road” corridor would lead me, eventually, to the Grand Staircase, and so up again eventually to the Boat Deck, at the rear of which lay the bridge.

And there she was, stepping out of the door of a servants’ stair, blocking my path.

She said softly, “I have you, villain.”

I said, just as softly, “Bugger.”

She brought up her hand and I saw the gun in it. Down here surrounded by the crew quarters the sound of a shot would have brought everyone running, but at thirty feet it wasn’t likely she’d miss. If she didn’t get me through the heart the silver would cause such extraordinary damage as to both incapacitate me wherever it hit, and to cause great curiosity in the ship’s doctor. On land I could have rushed her before she fired.

But I didn’t trust my reflexes. I wheeled and plunged for the transverse passageway that would take me—I hoped—down the smaller crew corridor, and so to another stairway up. Her heels clattered in pursuit as I darted around the corner, fled down the brightly-lighted white tunnel. I debated for a moment simply stepping into the shadow beside the nearest stairway and taking her as she came past—this late at night it would be easy to drop her , unconscious (or dead—I hadn’t fed in four days and I was ravenous), over the side.

But she had the gun. And I knew from the past that she was a lusty screamer. I darted to the nearest downward stairway and found myself lost in the mazes around the squash court and the quarters of lesser crew on F Deck. I could hear her behind me still, though farther off, it seemed. It was astonishing how those metal corridors reechoed and tangled sound, and down here the thumping of the engines confused even the uncanny hearing of the UnDead. The main stairway led up through the third-class dining hall, but that, I knew, would be the logical place for her to cut me off. There was another, smaller stair by the Turkish Bath, and that’s where I was, halfway up, when a shuddering impact made the whole ship tremble and knocked me, reeling, off my feet and nearly to the bottom of the steps again.

I don’t think I doubted for an instant that we’d hit that wretched iceberg.

Only a human could have missed it that long. It towered above the ship, for Heaven’s sake, glistening but dark: it was almost clear ice, as I’d seen, not the powdery white of ice that’s been exposed to the air. I understand (again, from Simon, who wasted not a moment after I finally reached London again in telling me, I told you so ) that when the upper sides of icebergs melt sufficiently to alter their balance they sometimes flip over, exposing faces that are far less reflective, especially on a moonless night. Even so…

I clung for a moment to the stair-rail, listening. The lights still blazed brightly, and after the first long, grinding jar there was no further shaking. But as I stretched my senses out—out and down, to the decks below me—I could hear the dim confusion of men’s voices, the clatter of frenzied activity.

And the pounding roar of water shooting into the ship as if forced from a fire-hose.

I thought, Damn it, if it floods the first-class luggage hold I’m sunk . I blush to say that was the very expression that formed itself in my mind, though at the time I thought only in terms of my lightproof double trunk and the two handsome windows in my stateroom. I had no idea what the White Star Line procedure was for keeping track of passengers and luggage on a disabled ship until another vessel could come alongside to take everyone off, but there was no guarantee that any of that would happen until after daylight.

On the other hand, I thought, depending on how much confusion there was, it would now be very easy to dispose of Miss Paxton without anyone being the wiser.

Trunk first.

First-class luggage was on G Deck, at the bow. The gangways were sufficiently wide to get the trunk up at least as far as the C Deck cargo well. I was striding forward along a corridor still largely deserted—crewmembers sleep whenever they can, the lazy bastards—when the heavy beat of the engines ceased.

Silence and utter stillness, for the first time since we’d lain at Queenstown, filled the ship, seeming louder than any thunder.

I wasn’t the only one to find the silence more disturbing than impact with thousands of tons of ice. Doors began opening along the corridor, men and women—most of them young and all of them tousled from sleep—emerged. “What is it?” “Why’re we stopped?”

“Hit an iceberg,” I said. I pulled a roll of banknotes from the pocket of my tuxedo jacket, and added, “I’ll need assistance getting my trunk from the first-class hold. It contains papers that I cannot risk having soaked.” I could have carried the trunk by myself, of course, but if seen doing so I could kiss good-by any chance of remaining unnoticed, unquestioned, or uninvestigated for the rest of the trip.

“I’m sorry, Lord Sandridge.” Fourth Officer Boxhall appeared behind me, uniformed and worried-looking. “We may need the crew to stand by and help with the mailroom, if the water comes up onto the Orlop Deck. If you’ll return to your stateroom, I’ll have a man come there the moment we know one can be spared. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be much damage, but we should know more within half an hour.”

I could have told him there was water pouring into what sounded like several of the watertight compartments down below, but reasoned he’d have the truth very shortly. One of the stewardesses was looking closely at me, a thick-chinned, fair-haired Yorkshire girl whom I’d seen more than once in conversation with Miss Paxton. She moved off swiftly down the corridor, slipping between the growing gaggles of crewmen. So much for any hope of waiting in my stateroom.

Still, I thought, midnight was only ten minutes off. If there were crewmen hauling sacks of mail out of the way of floodwaters in the first-class cargo hold, I’d be able to divert their attention from me while I rescued the trunk myself.

Or killed Miss Paxton.

And by long before sunrise, I reflected as I strode toward the stair, I’d know whether I was going on another vessel, or staying hidden in some sun-proof, locked nook on the Titanic while repairs were effected. With any luck I’d be able to get an immigrant or two in the confusion as well.

Miss Paxton would be up on ? Deck, headed for my stateroom. On C Deck some of the Swedes and Armenians from steerage were still laughing and playing with chunks of the ice that had been scraped off the iceberg. On the ? Deck promenade a few people were prowling about, dressed in their coats and their thickest sweaters; a young man in evening-clothes showed me a piece of ice, then dropped it in his highball: “Saw the thing go past. Bloody amazing!”

“You don’t think there’s been any damage to the ship?” asked an elderly lady, doddering by on the arm of her superannuated spouse.

“Good Lord, no. God himself couldn’t sink this ship.”

Simon would have crossed himself, vampire or no.

If I ever find myself in a similar situation again—God forbid!—I will do so, too.

By this time I realized—and the UnDead are more sensitive to such matters than the living—that the deck under my feet was just slightly out of true. With all that water in the compartments below that didn’t surprise or upset me. I climbed to the Marconi shack on the Boat Deck—the room where the telegraphers sat pecking frantically at their electric keys. “We’ve sent word to the Californian , but she hasn’t replied,” said one of the young men, when I asked. “Probably turned off his set and went to bed. Bastard nearly blew my ears off earlier tonight, when I was trying to deal with the passenger messages. The Carpathian’s about sixty miles south of us. She’ll be here in four or five hours, to take the passengers off.”

Four hours would put its arrival in darkness, I reflected as I made my way toward my own stateroom and what I hoped would be a rendezvous with my pursuer. Five hours, at dawn.

Which meant that the moment Miss Paxton was safely out of the way I would have to get that trunk, one way or another. And be where I could get into it come first light. Never, I vowed, would I travel again if I could help it: it was just one damn complication after another.

I could scent Miss Paxton’s dusting-powder as I entered the corridor leading to my stateroom. The scent was strong, but she was nowhere in sight. In the other cabins I heard the murmur of voices—a woman complained about having to go out on deck in the cold, which was prodigious—but there was certainly neither panic nor concern. I took a few steps along the corridor, listening, sniffing.

She was in my stateroom.

Of course. She’d got the maid to let her in.

This would be easier than I’d thought.

I closed my eyes as midnight moved into the icy heavens overhead. Reached out my mind to hers, where she waited in the comfortable darkness of my room. Laid on her mind, one by one, the fragile veils of sleep.

Gently, gently… I’d done this to her before, back in London, and had to be all the more subtle because she knew what it felt like, and would resist if she recognized the sensations again. But she was tired from prowling the ship by night in quest of a clear shot at me, by day in search of my trunk. I could feel her slipping into dream. I murmured to her in the voice of the River Cher, beside which she and her idiot brother Lionel had played as children; whispered to her as the breeze had whispered among the willow-leaves on its bank.

Sleep… sleep… you’re home and safe. Your parents are watching over you, no harm can come to you… .

One has only about ten minutes, at the very outside, at those turning-hours of noon and midnight, when the positions of earth and stars (as Simon has explained it to me) are strong enough to counterbalance the terrible influence of the tides. It was excruciating, keeping still, concentrating my thoughts on those of the young woman in my stateroom. Feeling those seconds of power tick away, calculating how many I’d need to stride down the hall, open the door, and bury my fangs in her neck…

An image I had to keep stringently from my thoughts while my mind whispered to hers. Sleep—rest—you’ll sleep much easier if you take off those itchy heavy silver chains around your neck. It’s safe to do so—you’re safe… They’re so heavy and annoying…

I felt her fumble sleepily with her collar-buttons (why do women persist in wearing garments that button up the back?). Saw her in the eyes of my heart, head pillowed on velvety hair half-unbound on the leather of the armchair. Fingers groping clumsily at her throat… Sleep—

The catch was large, solid, and complicated. Bugger. She must have chosen it so, knowing it wasn’t easy to undo in half-sleep or trance. Damn, how many minutes—how many seconds—left…?

Gentle, gentle, Lionel is asking for the necklaces. You have to take them off to give them to him—

I heard her whisper in her heart, Lionel , and tears trickled down her face. In her dreams she saw her brother, plump and fatuous as he’d been in life, holding out his hand to her. Got to have silver to wear to my wedding, old girl. Not legal if the groom’s not wearing silver. New rules .

She let the revolver slide from her fingers, brought up both hands. The catch gave, silver links sliding down her breasts. Seconds left, but enough—

I strode forward down the corridor and that God-cursed, miserable, miniaturized hair-farm of an American matron’s Pekingese threw itself out of the door of a nearby stateroom and fastened his teeth in my ankle. The teeth of such a creature would hardly imperil a soggy toast-point, much less a vampire in full pursuit of undefended prey, but the UnDead are as likely as any other subject of Lord Gravity to trip if their feet come in contact with a ten-pound hairball mid-stride. I went sprawling, and although I caught myself as a cat does, with preternatural speed, the damage was done. The Peke braced his tiny feet and let out a salvo of barks, his mistress appeared in the stateroom door just as I was readying a kick that would have caved in the little abortion’s skull, and shrieked at me, “How dare you, sir! Come to mummy, Sun!”

And the next second Miss Paxton, collar unbuttoned, hair tumbling over her shoulders, and gun in hand, was in the door of my stateroom, taking aim at a distance of six feet…

And midnight was over.

I fled. Mrs. Harper (I think that was her name), straightening up with her struggling hellhound in her arms, effectively blocked the corridor for the instant that it took me to get out of the line of fire, and I pelted down the staircase, into the nearest corridor, with Miss Paxton like a silent fury at my heels.

There were people in the corridors now, my fellow-passengers in every imaginable variation of pajamas, sweaters, coats, bathrobes, and life jackets, all of them carping about having to go out on the boat decks, and all of them impeding Miss Paxton from taking aim at me—and me from getting far enough ahead to lose her. I strode, dodged, slithered bow-ward along the ? Deck corridor, making for the cargo well that would give me swift access to the bowels of the ship. The lights were still on, but if they went out—as I thought they must, with the holds flooding—she would surely be mine.

The deck was definitely sloped underfoot when I reached “Scotland Road” on D Deck again, now milling with crewmen. At the head of the spiral stair going down to E and F, I stopped short with a jolt of sickened shock. Beneath me a pit of green water churned, eerily illuminated by the lights that still burned on the levels below.

That water looked awfully high .

The gun cracked behind me, and I spun; there were still crewmen in the corridor, but none were between me and the emergency ladder from which Miss Paxton had just emerged, and not a single one attempted to stop her. I don’t think the mad bitch would have cared if they had. Maybe her tales of my perfidy had spread widely among the crew: maybe they had a better idea of what was going on below our feet than the passengers or I did. The fact remained that she had a gun and a clear shot, and I knew that even a glancing wound from it could prove fatal. I hadn’t drunk the blood of thousands of grimy peasants, factory workers, prostitutes, and street-urchins over the course of fourteen decades to let myself be put out of the way by an enraged middle-class virago.

I did the only thing possible.

As she fired I fell against the rail, tipped over it, and dropped straight down into that seething jade-green seawater hell.

It was every bit as cold as I’d been led to expect.

My mind seemed to fracture, to go numb. I screamed, and my mouth and lungs flooded with water—it’s a damn good thing I’d quit breathing many years previously. I remember staring up through the green water and seeing Alexandra Paxton looking down at me, gun still in her hand.

I was conscious, but I felt my ability to act at all—to summon my limbs to obey my disoriented mind—bleeding out of me like gore from a severed femoral artery. I couldn’t move until she left, until she was convinced that I was dead, and she seemed to stand there—gloating, I expect, the miserable cow!—forever.

Then she spit at me, and turned away.

It took what felt like minutes of slow, clumsy thrashing before I could thrust myself to the door into what I think was F Deck. My fingers were like cricket bats, and I don’t know how long I spent simply trying to get the door open. My brain was like a cricket bat, too, trying to fish a single wet noodle of orientation—where the hell was the stairway up to E Deck?—from the swirling maelstrom of horror, shock, terrifying weakness, and nightmare panic.

And I knew with blinding certainty that, watertight compartments be damned, the ship was going down.

Voices, impossibly distant, came to me from all parts of the ship.

Voices that said, “She’s sinking by the head.”

Voices that said, “You must get in the boat, Mary. I shall follow later.”

Voices that said, “Get back there, you. Women and children first.”

Nearer, feet thudded amid a frightened yammering of Swedish, Gaelic, Arabic, Japanese: third-class passengers trying to find their way up the maze of stairways to the decks above. Crewmen shouted at them to go back, to stay in their cabins, they’d be called when it was time for them to get in the lifeboats. But I’d gone to sea, God help me, as a living man all those years ago, and I knew jolly well how many people could fit into a boat the size of the mere sixteen that were in Titanic’s davits.

I had to get up to the decks before they started letting those foreign swine take up boat space that I’d paid for with my first-class ticket. And I had to get there before the foreign swine realized that there wasn’t going to be enough room for them in the boats, and took matters out of the crew’s hands and into their own dirty paws.

The struggle was literally Hellish: I refer specifically to the Fifth Circle of Dante’s Hell, where the Sullen bubble in eternal stasis in the mud beneath the waters of the River Styx. I can only assume that the Styx is warmer than the Atlantic Ocean in mid-April. Water at a temperature of thirty degrees has exactly the same effect on the UnDead as it would on the living, only, of course, more prolonged, since the living wouldn’t survive more than a few minutes even were breathing not an issue. Beyond the paralyzing cold, there was the sheer hammering disorientation of ocean water—living water—itself. For long periods I became simply immobilized, my brain shrieking, fighting to make a hand move, a foot thrust against the metal walls that hemmed me in; it was like trying to remain awake in the final extremities of exhaustion. I’d come out of it, twist and thrash and wrench myself to push along a foot or so, then sink back into an inactivity I couldn’t break no matter how frantically I tried.

Those periods got longer, the moments of clumsy, horrified lucidity shorter and shorter. And around me I could feel the walls, the hull, the decking tilting, tilting, as the weight of the water in the bow doubled and quadrupled and quintupled, and I hung there helpless, aware of the sheer, horrifying depth of the ocean below.

I wonder why I didn’t go mad. Not with fear that I would die when that final hideous tipping-point was at last reached and the ship began her lightless plunge to the bottom: with the appalling certainty that I would not and could not .

Ever.

Whether because the water conducted sound, or for some other cause, as I spastically, intermittently, agonizingly crept and pushed my way toward the stairways and survival, I was completely aware of everything that was passing on the decks above. Even above the cheerful ragtime being pumped out by the ship’s band, I could hear with nightmarish clarity every conversation, every footfall, every creak of the tackle as the crew loaded up the lifeboats and lowered them to the surface of the sea far below. The ships’ officers kept saying, “Women and children first,” and the women and children—brainless cretins!—kept finding reasons to remain on the main vessel where it was warm. A number of men got into those early boats unchallenged, since there were so many women who weren’t interested: I learned later one of them was sent off with only twelve people in it. The miserable Mrs. Harper got off accompanied not only by her husband but by her wretched Pekingese.

But around me the walls changed their angle, with what to me seemed to be fearful speed, until even those first-class idiots on deck (I use the term advisedly) realized there was something greatly wrong. By the time I dragged myself at last, shaking and dripping, up a maintenance ladder onto D Deck, and stumbled toward an unguarded crew ladder to go above, the bow of the ship was underwater and all but four of the boats were gone.

I won’t go into a detailed description of the behavior of the some two thousand men and women in competition for the approximately one hundred and sixty available passes out of the jaws of death. Anyone who has lived for close to two centuries in a major city like London has had ample occasion to view the behavior of mobs, and the passengers of the Titanic actually acquitted themselves fairly mildly, all things considered. Yes, the crew members had to form a cordon around one boat and threaten to shoot any non-lady who tried to board; yes, the men did rush another of the boats (I was too far back in the mob to get on, damn those other selfish bastards to Hell).

Astonishingly, the lights remained on, and the band continued to play, giving an eerie disjointedness to the scene, but somehow, I think, keeping everyone just on the human side of total panic. God knows what it would have been like in darkness, with no sound but the groaning of the ship’s overstrained armature readying itself to snap. I had long since given up any thought of getting my trunk to safety, or of Alexandra Paxton. I learned much later she’d gone straight from shooting me (as she thought) to the Boat Deck, and had gotten off fairly early in the proceedings. She returned to England and lived, I regret to say, happily ever after.

The bitch.

For my part, my only thought was getting into a boat and trusting to luck that the rescue ship would arrive while night still lay upon the ocean. The richest people in the world were aboard the Titanic , for God’s sake! Other vessels must be racing one another to pick them up.

Mustn’t they?

In addition to the regular lifeboats the Titanic carried four canvas collapsible boats, and two of these were assembled and put in the lifeboat davits as the last of the wooden boats was lowered away. The other two, lashed uselessly to the top of the officers’ quarters, were too tangled up in rope to be dragged to the side, but men swarmed over them, trying to get them into shape to be floated off if and when, God help us all, the ship went under.

And under she would go. I knew it, could hear with the hyperacute senses of the UnDead the snapping creak of her skeleton cracking under the weight of water pulling her down, and the whole stern end of her—God knows how many tons!—that was by this time lifted completely clear of the glass-smooth, obsidian ocean. The lights were beginning to glow red as the generators began to fail. As I fought my way through the mob to one of the collapsibles, a dapper little gentleman who’d been helping with the ropes turned to the officer in charge and said, “I’m going aboard.” When the officer—who’d been fighting off would-be male boarders for some minutes—opened his mouth to protest, the dapper gentleman said, “I’m Bruce Ismay; President of the White Star Line.” He stepped into the boat.

As it swung clear of the deck I reached the rail: You may be President of the White Star Line, but if there’s room for you, there’s room for me…

And I froze. I could have batted aside any of the officers who tried to prevent me, and the leap would have been nothing. For one moment, just before the men began to lower, less than two feet separated the boat’s gunwale from the rail; with a vampire’s altered muscle and inhuman strength, I’ve cleared gaps four and five times that with ease.

Two feet of space, with running water not all that far below.

Had I been assured of the return of my immortal soul by so doing, I could not have made that jump.

And by the time I fought my way to the place where the other serviceable collapsible was being lowered, it was away. A number of passengers jumped at this point, when the boats were close enough to have picked them up. If you walked forward, it wasn’t all that far to the surface of the sea. I made my way to the roof of the officers’ quarters and joined the struggle to get the remaining two collapsibles unraveled from the snarl of ropes, get their canvas sides put up (the designer of the damn things is another on the long list of persons I hope will rot in Hell), and get them to the rails: if one fell upside-down (which it did) it was too heavy and too clumsy to be righted. I could feel the angle of the deck steepening, could tell by the dark water’s advance that the ship was being pulled forward and down.

At 2:15 the bridge went under. A rolling wave of black water swept over the roof of the officers’ quarters and floated the right-side-up collapsible free. I scrambled aboard, fighting and clawing the army of other men trying to do the same thing; glancing back I could see the Titanic’s stern, swarming with humanity like ants on a floating branch, lift high out of the ocean. It was a fearful sight. Voices were screaming all around me and if I’d ever had a doubt that a vampire could pray, and pray sincerely, it was put to rest in that moment. I shrieked God’s name with the best of them as I threw myself into that miserable canvas tub, and we oared away, gasping, from the great ship as she snapped in half—dear God, with what a sound!—and her stern crashed back, the wave propelling our boat on its way.

I saw her lights beneath the water as the bow pulled down, dragging the stern after it. The stern rose straight up for a moment, venting steam at every orifice and wreathed in the despairing wails of those wretches still trapped aboard; pointed briefly like a stumpy accusing finger at the beacon-cold blazons of the icy stars…

… then sank.

With my trunk aboard.

And no rescue-boat in sight.

It was twenty minutes after two in the morning. Dawn in the north Atlantic comes, in mid-April, at roughly five A.M.; first light about a half-hour before that.

Dear God was all I could think. Dear God .

The men—mostly crewmen—around me in the boat were praying, but I was at something of a loss for words. What I really wanted was for a light-proof, unsinkable coffin to drop down out of the heavens so I could go on killing people and drinking their blood for another few centuries. Even in my extremity, I didn’t think God would answer that one.

So I waited.

The collapsible’s sides never had been properly put up. We started shipping water almost immediately and barely dared stir at the oars, for fear of altering the boat’s precarious balance and sending us all down into those black miles of abyss. This consideration at least kept the men in the boat from rowing back to pick up swimmers, whose voices hung over the water like the humming of insects on a summer night. Some sixteen hundred people went into the sub-freezing water that night—I’m told most of the other boats, even those lightly laden, held off for fear of being swamped. One American woman tried to organize the other ladies in her boat to stage a rescue at this point and was roundly snubbed: so much for the tenderheartedness of the fair sex.

The cries subsided after twenty minutes or so. The living don’t last long in water that cold.

Then we could only wait, in fear perhaps more excruciating than we’d left behind us on the Titanic , for the canvas boat to slowly fill with water and sink away beneath our feet.

Or in my case, for the earth to turn, and the sun to rise, and my flesh to spontaneously ignite in unquenchable fire.

It was small consolation to reflect that such an event would briefly keep my fellow passengers warm and, one hoped, would take their minds off their own upcoming immersion.

Should the boat sink before I burst into flames, I found myself thinking, my best chance would be to guide myself, as best I could, toward the Titanic wreck. The short periods of volition permitted by even a long succession of noons and midnights would never be enough to counteract the movement of the slow, deep-flowing ocean currents. Staying in the wreck itself would be my best and only chance.

I could hear Simon’s voice in my mind, speculating about how divers were already learning to search for ships foundered in shallow waters, for the sunken treasures of the Spanish Main and the ancient Mediterranean. In time I fancy they shall discover even Atlantis, or at the very least whatever galleons went down chock-full of treasure in mid-ocean. You can be sure that whatever science can invent, treasure-hunters will not be long in adapting to their greed .

The richest men and women in the world had been my fellow passengers. Very few of them stuffed their jewels in their pockets before getting into the lifeboats. Of course the treasure-hunters would come, as soon as science made it possible for them to do so.

And even as I thought this, I sent up the feeblest of human prayers: Please, God, no…

As if He’d listen.

At 3:30, far off to the southeast, a flicker of white light pierced the blackness, followed by a cannon’s distant boom.

A slight breeze had come up, making the ocean choppy and the air yet more bitterly cold. Tiny as a nail-clipping, a new moon hung over the eastern horizon. Men had begun to fall off the collapsible, which was now almost up to its gunwales in seawater that hovered right around the temperature of ice: fall silently, numb, dead within sight of salvation. I could see all around us the ocean filled with the pale-gleaming blobs of what the sailors called “trash” and “growlers,” miniature icebergs the size of motorcars or single-story houses, ghostly in the starlight. Among them, or west and south in the clearer water, I could make out the dark shapes of the other lifeboats. Could hear the voices of the passengers in them, tiny occasional drops of sound, like single crickets in the night.

It wanted but an hour ‘til first light. I think I would have wept, had it been possible for vampires to shed tears.

The sky was staining gray when one of the lifeboats was sighted, slowly inching toward us. How far we’d drifted I don’t know; I’d sunk into a lethargy of horror, watching the slow growing of the light. It might have been the effect of the water in the boat, which was up to our knees by this time; there were only a dozen men left, and a woman from third class. I could barely move my head to follow the lifeboat’s agonizingly lentitudinous approach.

Everything seemed to have slowed to the gluey pace of a helpless dream. It was as if time itself were slowly jelling to immobility with the cold. Far across the water—perhaps a mile or two, in the midst of the floating ice—loomed the dark bulk of a small freighter. All around it the lifeboats were creeping inward, some from miles away, like nearly frozen insects painfully dragging themselves toward the jam-pot that is the Heaven of their tiny lives.

And I could see that, even if the lifeboat reached us—and each second it seemed that we’d go down under their very noses—there was no way under God’s pitiless sky that it would reach the freighter before full light.

Don’t make me do this, God. Don’t make me…

Like the laughter of God, light flushed up into the gray sky, turning all the icebergs to silver, the water to sapphire of incredible hardness and depth. At the same time my frozen flesh was suffused with unbearable heat, my skin itching, writhing… my flesh readying to burst into flame.

Hiding in a boiler on the wreck, curled in some corner of the grand staircase or the Palm Court Lounge, I would have only to wait for the treasure-hunters to come.

The cold and darkness would only seem eternal.

Would hope in those circumstances be more cruel than the comfort of despair?

I closed my eyes, tipped myself backward over the side.

I was about to find out.