Kitty Steals the Show Page 13

The sleekly modern room had reasonably comfortable padded folding seats that sloped downward to the stage, holding a podium where spotlights focused. A large screen toward the back of the stage meant we would probably be subjected to PowerPoint presentations. At the end of the week, I’d be giving my speech from this stage. I still didn’t know what I was going to talk about. I had some ideas. Maybe I could get the audience to ask me questions for an hour …

While waiting for opening remarks to start, we studied the schedule of events for the week. Within moments, my eyes blurred. I wanted to see it all, every single panel and lecture. I was pretty sure I’d done a show on every single panel and lecture topic at some point. This was going to give me enough material for the next six months.

“There’s too much,” I said. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“We could tag team it. Cover twice as much ground,” Ben said, looking much less awestruck.

“What are you interested in?”

He pointed to one of the evening’s lectures: “Case Law and Paranatural Citizens: A Survey.”

“Huh. Better you than me,” I said.

“Forewarned is forearmed,” he said.

“Then you’d darned well better sit through that. I’m trying to decide between ‘In Plain Sight: Did Hammer Film Studios Know Something We Didn’t?’ and ‘Theoretical Notions of Space and Time as Applied to Vampire Physiology.’”

“What does that even mean?” Ben said.

“I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.”

Conferencegoers filed in, the auditorium filled with the white noise of dozens of murmured conversations. Only five minutes after the scheduled time, a middle-aged man in a smart gray suit and wire-rimmed glasses came onstage with a set of note cards. Our presenter, obviously. Polite applause greeted him.

“Since the National Institutes of Health in the United States made the announcement four years ago, a vast new field of study has opened to us, encompassing not only biology but sociology, anthropology, and even folklore…”

His perfunctory account of the controversial field of paranatural studies made no mention of my own contribution in mainstreaming the topic, my role in prompting Dr. Paul Flemming of the NIH to make his announcement proclaiming the existence of vampires and lycanthropes to the world, his role in trapping me in order to broadcast me shape-shifting on live TV, which meant that no one could really ignore us anymore. Probably just as well.

The PowerPoint slides, which he did in fact include in his presentation, did reference Flemming’s work. Footnotes mentioned his name, papers he’d written, research he’d sponsored. I tensed, wanting to stand and declare—Flemming had been thoroughly discredited, how could anyone possibly even mention his name? Surely his research had to be discredited right along with him? The presenter may not have actually spoken the name, but it was there, clearly written, blazing across the room. Because even after everything that had happened, Flemming had helped establish the paranatural as a legitimate field of study. He’d be here in spirit, if not in flesh, all week.

The slides were mostly pie charts that had disclaimers about how no one could really be sure of the number of vampires and lycanthropes in a given population, these were estimates, and so on. Nothing nefarious, nothing earth-shattering. At least the guy’s British accent was fun to listen to.

The whole conference was going to be very staid, I gathered, which was probably a good thing. The subject was so sensationalist on its own we hardly needed to be adding to the hype. If we were all calm and boring about it maybe we could counteract the proto-riot going on outside.

Maybe I could work some of this into my speech—why the supernatural evoked so much emotion in people, why establishing much less maintaining objectivity was so difficult, and what that meant for all of us here. And whether maybe the topic deserved a little sensationalism.

* * *

“THEORETICAL NOTIONS of Space and Time as Applied to Vampire Physiology” turned out to involve a dark room and another PowerPoint presentation describing obscure bits of quantum physics and string theory. Not good in combination with lingering jet lag. I sat in the back of the room, notepad and pen in hand, trying to make sense of what the lecturer, a physics professor from the University of California at Berkeley was saying. Dr. Shumacher had worked with the guy on some of his research and recommended the talk. When the lecture opened with a physics joke—“Vampires: alive or dead? Does Schrödinger’s cat walk among us?”—I knew I was in trouble.

He went on to describe his hypothesis that vampirism was characterized by anomalies at the atomic level in the bodies of those affected by it. I hoped he had a question-and-answer period, because I really wanted to know if—and how—he intended on testing his ideas on actual vampires. Had he ever looked at a vampire tissue sample under, say, an electron microscope? If you did, what would you expect to find? Surely a vampire somewhere would donate a sample for such an experiment, since vampire blood contained the contagion that caused the disease. Maybe I could talk Rick into it.

I had to keep bringing my focus back to the slides that flipped past on the screen in the front of the room. Diagrams with arrows and squiggly lines kept showing up, and I kept not understanding. I wrote down the lecturer’s name and e-mail address so I could grill him later, when I was more conscious.

My attention drifted away again to study the rest of the audience. My werewolf eyes saw just fine in the dark. The room was about two-thirds filled, mostly with the academic types I’d seen throughout the conference so far. Many leaned forward, listening studiously. A pair of men in back stood together, whispering, pointing to the slides. A few journalists might have been here. Someone with a netbook on her lap seemed to be taking notes.

There weren’t any vampires here.

I straightened, breathing more calmly and deeply to make sure I was right. Vampires smelled cold, lifeless. They didn’t have heartbeats, and I could usually spot one across the room, even in a crowd. I searched for the familiar chilled eddies, the hair pricking along my neck and shoulders, and sensed nothing. Everyone in the lecture hall was alive, with steady heartbeats and fresh flowing blood. Well, that was interesting. I found it hard to believe that not a single vampire would be interested in a topic like this. Apparently not. All the vampire-specific lectures had been scheduled after dark specifically so that vampires could attend. So much for that idea.

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