Sunday Storytime: “You wouldn’t hire a nuclear physicist for a job that needs a marine biologist.”

This one’s from Suicide is for Mortals. Scanlon is getting reckless.


On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have taken on another vampire story so soon after Boris died.

It made perfect sense at the time; the story wasn’t going to stick around and wait for me, while I couldn’t resurrect Boris. The thing is, Boris was the one who made my wards, and after he died, I had to find another magic-handler to do that.

Wards are the reason why I was able to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning article on the role of vampirism in organized crime without getting exsanguinated. Boris raised up my career by an order of magnitude by keeping me alive. The way his wards worked was very elegant; they made me unnoticeable to vampires. I wasn’t exactly invisible to them, as that would be very easy to do wrong and could backfire in the worst way. No, Boris’s wards made it so that vampires wouldn’t see me unless they already knew I was there or I chose to get their attention. It was a subtle, parsimonious charm, and it took a lot of skill to get right.

Would you trust this guy to sell you a charm that keeps you safe from undead monsters?

However, I went out to the red light district that night with his successor’s handiwork on my side. I couldn’t use an older one from Boris because the things go obsolete quickly. Magic-handlers like to think of themselves as scientists divided over lots of different fields, and that comparison holds–you wouldn’t hire a nuclear physicist for a job that needs a marine biologist–but when we’re talking about wards, it helps to think of them as programmers. Think of vampire predation as a computer virus, and the wards as anti-virus software. Because believe me, it is most definitely the software that matters. Plastic doesn’t hold a charm for very long, but Boris felt free to use expired credit cards for amulets because they’re easily concealed and the charm isn’t going to be useful for very long anyway. You write a new anti-virus program, and some sociopath writes a stronger virus. So it is with vampires; you cast a new ward, and within six months they hire a less-scrupulous sorcerer to get around it, so the process begins anew, and any magic-handler who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you an inferior product.

Boris was sick for a long time and his death wasn’t a surprise, but he was too stubborn to keep an apprentice for long enough to be useful. He suggested a friend, Hector, to me for future protective charms, so I asked Hector for a new ward when it was time to pay the trafficked sex workers and their undead overseers a visit. Hector offered me something cast into a large silver coin. Silver holds a spell much longer than anything synthetic, and that wasn’t a good sign, but Hector assured me the charm was brand new and everything else he did seemed very competent. The issue was really that I needed a new ward, I needed it right that instant, and I didn’t know of anyone else who could make one.