3 Years, 6 Months Ago
“We’re dealing with what appears to be a serial missing persons case, likely murdered.” Captain Dennis flipped on the slideshow, taking a pause to look around the room at his officers. “Six years ago, in Retherwood, Jay Lancing got up in the middle of a final exam without warning, without saying a word, and walked out. No one ever saw him again. There was no reason for him to disappear. He was doing excellently in school, had an extremely well-paying job lined up after college, even his exam – what he had completed of it when he left – looked relatively easy for him. He was going into tech industry, programming electronics – reportedly his dream job. Bright, polite, well-liked. When police there checked his email and messages, there was nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that would explain his sudden disappearance. After his disappearance, no contact, not even any use of his bank card or his ID anywhere. He was not an individual who could live off the grid. It was assumed he was likely dead, maybe had just cracked under the pressure, although all of his friends insisted he wasn’t stressed, he was actually feeling very relaxed about where his life was, looking forward to graduating and starting his job.”
Captain Dennis changed the slide. “Approximately one year later, in Havensville, Kailey Dorne stopped in the middle of a presentation at her job and walked out, never to be seen again. Her company dealt with PR and she was heavily involved in various marketing campaigns. The presentation was an important one and she was reportedly anxious about it, according to her husband, but she was also confident that it would be okay. According to her husband, coworkers, and friends, she was the kind of person who would face problems straight-on. Like Jay, there was no indication in any of her emails or messages that anything was amiss. Everything was normal, but she just stopped what she was doing and walked out, just like Jay. Police didn’t connect the two at first, since they were in different jurisdictions. The connection occurred with the third victim, two years later in Tylin.”
He went to another slide. “Ginny Riddley, professional gamer. Doing extremely well by all reports, and rising in the e-sports world. She had an important gaming event she was attending, streaming while she played, when she, too, just got up and walked out. Ginny didn’t have as many personal contacts – she mostly interacted with people online, and trying to rule out anything abnormal in her contacts was a little harder as a result, since she would sometimes have thousands of people on her stream. But again, nothing clearly out of place. Everything seemed normal, everything seemed to be going well for her. But she, too, disappeared without a trace.
“This time, someone in the Tylin police force remembered reading the story of Kailey Dorne and started looking into it, then came across Jay’s disappearance. While there’s no indication that these people ever had anything to do with each other, the manner of their disappearances suggests a connection.”
Captain Dennis continued through the presentation. “Since then, two more people have gone missing in a similar manner – Iris White, here in Avenglade. Investment banker, mostly focused on the tech industry. Doing very well, no known issues, but walked out suddenly and wasn’t seen again. Then there was Henry Moore, in Serentown, recently started a new company dealing with creating websites for people. He was doing fairly well, his work was popular and his business was growing. Same deal – got up in the middle of a conversation, left, and never seen again.”
Captain Dennis flipped the projector off. “That made five disappearances, all unexplained, no connection between them that we could find. Two days ago, our newest victim.” He nodded to the folders each of the officers had. “Arthur West, here in Avenglade again. Worked as a sales rep for mainframes and various larger electronics that some business require. Best sales rep at his agency, bringing in several bonuses per year. No known issues – the only apparent stressor in his life is that his dog, which he is apparently very attached to, has a chronic disease, but it is being managed by a vet and the dog’s life expectancy is apparently good despite the disease. Apart from that, the same MO. Everything was going well for him, then he just stopped in the middle of a sales pitch, walked out, and hasn’t been seen since. We’re closer in time to the disappearance than any of the others but there’s still no indication. He’s not even on security cameras after leaving his building – it’s not clear if he just avoided them or if there’s a supernatural element to this.”
It wasn’t exactly a surprise that there could be a supernatural element to this – this was the supernatural branch of the police force, after all. The patrol, as they were called in Avenglade. Made up of mostly supernaturals and a couple of protected humans who knew about the supernatural world, their job was to protect the city from issues caused by supernaturals and to protect supernaturals from being discovered by humans.
Officer Mills tapped his folder. “Are we assuming the supernatural element based on how they’ve all disappeared? Arthur is human according to this – what about the others?”
“All human,” Captain Dennis confirmed. “But given the unusual nature of the disappearances and that none of them were seen after exiting their buildings – even in larger cities like this – we do believe there’s a strong possibility that a supernatural is either turning them invisible or somehow removing them the moment they leave the building they’re in. That suggests who we’re after is supernatural, which is why we’re handling the case now. Given that all the disappearances have been fairly local to our area – within a few hundred miles – there is a chance the individual responsible may actually reside here, in Avenglade – easier to hide in the largest city around.”
“Right,” Officer Bennet’s eyes were narrowed shrewdly, “but that doesn’t explain what she’s doing here.” She looked pointedly at me, sitting on a desk at the front of the room next to Captain Dennis.
I crossed my striped-stocking-clad legs, brushed off an imaginary piece of dirt off my Lolita skirt, and blew a bubble, waiting until it popped before answering her. “I’m a consultant.”
Captain Dennis gave me a sideways look. “Claire is here for the technology element. Other than their disappearance, the only potential link between the victims is that they’re all loosely connected to the tech industry or electronics in general. No real overlap in the nature of the involvement, but given that we can’t find any other connections, it’s not something we’re overlooking.”
A crease appeared between Officer Bennet’s brows. “Okay, but…that still doesn’t explain – uh, Claire, is it?”
I chewed my gum a couple of times before answering, just to annoy her. She clearly was a stickler for the rules, and I did not conform to police expectations regarding standard uniform or behavior. “I’m a techno vampire,” I explained. Which wasn’t much of an explanation since everyone but Captain Dennis was still confused. “Hybrid between vampire and witch.”
“There’s no such thing,” Officer Bennet said quickly. “Witches don’t have children with other supernaturals.”
“Actually,” I rested my hands behind me on the desk, swinging my legs a bit, “witches just don't prefer to create offspring with other supernaturals, because they tend to want witch children and marrying other supernaturals can result in a child that's the other supernatural's type or even a hybrid. Turns out, if a witch marries a vampire, there’s like an 0.2% of a hybrid being born – a techno vampire, as we call ourselves. There’s not a ton of us in existence since it’s kind of a rare shot with a species combination that is unlikely to happen. But we do exist, we’re just…not really heard of. No witch powers, but the witch magic combined with vampire creates something different. We feed off energy, technology-related energy. Stuff happens online or through electronics? Feeds energy to any of us nearby. It’s a symbiotic relationship, though – in return, we let off a form of magic, I guess – basically, luck. We give luck to people. We can’t entirely control who it goes it, it’s more like just a passive thing we release, but if someone is feeding us more energy? They’re more likely to get luck in return, just based on the energy flow.”
I pointed to the blank projector. “All these humans? Big energy producers for our kind. Henry the least so, but the others were pretty massive. Jay was incredibly active in forums as well as his programming stuff. That’s a kind of energy, too – feeds us the same way.”
“So,” Officer Mills said slowly, “you think one of these techno vampires might be behind this?”
“Hell no!” I responded instantly. “That’d be suicide. I mean, none of my kind would ever harm a human, let alone one of these. All humans represent potential energy to us, more so than supernaturals – we don’t get as much energy from supernatural activity as with humans, not sure why. But harming a human is pointless and harmful to us. And with big energy producers like these victims? Extra no way we’d touch them. In fact, any techno vampires near them likely would suffer heavily by their disappearances.”
Officer Bennet crossed her arms, still apparently suspicious of me – or at least deeply disapproving. “You’re trying to say you feed off humans but you’re not going to hurt them?”
I rolled my eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh. It annoyed her, good. “Unlike our ‘real’ vampire ancestors, we don’t actually feed off people. We feed off their energy. We don’t take it from them, we don’t give them negative energy in return. We just…exist nearby them, I guess. Someone plays a bunch of games like the Ginny girl? That gives us energy. We never see them, we never interact directly with them. But the energy still flows. Technically,” I allowed, “we can feed off energy more directly – used to have to before modern technology became a thing – but it’s a lot harder, takes a lot more to fill us. Like you’d basically have to be a socialite and attend every party, every gathering you could. Wasn’t exactly much fun – technology feeds us lightyears better, even besides giving us access to more people and more energy. But yeah, we don’t hurt them. They don’t even know they’re helping us. We just get energy from being nearby.”
Officer Mills rested his elbows on his desk, looking thoughtful. “But you do see a link between the victims, something that only a techno vampire might see.”
I shrugged and popped another bubble. “It’s a possibility, but like I said, no techno vampire would ever willingly hurt these people.”
“The point is,” Captain Dennis finally intervened again, “Claire’s here to try to help us with the tech side. See if there is some connection to a techno vampire or to something else.”
“Such as?” Officer Bennet’s eyes were steely.
Captain Dennis exchanged a glance with me before answering. “Given the value of these victims to techno vampires, the thought has been put out there that the perpetrator is actually attempting to hurt techno vampires by removing major energy sources, particularly a vampire in this area since the victims are all somewhat close geographically. It’s a possibility, but right now just a potential theory. We don’t have reason to believe there is a techno vampire in the area, however, so the theory is problematic, but we’re not entirely discarding it, either.”
He turned to Officer Mills. “I want you to come to go over Arthur’s house today and bring Claire. We’ve already checked for fingerprints, signs of break-in, and the like, but I want Claire to see if there’s anything on the electronics that we’re not catching. Claire is not a police officer, just a consultant, so we need one of us present for documentation.” His attention shifted to Officer Bennet. “Meanwhile, you’ll go to Arthur’s workplace and confiscate all his electronics and paperwork there – everything. We have a warrant, but they’ll likely kick up a fuss about company privacy, so be prepared for some arguments.”
She crossed her arms, but didn’t look displeased about the suggestion. I was pretty sure there was a reason she was assigned to that task instead of escorting me.
“Why not just confiscate his home stuff, too?”
“We are bringing it back here,” Captain Dennis confirmed, “but I want Claire to take a look at it there before we do. She already looked at his work stuff yesterday – I took her by – but nothing stood out. Personally I suspect if there’s any connection it’s more likely a personal one, given the total lack of overlap in professional lives of all the victims, so the home electronics are potentially more promising.”
There were three other officers helping out with the investigation, but they got gruntwork for now – reviewing records to confirm no overlap with other victims, that sort of thing. I could have done all that for them in, like a tenth of the time it would take them, but hey, they didn’t ask, and I wasn’t going to volunteer.
Captain Dennis was finally satisfied with all the tasks he had handed out and dismissed everyone to go to their duties. Officer Mills led me to the parking lot where he got in his patrol car and unlocked the passenger side door for me.
“Sweet, don’t have to sit in the back, that’s always a good sign.” I slid in and buckled myself in. I might not follow all the rules, but no need to be stupid about it, either. No reason to shorten my life because of stupidity.
Officer Mills let out a surprised huff of laughter. “Yeah, but only as long as you behave,” he told me teasingly.
I held up my hands. “I make no promises about behaving.”
He was pretty easy to get along with, which was cool – a lot better than the stick-in-the-mud Officer Bennet was.
“So what are you?” I asked as I popped in another piece of gum. “Not great with all the supernaturals so I find it’s better to just ask.” Actually, I could identify them better if I encountered them online. Their energy would have a twang unique to their species. In person, though, I really sucked at properly identifying supernaturals. Some might be offended about being asked, but hey, if I cared about offending people, I probably wouldn’t do half the things I do.
“Nightwing,” he responded. “I guess that kind of makes us cousins since we’re both hybrids born from vampires.”
“Only you get the cool flying ability while I just leech off stuff. Kinda unfair.”