Drawing of a jewel with a red letter A on it, on a red ribbon around a woman's neck.

Countess short story by Iris Carden

Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.

HDU Trainee Agent Harry Smythe woke from what seemed an incredibly deep sleep.  As his eyes struggled to focus, his brain registered the letter A, nothing else.

“Wha…” he struggled to say.

“You’re safe now,” a soft female voice said.

He drifted back to sleep again and eventually woke properly.

He was lying on an ornate antique couch, in expensively decorated room. An elegant woman with long black hair, in a floor-length red formal dress sat on an armchair. On a ribbon around her neck, she wore a black jewel, with the letter A on it in red. 

“Welcome back to the world of the living.  I am Countess Anastasia Arafami.  You may address me as ‘Your Ladyship’.  You are safe now.  You have not been bitten.  I have summoned Senior Agent Burns to collect you.”

“Where am i?” he asked groggily.  “I mean, where am I, Your Ladyship.”

“You are in my house.  I rescued you from a vampire who was about to bite you.  I do not normally fight my own kind, but I, and my household, respect the truce Senior Agent Burns brokered. We buy our blood, and do not take from unwilling humans.”

A younger woman, who looked very much like the Countess led Jo Burns into the room.

Jo bowed slightly to the countess, and said, “Thank you Your Ladyship.  Your kindness is very much appreciated.”

“I did not act out of kindness, but self-interest,” the Countess replied.  “One does not live five hundred years without learning which fights to avoid.  You are an opponent I would rather not fight against.”

“The feeling is mutual. With your permission, I will take my agent and leave.”

The Countess nodded. Jo pulled Harry’s arm around her shoulder and half-led half-carried him to her car.  They drove back to the HDU office in silence.

Back in the office, Jo called HDU pathologist Helen Thompson to check on Harry’s health.  Helen brought her assistant, Andrew Harrison, a former zombie, with her.

Andrew passed a magnifying glass to Helen, who found a slight abrasion on Harry’s neck. She asked for antiseptic and a clean dressing, which Andrew provided.

“There was a bite,” Helen said. “It’s not deep, but who knows.  Traditionally it takes three bites to turn someone, but there have been cases…” Her voice trailed off.  She looked at Jo, Jo looked back.  What neither wanted to say was clear.

“What do you remember?” Jo asked.

“I was out at a nightclub.  It’s after hours.  It’s my own business what I do.  I met this girl, I don’t remember her name.  We had a drink together, and then I woke up and the Countess was there.”

“What the Countess told me was she interrupted a vampire about to make you dinner.”

“We have to catch the woman. What if she goes after someone else?” Harry was earnest.

“No need. The Countess will have taken care of the fang involved.  What we have to do, is to watch you and make sure you don’t turn.”

“Turn? You mean?”

“Yes. I’m afraid you’re spending the night in the cells.”

“Can we trust the Countess?  Maybe she didn’t interrupt.  Maybe she was working with the girl I met.”

“The Countess is the fang I negotiated with to create the agreement whereby vampires get old or infected blood from the bloodbank.  She knows the HDU will kill any fang we find feeding off humans.  She’s nothing if not a pragmatist.  She saved you as a strategic move in dealing with the HDU.  It’s an alliance that works for her.  She’s the oldest, most powerful fang in the area, and most of the others obey her, a number even live in her house. In fang politics, she’s the equivalent of the Prime Minister, Governer-General, the Dalai Lama, and a High Court judge rolled into one. Not all fangs give their allegiance to her, but the smart ones do. We can trust her because the agreement works for her and keeps her subjects safe from us. She’s the most dangerous thing we’ve ever dealt with, but we can trust her for now.” 

Harry unhappily went to a cell and was locked in for the night.  In the next cell was a werewolf, in voluntarily so as to not do any harm on the full moon.  The wolf cringed, and backed away from the wall the two cells shared. Jo noticed, but didn’t say anything to Harry.  She wanted to be certain.

In the morning, the wolf had become a woman, who told Jo she had felt frightened, and didn’t know why during the  night, but she would still be back next full moon.

In his cell, Harry was in a bad state.  He was aggressive, yelling that he was hungry.

Jo called Helen, who came with Andrew behind her. 

When Jo unlocked the cell, Harry came running out, trying to grab Helen.  

Andrew grabbed Harry’s arms from behind, pulled them back and held them.  Andrew was no longer under the spell which had made him a zombie slave, was still extremely strong in the aftermath of it. He held Harry by the arms as easily as a child holds a butterfly by the wings.

Helen examined the struggling Harry.  

“Sorry,” she said.  “He’s dead.  No heartbeat, skin’s cold.  He’s a vampire.”

“Get him back in the cell,” Jo told Andrew.  “I’ve got a call to make.”

An hour later, the Countess arrived at the HDU headquarters.  She had brought two bags of blood. She entered the cell, opened a bag, and gave it to Harry.  He drank, hesitantly at first, and then hungrily.  After the second bag, Harry sat on the bed in the cell and cried. 

“This is hard,” the Countess said, “but it will get easier.  You will learn to live as a vampire.  If you choose to hunt your own food, I will not stop you, unless your choices affect the stability of my people. I recommend, however, you become one of my people.  Come to live in the house with other vampires, it is easier when you are one of many. We do not harm humans, now. We live among them. You are now a vampire, and you will choose how you will live as one of us.  I will leave you to think.”

In Jo’s office, the Countess asked, “What will you do with him now? I have invited him to join my community, but I will not force him.”

“Honestly, if he can control the blood thirst, and doesn’t harm humans, I have no problem with releasing him, either to your care or on his own.”

“It will be best if Harry were to stay in your cell for a few more days, and I will bring him food, until he has begun to come to terms with the change he has undergone.”

“I’m fine with that.  I’d like to give him the best chance possible.”

“Will he be able to continue his work here?  It will be good for him, for his mind, if he can continue some of his past life.”

“Again, if he can refrain from harming people, I don’t see why not. I do see that would give you a vampire in the HDU.”

“And it would give you an agent in my community.”

“Its lucky we have the agreement.”

“Indeed it is fortunate we have the agreement. It would be difficult if we were enemies.”

Human Defence Unit Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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