The night had become warmer by the time we left. The air crackled with the beginnings of lightning storms.
Grandfather's black Rolls Royce cars were waiting for us, complete with mudguards and external headlights that looked like goggles. Walter's only children. Hellsing's butler had maintained them religiously after the Second World War. How they'd survived the last thirty years, I had no idea.
Seras opened the door for me with a clunk. The headlights had bleached Seras's colors out: her hair and skin looked even ghostlier than usual. I sat down. Shifted. The grey leather squeaked, and the door closed behind me.
I racked my brain for the other stuff that I'd gone over a thousand times. Vampires couldn't cross large bodies of water under their own power. Even Alucard didn't "cross" so much as appear on a different side. Okay. Close down the bridges, airports, ferries. Plug the gaps with as much esoteric stuff as possible. Fortunately, Northern Ireland had recently finished its anti-freak canal system. The whole place looked like a grid.
The convoy drove down the Manor's path to the sound of purring engines and crumbling gravel. I caught myself fiddling with the microfilament wires.
With any luck, we'd be dealing with artificial vampires. Or younger "natural" ones. I wasn't all that picky - just as long as they couldn't shapeshift. It would be nice to fight vampires who were only superhuman regenerators for once-
"And if they're not?" said a voice
Alucard smirked in the seat next to me.
Red eyes illuminated the web of wires that I'd weaved around Alucard's neck (and the fold-out trays, and the door handles, and apparently my left shoe...) by half-panicked instinct.
"You're thinking too quickly," he said. "And not carefully enough. Assume the worst."
A thrill ran through my stomach. We'd need to keep an eye out for everything from bats to red mist. K-9 units would help slightly. At least they could sense the things...
...Yeah, we were looking at a really tough perimeter setup.
Alucard grinned with his mouthful of steak knives. His eyes burned under the fedora's shadow.
Like you wouldn't believe...
"The Director of Hellsing created me to do a job," I said. "I'm going to carry it out."
The smile dimmed slightly. Alucard stared out the window, as long-deserted hills and stone walls rolled by.
"Ahhhh," he said. "So that's it. Much easier to have been born a storm, mh? Or a bayonet."
"You're quoting Anderson.""
When Alucard's eyes crinkled with the smile, they almost looked their age.
"Anderson was a very quotable man," he said. "He just wasn't right all that often."
I glanced at the front seat, and saw Seras's profile. She was watching me through her rearview mirror. Couldn't catch much of her face, though - just shadows from the headlights. I almost wished she had a reflection.
"We'll see," I said.
Alucard ruffled my hair.
Not affectionately, but because he knew I'd just spent ages combing it into something halfway presentable. It gleefully unraveled into the usual mess. Alucard chuckled.
Unfortunately, he was already gone.
I sat back.
And failed. I was still strung up with about a dozen microfilament wires.
The private plane waiting for us was a good gauge of Hellsing's resources these days. I had to stoop to walk through. Seras and I barely squeezed into the tan leather seats, which looked like they could use a little restoration work.
Engines buzzed, and the plane started moving. We were airborne a little later. London and the other hamlets were reduced to little points of light, like glow sticks floating in a black sea.
I spent most of the time rearranging crates of my cleaning products on the floor, so that I didn't need to contort my legs to sit down. My foot had fallen asleep.
"You might want to look out the window," Seras said.
I started, and scrambled for my wires.
"Hm?" I said. "Problem? Where?"
"Er-no..." Seras said. "I just meant - well, you don't leave Hellsing very often, Master. Less than Hellsing's vampires, even. I just thought you'd like to take a look."
I peered out the window. The sun was rising. The Irish Sea glimmered beneath us, and a flock of birds flew across it through cottonball clouds.
"It's...well, it's what people do."
Seras stared at me for a second, as if I was supposed to say something.
"...And you might want to do your own traveling someday," she said.
"India's due for another chedipe outbreak soon, but I don't know if Mother wants me to-"
"Recreationally," Seras said. "Like a vacation. For fun."
"I mean, it's not like you get vampiric sickness every time you cross water. Why not see a little of the world. You know?"
"Maybe even meet somebody. Look, Cyril...I know Sir Integra has you training at the Manor constantly, but sometimes it's nice to get out."
"Find other bioweapons my own age to hang out with?" I said.
"Yes, that's-wait. No."
"I mean, if Section XIII has a few trainees...assuming we could get past the 'test-tube abomination' thing, which isn't-"
"Forget I said anything. Ugh. You're as stubborn as your mother."
"Technically, you acted as a surrogate during-"
"Not. Another. Word. My life's complicated enough already."
I shrugged, and started cleaning my microfilament wires for the thousand-and-first time.
A stewardess rattled a wheeled tray down the aisle. She seemed around forty, with too much rouge and dirty blonde hair that looked dyed. I didn't recognize her from any of the previous flights.
She spent half the time stealing glances at Seras's red eyes and fangs, until Seras put on a black silk sleeping mask. Her coffin was still in the cargo hold, and we might need to go out in daylight soon. Better that than nothing.
I turned my head.
"Thank you," I said. "A little wine would be nice."
"Shall I turn on the reading light, sir?"
"Um, sure. Thanks. And maybe-"
The "reading light" glared like something that would be used to direct an anti-aircraft battery. I clicked a green plastic button, and hoped I'd gotten the right one. Unfortunately, it only blasted me in the face with high-pressure air conditioning. My hair ruffled. Again.
The stewardess started pouring the wine while I fumbled with the light. An "oh-let-me-help-you-with-that" died on her lips when she saw that my hand didn't cast a shadow. Her eyes widened. The bottle of wine dropped.
I awaited the inevitable.
But somehow - impossibly - the woman caught the bottle by its neck. The wine gave a plunk as it resettled.
"You...caught that," I said.
"I-I'm sorry, sir. I should have been more careful."
"Well, go on," I said.
The stewardess assembled her best customer service smile.
"Sir? I'm not sure I understand..."
"Go ahead and dump it on me," I said. "We might as well get this over with."
"I...sir, are you...I already apologized, but I don't know that-"
"Not this again," Seras groaned.
The stewardess looked from me to Seras, who'd peeled her sleeping-mask off enough to rub the bridge of her nose.
"Sorry, ma'am," Seras said. "Cyril's...um, accident-prone. He has this superstition-"
"Says the vampire," I muttered.
"-superstition that his clothing stains have a daily quota," Seras finished.
"They do," I said.
"...While he's actually just careless, and things like this only make it worse," she said.
"Ignore Seras," I said. "She's just never accepted that I'm being haunted by a supernatural aura with an abstract affinity for messes."
The stewardess's attempt at a smile wouldn't have looked out of place on Mother's old doll collection. The dolls that Mother had donated to Alucard for target practice, because they'd creeped her out.
"Oh..." the stewardess said. "I see...Um...WillThatBeAllSir?"
Without waiting for an answer, she snapped up my plate in record time and dropped it onto the tray with a clatter. She kept the wine bottle well out of reach, too.
"Remember the time I tried to wash my own clothes?" I said. "Was it 'superstition' when the septic system backed up into our washing machine-"
"Cyril, we've been through this," Seras said. "A lot."
"-and the washing machine exploded on me-"
"Just because the plumber couldn't think of an explanation doesn't mean there wasn't one!"
"-and it turned out that the septic system wasn't even connected to any of the other pipes?"
Seras pointedly pulled her sleep mask over her face again, and released it. The elastic snapped back with a fthwip. She reclined her seat.
"You know, you'd be a lot more accommodating if you were born hygienically disabled," I said.
"That's not even a thing."
"And once again, the cries of the disadvantaged go unheeded by a callous public."
More quickly than the stewardess could blink, Seras's hand shot out and snatched the bottle of wine. She held it over my head, and tipped it until the contents had drizzled onto my hair. Like most burgundy, it had a decaying, farm-yard sort of odor.
"Happy now?" Seras said.
The wine had already started to glue me to the seat as it dried. I kicked back, trying to ignore the wounded expression on the stewardess's face.
Fortunately, I'd packed lots of spare suits.
I'd probably have to dunk my head in a tub of cleaning solution, too. Sure, Oxi-Clean stung my eyes almost as much as bleach did, but it was better for the environment, and I sort of liked the fizz.
A small price to pay for avoiding random attacks by sewage trucks, puddles, and paint cans when we met our contacts in Ireland.
A short time later, I stood on an airport tarmac. Squeaky clean. Our jet whined behind us. The place was bleak enough - almost no trees or grass until you reached the horizon. Just construction equipment and shanties.
I'd never seen so many people crammed into such a small space. The airport's main building was a recently expanded cube, with aquamarine windows and white segmented walls that made it look like a giant Lego project. People swarmed around the door.
"Ready, Master?" Seras said.
I looked down. My fingers were tapping against my legs, manipulating wires that weren't there. Seras had once said that it was like watching somebody playing an invisible piano. I forced them still.
We pushed our way through. Even Seras's aura didn't do much for crowd control - a couple people shied away when they saw the Hellsing emblem, but they had nowhere to go. I nearly tripped when somebody bumped me into a potted plant. Everybody seemed to treat the queueing stanchions and ropes like hopeful suggestions.
On a whim, I took a moment to buy a book at one of the kiosks before plunging back into the churning masses.
Blue monitors flashed arrival times from each column. A child in a hand-me-down Varney's Last Stand t-shirt cranked a dispensing-machine. People nudged. Chewed. Yelled. Breathed. It smelled like a combination of body odor, foreign spices, and the garlic strands hanging from the ceiling pipes. Security guards passed silver items over each new arrival, while others kept assault rifles leveled at the crowd.
I remember watching some old sci fi flicks with Alucard during one of his rare deviations from Die Hard marathons. It was mostly 90's stuff - from before London, and the Crash that had followed. I'd gasped at all those shiny surfaces, flying cars, and supercomputers. Fossilized futures. Worlds where you could hop onto a plane and go anywhere.
I wonder what they'd think of us now. Crammed into our fortified hamlets, with our daily inspections, lifesign chips, and everything. Millenium had been the first domino. The rest had fallen in a predictable path: alternating human crackdowns and vampire escalation. The Third World had gotten the worst of it, as usual.
It's a morbid little game to play when you're in the mood. How much progress could we have bought with a few thousand vampire victims a year, and ignorance? How much more processor speed if we'd never known that Wilbur down the street had been eaten?
On the bright side, we had lots of spare garlic.
Something burned on the back of my neck - as if I'd stepped into a scalding shower. I stiffened. Looked around. Seras tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed.
I peered through the glass doors, and saw him standing outside.
Red eyes. Pale skin. He was a lean, narrow-faced man in a ballistic vest, without even a hint of gristle on his chin. Four others stood around him: three males, and one female. All of them carried firearms that looked more like cannons.
He smiled as we headed over, carefully keeping his lips closed. The rest of his face didn't move.
"Gavin Kerr," he said. "Captain, Royal Occult Countermeasures Detachment."
The back of my neck kept prickling. There's something off about artificial vampires, even beyond the usual. An extra layer of wrongness. Alucard had butchered most of the Letzte Bataillon just to get it out of his skin. He still complained about indigestion, and their souls had been gone for thirty years. Even after Pip had died, Seras hadn't finished Zorin Blitz's humiliation by consuming her.
Mother had nearly had an aneurysm when Parliament had authorized an anti-vampire force "utilizing techniques pioneered by the Millenium organization." She'd outright refused to cooperate. She'd pointed out nitpicky stuff like bloodthirst, impulse control issues, sadism, and sociopathy. They'd ignored her. Again.
Unfortunately, Millenium had created their army in a rainforest, financed with some pilfered gold. Occult knowledge, vampiric tissue, and World War II medical technology hadn't exactly been insurmountable hurdles for Her Majesty's government.
Even the self-destruct chips had only taken a couple months. Three, if you didn't count the weeks leading up to the Pen y Fan massacre that had precipitated their adoption.
Hence Captain Gavin Kerr, ROCD.
He clasped my hand, and gave another of his not-really-smiles.
"You're Sir Hellsing's dhampir?"
"His name," Seras said, "is Cyr-"
"Yes, I'm the Director's dhampir."
"Good. Come with me."
Kerr headed for the parking lot, and motioned for us to follow. Seras shot me one of her looks. I shrugged in reply.
Millenium's legacy was an annoyance that kept on giving. It wasn't that hard to find weaker vampires to bootleg, which meant that a quarter of our outbreaks these days involved humans with a little cosmetic surgery. Most of them originally affiliated with some government or other.
England had lost its monopoly before the first ROCD vampire had left the operating table. Russia and China had adopted artificial vampires into their special forces outright. Ditto a couple smaller countries. The Americans still preferred to rely on the Cotton Mather Battalion's regenerators, but they supposedly had their own vampire program in the works. (Over the Witchfinder General's objection. Unlike Mother, the President hadn't removed her yet.) And from what I heard, the Dear Leader was looking suspiciously young and pasty for a nonagenarian. Still seemed on the well-fed side, though.
"Any updates on the situation?" I said.
Captain Kerr shut the car door. Seras sat between us, but the proximity to Kerr was still enough to make every nerve wriggle.
"Hamlet 23 went quiet around seven this evening," Kerr said. "LifeChip implants just started winking out. Quickly. They're still analyzing surveillance and satellite footage to get a narrative."
"How long?" Seras said.
Kerr's eyes seemed to glow a little brighter as he traced them across Seras's body. Her warning glare washed over him without any effect.
"Might take awhile," he said.
I asked whether the tipster sites were up yet, and received a predictable "no." Aside from Chief Bradley's usual obsession with preventing "panic" in his zone, the Northern Irish gendarmes didn't know what to look for. Yet.
On the bright side, it took Kerr's attention off Seras. Wouldn't want him to lose any pieces.
"So if we go in-"
"You will," Kerr said.
"When we go in, what are we looking at?" I said.
"Humans'll drop you past the canals," Kerr said. "Other than that? There's a minefield, obviously. Probably some tracked drones with silver bullets, unless the target destroyed them."
"Speaking of drones..." Seras said.
Kerr chuckled softly. He licked his lips.
"Sorry, Miss," Kerr said. "Shame sending a pretty young girl into the dark, but I can't give you air support. Drones can screw with vampire precog, but we can't risk something hopping aboard."
Seras's aura flared ever so slightly - a cold miasma of shadows and distilled panic. Kerr winced.
"I'll manage, Captain."
"Any news about our neighbors in the south?" I said.
Kerr shook his head. Partly to clear it.
"No reports of movement from Section XIII," he said. "Then again, if it's Heinkel, there wouldn't be."
"Great," Seras muttered.
Well, it could be worse. Spend enough time chatting with the Puritan fanatics at the Court of Oyer and Terminer across the Atlantic, and you started to appreciate middle-of-the-road types like Alexander Anderson and Heinkel Wolfe.