Marcus agreed, rol ing up to the other side of the lab bench.
I looked at Benvenguda's bril iant hoops. "Who was she?"
"A very powerful witch," Miriam said, "who lived in Brittany in the seventh century. She was a marvel in an age that produced many marvels. Beatrice Good is one of her last-known direct descendants."
"Did Beatrice Good's family come from Salem?" I whispered, touching her folder. There had been Goods living there alongside the Bishops and Proctors.
"Beatrice's lineage includes Sarah and Dorothy Good of Salem," Matthew said, confirming my hunch. He opened Beatrice's file folder and put her mitochondrial test results next to those of Benvenguda.
"But they're different," I said. You could see it in the colors and the way they were arranged.
"Not so different," Matthew corrected me. "Beatrice's nuclear DNA has fewer markers common among witches.
This indicates that her ancestors, as the centuries passed, relied less and less on magic and witchcraft as they struggled to survive. Those changing needs began to force mutations in her DNA-mutations that pushed the magic aside." His message sounded perfectly scientific, but it was meant for me.
"Beatrice's ancestors pushed their magic aside, and that wil eventual y destroy the family?"
"It's not entirely the witches' fault. Nature is to blame, too."
Matthew's eyes were sad. "It seems that witches, like vampires, have also felt the pressures of surviving in a world that is increasingly human. Daemons, too. They exhibit less genius-which was how we used to distinguish them from the human population-and more madness."
"The humans aren't dying out?" I asked.
"Yes and no," Matthew said. "We think that the humans have-until now-proved better at adapting. Their immune systems are more responsive, and they have a stronger urge to reproduce than either vampires or witches. Once the world was divided more evenly between humans and creatures. Now humans are in the majority and creatures make up only ten percent of the world's population."
"The world was a different place when there were as many creatures as humans." Miriam sounded regretful that the genetic deck was no longer stacked in our favor. "But their sensitive immune systems are going to get humans in the end."
"How different are we-the creatures-from humans?"
"Considerably, at least on the genetic level. We appear similar, but under the surface our chromosomal makeup is distinctive." Matthew sketched a diagram on the outside of Beatrice Good's folder. "Humans have twenty-three chromosomal pairs in every cel nucleus, each arranged in long code sequences. Vampires and witches have twenty- four chromosome pairs."
"More than humans, pinot noir grapes, or pigs." Marcus winked.
"What about daemons?"
"They have the same number of chromosome pairs as humans-but they also have a single extra chromosome.
As far as we can tel , it's their extra chromosome that makes them daemonic," Matthew replied, "and prone to instability."
While I was studying his pencil sketch, a piece of hair fel into my eyes. I pushed at it impatiently. "What's in the extra chromosomes?" It was as hard for me to keep up with Matthew now as it had been managing to pass col ege biology.
"Genetic material that distinguishes us from humans,"
Matthew said, "as wel as material that regulates cel function or is what scientists cal 'junk DNA.'"
"It's not junk, though," Marcus said. "Al that genetic material has to be left over from previous selection, or it's waiting to be used in the next evolutionary change. We just don't know what its purpose is-yet."
"Wait a minute," I interjected. "Witches and daemons are born. I was born with an extra pair of chromosomes, and your friend Hamish was born with a single extra chromosome. But vampires aren't born-you're made, from human DNA. Where do you acquire an extra chromosome pair?"
"When a human is reborn a vampire, the maker first removes al the human's blood, which causes organ failure.
Before death can occur, the maker gives his or her blood to the one being reborn," replied Matthew. "As far as we can tel , the influx of a vampire's blood forces spontaneous genetic mutations in every cel of the body."
Matthew had used the term "reborn" last night, but I'd never heard the word "maker" in connection with vampires before.
"The maker's blood floods the reborn's system, carrying new genetic information with it," Miriam said. "Something similar happens with human blood transfusions. But a vampire's blood causes hundreds of modifications in the DNA."
"We started looking in the genome for evidence of such explosive change," Matthew explained. "We found it- mutations proving that al new vampires went through a spontaneous adaptation to survive when they absorbed their makers' blood. That's what prompts the development of an extra chromosome pair."
"A genetic big bang. You're like a galaxy born from a dying star. In a few moments, your genes transform you into something else-something inhuman." I looked at Matthew in wonder.
"Are you al right?" he asked. "We can take a break."
"Could I have some water?"
"I'l get it." Marcus hopped up from his stool. "There's some in the specimen fridge."
"Humans provided the first clue that acute cel ular stress from bacteria and other forms of genetic bombardment could trigger quick mutations, rather than the slower changes of natural selection." Miriam pul ed a folder out of a file drawer. Opening it, she pointed to a section of a black-and-white graph. "This man died in 1375. He survived smal pox, but the disease forced a mutation on the third chromosome as his body quickly coped with the influx of bacteria."
Marcus returned with my water. I took the cap off and drank thirstily.
"Vampire DNA is ful of similar mutations resulting from disease resistance. Those changes might be slowly leading to our extinction." Matthew looked worried. "Now we're trying to focus on what it is about vampire blood that triggers the generation of new chromosomes. The answer may lie in the mitochondria."
Miriam shook her head. "No way. The answer's in the nuclear DNA. When a body is assaulted by vampire blood, it must trigger a reaction that makes it possible for the body to capture and assimilate the changes."
"Maybe, but if so, we need to look more closely at the junk DNA, too. Everything must be there to generate new chromosomes," Marcus insisted.
While the three of them argued, I was rol ing up my sleeve. When the fabric cleared my elbow and the veins in my arm were exposed to the cool air of the laboratory, they directed their freezing attention at my skin.
"Diana," Matthew said coldly, touching his Lazarus badge, "what are you doing?"
"Do you stil have your gloves handy, Marcus?" I asked, continuing to inch my sleeve up.
Marcus grinned. "Yeah." He stood and pul ed a pair of latex gloves out of a nearby box.
"You don't have to do this." Matthew's voice caught in his throat.
"I know that. I want to." My veins looked even bluer in the lab's light.
"Good veins," Miriam said with a nod of approval, eliciting a warning purr from the tal vampire standing next to me.
"If this is going to be a problem for you, Matthew, wait outside," I said calmly.
"Before you do this, I want you to think about it," Matthew said, bending over me protectively as he had when Peter Knox had approached me at the Bodleian. "We have no way of predicting what the tests wil reveal. It's your whole life, and your family's history, al laid out in black and white.
Are you absolutely sure you want that scrutinized?"
"What do you mean, my whole life?" The intensity of his stare made me squirm.
"These tests tel us about a lot more than the color of your eyes and your hair. They'l indicate what other traits your mother and father passed down to you. Not to mention traits from al your female ancestors." We exchanged a long look.
"That's why I want you to take a sample from me," I said patiently. Confusion passed over his face. "I've wondered my whole life what the Bishop blood was doing as it pumped through my veins. Everyone who knew about my family wondered. Now we'l know."
It seemed very simple to me. My blood could tel Matthew things I didn't want to risk discovering haphazardly. I didn't want to set fire to the furniture, or fly through the trees, or think a bad thought about someone only to have that person fal deathly il two days later. Matthew might think giving blood was risky. To me it seemed safe as houses, al things considered.
"Besides, you told me witches are dying out. I'm the last Bishop. Maybe my blood wil help you figure out why."
We stared at each other, vampire and witch, while Miriam and Marcus waited patiently. Final y Matthew made a sound of exasperation. "Bring me a specimen kit," he told Marcus.
"I can do it," Marcus said defensively, snapping the wrist on his latex gloves. Miriam tried to hold him back, but Marcus kept coming at me with a box of vials and sharps.
"Marcus," Miriam warned.
Matthew grabbed the equipment from Marcus and stopped the younger vampire with a startling, deadly look.
"I'm sorry, Marcus. But if anyone is going to take Diana's blood, it's going to be me."
Holding my wrist in his cold fingers, he bent my arm up and down a few times before extending it ful y and resting my hand gently on the stainless surface. There was something undeniably creepy about having a vampire stick a needle into your vein. Matthew tied a piece of rubber tubing above my elbow.
"Make a fist," he said quietly, pul ing on his gloves and preparing the hol ow needle and the first vial.
I did as he asked, clenching my hand and watching the veins bulge. Matthew didn't bother with the usual announcement that I would feel a prick or a sting. He just leaned down without ceremony and slid the sharp metal instrument into my arm.
"Nicely done." I loosened my fist to get the blood flowing freely.
Matthew's wide mouth tightened while he changed vials.
When he was finished, he withdrew the needle and tossed it into a sealed biohazard container. Marcus col ected the vials and handed them to Miriam, who labeled them in a tiny, precise script. Matthew put a square of gauze over the stick site and held it there with strong, cold fingers. With his other hand, he picked up a rol of adhesive tape and attached it securely across the pad.
"Date of birth?" Miriam asked crisply, pen poised above the test tube.
"August thirteenth, 1976."
Miriam stared. "August thirteenth?"
"Just being sure," she murmured.
"In most cases we like to take a cheek swab, too."
Matthew opened a package and removed two white pieces of plastic. They were shaped like miniature paddles, the wide ends slightly rough.
Wordlessly I opened my mouth and let Matthew twirl first one swab, then the other, against the inside of my cheek.
Each swab went into a different sealed plastic tube. "Al done."
Looking around the lab, at the quiet serenity of stainless steel and blue lights, I was reminded of my alchemists, toiling away over charcoal fires in dim light with improvised equipment and broken clay crucibles. What they would have given for the chance to work in a place like this-with tools that might have helped them understand the mysteries of creation.
"Are you looking for the first vampire?" I asked, gesturing at the file drawers.
"Sometimes," Matthew said slowly. "Mostly we're tracking how food and disease affect the species, and how and when certain family lines go extinct."
"And is it real y true we're four distinct species, or do daemons, humans, vampires, and witches share a common ancestor?" I'd always wondered if Sarah's insistence that witches shared little of consequence with humans or other creatures was based on anything more than tradition and wishful thinking. In Darwin's time many thought that it was impossible for a pair of common human ancestors to have produced so many different racial types.
When some white Europeans looked at black Africans, they embraced the theory of polygenism instead, which argued that the races had descended from different, unrelated ancestors.
"Daemons, humans, vampires, and witches vary considerably at the genetic level." Matthew's eyes were piercing. He understood why I was asking, even though he refused to give me a straight answer.
"If you prove we aren't different species, but only different lineages within the same species, it wil change everything,"
"In time we'l be able to figure out how-if-the four groups are related. We're stil a long way from that point, though." He stood. "I think that's enough science for today."
After saying good-bye to Miriam and Marcus, Matthew drove me to New Col ege. He went to change and returned to pick me up for yoga. We rode to Woodstock in near silence, both lost in our own thoughts.
At the Old Lodge, Matthew let me out as usual, unloaded the mats from the trunk, and slung them over his shoulder.
A pair of vampires brushed by. One touched me briefly, and Matthew's hand was lightning fast as he laced his fingers through mine. The contrast between us was so striking, his skin so pale and cold, and mine so alive and warm in comparison.
Matthew held on to me until we got inside. After class we drove back to Oxford, talking first about something Amira had said, then about something one of the daemons had inadvertently done or not done that seemed to perfectly capture what it was to be a daemon. Once inside the New Col ege gates, Matthew uncharacteristical y turned off the car before he let me out.
Fred looked up from his security monitors when the vampire went to the lodge's glass partition. The porter slid it open. "Yes?"
"I'd like to walk Dr. Bishop to her rooms. Is it al right if I leave the car here, and the keys, too, in case you need to shift it?"
Fred eyed the John Radcliffe tag and nodded. Matthew tossed the keys through the window.
"Matthew," I said urgently, "it's just across the way. You don't have to walk me home."
"I am, though," he said, in a tone that inhibited further discussion. Beyond the lodge's archways and out of Fred's sight, he caught my hand again. This time the shock of his cold skin was accompanied by a disturbing lick of warmth in the pit of my stomach.
At the bottom of my staircase, I faced Matthew, stil holding his hand. "Thanks for taking me to yoga-again."
"You're welcome." He tucked my impossible piece of hair back behind my ear, fingers lingering on my cheek. "Come to dinner tomorrow," he said softly. "My turn to cook. Can I pick you up here at half past seven?"
My heart leaped. Say no, I told myself sternly in spite of its sudden jump.
"I'd love to," came out instead.
The vampire pressed his cold lips first to one cheek, then the other. "Ma vaillante fille, " he whispered into my ear.
The dizzying, al uring smel of him fil ed my nose.
Upstairs, someone had tightened the doorknob as requested, and it was a struggle to turn the key in the lock.
The blinking light on the answering machine greeted me, indicating there was another message from Sarah. I crossed to the window and looked down, only to see Matthew looking up. I waved. He smiled, put his hands in his pockets, and turned back to the lodge, slipping into the night's darkness as if it belonged to him.