“Already done.” Miriam tapped Chris on the shoulder. “Staring at that chromosome map isn’t getting you anywhere, Roberts. Take a break.”
Chris flung down his pen. “We need more data.”
“We’re scientists. Of course we need more data.” The air between Chris and Miriam hummed with tension. “Come and look at the pretty picture anyway.”
“Oh, okay,” Chris grumbled, giving Miriam a sheepish smile.
The illumination of the alchemical wedding rested on a wooden book stand. No matter how often I saw it, the image always amazed me—and not just because the personifications of sulfur and quicksilver looked like Matthew and me. So much detail surrounded the chemical couple: the rocky landscape, the wedding guests, the mythical and symbolic beasts who witnessed the ceremony, the phoenix who encompassed the scene within flaming wings. Next to the page was something that looked like a flat metal postal scale with a blank sheet of parchment in the tray.
“Scully will tell us what she discovered.” Matthew gave the student the floor.
“This illuminated page is too heavy,” Scully said, blinking her eyes behind a pair of thick lenses.
“Heavier than a single page should be, I mean.”
“Sarah and I both thought it felt heavy.” I looked at Matthew. “Remember when the house first gave us the page in Madison?” I reminded him in a whisper.
He nodded. “Perhaps it’s something a vampire can’t perceive. Even now that I’ve seen Scully’s evidence, the page feels entirely normal to me.”
“I ordered some vellum online from a traditional parchment maker,” Scully said. “It arrived this morning. I cut the sheet to the same size—nine inches by eleven and a half inches—and weighed it. You can have the leftovers, Professor Clairmont. We can all use some practice with that probe you’ve developed.”
“Thank you, Scully. Good idea. And we’ll run some core samples of the modern vellum for comparison’s sake,” Matthew said with a smile.
“As you can see,” Scully resumed, “the new vellum weighed a little over an ounce and a half.
When I weighed Professor Bishop’s page the first time, it weighed thirteen ounces—as much as approximately nine sheets of ordinary vellum.” Scully removed the fresh sheet of calfskin and put the page from Ashmole 782 in its place.
“The weight of the ink can’t account for that discrepancy.” Lucy put on her own glasses to take a closer look at the digital readout. “And the parchment used in Ashmole 782 looks like it’s thinner, too.”
“It’s about half the thickness of the vellum. I measured it.” Scully pushed her glasses back into place.
“But had more than a hundred pages—probably close to two hundred.” I did some rapid calculations. “If a single page weighs thirteen ounces, the whole book would weigh close to a hundred and fifty pounds.”
“That’s not all. The page isn’t always the same weight,” Mulder said. He pointed to the scale’s digital readout. “Look, Professor Clairmont. The weight’s dropped again. Now it’s down to seven ounces.” He took up a clipboard and noted the time and weight on it.
“It’s been fluctuating randomly all morning,” Matthew said. “Thankfully, Scully had the good sense to leave the page on the scale. If she’d removed it immediately, we would have missed it.”
“That wasn’t deliberate.” Scully flushed and lowered her voice. “I had to use the restroom. When I came back, the weight had risen to a full pound.”
“What’s your conclusion, Scully?” Chris asked in his teacher voice.
“I don’t have one,” she said, clearly frustrated. “Vellum can’t lose weight and gain it again. It’s dead. Nothing I’m observing is possible!”
“Welcome to the world of science, my friend,” Chris said with a laugh. He turned to Scully’s companion. “How about you, Mulder?”
“The page is clearly some sort of magical container. There are other pages inside it. Its weight changes because it’s still somehow connected to the rest of the manuscript.” Mulder slid a glance in my direction.
“I think you’re right, Mulder,” I said, smiling.
“We should leave it where it is and record its weight every fifteen minutes. Maybe there will be a pattern,” Mulder suggested.
“Sounds like a plan.” Chris looked at Mulder approvingly.
“So, Professor Bishop,” Mulder said cautiously, “do you think there really are other pages inside this one?”
“If so, that would make Ashmole 782 a palimpsest,” Lucy said, her imagination sparking. “A magical palimpsest.”
My conclusion from today’s events in the lab was that humans are much cleverer than we creatures give them credit for.
“It is a palimpsest,” I confirmed. “But I never thought of Ashmole 782 as—what did you call it, Mulder?”
“A magical container,” he repeated, looking pleased.
We already knew that Ashmole 782 was valuable because of its text and its genetic information. If Mulder was correct, there was no telling what else might be in it.
“Have the DNA results come back from the sample you took a few weeks ago, Matthew?” Maybe if we knew what creature the vellum came from, it would shed some light on the situation.
“Wait. You removed a piece of this manuscript and ran a chemical analysis on it?” Lucy looked horrified.
“Only a very small piece from the core of the page. We inserted a microscopic probe into the edge.
You can’t see the hole it made—not even with a magnifying glass,” Matthew assured her.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Lucy said.
“That’s because Professor Clairmont developed the technology, and he hasn’t shared it with the rest of the class.” Chris cast a disapproving look at Matthew. “But we’re going to change that, aren’t we, Matthew?”
“Apparently,” said Matthew.
Miriam shrugged. “Give it up, Matthew. We’ve used it for years to remove DNA from all sorts of soft tissue samples. It’s time somebody else had fun with it,” she said.
“We’ll leave the page to you, Scully.” Chris inclined his head toward the other end of the lab in a clear request for a conversation.
“Can I touch it?” Lucy asked, her eyes glued to the page.
“Of course. It’s survived all these years, after all,” Matthew said. “Mulder, Scully, can you help Ms.
Meriweather? Let us know when you’re ready to leave, Lucy, and we’ll get you back to work.”
Based on Lucy’s avid expression, we had plenty of time to talk.
“What is it?” I asked Chris. Now that we were away from his students, Chris looked as if he had bad news.
“If we’re going to learn anything more about blood rage, we need more data,” Chris said. “And before you say anything, Miriam, I’m not criticizing what you and Matthew have managed to figure out.
It’s as good as it could possibly be, given that most of your DNA samples come from the long dead—or the undead. But DNA deteriorates over time. And we need to develop the genetic maps for daemons and witches and sequence their genomes if we want to reach accurate conclusions about what makes you distinct.”
“So we get more data,” I said, relieved. “I thought this was serious.”
“It is,” Matthew said grimly. “One of the reasons the genetic maps for witches and daemons are less complete is that I had no good way to acquire DNA samples from living donors. Amira and Hamish were happy to volunteer theirs, of course, as were some of the regulars at Amira’s yoga classes at the Old Lodge.”
“But if you were to ask for samples from a broader cross section of creatures, you’d have to answer their questions about how the material was going to be used.” Now I understood.
“We’ve got another problem,” Chris said. “We simply don’t have enough DNA from Matthew’s bloodline to establish a pedigree that can tell us how blood rage is inherited. There are samples from Matthew, his mother, and Marcus Whitmore—that’s all.”
“Why not send Marcus to New Orleans?” Miriam asked Matthew.
“What’s in New Orleans?” Chris asked sharply.
“Marcus’s children,” Gallowglass said.
“Whitmore has children?” Chris looked at Matthew incredulously. “How many?”
“A fair few,” Gallowglass said, cocking his head to the side. “Grandchildren, too. And Mad Myra’s got more than her fair share of blood rage, doesn’t she? You’d be wanting her DNA, for sure.”
Chris thumped a lab bench, the rack of empty test tubes rattling like bones.
“Goddamn it, Matthew! You told me you had no other living offspring. I’ve been wasting my time with results based on DNA and three family samples while your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are running up and down Bourbon Street?”
“I didn’t want to bother Marcus,” Matthew said shortly. “He has other concerns.”
“Like what? Another psychotic brother? There’s been nothing on the Bad Seed’s video feed for weeks, but that’s not going to continue indefinitely. When Benjamin pops up again, we’ll need more than predictive modeling and hunches to outsmart him!” Chris exclaimed.
“Calm down, Chris,” Miriam said, putting a hand on his arm. “The vampire genome already includes better data than either the witch or the daemon genome.”
“But it’s still shaky in places,” Chris argued, “especially now that we’re looking at the junk DNA. I need more witch, daemon, and vampire DNA—stat.”
“Game Boy, Xbox, and Daisy all volunteered to be swabbed,” Miriam said. “It violates modern research protocols, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable problem provided you’re transparent about it later, Chris.”
“Xbox mentioned a club on Crown Street where the daemons hang out.” Chris wiped at his tired eyes. “I’ll go down and recruit some volunteers.”
“You can’t go there. You’ll stick out as a human—and a professor,” Miriam said firmly. “I’ll do it.
I’m far scarier.”
“Only after dark.” Chris shot her a slow smile.
“Good idea, Miriam,” I said hastily. I wanted no further information about what Miriam was like when the sun went down.
“You can swab me,” Gallowglass said. “I’m not Matthew’s bloodline, but it could help. And there are plenty of other vampires in New Haven. Give Eva Jäeger a ring.”
“Baldwin’s Eva?” Matthew was stunned. “I haven’t seen Eva since she discovered Baldwin’s role in engineering the German stock market crash of 1911 and left him.”
“I don’t think either of them would appreciate your being so indiscreet, Matthew,” Gallowglass chided.
“Let me guess: She’s the new hire in the economics department,” I said. “Wonderful. Baldwin’s ex.
That’s just what we need.”
“And have you run into more of these New Haven vampires?” Matthew demanded.
“A few,” Gallowglass said vaguely.
As Matthew opened his mouth to inquire further, Lucy interrupted us.
“The page from Ashmole 782 changed its weight three times while I was standing there.” She shook her head in amazement. “If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’m sorry to break this up, but I have to get back to the Beinecke.”
“I’ll go with you, Lucy,” I said. “You still haven’t told me what you’ve learned about the Voynich.”
“After all this science, it’s not very exciting,” she said apologetically.
“It is to me.” I kissed Matthew. “See you at home.”
“I should be there by late afternoon.” He hooked me into his arm and pressed his mouth against my ear. His next words were low so that the other vampires would have to strain to hear them. “Don’t stay too long at the library. Remember what the doctor said.”
“I remember, Matthew,” I promised him. “Bye, Chris.”
“See you soon.” Chris gave me a hug and released me quickly. He looked down at my protruding stomach reproachfully. “One of your kids just elbowed me.”
“Or kneed you.” I laughed, smoothing a hand over the bump. “They’re both pretty active these days.”
Matthew’s gaze rested on me: proud, tender, a shade worried. It felt like falling into a pile of freshly fallen snow—crisp and soft at the same time. If we had been at home, he would have pulled me into his arms so that he, too, could feel the kicks, or knelt before me to watch the bulges of feet and hands and elbows.
I smiled at him shyly. Miriam cleared her throat.
“Take care, Gallowglass,” Matthew murmured. It was no casual farewell, but an order.
His nephew nodded. “As if your wife were my own.”
We returned to the Beinecke at a statelier pace, chatting about the Voynich and Ashmole 782. Lucy was even more caught up in the mystery now. Gallowglass insisted we pick up something to eat, so we stopped at the pizza place on Wall Street. I waved to a fellow historian who was sitting in one of the scarred booths with stacks of index cards and an enormous soft drink, but she barely acknowledged me.
Leaving Gallowglass at his post outside the Beinecke, we went to the staff room with our late lunch. Everybody else had already eaten, so we had the place to ourselves. In between bites Lucy gave me an overview of her findings.