Friday, 22 March 2013

Bytepals by Sue Bursztynski


First.published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #8, edited by Sally Beasley

To: Subject: Visit.

I keep telling you, Jean-Marc, vampires simply aren’t allowed into this country, all right?
Yes, I know, I know, werewolves are! But we’ve had them here since the convict era, when they got transported, mostly for poaching (what else?), so it’s a bit late to keep them out now. So Immigration just ask them to have rabies shots before they get here and spend a few weeks in quarantine.
Anyway, werewolves don’t leap at you out of the night, do they? They’re pretty lawabiding, mostly, they only hunt professionally, clearing up feral animals in the bush. Okay, it’s a bit unnerving to see a pack of wolves running down the city streets on a Saturday night, but hey, they’re entitled to go out partying like the rest of us. The only facilities they need are changing-booths and lockers, which are easy enough to supply at the railway stations.
Vampires are another matter. I hate to tell you this, Jean-Marc, but we have no private blood-banks here, only Red Cross and no one is going to donate blood for perfectly healthy adults who can’t give up their blood-drinking habit.
My uncle works for Immigration and I asked him about all this. He says the real problem is not so much the born vampires like you, but the undead, like your dad, who have to carry around boxes of dirt full of who knows what creepy-crawlies and bacteria we don’t have here. (Do they really have to do that? It must be yukky lying around all day in a pile of dirt. Wouldn’t something symbolic do?) And they won’t stop attacking people. If we let one lot of vampires in, the undead would be launching court cases for discrimination - it’s just too complicated, he says.
This is my uncle, Jean-Marc - you know **I’d** love to meet you! Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: travel

Hi Jean -Marc,

Today I went to get some travel brochures. The lady at the travel agency looked at me as if I was a loony when I asked for stuff about Armorique. “Are you kidding? Nobody goes there from here! The place is crawling with vampires!” I told her I knew, that I was ‘ corresponding with one and that was why I wanted to go.
I wish you could have seen her face.
She said, “You’d have to go through France to get there. No planes across the border either, what with the magic gathered there they have a tendency to turn into birds. Trains and buses are okay. But I can only get you as far as France, they have travel agents there to arrange the rest of it.”
I went to the library and found a book about the history of Armorique, with pictures - wow! What a gorgeous place! No big logging companies tearing the forests down, hardly any pollution...
Is it true you still have unicorns there? Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: pic. Thanks for the attachment with the photo of yourself and the unicorn. Uh - it isn’t
the way I imagined. More like a little kid’s pony with a horn, but kind of sweet. You’re pretty nice-looking, too. I’d have thought you’d be a bit paler, though, or is that only when you can’t get blood?
Lotsa Luv, Sarah.
PS. What a pity you can’t send yourself as an attachment. ;-) *giggle*. I’d love to show you around, even if it was just one evening.

To: Subject: chat-rooms

Hi Krystal. Nice to hear you have a few friends in your chat-room. No, I don’t do that any
more. Mum won’t let me. Anyway, I’ve got lots of “bytepals” (what else do you call someone you write to by e-mail?) and it’s still pretty good to write a note and get a message. I did belong to a computer-freaks mailing-list for a while, you know me and computers, but I just don’t have time to go through all those messages this year, what with Year 12 and everything. I’m not even writing computer programs this year, just working at the supermarket.
I did collect one correspondent before I dropped out of the chat-room. When Mum said I had to stop it, Jean-Marc and I kept in touch by regular e-mail. Have I told you about him?
Yes, I think I have. You know, the vampire in Armorique? Well, if we agree on a set time to write to each other, we can sit on the computer at the same time and it’s almost like a chatroom. Only we have to time it just right. Depends when it’s night over there; they CAN go out by day, if they slather themselves with sunscreen and bundle up, but they have to sleep some time, like everyone else, and it’s less hassle to do it by day.
I got a photo of him the other day. Gods, he’s gorgeous! Wild, dark curls, olive skin, big black eyes, he looks like something off a Roman fresco. (Before you ask, no, he isn’t a Roman! He’s only our age, though his parents are a few centuries old; it’s only been in the last century that the vampires worked out how to reproduce).
I’m saving up to go there, not spending anything from my after-school job. Did you know the hotels have garlic-impregnated paint on the doors and window-sills?
Gotta go now, I have a pile of homework a kilometre high! Lotsa Luv, Sarah.
To: Subject: New System Hi Jean-Marc! That’s great about your Dad working out a way of travelling without the box of
dirt. I don’t know how the Immigration Department would feel about sealed bags of soil carried in your clothes, but you can ask. I read this story once about a vampire who used to carry the soil in his shoes, by some writer called Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. The vampire was the good guy in the story. I think the Customs lot would call it smuggling, myself, so check it out before your Dad goes running for a passport. I mean, you can still get germs from a small packet of soil, right?
It’ll be useful if he wants to travel around Europe, anyway.
What do your parents do for - uh, a living? Just wondering. I mean, you have to have money, don’t you? I bet you don’t live in a castle with a servant called Igor < grin > or rely on lightning for your electricity. And you do have a computer and an e-mail account and the Internet...
Giggle! Can you really turn into a bat? Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: Batman, da-da-da-da...

You mean you actually DO live in a castle? Even one where you have to raise
money by letting tourists visit twice a week? I was just joking, but I guess your parents have been around for long enough to save the money to buy it...or did they BUILD it? I suppose vampire nobles would last longer than peasant vampires, they could hide out and there’d be no mobs with flaming torches. Just as well they weren’t over the border in France during the Revolution, eh? CAN turn into a bat. I was joking about that too. How would you DO it? A big human into a small bat - wouldn’t you be a really HEAVY bat? Can you turn into anything else or are you just a sort of were-bat? Come to think of it <grin> can you change while dressed or do you have to strip? It’d cast a whole new light on all those old vampire movies, huh?
Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: nudity

Oh. You DO have to strip. Wow! Sarah.

To: Subject: your bytepal Ooh, that guy in your chat-room sounds gorgeous! Why don’t you write to him
properly? Does he live here? Maybe you can even meet. I wish Mum would be reasonable, but she won’t. She says it’s a waste of time and money and you never know who’s lurking on the other side of the line - as if they can get at you from the other end of the computer! I think she just reads the tabloid newspapers too much. Talk about paranoid.
Still, I have to admit, people do talk a lot of bullshit on those lines. My brother does. He says it’s a great way to pick up girls. He tells them he’s a tall, tanned surfer type and arranges a date. Of course, it never works out, because he’s short and dumpy and has pimples, and they usually turn out to be pretty plain too, and personality never seems to count. But he keeps doing it (at uni, of course, he can get away with it there). Maybe the lies are half the fun of it, eh? You can pretend you’re anything or anyone.
Go on, ask your friend - I dare you! Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: Re-arrangement

Hi, Jean-Marc.Um...that’s really interesting about your re-arranging your body,
but STILL don’t see where the rest of you goes, unless you sort of compact yourself when you change (hey, my subject is computers, not biology!). Would it be like teleporting?
But if it was, you should be able to wear your clothes and you said you can’t do that <giggle!>.
Magic is a weird thing, isn’t it? We don’t have much of it here, or at least, we can’t get at it. Not the Europeans, I mean. There’s magic in the land, all right, like oil or gold or something, but only the Aborigines know how to unlock it, with their rituals and dances and stuff, and they can’t share that, because it’s all secret business. Mind you, I’m not sure even they use it much, for whatever reason, or my ancestors would have been in BIG TROUBLE when they invaded. A bit of it leaks out, which helps the werewolves keep up the Changes, but not much more than that.
So we concentrate on science here. I always assumed you couldn’t really have both. I mean, why bother to invent the wheel if you’ve got other ways to float your crops to market? So you wouldn’t advance very far, right? But then, there were all
those perfectly good civilisations in South America that never bothered with the wheel.
Anyway, if you CAN re-organise your body, whether it’s magic or science, you’d have a set of rules to follow, wouldn’t you? So why only bats, huh? Where’s the logic?
Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: Jean-Marc’s visit

Guess what! Jean-Marc is coming here to visit! He worked out a way to sneak
in and sneak out again. I asked him if it was a teleport or if he was going to fly all the way over, but he just sent me a winking smilie and told me to stand by at my computer on Saturday night, and open my e-mail for instructions. He also asked me if I could supply him with clothes for the evening, so I think he’s going to come as a bat, but I can’t see how, because how can he fly all the way over from Europe? Maybe he’s going to hitch a ride in a plane or something.
I told him I’d take him out to the city to meet my friends and go to a couple of games places (WHY aren’t I old enough to get a keycard and go to nightclubs?), but he’s NOT to bite anyone while he’s here. I insisted on that and he promised. It’s not as if they HAVE to have it every single night, or anything.
I’m SO excited, Krystal. Pity you’re not living in Melbourne, I’d love to have you come along.
Nice to hear you finally started corresponding properly with that guy you mentioned. Yes, .ar is the domain name for Armorique, so it looks as if you’ve got an Armoriquan “bytepal” too. Say hullo for me. I wonder if he knows Jean-Marc, we were all in the same chat-room. Talk to you later.
Lotsa Luv, Sarah. :

To: Subject: the date!

 Krystal, it was GREAT! He’s so good-looking and funny and charming. Everyone
liked him. He kept his promise, too, no biting, and it turned out he could eat normal food as well, though he digests it better with blood. So while we were having ice cream, he ordered chops, practically raw, oozing blood, talk about super-rare (you should have seen the waitress’s face!)
I shouted him, of course. He couldn’t bring money with him, the way he arrived. He couldn’t even bring his clothes - but I’ve told you that.
So - how DID he arrive? <g>
I sat in my room. Mum and Dad were at the pictures, seeing some science fiction film, and I told them my friends from school would be around a bit late, for some gig we were going to.
I borrowed some of my brother’s clothes and laid them out on a chair. Craig is living at uni, but he’s left behind some of his stuff for when he visits.

At 8.00 p.m., I turned on the computer and went to my e-mail and there was a message from Jean-Marc, telling me to download the attachment and turn my back for a minute, because he got embarrassed dressing in front of people.
I’d already opened my window in case a bat came flying in, but I did what he said and there was this weird humming noise from the computer while the download happened. I waited, and then there was a rustling noise and breathing, and he said, “You can turn around now,” in this gorgeous French accent. He speaks fluent English, by the way, his parents sent him to boarding school in England for a few years, a special one for vampire kids, but the accent is still there.
So I turned around and there he was, in Craig’s pants and jumper - they were yucky when Craig wore them, but Jean-Marc made them look like this season’s big fashion statement.
I grinned like an idiot and giggled a bit, I think, and offered him some coffee and he made me laugh by saying, “As long as there’s no garlic powder in it.”
About 8.30, my friends arrived and we all went out. There was a pub gig we could go to, because it was in a separate room, upstairs, away from the bar. And there I was, with the best-looking boy in the room.
Afterwards, we went to a rollerblading rink, Jean-Marc had never done it before, but he picked it right up, and then we went for coffee and ice cream, that’s when he had the chops.
We’d all just about run out of money by then (especially me, I’d been paying for him, I saved two weeks of pay from my after-school job, but it was worth it) and Greg and Rebecca dropped us off (Rebecca’s 18, the lucky sod, and her Mum and Dad gave her a bomb of a car for her birthday, but it works, which is all that counts.)
My Mum and Dad weren’t home yet, which was just as well, because there was no way I was going to explain Jean-Marc. I mean, it’d be bad enough taking him to my room – but him not coming out?
This time he let me watch while he took off Craig’s clothes and went back. Well, he had to, really, because I had to “send” him back as an e-mail attachment. He promised we’d do it again.
Isn’t it BRILLIANT? Lotsa Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: Emergency!

 Krystal: You MUST read this carefully and pass it on to everyone on your list and get all of
them to do the same and then I want you all to stay off the Net for a week. By that time, I will have worked out an anti-viral program, which I can send you. Under NO circumstances download any attachment anyone sends you till you’ve used it, I don’t care if it’s your boyfriend or your sister or anyone. You’ll know mine is from me, I’ll say something no one else knows but you and me.

I guess I should have known what would happen. I was so happy to finally get a visit from Jean-Marc, it didn’t occur to me that I was giving the OTHERS a way to come here - the ones Immigration wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
The day after his visit, I got a short message saying he’d had a great time, but his Dad had seen him coming back - it was evening in Armorique by then and he’d just woken up and strolled in to check his own e-mail.
His father had actually been quite nice about it, though he said Jean-Marc should really have told him he was going across the world - what if the computer had crashed or the power gone off or someone else was using it before he got back? He’d be stuck in the phonelines for who knows how long!
So they had a nice chat and Jean-Marc went off to have a snooze, because after all, he had been out for hours.
Two days after that, I got a message with an attachment from Jean-Marc’s address, only it wasn’t Jean-Marc, it was his Dad, Robert, this naked middle-aged vampire standing on my bedroom floor asking for a sheet or something to cover up. He was very apologetic, said he’d been playing around and couldn’t resist trying out the system.
I didn’t scream, I just picked up my bed-spread and handed it to him, wondering how he’d got Jean-Marc’s password, but I suppose anyone good enough with computers could have cracked that quickly enough, especially if he knew his son well enough. I don’t think Jean. Marc gave it to him. At least, I hope he didn’t. He must know what that would mean. I know he’s a vampire and everything, so he might not see why there was a problem, but he knows how I feel and he’s always been straight with me.
Robert went right back to Armorique after we’d chatted for a while. I don’t think he’ll be back, at least not through my computer; I’m wise to him and it was just a try-out anyway.
I can’t even let Jean-Marc do it again, not even if he changes his password.
But I bet Jean-Marc has an address-book FULL of friends and all of THEM have their own lists and so on. And some of my friends from school have been acting funny, especially the ones who use chat-rooms. Has Robert been through my address list, I wonder? I bet he has vampire friends who want to visit.
Think about it, Krystal. The rules of vampiredom haven’t changed a whole lot. You still have to invite them in - and what could be more of an invitation than downloading them from the Internet? Even if they don’t come out right away, they can spread through your computer like a virus, lurk there till you do something in particular and come out. They’re not in a hurry, they have centuries to live.
So many of my friends are Net and chat-room junkies. Their parents can’t get them out of their rooms at night or on the weekends. They sit in darkened rooms in front of the screen and all it takes is one bite and they can be hypnotised into co-operating, not that some of them need much hypnotising!
Let’s face it, Krystal: with some of that bunch, who’d notice the difference?
Of course, the undead would have to go back because of the soil thing - thank heaven they can’t bring anything with them! - but they don’t have to stay long, just long enough for a quick snack or two and back home to Europe for a nap till their next
hunting-trip and no one on this side of the world able to come after them. And if one route is shut off, there’s always more computers and more idiot kids.
The younger ones, the born vampires, don’t have to go back. All they need is some clothes and they can blend in with the crowds here. Of course, they might not be able to do the bat thing here, there’s so little magic available, but it’s no big loss. Armorique is a small country, they must be sick of the same old diet.
I’ve got an idea for an anti-viral program that might work, just for them. After all, if they’re in the computers, they have to follow the same rules as any other virus, don’t they? At least till they come out. Even as BATS, they have to follow bat rules.
Oh, I wish I hadn’t given Jean-Marc THAT idea, but never mind, can’t be helped now.
For cyber-vampires, I’m designing a cyber-stake. I hope. Sarah.

To: Subject: Fearless virus-killer

 Dear Krystal, Here it is, download it. Sign by which you can trust me: remember the day I visited
you in Sydney and we went to that jeans shop with the cute guy at the counter and I dared you to chat him up? And you did!
I hope you did what I asked. You didn’t reply to my last e-mail, but with Internet- based accounts messages sometimes bounce around and you never know whether they’ve got to the other end, unless they come back. I’ve enclosed a copy of my earlier message just in case (see below) and I’m PRAYING it’s in time.
It worked for me, anyway. I THINK I got Jean-Marc’s Uncle Charles. He may still be lurking in my computer. I don’t like that at all, but I’ll get Mum to give it a good going-over to clear anything I can’t find myself.
PLEASE let me know if it helped, okay? Luv, Sarah.

To: Subject: Anxiously awaiting your reply.

Krystal? I rang your place last night, but kept getting an engaged signal. Mum doesn’t know I’m doing this and I can’t tell her the truth, so would you PLEASE ring me? Or snailmail me, even?
Lotsa Luv, Sarah.


 When I wrote this, some years ago, the Internet was fairly new, at least to me, I don't think Facebook was even a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye. Kids at my school were all obsessed with chatrooms. And I looked at them, in a dark room off the library, typing away at the two Internet computers we had and thought that if a vampire leapt out of the computer and bit them, nobody would ever know the difference. The idea for the title - in some ways for the story itself - came from an email from my friend the late Jan Howard Finder, who used the term for communicating by email rather than by post, i.e. instead of "pen pal".

No comments:

Post a Comment