Short Story: Lecture Time

“He has a hunger for knowledge, and I’m pretty sure it falls into your particular brand of odd.” There are stranger ways to receive an invitation to a lecture, I’m told, but right now I couldn’t really tell you one of them. The briefing had been hastily arranged – and to my annoyance, right as I was about to leave the office for some well deserved leave.

It seems that I was the only one who felt it was deserved at all, let alone with any other qualifier. Higgins had peered at me over those thick dark glasses as if I were one of his beloved specimens when I’d made a token appeal to the clock on the office wall. Garvey had outright laughed and waved a portfolio at me as we settled down at the table.

It had contained medical charts, photos, and college entitlement details for a dozen people. A quick scan of the charts showed a simple enough pattern; a not-so-quick two hour briefing session muddled it all up again, tied it in knots, and then presented a potential lead: Professor Hendry – a lecturer in some obscure branch of European classical civilisation.

So that’s why I was here near the back of an evening extra-credit lecture in something to do with Etruscan funeral rights, when the protective tattoos on my spine started to heat up. They’re standard issue, before you ask, part of the benefits package. I’m not the world’s greatest fan of needles but a couple of hours in the chair in return for a bit of warning and light protection seemed a fair exchange.

The professor was reading a chant from his notes. He’d been talking about their rarity and their relevance to previously discovered fragments from tombs in Italy. That had obviously been a way to get his audience prepared to listen – and now he was casting what felt like a class three, possibly even four, glamour. Well, glamour might not be the right word for what felt more like a blanket of boredom.

I let myself slump a little like the students near me, and fumbled under the desktop for the regulation countercharm we keep for these situations. Crafted from the traditional rabbit’s foot, it looks tacky and tattered, but as a symbol of breaking the power of witches it’s an old one.

I waited, and watched through lidded eyes. So far, so normal as far as these things go – there was nothing here that would cause the type of very specific amnesias we’d been tracking. In the people who’d come to our attention, the memory losses had been of specific strands of information.

One had lost all memory of Rome’s network of sewers. Another, after studying for years, had spontaneously forgotten her entire knowledge of forensic science. One person had begun the year as a public speaker, but could now only stutter in front of an audience. You get the idea, I’m sure. You see, the good professor had been exploring blood-rites and I’m pretty sure he found something thirsty in one of those tombs. Now, either he’s still in that dusty tomb, or he got creative, but either way that hunger is loose.

I watched as he completed his chant and started walking between the tables to inspect his catch. None of the victims had the classic bite marks, which had thrown us a little – but MRI scans had shown very similar lesions, like microscopic bite marks, all over them. So, our best guess was that the professor, or whatever had taken his place, was an infovore. No, I don’t get it either; I just work here and do what I’m told, even if it means my holiday getting delayed last thing on a Friday night.

The Professor evidently‚Äč found something he liked in a student three rows back, because he grinned and started opening his mouth rather more widely than normal. That was my cue.

I’d love to say that it turned into some action picture showdown full of righteous derring-do and wisecracks, but that’s not the way we do things. We’re professionals. Protected by my warding tattoos, i had enough freedom to hit the go signal app on my phone. The flashbangs and sniper tranqs distracted the professor long enough for the cuffs to go on.

Once they’re on and the black hood with its woven enchantments is in place, well that was game over. We cleared out and then I deployed the rabbit’s foot to break the stupefaction. They’ll remember it as yet another boring lecture too late in the evening. It’s all for the best, and even better i get to salvage my holiday.