“Er … no.” Jasper stammered, slightly taken aback. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I should go back to the boy who acts like a prison guard and be … unhappy?”
“No. I’m not saying that, and I’m not defending him. As long as I’ve been with them, he never showed any romantic interest in anyone. Were you attracted to anyone before you were introduced to us?”
“Well … not really. There were some movie stars.”
Jasper just sighed and blinked at her. “I believe he was like that before he was turned. Keep in mind, there is a broad spectrum of what constitutes normal, and like vampires, no one human is exactly like another. Mike Newton was a normal boy, as were Ben Cheney and the others. You were a teenage girl, like Jessica Stanley and Angela Weber. Were you as excitable as Jessica?”
“No,” Bella muttered and picked at her nails. “She thought almost every guy was hot.”
“I rest my case.” Smugly, Jasper folded his arms over his chest. “Edward should have been honest with you and should have talked to you—not made promises he wouldn’t or couldn’t keep. He’s had opportunity to do so. You have a long life ahead of you. You need to do what will make you happy. Staying with him, you would both continue to be miserable. It’s no way to live. I know.”
“I got it, Jasper. It’s just how he’s wired. Being a vampire, it’s not like he’s a candidate for hormone therapy, even if he would consider it. It’s not his fault—he just is. But it is his fault for not warning me. We’re obviously incompatible.” Bella dropped her head into her hands.
“Warning is not the correct terminology.”
“Okay! Jeez! You and your psychobabble.” Her hands flew up, fingers spread wide, and she glared at him. “It’s his fault for ignoring the issue and refusing to talk to me for five years!”
“Yes.” Jasper gave her a nod. “But who knows what the future may hold?” His attention returned to McCoy, his intense features smoothing out to an impassive mask.
Bella missed Jasper’s loaded look because her hand was spread over her forehead again. “I don’t need an overprotective, stifling, controlling daddy either.”
Still gazing at McCoy, Jasper added, “He does care for you.”
As before, McCoy felt as if he was a smear in a petri dish. The empath was making him nervous even though he had promised Bella he wouldn’t try to influence McCoy’s emotions. A change of subject was in order!
“So, tell me …” McCoy cleared his throat and scooted back against the wall. “What flu? What war?”
“World War 1.” Bella patted his knee and a sad smile curved her lips. “It was the Spanish Flu epidemic back in nineteen-eighteen. Edward had recently turned seventeen. His father died, and then he and his mother caught it. Carlisle was working as a doctor in the hospital they were taken to. His mother begged Carlisle to save him just before she died. That had to have been so, so sad.” She stared up at the wood plank ceiling. “Ironic that a little tiny bug like the flu virus killed so many people.”
A knowing look crossed over Jasper’s face. “Yes. Ironic. Speaking of … since Bella hasn’t read your report, Doctor McCoy …”
“What?” Bella asked. “Do vampires catch viruses and get sick in the future?” Her brows drew anxiously together.
“No, Bella.” McCoy reassured her. “What Jasper is subtly hinting at is, essentially, your vampirism was caused by a virus.”
“So, what you’re saying is the flu killed Edward then Vampire Flu killed him again? Along with lots of others, including us?” Bella gestured between herself and Jasper. “We’re germs?”
“Uh, no.” McCoy dropped his head, trying to hide his amusement. He took a deep breath to get his facial expressions under control. “From the samples obtained from your friend Garrett, it was learned the venom from his mouth acts like a virus on live human blood. You said keep it at a high school level?”
She quickly jerked her head up and down in agreement.
“Basic biology is survival of the fittest.”
Bella nodded again, encouraging him.
“Here on earth, and a lot of other places, it’s not survival of the individual; it’s survival of the species. Beings have to live long enough to reproduce so their species continues. If they reproduce, they’ve done their job.”
“But vampires can’t have babies and most vampires refer to themselves as dead.”
“Maybe I didn’t start in the right place.” McCoy pushed the blanket from his shoulders. “You’re not dead. Or undead. There are many—countless—forms of life throughout the universe that are more different from each other than you can imagine.” He lifted his hand toward her. “Sexual reproduction is not limited to species on earth, and it’s not the only way to pass on genetic information. There is asexual reproduction, and multiple variations of that. The vampire virus attaches to, or joins with, human cells, starting with the blood, and changes them. They multiply, move through the body, and convert the remaining cells. It’s thought that is what causes the reported pain. In the right conditions, they reproduce themselves.” McCoy ran his hand down his face. “After studying Garrett, the researchers hypothesized that the vampire virus, as you call it, came from somewhere else—it may not be from Earth.”
Bella stretched her legs out over the edge of the cot, and leaned back against the wall. “Like from a comet or something?”
“It’s just a possibility. A similar type of organism hasn’t been found by us, or anyone we know of, in the Federation. Or, it may change so drastically in the human, we may have discovered them and just don’t recognize them. Oh, the Federation is a group of allied worlds. It’s like the United Nations here now. Not all planets are in the Federation. There are vast areas of space that have not yet been explored, and there are others who are not so friendly. Yet.”
“So, we’re aliens.” She was staring at some point across the room.
“Yes and no. There are …” McCoy was struggling to find the right term and not be insulting—especially to the large male vampire across the room.
“You can say creatures, Leonard.” Jasper smirked at him. “Bella, even going to high school only once, you must have learned there are all kinds of creatures, animals, plants all over the earth, and some are damn strange. Alien-like, you might say.”
“Like Giant Tube Worms in the ocean. They’re pretty weird. Emmett and I watched a show …” Bella held her hands up stopping the thought. “Never mind.”
McCoy let out a little nervous cough. “It’s not known why your venom only reacts the way it does to human blood and not the blood of other mammals, birds, reptiles, insects … or plants.” He raised a hand in a puzzled motion. “It could very well be a virus from here that was dug up from somewhere or exposed during some sort of volcanic eruption, but the favored theory is it’s extraterrestrial.” He clasped his hands in his lap. “Going back to survival of the fittest, this particular virus needs a host—specifically human blood—to survive and make more of itself. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”
“Like the bacteria in human guts that help them digest food?”
“Yes!” McCoy grinned enthusiastically. “Instead of helping the host to thrive, reproduce, and ensure the survival of the species as a group, it makes sure the individual survives, creating the epitome.”
“Top of the food chain,” Jasper volunteered.
As Bella frowned at him, McCoy bobbed his head. “Yes. Top of the food chain.” He rubbed his hands together. “Even though it ensures the survival of the individual, it can reproduce. It does that by—”
“Infecting another human.” Bella didn’t look happy at that thought.
“In a manner of speaking … yes.” He leaned toward her. “That’s how it does it here—on Earth. It doesn’t mean you’re not alive yourself. Your cells were altered—not destroyed. On the planet Janus VI, there’s a rock that’s alive. When we went to investigate human miners being killed, we found she was the last of her species and protecting her eggs or children. We worked out a treaty between her and the human colonists there. She was a living boulder.” He sighed. “Another idea the researchers put forth is, like earth viruses, it changes in each individual. If you make another vampire, he or she is your offspring. It’s thought, like with the common cold virus, its lineage may be able to be traced back. The virus changes the human, the human changes the virus. They’d need quite a few more samples of venom in order to prove that.”
Bella’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Are you saying Edward is my mother?”