To understand Canichmeh physiology, it's best to have an understanding of viruses, because vampirism is caused by an unusual type of virus. (By the way, I got the idea for this from the book The Great Influenza which had all kinds of good information in it on exactly how a virulent flu virus works.) The vampire virus works similarly to the flu (namely the 1918 H1N1 strain), but unlike the flu, it does not cause cellular damage which kills its host.
The vampire virus actually forms a symbiotic relationship with its host because it requires its host's consent to spread. Flu spreads through water droplets which are expelled from the nose or mouth, and it survives very well outside the body. HIV is spread primarily through sexual contact (also through blood and from mother to baby), although it does not survive outside the body (which is why you can't catch it from doorknobs, like the flu).
Vampirism is spread only through blood-to-blood contact and does not survive outside the body. Flu has evolved to take advantage of the fact that humans are social creatures and are in close proximity to one another frequently. HIV has evolved to take advantage of the fact that humans like to have sex. The vampire virus, however, cannot spread itself without its host's consent (presumably it's noticeable if you give someone else your blood).
The vampire virus gives vampires some benefits, which is why it's considered a symbiotic relationship. Vampires, for instance, do not die of natural causes, and are very hard to kill because they have great regenerative powers. This is, of course, in the virus's best interest. A dead host cannot transfer the virus to anyone else. The longer the host lives, the more likely the virus is to spread.
While vampires can make other people vampires through a blood transfusion, the normal way is to allow a human to drink their blood. The blood is absorbed through the stomach lining and goes into the bloodstream (the same way you absorb alcohol), thus creating blood-to-blood transference (even though, in reality, it's more like blood-to-stomach-to-blood).
When the vampire's blood gets into the human's bloodstream, the virus takes immediate action. It attacks human blood cells and gets inside them. There it merges its RNA with the host's DNA, rewriting parts of it, before replicating itself and spreading. It can completely take over a body in a matter of minutes. The host's heart and lungs will stop functioning as the virus takes over the last of the cells, and then the virus will actually cause the heart to restart. It's kind of like a hostile takeover, where all business stops as the new owners come in and start setting things up their way. And when everything's in place, the new owners start the business up again.
If a human were to have a DNA profile created, and then have another one made after he became a vampire, some of the DNA markers would be the same. For instance, hair color, eye color and height do not change. Sex doesn't change, and neither does being left-handed or right-handed. But other things change--the most noticeable being the absence of the DNA marker which causes cell aging.
Anyone who has ever made a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy knows that picture quality deteriorates. Human cells work in a similar fashion, each cell copy being not quite as perfect as the one before, and that's how variations creep in which will eventually produce a cell unable to function (which is when you die of old age). It is thought now, however, that there is actually something hard-wired into our DNA which causes cells to not make perfect replicas of themselves. Of course, when you're a child growing up, you need the ability to age and have things change. But that never gets turned off, so the aging process continues until death.
Scientists are already working on figuring out how to turn that marker off so that our cells will make perfect copies of themselves and we can live much longer (even forever). The Canichmehah, however, already have that ability. The RNA from the vampire virus gets rid of that marker, so people cease to age. But the virus doesn't undo what's already there, so they can't grow younger; the cells just start producing perfect copies of themselves from that moment forward.
The virus also does other things, such as turning off reproductive hormones. Women's ovaries are not stimulated to mature and release eggs, and men's testes are not stimulated to create new sperm. This is why vampires are sterile (also why they do not have as much sex drive as the average human, although they can get lustful when they get hungry).
Of course, there is a question of whether or not they could be given hormones so that their fertility is restored, but it's a question that most vampires don't want to know the answer to, since no one would know what sort of child would be born from a vampire-human or vampire-vampire union. It's unlikely that any conception involving vampire DNA would be viable, since cell aging is turned off (it would make it impossible for a fetus to mature). Also, vampires are considered a different species (homo eternus), so it's assumed that their DNA would never be able to merge in a viable way with a human's.
While reproductive hormones are turned off, adrenaline is turned way up; that is what makes vampires so strong and fast. Whereas a human has to be in a certain sort of stressful situation to make maximum use of adrenaline, vampires have immediate access to it anytime they exert themselves.
The other thing that's turned off is the digestive tract. While the stomach can absorb blood which is ingested, that is all it can do. Any food or other liquids which are consumed are regurgitated fairly quickly. When a vampire drinks human blood, and it is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is quickly and efficiently broken down into useable parts--like thieves stripping down a car. This is how vampires get water, vitamins, calories (energy), etc.
Canichmehah have a heartbeat and they breathe, albeit it very slowly. They do not sweat, nor produce body oils. They have a lower than normal body temperature and are not as affected by cold or heat as humans are. These "symptoms," coupled with the non-functioning digestive tract, are actually very similar to those of animals in hibernation. Lower body temperature, inactive digestive tract, and slowed heart rate and respiration are all common in hibernating animals because it helps conserve energy--kind of like turning down the heater at night when you go to bed under a nice warm blanket. Because vampires get all of their energy from other people, it's best if they use it as efficiently as possible.
Vampires can develop deficiencies if they take blood from an animal. While blood from an animal will do in a pinch, it cannot sustain a vampire's health for any length of time (and among the Canichmehah, it is technically illegal to drink the blood of an animal; ironically, it's thought to be un-kosher). Deficiencies can also occur if they take blood from a person who has a deficiency already, and that is one of the reasons why they avoid taking blood from people who are sick, if they can help it (the other reason they avoid it is they don't want to further weaken a person who is already unwell).
While vampires can't catch diseases from other people (vampires have an immune system which is super lethal to anything foreign), they can be affected by things in a human's bloodstream--namely alcohol or drugs. If a vampire wants to get drunk, he or she merely has to drink blood from someone who is drunk, because alcohol is contained in the blood; this gets into the vampire's blood and makes him or her drunk. Unfortunately for a vampire, though, it takes their body 2-3 days to break down the alcohol so that it no longer has any effect, which is why most vampires avoid getting themselves drunk. Vampires can smoke, but the effect is similar, with nicotine or cannabis staying in the blood for a much longer period of time. Again, most vampires do not want to be buzzed for that long.
Vampires' saliva contains a healing agent, which promotes rapid healing. In fact, it's so rapid, that it's hard for a vampire to feed from anywhere other than a major artery. The blood in arteries is under a lot of pressure, and it takes a while for a puncture wound in an artery to close up, which allows them enough time to get what they need. But it also creates something of a built-in safety switch; a human's wound will close up after about a pint of blood is lost--which is all a vampire needs--thus making it impossible to "overeat" and kill the human through blood loss. Incidentially, this is why it's illegal to feed from anyone underage: children cannot sustain the loss of a pint of blood.
When vampires are done feeding, they lick the wound once or twice. This not only removes any blood on the skin, but it will stop most bleeding immediately and furthers healing. In fact, to not do that is considered bad manners--kind of like eating and not using a napkin. Their saliva also contains a numbing agent, similar to that which is found in leeches. It doesn't keep the initial bite from being painful, but it does keep the wound area from being sore afterwards.
The last trait which vampires have, but which cannot be explained readily by medical science, is their mental abilities. They have the ability to control people's minds, in much the same way that a hypnotist can get people to impersonate chickens or ballerinas through suggestion. They can also read human's emotions without trying and read their minds with a little effort. Some vampires--if they are joined by blood--can speak to one another through telepathy, and vampires can do that with humans as well (although it takes a lot of training on the part of the human to learn to communicate telepathically; very few are known to have acheived it).
A vampire can take over any human's mind by making eye contact. It's not that the eyes are hypnotic, but rather that two people can't look each other in the eyes and not have their full attention on the other person. When a human looks a vampire in the eyes, it opens them up immediately to the hypnotic suggestion, because their attention is completely on the vampire. Some older vampires, who are very, very experienced, can take over someone's mind without first making eye contact, but it's very difficult and requires a great deal of effort; the vampire must have his or her complete attention on the other person, and if they allow their own mind to wander just a little, it will not work.
The Canichmehah cannot control or manipulate the minds of their brethern because their mental powers are such that they cannot be hypnotized. They can, however, have a constant mental connection (including the ability to read the mind and speak telepathically) with another vampire if they share blood. All vampires have photographic memory, and once they taste someone's blood, they never forget that taste for as long as they live. This aids the vampire's ability to concentrate, because they can perfectly recall the taste of blood, and this remembrance, like eye contact, creates perfect concentration.
NovelsThe Flames of Prague
© 2012 by Keri Peardon. All rights reserved.
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Background for the website and the header is from Lilium medicinae by Bernardus de Gordonio, translated into Hebrew by Moses ben Shmaya de Castro in Escalona, Spain, January 11, 1466. The original manuscript is housed at the Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The female figure in the header is from the Manesse Codex, which is housed at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany.