An excerpt from
The fluorescent lights that hung from the ceiling had a song all their own. It was a low, droning, maniacally steady hum, occasionally interrupted by a fizzled pop. That sound, combined with the tinkling of the test-tubes, made for one eerie environment. The room was bright white and chrome from ceiling to floor. You could almost smell the sterility. The only other discernible sound in the room was the ragged breath of the stress-weathered man in the white lab coat, who was precariously seated on a metal stool.
He was trying desperately to get his breath under control, but damn it if that was happening. No control for the shake. No control for the profuse sweating, which was an incredible shame because the trickles from his worried brow were making their way down onto the base of the microscope. The sweat had already ruined three specimen slides. He moved his metal chair back against the tiled floor with a screech and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his coat. The buckets of sweat weren’t because of the temperature in the room. Far from it. The room was so cold, it could have been a meat locker.
His nerves made him sweat. They were frayed to the very edges, incredibly raw and on the verge of shorting out in a colossal display of distress. He was under the gun, figuratively and literally. The knowledge of what would happen to him if he failed was the straw threatening to break the camel’s back. The intense workload had been hard enough, but now that he knew what he was facing should he fail to produce… Yeah, he was about to crack, and good.
Damn that woman and everything that she was. Damn her to hell, he thought as he moved his stool back into place and refocused the microscope lens. He rubbed the bridge of his tired eyes before looking into the scope. On the thin glass slide, under the amplification of modern science, he saw the cells, dancing together in an even rhythm. There were several normal blood cells, slipping and sliding their concave bodies through the larger, darker crimson cells on the slide. The larger cells looked as if they were sizing up a competitor, maintaining their distance. On the very edge of the slide, one by one, a large cell swallowed down some normal cells in one swift move. The display caused him to jerk back, his eyes wide with shock. He blinked once, twice, three times, in an effort to clear them, and he leaned forward again. Quickly, he removed the current slide and retrieved another one. He dipped an elongated medicine dropper into a test-tube and placed a drop of the red liquid onto the slide. He then rapidly did the same thing with a new dropper and another dark red tube. On a shaky exhale, he placed the glass on the base of the scope and refocused the lens again, but this time, he boosted it to its maximum amplification.
The cellular dance repeated itself.
“Absolutely fascinating,” he muttered to himself as he stared into the lens.
“What’s so fascinating, my little Lab Rat?”
The female voice in his ear caused him to jerk back. He took in another ragged breath. Any and all calm that he had managed to gather from what he had just seen was now gone. She was directly behind him. And she had called him Lab Rat. He hated that.
“I asked you a question. It’s incredibly rude not to answer when a lady asks you a question.” Her voice was pleasantly sultry, as usual. “It is ungentlemanly.” Her aristocratic British accent filled the room and bounced off the walls, hitting him squarely in the cerebrum and vibrating his entire being. The fact that she was right in his ear was rattling him even more. Turning around to face her was his only option.
As he did, he noticed they were not alone in the room. Behind her was the guy who was always with her. The scary one—the one who wore makeup and five million pounds of ammunition for the menacing arsenal strapped to his back—stood there, staring at him from behind purple sparkle eye shadow. Despite outward appearances, underneath all that Revlon lurked death, wrapped in a glittery leather package. He tried not to make eye contact with the guy. Instead, he swiveled completely around in his seat and met her eyes. She was bent down in his face.
“Do you care to enlighten me on your progress? I’m getting a little tired of waiting.”
He cleared his throat, trying his hardest not to break under the pressure of her intense stare. He had a serious problem with those cobalt blue orbs. He was more than willing to follow her to the ends of the earth when he looked into those eyes. Now they held him captive, and not for a promising, sexual reason, either.
“Well,” he cleared his throat again. “I have done two separate slides. The results were the same in both tests. There has been no hemolysis.” He paused, because now she was slowly walking around the testing table. Her hands were behind her back, her curvy body snaking a path. He watched the light catch in her mahogany hair. She made him nervous, and she knew it. Throwing a quick glance back at the giant transvestite, he continued. “In the, um, in the two slide tests, the larger cells absorbed the smaller cells with no problem. We can now move on to lab testing. I will need—”
“We are not moving on to lab testing,” she interrupted him, her voice slow and steady as she leaned down to look at a formaldehyde-preserved rattlesnake that was snuggled tightly onto a shelf between a gigantic pig heart and an even bigger bullfrog. “I am completely confident in your abilities. If you say there was no hemolysis, then there was none. If that is the case, then there is no need to delay, now is there? Human trials are to start immediately.”
Her statement took him by surprise. He couldn’t help but hear the snicker behind him. “But, ma’am, I have only done slide tests. We won’t know if it works on living specimens until we do a complete lab test. There is still too much to risk with human trials.”
“I am well aware of the damn risks,” she said as she whirled around to face him, smacking the metal table with the palm of her hand. The vibration of it sent the test-tubes full of blood rattling in their rack. The deadly calm that was previously on her normally very pretty face had melted away, given up, and retreated, only to be taken over by a hard, twisted anger. Her features softened a little when she saw the effect it had on him. She loved the fear, and she made no secret of it.
“I apologize, ma’am. I didn’t mean to imply that you didn’t know—”
“You are my Lab Rat, and you will do what I say.” She paused and picked up an empty test-tube. She rolled it around in her fingers as she turned her back to him. She leaned against the table and shifted her body slightly toward him. “You will start the human trial immediately. I will have no refusal.” She craned her neck enough for him to see her lips lift in a slight smile, and an electric shiver crept through him. Her teeth. Heaven help him. Those brilliant white teeth made the acidy fear rise in his throat.
He took in several deep breaths to calm himself, to keep from passing out. There was no way he was going to be able to get around this. When Morrigan made a demand, it was met. If anyone dared to question or refuse, there were prices to be paid, and they were always painful. Arguing would prove futile and, more than likely, deadly. There was no point in delaying the inevitable with her. Wherever Morrigan went, she left in her wake a path of destruction, carnage, and blood. It was her calling card, her trademark. All of that evil hidden under all of that pretty was what made her a legend among her own kind. She was a holy terror, and he would give her what she wanted, even though it went against everything he had ever stood for, ever worked for. He would do exactly what she asked even though he knew it meant more death. His actions would be in the interest of self-preservation, and God forgive him for it.
A jittery fist came up to his mouth as he nervously cleared his throat. It took several tries for him to get whatever he had built up in it to dissipate. “I will begin the human testing first thing tomorrow, ma’am, if you can provide me with subjects. I will prepare the lab.”
“Very good, Lab Rat. I knew we could depend on you.” She took in a deep breath, her back still toward him, and began to slowly pace the room. “You know, if your hard work proves fruitful, you could become a legend among us.” Her stiletto pumps made tiny clicks on the linoleum. The sounds thundered in his brain. “Tell me, you brilliant doctor, you, whose blood did you use to test the serum?”
“Mine, of course.” The reply sounded distant, like it hadn’t even come from his own lips.
Morrigan turned to face him, that fear-inducing smile spreading her lips farther apart. Her eyes had turned from their navy blue to an ominous, unwavering black void. “Then we test it tonight.”
In a flash, she was across the room and standing before him. With one arm, she jerked him from his chair by the collar of his coat and flipped him to the floor. The swift smack of his body on the floor made any breath he had in his lungs rush out. Panic gripped him and momentarily dulled the pain that he knew his brain was refusing to register. She stood over him, looking down with her black-hole eyes. She lifted her leg and brought it down with such force that the point of her stiletto buried deep into his shoulder, wrenching a cry from him that reverberated off the walls.
“You didn’t really think I was going to let you live after this, did you, you stupid old man? I brought you here to save my people, not to offer you a shot at redemption. You, you waste of humanity, are absolutely disgusting.” She twisted her heel in his shoulder. Her black patent leather pump was scraping against his bone, and the sound it made was the only thing he managed to hear over his own screams.
“Pathetic excuse for a being, you are. Willing to throw mankind under the bus—and for what? It’s men like you who make my purpose worthwhile.” Suddenly, she removed her heel. It made a horrid sucking sound as the spike came out of his flesh. She looked down at it in disgust.
“Lovely. Now I need new shoes.” Morrigan looked over at her colleague, ignoring the fact that Lab Rat was writhing around on the floor and bleeding all over her other shoe. She swiped a hypodermic needle and a tube of clear fluid from the table. With her teeth, she tore open the package and spat it out at his face. “I’m assuming this is it,” she said, glaring down at him. He nodded and winced, and she jammed the needle into the rubber top. She pulled back the syringe and filled the needle completely before handing it to Bane. “Would you care to do the honors?”
“With pleasure, love.” The giant transvestite stormed over to him, his monster truck-sized boots thudding. With one large hand, he snatched the small man off the floor and violently held him up against the wall. He took the needle from Morrigan with his free hand, and after pushing out the air bubble in the top, he plunged it into the poor man’s neck, his thick fingers pushing the serum into his veins. When it was empty, he tossed the syringe over his shoulder and immediately began massaging the injection site.
“Sorry, old boy. Nothing personal.” Bane opened his mouth, baring two elongated fangs where his canines should have been. A loud growl ripped from his throat as he jerked forward and sank his teeth into the slight man’s neck, just over his collarbone. He didn’t even bother to rip away the fabric that lay over his skin. He simply tore at the artery just below his clavicle.
The screams that came from the man underneath Bane slowly ebbed. The hands that were flailing behind Bane’s designer red leather trench eventually fell limp and almost lifeless. When there was barely a glimmer of life left in him, Bane released him, letting his body slide to the floor in a disgusting heap.
“Flip him over,” Morrigan murmured. Bane slid his boot underneath the body and chucked it over with a sickening thud. The doctor breathed faintly, his eyes glazed over with impending death. He barely noticed when Morrigan crouched down beside him. In her hand was the test-tube she had been playing with earlier, only now it was filled with a dark red liquid.
“Now, here’s the deal, Lab Rat,” she said, leaning down so close he could feel her breath hitting his face. “I am going to feed this to you. It’s mine, so it should snap you right back. I could have just let you feed from me, but seeing as how I don’t want your dirty dog mouth touching my skin, we’re going to do it this way. Bane, open his mouth.”
As Bane used his thick fingers to part the man’s lips, Morrigan tilted the test-tube and poured the contents over Lab Rat’s teeth and down his throat. When the tube was empty, she threw it across the room, sending it shattering into a million pieces as it hit the wall.
“Now we wait.” She stood up and stared at Bane, who was reapplying some shiny crimson lip gloss.
“I hope it works,” he said as he smacked his lips together. His voice was even and calm with the same aristocratic British accent. “With you running around through him, he’ll be strong. More fun to take down.”
“You are deliciously evil, Bane, truly.” She sent him a wink before looking back down at the floor.
Suddenly, the man’s body began to twitch. The movements started in his feet and then spread quickly up to his legs. His eyes shot open, and a guttural growl expelled from his throat as his body contorted, arching upward into the air. The shudders that racked him were growing more and more violent, and the noises escaping from his throat became more and more primitive. A steady stream of thick black blood began flowing from the corners of his mouth. It bubbled with every gasp he took and began to pool on either side of his head.
As quickly as the tremors started, they abruptly ended. Before his last breath left his body, he mumbled something. His eyes glossed over with the sheen of death. He was gone. The serum obviously hadn’t worked.
Morrigan stepped over him and peered into the eyepiece of the microscope. On the slide was nothing but red smears, the faint traces of what was once life-giving blood. Hemolysis had taken place. It’s what had killed him. It’s what was killing them all.
“Lying little waste!” The anger welled up in Morrigan’s chest, and it exploded as she hitched back her leg and kicked the lifeless body with all of her might. “What did that sad sack of bones say?”
“I think he said ‘God forgive me.’ At least, that’s what I heard. Can’t be too sure, though, seeing as how he had all that blood coming out of his pie hole.” Bane looked down at Lab Rat. “So I guess it’s back to the drawing board, then, aye?”
It was in fact time to regroup and come up with a new plan, which was a true and royal pain in the neck, considering all of the time, effort, and money she had poured into this one. What was she going to do now? She had one of the world’s most brilliant geneticists working on their problem, and he was now lying on the floor, covered in blood and contorted like an old rag doll. Perhaps she had been too hasty. Maybe, just maybe, she should have waited for other human trials before she insisted on letting her eager counterpart drain him almost dry. It might have actually proven beneficial if she had listened to the Lab Rat and allowed lab testing before she insisted on human testing.
But honestly, when had she ever listened to anyone? And besides, she hated the Lab Rat. He was a cowardly, pitiful excuse for a man. It was people like him who solidified her opinion that her kind should be ruling things, running the planet. As far as she was concerned, humans were at the bottom of the food chain.
Vampires were at the top.
It turned her stomach that she needed them, needed their medicine and their science to help increase their numbers. It disgusted her even more that, for the vampire race to survive, they needed to turn humans. It made the bile rise in her throat, but it was the only way. Gone were the good old days when vampires were born and raised to be the genetic superiors they truly were. Their race was now so diluted with human blood that it was impossible for them to procreate. And with the evolution of the human immune system over the last two hundred or so years, it was proving to be fatal even to attempt to turn one.
Hence the genetic race against the clock. Hence her brilliant plan to kidnap the one person she hoped would find an answer to their prayers.
That answer was a bloody, fucking mess strewn across the floor at her feet.
On impulse, she kicked the body again.
“I hate this.” Her voice was low. “I hate not knowing what to do. I hate not being in control of everything, and I hate, hate, motherfucking hate them.” She pointed a perfectly manicured finger at the body, her eyes boring holes into Bane as he watched her seethe.
“Darling, darling, my Morrigan,” he said as he stepped over the corpse and threw a large arm around her shoulder. “Muffin, you take entirely too much to heart. We will figure this out. Another answer will come up.” He swung her around and began to lead her out of the room. “You know, he’s not the only brilliant geneti-whatsis in the country. We’ll just find another one stupid enough to come with us and chain the poor sod to the floor until he gets it right. Right?”
“You clever little boy. You always know what to say to make me feel better.” She leaned into his shoulder, the smile spreading across her face.
The large vampire’s fingers stroked her shoulder, the black polish on his nails contrasting with her creamy flesh. “In the meantime, though, let’s not worry about how to get the numbers up, aye? We have plenty of time. It’s not like we’re gonna die holding our breath or anything, now is it?”
Their hysterical laughter floated through the room and followed them as they stepped out into the hall. Neither one of them bothered to turn off the light, nor did they look back.
The fluorescent lights continued to flicker and pop, and under their flooding glow, a body lay on the floor, breathless, lifeless.