But there are so few Masters now." He paused and looked away. "And that means fewer vampires every year. It's only a matter of time before our race disappears completely." He didn't sound sad about it. More...resigned. I blinked.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "I thought you said mongrels or Type-2s or whatevers could create other vampires. What do you mean, you're dying out?"
He was silent, his eyes dark and far away. Finally, he looked up, staring right at me. "Do you know how the rabids were created?" he asked in a soft voice. "Do you know what they are?"
I swallowed. "You mean, besides the obvious?"
"They're vampires," Kanin continued, as if I hadn't said anything. "Originally, rabids were vampires. In the early stages of the plague, a group of scientists discovered that vampires were immune to the virus that was killing the human race. Up until that point, our race was virtually unknown, hidden and scattered throughout the world. We were happy to remain the monsters of Halloween and horror films. It was better that way."
"So what happened?"
Kanin made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat.
"A fool of a Master vampire went to the scientists himself, exposing our kind, wanting to 'save the human race.' Apparently, he thought-and rightly so-that if mankind went extinct, vampires would soon follow. The scientists told him that vampire blood was the key to finding a cure, that they could beat the Red Lung virus if they only had live samples to work with. So, the Master tracked down and captured other vampires for the scientists to experiment on, betraying his own kind for a cure that would save the world." Kanin shook his head. "Unfortunately, what they created, what they turned those vampires into, was far worse than anything anyone had anticipated."
"The rabids," I guessed.
He nodded. "They should have destroyed them all when they had the chance. Instead, the rabids escaped, carrying inside them the mutated Red Lung virus that had killed most of humanity. Those same pathogens spread rapidly across the world, infecting both human and vampire. Only now, instead of dying from Red Lung, the infected humans changed.
They became like the original rabids themselves: vicious and mindless, craving blood, unable to come out in the daytime.
Over five billion people succumbed to the mutated virus and went rabid. And whenever a vampire came into contact with someone who carried the virus, he became infected as well.
Most of us didn't turn, but the virus spread through our ranks just as quickly as the humans'. And now, over the course of six generations, all vampires have become carriers of Rabidism.
Unlike humans with Red Lung, our bodies adapted more quickly to the virus, and we were able to fight it off. But our race is still in decline."
"Because the virus prevents the creation of new vampires," Kanin said gravely. "Masters can still sire Type-2s, and on the very, very rare occasion, other Masters. But for every new vampire he creates, there is the chance he won't sire a vampire at all, but a rabid. Type-2s sire rabids more than ninety percent of the time, and mongrels?" Kanin shook his head.
"Mongrels will always create a rabid. They cannot sire anything else. Most Masters have sworn not to create new offspring. The risk of Rabidism inside the city is too great, and they are very protective of their remaining food supply." I thought of the sick deer, f lailing blindly about, the absolute viciousness of the rabids themselves, and shuddered.
If this was the world outside the city walls, it was a wonder anyone could survive out there. "So," I mused, looking up at Kanin, "I suppose I'm a carrier now, too, right?"
"That is correct."
"So, why didn't I turn into a rabid?" He shook his head. "Think about it," he said quietly.
"Think about what I told you. You're bright enough to figure it out."
I thought about it. "I didn't turn into a rabid," I said slowly,
"because...you're a Master vampire." He gave me a humorless smile, and I looked at him with new eyes. Kanin was a Master vampire; he could be a Prince. "But, if you're a Master, why don't you have a city of your own? I thought-"
"Enough talking." He pushed himself off the desk. "We have somewhere to be tonight, and it is a long way through the undercity. I suggest we get moving." I blinked at his sudden change of mood. "Where are we going this time?"
Kanin spun so gracefully I didn't even know he'd moved until he had me pinned against the wall, the long, curved blade of his dagger pressed against my throat. I froze, but a split second later the pressure on my neck was gone and the knife disappeared into the folds of his black coat. Kanin gave me a faint, tight smile, and stepped away.
"If I was an enemy, you'd be dead now," he said, walking down the hall again like nothing had happened. I clutched my chest, knowing that if I'd still had a heartbeat, it would have been pounding through my ribs. "The city can be a dangerous place. You're going to need something bigger than that two-inch blade you keep in your pocket to defend yourself." As a street rat, I'd had the underground tunnels below the city as my turf, my secret passageways, the hidden road that let me slip through the districts unseen. I'd been proud of my knowledge of the city's underworld. But my vampire mentor either had a near-perfect memory, or he'd been through the dark, twisty underground many, many times before. I followed him through passageways I'd never seen, never known existed. Kanin never slowed down or appeared to be lost, so keeping up with him was a challenge sometimes.
"Allison." There was a hint of exasperation in his voice as he turned, pausing to wait for me. "The night is waning, and we still have a good ways to cover before we reach our destination. Would you kindly get a move on? This is the third time I've had to wait for you."
"You know, you could slow down a little." I leaped down from a dead subway car and jogged back to him, ducking a pipe that dangled above the tracks. "In case you haven't noticed, short people have short legs. I have to take three steps to one of yours, so stop griping."
He shook his head and continued down the cement tunnel, walking a bit slower now, so it was a small victory. I hurried to keep pace. "I had no idea there was another railway system down here," I said, gazing at the hulk of a rusty car, overturned on the tracks. "I knew the one that ran below the third and fourth districts, but it was blocked when a building collapsed above it. Where does this one go?"
"This one," Kanin said, his voice echoing down the dark tunnel, "runs straight through the heart of the Inner City, right between the towers themselves. The station that leads down to it has long been closed off, and the tunnels have been sealed, but we're not going all the way to the towers."
"We're below the Inner City?" I glanced up at the ceiling as if I could see the looming vampire buildings through the concrete and cement. I wondered what it was like up there; glass towers and sparkling lights, well-dressed humans, and even vehicles that still worked. A far cry from the dirty, hopeless, starving existence of the Fringe.
"Don't be too enamored," Kanin warned, as if reading my thoughts. "The humans of the Inner City might be better dressed and better fed, but only because they are useful. And what do you think will happen to them, once their master grows bored or displeased?"
"I'm guessing they don't have a retirement plan." Kanin
"And you want me to eventually live up there?" He glanced down at me, his expression softening. "Allison, how you live your life is up to you. I can only give you the skills you need to survive. But eventually, you will have to make your own decisions, come to your own terms about what you are. You are Vampire, but what kind of monster you become is out of my hands."
"What if I don't want to live up there?" I gave him a sideways look, then focused on the tracks at my feet, watching them glimmer as we passed. "What if I wanted to...go with you?"
"No." Kanin's voice was sharp, booming down the tunnel, making me wince. "No," he said again, softer this time. "I would not suffer anyone to endure the path I walk. My road must always be traveled alone."
And that was the end of it.
The subway went on, but Kanin took me down another, narrower tunnel, through a dozen more twists and turns, until I was completely lost. We passed under storm drains and metal grates, where I could look up and finally see the city above, gleaming and bright. But the streets seemed empty, abandoned. I'd been expecting crowds of people out walking the streets, unafraid of the night and the predators surrounding them. Maybe I would even catch a glimpse of a vampire, surrounded by his pets and thralls, strolling down the sidewalk. A vehicle passed overhead, making a manhole cover clink, filling the quiet with the growl of its engine. I gaped at the sight of a real, working car, but other than that, the city was as silent as the Fringe.
And, as we continued under the quiet streets, the lights revealed other things, too.
You didn't notice it at first, being dazzled by the lights and the tall buildings, but the Inner City was just as broken and damaged as the worst parts of the Fringe. There were no rows of gleaming mansions, no buildings overf lowing with food and clothes and everything you'd need, no cars for every family. There were a lot of broken, half-decayed buildings that looked slightly more taken care of than the rest of the city. There were f lickering streetlamps and rusty cars and weeds growing through walls and concrete. Except for the trio of gleaming vampire towers in the distance, the Inner City looked like a brighter, well-lit version of the Fringe.
"Not what you expected, is it?" Kanin mused, as we ducked into another cement tube and the lights faded above us. I followed, not knowing if I was vindicated or disappointed.
"Where are all the people?" I wondered. "And the vampires?"
"The humans who are awake are all working," Kanin said.
"Keeping the electrical grid up and running, managing the remains of the sewer systems, repairing broken machinery.
That's why the vampires look for those who are talented or knowledgeable or skilled and take them into the city- they need them to keep it running. They also have humans to man their factories, clean and repair their buildings, and grow the food needed for the rest of the population. The rest of them, guards, thralls, pets and concubines, serve them in other ways."
"But... everyone can't be working."
"True," Kanin agreed. "Everyone else is behind closed, locked doors, keeping off the streets and out of sight as much as they can. They are much closer to the monsters than the people of the Fringe, and they have just as much reason to be afraid."
"Wow," I muttered, shaking my head. "Wouldn't everyone back home be surprised to learn how it really is up there." Kanin didn't say anything to that, and we traveled in silence for a while.
He finally stopped at a steel ladder that went up to a metal grate on the ceiling. Pushing it aside with the ease of vampire strength, he climbed through the hole and beckoned me to follow.
"Where are we now?" I asked, trailing him down another long cement hallway. At the end of this one, we hit a rusty metal door, locked, of course, but Kanin put his shoulder to the metal and bashed it open.