-Dr. Robertson, head scientist of the D.C. Vampire Project
I shuddered. So, it sounded like the scientists here had been working with the New Covington lab, only they'd been experimenting on humans instead of vampires. That couldn't be good. I flipped a couple more pages and read on.
Day 52 of the Human-Vampire experiment,
The power grid in the city has gone down. We are running on the emergency backup generators, but we might have had our first breakthrough today. One of the patients that we injected with the experimental cure did not immediately die. She became increasingly agitated and restless minutes after receiving the injection, and appeared to gain the heightened strength of the vampire subjects. Interestingly, she became increasingly aggressive, to the point where her mental capacities appeared to shut down and she resembled a mad or rabid animal. Sadly, she died a few hours later, but I am still hopeful that a cure can be found from this. However, some of the younger assistants are beginning to mutter; that last experiment rattled them pretty badly, and I don't blame them for wanting to quit. But we cannot let fear hinder us now. The virus must be stopped, no matter what the cost, no matter what the sacrifice. Mankind's survival depends on us.
We're close, I can feel it.
A chill crawled down my spine. I turned the page and kept reading.
Day 60 of the Human-Vampire experiment,
I received a rather frantic message today from the lead scientist at the New Covington lab. "Abort the project," he told me. "Do not use any more of the samples on human patients. Shut down the lab and get out."
It was shocking, to say the least. That the brilliant Malachi Crosse was telling me to abandon the project.
I'm sorry, my friend. But I cannot do that. We are close to something, so very close to a breakthrough. I cannot abandon months of research, even for you. The samples that came in yesterday are the key. They will work, I am sure of it. We will beat this thing, even if I have to inject my own assistants with the new serum. It will work.
It must. We are running out of time.
I swallowed hard, then turned to the very last entry. This one was blotched and messy, as if the author had written it in a great hurry.
The lab is lost. Everyone is dead or will be dead soon. Don't know what happened, those monsters suddenly everywhere. Malachi was right. Shouldn't have insisted we go through with the last experiment. This is all on me.
I've locked myself in my office. Can't go out, not with those things running around. I only hope they don't find a way back to the surface. If they do, heaven help us all.
If anyone finds this, the remaining samples of the retro-virus have been placed in freezer number two in cryogenic storage. And if you do find them, I pray that you will have better success than I, that you will use them to find a cure for Red Lung and for this new monstrosity we have unleashed.
"Hey." Jackal appeared in the doorway before I could finish the entry. He jerked his head into the hall, serious for once. "I found something. And I think you'd better see this."
Taking the journal, I followed him, already suspecting what I would find. We swept through another pair of metal doors, into a small, bare room with tiled floors and walls. It was colder in here; if I were a human, my breath would be billowing out in front of me and bumps would be raised along my skin. Looking across the room, I saw why.
Four large white boxes stood along the back wall. They looked like bigger versions of normal refrigerators, except I'd never seen a working one before. One of the doors was open, and a pale mist writhed out of the gap, creeping along the ground.
Silently, I walked up to the door and pulled it back, releasing a blast of cold. Inside, rows of white shelves greeted me. The shelves were plastic and narrowly spaced, and tiny glass vials winked at me from where they stood in tiered holders.
Jackal stepped behind me. "Notice anything...missing?" he asked softly.
I scanned the shelves, and saw what he meant. Near the top, one of the layers was gone, as if it had been pulled out and never returned.
Jackal followed my gaze, his eyes darkening. "Somebody took something from this freezer," he growled. "None of the others are touched. And that someone was here recently, too. Now, who do you think that could be?"
I shivered and stepped back, knowing exactly who it had been. As I shut the door, my gaze went to the simple, hand-drawn sign taped to the front, just to confirm what I already knew.
Freezer 2, it read in faded letters.
Sarren, I thought, feeling an icy chill spread through my veins. What the hell are you planning?
"Well," Jackal muttered, crossing his arms. "I will say I am officially more disturbed than I was when we first started. I don't know what was in that freezer, but I can hazard a pretty good guess, which just seems all kinds of bad news." His voice was flippant, but his eyes gleamed dangerously. "There's no cure here, that's for certain. So, I guess the million-dollar question is-what would a brilliantly insane psychotic vampire want with a live virus, and where is he taking it now?"
Sarren had the Red Lung virus. The thought was chilling. What did he want with it? Where was he going? And how did Kanin figure into everything? At a loss, I looked down at the forgotten journal, at the unfinished entry on the last page.
I pray that this can be stopped. I pray that the team in New Covington is already working on a way to counter this. The lab there was designed to go into stasis if anything happened. It may be our only salvation now.
May God forgive us.
And I knew.
The journal dropped from my hands, hitting the floor with a thump. I felt Jackal's eyes on me, but I ignored him, dazed from the realization. If Sarren wanted to use that virus, there was only one other place he could go. The place I'd sworn I would never return to.
"New Covington," I whispered, as the path loomed unerringly before me, pointing back to where it all began. "I have to go home."
There were no spotlights up on the Wall.
In New Covington, the Outer Wall was the city's shield, lifeline and best defense, and everyone knew it. The thirtyfoot monstrosity of steel, iron and concrete was always lit up at night, with spotlights sliding over the razed ground in front of it and guards marching back and forth up top. It circled the entire city, protecting New Covington from the mindless horrors that lurked just outside, the only barrier between the humans and the ever-Hungry rabids. It was the one thing that kept the Prince in power. This was his city; if you wanted to live behind his Wall, under his protection, you had to consent to his rules.
In my seventeen years of living in New Covington, the Wall had never once been abandoned.
"Something is wrong," I muttered as Jackal and I stood on the outskirts of the kill zone, the flat, barren strip of ground that surrounded the Wall. Pits, mines and coils of barbed wire covered that rocky field, making it deadly to venture into. Spotlights-blinding beams of light that were rumored to have ultraviolet bulbs in them to further discourage rabids from coming close-usually scanned the ground every fifty feet. They were dark now. Nothing moved out in the kill zone, not even leaves blowing across the barren landscape. "The Wall is never unmanned. Not even during lockdowns. They always keep the lights on and the guards patrolling, no matter what."
"Yeah?" Jackal scanned the Wall and kill zone skeptically. "Well, either the Prince is getting lazy, or Sarren is wreaking his personal brand of havoc inside. I'm guessing the latter, unless this Prince is a spineless tool." He glanced at me from where he was leaning against a tree trunk. "Who rules New Covington anyway? I forgot."
"Salazar," I muttered.
"Oh, yeah." Jackal snorted. "Little gypsy bastard, from what Kanin told me. One of the older bloodlines, prided himself on being 'royal,' for all the good it did him here." He pushed himself off the tree and raised an eyebrow. "Well, this was your city, once upon a time, sister. Should we walk up to the front gate and ring the doorbell, or did you have another way in?"
"We can't just walk across the kill zone." I backed away from the edge, heading into the ruins surrounding the Wall, the rows of dilapidated houses and crumbling streets. There were still mines and booby traps and other nasty things, even if the Wall wasn't being patrolled. But I knew this city. I'd been able to get in and out of it pretty consistently, back when I was human. The sewers below New Covington ran for miles, and weren't filled with rabids like the Old D.C. tunnels. "The sewers," I told Jackal. "We can get into the city by going beneath the Wall."
"The sewers, huh? Why does this not surprise me?" Jackal followed me up the bank, and we wove our way through the tall weeds and rusted hulks of cars at the edge of the kill zone, back into the ruins. "You couldn't have mentioned this on the way?"
I ignored him, both relieved and apprehensive to be back. It had taken us the better part of a month, walking from Old D.C. across the ravaged countryside, through plains and forest and countless dead towns, to reach the walls of my old home. In fact, it would've taken us even longer had we not stumbled upon a working vehicle one night. The "jeep," as Jackal called it, had cut down our travel time immensely, but I still feared we'd taken too long. I hadn't had any dreams to assure me that Kanin was still alive, though if I concentrated, I could still feel that faint tug, urging me on.
Back to New Covington. The place where it all began. Where I'd died and become a monster.
"So, you were born here, were you?" Jackal mused, gazing over the blasted field as we skirted the perimeter. "How positively nostalgic. How does it feel, coming back to this place as a vampire instead of a bloodcow?"
"Shut up, Jackal." I paused, glancing at a broken fountain in front of an apartment complex. The limbless cement lady in its center gazed sightlessly back, and I felt a twinge of familiarity, knowing exactly where I was. The last time I'd seen New Covington, Kanin and I had been trying to get past the ruins into the forest before Salazar's men blew us to pieces. "I thought I was done with this place," I muttered, continuing past the statue. "I never thought I'd come back."
"Aw," Jackal mocked. "No old friends to see, then? No places you're just dying to revisit?" His mouth twisted into a smirk as I glared at him. "I would think you'd have lots of people you'd want to contact, since you're so fond of these walking bloodbags. After all, you're practically one of them."
I stifled a growl, clenching my fists. "No," I rasped as memory surged up despite my attempts to block it out. My old gang: Lucas and Rat and Stick. The crumbling, dilapidated school we'd used as our hideout. That fateful night in the rain... "There's no one here," I continued, shoving those memories back into the dark corner they'd come from. "All my friends are dead."
"Oh, well. That's humans for you, always so disgustingly mortal." Jackal shrugged, and I wanted to punch his smirking mouth. All through our journey from Old D.C., he'd been an entertaining, if not pleasant, travel companion. I'd heard more stories, pointed questions and crude jokes than I'd ever wanted to know about, and I'd gotten used to his sharp, often cruel sense of humor. Once I'd realized his remarks were purposefully barbed to get a rise out of me, it was easier to ignore them. We did almost come to blows one night, when he'd wanted to "share" an older couple living in an isolated farmhouse, and I'd refused to let him attack them. We'd gone so far as to draw weapons on each other, when he'd rolled his eyes and stalked away into the night, returning later as if nothing had happened. The next evening, three men in a black jeep had pulled alongside us, pointed guns in our direction and told us to get in the vehicle.