Wants to unleash a supervirus to destroy the world?
“Sarren.” The scientist’s face, though pale, drained of its remaining color. “So that’s the demon’s name.” His eyes glazed over, unseeing, as he stared at the wall. For a moment, I thought he might faint. “God help us all.”
“He was here, then,” Zeke prodded, and the human nodded, still in a daze. “Where is he now?” The man didn’t reply, and Zeke leaned forward even more, his voice calm but firm.
“Doctor, there’s no time. Please, tell us what you know.”
“He never told us,” the scientist whispered. Abruptly, he turned and grabbed Zeke’s arm, his expression pleading, almost wild. “He never told us anything,” he insisted, “except what he wanted us to do. When we finally realized what was happening, what we were helping him create…” The man shuddered so violently the back of his head hit the counter, but he didn’t seem to notice. Zeke gently pried the hand off his arm, his gaze intent.
“What was he creating?”
“We tried to stop him,” Richardson said, still staring at nothing. “We tried to resist, to get him to see reason, but he was insane, raving mad. He…he started killing people, civilians, that he took from the city. Said he would torture and kill someone every hour, and make us watch, unless we agreed to help.” Dr. Richardson covered his face with his hands. “What could we do?” he moaned. “There were children in the group.”
Zeke went motionless, his eyes and expression dark. I knew what he was thinking, and hoped, desperately, that it was not the case.
“Dr. Richardson,” Kanin said, his voice low and deliberate, “you have been through much, but we need to know. What, exactly, were you helping with? What was Sarren creating?”
The word was a whisper, barely audible. But it sent a cold lance through my insides, freezing everything around me.
I remembered. I could see Sarren, looming before me with bright, mad eyes, his voice a slow croon. The requiem has started, and when the last melody plays, the only applause will be sweet, eternal silence. Dr. Richardson’s voice echoed dully, seeming to come from far away. “He called it…Requiem.”
For a moment, there was quiet. Then Kanin’s voice came again, low and calm, as the Master vampire stepped forward.
“And what is Requiem?”
Dr. Richardson slumped against the counter, rubbing his eyes. Dropping his hands, he took a deep breath, as if steeling himself for a confession.
“It’s a virus,” the scientist said, confirming what we all knew. “A mutated strain of the original Red Lung virus.”
He seemed to regain his composure; his expression became less wild and staring, though his voice remained grave. “I’d never seen it before, but somehow, this version has mutated so that it affects both live and dead cells. So, not only is it fatal to humans…”
“It affects vampires, as well,” Kanin finished, and the scientist nodded wearily. “Was anything changed? Did Sarren mutate it further?”
Dr. Richardson wiped his brow, then continued in an overly clinical voice. “There are a lot of technical terms and scientific jargon, but I’ll try to explain this as simply as I can,”
he said, glancing at me, as if I wouldn’t understand if he used a lot of big words. I bristled, but kept silent as he continued.
“The mutated strain the vampire brought in could be transmitted via airborne pathogens,” Dr. Thomas began, “much like the original Red Lung virus, or the common cold. That’s how Red Lung spread so quickly sixty years ago. But the mutated virus could not be transmitted from a live host to an undead one except through internal consumption of the host’s blood.”
“Meaning, the vampire would have to bite the infected human to get sick,” I said.
“Yes,” Dr. Richardson agreed, looking impressed that I was following along. “Vampires can’t catch a cold—they don’t breathe or cough or share toothbrushes. And the fact that they are, technically, dead makes it impossible for diseases to incubate. A virus needs living cells to survive. But Sarren changed that. First with the mutated Red Lung virus, and then with Requiem.”
“What did he do?” I asked when the human paused. Dr.
Richardson swallowed hard.
“You know that the mutated virus already attacks vampires.” He gazed around at all of us, his expression grave. And I realized that he knew what we were. Maybe not Zeke, but he had definitely guessed that the three dark strangers looming over him were vampires. “Well, Sarren took it a step further. I don’t know what he was thinking, but the madman infected the rabids.”
“Yeah, we kinda figured that out,” Jackal broke in impatiently. And, though his words were mocking, his voice was tight, as if he was in pain. Alarm flickered through me as he put a hand to his neck, wincing. “On account of the damned things running around in the halls. You’re not telling us anything useful, bloodbag.”
The human’s eyes widened. “They’re out there?” he breathed, sounding horrified. He scrambled to his feet, and Zeke grabbed his arm to help him up. “Were you bitten?” the human asked, staring around at all of us. “Were any of you bitten?”
Jackal’s gaze narrowed, and he went very still. “Why?”
The man stumbled away from us, one hand to his mouth, the whites of his eyes showing above his fingers. “You have to leave,” he said, still backing up frantically. “Now. You must go, you can’t be here—” He hit the wall, then trailed off, dropping his arm from his face. “Oh, what does it matter?”
he whispered, sinking to the floor. “We’re dead. Everyone is dead. There’s no stopping it now.”
Jackal stalked up, grabbed the man by the collar and dragged him to his feet. “I don’t feel particularly patient right now, doctor bloodbag,” he growled, baring his fangs as the rest of us started forward. “Wanna tell me exactly what you mean by that?”
The human stared at Jackal wearily, seemingly unconcerned with the fangs inches from his face. Brazenly, he reached out and grabbed the vampire’s shirt collar, pulling it away from his neck.
My stomach twisted as Jackal’s pale skin was bared to the light. The puncture wounds at his throat had darkened, the flesh around them turning a familiar, decaying black. Black veins were crawling up his neck from where the rabid had bitten him, spreading across his jaw like inky spiderwebs.