Three security guards flanked Lucy George and her immediate supervisor, Ann Marie Bower, as the elevator plunged into the earth. Looking askance from the security policy manuals and overloaded clipboard she cradled in her arms, Lucy assessed the Graymont Facility's wardens while Tina, the lone female guard, went over the containment ward's safety procedures.
"Never cross the white lines on the floor." Tina's ill fitting gray uniform made her a stout, shapeless bulge. The two men flanking the civilian women filled out their suits better. They weren't C-Guard material with their unexercised, middle aged bodies, but the uniforms were factory made for a man's shape. Tina tossed her brown braid over her shoulder and adjusted her utility belt outfitted with club, collar remote, and several metal stakes. "We keep the vampires in two types of cells. The younger, feral ones go in communal holding and the older, cannier models go in solitary. The white lines are for your protection. Cross them and the ticks might get their claws on you."
"But they're behind bars, aren't they?" Ann Marie asked, her hand resting on her fast rising chest. Lucy shot an agitated glance at the ceiling. She doubted her boss had ever seen a vampire.
"Yes ma'am, they're behind bars," one of the guards at their rear said. "But some of them have quite a reach. You could get pretty tore up before we could take them down," he patted the collar remote dangling where a real cop would have had a side arm holstered.
Lucy's glasses slid to the tip of her nose. She pushed them into place as Tina droned on about additional precautions. This was Lucy's first inspection with Big Brother Compliance. Vampire activism was at an all time high. Three high profile facility breakouts in the last six months meant big business for security compliance specialists. For the next two months Lucy and her boss would tour vampire labor facilities, logging faults in their systems and equipment and conducting detailed interviews of facility staff. They were there to root out moles; activist agents who'd infiltrated security staff, reporting back to their parent cells and establishing contacts among elder vampires in the system. Lucy knew more about activist protocol than she should. It helped with her work even if she didn't dare list it in her resume. She shifted her weight, her feet already smarting in her sensible heels, as the elevator jerked to a stop and a buzzing alarm announced their arrival.
The dinged metal doors slid open and a frigid blast whipped their clothes and hair. The containment ward smelled of cold air and rust. Bare bulbs at regular intervals lit the long corridor. Faded white paint demarcated the safe path on the concrete floor. Smashing the "door open" button down, Tina gestured the group into the hall.
Iron bars lined the right expanse of the hallway and pale, feral bodies writhed in the communal cell. Hissing creatures swarmed toward the living bodies in their domain like hungry fish spotting a food shaker over their tank. Lucy recoiled from the hundreds of eyes shining like little mirrors from the shadows. The guards seemed unperturbed and strolled down the corridor as they would a sunny street. Lucy had seen vampires before, but never so many at once and not the starved, clawing beasts populating the communal cell.
During the Uprisings, younger vampires went feral when their blood supply dried up. The older vampires, the ones who maintained what humanity they possessed throughout the human revolt, Lucy recognized. Their single occupant cells lined the opposite side of the hall. Males and females idled in the secure chambers which had thick plastic walls and not bars. Their hairless bodies were painfully gaunt, their bones pressing against a thin film of chapped and ashy skin. Fat, silver collars hung heavy around their necks. Most of their dull eyes were vacant, but a few shone with the glimmer of intelligence.
The guard on their left, the photo ID clipped to his shirt read 'Greg', pointed to a pair of doors set in the ceiling. "We drop animal parts from that hatch into the communal cell. No one actually goes in there. Our studs," he jerked his thumb to the solitary cells, "get their meals through those metal drawers."
Tina directed the women to one of the single cells and Lucy got a better look at the interior. Save for the plastic barrier that faced the viewing hall, the walls were white painted brick. A steel door was set into the rear wall and a feeding drawer gleamed to its right. There was no toilet or sink, just a flat protrusion from the left wall serving as bench and bed for the male vampire seated there.
Lifting her walkee talkee to her mouth, Tina said, "X-two-five-three-nine feed and farm," into its crackling speaker.
X2539's feeding drawer slid open and the vampire rose. He swayed and caught the wall, his movements stiff and jerky as though his joints were arthritic. Steadied, he trudged to the open food tray and lifted out a hare carcass he brought to his mouth. He clenched the rabbit in his hands and sucked deep gulps from the still twitching animal. His chest, which looked like it had once been strong and broad, lifted with the exertion of his feeding.
"Blood drinking stimulates the geasol glands," Greg said, "so we give them a snack before sending the farmers in. Makes their job easier."
As if on cue, a lab-coated technician entered the cell from the reinforced steel door. A guard, collar remote readied, accompanied the tech.
"Usually we have more than one guard in with the ticks during a farm but this old guy's pretty docile. I don't think he has a recorded shock anywhere in his file," Greg said as the tech raised a glass jar to the vampire's mouth. A thin, plastic sheet covered the jar's top and the vampire bit into it. Clear fluid dripped off his fangs while his lips massaged the imitation skin.
Geasol, Lucy thought, a lot of it. Probably ten grand flowed into that single jar. Vampires produced the fluid when they fed, but humans had come up with the pharmaceutical name. Geasol kept a vampire's victim from bleeding out, healed bite marks, any sort of open wound. Trauma centers ate it up and labor facilities used it to fund their operations.
The tech patted the vampire's arm and it seemed to Lucy he said something to the male when he extracted his fangs from the jar. She couldn't be positive. The slight flutter of the tech's lips and his intent, dark eyes might have been nothing at all; leftover paranoia her old training instilled.
"Can we can get a better look at him?" Ann Marie's green eyes lit with curiosity.
Tina spoke a few commands into her walkee talkee and, after the geasol tech left, the guard inside the cell prodded the vampire closer to the clear partition. He met no one's eyes but Lucy saw they were blue, the same color as the light flashing on his shock collar. They had him lift his arms, open his mouth, and turn so they could view him from every angle. Though his body had atrophied from years of confinement and weak blood, Lucy could imagine how he must have appeared, judging by the lines of his musculature still visible beneath the shrunken flesh.
As the guard turned the vampire by the shoulder and pushed him this way and that, Lucy caught herself wondering what his skin would feel like beneath her hands. What would it be like to have the powerful creature under her control? She shivered and unconsciously wetted her lips as she traced the line of his torso down to his--
Lucy cut her gaze to her feet which she'd turned inward. It was wrong peering at the vampire as they did. She squeezed her books and papers to her tingling chest, willing away the sensation
"What's his name?" She asked Greg.
Shooting her a quizzical look, Greg said, "X-two-five-three-nine."
With a shake of her head, Lucy turned from the spectacle and observed the less human inhabitants of the communal cell. The lights on their collars shone in the dark like their eyes and she shuddered. Peeking into the gloom, she spied a pair of them away from the bars, nestled into each other. Crawling bodies of prowling beasts obscured the scene at times, but Lucy saw well enough. A male leaned into a female, her shriveled breasts slack against her chest, and suckled at her neck. The female lifted the male's wrist and bit into it. They rocked together like lovers, made soft, crooning noises in their throats. Entranced by the intimacy of their play, Lucy ventured too near the enclosure.
A clawed hand shot between the bars and gripped Lucy's skirt. Her ankle gave and she fell, screaming as the crazed thing, all black eyes and broken teeth, yanked her toward the cell. The clipboard and manuals she clutched sailed across the floor. Commanding shouts echoed through the corridor and the vampire's shock collar sparked and snapped like a line of firecrackers. The creature seizing her spasmed and howled, but, despite its agony, held tight and dragged her closer to its snarling mouth.
"Backup! My remote's shorted!" Greg's black boots pounded around Lucy as the two guards with active remotes hammered their trigger buttons. The remotes weren't precise and the creatures surrounding Lucy's attacker suffered its punishment. The vampire holding her collapsed and she scooted behind Tina and her partner as they stunned the helpless creatures. Greg lifted her by the shoulders.
"That'd be why you don't cross the white lines," he said as he dusted her off and checked for injuries.
After the cursory inspection, Lucy spun and met Ann Marie's exasperated face. Behind her boss's blonde head, X2539 had his hands on the plastic partition, his blue eyes on Lucy. He looked away when their eyes met, shadows filling the hollows under his cheek bones.
Lucy snatched quick glances at the pacing elder while she gathered her scattered papers, clipboard and books, but he didn't give her his attention again.
"That's why we always travel in twos and threes," Greg told Ann Marie. "The remotes are always shorting. Backup is a necessity. I know it probably won't get us new equipment but I'd appreciate it if you'd include that in your report."
Ann Marie's pleasantries as she noted Greg's concerns grated on Lucy as she finished collecting her belongings. She couldn't believe how irresponsible she'd been. She'd been trained better than that, but it had been seven years after all. She was as good as civilian. No better than her boss.
Tina waited on Lucy as the men led Ann Marie to the end of the hall. The guard patted her on the back and accompanied her into the corral pen.
Gabriel made himself sit. Nervous energy drove him. The guards and women had gone. His keepers' teamwork had spared the brunette, the one who'd looked at him like a person and not an animal. His reaction to her peril surprised him. Visible reactions were fodder for the guards, so he didn't often respond to his emotions. But tonight was different. Tonight he'd be free.
The signal came during his milking, a degrading process he'd grown numb to over the years. Gabriel had almost embraced John when the man had whispered, "tonight." Caged so long without hope, the promise of emancipation left him in agony.
The animal blood in his belly provided meager warmth and strength and Gabriel longed for even a guard's company. They were cruel--surely as cruel as any vampire master of the Crimson Age--but their radiating warmth, their life, comforted him, alleviated the perpetual chill that plagued his kind. For decades the icy silence of his own kind, trapped and starving deep underground, surrounded him. He could no longer stand the monotony of his thoughts, the same white walls.
The women's visitation had been a change from daily life in the prison. Every night when Gabriel woke he watched the feral ones fed, then , therded into the corral neighboring their cell. There, he knew the guards hosed them of gore and drove them into the mine, but he'd never seen it. He'd learned the lay of the prison and its workings during the course of his internment through snippets of conversation, stolen glimpses when they'd transferred him from his cell to another or to the medical facilities.
After watching the activity in the communal cell, his conscious hours dragged until his keepers fed and milked him and the feral ones returned from their labor. Gabriel almost envied them. They got to move, even feed from each other when they chose. Of course they had no intellect as he knew it, no memory. Only instinct.
Gabriel had tolerated this routine for seventy years. Resigned to an eternity of the same, he'd borne his fate well, but John, John had changed everything. The activists had sent him to the Graymont Facility five years ago and, serving as a geasol tech, he'd chosen Gabriel for extraction. Anticipation dogged his every moment after learning of his fortune and these final hours were the worst of his confinement.
Turbulence from the communal cell drew Gabriel's attention. The facility alarm wailed as the corral pen doors, which always stayed shut except during herding, cracked open. It had begun.
From the transparent wall of his cell, Gabriel saw the feral ones scramble for the living bodies in the adjacent chamber. John told him the doors wouldn't be open long. Just long enough to let a few of the animals out, give the guards a worthy distraction. Gabriel tried forgetting the people in the pen. He'd never relished death, not when vampires subjugated humans and not now.
They may live, he thought. The guards have their collar remotes and they're well equipped to subdue ten or twelve of the brutes easily. But the brunette's face haunted him. The naked conflict on her face when she'd watched him displayed tugged at his withered heart. As a rule humans didn't sympathize with vampires. Serving as slaves and food during the Crimson Age had burned away whatever pity one felt for most things imprisoned and abused. Had her rescue been in vain? She'd slipped from the claws of one monster and cruel fate sent her to the jaws of another. Many others. Too many others.
Pressing his cheek to the cell wall, Gabriel strained to see into the corral pen. He counted the seconds. The doors should've closed already. Hundreds of feral vampires charged from their cage. This wouldn't be a diversion, it'd be a slaughter.
Gray suited guards pelted down the hall, firing their remotes into the swarm of scrabbling, hissing bodies. The creatures pitched into each other, confused, paralyzed, suffering under their electric yokes. Seizing bodies clogged the corral doors, stemming the bloodthirsty surge. Heavy footfalls and bellowing shouts sounded from the passage behind Gabriel's cell, the one staff used to access the elders. The locks on Gabriel's cell clanked back and the heavy steel door swung inward.
Somewhere close, animal shrieks pitched together with masculine shouts and the report of shock collars. The sterile smell of ozone and old metal wafted into the chamber. John staggered inside, blood soaking his white lab coat. He clutched his neck as scarlet fluid pumped through his fingers. Gabriel caught the man when he collapsed and eased him onto the floor.
"The key's in my left pants pocket. Take it." Blood bubbled from John's mouth. One of the beasts had torn his neck. The gaping slashes he covered gurgled with his stilted breaths.
"What happened?" Gabriel fumbled with the man. If John hadn't farmed what geasol he'd had he could have saved him.
"Don't know." John's eyes squeezed shut as he struggled to speak. "The security mainframe was different...different from intel." His trembling, stained fingers rummaged in his pocket and produced a key dangling from a plastic, numbered tab. He pressed it to Gabriel's bare chest. "You can still get out." John's eyes rolled white and he went limp in the vampire's arms. The key clinked when it struck the rough cement.
Gabriel knew John was dead but held him anyway. The agent, Gabriel's sole companion, left him vulnerable in engineered chaos. People were close. Feral ones were close. The commotion outside grew louder, cacophonous. He snatched the key from the floor. Escape wasn't impossible but he needed blood. Human blood.
Touching his forehead to John's, Gabriel lowered his face to the wounds at the man's neck. Potent blood ran into his mouth, down his throat, stoking his long dormant power. Countless times he'd fantasized about his first true feeding. Never did he imagine it would come at the cost of his only ally.
They were everywhere.
Vampires poured from doors which should not have opened. Not without two top tier security staff working in tandem at the mainframe locks. How had this happened? In a dervish of pale limbs and clicking teeth, the guard closest to the pen was quickly overwhelmed, his screams truncated in a spray of blood and wet, ripping flesh. Ann Marie screamed and Tina threw herself at the civilians, forcing them out of the corral's emergency exit and into another hallway.
"Emergency stairs to the left and down the hall! Move!" Tina thrust out her hip, offering Ann Marie the collar remote hanging there as she labored to keep the emergency door shut. Blood fouled talons pried at the exit.
The blaring alarm drowned Tina's instructions but Lucy understood. So did Ann Marie, who snatched the collar remote and clawed her way past her assistant, kicking off her shoes as she fled down the hall. With a final glance at Tina, who jerked her head in Ann Marie's direction, Lucy abandoned her books and clipboard and ran. Sprinting to a T junction she hooked left. The alarm couldn't blot the horrific shrieks--some of them human--and howls behind her.
Ann Marie's blonde hair fanned from her head like a golden sheet. She skidded and caught herself on a red painted door as Lucy fled the scrabbling claws and guttural snarls growing louder and louder at her back. Wiry limbs tangled around Lucy's legs and she toppled, chin cracking against the floor. She reached out to Ann Marie, screaming for help as the monster closed on her, snapping its eager jaws.
Collar remote awkward in her shaking hands, Ann Marie pointed the device and dropped it, panicking. Giving a slight shake of her head, Lucy's boss vanished behind the emergency exit.
Turning, Lucy kicked the vampire closing on her leg in the chest. Her heel punctured its brittle sternum, but the thing shook off the blow and bore down on her, crushing her knee to her chest. She couldn't breathe. The predator darted for her chest and she shut her eyes. It would at least be quick.
Air rushed into Lucy's lungs as the creature's weight left her. No teeth tore at her chest. No claws ripped her flesh.
Uncoiling from her defensive posture, Lucy saw the vampire suspended and flailing in the air. It struggled against some unseen force which hurled the beast into the wall. It fell in a jumbled heap and didn't stir. Pushing herself to her feet, she ran. She'd ponder her uncanny rescue from the rental car.
Tearing toward the exit, Lucy bent, grabbed the collar remote, and blasted through the door. She gazed up at the endless stairs and took them two at a time. By the fourth flight her calves burned and her head spun. Below her, the emergency door slammed open and the unmistakable howl of a ravenous vampire bounced off the stone walls. Lucy scrambled up the stairs like a cat, spurred on by the approaching clatter of claws and bony limbs. The creature would surely outpace her.
At the sixth landing, Lucy stopped. She leaned over the railing, pointed the collar remote at the vampire galloping up the stairs, and smashed the trigger button. Moving targets were hard to hit. Undeterred, the vampire continued its pursuit. She tried again and again but the thing was too swift.
Fighting her coursing adrenaline, Lucy held herself in place though every nerve and synapse screamed at her to flee. Running prolonged the inevitable. If she wanted out she'd have to fight.
The vampire prowled onto the fifth landing, pausing when it sighted its prey. Leveling the black remote directly at the monster, Lucy pounded the shock trigger. It clicked feebly, the device shorted with frantic use.
"Shit, shit!" Lucy backed to the wall, the stone freezing through her sweat-damp blouse.
The vampire sprang. Lucy knew it was hopeless, but she raised the collar remote and squeezed the trigger.
A violent rat-tat-tatting exploded from the collar and Lucy dropped her arm. The vampire collapsed. Its emaciated body sizzled and smoky tendrils rose from its flesh.
Ignoring her searing lungs and cramping legs, Lucy shot up the remaining stairs. When she reached the top she stumbled into the mild spring night and retched. Her short heels sank into the lawn, so she removed her shoes and carried them as she sprinted into the parking lot, over tickling dewy grass and pebbly blacktop still warm under her bare soles.
The exterior alarm carried through the night. Lucy spotted red and blue flashing lights through the pine forest surrounding facility grounds. Ducking into the rental car Ann Marie had left unlocked, she slammed the door and shook behind the steering wheel. She pitched the collar remote onto the passenger seat and sobbed, rubbing her face and smoothing her hair. Miraculously, she hadn't lost her glasses.
Where was Ann Marie? Maybe she'd headed toward the emergency responders instead of the car. Lucy would wait. She'd wait right here and if she saw a vampire she'd run it the fuck down. Leaning onto the passenger seat, she opened the glove compartment and retrieved the spare key. When she sat up, a cold hand clamped over her mouth.
"Start the car," a man said into her ear, "and keep the headlights off. Do everything I say and I won't hurt you."