Patient Zero

Sam Jenkins drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair. The plane had been delayed for one reason or another – Sam hadn’t paid much attention to the specifics, there hadn’t seemed much point – and they’d had to wait whilst something was fixed. After a whole week away from London, Sam ached to return home. Naively, he’d expected the New Dawn to liberate them from the confines of these metal tubes, but no; they still had to rely on machinery. Flight hadn’t ever been a skill for his species, no matter the stereotype. As a result, he was stuck on this stupid plane, unable to use his laptop until they took off.

Going to the toilet would feel more productive than this.

That thought prompted Sam to hunt out the toilets; thankfully, there wasn’t a queue. After trying the first handle and finding it unresponsive, he pressed his ear up against the door and realised that someone was throwing up. He frowned; airsickness was incredibly rare these days. Most people had stomachs of iron.

Hey!” he called, knocking on the door. “Are you alright in there?”

The retching stopped, but the cubicle’s occupant didn’t answer. Sam sighed; he knew he should just leave them to it, but he could see that all the other toilets had been occupied while he was waiting for this idiot.

Come on!” he called. “There’s a queue out here!”

He glanced left and right in the corridor; there was no-one there except for him. But even one person could create a queue, right?

He banged his fist against the door again and, before he could elbow the frame, it opened. Sam blinked; he’d been looking forward to using some brute force. The toilet’s inhabitant stumbled into the doorway and leaned against it for support.

Jeez, this guy looks ill.

It was unusual, seeing someone looking so pale and sweaty. Anyone who had gone through their Second Birth – and no-one who lived and worked in normal society hadn’t – was a hundred times fitter than those dregs who had been left behind.

The man had clearly gone through his Second Birth – he wouldn’t have got through all the security scanners back at the airport if he hadn’t – but something reminded Sam of what he must have looked like when he went through the change. He took a step back out of instinct; he didn’t want to be anywhere near to this guy right now.

Do you want me to see if there’s a healer on board?” he asked.

Secretly, Sam hoped that the man would say no and just go back to his seat. The stranger looked at him through heavily-lidded eyes as though drugged. Drugs were as rare as being air-sick these days; the Feeding usually took care of peoples’ cravings, which Sam took a degree of pride in. He had helped to initially design the Feeding programme 15 years ago, to ensure that his fellow kind always had a fresh supply of live food.

The man wasn’t responding; he was just stood there, staring vaguely into space. Sam sighed, annoyed for no good reason, and started to look round for a steward. Abruptly, he felt a hand grip his arm; turning back, he saw the man’s fingers digging into his forearm.

Get off me!” Sam snarled.

Without thinking, he began to morph, his blood pumping angrily through his veins and into his ears. He hated being touched, especially by someone who was ill and possibly infectious. He grabbed the man’s hand and yanked it away; he gasped in surprise as a sharp fingernail slashed across his open palm and cut a small nick into it.

What the hell is wrong with you?” Sam snapped. “You cut me!”

I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Oh god, I’m sorry. I hope your genes are like mine.”

Sam frowned. “What do you mean?”

Then you’ll die before you change,” the man replied – and then doubled-up in agony before he could say any more. He retched slightly, although he didn’t throw anything up, and then collapsed to the floor, clutching his stomach. He convulsed and then fell still.

Sam heard footsteps running down the aisle of the plane, but barely registered them; the man was dead. It sent a shiver up his spine as he saw the colour drain from the man’s face and his head lolled uselessly to one side.

As the stewards began bustling round the body, Sam looked again at the tiny cut on his hand and heard the man’s words ringing through his head.

Then you’ll die before you change.

The flight was delayed for another half an hour or so, whilst the body was removed and the technical issues were finally removed, and Sam had almost forgotten the cut – and the man’s death – by the time he arrived back at his apartment in central London. It was good to be home. It wasn’t that he disliked his trips abroad – administering the Feeding Programme kept the population alive – but they were so frequent now, he didn’t have any time to himself.

He was unpacking his suitcase when he caught sight of the cut in his hand again. It was tiny but vivid. The edges were ragged and it hurt like hell; it also made the centre of his palm throb with a dull ache. It transfixed him; he found himself staring at it, obsessed with its ragged edges. It was surprising that a fingernail could have made such a weird-shaped cut.

Mind you, I didn’t see what his fingernails looked like, he realised.

It was only after his intercom buzzed for the second time that he realised it was sounding at all. He blinked and released the front door. He walked into the front room just as Amanda let herself in. She folded her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow.

Uh-oh, Sam thought. I’m in trouble.

Your flight landed half an hour ago,” she said without preamble. “Why haven’t you checked in?”

Sam flushed; he had forgotten to get in contact with Central Office. It was routine for all senior officers to report into Amanda when they landed after a trip, but it had completely slipped his mind.

Sorry,” he muttered. “I forgot. It’s been a … weird day.”

Mandy pulled off her overcoat and sat down on the sofa.

I won’t let the powers-that-be know this time,” she said with a sigh. “I have to look out for my little brother every now and then.”

Sam breathed out. “Thanks,” he replied. The High Council were terrifying, even to senior members of the administration.

Both siblings were tall, nearing five foot nine or so, and shared the same mousey-brown hair and green eyes. They were both also slender, although Sam was more solidly built, as befitted someone who had worked in a very physical job before the New Dawn; he was thankful that he had kept that physical shape after his Second Birth. His sister would occasionally tease for being proud of something that was from his old life, but he ignored her – in fact, he often suspected she was jealous of his strength, something she had never been able to match.

Are you alright?” Amanda asked. “You don’t seem yourself.”

He blinked a couple of times and shook his head to clear it. “Yeah, I’m fine, sis. Honest.”

Amanda was silent for a moment, looking him carefully up and down – looking like she didn’t believe him – but then shrugged and looked away.

If you say so,” she said. “So, tell me about your trip. How are the humans up north? Still doing as they’re told?”

Sam was grateful for the change of topic; the scratch was throbbing harder now. He rubbed the palm of his hand and smiled as he told Mandy that he had managed to improve the north of England’s Feeding Programme by 15%.

Who knows, he thought, I could get a promotion out of this.

I’m impressed,” Amanda said. “I didn’t realise there was so much waste up there.”

Sam shrugged. “The Overseer was convinced that promoting humans to positions of authority was going to promote better understanding between the two groups.”

Amanda threw back her head and laughed. She clutched her stomach as she roared, the fangs in her mouth making her look fearsome even when in good humour.

Oh my word,” she said when she had regained control. She wiped her eyes dry of the tears that had appeared. “I assume you corrected that impression?”

I did,” Sam replied, deadpan. “I promoted the assistant Overseer up to the newly-vacant post of Overseer. He recognises the importance of keeping humans in their rightful place.”

As cattle?”

Precisely.”

Sam felt again for the cut on his right palm. It still throbbed hard, and the pain was starting to spread to the rest of his hand. He thought back to the sandy-haired man on the plane who had died, right there in front of him and had given him this cut in the first place.

What have you done to me? he wondered.

Mackenzie Yarrow‘s scowl burned into her forehead. She was covering a shift in the morgue, which she hated with a deep, loathing passion; she enjoyed meeting people, not their empty shells. Of course, working in the morgue meant dealing with human shells, which pained her sensitive sense of smell.

She didn’t have anything against humans as such; unlike many of her brother vampires, she didn’t actually hate them. She pitied them, if anything, because they were so pathetic and weak, herded together in pens for their fresh blood without so much as a fight.

Except for the rebels.

That was, of course, where the majority of her human “patients” came from, of course; rebel cadres who thought they could take on and win against a fully-armoured division of superior beings.

Idiots,” she muttered to herself.

There were two human corpses in the morgue today, and she had pretty much finished dealing with them. The third corpse, however was a different matter. She had deliberately left him until last for a purpose; she didn’t entirely know what to make of him, and that was the other reason for her annoyance.

He was a vampire, that much was certain. He had died on an aeroplane from Northampton to London. That was slightly more unusual; after all, they weren’t passing over any large bodies of water, and there didn’t seem to be any other causes of stress on board the plane that she could identify.

She sighed. It’s a good job I fed recently.

That was the part of the reason she was in such demand; as well as being an excellent doctor, the blood cravings never affected her to the extremes that it did the rest of her species. She was able to control her cravings and still think rationally; usually, she only needed to hibernate for one or two days a month, and could function reasonably well in sunlight. She could often go five weeks without attending a Feeding. That made her well sought after in the hospital, to look after patients when a lot of her colleagues were succumbing to a week or more of cravings.

She was on her own in the mortuary for that very reason; the permanent mortuary doctor and two of his assistants were all in varying stages of the craving and preparing for the ritual Feeding process that restored their strength. Yarrow disliked the ritual of it all; it didn’t seem right to place so much ceremony on a human’s death. Although she accepted the notion that her species were the superior one, it never felt right that they should make such a big thing out of feeding from lower life forms, especially humans. Of course, she never said that out loud, just in case the High Council were listening.

All the corpse’s tests had now been done, and she called them up on her computer. She quickly double-checked the readings – then triple-checked them, and then rang a diagnostic on the computer itself. Nothing changed; the figures on her screen remained resolutely the same, which annoyed her all the more.

The corpse had most of the physical attributes of being a vampire. He had the extended canines, second eyelids and blood-gas chemistry that lacked a certain enzyme – hence needing human blood to keep them alive. However, he had clearly lost his enhanced muscle tone, night vision and some of his height.

He’d started to change, Yarrow realised. His genome was changing … but it couldn’t cope with the change, so killed him instead.

The thought sent a shiver through Yarrow’s body; even the thought of returning to her pre-Second Birth form, so weak and limited, made her feel sick to her stomach. She turned away from her computer, tied her long, black hair into a ponytail, and walked over to the body.

Who are you?” she asked aloud. “What are you?”

Talking to dead people, Doctor? Isn’t that the first sign of madness?”

Yarrow jumped and cursed herself. Her species had heightened senses, so it was unusual for her not to notice someone. Max was still able to do it, however, and seemed to actually enjoy making his superior jump.

Max was the third mortuary assistant, and the only one not going currently through the Feeding – he wasn’t due for another week or so. He was leaning against the doorframe, his six foot frame eclipsing the light from the corridor– a lot of buildings still hadn’t been converted for their use, so people still had to stoop slightly. Max, however, didn’t stoop. He somehow managed to avoid the ceilings by a matter of inches, walking round with an air of supreme self-confidence.

I need to watch you, \Yarrow thought. You’d be willing to feed me to the lions to get my job if it suited you.

If talking to dead people made someone mad, then I think we would all be guilty of that, wouldn’t we?” she replied with an arched eyebrow.

Max sniggered. He pushed himself off the frame and walked into the mortuary, eyeing the corpse as he did so.

Is it true?” he asked.

Yarrow barely managed to keep the surprise off her face. “Is what true?”

Max stopped as he reached the metal table and smiled, clearly pleased that he knew a secret Yarrow hadn’t yet discovered.

Is what true, Max?” Yarrow snapped. She wasn’t in the mood for games; she wanted answers, and he was just getting in the way.

Max blinked; for a moment, he seemed thrown, as if he hadn’t been expecting her irritation to show through quite so vividly. She cleared her throat and braced herself, half-expecting Max to change and bare his fangs at her.

Instead, it was Max’s turn to surprise her. He took a step back and averted her gaze towards the body, clearly deferring to her.

Maybe you can misjudge someone, she thought.

With a softer edge to her voice, she said; “What have you been hearing, Max?”

The junior doctor didn’t take his eyes off the corpse. He seemed fascinated by the body.

Is he really a … genetic throwback?” he asked with genuine excitement. “Has he de-evolved somehow?”

Yarrow hesitated. She certainly wasn’t surprised by the speed that the gossip had done round the hospital, but she was surprised at how nearly accurate it was. Usually, Chinese Whispers turned the rumour into something unintelligible.

No, he’s not a … throwback, as you so beautifully put it,” she answered. “He was experiencing changes, but his genetic structure couldn’t keep up with the virus, so it killed him. He’s not a proper Patient Zero, if that’s what you were hoping for.”

He was weak!” he growled. “If he couldn’t fight off the virus, then he deserved to die.”

Normally, Yarrow wouldn’t have been surprised by the outburst. Humanity, a dying species mostly confined to quarantine zones, were nothing more than glorified pets and looked at with nothing more than contempt. Most vampires hated the thought of their human ancestry and avoided talking about it wherever possible. However, she had caught a momentary look of sadness in Max’s eyes, and she wondered what he was truly thinking.

Be that as it may,” she said, going along with the pretence for now, “he’s dead. We need to dispose of the body quickly. If it mutates … well, it doesn’t bare thinking about.”

Max’s head snapped round to face the doctor and he looked as though he was about to argue with her – but he quickly schooled his face into neutrality.

I’ll get onto the crematorium,” she went on.

Just tell me what you’re thinking! she yelled at him inside her head. You clearly want to say something – so just say it!

Max opened his mouth, almost as if he had heard her, but then sighed and nodded.

You’re right, of course,” he said, his shoulders slumping slightly.

Yarrow folded her arms across her chest, wondering how the younger man would react to this next piece of information.

We have another problem, though.”

Max looked intrigued. “What?”

Just before he collapsed, our corpse here had a … tussle, I guess you could call it, with another passenger. There was physical contact.”

Max’s jaw dropped for a moment, although whether it was from surprise or shock, Yarrow couldn’t be entirely sure.

We must investigate!” he exclaimed. “The passenger could be infected!”

Yarrow nodded. “The military are looking into it. They’ve promised me a name within the hour, and I’ll be going on-site to limit any contamination.”

What will you do with him?” Max asked cautiously.

It depends,” Yarrow replied. “If he’s clean, then we’re fine. If he’s infected … we’ll see. We can’t afford another Typhoid Mary on our hand.”

Max eyed the corpse again, then nodded and turned to go.

Max!”

He looked back at his superior, not giving anything away. Yarrow sighed. He wasn’t going to talk, that much was obvious.

I’ll keep you informed.”

Max nodded, gave her a smile and left Yarrow alone.

Sam groaned. He had been pacing the length of his flat for the last hour or so, trying to distract himself from the pain, but it wasn’t working. He had been glad when his sister had left, because he didn’t like showing weakness, not even in front of her. He paused and thought about it for a moment; he especially didn’t like showing pain in front of her. She had no sympathy for anyone, not even her own brother.

The edges of the cut were a dark red now, and flecks of white pus kept bubbling to the surface. His entire hand was now throbbing. He paused and looked out of his living room windows, glad that the weather was overcast; it meant he didn’t have to polarise the glass.

His flat overlooked Hyde Park Sanctuary, as it was euphemistically called. It was thought by Central Command that calling it a “Sanctuary” would mean more humans would go there voluntarily; but, of course, humans had seen through the deception quickly to see it for what it was – a prison.

Sam had never wanted to live so close to such a large quantity of humans. Every time he looked out over the wooded, leafy grounds of the park, he could feel his hackles raising and his canines lengthening as he craved their fresh, live blood. It made it difficult to think sometimes, but it was a cross he had to bear; being a senior officer in the Feeding Programme meant he had to be near the pack.

A knock at the door distracted him. He could feel the cravings starting to subsume him and that, combined with the pain from his hand, meant he wouldn’t be able to guarantee any resistance against his desires. The knock confused him, however; he hadn’t buzzed anyone into the building, and the other residents of the block – there were six flats in total – valued their privacy too much to allow anyone in without permission.

He crossed to the hallway and paused at the door. Closing his eyes, he drew in a breath and touched the door frame, trying to feel who was on the other side. It was a rare talent that he was only occasionally able to master – and on this occasion he failed miserably. The pain and craving for blood was clouding his mind The visitor banged their fist on the door again, harder this time.

Who is it?” Sam called out. “How did you get in?”

Vampiric lore stated that no-one could not enter a fellow vampire’s property without permission. However, years of research had weakened the strength of that law, and various phrases could now be interpreted as an “invitation.”

Suddenly, the door splintered in on itself, cracking into five pieces. A hand pushed through and pulled the pieces back out into the corridor. Sam’s hackles immediately rose and his fangs lengthened. He gave into his hunger, allowing it to channel through his veins and make his blood hot. His breathing deepened into a pant and he roared out in anger, furious at the invasion of his privacy. He crouched down, ready to attack whoever was on the other side of the door

Get out!” he bellowed. “Get out of here!”

The shattered pieces of wood were finally all wrenched away from the frame, exposing the corridor beyond. A tall vampire, with slightly grey temples and piecing blue eyes, was stood in front of the frame with an air of calmness.

I haven’t stepped over the threshold,” he said in a measured tone. “I could easily do so. However, I’m staying this side out of respect to your privacy.”

Sam’s instincts yelled at him to leap – now – and take the intruder down. Something, however, stopped him; it was almost a primal force that overrode his vampiric hunger. He saw a flicker of interest in the man’s eyes as his body language changed slightly and became less aggressive.

Interesting …” he muttered. “Your pupils are dilated. You’re still vampiric, but you’ve regained control of your hunger. You want to know who I am more than taste my blood. Would you have done that before your plane trip?”

Sam’s rage, still pounding in his chest, began to slowly fade. He was caught off-guard by the sudden drop in his blood craving; he stumbled back as the pain returned in his hand and began a slow journey up his arm. His heart pounded against his chest for a moment, and he fell to his knees.

What’s happening to me?” he gasped.

The visitor seemed unperturbed by Sam’s pain, although a flicker of sympathy briefly crossed his face. “You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, my friend.”

As quickly as it started, Sam felt the pain leave him. He breathed out, relieved and exhausted at the same time. He hadn’t felt pain that intense since the first few moments of his Second Birth, but he had been prepared for that; he’d chosen his new life, after all.

He rubbed his chest for a few moments, then glanced at his right arm, which was now aching all the way up to his shoulder. His hunger had receded; the intense craving for blood – always worst when threatened – had gone without the need to make puncture wounds. This man had invaded his building and broken down his door, but not come in. He had patiently waited outside, staying still and calm, and looking at Sam as if he were an interesting lab specimen.

Who are you?” he asked. “And how did you know about what happened on the plane?”

I’m Dr Patterson. You hear all sorts of things if you listen to the right people.”

Sam sighed. He hated riddles. “Well, Doctor,” he snapped, “as pleased as I am to meet you, would you care to explain why you’re here?”

I’m here to save your life.”

Yarrow hated the military vehicles that were the primary form of wheeled transport these days; especially when the vampiric soldiers who occupied them were pumped so full of testosterone that Yarrow’s sensitive nose couldn’t help but pick up its stench. Sadly, in order to join the team, she had had to fit in with the squad – and that meant travelling from the hospital to this residential zone in one of the transport vehicles.

Thankfully, the drive hadn’t taken too long; she was glad of the excuse to get out and savour the fresh air, even if it was vaguely contaminated by the humans in nearby Hyde Park Sanctuary. The military squad had gone into the nearby block of flats to retrieve the aeroplane passenger, which left Yarrow to kick her heels for the moment.

Suits me, she thought. I’ll be busy enough later when they bring him out.

She glanced round at the Sanctuary, one of the central hubs for humanity in London. It felt strange to be this close to so many living, breathing humans; she barely met any live ones, and never more than one or two together. The Council forbade any close contact with humans except for feeding purposes, and most vampires were happy with that.

Yarrow knew she should be too. She was a vampire and proud of it, so should have the same intense dislike of humans that her brothers and sisters did – and, until earlier today, she thought Max had too. Something inside her felt uncomfortable at the thought of conscious beings – regardless of species – being used as nothing more than cattle.

We’ve got to raise above our baser instincts, he thought. We manage for three weeks of the month, and just pretend that the forth week doesn’t matter.

Clearly, she kept those thoughts very private; she doubted she would survive five minutes if she voiced them to … well, just about anyone, especially the person they’d come to fetch today. Sam Jenkins was assistant director and third-in-command of the entire Feeding Council, reporting directly to the deputy director – who also happened to be his sister.

Which is why we have to do this quietly and under the radar, she thought. If we balls this up, Amanda Jenkins will chew us up and spit us out.

Looking up at the block of flats – a squat, square building that was architecturally human and had far too many windows for her liking – she tried and failed to locate the flat that the squad was heading for.

Not that it matters, he thought with a mental shrug. As long as they find him and get him out quickly. I don’t know the gestation period of this virus.

Suddenly, the squad leader appeared from the main entrance to the building and ran over to her. Vampire soldiers didn’t bother with protective uniform; their quick reflexes and sharp eyesight usually kept them out of trouble. The squad leader’s uniform was a deep black colour that absorbed a lot of light and had toughened sections around his neck and chest, to protect him from bites and stakes.

We have a problem,” he said without preamble.

The doctor frowned. “This was meant to be simple, Captain Venturi.”

It would have been simple,” Venturi growled, “but he wasn’t there, Doctor. Care to explain that? I seem to recall we came here on your recommendation.”

But …” she stammered. “I checked with Operations; he’s been logged in here all afternoon. Captain, he’s the Feeding Council’s third-in-command. He can’t just disappear!”

Venturi frowned, clearly irritated by the doctor’s hesitation.

The door was smashed in and no human scents were detected, so we know rebels aren’t involved. But you can’t argue with the facts. Jenkins is not there.”

Yarrow bit her bottom lip and cursed.

Then we’ve got a problem.”

Sweat poured off Sam’s head. His lungs felt like they were about to explode.

Wait!” he croaked.

He stopped running and bent double as a coughing fit overtook him. He wrapped his bad arm around his middle as his stomach churned with the pain of his coughing. He used his free hand to wipe away the tears of pain from his eyes.

What the … hell … is happening?” he gasped. “I don’t … need to … breathe.”

He forced himself to stand up straight and winced for a moment, but quickly masked it; he was desperate not to show any weakness, not here.

Despite his reservations – or perhaps because of them – he had followed Dr Patterson out of the apartment complex … and then right into Hyde Sanctuary. Sam had laughed when he had first seen the doctor walk right up to one of the gates, but the laughter quickly died when he realised Patterson wasn’t joking.

What are we … doing here?” Sam asked him, more as an excuse to regain his breath than anything else.

Patterson had stopped a few feet ahead of Sam, but walked back to him now. He didn’t seem at all nervous about being right in the middle of a herd of humans.

We’re keeping you safe.”

Sam finally felt better; his breathing had returned to normal. He glanced around; thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any humans in the immediate vicinity, although he could still smell them; their stench seemed to be wafting on the wind.

Safe?” he sneered. “In here? Doctor, this is a human prison! How the hells am I going to be kept safe in here?”

Patterson raised an eyebrow. “Because it’s not out there. In here, the humans may well be scared of you, but they won’t do anything to you while you’re under my jurisdiction. Out there, in our world … well, I won’t be able to protect you.”

Protect me from what?” Sam demanded. “I think I can look after myself, thank you. I’m the assistant director of the Feeding Council.”

And that means precisely what when you can’t even run a hundred metres without gasping for air like a human?”

The doctor was right; he shouldn’t have even broken a sweat, let alone been breathless, and yet here he was in precisely that state.

What’s happening to me?”

Patterson looked at him up and down for a moment. “I think you’re Patient Zero.”

Sam breathed out. “Okay, I’ll … bite,” he replied, smiling to acknowledge what he’d said. “Do you want to tell me what the bloody hell you’re talking about?”

Patterson glanced over his shoulder, checking that they weren’t being listened to. Thankfully, the nearest habitat zone was a few kilometres distant, and humans weren’t known for their good hearing.

That scratch on your hand,” he said. “Does it still hurt?”

Sam raised his hand and glanced at the cut. It was throbbing harder than it had done half an hour ago, his entire was a mottled and blotchy red – and his entire arm was now in pain, throbbing with such intensity that it was moving into his neck.

Yeah,” Sam replied. “Yeah, it does.” He looked back at Patterson. “How did you know about that?”

Patterson shrugged. “Is this really the time?”

Sam was about to say “yes” when something made him stop. It was a sharp, stabbing pain in his chest that was over in a fraction of a second.

It’s all connected, Sam,” Patterson said. He put a reassuring hand on Sam’s shoulder and smiled. “You got the cut from someone who was ill, didn’t you?”

Sam nodded as he massaged his chest. “It … it happened on the plane,” he replied. “This guy tried to attack me, but collapsed before he could do any serious damage.”

Patterson shook his head sadly. “‘Serious damage’?” he said. “My friend, the damage has already been done.”

What the hell are you talking about?” he snarled. “I’m a vampire, just like you! I went through my Second Birth! I’m strong!”

He cried out in pain and fell to his knees. “Why am I here?” he gasped. “Why have you brought me here, with all these humans?”

Patterson seemed unmoved. “You came with me of your own accord,” he replied. “Never forget that. But if you are Patient Zero – if you’re the one who survives the virus – then I need you where I can keep an eye on you. We need to keep moving. Come on.”

He pulled Sam up and put an arm round him as they started walking again.

I do not want to do this. I do not want to do this.

Yarrow was stood in front of the main gates of Hyde Sanctuary, watching as they swung slowly open. Captain Venturi was stood next to her with his taser drawn. While they were never used against brother vampires, tasers had proved effective against weak, fragile humans. Venturi glanced round and caught Yarrow’s eye.

Afraid, Doctor?” he asked with a smirk.

Yarrow frowned and gave the squad leader a sharp glare.

Of humans?” she snapped. “Of course not.”

How can you be afraid of a broken species? she thought. We’ve destroyed them – and all I can feel is pity.

Mind you,” Venturi went on, lowering his voice so the soldiers wouldn’t hear, “I’ve heard you’re practically one of them these days. Is that right you can go six weeks without a Feeding Session?”

Yarrow’s hand snapped up to Venturi’s neck, her fingernails elongating and penetrating the thick cloth that surrounded it. She felt a nail scrape against skin.

Care to say that again?” she hissed.

She was conscious of Venturi’s soldiers, stood by the open gates and looking awkwardly between the two. They were clearly torn between loyalty to their squad leader and wondering what he had said to provoke such a drastic response.

Venturi licked his lips, his smirk frozen on his face. He obviously hadn’t expected Yarrow – someone who had never done any military service – to snap back so aggressively. Being careful to avoid the doctor’s sharp fingernails, he slowly shook his head.

Good,” she hissed.

She released her grip and looked away with disgust.

I hate having to resort to violence, she thought. It always feels like I’ve lost the argument.

Let’s go,” she snapped, and led the way into the camp.

Sam was in the middle of a human camp.

And I’m not slaughtering them.

It was a strange sensation, seeing his work up close; as part of the Feeding Council, these camps had been his idea. While it didn’t particularly bother him, seeing humans in such cramped conditions, it was an odd sensation to see them working in practice – he’d never bothered stepping inside one of the Sanctuaries before. When he needed to feed, they were brought to him. Now, however, he was amongst them – and it scared him a bit. The haunted look in their eyes made him shiver.

There were rows of tents down either side of a makeshift “path” – in reality, a dirt-track that was probably grass before the New Dawn – and most of the humans were obviously hiding inside their “homes.” A few stood defiantly out in the open, watching the two vampires carefully.

Through the churning in his stomach and throbbing pain in his arms and chest, Sam realised that the humans were all looking at him, not Patterson.

They all know you,” he said. He knew his voice sounds croaky, but didn’t care right now. “You … you visit here?”

Patterson smiled. “I do more than visit, Sam,” he answered. “I live here.”

The New Dawn had happened almost overnight, with three-quarters of the population changing into vampires. In a heartbeat, the human race went from dominant species on the planet to near-extinction – and vampires became the master race.

Humans then spent the next fifteen years being penned into progressively smaller areas, eventually ending up in derelict tenement buildings and make-shift campsites. Yarrow had last been inside a camp like this five years ago – and she could still remember the smell of fear … and defeat.

It smells different here though, she thought.

She walked carefully along the rough path that had been fashioned by years of tread; as she did, she sniffed the air and tasted the emotions that marked this camp as different.

There was still fear – of course there was; four vampires had just walked into their midst – but there was something else. It was … She hesitated for a moment, unsure of the smell and confused by it, but realised quickly that she recognised it; self-assurance. It was strange to smell that amongst the down-trodden humans, but it was there nonetheless.

What have they got to be confident about? she asked herself.

You smell it too?” Venturi’s voice was gruff and angry.

The doctor didn’t answer; there didn’t seem much to say, because any vampire worth their salt would be able to smell it.

Venturi abruptly stopped in front of Yarrow, and it was all the doctor could do not to bump into him. She frowned in surprise and was on the verge of berating him when he shouted at the top of his voice; “Another vampire came through here! Tell me where he went and you won’t be harmed!”

A bark of laughter rang out across the camp. Venturi’s head snapped round.

Don’t bother,” Yarrow snapped. “Would you believe that, if you were them?”

Venturi gave her an irritated, glare, but looked away and shrugged – as if he had realised the stupidity of his statement.

I’ll deal with this,” she snapped.

She took a step forward, away from Venturi, and looked around. No-one flinched back, which was disorientating.

Why aren’t you afraid?

We need to find the vampire that came through here!” she called out. “I think he’s carrying a virus that could harm a lot of people. We need to get him medical attention!”

Harm a lot of vampires, you mean!” a voice called out.

Yarrow wasn’t sure it was the same male who had laughed, but it had come from the same direction. She heard a woman’s voice quietly shushing him, and nodded; she didn’t want these humans to get too cocky.

Still want to deal with this?” Venturi asked in an angry growl.

She heard the sudden whine of a taser firing up, and she clenched her fists in sudden anger.

You really want to punish all these humans for one stupid comment?” she snapped.

Her eyes were scanning the crowd. No-one seemed willing to help; one or two of the braver residents actually held her gaze for a second before looked away.

Let’s go,” she said. “We’ll find them by ourselves.”

The advent of the New Dawn had greatly changed society – and it was generally believed that everything in society was happy with the change. Everyone, that is, that mattered and that meant vampires.

Of course everyone was happy,” Sam said, scornfully dismissing Patterson’s argument. “It took us out of our weak beginnings and make us strong.”

He laughed as he played back what he had just said. Here he was talking about strength – and he could barely walk. His entire upper body was racked with a dull, throbbing pain, and his legs felt like he had just walked a marathon. Gratefully, he stopped outside an outsized tent; it was being guarded by two humans with guns – Where the hell did they get those from? – and looked busy; people were walking in and out all the time.

What’s in there?” he asked.

Patterson smiled. “Take a look.”

Stepping through the tent flaps, he gasped – and not from the pain. There was a rudimentary operating table along the far side, with a couple of free-standing lamps on either side. Four gurneys, with blood pressure and drip machines either side, were stacked up down the other side, and a human nurse were sterilising equipment at another table. There was even power coming from somewhere, although Sam couldn’t locate the sockets.

Sam, I’d like to examine you now.”

Sam hadn’t heard Patterson come up behind him, but he wasn’t surprised; the man moved incredibly lightly for a person of his size and build.

Why should I trust you?” Same demanded. “You’ve brought me into the middle of a human settlement and shown me a hospital guarded by guns.”

Patterson shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he calmly replied. “But you came in here of your own accord … partly because I think you want answers.”

Their eyes met for a moment, and Sam tried to work the doctor out. He was nakedly interested in Sam’s condition, and was curiously interested in humanity; the fact that he lived here, amongst them, and ran a field hospital told Sam that, but there was something more – as if it was all somehow connected, his condition and being here.

Patterson nodded to one of the gurneys. “Let me check you over,” he said. “I can give you something to ease the pain.”

Something told Sam that this wasn’t the time for false pride. He lay down gratefully, wincing as he swung his legs onto the bed.

I haven’t felt like this for fifteen years,” he groaned. “Since my Second Birth.”

Patterson nodded. “You won’t have done,” he replied. “No other virus will have been able to penetrate your bloodstream.”

Then how did this one?”

The doctor didn’t answer him; instead, he began wiring Sam up to IV and BP machines. Sam glanced round the large tent and was surprised to see how much equipment Patterson and the orderlies had scattered around.

The doctor caught Sam’s curious look. “We accumulated all this from … sources over the last six months or so,” he said. “It’s not perfect, and much of it is second-hand, but it’s helped save at least twenty people since it was set up.”

Sam suddenly gritted his teeth as a surge of nausea surged up from his stomach and caused him to retch; the pain was overwhelming for a moment, but it faded quickly. Dr Patterson watched him carefully, a guarded look on his face.

What are you feeling right now?” he asked.

Was does it look like?” Sam snapped.

In anger, his canines stretched out and his fingernails began turning into talons. A wash of rage flooded his brain and he roared in frustration; he was in pain, and he hated himself for appearing so weak in front of these stragers.

This must be Stage Two!” he heard Patterson shout. A flood of emotions overrode his senses. He tried to push himself up off the gurney, but a pair of hands forcibly pushed him back down, winding him in the process.

He winced as a sharp pinprick penetrated the skin of his forearm, but his tenseness quickly dissipated as whatever serum was in the syringe took effect. His anger began to fade as his canines drew back into his jawline, and his hunger for blood abruptly vanished.

What have you given me?” he mumbled.

A hand patted him on the shoulder. “It’s for the pain … and to help with your mood swings,” Patterson said. “It’ll make them easier to handle.”

Sam blinked, but couldn’t get his eyes to focus; it was like swimming through water, a thought that made him shudder.

What’s happening to me?”

Patterson hesitated for a minute, then finally answered him. “You’re got viro humanis. You’ve become infected with a strain of humanity. It’s killed every host before you … but you’re enough to handle it, Sam. You’ve become Patient Zero for a pandemic … and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

Yarrow’s heart was beating hard in her chest as she and Venturi ran ahead, beating a path through the encampments. Venturi had picked up their scent a couple of minutes ago, and hadn’t wanted to wait for the rest of his team to catch up.

I just hope we’re not too late! she thought. If he’s contagious, we’re screwed!

Venturi stopped abruptly as he ran into a small clearing, ring-fenced by tents. Yarrow, following closely behind, only managed to avoid colliding with the soldier by swerving quickly left and letting her legs run out of steam.

Out of habit, she drew in a breath; she was thankful that she didn’t need to breathe anymore, but her subconscious clearly had some psychological need that was fulfilled with that one breath. Looking round, she saw something that almost took it away.

Venturi glanced over at her. “Is that -”

He cut himself off as Yarrow nodded, knowing exactly what he was asking.

It’s a field hospital,” he growled. “They’ve gone and built a bloody field hospital in the middle of their prison.”

Sam tried to grip the front of Patterson’s shirt, to pull him down to the gurney and make him admit that he had made a mistake – or was lying, anything just to stop those words being true. Unfortunately, his hands went into spasm and wouldn’t clench into fists; the best he could do was bang his open palm against the older doctor’s chest.

You’re wrong!” Sam demanded. “Admit it, you’re … fucking lying to me! I’ve been a vampire for fifteen years. I can’t -”

Another spasm hit his body and his back arched off the gurney for a moment in agony. It felt as if electricity was passing through his body and activating every nerve, so he could feel everything – and, for the first time, it hurt.

The pain will pass,” Patterson said, calmly glancing at his instruments next to the gurney. “I give you my word.”

The doctor was proved right; after a minute or so, the spasm ended and Sam felt his body relax again. He closed his eyes and took a breath, using Patterson’s momentary interest in the monitors to regain his composure.

Why is this happening to me?” he asked in a croaky voice.

Patterson sighed and glanced back at Sam. “I was wondering when you’d ask me that.”

He pulled up a stool and sat down next to the gurney. He leaned on the edge of the metal rail surrounding the cot and tapped a dissonant tune.

It’s happening because you were on the aeroplane that was carrying your predecessor. The man who died was carrying variant of the same plague, but was different enough to stop him fully mutating. When he scratched you, he passed the virus to you … and your DNA proved to be in the Goldilocks zone.”

The … the Goldilocks zone?” Sam rasped, his throat feeling angry and inflamed. “What’s … what’s that?”

It was Patterson’s turn to be silent for a moment. He didn’t look away, but a smile suddenly crooked at his mouth.

Would you care to answer that one, Dr Yarrow?” he asked over his shoulder.

Yarrow, trying not to look thrown at the doctor’s sixth sense, let the tent flap drop; clearly, she had lost the element of surprise.

I can’t believe that you, of all people, are here,” she said. “You, Max. Why?”

Max Patterson finally looked round, ignoring the confused look that Sam was giving both him and Yarrow.

Have you forgotten where you are, Doctor?”

Yarrow crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. Max sounded like a petulant child trying to lecture his elders, and made her like him even less.

Please do remind me, Max … although I suspect you’re going to anyway.”

Max chuckled and inclined his head. He spread his arms wide, as if in greeting. “You’re in my medical facility for humans – and you’ve been invited in.”

Yarrow couldn’t help but notice the use of the word “invited”; she blinked and looked round. Vampire researchers had weakened many of the boundaries, but there were occasions when vampires still found it impossible to cross human demarcations, and their hospitals were one of them.

Why did you let me in?” she said, a note of panic entering her voice. “I’m with Captain Venturi, Max – and you know how they don’t take prisoners!”

I don’t recall giving you permission to invite anyone else in.”

Yarrow couldn’t argue with that; she was now hamstrung. Although she could enter and exit at will, no-one else could – and so Venturi was stuck outside. The doctor could imagine his rage at being left out in the cold.

She looked over at the vampire lying on the gurney; he was drenched in sweat and shivering. Random muscle groups spasmed, sending a limb or a facial muscle off into uncontrollable fits for a few moments. In her undead heart, she hated Max for putting him in this situation; he must have known she wouldn’t hesitate in trying to help someone in pain.

Sam, my name is Mackenzie Yarrow,” she said. “Would you mind if I examined you?”

There isn’t anything you can do,” Max said. “He’s changing.”

Ignoring him, Yarrow took Sam’s hand. Sam’s eyes flicked between Yarrow and Max and his mouth opened and closed, but he couldn’t speak.

Yarrow looked up at the monitors; his heartbeat, which should have been as glacially slow as hers, was beating almost as fast as a human’s, hence his obvious discomfort. He was also breathing.

We need to get him to the hospital,” she said urgently. “I can care for him there.”

If you want to care for him, you do it here!” Max snapped. “All this equipment’s from the hospital anyway.”

Yarrow gently put Sam’s hand back down.

Why?” she demanded. “Why have you done all this?”

Max fixed his eyes on hers, his face darkly serious. “Because someone had to care.”

Am I … dying?” Sam asked.

Not necessarily,” Max replied. “Consider it a … reset.”

You bastard!” Yarrow growled, her fangs unconsciously growing. “You did this, didn’t you? You created this virus?”

Yes.”

Yarrow’s face transformed into its vampiric self, fangs baring from her mouth and her fingers extending into talons. She whipped around, ready to attack Max and punish him for his callous indifference to their race.

I didn’t do this for fun, Mac,” Max snarled. “I didn’t kill four test subjects because I wanted to! I did it for the good of our race! We’re parasites, feeding off the blood of others to survive! With this virus perfected, we could get the best of both worlds!”

Yarrow pushed her transformation back down inside her. “What are you talking about?”

By combining human and vampire DNA, we create a hybrid race!” he explained. “A race that has our strength and intelligence and the compassion of humanity!”

Sam’s in pain,” she insisted. “This virus is killing him.”

I know. But we all felt that pain, didn’t we, during our Second Birth? This is Sam’s third birth … and he won’t be trapped by his hunger anymore.”

Sam suddenly cried out and both doctors turned to face him.

He was in agony; his heart felt like it was about to burst and he gasped as his lungs contracted again. His face contorted in and out of its vampiric side, caught somewhere between rage and terror.

Help me!” he gasped. “What’s happening to me?”

You’re becoming human,” Max said.

Yarrow glanced at him out of the corner of her eye; he was watching Sam with something akin to excitement. Sam convulsed again; his skin, though gleaming with sweat, had turned a light pink colour.

Why me?” Sam demanded through gritted teeth.

Sam, it could have been anyone,” Max replied. “The man on the plan could have met anyone – and could have scratched anyone. He did it to you … and you’ve going to be the first member of a brand-new species.”

He turned to Yarrow. “Do you understand why I’m doing this?” he asked her in an urgent tone, as if he were desperate for the doctor to understand. “We must change, Mac!”

Yarrow stared at him for a moment, her emotions conflicted, then tersely nodded.

You traitor.”

Yarrow’s head snapped round, quickly followed by Max. Venturi was stood at the entrance to the field hospital, looking fearsome with his fangs fully extended.

You’ve betrayed your species, Yarrow,” he snarled, “and I’m going to make you pay.”

The doctor panicked; it took her a moment to realise that Venturi was still outside the tent, thus fulfilling the terms of the curse that bound their race to an invitation to enter.

Shit! she thought angrily. How could I have been so stupid!

Venturi raised his taser and looked at Max.

Cure your patient, Doctor!”

Max growled, his own canines lengthening.

Why would I want to cure him, Captain!” he roared. “Sam’s the future. He’s going to save us from ourselves!”

Venturi looked amazed that Max would so openly disobey him. “You’re sick.”

No, I’m not,” Max replied, his voice thick with passion through his extended molar teeth. “I’ve just seen the truth! Our days are numbered, my friend! We’re martyrs to our cravings! One day, humans will rise up again and take this world from us! This way, we can join them freely and renounce our blood lust!”

The squad leader flicked a switch on the side of his gun and a low, steady whine filled the air. “Not if I can help it, you sick bastard!”

Yarrow suddenly felt light-headed; this was all getting out of control. She looked down at Sam again, who had fallen silent. His breathing had become shallower and the sweat seemed to have stopped pouring off him, although a thin film still ran across his forehead. Pulling his lips apart for a moment, she realised that his fangs had disappeared.

He’s changed, she realised. Even his scent was different; it wasn’t the pure scent of a vampire, certainly, but wasn’t the foul stench of a human either. Was this the start of something new? She looked up at Max, whose mouth had dropped open in shock.

You smell it too, don’t you?”

He met her eyes and nodded.

Keep him safe,” Max whispered.

Yarrow frowned. “Why can’t you? This is your plan.”

Someone’s got to protect the Next Dawn,” he whispered.

He looked at Sam. “Be well, my friend.”

Yarrow opened her mouth to protest, but it was too late; Max bared his fangs, yelled a battle cry – and lunged for Venturi.

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