“Hey, can I buy you a drink?” a voice asked from my left. I had to strain to hear it over the music pounding from one of the nearby speakers. I glanced over to see a man in his middle years smiling at me. Great, another old barfly looking to score with an underage kid.
“Um…no thanks, I think I’ve had enough for the night, man.” That was the truth. I had already had my share; a few more and I might start becoming receptive to types like him. Of course, if he were about thirty years younger, I might have complied anyway, but I wasn’t going to tell him that; I’m still too much of a nice guy.
“OK. My name’s Chris, what about you?” He wasn’t going to give up right away.
“Josiah. Hey man, I gotta run, I just saw a friend of mine, I need to talk to him,” I lied, pushing my way past him. “Maybe I’ll see you around, later.”
I ducked behind him and headed toward the stairwell. Reaching the bottom, I surveyed the crowd; funny, the music seemed louder down here, though I was closer to the speakers on the second floor. I didn’t see anyone I knew; damn, hopefully the old guy decided to leave me alone.
I pushed my way through the crowd toward the bar. I nodded toward the bartender as I hopped into a stool. Turning back towards the dance floor, I started searching for anyone who looked interesting. Ian van Dahl’s “Castle in the Sky” started playing; it was one of my favorites, but I didn’t feel much like dancing by myself. Funny, but you’d think out of all the hot guys out there, there’d be at least one who’s single, looking for someone like me, and worth my time to check out. However it appeared to my eyes that all the really good ones were already taken.
Sighing, I stood back up and headed toward the door. The bouncer glanced at my hand to check if it was stamped; seeing that it was, he nodded to me. “Come back again, dude.” I nodded a reply back and turned down the street, intending to hail a cab somewhere along the way – I didn’t plan to walk the whole ten miles.
After a few blocks, the crowds started to thin out. Storm Nation always had a huge crowd around it; not only was it one of the most popular gay clubs in Chicago, but it was 18+ every day and all ages every Friday and Saturday night. Truthfully, I don’t know how they got the city to let them, but there it was. Plus, it had the added bonus of being in the middle of one of the best areas of the city for night life.
I inhaled deeply, enjoying the cool night air. I stretched and yawned – it was later than I thought, almost 4AM. Craning my neck to get the kinks out of it – staring down at the crowds by yourself for a few hours can cause a major neck cramp – I noticed that the street was now virtually empty; the crowds were all a few blocks behind me.
A sudden clatter in front of me drew my attention. A small boy, probably no older than ten, was kicking a broken bottle up the street, vaguely in my direction. I stopped to watch him for a moment; he was a cute little kid, and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. After a few minutes, I continued on my way; as we neared each other, he glanced up a few times and smiled sheepishly as he continued to kick the bottle. We soon passed each other, and as we did so I nodded my head towards him and said, “Hey.” It must have startled him, as he tripped, and I reacted quickly and managed to catch him as he fell.
He nodded as if to say thanks, and continued kicking the bottle up the street. I was halfway down the next block when I realized – what was a ten-year-old doing out in the middle of the street at this time of night in this area of town? As I turned around, I realized something else – what I thought was the kid steadying himself against my hip as I helped him back up, was really him stealing my wallet!
“That little fucker!” I shouted as I started running back up the street. He didn’t notice that I had caught on and was still lazily kicking the bottle around on the street. Suddenly he turned around, his eyes wide, and took off running away from me. Damn that little shit was fast! The crowds around Storm Nation hadn’t thinned out any, and he’d reach them soon enough. There was no way I’d be able to keep track of him then!
I broke out into a full sprint, trying to intercept him before he could reach the relative safety of the crowds, when he ducked behind a pair of teenage girls holding hands and seemed to disappear. “Hey! STOP THAT KID!” I bellowed as I dodged past the girls, who only stood looking at me with jaws agape. Hmph, girls, I thought.. However, the kid was nowhere in sight.
I paused to catch a little of my breath and try to find him. There was no sign of him…wait, there! I saw the top of his head flash by an older man checking out the crowd. Was that the same guy who offered me the drink earlier? There was no time to think about it though, as I was already past him, following the kid through the crowd.
I lost him twice more in the crowd but was able to catch sight of him again as he shoved an elderly couple out of his way – what were old people doing in THIS part of town? – and again when he jumped on top of a bench to get around two rather cute guys about my age. I was starting to catch up to him – the crowd was slowing the kid down. I still wondered how he could move so fast. Just when I was about to reach out to grab the collar of his shirt, he seemed to realize that I was right there, and dashed off to the left into a small alley.
Haha, I got you now, ya little thief, I thought as I followed him into the darkened space between the buildings. However, I had taken no more than five steps when I noticed that he was gone. He lost me AGAIN!!
A black Lincoln Towncar pulled up to the curb, windows tinted to match the near-utter darkness of the rest of the vehicle; without the streetlight overhead, it would be nearly invisible. He had darted away from the crowds by the club as soon as he felt the pager vibrate; he came to the appointed meeting place, but he hardly expected to find this waiting him. The young man trembled in a mixture of fear and eagerness as the rear passenger window rolled down, allowing a few beams of light to penetrate the darkness inside, and the somber melody of the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” greeted his ears. The only other sound was the normal quiet cacophony of an empty street at night, until the dark figure inside spoke.
“You say he ran through here? You’re sure it was one of them? Which way did he go?” the gruff voice demanded. Answers were expected to be prompt and accurate for this one; anything else would mean punishment, horrid punishment.
“Yes, yes sir. He looked like just a kid, maybe about ten, but the way he moved, there can be no doubt. A human boy was chasing him; apparently he’d been picking pockets all night.” Steve replied. He nodded behind him. “He disappeared into an alley; it was a dead-end so he must be hiding. The boy followed him in; we haven’t heard anything from there since. We’ve been waiting for your orders, sir.”
“You have done well. What’s your name, son?” came the reply from within the vehicle.
“Steven, sir. Steven Warren.” He answered, visibly excited at receiving such an honor. “I’m a member of Darryn’s ground crew-” He was cut off before he could finish the sentence.
“That’s very good, Steven,” said the darkened figure. “I’m going to handle this one myself, personally.” Suddenly, the shadows shifted as the figure leaned towards the window. “Would you care to join me?”
Steven had never met this man before – meeting someone of his rank and status was not a thing for lower classes such as himself – but Geoff Batson did not look at all how Steven thought he would. He appeared to be in his late forties or possibly early fifties. Wavy graying hair surrounded a worn face without wrinkles; in fact it looked as though any extra flesh had been burned away from this man long, long ago. Thick-rimmed glasses rested on the slightly peaked nose, and a near-grimace darkened his face. Smoke drifted lazily from a short, curved-stem pipe, and Geoff raised his left eyebrow slightly, awaiting the answer.
“Yes, yes sir! Of course, sir!” There was no chance in hell that he would pass up an opportunity like this! If he performed well, he might soon be moving up in the ranks – or better yet, he may be taken as one of the personal “guard of honor” for this man. “I will do my best, sir!”
“Good, good,” came the reply, and the face disappeared from view as the old man backed away from the window. “Get in the car, Steve. Is it okay if I call you Steve?” The door swung open without a sound.
“Yes, yes that’s fine, sir.” replied Steve as he ducked his head and slid into the empty seat.
“Great. This “sir” business will not do – while we are working together like this, please call me Geoff.” Steve felt the old man smile in the near pitch-blackness of the vehicle’s interior. “But that is only when chasing these blasted bloodsuckers. Formally, of course, you must still refer to me as a superior.”
“Of course, sir – I mean, Geoff.” Steve exhaled heavily. The tension was enough to break any man’s nerves. “What is our plan? We just going to kill this one and be done with it?”
There was a soft click as an overhead dome light flashed on. “The plan? Oh, no, my dear boy, we have much more to do than that…”
Geoff Batson smiled to himself. He had been a member of the governments’ “cleanup” crews for longer than this young man before him had been alive; in fact, maybe two or three times longer. The humiliation of being forced to essentially ‘mop up’ the remains that the vampires left, coupled with the thanklessness of the job, had driven him to seek new employment long ago. His superiors in the government, however, were not aware of the fact that he no longer answered only to them, just as his new superiors were no more aware of the fact that was using those old contacts to aid him in his new assignments. If either side became aware of the other, there would be hell to pay, and Geoff had no intention of paying that bill.
No, Geoff had been playing both sides for a good deal of time, and had become a master at it. He used his cleanup crews to locate the nightstalkers, and then called in his other friends to take care of matters. Of course, he made sure that every member of the cleanup crew was under his control, but that was only to be expected; he couldn’t have them running off to inform his masters, on either side.
Tonight’s plan was different, though, far different from any others he had concocted throughout his years of service. No, tonight he would not just be a Hunter slaying one of those disgusting bloodsuckers; no, tonight he would be gaining himself a far greater tool to use to Hunt those who would hunt his own kind.
Geoff chuckled slightly, and his humor was reflected by the slight grin of the young man seated next to him. Oh, he would not be smiling if he knew what was in store for him tonight; Geoff had revealed part of his plan to this youngster, but what Steven did not know was just how expendable he was. In fact, his plan counted on that expendability.
Pressing a small button just above the window control on his door, he leaned back and made sure that he was properly armed. The dome light flickered off, and the car lurched into motion. Tonight, more than two decades’ worth of planning was going to come to fruition. Tonight, he would have himself the most powerful Hunter the world had ever seen.
I still stood where I had entered the alley, looking for that little urchin. He had to be hiding here somewhere, but where? I could make out a brick wall about fifty feet away; he was not going to get away out the other side of this alley. I remained motionless, my eyes searching for any hint of motion to reveal my would-be thief’s position.
I was concentrating so hard that I nearly jumped out of my skin when the sound of a car door slamming shut came from behind me. I hadn’t even noticed the sound of the engine as it approached, but I certainly heard it rev up as the car left. I turned for only a moment to glance out of the alley, looking for whoever the vehicle had dropped off; however I only found the sight of the empty street before me. Shrugging, I returned my gaze to searching when a clatter of metal on brick startled me again. Sheesh, I’m getting paranoid.
Just as I was about to leave the entrance and wait for the little brat to come waltzing out, a snarl came from the darkness. “You shouldn’t have followed me,” came a voice. It must have belonged to the kid; it sounded like how a ten-year-old might sound, but there was something…wrong…with it. Playing it off to the effects of acoustics in the tight space between two buildings, I called out.
“I knew you were in here! I shouldn’t have followed you? Why, because now you won’t get my money?” I taunted him. This kid was going to get it! I’ve taken other people’s shit long enough. I could feel anger welling up inside me; I never let myself let go, but I think it was time I did. A small part of my mind said, “He’s only a kid, be merciful! ” but I stomped it down; the anger had taken over. “C’mon, what are you waiting for? Mommy isn’t here to save you, punk!”
The snarl emanated from the blackness again. Is there some animal back there too? A little kid couldn’t make a sound like that. Suddenly, two points of light appeared in the blackness; they looked like eyes, but they were glowing red! What the hell was going on here?!
Before I could react, whatever it was in that alley, rushed at me. It was the kid! He no longer looked like an innocent little boy, however; more like some feral animal! He jumped on me and knocked me flat on my back. I scrambled to my feet and he grabbed my arm, and threw me bodily over himself, deeper into the alley. How could he be that strong?
I had no time to think on it, as he was upon me again, punching and kicking me, blows raining faster than my mind could comprehend. In no time he had me breathing hoarsely, trying to catch my breath as blood dribbled from the corner of my mouth. Christ, I think he broke some bones! A sharp pain in my stomach told me that I was probably bleeding internally, too.
The blackness in the alley seemed to be growing closer, and I knew that I would soon be unconscious. What was he going to do to me next? This was like something out a scary movie. Grabbing the anger inside myself, I managed to find the strength to roll over, away from him, and looked up into his eyes. They were glowing even more fiercely, now, and his lips parted in a grin that showed two large, prominent fangs dripping saliva. This was worse than a scary movie!
Blackness was almost upon me when those fangs pierced the tender skin of my neck, and I could feel my life’s blood seep out into that little mouth, which sucked hard against the wound, greedily lapping up the redness spurting out with every beat of my heart.
“Get off of him, you fucker!” a shout came from the alley entrance. The kid pulled off of me for a moment, snarling in the direction of the intruder. Please, help me! I tried to shout, but all that came out was a soft moan.
The kid was away from me in a flash, rushing whoever it was that had apparently come to my rescue. I heard the sounds of a struggle, and turned to see my possible savior. He was a young man, apparently in his mid-twenties, and seemed to be able to keep up, at least partially, with the onslaught of the kid. It was almost funny, seeing a ten-year-old beginning to overpower someone over twice his age, but the irony was lost on all of us; this was a fight of life-or-death. The man let out a shout as the kid sank his teeth into the flesh of his upper arm, and managed to throw the kid off of him before the younger could do more.
Three sharp cracks broke the near silence of the scene before, and I saw the kid stagger to his feet, bleeding freely from three bullet wounds in his chest. I still could not but feel sorry for him; he obviously was more than just a little kid, but my eyes still told me that was all he was.
A second figure joined the young man who had come to my rescue, and I saw moonlight glint off of the barrel of a small handgun. There was a fourth crack and a bright flash from the barrel, and the kid flew backward, slamming into the wall of one of the buildings. His crumpled form lay still on the ground, and I knew he wouldn’t get up this time. There was only a small wound in the middle of his forehead, but enough blood and brain matter was splattered on the wall behind him to denote that the exit wound must have been much larger.
“Wow, sir, that worked like a charm.” stated the young man. I was still fighting off unconsciousness; I knew that if it took me, I probably wouldn’t be waking up either.
“Yes, Steven, the prototype did very well. The exploding points will kill no matter where you fire, not requiring a hit to the head or heart like the regular rounds. However the essence of garlic and the silver casings aren’t slowing them down enough; we’ll report to field logistics and they’ll probably have a new prototype next week.” the other said. He appeared much older than the other man, probably in his sixties. “It’s too bad you won’t be able to see it, Steven.”
“What? Sir, what do you mean?” the younger one gaped.
The older said nothing as he raised the gun to point squarely in the face of the younger man – Steven, his name apparently was. Steven, paralyzed by fear, did not run; instead he tried to back away, as if that would help him. The old man remained silent as he squeezed the trigger; I shut my eyes as the fifth crack of a gunshot pierced the night. When I opened them again, I saw Steven’s body lying next to the kid’s. A large hole had been ripped in his chest, and pieces of his internal organs were plastered to the wall behind him. Apparently the old man decided not to actually blow his head off.
“Now then, what shall we do with you?” the old man said, walking in my direction. I tried to back away, but my strength, the little that remained, was barely enough to keep me from passing out, and I could only stare in fear as he knelt next to me. “It’s ok, young one. I mean no harm to you. You are in safe hands. The medics will be here shortly; they’ll take good care of you, I assure you.” He stood and pulled a small cell phone from his pocket. “Yes, this is Batson. I need a cleanup crew here on the double; our Hunter ran into a little trouble.” He paused, listening to whoever was on the other end of the phone. Hunter? Huh?! “No, no, the mission was a success but we still suffered a small loss.” He paused again. “Good. We have a live one. Bring a stretcher.” He clicked the phone shut and returned it to his pocket.
“Well, my young friend, you’ve had quite a night. Rest assured, things will turn out ok. You may rest, now.” I fought to keep my eyes open, but his voice took on a hypnotic quality. “Sleep, my young one. Sleep. You will need your rest, if you are to be my Hunter. Yes, sleep.”
Darkness overcame me.
- “I’m sorry, Josiah. She just couldn’t hold out any longer. The machines were the only thing keeping her alive. There was nothing the doctors could do.”No. Not Mom. Please, God, NO! Why did she have to die? I was only twelve years old, for crying out loud! She’d only had cancer for a year, how could she die? Parents are supposed to be invincible! Why?!
Fists assailed me as I cowered before them. “C’mon, pussy. Fight like a man! What’s wrong with you, bitch?” Why won’t they just leave me alone? What did I ever do to them? I wish I could just blend in with everyone else. Why am I always their target? I wish I could just disappear…
“I know it’s difficult, son, but you need to let her go. She wouldn’t want you to stop living. Besides, she’s not truly gone from our lives.” My father laid a reassuring hand on my back, rubbing it soothingly. “She’ll always be in your heart.”
Fuck him. What did he know? I’m so FUCKING ANGRY! I’d punch a hole in the wall but then I’d just get in trouble. I need to get out of here! I brushed his hand away furiously and stormed out of our apartment.
“C’mon, pussy. Fight like a man!” Why won’t they lave me alone? What did I ever do to them? I could feel anger welling up inside me. My mom died only a few years ago, and I never dealt with it. I could feel it rising up, starting to take over my mind. “What’s wrong with you, bitch?” They want me to fight? THEY WANT A FIGHT? I’LL GIVE THEM ONE!
The next fist aimed at my face instead met the open palm of my hand. “What the-?” He had no time to finish as I kicked him in the stomach. He fell back as his two buddies stepped away from me, hands raised before them. What a bunch of fucking cowards. As soon as they see the least sign of resistance from their victims, they turn tail and flee. The three of them together would have no problem overcoming me, but apparently they weren’t smart enough to see that.
The leader still hadn’t picked himself up and gotten away yet. Looking into his eyes, all I saw was fear; I ignored the own fire in my eyes reflected through his as I bent down to pull him up by the neck of his shirt. The rage had taken over, and adrenaline was pumping through my system.
“You wanted a fight, Kenny? Here it is.”
I looked into the hospital room. There were so many tubes and wires and…how could there be so many? My mother lay motionless on the bed; the reclining portion had been raised to put her in a near-sitting position, a mockery of the life that still barely clung to her fragile form. This was the first time I had come here since she was moved into the intensive care unit a couple weeks ago. I took a few hesitant steps into the room before my fear took over and I ran.
I turned the corner at the end of the hallway and ran straight into my dad, falling to the ground in a daze; he, of course, didn’t budge.
“Watch where you’re going there, bud,” he smiled down at me. How could he be in a good? Mom has been in the hospital for three months and she’s not getting better. Doesn’t he care about her at all? “Did you see your mother?”
“I…I…” Tears started to stream down my face as the realization that I might lose one of my parents hit me. Dad must have noticed because he pulled me aside and sat down in a nearby chair, setting me on his lap.
“I know it’s difficult, Josiah. But she needs us there for her, spiritually, if nothing else.” He hugged me tightly. “Come on, I’ll go with you, it will be easier.”
“Can we wait, Dad? I can’t handle it yet…” I trailed off.
He paused for a moment, and then nodded. “OK, let’s go for a drive, maybe it will help clear both our heads.”
It did help, a little bit. We were gone about two hours, before deciding to try again. We went back to the floor where my mother’s room was, and began walking down the hall. The door to her room was closed, now, which was unusual. Even more unusual was the doctor waiting for us in front of it. The grim look on his face said more than the words that left his mouth.
“Mr. Langston, this is a very serious matter.” Principal Smith stated. “Fighting will not be tolerated on school grounds. Let alone the fact that Mr. Jones may have sustained some serious injuries.” I hated when he called us by our last names. But I guess it was only ‘proper’ for him to do so, and he was always one to do things properly.
“I know, sir, and I’m very sorry. I just…lost control. That’s all I can say,” I said, eyes downcast. I noticed several ring-shaped stains on his desk; apparently coasters aren’t proper.
“That is not quite acceptable, Mr. Langston.” he replied severely. “Now, you’ve had a very clean record up until this point, so I’m not going to expel you.” That caused me to look up sharply. Expel me? Just for giving that punk what he deserved? He can torment me for three years and get away with it, but there’s no payback allowed for me? “However, we must do something. Therefore you will have a week of out-of-school suspension, and I want you to seek some professional help. From what I hear from onlookers, I believe you did lose control and that this was not an intentional act. At least talk to the guidance counselors, if nothing else. That’s what they’re there for, after all.”
I nodded my head solemnly. Great. I was in for shit now.
“She passed away an hour ago. It was painless, she went in her sleep.” …flash… “C’mon, bitch! Fight like a man!” …flash…“…Expel you…” …flash… I’ll show them a fight! …flash… “We have to be strong, son.” …flash… “…Expel you…” “Can it wait, Dad?” “She passed away…” “Mr. Langston…” He was always proper. “What’s wrong with you?” I’ll show them a fight! “She passed away…Mr. Langston, expel you…C’mon bitch…Strong, son…” Fight them! The hatred welled up…”Not acceptable…Passed away…”
I bolted upright…or at least tried to. Something pressed down on my chest, keeping me lying on my back. I couldn’t see anything, and my mind was in total shock. What had happened to me? Suddenly, the pain hit me. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. All that existed was the pain, the most intense, excruciating, agonizing pain I’d ever felt. Words cannot even BEGIN to describe what I was feeling. I couldn’t even cry out. I tried to curl into a fetal position, but whatever was keeping me from sitting up also kept me from changing positions. The pain began to intensify, blocking out everything else, and I passed out back out.
I awoke again. This time I had not been plagued by any dreams. Just…darkness. Empty and black. The pain returned with consciousness, but it was nowhere near as horrible as before. This time, I was able to at least think and try to get an idea of my surroundings. I heard nothing except the sound of my own breathing, sounding louder than it ever had before, as if someone were breathing into my ear. I tried to open my eyes and instantly regretted it. In that brief glimpse of my surroundings I saw almost nothing other than a light overhead, nearly blinding me with its intensity. Jesus, what was that, a 1,000-watt bulb?
“He’s awake again, sir. He seems to be in control this time.” A voice nearby shouted. Why was he screaming?
“Good, good. Please, Johnson, lower your voice. He is not in control of himself yet; to him, it probably sounded as though you were speaking through a megaphone, if not worse.” came a familiar voice. He spoke at a normal volume.
“Sorry, sir.” the first shouted again, and I winced. “Oops. Sorry, sir. What are we going to do with him now?” At least he wasn’t shouting this time. What was going on here? Do with who? With me?
“You will do nothing, Johnson. In fact, why don’t you go and see to those…other…tasks I assigned you?” Why did that second voice sound so familiar?
“Yes, sir, I’ll get right on it.” I heard footsteps crash like thunder as the owner of the first voice apparently left the…wherever we were.
“Wha-” my voice came out as a croak. “What’s going on?” I knew what I said had to be barely audible, yet it sounded perfectly loud to me. My memory of the past day or so was completely fuzzy.
“Relax, relax, son.” I heard his footsteps, just as loud as the other man, pound their way near me. “You’ve undergone quite an ordeal these past few weeks.” Past few weeks? What the hell? I was just at Storm Nation last night…and my memory stopped there. “I’m going to turn off this light. When I tell you, you may open your eyes. Don’t do so before, or it may blind you.” How did he know that?
After a few moments, he gave me permission, and I slowly cracked open the lid of one eye. It was not nearly so bad; the room seemed to be a bit dark, but still more than light enough to see. I opened both eyes fully, and finally took a look at my surroundings.
I was in what looked like, by all appearances, a hospital room. I could only turn my neck from side to side; whatever had kept me down earlier was still there. There was a door on my left at the far end of the room, but no windows. The only light was the one overhead, which had been turned off. Wait a minute – there were no light sources yet I could see perfectly well. It was only slightly dark in the room, like an hour or two before dusk. To my right stood an older man, probably in his forties or fifties. He looked vaguely familiar.
“I imagine you have quite a few questions. I can give you answers to most, if not all of them, and the rest can be answered by my…colleagues.” Why did he pause? “For now, your mind and body still need rest, and time to acclimate themselves. I know you wish to have the answers now, but you are not quite ready yet. Rest now, young one. Everything will be made clear soon enough.”
I fought to remain awake, to try to force out the questions jumbled in my mind, but it was as if my body did not want to listen. I felt my eyelids begin to droop and soon, unconsciousness took hold of me again.
The door opened, and the guard posted outside saluted as Geoff Batson stepped through it. Nodding to the lieutenant, he turned and walked down the hallway. The musical tone of his cell phone pierced the otherwise silent corridor. Reaching into his pocket and withdrawing the device, he quickened his pace.
“This is Batson.” He listened intently to the other voice. “Yes, I’m sorry about that. They were a mess when we found them. The vampire that got them must have been having a bad day, they were ripped to shreds.” He had to watch his words; the cleanup crew had already gotten hell from his superiors, and they didn’t even know the real story. “Will do. Thanks for the update.”
Sighing, he turned down a few more corridors as he dialed, making a call to another location. “Yeah, this is Geoff. He’s woken up a few times now. We’re getting ready to prepare him. Is everything ready on your end?” He stopped in front of an unmarked door, indistinguishable from every other unmarked door he had just passed. “OK. Continue as planned, and wait for my orders.”
He knocked three times in quick succession and opened the door. The interior was lit only by the glow from a number of computer monitors, creating a large array at the far end of the room. A single figure sat hunched over a keyboard, typing furiously, not pausing to acknowledge Geoff’s entrance. He wondered if the operator even noticed that he had entered.
“Drew. You paged me?” Geoff asked. There was no response. “DREW! Quit playing your goddamned computer games and answer me.”
Drew raised his head slowly. “I’ll thank you not to shout at me, old man. And this is not a computer game, as you very well know. I’m working on a new program to run the autodrones at a more efficient surveillance level. It’ll cut power and maintenance costs in half and allow us to run them at three times their current capacity. So I’ll thank you to allow me to finish what I’m doing.” He turned back to the display in front of him and resumed typing.
“Listen, you called me here. Then you make me wait. What the hell do you want?” Anger started creeping into his voice. He visibly stamped it down; despite being less than a third of his own age, this kid had more authority over Geoff than he himself had over his lowest underlings.
Sighing, Drew turned from his computer again. His tone was almost…contemptible. “We had a breach last night. That’s the third time since you brought him here. I don’t know how, but they know you have him.” There was no need to mention who ‘he’ was. “I’m suggesting a level four lockdown until you get his shit straightened out.”
“A level four- That’s preposterous!” Geoff spluttered. “That’s going to delay everything else we’re working on! We need communication with the other Centers, and besides, we have to be open to our suppliers.”
“Look, I don’t want to argue on this. So far, we’ve been lucky. They haven’t breached interior yet, and I will not allow them to do so. You know far well how important this Center is, let alone your little plaything.” Drew replied. “If it inconveniences you, fuck it. It’s called ‘life’ old man. Sometimes it isn’t fair.”
Fury darkened Geoff’s features. This incorrigible brat was going to cause him more trouble than he was worth! Not only was he a cocky young upstart, but he was one of the select few Hunters that also happened to be of the same nature as those they Hunted. “Now, listen here! I will not allow everything else to go awry because you are paranoid! One or two of them have slipped past perimeter defense in the past, and it was nothing we couldn’t handle.” Drew frowned. “Alright, if it will make you feel better, I’ll have some of my personal guards stationed to assist with the regulars. If one of them makes it in again and manages to get back out, we’ll go level four. But trust me, we’ll capture or kill them if they try it again. OK?”
Drew turned back to the monitor array. Each screen displayed a live feed from a security camera somewhere on the site. Geoff could never comprehend how anyone could keep track of all of them – there had to be close to fifty – and still maintain the computer systems, servers, and security drones. Then again, this boy was not human…Pausing to reflect on that though, Geoff realized that he didn’t actually know how old Drew was. He appeared to be about seventeen, but that would have been his age at his time of crossing. He might be older than himself, for all Geoff knew.
“Fine. We’ll try it your way. But if anything – ANYTHING! – goes wrong, we’re going level four. And I’ll lay the blame at your feet. We can find someone to replace you regarding him if we need to.” Drew said, not bothering to turn back around.
“Good. We’ll do just fine with it. Is that all?” Geoff barely waited for the answering nod before he turned and headed back out. Pausing at the doorway, he looked back over his shoulder. “By the way, I want you to come talk to him sometime soon, you might be able to help turn his favor.”
“Fine.” As it clicked shut, Drew glanced back over his shoulder. “Senile old man…” he muttered, and returned to his work.
I awoke again, straight from sleep to consciousness. Each time, there was no feel of sleepiness or haziness like when you wake from a normal sleep; one moment I was out like a light, the next I was fully aware. I was now able to move freely – apparently whatever had held me before had been removed. The room was empty of other people, and the lights were still off, but yet I could still see, in that vague half-light way. The pain from before was almost non-existent, and questions began flooding my mind. Why had I been tied down? Why was I here? Hell, where the hell was I? What had happened to me?
The torrent continued, and I clutched my head in agony. The thoughts came unbidden, now; I couldn’t stop them even had I tried. I relived the night at the club, the barfly offering me drinks, the hot guys dancing with each other, leaving the club, and the young boy playing in the street. But as my thoughts progressed past that, they began to become fuzzy. By the time I reached the alley, everything was blank. What the hell happened to me?
I was jarred from my thoughts by the door opening. The old man from the other night, again dressed in a dark business suit, stepped into the room, closing the door and locking it behind him. “Hello again, young one.” he said, in what was intended to be a jovial tone. For some reason, however, I knew it was an act. “My name is-”
“Your name is Geoff Batson.” How did I know that? “How…?”
A look of extreme startlement crossed his face, which he quickly covered with a false smile. “How did you know? Yes…well, let’s see if we can’t answer that question, and some of the others you probably have.” I started to speak. “Please, the time to ask will come. First, however, let me ask you this: how much do you remember from that night?”
He didn’t need to say which night; I knew he meant the night I went to Storm Nation. I proceeded to tell him all that I could remember, up until I reached the alley. Again, everything seemed to just…end. I tried to press myself harder to bring back the memories, but this served only to bring the lingering pain I had been feeling from a low dull buzz to a higher level. Wincing, I let the topic drop from my mind, for now.
“Yes, I figured this might happen. The mind often has trouble dealing with traumatic occurrences consciously.” He paused, reaching into the breast pocket of his shirt. “Tell me, does this help jog your memory at all?” Stretching his arm out in front of me, he opened his hand. What it contained brought everything flooding back.
It almost looked fake, like a set of dentures, yet somehow I knew they were real, even the fangs, which seemed to glisten. The set of teeth, resting casually in Geoff’s palm, seemed to grin at me, as my mind was suddenly overcome with images. I followed the kid into the alley; he attacked me. He had teeth just like those Geoff held; a vampire’s teeth. I had been bitten, and Geoff had saved me. I had been bitten, and I died.
“Yes.” Geoff’s voice sounded hollow. “You were bitten by a vampire, Josiah. And you did not die; instead, you have become one yourself.”