Authors: Jami Lynn Saunders
Barely over a month has passed since my first metamorphosis, yet it feels like a lifetime. My mind is aware of my crimes, and I try to stop hunting and killing innocent creatures, creatures that are just following their instincts for survival. But I can't; it's as if I've lost all self control. I crave revenge and the taste of blood. Things aren't what they seem. Bits and pieces of lies and truths were mixed together in my mind like the bits of colored glass in a kaleidoscope, but now I've cut through the veil of illusion. I see the truth of many things.
I know that Aiden's death released something within me, something that took my sanity. I try to remember who I am, or who I was, but I can't find my way back to my human side. I'm not feral either, I'm far worseâI'm rabid. Memories locked within my cells since I was a child have resurfaced. One thing I know is that Alexander Hunter made a mistake in not killing my sister and me when we were born. But he didn't know we were both werecats, didn't understand that the suppressive medicine he was giving us, mine for my condition, hers for her asthma, was creating an abomination.
The truth is that my sister and I were never meant to live. Like was meant to breed like. Ferals breed ferals, werecats breed werecats, and humans breed humans. My sister and I are genetic hybrids, abominations. The medicines we received didn't actually contain our illnesses. They kept us alive long enough to allow our mutated cells to grow, allowing the beast within to develop and mutate into a new breed of monster, ten times more powerful than werecat and feral combinedâand ten times as dangerous.
It was my fear and anger the night I was attacked in the alley that released my darker side for the first time. I know why Abby and I were always such scared little girlsâthe beast within fed our fears, hoping we'd eventually snap, hoping we'd give in to those fears and let the beast out of its physical and mental cage, even as it whispered that it was coming to protect us.
Still, I don't understand why my medicine stopped working. Maybe I outgrew it, but that doesn't explain Abby's change. I knew it was coming, I could smell it on her. Maybe Dr. Tanner's ionized inhaler wasn't as strong as Abby's old one, which would explain her heavy bouts of asthma since Athens. Her asthma was her beast striking at her lungs, trying to break through, until it finally did, escaping to the outside world to eat at Abby's mind until she, too, becomes rabid. She'll suffer the same fate as me, mad beyond belief while her mind sits behind a veil, watching through sane eyes as the horror unfolds.
AbbyâI barely remember her now. Only when I'm allowed a brief moment to summon up a snapshot of sanity and remember these thoughts do I recall my sister, my best friend. Or Aiden, the love of my life, dead now. I cry when I remember him, knowing I'll never kiss him again.
The veil begins to close. It's time to hunt and feed on the reptilian, gator-like creatures that took him from me. That was three days ago, and they're nearly all dead. The ones remaining are hiding in the swamps. They know I'm coming for them.
Sometimes I see strange visions of my mother, though I don't remember her. Maybe she's still alive, or maybe she's a ghost come to save me from myself. But when I see her face in the mists, another ghost chases her away. Keenan. He demands retribution. He whispers evil thoughts to me. He tells me I'll have no resolution until I kill everything connected to the death of my true loveâincluding the doctor.
Jack Tanner, the man with false hopes of finding a feral cure within the cells of my kind. I think he was wrong, but if he's not, he'll be dead before he can prove his theory. My rabid side will kill him before he gets the chance. He's as responsible for Aiden's death as anyone. You're next Doctor Tanner, and I'm coming for you soon.
It was just past midnight, and Abby, Salvatore, and Dr. Tanner were sitting together at a nurse's station on the top floor of the hospital. Abby was in a wheelchair, her legs elevated, trying to rest, but there would be no rest for any of them. Screams of death had punctuated the night as Pippa stalked and killed her prey, and each scream reminded them what would happen if she chose to attack them when she was finished with the reptile creatures.
“Maybe I should try to find her,” Salvatore said, without much conviction.
“No offense, but you're no match for her,” Dr. Tanner said. “She's rabid. Besides, Abby needs you here. She's in no shape to be worrying about you.”
“It's a result of her first metamorphosis,” Salvatore said. “Whenever a werecat or hyena morphs the first time, it's beyond physically and mentally exhausting. I assume it's the same with a hybrid.”
“Why do you refer to werecats and hyenas as if they're different breeds?” Dr. Tanner asked.
“Hyenas have always been considered the lowly scum of the werecat race. Most other werecats consider us untrustworthy and shun us. Given the hatred humans have for us, you might think all werecats would stick together. But we don't.”
“We need to figure out how to protect ourselves against those creatures and against Pippa,” Dr. Tanner said. “Mostly against Pippa, since we may not need to worry about the creatures by the time she's done with them. I need a weapon. I've tried Excalibur and the fire saw, but neither will work for me.”
“The weapons aren't tuned to your DNA,” Abby said, her voice gruff. “Tomorrow, I'll reset Aiden's fire saw for you.”
They were silent then, but each knew what the other was thinking. If Pippa attacked, she could be slain by the fire saw.
“I won't let Pippa be killed,” Abby said. “And I won't leave her behind.”
“No one said we were leaving her, Abby,” Dr. Tanner said. “We'll wait it out. But we need to make sure we can protect ourselves. And there's one more thing we have to do. We have to bury Aiden.”
“I'll help,” Salvatore said. “What do you want me to do?”
Dr. Tanner stood up. “We have to disinfect his body tonight, to prevent any infection from spreading. Tomorrow, we'll bury him.”
Dr. Tanner picked up his medical bag, and Salvatore followed him into the room where Aiden's body lay. Abby wheeled herself in behind them. The doctor removed a bottle of a clear solution from his bag and cleansed Aiden's cold body with it. The liquid foamed when it touched his wounds. When he was finished, Dr. Tanner pulled the sheet back over Aiden's head, and they left the room and returned to the nurse's station.
They were quiet again, waiting for the next death scream, until Salvatore broke the silence. “We should rethink how we're going to get out of this place,” he said. “There must be a way to get one of those vehicles running.”
“I could take the solar cells from the fire saw and convert one of the vehicles to solar power,” Abby said, renewed excitement in her voice.
“That's a good idea,” Tanner said.
Abby frowned again. “But then you wouldn't have the fire saw for a weapon, doctor.”
“A way out of here is more important than a weapon for me. Salvatore and I can check out the vehicles tomorrow morning.”
Abby's smile returned. “Oh, I think we still may be able to come up with a weapon for you. Where's Excalibur?”
Dr. Tanner pointed to a metal table behind the desk of the nurse's station. The black-handled weapon was lying there. “But you'll need that weapon for yourself,” he said.
“I'm my own weapon now, Dr. Tanner.” Abby got up from the wheelchair and took the weapon in hand. She twisted the bottom of the handle, and the end cap sprang loose, revealing a small compartment within the shaft. She held an open palm under it and shook it as if she were emptying some invisible contents.
“I'm emptying the DNA. A few strands of my hair. I discovered its secret when I catalogued it at the Hunter Library. Alexander could never get it to work. I often wondered why the man he bought it from never told him how to use it. Alex probably just killed the man and took it without ever finding out how it worked. I studied it until I figured it out. It's actually pretty simple.” She looked at the doctor. “I'll need some scissors.”
He retrieved a pair from his bag and handed them to her.
“I need you, too, doc. Bend your head toward me.”
He did, and she cut a few strands of his hair. She dropped them into Excalibur's handle and put the cap back on. Then she handed the weapon to the doctor. “Extend it.”
The doctor flicked Excalibur the way he'd seen Abby do it. The silver metal stem shot out and then lit up with blue sparks. He flicked it back, and the cylindrical blade retracted. He gave Abby a big grin. “This will definitely do.”
“I used the same technology to build the fire saw.”
“You're welcome, Dr. Tanner.”
“There's one more thing,” the doctor said. “I'd like you both to call me Jack. After all we've been through together, I'd like to drop the formality.”
Abby was about to respond when the color drained from her face, and she looked as if she might faint. Salvatore helped her back to the wheelchair.”
“Let's try to get a few hours of sleep,” the doctor said. “I'll take first watch.”
Salvatore, who had fallen asleep next to Abby, was the first to be awakened by the moans and the bright lights shimmering in the hallway. He rose from the hospital bed and went to the doorway to look out. The light was emanating from the room in which they had left Aiden's body. Jack Tanner appeared from another room, and he and Salvatore went to investigate. Inside the room, Aiden was sitting up, clenching his hand. His sun ring was shooting light into every corner of the room.
Jack and Salvatore froze. Aiden opened his eyes and looked at them. He opened his mouth and tried to speak, rasped out something barely intelligible.
“I think he's asking for water,” Jack said.
Salvatore turned away to get some and saw Abby standing there, leaning on a cane. “Is he alive?” she whispered.
Jack didn't yet have an answer.
Salvatore returned with a can of water and joined Jack and Abby inside the room. Aiden closed his eyes and whispered something. This time they all heard what he said.
Aiden's face was changing. His features morphed from werecat to something that might have been a madman's drawing of an ancient dragon. His human features returned, and he fell back against the cot.
Jack went to him and checked his pulse. “He's cold but obviously alive.”
Jack lifted Aiden's head, and Salvatore brought the can of water to his lips. Aiden sipped slowly, struggling to swallow. After a few sips, the doctor lowered his head back down.
“It has to be the bite from these reptile creatures,” Salvatore whispered.
“More likely a result from the bite and the blood transfusion combined,” Jack said. “He may be the only one of his kind.”
“His body must have gone into some sort of quick hibernation,” Abby said. “He didn't die.”
She put her hand on Aiden's arm, the one that had lost its hand. “He feels as if he's coldblooded now, like a reptile.”
She felt a vibration in Aiden's arm and took her hand away. “Something's happening,” she said.
As they watched, the arm began to elongate.
“His hand is regenerating,” the doctor said. “Like a lizard!”
Aiden moaned softly and fell back into a deep sleep. As he slept, his friends kept watch over him. The screams outside had stopped.
The next morning, over a breakfast of food left over from their river trip, the three travelers made their plans. The doctor would stay with Aiden while Salvatore and Abby searched for a usable vehicle.
Outside, the morning sun was bright as Abby and Salvatore checked the vehicles parked in front of the main entrance to the hospital building. Abby insisted they expand their search, and they finally settled on a black armored vehicle sitting in front of a bank building a block from the hospital.
“This is what we want,” Abby said. “It's heavily plated and has solid tires. We won't have to worry about flats.”
Salvatore looked around nervously. “Too bad it isn't closer to the hospital.”
Abby nodded. “We need to move it. I don't want to be out in the open like this while I'm working. Let's morph and see if we can push it.”
They morphed into their werecat bodies and positioned themselves behind the vehicle. Abby watched Salvatore's feline muscles bulge and ripple under his hyena fur even as she felt her own animal strength surge with the effort. Minutes later, the vehicle was sitting in front of the hospital, under the awning in front of the main door.
While Abby and Salvatore worked on the vehicle, Jack scoured the hospital for medical supplies and non-perishable food. On the second day he found a hidden door in the floor of the basement, which led to a locked vault. It was a fallout shelter, fully stocked. It also had fresh clothes and a working shower.
Jack made a second discovery, but it was one he never told the others about. In a small courtyard off what had once been the hospital cafeteria he came across a shallow pit filled with a dozen skeletons. Many of the bones, including skulls, showed signs of violence, and some looked as if the meat had been scraped from them. Jack didn't want to think about the implications of his discovery, but it was obvious that some survivors of the Fallout had resorted to cannibalism.
Aiden seemed to be recovering and gaining strength, and his hand continued to grow. Soon there were five little stubs on the end of the greenish stump. He pretended not to notice, but they saw the fear in his eyes whenever he gazed at his newly forming fingers.
Aiden also experienced periods of convulsing and morphing. They all knew there was a battle going on within his body between the altered DNA of his werecat side and the reptilian creature.
As Aiden rested, Salvatore and Abby worked on the armored car with barely a break. It took Abby three days to get the ignition to turn over, and by then, Pippa's scent had grown weaker. She was on the move. It was time for them to do likewise.
A cold, hard rain began to fall early on the morning of their departure. They took their final showers and put on clean clothes, and then they loaded the supplies from the fallout shelter. Their final task was to put Aiden's gurney into the rear of their new home on wheels. The rain splashed down on Aiden's lifeless face as Jack rolled him up the ramp. Jack looked at the sullen skies and wondered what he had gotten himself into.