Authors: Ashlei D. Hawley
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
I push a door open for him and lead the way toward the doctor’s work space. He has a private lab that’s been in use since the Grissom virus first swept the world. Previously, an entire team of intelligent men and women shared the space. Now, it’s devoted to Dr. Geisel’s copious amounts of files and carefully organized, ‘think zones.’ I made the mistake of walking through one at one point. He screamed at me for twenty minutes and then demanded of Seth that a new runner take my place. It didn’t happen, but he hasn’t liked me since.
“I mainly pick up things pertaining to the virus,” I answer belatedly. Thinking about Geisel and his weirdness is often distracting.
We pass a communal hall, where the few children we have play games or exercise in the large open space. Their laughter and noise heartens me. There are twelve kids under ten. Two of them are vampires, which is surprising. We aren’t a typically prolific species. I think somehow our genes have acknowledged the threat we’re currently under and have resolved to help with the repopulation that needs to take place. It may not be a good one, but it’s my theory.
“Such as?” Ramses asks. I stop thinking about the kids and focus on the conversation at hand. We turn left down a hallway, heading toward the communication center. We’ll pass that before we reach Dr. Geisel.
“Medications the humans gave each other is the most recent request. Biological materials was an early one. Not much of that now unless the Rippers happen upon a group of humans on the move. He wanted me to recover bodies of vampires that had been killed by the Rippers. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened in a while.”
We’ve reached the lab area. It has to be opened with a key card and then a door with access granted by guards who operate it on 24-hour rotation schedules. The guard currently on duty is Greg, and he smiles at me as he opens the second door. It whooshes closed behind us, and I know Ramses can already hear evidence of what else I’ve brought to Geisel.
“And Rippers,” he says flatly. “He’s asked you to bring him live samples?”
I nod and keep walking, not paying attention to the creatures in cages which line the far wall. “Dr. Geisel thinks he can harvest more accurate information from living samples,” I say as I push open another door. It reveals stairs leading downward. “Or something like that.”
Ramses shakes his head and precedes me down the staircase. “If I would have known what you were doing, the risks you were taking, I would have been back much sooner.”
“Guess I should have sent a telegram,” I mutter sarcastically. He tosses a glare behind his shoulder, catching my eyes with his burning blue gaze. “Messenger pigeon?” I suggest. He makes a sound of disgust, but I smile. He isn’t really angry with me, but he’s certainly angry with what I’ve been doing in his absence.
We don’t say anything else as we begin our descent into the doctor’s lab.
The staircase is shadowed. It’s supposed to be a deterrent to humans who might stumble into the lab. They know enough by now to not go blindly wandering around into darkness. The dark belongs to the Rippers.
Ramses and I walk confidently, not needing the light to see where we’re going. We also don’t fear the Rippers. We’d hear them if they were loose and causing havoc below. All I can hear is the whir of machinery that I identify as computer parts humming along, intent on the tasks they’ve been given by Dr. Geisel to perform. I also hear a single form shuffling around, and the creak of ropes on a body which makes the barest of sounds with its movement. Dr. Geisel is working on a patient.
We enter the room and stop moving. There are torches burning in alcoves on the walls. The contrast to the light given by the computer monitors that line one wall is disorienting. Dr. Geisel glowers at me. He doesn’t feel inclined to offer any other acknowledgement of our presence.
“Did Pharaoh bring you what you needed?” I ask him as I gesture for Ramses to sit in one of the three chairs on wheels. Why does Dr. Geisel need three chairs in an office he chases everyone else out of? I’ve never asked, but often wondered.
Ramses declines my offer. He instead chooses to stand near me with his arms crossed over his chest. Oh, well. Let him play at being the Hulk. Dr. Geisel won’t be intimidated no matter how big his muscles are.
The doctor grunts his affirmation of my question and I roll my eyes. “This is Ramses.” I offer the introduction out of centuries of politeness training. Seth takes things like that seriously. “He’s Pharaoh’s son, and he’s been working with some of the other groups. He wants to know if you have any information that could be contributed to the study of the Grissom virus.”
“Thank you, Sreya, but I can ask questions for myself.”
I hold up my hands, signifying I didn’t mean to step on his toes. Dr. Geisel looks at Ramses like he’s part of a project he’d be happy to toss in the incinerator, but the expression is shoved away hastily when he grasps what I’ve said about him being Seth’s son. Typically, it’s frowned upon if you’re an asshole to the boss’s kid. That’s true in human and vampire society.
Ramses wanders toward Dr. Geisel like he doesn’t have any interest in the vampire or his work. He flicks one casual gaze over the Ripper strapped to the table. The hairless creature has the look of what Frankenstein’s monster would have been if left to wither away before the reanimation process was enacted.
“So, what are you hoping to learn from this?” He tips his chin toward the prone form. Geisel might not notice, but I see Ramses seeking out information from the paper, tools, and measurements the doctor has lying around in his workspace.
“Same as any who are studying this particular disease,” Dr. Geisel responds. His tone is bored and standoffish, but Ramses doesn’t seem offended.
“I’ve never seen anyone doing this with live subjects,” Ramses comments. “It’s interesting to see one not trying to bite through my face.”
“Well, my current round of tests is dedicated to discovering what can be used to sedate them for extended periods of time. I’m hoping to assist the crew Pharaoh will be sending out to repair out communications towers by offering them a way to neutralize the threats without engaging in the messy and time-consuming process of fighting and killing them.”
I frown at that explanation. Dr. Geisel has known what methods to use to sedate Rippers for well over a year, that I know. I’ve seen him with subjects anaesthetized and studied for at least that amount of time.
“So, would you mind telling me what you’ve discovered about the virus so far?” Ramses asks. Dr. Geisel clears his throat. His pale blue eyes hop from Ramses, who never stops moving toward him, to me, to his prone patient, and then back to Ramses. The vampire is typically anti-social, but he seems downright nervous in Ramses’ presence.
“The Grissom virus is extremely complex,” Dr. Geisel begins as he runs a hand through his light blond hair. “No one here can keep up with my information. I don’t expect someone who isn’t a trained scientist to be able to grasp any of the concepts I’m dealing with here.”
“Please, try me,” Ramses offers, though it sounds like nothing of the sort. Even with the ‘please,’ it’s obviously a command.
Ramses is interrupted before he can interrogate the doctor further. Neither of us heard Seth come down the stairs. He’s a rare one among vampires and can sneak up on any of his own kind.
“Sreya, Ramses, I need you,” he informs us. Saying nothing else, he turns around and returns up the stairs.
Ramses and I exchange a furtive look. I catch Dr. Geisel’s relieved smile as he returns to observing his anesthetized patient. I sigh and tug on Ramses’ hand. Seth doesn’t like to be kept waiting for anything.
We join Seth in his office and stand like good little soldiers in front of his desk. I sensed the mood was serious when Seth took us out of Dr. Geisel’s workspace, so I address him formally.
“Pharaoh. You wanted to see us?”
He frowns at me. Instead of sitting at his desk as he usually does, he paces behind it.
“You’re back less than a day and you’re harassing my important staff members,” Seth directs at Ramses. “What purpose do you have with this string of questioning?”
“If you would have taken the time to listen to me earlier,” Ramses begins, but Seth cuts him off with a sharp gesture of one hand. He growls disgustedly.
“You’re talking about conspiracies and half-baked theories developed by people who have spent too much time mourning our loss of the shadows. I don’t have time for that, Ramses. Dr. Geisel hasn’t discovered anything of the sort, and he’s been studying the Grissom virus since its inception. Never in that time has he established a link between the disease and vampirism. It makes no sense, and I will not have you perpetuating that within our zone.”
“Father,” Ramses tries once more, but Seth slams his hands down on his desk. Neither of us jump, but the impact is felt.
“Enough!” Seth shouts. “We’re done with this. You will not bring it up again.” He breathes steadily for a moment, using the silence to dare us to object. When we don’t speak, he nods. “I have an important task for you two. It’s time to repair those towers. Ramses, while you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful. You know what needs to be done to fix them. Get it done. I’ve provided a map with your equipment.” He waves us off and sits down.
“But I thought Dr. Geisel was working on a sedation method so your human worker could slip through without a fight?” Ramses counters. He’s not ready to let go of the issue yet, and figures this is a way to get around Seth’s command to drop it.
“Why would I risk a human when I can send a vampire who knows the repair needs just as well?” Seth snaps.
I have to speak up. “Did you know that’s what Dr. Geisel was working on, Seth?”
Rubbing his hands around his neck, Seth mutters curses under his breath. “I swear, the two of you will drive me to drink or death. The doctor works on a variety of projects for me, and some of his own accord. I don’t police him too closely. I know he’s brilliant, and I know if the two of you keep pestering me about him, I’m going to send you out to establish a new safe zone. On your own.”
He glares at us. That might end the discussion for a normal person, but Ramses can’t let it go.
“You need to watch him carefully, Father. The men you command might not always be as loyal as you believe.”
He turns to leave after having the last word. Seth lets him go, knowing his son well enough to prevent catastrophe. If he’d engaged Ramses further, he would have had no choice but to punish us as he’s already threatened.
“Take care of him, Sreya,” he says to me as I turn to follow Ramses.
“All I can do is try.”
We head toward where Ramses is currently staying, in the guest wing. The doors don’t have locks, and every room has a sign-in sheet to the side of it, indicating who is in the room. Two piles of supplies have been placed on his bed. He doesn’t speak to me as he sorts through the first pile. Noting that a change of clothes is neatly folded beneath the map and collapsible tool kit, he begins stripping out of what he’s wearing.
My pulse trips a little as I watch him. A man that can affect me for centuries just by taking his shirt off. Yeah, I’m never letting this one go.
“Distracted?” Ramses asks, and with that single word, all the tension I’ve felt since our meeting with Seth evaporates into the air. I return his goofy smile and strip out of my own clothing. I watch his eyes go hot and dark and giggle.
“If I am, I’m not alone,” I tease.
“We might be out after the sun comes up,” he says, gesturing with a tip of his head to the two sleeping bags rolled tightly and placed together. “Maybe we can ease that distraction a bit.”
“You focus on the job, buddy,” I tell him as I wiggle into the tight black pants provided for me. A jacket of the same material zips up over my dark purple tank top. A military watch that will give us a warning alarm thirty minutes before sundown and also displays temperature, a small compass, and obviously the time is strapped to my wrist. I realize Ramses has donned identical gear and snort in amusement. Seth has a weird thing about clothing. He wants us all to look like bad ass soldiers with fangs when most of us are anything but. The only reason Ramses and I fit the part is because of Seth’s rigorous, centuries-spanning training.
“What?” Ramses asks. He looks like he thinks I disapprove of his outfit. Tugging on the form-fitting material of his shirt, he begins to look self-conscious.
“Don’t even,” I say as I pull him toward me and plant a quick, hard kiss on his mouth. “You look hot. I was just thinking your dad has some weird clothing fetish.”
Ramses smirks at me and shrugs as he shoulders the pack containing our sleeping bags, tools, and a few bags of blood substitute. It’s all we need to last tonight and the next if we have to stay inside for the day. I hope we’ll only need what we have.
“Let’s get going,” Ramses says. “We don’t want to be out there too close to daylight.”
He slides the map inside his close-fitting black jacket and pats the material outside where the paper sits. It’s time to go.