Winter's Nights: Eternity

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Day Two

Dr. Alixi Athens, the man that Merry had encountered earlier that evening, had finished his paperwork and left the police station. He walked to the back door of the van, took a deep breath to calm his rampant excitement, then opened the door.

The vampire cringed as the morning’s first rays fell onto the van floor. Athens looked up at the subdued form of the vampire. There was something strangely familiar about her and for a moment he felt sorry for her, sick and about to lose her freedom forever. Even though she was a killer, for a minute, it didn’t seem right.

Merry was squinting, trying to focus her damaged eyes on the figure in front of her. Athens stared back, unafraid. He knew that the garlic had made it impossible for the vampire to hypnotize him.

She was old. He’d known that from the moment that she'd allowed the police officer to put her in the cruiser. The fact that she was here, now, proved that she was so bound to the vampire race that she would give her life to protect it. But there was something else. Something that shocked Athens and made him certain that she was hundreds of years older than the other vampires that the project team had caught in the past: she was human.

Athens ran the thought around his mind as he stared at her and he became more and more certain. All vampires were mostly physically human, but this one was mentally human as well. She had gone out of her way to save an innocent woman’s life. She was old enough, wise enough, to understand something that most young vampires hadn’t realized yet and his team hadn’t dreamed of: vampires were humans; not better, not worse, just humans.

Athens blinked. He handed a black cloth hood to one of the younger men and motioned for both of them to get into the van. They obeyed without question. Merry didn't resist as they pulled the hood over her head.

“Good job,” he said as he glanced at the vampire once more before he shut the door.

The men mumbled their thanks as the door slammed. Athens climbed into the front passenger seat and the van left the police station.

The young man sitting to Merry's right had greasy black hair and thick rimmed glasses. His name was Jamie, which he hated, since most people considered it a girl's name, so he always introduced himself as “J.J.”. He was muscular but wiry, and the steroids he used to get himself into shape left his face dotted with acne. He picked at his cheek self-consciously as he tried not to stare at the vampire, still trying to wrap his head around what Dr. Athens had told them earlier, “Brace yourself boys, this is no ordinary criminal. She's a vampire. A real, honest to goodness, fanged monster. Forget anything you think you know from Hollywood and just remember this: if you have to pull the trigger, you'd better not miss.”

Jamie touched the gun holstered on his hip nervously. He had missed with his shot. Luckily both Dr. Athens and the man with the shaved head sitting across the van from him had better aim.

Jamie had survived high school gym class by turning to steroids and had scraped up decent enough grades in the rest of his classes to get accepted into community college. The college party scene had gotten the better of him though, and he'd been kicked out after a brawl at a frat house. Not wanting to move back in with his mother and step-father, Jamie started working two jobs in order to pay for both rent and the steroids that he couldn't imagine his body without. Landing this high-paying night security job after being fired from a pizza delivery position had enabled him to quit his second job and actually catch up on sleep for the first time in a long time. He was even considering giving college a try again, although by correspondence this time. He didn't want the temptations of beer and babes to cost him this job, especially now that he knew the truth about the project.

Scenes from his favorite vampire-themed TV series ran through his head: gorgeous women and muscular men fighting with and against each other in battles between vampires and hunters. Now that there was a real vampire sitting next to him, he wondered what other myths and legends might be true. Could there be werewolves? Mermaids? His mind flickered to a fantasy about swimming in the tropics and coming across a group of mermaids searching for a man to take advantage of. The fantasy quickly changed to an encounter with this beautiful vampire in a dark alley. He wondered if she would try to lure him with words or simply overpower him. He imagined the feel of her lips on his neck and wondered if it would hurt when she bit him or if he'd enjoy it.

The neo-Nazi skinhead to Merry's left could hardly believe his good luck. Not only was his wallet bulging with the $1000 cash Athens had given him for coming in on his night off, but he was sitting next to the hottest woman he'd ever laid eyes on, and she was in chains. The night had turned out better than any sado-masochistic bondism fantasy he'd ever imagined in his darkest dreams, and he was sure that the climax was yet to come.

He had only applied for the job with the intention of staying until the first pay cheque, but since he got to carry a gun and beat up any homeless people that tried to enter the parking lot, he stuck around. Besides, the size of the pay cheques supplied him with more drugs and alcohol than he could get dealing drugs, without the risk of getting stabbed during a deal gone bad. To his skinhead “friends”, with whom he spent his days off getting drunk and high and watching old news reels of Hitler, this was just more proof of why he had the nickname “Lucky”.

Lucky hadn't had any trouble hitting his target, unlike the geek sitting across from him. He and his “friends” often spent hours firing an assortment of semi-automatic and automatic weapons in preparation for the “race war” they were sure was imminent. He wondered whether the steroid-using wimp had ever even been to a gun range.

Lucky had grown up a victim of child abuse and bullying, all of which ended when he dropped out of school and ran away from home to live on a ranch owned by a charismatic, mid-thirties, neo-Nazi “minister”. Surrounded by other impressionable, disillusioned youths, Lucky shaved his head and let his new father-figure tattoo his body with swastikas and fill his mind with propaganda. He had adopted the skinhead “uniform” of black and red clothing and steel-toed boots, and enjoyed spending his time exacting revenge on everyone that the “minister” assured him was responsible for his problems.

The “minister” and a handful of his recruits, including Lucky, had ended up in jail for fire-bombing a Jewish temple. His time behind bars had only left Lucky angrier at “the system” than he'd been before, but part of his parole agreement had been to find “gainful employment”, which he now had. His parole officer looked the other way regarding his “extra-curricular” activities as long as he didn't miss a night of work, which was only the icing on the cake for Lucky when it came to this job.

Lucky snuck a glance at the vampire and wished he could remove the hood. He wanted to see her light, golden skin and bronze hair again.

His eyes flickered to the geek across from him and he frowned as he saw that the greasy-haired man was also studying the vampire. He had never met his off-shift counterpart, and he was glad. If he'd been forced to spend too much time with this wimp, he'd probably be back in jail for beating the snot out of him.

Lucky cracked his knuckles, drawing the geek's attention away from the vampire. The other man looked him in the eyes, clearly intimidated, then tried to force a smile. Lucky smiled back wickedly, his eyes full of mischief. The van jostled over a bump, breaking the stare, and they both turned their eyes back to the floor.

Athens continued to turn his strange revelation over in his mind: vampires were human. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? It was so obvious. Vampires weren’t killers by nature, but by necessity, just like humans. If they didn’t need to kill, they wouldn’t. But only the older vampires saw it. That was why the vampire had saved the woman. She obviously wasn’t hungry, since she killed but did not bite the man, so she hadn’t intended to do anything but save the woman and leave. Fortunately for the team, the police had arrived before she could disappear and she had continued her noble act until it was already too late for her.

Athens was proud of himself, and excited. He could hardly wait to tell the other project scientists.

The van drove into the secured underground parking lot, the only way in or out of the facilities, and backed into the cargo elevator. At the third floor, the elevator stopped and Athens hopped out and opened the specially designed doors. He stepped up through them and directed the driver to back the van up into the opening. When the van was in position, Athens partially closed the doors and locked them into place, sealing off any possible escape, unless the vampire tore the van apart, but that was what his gun was for.

The tranquilizer gun was a semi-automatic that fired the small darts from a clip of 15. The tranquilizer itself was specially designed for use on vampires. Theoretically, if struck in the heart, the vampire would be subdued in seconds. Further from the heart took more time and more darts took less.

The project team had never actually tested the tranquilizer on a vampire, which worried them. If Athens was forced to use the gun, he had no idea what would happen to the vampire. The tranquilizer might work perfectly, but it might have no effect, or it could kill the vampire instantly.

Athens drew his gun, released the safety, and cautiously opened the van doors. The two young men sprang into action. Just like in practice, they carefully released the ankle chain from where it was secured to the van floor, then, taking firm hold of the vampire’s arms, they released the wrist chain from where it was secured. Merry sat very still and allowed them to lift her to her feet. They walked her to the edge of the van. Athens kept his gun trained on the vampire’s chest, but before he even knew what was happening he was already too late.

Merry snapped the wrist chain as she swung her fists upwards on both sides, catching both men under their chins, breaking their necks and sending them flying back into the van. She leapt upwards off the edge of the van, kicking her legs out sideways to break the ankle chain. She flew over Athens’ head, which she hit with her hand, knocking him face first onto the ground. She landed on her feet and ripped the hood off. She took in the room in a glance, her dark eyes glistening mischievously and flashing red with excitement.

It was a small, square room, two stories high, and entirely white. The walls were covered with puck-board, the same strong, durable plastic that is used in hockey arenas. There was a heavy, secured door on one of the walls adjacent to the elevator doors and a large, barred window high up on the other. In the center of the ceiling was a venting fan, also covered with heavy, steel bars.

Merry ran sideways at the wall with the window. She leapt up and kicked off the wall, propelling herself up and across the room to the opposite wall. She kicked off that wall as well, launching herself up to the center of the ceiling. She caught hold of one of the bars guarding the fan and swung herself forward onto the bars in front of the window. She struck them so hard that the glass behind them shattered, sending sharp shards flying into the observation room behind it and scattering the room’s occupants.

Merry grinned at the frightened people behind the bars and extended her fangs. Her eyes shone red as she gripped the bars and began to bend them apart.

Athens shook his head as he slowly picked himself up off the floor. He had hit his head, but had managed to hold on to the gun. He stood up and leaned against the wall to steady himself. He spotted the vampire bending the 2-inch diameter steel bars with ease and took aim with his gun.

His first shot went wide, but to his relief the dart burrowed into the wall. If it had struck any of the people in the observation room, it would have killed them. Athens aimed again as the vampire began to slide sideways between the bars into the observation room and his next three shots hit their target, striking the vampire in the back.

Merry cried out in pain as the sharp darts tore into her. She released the bars and fell from the window to the floor. She landed face down, winded. Her heart began to race and she started to lose control of her muscles. Merry resisted fiercely, rolling over and rearing up. She collapsed back down as she lost the ability to control the lower half of her body. The vampire cried out again as the darts were driven further into her flesh. Then, without warning, Merry’s body went limp as her tired heart stopped beating.

Athens made his way slowly towards the limp form of the vampire. He kept the gun aimed at her chest, prepared to fire again if she moved.

Merry’s heart beat again and she took a gulp of air. She was exhausted and her body wasn’t responding to her orders to get up. She remained still and kept her eyes closed.

The secured door opened and Athens looked over to see his boss/ex-girlfriend, Dr. Amy Hunt, hurry into the room. She made a beeline for him and the vampire. He was about to tell her to stay back when he felt a sharp pain in his ankle. He looked down just in time to watch the room flip as the vampire upended him. His head hit the floor and he saw stars.

Hunt rushed to Athens’ side. She was relieved to see that he was breathing fine and his pulse was easy to find. She picked up his gun and looked over at the vampire. She was lying still again. Her dark eyes held a dull, glazed expression and her arm twitched as she tried desperately to resist the tranquilizers.

Athens heard Hunt speaking to him but he couldn't make out the words. His head ached and he blinked several times, trying to focus on Hunt, who was now looking at the vampire.

Merry tilted her head to look at the woman, who stared back without fear. Merry didn’t have the strength to resist any longer. She’d been up too long and doing too much. She thought that if she could reach either of the humans to feed, she might be able to beat the tranquilizers, but she couldn’t move anymore. Her head rolled back as her eyelids closed and she lost consciousness.

Hunt was not pleased with Athens. He had underestimated the vampire, getting two men killed and himself beat up, not to mention the damage done to the entry/observation room. She didn’t need to glance up at the bars again to remember the damage; she had been on the other side of them during the attack.

Athens was taken to the staff room, where he lounged on the couch until Hunt was confident that he didn't have a concussion or any other brain damage. One of the other scientists drove him home. Before he went to bed, Athens contacted the project team's government supervisor, who would take care of the bodies of the two dead men and accompanying paperwork.

Hunt removed the remnants of the vampire’s shackles and took her to surgery to remove the embedded darts and to take blood, hair, and tissue samples. As she sliced into the vampire’s back with her scalpel to dig out one of the darts from the partially healed flesh, she was surprised at how little blood there was. Only a few drops formed around the wound and as soon as she pulled out the dart the flesh began to heal. Hunt’s eyes grew wide as she watched all trace of the dart disappear. The other two darts came out just as easily and both wounds healed just as rapidly. Hunt was amazed. No wonder the government was interested in vampires, they were incredible.

While the vampire was sedated Hunt decided to do a complete physical on her, and she had to admit that the vampire was an impressive specimen. Her muscles were like braided steel. Her skin was a light golden color and it was perfectly flawless. She was not tanned, obviously, but she was not pale white or cold like some fictitious vampires were supposed to be. She had a healthy, human glow and she was warm to the touch. The vampire bore no scars from the darts, and where a normal human would have been severely bruised from the fighting, the shackles, and the fifteen foot fall, the vampire’s body showed no signs of the morning’s events.

Davide awoke with a start and sat up. Something was VERY wrong. He glanced around the hotel room, but he was completely alone – it had not been a noise that had awakened him.

The vampire had partied late with the college girls then escorted them back to their dorm room before stopping at a vampire bar to get his fill of blood. Monogamy was not a strong vampire trait, but with Merry on his mind Davide could not bring himself to touch another woman, not even to drink her blood.

As sunrise approached Davide had returned alone to his hotel room. He was neither surprised nor concerned when Merry did not join him – she had her own life – and he did not snoop on her thoughts. Merry could take care of herself.

Now, however, Davide was worried. He had been sure he’d heard Merry’s voice – she had screamed.

Davide closed his eyes and focused on his link with Merry. Merry was in pain. Merry was unconscious. Merry was lifted off the ground and lain face down on a hard foam surface. Davide’s eyes sprang open and flared red with rage – someone was undressing the love of his life.

Davide tossed back the covers and rose from the bed. He dressed in a hurry then began to pace around the room. He was forced to wait as the sun crept slowly towards the horizon – going out now would kill him and then he could never help Merry.

A CAT scan showed that the vampire’s interior was as perfect as her exterior. Her bones showed no signs of ever being broken, even though the two-story fall should have at least cracked something. Every cell in the vampire’s body was self-repairing, and Hunt knew that every drop of the vampire’s blood had the power to transform a human into another vampire.

Hunt considered dressing the vampire in one of the prison-like uniforms that all the previously captured vampires had been forced to wear, but she decided against it. This vampire deserved better. She decided to send one of the junior staff shopping for clothes for the vampire. In the meantime, she would simply redress the vampire in her own clothes. Hunt disapproved of the methods that the previous scientists had used on the other vampires and she intended to do better. After all, vampires were almost human.

Josie Thoreau felt weird walking through a department store trying to decide what a vampire would like to wear. She had Dr. Hunt's credit card and a list of the vampire's clothing sizes, but no idea where to start. Black, she decided. She was wearing all black, so she probably likes that. Josie hurriedly picked out as many clothes as she could fit in her basket, then headed for the till. She didn't want to be in a store, she wanted to be at work, studying a vampire.

A vampire, she thought to herself as she gathered up her bags and headed for the parking lot. Up until a few hours ago she believed that she was going to be doing research on genetic predisposition to violence. That was before Dr. Hunt called her into work in the middle of the night and told her the truth. That was before she watched the red-eyed, fanged monster kill two men and bend steel bars like they were cheese. Before that, she would never in her wildest dreams have imagined that vampires were real.

Hunt finally gave up on replacing the vampire’s socks – it just wasn’t working – so she folded them up. Hunt hesitated as she reached to tuck the socks into one of the vampire’s boots. She set the socks down on the table and picked up one of the heavy, steel-toed, steel-plated, black leather boots and held it up next to the vampire’s foot – it was a size too big.

That’s odd, Hunt thought. The rest of the vampire’s clothes fit her perfectly, so why didn’t her boots? The vampire had expensive tastes – Hunt couldn’t even imagine how much the boots alone must have cost – so why would she buy boots that were too big?

On a hunch Hunt carefully slid her hand inside the boot and felt towards the toe. Her fingertips connected with something metal – there was some sort of mechanism in the toe. A small piece, which seemed to be a handle, moved when Hunt pulled back on it, curling her fingers like the vampire would have curled her toes. Something clicked.

Hunt gasped and nearly dropped the boot as a razor-sharp blade shot out the end, extending three inches from the toe. Hunt stared. She’d only ever seen something like this in a James Bond movie. She moved her fingers inside the boot, pushing the handle forwards and retracting the blade.

Hunt swallowed and carefully pulled her hand out of the boot and set it down on the table. She slid her hand into the other boot and discovered a mirror-image mechanism inside the toe of it. With weapons like that in them, Hunt certainly couldn’t give the vampire back her boots. Not that the vampire was any less dangerous without knives in her boots – she was, after all, “armed to the teeth” – but it didn’t seem wise to tempt fate further. The boots would be stored in the control room vault along with the rest of the things that the police had taken from the vampire, including her thick leather belt and the contents of her pockets.

After she was finished with the vampire in the operating room, Hunt had her moved to the containment cell. Josie returned with the clothing she had purchased and Hunt placed the items in the closet in the bathroom of the vampire's room. Hunt went home for a few hours of sleep, leaving Josie to watch the video monitoring the vampire. She gave her strict orders to phone immediately if the vampire moved or if something looked wrong. Hunt didn’t want anything to ruin her chance to speak with a real vampire.

As he paced, Davide kept his thoughts trained on Merry, feeling what she could not. His heart panged as Merry was poked and prodded. Finally he felt someone redress her and she was moved again.

Josie felt very alone as she watched the vampire sleep. It was eerily quiet in the control room and she wished she was allowed to have a radio on. She considered sneaking in her MP3 player in her pocket and only listening to one headphone, but she worried about getting fired if she was caught. Worse still would be if the music distracted her and the vampire escaped – that could cost her her life.

Vampire. Josie ran the word around in her head again. She could still hardly believe that vampires were real. In fact, if she hadn't seen the vampire's fangs and blood red eyes, she probably still wouldn't believe. On the monitor the sleeping vampire looked like any other woman, not like a Hollywood monster. Josie had no interest in the sort of horror and action movies that usually featured vampires, so she had no preconceptions about them. In fact, when she thought of it, the only vampire movie she had ever watched from start to finish was the comedy Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

Josie leaned closer to the monitor to study the vampire's face. Her mind was full of questions. What was her name? How old was she? Where was she from? How many others were there?

Josie had spent her entire life asking questions. She remembered asking her Sunday school teacher where dinosaurs fit in the Bible when she was only five years old, and she hadn’t stopped asking questions since. She had fallen into the sciences simply because she was driven to seek answers.

Mark Johnson wandered through the labs, wishing he was up in the control room watching the monitor that showed the vampire's room. Out of habit he rubbed the long scar on the back of his left wrist. The scar was the result of the surgery he'd been forced to have after a hockey puck struck him between his glove and elbow pad and destroyed his wrist.

The injury had ended his fledgling hockey career and shattered his dreams of playing professionally. It had also cost him a score of athletic scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities, which he was counting on to further his education and free him from his parents’ over-protective hold on his life.

During his recovery in hospital, Mark had become dependent on painkillers, which translated to illegal drug use once he was released. Trapped in a spiral of addiction and depression, Mark found himself in rehab after he assaulted his drug dealer in school. In rehab he was befriended by a retired surgeon who had lost his license after his patient died because he was too high to perform the surgery. Mark was fascinated by the man's descriptions of the procedures, especially the bloody ones, and was drawn to the power that a surgeon held over his patients: the power to save lives, or destroy them.

By the time he was released from rehab, Mark was no longer depressed about his future. He threw himself into his studies, determined to get into med school. Unfortunately, he had missed too much school to achieve the stellar grades he needed for med school. Instead of retaking his senior year, he opted for summer school to boost a few of his grades before heading to college for a laboratory technician diploma.

The diploma was a step in the right direction, but Mark was frustrated by the time it was taking to become a surgeon. He wanted reality. He wanted to see blood and organs and tissues with his own eyes, the way his rehab buddy had.

A newspaper ad for a position in a government lab was all it took for Mark to hold off on sending his application to med school. Instead he applied for the job, aced his interview, and never looked back. And just when he was starting to get bored and was thinking about another career change, Dr. Athens brought in a vampire to play with.

Mark had been just as stunned as any of the other staff members when Dr. Hunt told him about the true nature of their research. He was intensely excited by the thought of meeting an honest-to-goodness blood-drinker. The fact that the vampire was female and a prisoner thrilled him beyond words.

It was like a swift kick to the groin when Dr. Hunt informed them that only she and Dr. Athens would have direct contact with the vampire. Mark had already begun fantasizing about “experiments” to perform on her. He was determined to have more to do with the vampire than just tests on her blood, provided, of course, that she was as attractive as he imagined she would be.

The vampire was stunning. Mark had watched, fearless and entranced, as she killed, disarmed, and then flew straight towards him. He wasn't bothered by the flying glass or the fact that the powerful creature was bending the steel bars – he couldn't take his eyes off her.

The girl screaming had ruined his moment. What was her name? Josie? Mark didn't care. She was terrified of the vampire while Mark was thrilled by the fact that the creature was nearly into the observation room. Then Dr. Athens and his tranquilizer gun foiled that also.

Mark stared down from the window at the unconscious vampire, oblivious to the others around him. He watched jealously as Dr. Hunt and her assistants lifted the vampire onto a stretcher and removed her from the room. He desperately wanted to be in the room while Dr. Hunt was performing the surgery, but he was relegated to the lab to begin setting up for the various tests they would be doing on the blood and tissue samples Dr. Hunt was collecting. He considered refusing, or doing a poor job, to get revenge on Dr. Hunt and Dr. Athens, but he didn't want to get fired. He needed to see the vampire again, no matter what.

The sun dipped below the horizon. Davide left his room and hurried out of the hotel. He stuck to the shadows to avoid the last remaining rays of sunlight.

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