CODE BLOOD

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Chapter Six

After he walked into the Nano Research Center and the glass doors closed behind him, Markus turned and looked back at the paramedic in his dumbass uniform, standing outside. Markus couldn’t resist. He held his hand above his head and gave him the middle finger salute. “Up yours, mister crew cut,” he whispered. “Finder’s keepers.”

He walked past the security office inside the entrance and saw the two night guard retards through the glass window in the wall. The little one looked up from his computer screen, recognized Markus and nodded. The big one with no neck ignored him. Markus called them Dumb and Dumber. He had visited the security office once and stayed just long enough to pilfer a master key to all the doors in the building while he had a conversation with them.

The lobby was dim and Markus walked through what he was certain was the quietest place on earth. “The building’s built on state-of- the-art springs and shock absorbers,” the Information Technology Manager told him during his job interview. “When you have experiments with particles one-thousandth the width of a hair, there can’t be any noise or vibration, and I’m not just talking about an earthquake, I’m talking about a trash truck on the street a block away.”

Markus took off his silver earring with the tiny skull for the interview. Software people are all strange, but Markus felt the earring might be too much. In the end, IT only cared whether Markus had the skills to convert old employment records on CU’s system from Dbase4 to SQL. No one cared how he looked or when he came to work. Markus was accomplishing his task faster than expected and using the rest of the allotted time for his own purposes. The pay was all right, but he wasn’t getting rich. Markus was caught in a chicken and egg situation. The only way he could get some big bucks was by online hacking. To do that, he needed new software. To get the software, he needed money.

Markus pushed the elevator button. Why had he bothered with the paramedic? The guy was a moron with a short haircut and an idiot blue uniform. He looked like a doorman from one of the fancy condominiums on Wilshire Boulevard. Why had he even spoken to him? What if the asshole decided to investigate? That would be just what Markus didn’t need—someone interfering with his life. He should have just kept his mouth shut. Tonight was important. He had to forget the conversation with the paramedic; they would never see each other again. It was time to collect blood from the China Doll and that required his complete concentration.

The elevator doors opened and closed without a sound. Markus descended into the bowels of the Research Center. On Lower Level 2, Markus heard the sound of his own heartbeat as he walked from the elevator to Office 3, one of the spare rooms in the building used for temporary workers. He swiped his ID card and the click of the electronic lock sounded like thunder.

Markus didn’t bother to turn on the lights. A computer screen, flashing the CU logo, illuminated the space. He usually spent the first hour tending to his private business. He did some of his best hacking from this computer because it was much harder for anyone to penetrate CU’s firewall and identify his IP address. He also played online games and connected with the Goth community. Markus also managed several e-mail accounts here, some of which he changed weekly. Most of the Goths were just kids going through teen-age rebellion. Others were suffering from depression or dysfunctional family lives, but would eventually grow up and be boring and normal like everyone else. The older ones had day jobs and some were just psy-vampires, not even interested in blood. They were all harmless and lame. They just wanted to dress up, look weird and see the shock on normal people’s faces. Markus kept them at bay with his changing e-mail addresses and the CU firewall.

His true friends were another story. They were a small group devoted to blood-fetishism and the vampire way of life. They were the true vampires; the elite of the undead, and Markus considered himself at the pinnacle of the group. He had a special permanent e-mail address for them and he used the name Bloody Fangs, his first and most treasured moniker. At the bottom of his e-mail, his original signature had been, BITE ME. Later he changed it to DARK ANGEL. Finally, he began using, IT IS BETTER TO RULE IN HELL THAN SERVE IN HEAVEN. Markus thought the phrase was awesome and was certain it was written by a fellow Goth. He was surprised to learn it was actually from Milton’s Paradise Lost, but he continued to use it anyway.

Markus pulled the keyboard toward him and logged on to one of his favorite vampire websites.

“You don’t think this is a fairy tale do you?” The deep voice exploded from his computer speakers.

“No,” Markus whispered, slipping into the reverie.

“You are a predator with a hunger.”

“Yes.” Markus thought about the China Doll and his plans for later in the evening.

“You are one of us!”

“Yes. Darkness rules.”

“Seek out the blood of others. Drink your fill. Your blood will grow stronger.”

Markus jumped up from his desk chair. “I will take her blood,” he said in a louder voice.

“Your undead life has—”

Markus sat down again and disconnected. Much as he would have liked to continue to chant the ritual, he had to get the data conversion work out of the way before his date with the China Doll. He logged on to the CU virtual private network. When the system came up, he inserted his Dongle—the electronic key— into the USB port to authenticate himself and gain access to the old records. When he started the work four months ago, the first thing Markus did was find out what other files were on the server he was using. It took him a week to hack into the list and two more weeks to find the 128-bit encryption code that gave him access to the current confidential information about personnel working at the Nano Research Center. Some nights, when he became bored with the job he was supposed to be doing, Markus played a game. He looked at ID pictures from the Center’s personnel files and tried to match them up with faces he had seen in the building. The Center was full of individuals from Europe, South America and Asia. After a month, Markus recognized more than two dozen people. One of the first was a Chinese woman named A Li Jian. He had seen her in the lobby several times in the evening. He rode up on the elevator with her once and found out she worked on the third floor.He decided to call her China Barbie Doll, then shortened it to China Doll.

When Markus tired of the ID picture game, he began to access and read individual personnel files. One night he scanned the China Doll’s file: She was 29, born in Zhongdian, and part of her tuition came from some sort of a government scholarship. Her field of research was pluripotent stem cells, whatever that was. Blah, blah, blah—much of the information was of little interest to Markus. At the bottom of the file, however, there was a highlighted entry: Blood Type – Bombay. Markus couldn’t believe it. The first time he saw it, his pulse went through the roof and his hands trembled. He scrolled to the next page of the file and then went back. The words were still there; he wasn’t imagining it. Blood Type – Bombay.

What a killer discovery. The Great Markus, the kickass vampire, had found the Holy Grail. He deserved this reward. Over the years, he had visited every hematology website and had studied all the obscure blood types—Le Pore, Saskatoon, Titusville, and Bombay. Among them, Bombay was the rarest of the rare and this Chinese woman carried it in her veins. It occurred in one out of 250,000 people and only in those of East Indian or Chinese descent. Markus knew about the antigens, the phenotypes and the inherited recessive genes of Bombay Blood. A person with this rare blood type could donate to anyone, but would suffer an immune reaction unless a transfusion came from another person carrying the same blood.

When he first read about Bombay, Markus became obsessed with it.He fantasized about it for hours. It was the uber blood. He imagined a drop of it on his tongue. He would savor it, letting it linger on his taste buds. What would the flavor be? Salty? Metallic? Acidic? Whatever, the rarest blood in the world would taste awesome, insane, wicked. It would be like nothing else.He was certain it would also have the most exceptional color. Markus imagined it to be carmine, the rich silky deep red color of a rare ruby. Markus even found a Bollywood movie about a gangster in Mumbai who had Bombay Blood and needed an urgent heart transplant. In the film, his goons located a man with a healthy heart who also carried Bombay Blood. They made plans to cut him up and take the organ, but he escaped at the end of the movie by threatening to shoot himself in the heart before they could salvage it. Markus loved the story.

Now someone who carried the glorious liquid was in the Nano building, on the third floor! Markus thought about the China Doll day and night and developed a plan. He didn’t need her heart, just a sample of her blood. It would be so easy to obtain. Outside of his office, at the end of the hallway on LL2, a fire stairwell led to the underground tunnels connecting much of the campus. On Mondays, the Chinese woman came into the building around four in the afternoon. Around midnight, she came down the stairwell and went into the tunnel. Markus had watched her and followed her twice to the entrance of the building everyone called the Colony where they bred mice, rats and who knew what else for use in the university’s research projects. The passageway was deserted at that hour. He decided that was the place to take her.

When he told his blood-sucking friends what he had in mind, they were rapturous and all agreed that this rare blood would have miraculous restorative powers. One wanted a sample for energy enhancement. Another wanted it for use during sex. A third felt it would strengthen his immune system. A female vamp thought it would take the edge off her menstrual cramps. Drakkar, one of the most powerful vampires on the West Coast, told him, “Man, just get some for me, I want it!

What vampire wouldn’t pay to sample Bombay Blood? Markus realized he might even sell it on E-Bay. Vampires everywhere would bid up the price. His mind ran wild with the idea. He imagined himself a Goth gangster-kingpin. He would kidnap the Chinese woman and keep her chained in the basement of his huge castle, surrounded by men with guns and vicious guard dogs. She would bargain, cry, plead and promise him sex, anything to go free, but Markus would make her his blood slave. He would stuff her with red meat and iron supplements and every day his men would strap her to a table and bleed her, collecting quarts, no, gallons of her Bombay Blood. He would sell it to the highest bidders. He would become a dealer of Bombay Blood, he would become the dealer of Bombay Blood. He would be famous, a gazillionaire. His power and fame would exceed that of Drakkar. He would become the extreme Bombay Goth Vampire.

Markus sat in the dark office and began to work on the SQL data conversion, but his heart wasn’t in it this evening. He was too stoked to concentrate. Markus couldn’t think about anything other than the China Doll and the elixir running in her veins. He turned on the small desk light and dug into his duffel, removing the bag containing a bottle of ether, a washcloth, two sterile syringes with needles capped in blue plastic and two blood collection tubes containing a few drops of Heparin, an anticoagulant. He planned to splash the ether on the cloth, come up behind her in the tunnel and hold it to her face. If there was a struggle, he would overpower her. If she screamed, no one would be around to hear, not at that hour. Once she slumped to the ground, he could draw blood from her arm and collect it in the tubes. He would be gone before she regained consciousness. She would never even know what happened.

He checked his watch and wandered out into the hall to stretch his legs. He still had three hours before hiding in the stairwell on the fourth floor to wait for the China Doll to enter from the floor below. He looked up at the ceiling where capped wires protruded from an electrical conduit. Markus knew that the Nano Research Center was over budget when completed. While it had some state-of-the art security devices, no monitoring equipment was ever installed in the fire stairwell at the tunnel entrance. Markus wondered how the university could spend money on guards and security equipment throughout the building, monitor everyone coming in the front doors and embed each person’s office address on the ID cards, but still allow an unobstructed entrance through the old campus passageway.

The China Doll was punctual. On Tuesday morning at 12:05 a.m., Markus crouched on the fourth floor landing. The stairwell was flooded with light and the glare burned his eyes. Markus had left his dark glasses at his desk and now there was no time to go back to get them. He squinted, followed her and watched her delicate hand slide down along the metal banister as she descended below him. His dream was about to come true. Soon he would taste Bombay Blood. He heard the heavy steel fire door scrape when she opened it and he shadowed her into the tunnel.

Once underground, Markus was in his own world. The glare of the fluorescent lighting in the Center stairwell gave way to half-light and the pain in his eyes disappeared. The air was dank and had a metallic odor. Markus heard a low-pitched hum from machinery running somewhere nearby. Pieces of plaster from the walls had fallen away where moisture had seeped through. A maze of electrical conduits, ducts and pipes wrapped with aluminum insulation ran along the ceiling.

Markus crept along behind her, trying to be as quiet as possible. He could barely contain his excitement. A wave of sexual arousal washed over him. This exotic woman excited him more than all the titty bars and more than any vampire fantasy. This was not a dream; the woman was real. Her blood was real. She had a long, beautiful neck—how many times had he thought of that tender spot above her shoulders where her carotid artery pulsed. Just for fun, he wanted to bite into her warm and fragrant skin. Tonight for the first time he wondered what her feet looked like. Would they be as delicate as the foot in his freezer?

He stopped in the tunnel to open the ether bottle and held his breath while he splashed some of the liquid onto the cloth. When he shoved the bottle back in his pocket and set off after her again, he realized she was walking faster and he had let her get away from him. She was already at the security door of the Colony.

Markus ran to catch the door before it swung shut. He had never been in the Colony. When he entered, the blinding light hit him. The floor was white vinyl, the walls white tile, the ceiling white plaster. The entire hallway looked like it had just been washed and polished—reflecting, bouncing, intensifying the glare. Markus squinted. He felt a wave of nausea and the beginning of a ginormous headache. Could he do her in the whiteout of the Colony?

He crept down the hall listening to the sound of the China Doll’s rubber soles on the floor. A cool breeze from controlled-climate air conditioning blew in his face and the ether evaporated from the cloth in his hand. Markus trailed her past RATS and looked through a window set in the wall. He took an involuntary step back. He had seen gray and Norwegian rats, but had never seen these huge white laboratory rats. Behind the glass, the rats pushed and shoved in their cages, biting and climbing over each other. Hundreds of sets of glowing red eyes, the color of his own, gazed back at him. Did they see a similarity? Did they regard him as friend or foe? Would they rip him apart or make him their master? Markus imagined hundreds of the white monsters, teeth bared, running over the cement floor of an abandoned warehouse. In frenzy, they circled a lifeless body. At his command, they swarmed over it, bit and tore the flesh, tasting the blood.

The China Doll disappeared through another doorway. Markus crept forward and stopped behind a dolly loaded with mouse cages. Like a peeping tom, he watched through another window as she washed her hands in a stainless steel sink, donned latex gloves and took a sterile blue gown, paper slippers, hair net and mask from a cabinet. She put the gown on over her clothes, smoothing it over her body with her hands. Watching her just touch herself, even through a layer of clothing, aroused Markus. She was so close, just on the other side of the glass. He could almost touch her. He imagined the texture of her exotic blood, the color and the taste. It was time—he could wait no longer. When she came out into the hallway, he would do it. Vlad Drackula Markus would claim the reward of her blood. He removed the bottle of ether again from his pocket.

“…so in some cases the stem cell function declines with age and—”

“Yes, but the aging process can be reversed. We’re working on that right now...”

Markus froze. At midnight, someone else was in the Colony. Two men, one with a full beard the color of his white lab coat, were walking down the hall toward him.

“…the osteoblasts send out signals from the bone marrow and…”

His excitement evaporated. Markus ran from behind the stack of mouse cages and charged back down the hallway toward the tunnel.

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