The lab felt more than deserted; it felt abandoned. August heard the hum of the flickering fluorescent lighting. Unconsciously he rolled his massive shoulders, a chill running up his spine.
"Hey, Doc. I brought him." Sam spoke at a moderate level, but his voice disappeared into the lab as if absorbed by the walls.
"August…" Speakers along the walls of the lab crackled with that single word.
"Hello, Doctor." August looked around the room. "Workers on strike? It's not as busy as I recall."
Sam nudged August with his gun. "So what about Agnes, Doc?"
The speakers buzzed. "I've already sent word to release her back to your room."
Sam cleared his throat. "Great. So about that other thing we talked about. When we left you said I could have the formula…"
"For the blood wine. I remember." The voice chuckled. "When you leave I'll give it to you, Sam. But you're not leaving yet."
Sam's face flushed. "Why, Doc? You said you didn't need me anymore."
"Sam, Sam, Sam. Until I get what I need from August, I want you to continue your travels and share your virus. As far as I can tell, you're unique, Sam."
"Yeah, I already know that, Doc. I'm like Typhoid Mary, an asymptomatic carrier, etcetera. But I brought you August," Sam pleaded.
"You are not asymptomatic," the speakers boomed. A hissing sound exploded from the speakers as the Doctor sighed. "Never mind, Sam. There's nothing to gain by explaining the subtle technical differences. You are the most useful virus mutation I developed," the voice explained.
"How about the one that spreads to rats, Doc? Isn't that useful?" Sam's voice rose in volume.
"Rats?" The voice paused. "That's new. I'll have to send that information to…people who might need to know that. I might have you carry that story personally, Sam."
"Gee, thanks, Doc." Sam looked around nervously. "So do you need me to watch him?" Sam pointed at August, who stood like a statue.
"Oh, no, Sam, I'm quite in control - and impervious to harm from August Moon." The voice held shades of subtle anger. "You may go, Sam."
Sam turned to face August, reaching out to shake his manacled hands.
"Told you, Sam," whispered August.
A low growl started in Sam's throat and August felt a small, cold piece of metal placed in his hand as Sam grasped it awkwardly. "Good-bye, August," Sam said loudly. "Good damned luck," he whispered. Sam disappeared out the door and August heard it click behind him.
"So, you still have bosses." August forced a tone of casualness into his voice.
A chuckle came from the speakers, echoing eerily across the empty lab room. "A few who think they are still higher in my chain of command, but they are not my superiors." The voice made a sharp snort. "I am the one who will get this right, August. And do you want to know why? Because I once again have you." The voice laughed. "It's good to have you back, August."
"So now what, Doc? Study me some more? Figure out how I live so long?" August asked.
The Doctor's voice rose in volume, a self-centered oration. "Now I finish what I started all those years ago. I created what emperors and kings, magicians and scientists throughout the history of mankind sought and failed to find. I created the pinnacle of genius, August Moon. The elixir of life. The true Immortality Elixir. From your blood." The voice paused, snarling. "I almost succeeded before you escaped August, almost had the perfect elixir. Now, I have you again and I will be the father of the new humanity, Immortal humankind."
August sighed. "It is you, isn't it? I was hoping the virus killed you off. If there was any justice, you would have been the first person someone bit."
"Bit?" The voice rose in anger. "Bit? You are such a lackwit. Where do you think the virus came from, August Moon? It started here, in this lab. You're the cause of the virus!"
August's eyebrows shot up. "What?" he stammered.
"I had to engineer a virus to create my Immortality Elixir, August. That's the genius, you see. A fermentation process using a retrovirus synthesized from your DNA. Did you think the virus came from nowhere?"
August shook his head, his eyes wide. "This virus creates zombies."
"You're much stupider than I recall. Despite my precautions, the virus went airborne. It escaped my lab and infected the guards and other workers here. It had a five-day incubation, August. The virus started in Vegas. That's why it spread across the world so fast."
August whispered. "I didn't cause this. You caused this."
The voice rose in anger. "Semantics. You are the source. I accidentally set it free before it was ready to transform the world." The Doctor laughed. "The retrovirus does what my Immortality Elixir does, August, but the virus is out of my control. The virus spread across the world. There are others like you now."
August grunted. "You think killing most of the people on the planet is transformation?"
"Of course," the Doctor continued smoothly. "Survival of the fittest. The infection killed the weak of our species. It created a new race." The voice rose in volume, gleeful. "I created a new race, an immortal race!"
August was furious. "Creating and spreading a pandemic that decimates the population of the world is monstrous."
The Doctor chuckled. "Not for those who are left. My original plan, my elixir, would have made me ruler of mankind, the wealthiest person alive." The voice held a trace of bitterness. "This isn't how I wanted to do it, but I still succeeded."
"You don't want to admit culpability for your actions. You're the greatest mass murderer that will ever exist." August raised his voice even louder.
The Doctor snorted again. "Collateral damage. Necessary sacrifices to evolve mankind, to allow us to live forever, even expand to the stars. I accomplished in a few years what would have taken nature a million years to achieve."
August shook with fury, his voice a tortured whisper. "You're insane."
"A small-minded, petty response," The Doctor said, chuckling, the speakers crackling even more. "Exactly what I'd expect from you."
"You are insane. You killed our species," August replied.
The voice sharpened. "What do you mean?
"We can't reproduce, therefore the species becomes stagnant, eventually becomes extinct." August ground his teeth. "You did that. Killed us all."
"Ah, I see," said the voice. "That's a misconception. You can have children. Well, maybe you can't, but the vampires can." The Doctor paused. "I know of a number of vampire children. Cross-breeding doesn't seem possible, but it could be."
August glared at the speakers. "I live with a Transformed couple, and she can't get pregnant."
"Did she have children before she became a vampire?" the Doctor asked clinically.
August frowned. "No."
The Doctor made a derisive noise. "Well, you're an idiot. That's the reason. Can a five-year old have children? A ten-year old? No. The body must reach maturity to have children. She isn't old enough."
August shook his head. "Of course she's old enough. She's at least in her thirties."
"Bah. A child by the new standards," said the Doctor.
August bit his lower lip. "So what is the new child-bearing age?"
"I suspect she needs to be three hundred or so. At least a hundred." August could hear the lack of interest over the speakers.
August's face became grim. "In that case, why are there other children? Was it the blood wine like Tomás said?"
Doctor Doctor laughed, the sound echoing from the speakers eerily. "Tomás is an idiot. He thinks blood wine is the solution to everything because he is addicted to it."
August shook his head. "Your logic is flawed. You say it isn't the blood wine, but some vampires have children. None are a hundred yet. You're not making sense."
"If they already had children when they became vampires, their bodies are ready." The Doctor's voice grew taut. "Weren't you listening?"
"I guess I didn't understand," he said.
"Of course not," the Doctor said, his voice suddenly tinny over the speakers. "You don't understand anything."
"So if you have it all figured out, Doc, why do you need me?" August asked.
"Why?" The voice rose. "I plan to perfect my Immortality Elixir, to prove I was right." The voice dropped to a whisper. "And I will use you to develop a cure for the virus."
"No one has ever found a cure for the infection, Doc," said August.
"No one is as smart as I am, August Moon. Nor as motivated," said the voice. August heard a motor, and one wall of the lab slid open.
"Motivated?" August turned toward the open wall. A metal machine entered the room, hoses and wires stretched across its frame, though encased in sturdy, combat-proof mesh. Red liquids flowed through tubes, in and out of small containers strapped to the sides of the eight-foot tall device. It turned toward August, the tracks on the bottom making grinding noises across the tiled floor. August noticed the scars on the floor indicating the same tracks traveled in this room often.
"Yes, August Moon. Motivated." The speakers in the room echoed precisely the voice coming from the machine. The metal surface of the machine gleamed, reflecting the fluorescent lights in the lab. A small light emitting diode switched on in the interior of the body of the machine.
A face covered with rotting zombie flesh stared at August through a glass pane, the decaying lips stretched back from the gleaming teeth that protruded from the visible white bone of the jaw. The jaw moved and the lips turned up in a grimace that might have been a smile.
"You are going to heal my body." The Doctor glared down at August, his piercing blue eyes shining from a bone skull partially covered with weeping, sore-covered skin.
August backed up from the horror staring at him, his eyes riveted on the unblinking stare of the white and blue orbs in the ravaged face.
One of the darkened rooms opened and five vampires stepped through, moving toward August, long metal clubs in their hands.
"I'm afraid I plan to use all your blood this time." The Doctor's voice cackled. "And it will hurt, August." The cackle turned to maniacal laughter. "It will hurt a lot."
August backed away from the main door, leading the five vampires toward the other end of the lab. "So, Doc, you expect to vacuum my blood off the floor?" August grinned. "Because I am not going without a fight."
The speakers crackled. "That's why there are five of them, August, with clubs instead of guns." The Doctor laughed, the eerie sound echoing from the speakers in his suit. "Even you can't defeat five vampires."
August rolled his shoulders and lifted his hands, dropping the cuffs to the floor. "Maybe not, Doc. But I can sure try."
"How did…" The Doctor's voice sputtered from his armor. "Sam did this," he snarled. The Doctor addressed the five vampires. "Get him cuffed and sedated. Every ounce of blood he loses is an ounce of blood wine you don't get."
The five vampires looked at each other, their faces grim, and they advanced toward August, moving into a semicircle.
"What? You guys don't want to do the kung-fu movie thing? Come at me one at a time?" August taunted.
"Just shut him up," yelled the Doctor.
August smirked as the five advanced toward him. "I know something you don't know," he whispered to himself.
The vampires started to charge August as the other lab door opened. A red blur moved into the room. The blade of a sword appeared in the chest of the vampire on the left, his mouth opened in surprise as he dropped to the floor.
"Hey August! You can use that sword," giggled Fae as the second vampire turned toward her. "Just pull it out of his back." She sliced the second man open from his right shoulder to his left hip and reversed her swing to cut across his neck.
"No!" screeched the robotic man. "No! Not again! Stop them!" The robotic body moved back through the sliding wall. The wall slid shut. Alarms sounded throughout the room.
August stepped into the reach of the vampire on his left, slamming his elbow into the man's ribs. The sound of cracking bones blended with the grunt of the man as he backed up. August followed the first blow with the palm of his hand against the man's chin and he toppled to the floor.
The two remaining vampires backed up.
"We work for the wine," one of them said, raising his arms.
The other shook his head and growled. "Which we don't get if you get away," he said, moving forward rapidly and swinging at Fae.
She moved aside gracefully, taunting them. "You guys move so slow…" She danced around the man and sliced the edge of her blade through his neck, stepping back to avoid the cascade of blood.
August stepped forward and hit the final man between the eyes with his massive right fist. The club dropped from his raised hand and the man's body collapsed to the floor.
"Hey, he surrendered," objected Fae.
"I know," said August, his face dark with rage. "I didn't kill him."
Fae pulled her first sword from the dead guard. "And I gave you a sword to use, you know." She glanced at August's pistol, holstered at her slim waist. "Did you want to use your gun, instead? I didn't think of that," she said.
August moved to the sliding wall and tried to pry his fingers in the edge, straining to make the wall move. "Come out of there, you maniac!" he yelled, his muscles bulging. He stepped back and slammed his fist into the wall, the skin from his knuckles cracking open, leaving bloody marks on the paint. "Come out!"
Fae moved behind August and wrapped her arms around his middle. "It's okay, August," she whispered. "It's okay. We can get him later."
August continued to slam his fists into the wall, a dark fury building inside his chest. "Come back here! Let's end this, once and for all."
Fae squeezed him tightly, a look of concern on her face. "C'mon, August. C'mon. We have to go find Maddie." She tugged harder. "Maddie needs us, August. We'll get the creepy doctor robot guy later."
August stopped hitting the wall and stepped back, blood flowing down his fingers from his ravaged knuckles. Streaks of red marked the mottled paint of the wall.
"Yeah." August took a deep breath, the fury uncoiling inside him. "Maddie. We have to find Maddie." He listened to the alarms. "And we have to hurry. He might be looking for her, too."
Fae cleaned her swords on one of the vampire's shirts. He groaned and she hit him in the head.
"He wasn't a dead one, you know," August pointed out, tearing a shirt into strips of cloth and wrapping them around his bloody knuckles.
"He had the cleanest shirt," said Fae, slipping the swords onto her back awkwardly. "I still have a hard time putting these swords on my back."
August shrugged as they moved down the hallway at a fast trot, buckling his pistol back on his waist. "You're getting better. They are elegant weapons."
Fae grinned. "Hey, I know that one. 'For a more civilized time,' right?"
August pressed the elevator button. "Civilized age," he answered, pulling her close and hugging her. "Thanks for the save, by the way."
The doors opened and August disabled the elevator. He stepped around the two bodies by the desk and raised his eyebrows at Fae.
"What?" asked Fae. "Sam left them here, as guards, I guess. They wouldn't surrender and I didn't have time to clean up after myself." She reached for the doorknob to the outside.
"Wait," said August. "That alarm has been sounding for a while."
He moved her to the side, against the cinder block wall. Standing next to the door, he reached over and turned the knob, letting a sliver of light into the room. Bullets hammered into the door.
"You fools!" The Doctor's strident voice lashed out over powerful speakers. "I need him alive and relatively unharmed." The Doctor paused. "I don't care about the girl, though. You can kill her."
"If you surrender, August, I'll spare the girl," the Doctor's metallic voice boomed. "I promise," he said.