We slept fitfully after Wufei went through the same routine with the cage that I had, reaching the same conclusion; we had no way out. The metal floor was uncomfortable to say the least, but after our keepers came back to give us each another injection (after thoroughly beating me and Wu down) I headed straight for unconsciousness as if rocket propelled.
The drugs made my dreams strange and incoherent. I ran, but to or from what, I didn't know. I only ran and ran and ran, with the scent of moonlight sharp in my throat and the sound of blood in my ears.
Cold hands grabbing my arms and legs woke me up. I tried to struggle, but my muscles felt like water. The faces of the women, horrible tattoos and all, hovered over me as they strapped me down to a bed, so tightly that I couldn't have moved even if my body had been responding to me.
One of the women leaned down and smiled at me, then kissed me on the forehead. I tried to jerk away, unsuccessfully. "No chances on you, strange one," she said.
They wheeled me out into a corridor, bright and white. Even with the drug's effects fading, the light was like daggers in my eyes. I shut them as tightly as I could. Pained tears trailed down the sides of my head. The constant movement of the bed made me ill; I clenched my teeth against the feeling. I refused to allow even one more indignity.
The death march lasted a thoroughly nauseating eternity. We went up an elevator and turned more corners than I could count in my present mental state. Then there was the whoosh of doors opening, and my nose was assaulted by the smell of antiseptic and blood. My stomach tried to heave and I told it to shut the fuck up.
"What have you brought me today?" a man asked.
"Subject 226-71, Doctor," the ringleader said. "The one you asked to see due to the low viral load."
"Ah yes," he said, "a very strange case. I haven't seen anything like it since we started this series." His voice was deep and warm, with only the faintest hint of an accent. It was the kind of voice you expected from an English Professor or a host for National Geographic, not a mad scientist.
I risked opening my eyes a crack, trying to see him. He was tall, at least six feet, and wore powder blue surgical scrubs. His hair was black and neatly cut. When he bent down to examine me, the resemblance was unmistakable; this had to be Hilde's dad.
My mouth to brain connection must have been shorting out badly. Without meaning to, I whispered Hilde's name.
That got a vague sort of bemused attention from him, a raise of the eyebrow. "Have you seen my daughter recently? Do tell. She and I have a great deal to discuss."
I glanced around the lab with watering eyes, noting the rows of jars, the strange machines, the vials of drugs. "Fuck yourself," I whispered. I didn't know what they were supposedly going to discuss, but I would be good money it would involve needles and cages. What a sicko.
"Willful children," Dr. Schbeiker mused as he pulled on a latex glove with a snap. "They never appreciate the gifts their parents have to offer." On went the other glove. "I hold in my hands the means that will allow you to join a superior generation, and you - and she - would squander it." He bent over me and pried my left eyelid open, examining my eye with a slight frown. I'd been able to look around with my eyes only open a slit; the sudden influx of light hurt horribly and made me jerk against the restraints. "I think this will be a decent match of sample 62G. Fetch it, please."
"Yes, Doctor," said a woman I couldn't see. The doors swished open, then shut.
"What I would really like to know is where you've picked up the resistance to the only virus I've ever run across with a higher infection rate than Ebola. Any strange drugs, odd foods you regularly eat?"
My only response was to shut my eyes tightly.
He was unfazed. "It will come out eventually; it always does. There is no escaping from a place that destiny herself has set you. Are you left eye dominant?"
The abrupt switch shocked me into answering. "Yes."
There was a soft metallic clink, and then another. My curiosity got the better of me, and I peered over toward the source of the sound. Dr. Schbeiker was standing over a metal tray, picking up scalpels one at a time, inspecting them, and then setting them back down. "Pity," he said as if it weren't at all, "but you'll adjust eventually. Sacrifice in the face of progress."
That was when the fear struck me, down through the marrow of my bones. I jerked against the restraints, but they'd been thorough when they tied me down; there was no give at all. I'd seen a lot of scary shit in my life, including an insane military commander or three, and a vampire that was well over a thousand years old and so powerful that being near him was like listening to God breathe. And none of that touched the fear I felt now. Because Dr. Schbeiker was human, and completely, terrifyingly sane.
I'd never met a man like him before, and there'd been none yet in my lifetime. The last of his ilk that had graced the face of the planet had committed genocide on one side and vaporized entire cities on the other. An insane man could be lead in circles or tripped into his own madness. A sane man like this couldn't be talked around or tricked. I was fucked.
"...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..." I whispered.
Dr. Schbeiker set the scalpel he was inspecting down. "Evil is relative. The evil done to one leads to the good of the whole. The practice of necessary evil is not one that most have the moral strength to encompass."
The door swished open again, and the clack of high heels approached the good doctor. A woman in a white nurse's uniform stepped into my field of view, holding a glass tube in her hands. In the tube floated an eye. Its iris was wolf amber.
I yanked my hands against the restraints ineffectually. If they hadn't been soft restraints, I would have probably started bleeding. I didn't even get that much satisfaction. I knew where this was going as sure as if someone had handed me a script, and there wasn't a fucking thing I could do about it. When I tried to reach my inner power, it was sluggish and unresponsive.
Even worse, that made the woman with the tattoos on her face walk over to me. She was twirling the raven feather between her fingers. "I suggest that you don't," she said.
I shook my head and looked away from her, still flexing my hands. The nurse was helping Dr. Schbeiker into a surgical gown, and pulled a second pair of gloves over his first. Last, she tied a mask on him, then began pulling her own getup on. Dr. Schbeiker walked over to me, and peered down into my eye again.
"I'm afraid that in order for the nerve patch to take properly, you will have to be conscious. I think you are due for another injection, however, and that should deaden the pain sufficiently," he said. Before he'd even finished, the sharp line of a needle sank into my arm, and the familiar burning began to flow up my veins.
"Please," I tried, "you don't have to do this."
"On the contrary, progress is quite necessary," Dr. Schbeiker said, then looked up. "Begin voice recording. Ocular placement procedure for subject 226-71..."
My tongue felt like a foreign body in my mouth, but I managed to interrupt him, putting the last of my will into speech. "I... have a name. Duo. My name... is Duo."
He spared me a glance. "I'm afraid not any longer," was his only answer.
I struggled to stay conscious, to think at all as a warm pool of pleasure and euphoria sucked at the edges of my mind. The burning had been replaced with warmth, the feeling that I could fly, that I could run to the moon and howl my joy to the stars. My vision blurred until I all I could see was an indistinct blue shape and a shining blot, coming closer and closer to my eye.
Dimly, I heard the doors swish open. "What do you think you're doing?" A woman demanded.
That voice...it was familiar. The synapses in my brain fired sluggishly, pulling up a memory. A department store, a woman with blue tattoos on her face and white, sightless eyes. A thready giggle escaped my lips. Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse...
"Ocular placement, Miss Kiria. For some reason I have yet to fathom, this subject is fighting off the virus with shocking efficiency. His load in the last sample might as well have been zero."
Footsteps approached, and the silver blot disappeared. Somehow, I'd managed to clench my hands into fists. My fingers relaxed one by one.
"Either the team I left here is incompetent, or they have committed a lie of omission. Either way, they will be punished," Kiria said. "You could replace every drop of his blood, and he would still destroy the virus. His body is incapable of harboring anything so closely linked to life. He is a necromancer, Dr. Schbeiker."
I couldn't make out Schbeiker's face, but the look of pained disbelief was all too easy to imagine. "Indeed."
The woman that had brought me to the room spoke, her voice frantic. "High One, we didn't know..."
"Silence!" Kiria snapped. "You will accept your punishment for your foolishness without complaint. Be glad that he was not damaged, or I would see that you suffered the same." Her tone became quite a bit sweeter when she addressed Dr. Schbeiker again. "I do not wish to see the samples we have so painstakingly collected for you put to waste on this one."
"Then what do you propose we do with this subject?" Dr. Schbeiker asked.
"Leave him in containment and keep him well drugged. I will take him off your hands eventually, once the experiment has concluded. Until then, it will be interesting to see if we can engineer the virus so that it will take hold in him, don't you think?"
"True; we may encounter more like him in the general population. A hardier virus might be the way to go."
Kiria looked down on me. Her face was a blur, but my memory supplied the missing details easily. "Well, Mr. Maxwell, fancy meeting you under such circumstances. I think this is a suitable beginning to your punishment, don't you?"
I tried to answer her, but it came out as an incoherent mutter.
"Well, I suppose it's nice to know that at least the important portions of the drug effect you. Dr. Schbeiker, I will take this one back to his holding cell."
"Do what you like, Miss Kiria," Dr. Schbeiker said. He sounded downright cranky. "But please look in to finding more viable subjects for me. Of our current three, only one has value for the actual experiment. The two new ones are anomalies, even if it's rather fascinating to acquire a new virus culture."
"We will see to it."
My bed began to move, back the way I had come. Relief overwhelmed me, sucking me down into the embrace of the drug. I was forced back up for a gasp of reality in the elevator when Kiria grabbed the loose skin of my arm and gave it a nasty twist.
"Now," she said, "you will listen to me. I wish for you to appreciate what you, in your own special way, have helped to bring about."
"No..." I muttered.
"Oh, but yes. You are aware of the Master of Tokyo's plan to bring us into the light of the world. We cannot hope to stop it at this point; you've helped him too much, however inadvertently. Thus, like all good puppets, you will be the author of your own misery even as his hands jerk your strings." She laughed. It was an unpleasant sound. "His insane fantasy is that there will be peace between all races on the earth, that equality will be found with him at the helm. How one so old can be so foolish is beyond me. No, there will be war, long and bloody. As powerful as we are, we're far outnumbered. I cannot give people the talent that would make them one of us, and the vampires are useless during the day, and even at night against this city's master. So we will create our own army, of those with strength but easily controlled minds. Soldiers that are inhumanly strong by day, and inhuman at night."
I moaned, clenching my hands again. I didn't want to hear this. I didn't want to know.
"Werewolves. Weretigers. Wererats. An army of our own to ensure we come out on top. And what better way to bring this about then allow our soldiers to create themselves with drugs. The streets will run with our creatures." She smoothed my hair back with one hand. "You should be relieved to hear this, boy. You are, after all, one of us."
I twitched my head. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. "Never..."
She laughed again, and the sound pierced my ears. The room was becoming progressively brighter, and I shut my eyes tightly before it could reach a point of pain. "You will face your punishment, Duo. And then you will understand your place and where you shall stand."
We went through a set of doors, into blessed darkness. Rough hands yanked the restraints off and lifted me up, then dumped me onto the metal floor of my cage.
"Think when you are able." Kiria said. "Your denial of your self will end; realize what you are. You will never live a normal life, and you will never stand with mortals again." Her voice seemed to wander across a thousand discordant pitches as the last of my will drained away and I fell completely into the stupor of the drug.
Back into the dreams.