The key to defanging a vampire turned out to require learning what had given her fangs in the first place. That meant tests, and lots of them. To her credit Isabella Rodrigo was a model patient, but then it was a lot easier when the doctor working with her kept her informed at every step in the procedures.
“This will be the last draw for today,” Dr. Helen Shavitz said, filling the final vial with the red liquid which passed for blood in Izzy’s veins. “We’ll be testing this one for your platelet count, though I’m going to guess that what we’ll find will be as irregular as the rest of the outcomes.”
“That doesn’t sound very promising for figuring out what they did to me,” Izzy said, keeping her eyes closed. She didn’t mind the sight of blood. It neither frightened her nor, contrary to several vampire myths, threatened to send her into a feeding frenzy. She had simply grown so used to having her blood taken over the years that she’d learned to take the time as small moments of relaxation in an otherwise busy and unpleasant day.
“I can’t usually say this, but the more the results are out of the ordinary, the better in this case,” Dr. Shavitz affixed the vial’s label and turned to face her patient.
“Because it confirms that Isabella’s hematology is wholly unique?” Anna asked.
“Any one of these tests would prove that,” Dr. Shavitz said. “No, the results we’re seeing are useful because while they don’t make sense on their own, they compliment each other. I can see, in part at least, how Izzy’s system supports itself, even if it’s radically different from the mechanisms we typically use.”
“Too soon to be asking about a cure though I’m guessing?” Val asked.
Anna, Tam, and Val had insisted on accompanying Izzy to the Boston medical center where Dr. Shavitz had access to a private lab for testing. Jenny and Meg had joined them, because, as Jenny stated emphatically, she’d spent a month under Izzy’s protection and come out perfectly fine and healthy and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone was going to do to prevent her from returning the favor. Sera had tagged along as well, happy to have an all expenses paid for vacation and a chance to babysit her niece whom she hadn’t seen in over a month.
They made for a bit of a crowd in Izzy’s room, even with Sera and Meg safely away from the medical center’s potential contagions. Being surrounded by a small throng seemed to buoy Izzy’s spirits though so no one minded the crowding.
“Depends what you mean by ‘cure’,” Dr. Shavitz said. “Izzy’s biology is terra incognita at the moment. Even if we could come up with a method of reverse the procedures she’d been through, there’s nothing to suggest yet that we would want to.”
“But what about the accelerated aging?” Jenny asked. She was holding Izzy’s hand, and showing all of the worry that Izzy was appearing to be free from.
“That is the primary condition that we need to deal with. Not the blood dependency, or the aversion to strong odors,” Dr. Shavitz said. “But we need to be careful in how we approach it. The rapid aging may be responsible for keeping her alive at this point.”
“That sounds kind of counter-intuitive doc,” Val said, swinging her legs on the table she had taken a roost on.
“Not exactly,” Izzy said. “Remember, I didn’t start off on this in perfect health. I was pretty close to kicking the bucket even before I became one of the undead.”
“You are right and wrong there,” Dr. Shavitz said. “It’s true that your prior medical condition has an impact on your future prognosis. Removing the effects of the procedure could leave you with compromised or failing systems. I’ll know more about that once the results of these tests are in. You are wrong however about being ‘undead’. You are every bit as biologically viable as anyone else in this room.”
“I’ve been shot in the heart. Normal people don’t get up and walk away from that,” Izzy said.
“I believe that incident did disable you for a brief period however, am I correct?” Dr. Shavitz asked.
“It may have stung a little, yes,” Izzy said.
“That would be because you are still using your heart. And your lungs. And your other organs as well,” Dr. Shavitz said. “You are more resilient than someone without your current biology but you are not immortal, or unkillable. From the scar tissue that remains at the entrance and exit wounds, I believe the bullets did not directly pierce your heart, though in another woman they might have. If they had, or if you were to drown, or burn, even the impressive recuperative capabilities you possess could be taxed beyond their limit.”
“I know the doctor’s I worked with before looked into that a bit,” Izzy said. “Some of the tests they did couldn’t even have been close to ethically sanctioned.”
“I have to wonder what they were hoping to get out of this?” Tam asked. “I mean on the one hand, a vampire treatment could be amazing, especially if it can cure something major like cancer, but it sounds like the survival rate is pretty low. Something like that shouldn’t be in human testing yet, should it?”
“Definitely not,” Dr. Shavitz said. “The work to produce this complete a change in someone’s biology requires multiple breakthrough level inventions, any one of which should have been peer reviewed and studied for a decade or more before any sort of clinical trials on humans began. From the sounds of it, Izzy was far from their first subject too, which suggests this wasn’t a lucky and unpredictable effect of the treatments they gave her.”
“So what can we do then?” Jenny asked. “I mean we don’t understand cancer fully but we can fight that. There has to be someone way to fight this too, isn’t there?”
“Maybe I’ll just turn into an infinitely shriveled old lady,” Izzy said, offering Jenny a smile.
“At this point, I have nothing specific to offer,” Dr. Shavitz said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. There’s still a lot of data to collect, and a lot of possible options. I don’t want to get your hopes up yet, but I don’t want to dash them either. These are early days still. One thing that I believe will help will be to prevent Izzy from suffering any more significant injuries.”
“Apart from the obvious, why is that doc?” Val asked.
“It’s just a hypothesis, but I believe her aging and her regeneration are linked,” Dr. Shavitz said. “I think her body is able to fabricate and replace cells at a rate vastly quicker than normal. There’s a degree of metabolic deterioration in the “quick copying” her cells do though and that adds up to the accelerated aging.”
“So, PrimaLux has a procedure that makes people incredibly healthy, strong and fast, which is frequently fatal to administer, and kills the subject in an unfortunately short time frame? Who would they sell that to?” Val asked.
“Is it possible they’re still running tests in order to work out the accelerated aging side effect?” Tam asked.
“I don’t think so,” Anna said. “If Dr. Shavitz is correct, then the aging element is a central part of the process. Correcting that would be done via trials in an animal population first. It seems more likely that they have accepted the losses, both short and long term, and were running this trial as an off-book project searching for some other benefit.”
“Maybe they were trying to make super soldiers?” Izzy said. “I can certainly fight a lot better than I did before.”
“For that they would want candidates with combat ability, or who they could rapidly train as combatants, before the aging rendered them incapable of fighting. Did they offer you any formal combat training after the procedures began?” Anna asked.
“No. The closest they came to that were the endurance and reflex tests they put me through,” Izzy said. “I learned to fight on my own time.”
“What do you practice?” Val asked, leaning forward.
“Mostly boxing,” Izzy said. “But I took a few years of jiu jitsu too.”
“We’ll have to get in a ring sometime,” Val said with a wide smile. “After your better of course.”
“You’d hit a little old lady like me?” Izzy said.
“I hit Anna all the time,” Val said. “Or I try to.”
“Yeah, don’t fight with Anna,” Tam said. “I’ve watched those matches. She is mean.”
“I am not mean,” Anna said. “I just know more tricks that you do.”
“While I’m all for age and treachery beating youth and skill,” Dr. Shavitz said. “No one is to do any fighting while you are under my care. In a ring or out.”
“Agreed,” Anna said. “We have a more important foe to deal with than each other.”
“PrimaLux. They are not going to be an easy group to handle,” Tam said. “They’ve already fried one of my systems just for poking around their front door.”
“And if they were renting out Izzy’s talents as an enforcer to a scrub like Boyers, it’s means they’ve got plenty of other muscle for targets that are closer to home,” Val said.
“I wasn’t thinking of taking down PrimaLux directly,” Anna said. “We need more information on them before we engage in a contest of that scope. Their lab, on the other hand, would make a much more manageable target I believe.”
“What are you thinking of targeting at their lab?” Val asked.
“I hope you’re about to say ‘the research notes on the procedure they put Izzy through. If we had access to those, it would catapult us forward in terms of coming up with a treatment for her,” Dr. Shavitz said.
“That was exactly my thought,” Anna said. “None of the work they’ve done has been peer reviewed, and if anyone else had made parallel discoveries they would be racing to apply for patent protection on it. Our only chance at understanding what their treatment plan was, and avoiding the mistakes they’ve made, will be to take the data we need from them.”
“We’re going to need to find out where the trials are being run now then,” Val said.
“I can give you the address,” Izzy said.
“I’m willing to bet we find an empty office space there now,” Tam said.
“Losing an asset tends to make people involved in highly illegal endeavors somewhat nervous,” Anna said, focusing on Izzy. “When you disappeared for a month after being sent on an errand they had to consider whether you had been compromised, and would in turn compromise them.”
“The good news, is they didn’t send out a strike force themselves, or send another vampire to help Boyers out. So there’s a limit on how invested they are in this,” Val said.
“What if Boyers lied to them?” Jenny asked. “He was already embezzling from them, why would lying about losing Izzy bother him?”
“He was probably smart enough not to try that,” Izzy said. “I was supposed to put in some time with him to help offset the costs of the procedure, but I was still expected to come in for my usual weekly checkups. Even if Boyers told them I was busy they would have been suspicious by the second week.”
“What I suspect is that they were nearly ready to wrap up your tests and saw this as a chance to close up shop with the data they had collected and move elsewhere,” Anna said. “We will certainly follow up on the locations you can provide us, but if my guess is right, we will find little or nothing to confirm your story.”
“But you still believe her, don’t you?” Jenny asked.
“Of course we do,” Tam said.
“Seriously, how could we not?” Val asked. “Saying ‘a secret lab turned me into a vampire’ might seem like a wild story, but she has the fangs, and blood that’s X positive to prove it. That’s some pretty solid evidence right there.”
“Maybe I’m from some ancient mystic bloodline that refuses to let the mortal world know of our existence though. Isn’t that what a conspiracy whonk would think?” Izzy asked.
“Sure, except for two things,” Tam said. “One, you have an extensive medical history which I apologize for intruding on, but the hospitals you’ve been treated at really need better security, and all of that history says you were a non-vampire up until the records run out. Also, point number two, we’re going to find the doctors who worked on you and then they’ll be proof that what you’re saying is real.”
“And, just to eliminate all suspicion,” Anna said. “I’ve met enough real vampires to know their biology is nothing like yours.”