The frozen vampire bodies weren’t the creepiest thing in the basement of the Wainwright Health facility.
“Should a worm look like that?” Val asked, pointing to the bloated creature inside a sealed glass case towards the back of the room.
“That’s a worm?” Tam asked, shuddering at the sight of it.
The creature was at least three feet long and several inches thick with weird bulbous protrusions irregularly placed along its body.
“Judging from the case? I would say its condition is not a natural one,” Anna said. “No air holes, and the only tubes leading into the cage are covered with fabric which is probably a very fine mesh air filter.”
“So whoever made that thing doesn’t want it exposed to the outside world?” Val said.
“Or the outside world exposed to it,” Anna said.
“Do you think it’s a coincidence that it’s down here with the vampires?” Tam asked, connecting a USB drive to one of the computers and powering it up.
“The procedures Izzy was subjected to required numerous breakthroughs,” Anna said. “I believe this could be part of the new trials.”
“Why do you say that?” Val asked.
“The researchers who worked on Izzy were not afraid to try experiments which resulted in the deaths of their subjects,” Anna said. “Here they are testing something on a nonhuman lifeform first though? Why? Possibly because they can’t afford to lose the subjects the test is ultimately intended to work on. While they may have a ready supply of human volunteers for their experiments, their stock of ‘vampires’ would be more limited.”
“That is a very astute observation.” The woman who spoke was as tall as Anna, with hair a bit more grey and eyes a bit more wrinkled. “But that’s not to say we wouldn’t get interesting results if we were to test the parasite’s effect on a baseline human.”
The gun in her hand decided the question of whether she was friendly or not rather easily.
“Dr. Welkman?” Anna asked, ignoring the menace of the pistol pointed at her as though it wasn’t there at all.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” Dr. Mila Welkman said, and gestured forward two security guards who also had their weapons drawn.
“Yes, and I suspect I always will,” Anna said. “Your name was listed on the shipping manifest for the cargo from the clinic you burned down.”
“That is a fascinating accusation for a burglar and arsonist to make,” Welkman said.
“You think that is how this is going to play out?” Anna said. “You’ll do what exactly? Call the police and have them arrest us?”
Anna strolled over to one of the desks that had been setup to one side of the row of cryogenic coffins the vampires were stored in. She leaned against the desk and tilted her head waiting for an answer to her question.
“We could do that I suppose,” Welkman said, walking over to the desk opposite Anna’s and leaning against it with the same unconcerned air. “You are trespassers here, and there’s nothing you can point to which would excuse that.”
“But you’re not going to do that,” Anna said. “Your patients might raise the wrong kind of questions.”
“Our patients? Why, you don’t mean the medical cadavers we have in storage do you?” Welkman asked.
“Medical cadavers?” Anna said, offering a nod and a smile. “That’s quite clever. False identities for the cadavers I presume?”
“It is easier when they’re awake to use their original names,” Welkman said.
“Understandable. Are they even aware of their alternate identities?” Anna asked.
“That would be unnecessary,” Welkman said.
“Of course,” Anna agreed. “But you still don’t want any attention on your medical cadavers, and so you’re not going to be calling the police.”
“That is true, but what makes you so certain?” Welkman asked. “The fire?”
“Among other things,” Anna said. “Setting up all of this equipment in a new location is too time consuming to be done trivially. Even with deep pockets backing you, the prospect of wasting that much time is something you only agreed to because of dire need.”
“Labs move location all the time,” Welkman said. “It’s not so traumatic as all that.”
“Do you think so?” Anna asked. “Consider for a moment then that the equipment here will need to move again once our chat is concluded. How does that make you feel?”
Welkman scowled and then suppressed the reaction.
“No worries though, I have good news for you on that front,” Anna said. “You won’t have to move any of this equipment, or your patients.”
“You are going to kill yourselves and clean up the mess when you’re done?” Welkman asked. “That’s an impressive trick. I look forward to seeing how you carry it out.”
“It is simpler than you might think,” Anna said, “but no, we will leave by the front door, and when we do, we will be taking everything with us.”
“And I will be dead, I presume?” Welkman asked.
“Dead? No. You will be standing at the door with a smile, and you will shake my hand before we leave and tell me how happy you are with how everything turned out,” Anna said.
“You’ll excuse me if I find that somewhat unlikely,” Welkman said. “I see things playing out a bit differently than that. In my version of events, there are two extra cryotubes with occupants in them and I spend a few minutes tonight placing an order for two additional identities for my new medical cadavers. I leave it up to you whether the occupants are merely frozen, or shot and then frozen. The second involves more mopping but we do have an unfortunate history of lab accidents as precedent to explain away the blood stains.”
“You want to do that even less than you want to move again,” Anna said.
“While this conversation has been amusing, I assure you, I have no desire to move again, and no compunction about shooting you,” Welkman said. “It’s really in your best interest for you and your friend to climb into the cryotubes of your own accord. We can make you quite comfortable and you’ll only feel a brief chill as you are put under.”
“And then a thousand years will pass before you thaw us out again, right?” Val asked.
“A thousand years? I’m afraid our cryogenics isn’t quite that advanced yet,” Welkman said. “When an unmodified human such as yourself is frozen, the freezing process damages all sorts of cellular functions. There is no revivification process that can bring you back. Even if in the far future we learn how to restore life to a frozen human corpse, the person who awakens will share almost no brain cells with you. They would be a pretty young woman with your face and none of your memories, or anything else that makes you who you are.”
“With unmodified humans? Then the same is not true with reviving your patients?” Anna asked.
“They are the wave of the future,” Welkman said.
“An effect of their healing factor?” Anna asked. “No, that can’t be it. Even if they could restore damaged brain tissue they would be just as much a blank slate as anyone else.”
“It is a shame to waste a mind like yours,” Welkman said. “The healing factor, as you call it, is only one of many advances their biology supports. Their cells are also many times more resilient than ours.”
“But shorter lived,” Anna said. “I can see how that would fit together. They’re more isolated from their environment but that also means being isolated from the support network human cells rely on. So they’re harder to damage, but as a result starve themselves in a manner normal cells don’t.”
“Where did you get your Biology degree from?” Welkman asked.
“Oxford, but I studied finance there,” Anna said.
“Fascinating. What you described took us the better part of two years to discover,” Welkman said.
“I have the benefit of seeing the end result,” Anna said.
“I could offer to try the procedure on you,” Welkman said. “There would at least be a chance you’d survive it and could endure the cryo-freezing. Something tells me though that I would not want to see you with superhuman strength and endurance.”
“I have been told my endurance is quite sufficient as it is,” Anna said.
Welkman sigh and straightened up.
“Sadly we will not be able to put that to the test,” she said and gestured with her pistol for Anna to stand as well.
“There is one more thing for you to consider,” Anna said. “Before you try to put me into the cryotube, you might want to ask how you are going to get all of them back in there as well?”
She gestured to her right side, towards the first row of cryotubes.
The ones with their covers open.
The ones which had all of the newly awoken vampires peering out at the rest of the room.
“What happened then?” Izzy asked.
“Dr. Welkman agreed with my proposal that we take her patients off her hands,” Anna said.
“But why?” Jenny asked.
“The patients they froze, the ones we woke up, those were the ones who didn’t work out as enforcers or security. They were normal folks with supernormal abilities but that didn’t mean they wanted to embrace a life of violence all of a sudden,” Val said.
“Most of them just wanted to finish their cures,” Tam said.
“They had agreed to be put into suspension because the aging effect was progressing too fast and they trusted their doctors to do what was right to save them,” Anna said. “Waking up as they did, and seeing how they’d been relegated to the status of interesting furniture meant they wouldn’t be extending that trust to Dr. Welkman again.”
“Welkman was pretty confident when it was her and two armed goons against two unarmed women. Once the odds shifted to a include a couple dozen vampires in the mix though things didn’t look so rosy for her anymore,” Val said.
“Two of you?” Izzy asked.
“Anna kept Welkman talking long enough for me to initiate the thawing process on each of the cryotubes,” Tam said.
“And they didn’t see you doing it?” Jenny asked.
“It’s not like a disappearing girl effect is hard or anything,” Tam said.
“Where does that leave us though?” Izzy asked. “Where you able to find a cure?”
“They found information,” Dr. Shavitz said. “I’m afraid a ‘cure’ isn’t on the table. If Welkman had the process working without drawbacks, I think we’d be living in a very different sort of world already. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we do have some options.”
“Are any of them good ones?” Izzy asked.
“Well, the easiest one is the cryo option,” Dr. Shavitz said. “If you want to retain the biology you have now, we know that we can freeze you and keep you frozen indefinitely. That would buy us the time we need to work out a method of correcting the accelerated aging effect.”
“But that could take years, couldn’t it?” Izzy asked.
“At the very least,” Dr. Shavitz said. “It could be substantially longer too.”
Jenny’s face had become an emotionless mask, but Izzy met her gaze and shook her head.
“What else do you have?” she asked.
“There is an approach that might allow for a reversion to a predominantly human biology,” Dr. Shavitz said. “Right now, your unique blood is generated by a symbiotic microbe which they cultivated within you. I’m not sure we can ever fully eliminate it, but given the steps required to allow it to gain dominance in your system, I believe there’s a method of returning your human systems to their active states and replacing the new ones which have supplanted them.”
“I can be normal again?” Izzy said, blinking in disbelief.
“I don’t want to oversell this,” Dr. Shavitz said. “You will always have a complicated biology going forward, but I believe we can remove the accelerated aging, at the price of also losing your superhuman regeneration, strength, and speed.”
“That’s fine, I don’t need to be a superhero,” Izzy said.
“What about the leukemia though?” Jenny asked.
“There is no trace of that in Izzy’s system anymore,” Dr. Shavitz said. “We’ll need to continue to monitor for it of course, but she is in full remission now and I believe the residual symbionts would continue to target any new occurrences as a priority just as they do now.”
“And the other patients?” Izzy asked.
“We brought them up here too,” Tam said.
“They’ll have the same care options that you do,” Val said.
“What about this Dr. Welkman? What happened to her?” Jenny asked.
“Dr. Welkman and her team have chosen to pursue other career options, under new identities,” Anna said.
“She wasn’t exactly happy about it, but like Anna pointed out, when you’re employer is willing to burn down a building to protect their secrets, your termination notice is likely to be delivered in a very terminal fashion.” Val said.
“Not to worry,” Anna said. “I suspect we’ll see the good doctor again. Everyone deserves a second chance after all.”