By Rick Daley
By Rick Daley
The scientist slaved away in his laboratory, fueled as much by his ego as his will to survive. He teetered on the cusp of a breakthrough. He knew how to isolate the virus; he just lacked the tools to do it efficiently.
He peered into his microscope. He watched the red blood cells change as the infection took root. He couldn’t see the virus itself without a more powerful instrument, so he relied on observation of its effects to guide his work. The lens did a good enough job. It ought to. It took him three months to grind it. Three months he needed back. Three months that were forever past.
He lived for the future. The present carried little meaning. Day and night were naught in his subterranean world, an impromptu lab set up in the remains of a military bunker hewn deep in the bedrock. He slept often, but never for long. He tried to keep alert while he worked but the isolation acted as a sedative, enveloping his senses and veiling the rest of the world. The world he wanted so desperately to save.
The ground above him bathed in light, but soon the sun would set for months and if he didn’t finish before then all hope would be lost. The virus would have to be delivered to the hosts immediately. He could not preserve it through the long darkness, and he didn’t have the resources to repeat his work.
Success could not avoid him forever, and when his tenacity finally culminated in a pure form of the virus, highly contagious and transmittable through the air, he packed up his gear and stepped into the October sunlight, taking in the waning remains of a continuous day that began in January.
As he set out on his journey south he passed a herd of caribou. He thanked them, for it was in their blood that he first found the virus. If he succeeded – and he did not come all this way to fail – then all humanity would owe its future to the caribou.
He trekked on for days, staying ever vigilant as he traveled in the darkness, relying on the security of the sunlight to rest. Hundreds of miles passed beneath his feet before he reached the breeding pens, located in the central building of a large farm compound. He worked to stay hidden, which was easier than he expected because they weren’t looking for him here. They had no idea what he was about to do; that he had the power to destroy them forever.
The livestock paddocks were fully enclosed. Inside, a colony of hosts for his virus. Incubators and carriers with a natural immunity, the livestock in this pen were special, used for breeding. The mature offspring were shipped worldwide where they were interbred with local livestock.
The virus would spread quickly, and when it did their entire food supply would be poisoned, and every last drop of human blood would be forever protected from than fangs of the vampires.
He looked up at the sun. Four hours before it would sink beneath the horizon. Four hours before they would awaken. If he failed, they would be humanity’s final hours.
He snuck around to a service entrance. Unlocked. They never expected intruders; the vampires had no natural enemies other than the light of the sun. Their order rivaled that of a hive of insects, working to keep their society fed with a steady stream of human blood. They lived with a ruthless efficiency but after years of having no threat to their power they had let down their guard. And it would be their undoing.
He worked his way deeper into the compound and voices echoed through the ductwork. Soft murmurs, primitive vocalizations devoid of true language. Is humanity even worth saving at this point? He wondered as he turned the corner and came upon hundreds of naked humans in a large room empty of any furnishings save the rows of commodes along one wall.
They stared at him, their young faces dumbfounded. They did not make any noise; rather, a hush fell over them as they struggled to make sense of this apparition – a bearded man, something that some of them had not seen since their early childhood, and many had never seen at all. Vampire skin did not produce facial hair, and they kept the human livestock shaved from head to toe.
As a rule, no human was allowed to live past the age of twenty. The oldest of the livestock in the room would have been six years old at the uprising. How quickly the power shifted; mere weeks from the time of the Reveal, when the vampires came together in the moonlight for all the world to see, to the time when they drained the last adult human of her blood. The vampires used their superior strength to wrest control of the planet from its human leaders and establish their own rule of law.
He moved into the center of the crowd, an old glass perfume bottle in hand, and he pointed it at the mouths of the people he passed. Their jaws opened without question, and into each he sprayed one pump of the viral agent. He continued until his spray was all gone, and he left undetected, stealing away into the final hour of daylight.
He reached the woods as darkness fell and he took shelter in a shallow cave. His job finished, he risked a night’s sleep, no longer concerned about his fate if found. Any vampire that tasted his blood would regret it.
Dawn broke and the morning light found its way to his eyes, teasing them open with its promise of warmth and safety. He crawled out of the cave and stood and stretched and breathed deep the fresh air. Today it tasted different, as if his pride and hope were carried on the breeze, nourishing a soul exhausted from years of trials fraught with much more error than success.
The whole farm is infected by now. The vampires won’t know it because they don’t eat the breeding stock. How long until the first vampire dies? He thought. It was the same thought that ran through his mind every day for the past four years, since the day he discovered the virus that the caribou carried. The half-strand of DNA that could kill a vampire within hours but did no harm to a human host.
Not long, I bet. There has to be a shipment of the older stock going out to breed soon. Whoever they are herded with, they will all be infected within days. All they need to do is breathe the same air. When the vampires dine on the infected stock, they will feel the pain of death.
How long until they figure out the cause? He wondered. Another oft-repeated question that seemed as old as the hills in which he hid, with an answer as familiar as the itch beneath his beard. Probably never. I just saved the human race, and nobody will ever know it.
To him, that mattered. As a scientist before the rise of the vampires he coveted the recognition of his peers and sought after the top prizes awarded in his field. And now, when he finally completed a work worthy of worldwide renown, he feared that news of his deeds would fall into a soundless void, never to resonate in the intellect of those that benefitted the most from it.
The disease spread faster than he anticipated. He failed to account for the frequency at which the vampires dined, and the way several of them would gorge themselves on the same human, one at the neck, one at each wrist, and one at the inside of each leg, draining the femoral arteries. For each human host, five vampires would die.
Across the earth the vampires became infected. The virus imbued their unfeeling flesh with a pain so intense it drove them into the fiery light of the sun in a suicidal frenzy. Unable to resist the temptation to feed, the vampires found extinction in the new human blood.
At first the human livestock remained in their pens, domesticated cattle that were born into slavery and had little to no sense of freedom. Eventually they emerged into a dangerous new world, learning how to eat and drink without being fed and watered. He did his best to help them and guide them, to give them back the gift of language. He impregnated as many females as he could, hoping that seed would empower a new generation to rise up and reclaim the reigns of the earth.
But is it any use at all? They are so many, and me only one, he thought. Still he tried. He accepted their fate, and with it, his own.
His people looked on him as a God, come to them one day as a ray from the sun to free them from slavery and bring them forth into the light. They erected for him a great stone monument, and carved for him an effigy in rock, part man and part animal, for the animals gave him the power to set them free. Those that made the statue did not know what his caribou looked like, so they chose instead a local animal that had earned their respect for its power and majesty.
When death finally claimed him, he surrendered to it openly, satisfied at last with his life and what he had done.