Bloodshifted Page 13

She looked young, not just because of her makeup, but because she was. At the hospital, when people look a certain way—homeless, drugged out, worn out by alcohol or life—you shrug and say “Okay.” A girl like this, though—she might have been running away, but someone knew she was gone. She wasn’t old enough and didn’t look lost enough to have fallen off the map yet. She looked like a sleeping beauty, waiting for a rescuing prince.

I stepped away from her, emotions welling up. I had a hard time being mad for things that happened to me, but I was good at standing up for other people, and I felt like this woman needed protecting.

What promises could I make to her, though, when she was already dead? I’d missed my chance when I hadn’t tackled Jackson before he’d chosen her last night, and God or fate or karma had let her fall through the cracks. I stepped away from the table suddenly feeling exhausted and looked for a place to sit.

There was only one chair in this room—in front of a sleek computer. I heard a machine winding up from the other room, so I quickly sat down and touched the keyboard. The monitor woke, and a pad by the keyboard lit.

A biometric lock. Medication machines at the hospital used them so that visitors couldn’t get bad ideas and sticky fingers. I pressed my forefinger to the pad; it glowed but didn’t unlock. Of course not.

I sighed and played through my next three fingers, just to have something to do besides thinking about sharing a room with a cruelly used corpse. The computer glowed a warning about running out of attempts, but whatever, who were they sending it to? Raven wasn’t up. And playing with it was a way to forget how I’d failed the woman the night before—a way to ignore her corpse.

The computer, assuming I was an idiot, gave up on me and went to a password prompt. I hadn’t expected that—but maybe if Natasha was using solvents like phenol in her lab she wanted secondary access in case she ever burned the crucial fingerprint off.

Of course I didn’t have a password for it either. I made sure to switch to caps before I typed RAVENISADICK in one and VAMPIRESSUCK in the next one and hit RETURN.

Not surprisingly, those didn’t log me in. I went through a few more curse words, and then just bashed at the keys because it felt good. When I was done, I fumbled around the back of the screen to turn the monitor off.

“What are you doing?” Natasha asked, coming into the room.

“I just wanted to check my email,” I said, deadpan.

“Yeah, no.” Natasha rolled her eyes. “Two hours from now you’re going to need to draw blood again. I’ll be back by to supervise. You’re welcome to wait here—if you leave, Jackson’ll make you scrub more toilets.” She glanced back at the prone woman. “And if anything happens with her—make sure you get on this side of the door and lock it.”

My eyebrows rose. “You’re kidding, right?”

She shook her head. “Nope!” she said and waved as she shut the door behind her.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

A human body had ten pints of blood, roughly four liters. If we were taking ten ccs out at a time, and there were thirty ccs in an ounce, and sixteen ounces in a pint, and a northbound train was coming at sixty miles an hour while Jimmy was biking south on the tracks … I looked around the sterile room again, and then at the body. This was sort of how I imagined a waiting room in hell would be. Natasha did have a point. It wasn’t like I had anywhere else, or better, to go. I didn’t want to hang out with Celine after Estrella’s earlier display, or try Jackson’s patience—or have him try to pump me for information that I didn’t have.

At least here I could snoop around.

I stood and walked over to the closed door, trying the handle. She hadn’t locked it. I noticed the door itself was solid steel, and the frame had been reinforced, which seemed odd. I opened it, peeked out, and—finding myself alone—closed it and started opening drawers.

Most of the cabinets were empty, but there was a drawer full of neatly stacked medical supplies. Butterfly needles in all gauges for blood draws on normal people with blood pressure, boxes of alcohol wipes, rolls of tape, and individually wrapped packets of gauze. A drawer full of test tubes, another of sterile ten-cc syringes; one had a whole box of needles.

There were also more mysterious implements, loose, with flecks of blood. I made sure not to touch any of them. One of them was definitely a bone saw. I hadn’t seen an autoclave on my way in, but maybe sterility didn’t matter all that much since everyone Natasha experimented on died.

I was in the same position I’d been in since I’d gotten here—no power, no chance to fight back or even warn anyone. I could destroy her computer, but then what? There was a chance that I’d fatally piss off Raven, and Natasha would be shaving my head next. Maybe afterward she’d send my arm down to the prisoner.

Baby, usually the world is not this bleak, I swear.

I turned back to the woman on the table. If Natasha was waiting for someone to come back from the dead, I might be interested in getting a heads-up too. All her lines were still flat, and none of her had moved. It was easy to be freaked out because she was so lifelike.

Even though I didn’t see dead bodies often, I knew they had signs. I leaned over to look at the backs of her legs, where her unused blood should have been pooling into vasodilated capillaries, making her look like she was half bruised, but it wasn’t. And she wasn’t bloated. There was a chance that she’d just finished being “subjected” before I got into the room. But still—I took her hand in mine. Her fingers slipped into my grasp and were as supple as they’d probably been in life.

She didn’t feel dead. Or look dead. But—Natasha had all as much admitted that she’d been dosed with vampire blood. The only question was how long ago—and from whom.

I set her hand back down where it had been—facing up, fingers slightly curved—carefully, as if I might wake her up. One of the services on floor Y4, where I’d been a nurse and gotten started on my supernatural path, was to stockpile blood for some of the local vampire Thrones. The Shadows had given the place enough security that they could feel comfortable banking blood there for later, should they need to change anyone fast. But it always-always-always took three days. I’d only seen one transfusion where a daytimer had gotten enough blood to change. At the time, it had seemed like that person had died. And once I’d kept a changed daytimer in my closet for three days to help out Anna. She’d seemed dead right up until she’d woken up hungry and gone berserk on an unlucky werewolf burglar.

I didn’t know if this was the test subject Jackson had admitted to getting last night, but I had a feeling she was. If so, why did Natasha’s warning to run for the door sound so sincere? She should be dead—or asleep, or whatever euphemism anyone used—for seventy-two hours straight. If that was the case, though, why was all the monitoring equipment running, as if it were waiting to chart the moment she woke? I stood up and paced, thinking, sure to keep a close eye on her.

Raven shouldn’t have been able to make another daytimer so quickly after saving me—Lars’s jealousy had made that clear. Ingesting mere human blood wasn’t enough to even out the deficit of giving me so much of his. Just because you ate carrots didn’t mean that you’d bleed carrots—there was a strange, possibly metaphysical, metabolic pathway for vampire blood that had to be followed in between.

But Natasha was unlikely to work for any of the other vampires, and Raven wasn’t the type to allow any other of his flock to gain advantage on him. I faced the woman with crossed arms. Whose baby was she?

The only thing I knew for sure was that Natasha wasn’t following in Nathaniel’s footsteps anymore—human blood-substitute tests didn’t involve turning people into vampires. Despite her altruistic claims, if she’d managed to turn someone from human to vampire in under one day’s time, she was far worse for humanity than her dearly departed dad.

I circled to the computer again and sat down, elbows on the desk, holding my chin in my hands in thought while I stared at all her monitors’ straight lines.

* * *

After three minutes of watching her not-breathe, I risked looking down at the keyboard.

HAVE I MENTIONED HOW MUCH THIS BLOWS? I typed out, hammering my frustration with each letter.

The monitor flickered to life, showing the login screen. It would have been awesome if that had somehow managed to be Natasha’s username and password combination. My estimation of her would have shot way, way up.

A word-processing program opened and a cursor started blinking at the top of the screen.

The keyboard is monitored. Do not touch it again.

I put my hands by my sides like a child who’d just been caught. The window shrank in half and then another window opened, and an absolutely frightening face took its place.

I’d never been so happy to see an eyeless, lipless man in my life—his exposed gums and teeth made it look like a jack-o’-lantern was grinning at me.

“Gideon?” I whispered. Gideon was one of Anna’s daytimers; he’d been working for her and been caught and tortured. They’d cut off portions of his fingers, and all of his ears and lips, then gouged out his eyes. He was helpless, and since everyone else Anna knew was nocturnal, he’d been dumped on me to babysit. At the same time Gideon was there, I’d been harboring a ghost in an old CD player. This ghost—who kind-of-sort-of claimed to be Wayland Smith, the legendary blacksmith from Nordic lore, but I called him Grandfather because he seemed old and generally disapproved of everything, up to and including the dragon he’d helped me kill—had talked Gideon into taking apart everything electronic I owned, down to my toaster oven, and inserting it into himself. So now he had a webcam on his shoulder, a CD player with the light still on in his chest, and some metal fingers. Grandfather and Gideon were one and the same.

Basically he was a cyborg who was really good with electronics. He still disapproved of a lot of things, though.

Hello again, Edie. There is no microphone on your side, or camera, so this is solely one-way. Hit the space bar now if now is unsafe to talk. The words blinked on the screen all at once.

I wished there were a camera, so he could see me smiling back at him. I took the monitor between my hands as if I was going to kiss it.

Good. Hit the space bar if it becomes unsafe, and this transmission will instantly end. Until then, read. I leaned into the screen.

We are coming for you, but we must choose our moment. We are deciding on the safest course. It was hard not to take to the keyboard and type in HURRY! Anna requests that you continue to play nice until we arrive, knowing how hard that is for you. Your man requested instead that you should play nice-enough.

I grinned even more helplessly at the monitor, thinking of Asher.

Curse again on the keyboard the next time we can safely talk. I hope to have more information for you soon, but know that we have not abandoned you. We are glad that you are currently safe. From your keystrokes, I can tell you still have all your fingers. Good-bye.

Keystroke metrics. I had no idea how many computers in Los Angeles Gideon was monitoring right now to find me on this one, or how long he’d been looking, but I was so glad he was. Maybe House Grey and Jackson were right to be paranoid about Anna, if she was monitoring all the communications by other Thrones that she could.

Too damn bad.

* * *

I had the better part of another hour alone in the room. While I thought, I was mesmerized by the woman’s monitors, with their continual proud declaration of her un-life.

Natasha came back in two hours to supervise my blood draw. I think she was scared there wouldn’t be any blood left in the heart, and I’d botch getting it out from the femoral artery—nurses never went there for IV starts or blood draws.

“Okay, yes. Just about that deep. Then withdraw it slowly, there’s a chance you’ll run dry, but you don’t want to chase it down with your needle and hit muscle wall—” she said, watching me perform.

I levered up the syringe’s plunger slowly, and the barrel filled as I watched. It looked just like any other ten ccs of dark red human blood I’d seen.

“Okay—she’s clearly not dead all the way. Since I don’t think you’re Jesus, I’m pretty sure she’s a vampire,” I said as I handed it over. “Where’s the other test subject? What’s happening to him?” There was a chance that Natasha was splitting her time between here and another similar lab, machines hovering over another corpse.

“I’m holding him in reserve.”

“What happens to her if she wakes up?”

“It’s not if, it’s when.”

I frowned at her. “Three days, right?”

Her lips pursed in smugness. “I’ve figured out a way to speed the process up.” Her voice was full of pride.

“How? And when?” How long did Anna have before Raven had another fighting member of his house?

“I’m still making my projections,” she said, suddenly coy.

“The others stood for this?” If Lars was pissed at me for sharing Raven’s blood and becoming a daytimer, how much worse would being skipped over to be changed anger him?

“The others don’t get a vote.” Natasha shrugged casually. “Only Raven’s opinion matters.”

Without the context of this room, she’d seem so … normal. More normal than someone related to Nathaniel, or held hostage, or even in love with a vampire had any right to be. “What’s a nice girl like you doing with him?” I asked before I could help myself.

She blinked in surprise, and then laughed. “I’m not so nice. But he saved my life.”

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