( xvi )
“Rise and shine, beautiful.”
Red woke up on the same bed where he took his nap a day earlier. He remembered being in shock and being sedated by either Capricorn or Libra. “I must’ve slept for a whole day”, he uttered to himself. He squinted his eyes and saw the face of agent Green. Despite being much younger, he quickly rose up the ranks and claimed the position of warden. Red trained him personally to fulfil his duty but he always felt a certain rivalry and animosity coming from him. He despised Green for his attitude but knew that he was the most capable in terms of clean-ups and cover-ups.
“You guys caused quite a ruckus, you know that?” He walked around the bed. “The sheer noise nearly caused exposure we couldn’t really fix with bribing or disappearance. Could you imagine what would’ve happened if one of the major media showed up? Yes, we have them in our pockets, but you know we can’t truly buy discretion completely.”
He kept talking, much to the recently awakened Red’s annoyance. “Things are not as they used to be old man. Every moron has a phone hooked to some social media accounts these days. The old days of bribing, killing or blackmailing are over. One tweet, and it’s over.”
“Would you just shut up for a second, Green?” Red sat up against the headboard of his bed.
“It’s pronounced thank you, Red. You should practice saying it sometimes. Jean-Pierre would want to hear from you. You better explain why ten of your zodiacs got killed and his favourite ward is in a coma. If your Libra and Capricorn hadn’t reached on time, she would’ve been burnt to a crisp.”
“Is she safe?”
“For now, she is. No thanks to you.” Green paused to see Red’s reaction and felt a sick satisfaction seeing his guilt. “She’s resting in Bazin’s lab, hooked to bags of blood pumped with growth hormones. She will heal.”
“Your smug face wasn’t there, Green. There’s no way I could’ve predicted what happened.”
“Save it for Jean-Pierre. Or worse, the Council. I got work to do. I’ll take what’s left of your team. Jean-Pierre wants the site all cleaned up by morning. Let’s not forget about renovating the whole site.”
Green left Red alone to himself and to his thoughts. He stayed until he heard Green’s truck leaving with his men and more materials. Flashes of his memories kept creeping up in his mind and shuddered by the mere thought of it. He served his master for decades dutifully and has done many unpleasant things and faced terrifying foes, but he was never challenged and shaken to his core the way he did last night.
He got up on his own two feet. Still shaking. He found his clothes and gears on a chair next to his bed. He put on his clothes, his shoes, and then he tightened his gun holster around his thigh. Out of automatism, he checked whether his gun was loaded and checked his magazine full of bullets. He went outside of the farmhouse and took a deep breath. After staring at the horizon for a while, he summoned the courage to go downstairs and look at the recovering Leila. He knew whatever happened wasn’t his fault but he was the only one who got out alive and unscathed. He knew his guilt wasn’t rational, but he couldn’t shake it away.
Downstairs, Bazin wasn’t at his usual station. One of the doors to his left was open. He went inside and found Bazin injecting a serum on the bag of blood hooked to Leila’s unconscious body laying on a surgical table. A type of hydrogel was smeared on the wound of her thigh to help her heal faster. A plethora of sensors kept track of her vital signs.
“Thanks for the gift, Red. You brought quite a specimen.”
Red was confused but he soon understood what Bazin was talking about as he pointed towards a tray on an adjacent table. The headless remains of the creature were laying on it, with its innards exposed. His heart stopped as soon as he laid his eyes on it. Bazin had been busy taking tissue samples from it.
“Quite thoughtful of your agents. You’ve trained them well. If they hadn’t bagged it properly, it would’ve burst into flames at sunrise.” Bazin looked at Red and grinned. “You can’t really take tissue samples from a heap of ash, can you?”
Red remained silent. He tried to avoid looking at the remains of the creature.
“How is she doing?” Red asked Bazin about Leila.
“As well as she could be, considering how much blood she lost.” Bazin turned around and started heading to his office.
Bazin sat down on his chair and started to type. “I have never seen anything like this in all my life.” He turned his face towards Red and smirked. “And you know it’s not your short so-called limited life. I’m talking about centuries of experience.” He turned his head back to his screens. “I’ve heard of many cultures that created myths about dead women gestating monsters inside their womb that would later terrorize people around burial sites. I bet it’s based on miracles like this. Those were true stories, Red. Truth! Truth became myths, and myths became legends.” Bazin could barely hide the excitement in his voice. “No wonder the samples you gave me yesterday had cells with a high telomere length. It’s a fetus we’re talking about! I had to recheck twice to be sure. And there I was thinking it was the pregnant woman killing all those people.”
The room fell silent after Bazin uttered those last words. He paused for a moment and kept typing while staring at his screen, hoping Red ignored what he had just said. Red’s heart sank. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. His adrenaline level rose up. His mind and body became alert.
“How could you have known that it was a pregnant woman, Bazin?”
Bazin stayed silent.
“Bazin, I asked you a question.”
“You brought the corpse of a baby hijacked by the hemovore strain,” Bazin spoke without taking his eyes from his screen. His hands aren’t typing anymore. “Any idiot could reach that conclusion.”
Red’s jaws tightened.
“Bazin, it has been almost a year that you’ve been here. Right?”
“Something like that.”
“Do you know how many people disappeared at Mont-Gaspard, since your exile?” Red’s stern voice reached a low baritone.
Bazin swivelled his chair slowly and looked at Red with his crimson eyes. “Just what are you trying to say here, Red?”
“Tell me honestly,” Red asked Bazin while keeping his hand near his holster, “What happened to your agents stationed here? Did you actually send them to town?”
Bazin stayed silent. He slowed down his breathing. His eyes flashed with anger. His smile turned to a crooked rictus.
“How many have you killed Bazin?” Red continued his questioning.
Bazin took a long and deep breath.
“You know what I smell on you Red?” He took another breath flaring his nostrils. “Mmm, it was delicious wasn’t it? That hamburger?” Bazin put his clawed hands on the armrest. “That’s what you are to me, Red. Nothing but cattle. Would you bother answering to the cattle you farm? Do you have any accountability towards them? Do you?” Bazin started to raise his tone. His claws dug deep in his chair’s armrests. His protruding fangs were visible.
“You know the rules, Bazin. Discretion is life. You had your care package sent to you regularly…”
“Care package! Do you even hear how ridiculous it sounds? Bottled fucking frozen blood for an apex predator! Care Package!” He repeated himself in a mocking tone. “The council is run by fools if they choose to cower behind their own cattle!”
Bazin suddenly leapt forward, brandishing his fangs and his claws. Red swerved at the right moment and dodged his attack. The feral creature landed on his feet as his claws screeched on the floor. Before he could turn and attack again, Red shot him directly on the neck and severed his spine. He kept squirming, unable to scream or move. His red eyes were glaring with violence while viscous, black blood kept pouring on the floor. But it was all futile. Red had the upper hand.
“I could’ve killed you if I wanted to.” He put his gun back in his holster. “I have over thirty years of experience dealing with your kind. I want you to suffer. Because of you, my agents are dead. Because of you Leila nearly died. Not to mention your other victims…”
Red unsheathed his tactical knife and proceeded to cut off Bazin’s thumb. Bazin groaned in pain. He fumed angrily, but there wasn’t much he could do.
“Mock the council all you want. But they are smart. Exposure would only mean their death.” Black tar-like blood dripped from Bazin’s wound. Red got up and put his thumb on the biometric scanner on his table that opened all the doors connected to the office.
“You see us as cattle don’t you? Apex predator?” Red scoffed. “You’re parasites, Bazin. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Red started inspecting the whole facility. He found a supply closet and found the duct tapes he was looking for. In another room, he found a series of servers connected to each other. The adjacent room was in fact a larger laboratory filled with specialized glassware, microscopes, bunsen burners, and other, more complex instruments he couldn’t recognize. The last room was the room that shook him. It was a storage room filled with stacks of jars full of formaldehyde, in which he found the remains of two agents Bazin had slain, their members separated in different containers.
“With this, now, I don’t even need to justify to Jean-Pierre what I’m about to do to you.”