A Shade of Vampire 30: A Game of Risk (15 page)

Lawrence

I
woke
up to the feeling of something tight binding my wrists, chest and waist. My heavy eyelids unglued. My vision cleared. I was in the center of a small square room with stark white walls and a wide blank screen directly in front of me. I was strapped to a heavy metal chair that was nailed to the floor.

As my memory slowly returned to me, my heartbeat quickened.

Where am I?

I played back the last hour in my head before my unconsciousness. My father’s suggestion that we take a trip to the laboratory. Ben letting loose a cage of Bloodless. The struggle that had ensued, my father getting bitten… My call with the doctor, and then the alarm. Every subsequent event shot through my mind in a flurry while I tried to piece together what exactly had just happened. Why my father had stabbed me with a needle. Why I was sitting here now.

My mind came up with a single answer:

Ben.

Somewhere along the line, even in his agony, my father must have noticed Ben. I had feared that he might have a couple of times during all the craziness, but had pinned my hope on him being too distracted to notice. But he must’ve seen him. He must have, or else… Nothing else would explain his behavior. He had spotted and recognized Ben from The Shade. And he had realized that I was working with him. Then… then… my muddled brain struggled to piece together what it meant. Or rather, struggled to
accept
what it meant.

I had been unable to obtain the full recipe for the antidote direct from Dr. Finnegan’s mouth. The last ingredient I had gotten from my father and, at that time, he must’ve already known about Ben, because Ben had not returned to the third floor after I had come down to speak to the doctor.

Which meant… the recipe that my father had given me for the antidote. The formula that he had so blithely shattered on the floor. Was that not the real cure then? Was that last ingredient fake?

Even as it made every fiber of my being tense with fear, I could not bring myself to believe that he would have told me the truth. That he would’ve given me the full, genuine recipe.

The blood drained from my face.

What was in that red-colored tube? My father’s only addition to the doctor’s lineup of bottles…

Would it cause harm? Or would it just render the formula incomplete and useless?

Oh, God, Grace. Please be all right. Please be all right.

If something happened to her, it would be all my fault. I had assured her father that I had given him the cure. That everything would be fine, if he just fed it to her.

Then anger welled within me that she and I were even in this position in the first place. That we’d ever had to go to such lengths simply to do what was right. We had done nothing wrong or illegal.
Why is this so damn hard?

I strained against the chair, mustering all the power that my body possessed, but I could not break free from it. It held me fast, and I could hardly even budge an inch on the seat.

“Let me out!” I shouted, my voice bouncing off the walls.

Where had he taken me? What was he planning to do with me now? Now that my father had obviously discovered that I was aware of the existence of the cure, he must’ve suspected that I knew about FOEBA, maybe also the mystery surrounding my mother’s death.

How did he live with himself?

What is going through that brain of his?

Was he planning to kill me too? If he had been, why had he not done it already? Why bring me here and wait for me to wake up? Was I nothing but a risk now? A risk to all that he had worked for his entire life?

I yelled again, trying to attract someone’s—anyone’s—attention. Whatever was about to happen, I did not want to wait for it. I wanted to look my fate in the eyes now. Nothing was worse than drawn-out ignorance.

Still, I could hear no footsteps. But after I shouted for the third time, the screen in front of me suddenly flickered and flashed on. I found myself staring at the backdrop of my father’s Chicago office. His laptop was open on his desk, but he was not sitting behind it.

Dad?
I was about to call, but I could hardly use that name for him anymore. I didn’t know what he was to me now, but Dad no longer seemed like the right word.

“What are you doing?” I hissed.

The screen jolted slightly, as if somebody was adjusting the camera, then Atticus finally came into view. He had changed clothes since the last time I had seen him. I wondered how much time had passed since I’d been knocked out. Hours? Even days?

God knew.

He eyed the camera stoically while sitting back in his swivel chair. There was still a touch of uncharacteristic paleness to his face, but otherwise, he looked recovered from the incident in the laboratory.

“What are you doing?” I repeated.

Swallowing, he clasped his hands together in front of him on the desk, gazing steadily at me. His cold gray eyes seemed to pierce through the screen and touch me.

“Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence,” he said slowly. He ran his tongue along his lower lip, before breathing in deeply through his nose. “I’ll be honest. I have not been sure what to do with you.”

I waited with bated breath, unsure of how much, if any, information I should bother revealing up front. I was sure that he already suspected everything, but that was still not a reason to tell him more than I absolutely needed to. It was wiser to hear from his mouth everything he thought I knew.

“So how long have you been in allegiance with The Shade?” he asked. His voice was steady, albeit tinged with a hint of disappointment.

So much for my resolve to hold myself back. His words grated on me intolerably. Here he was, keeping me an unlawful prisoner in this room and having the gall to conduct this meeting like it was an interrogation.

“How long have you known about the antidote?” I shot back.

He sighed even more heavily. “About fourteen years.”

His truthfulness—assuming that he had spoken the truth—took me aback. I was so used to his words being lies or twisted in some way. I wasn’t sure how to read him being straightforward with me. If that was what he was being, I couldn’t help but feel that this was a bad sign. There was something ominous about his demeanor.

I was tempted to prod him to go on, but allowed him to go at his own pace.

His eyes took on a distant quality, no longer staring at me, as though he was losing himself in memories. “It happened one Christmas Eve. I had been in my office, holding an emergency conference call. We had been discussing a recent finding that had come to light among some of our scientists involving the Bloodless. Unbeknownst to me at the time, your mother had heard every word of the conversation and, in the days that followed, began tracking down the scientists involved.” He rubbed his temples. “She never did understand my methods. One could say that our marriage started going downhill ever since she got to know me better. She didn’t like what she saw because she didn’t understand me… She refused to understand me.”

What is there about you to be understood? You’re just a power-hungry—

“When it came to my attention that she had been in touch with the scientists and, indeed, had not only founded an underground movement to spread propaganda and information about the antidote via the deep web, but also arranged clandestine seminars to demonstrate the cure with the aim of popularizing the knowledge worldwide, I had no choice but to put a stop to it.” He coughed dryly, his eyes returning to me. “I was hoping that you, Lawrence, would be different. That I could strip you of whatever conditioning you might have picked up from your mother, and train you to be the best that you could be. A good worker. A good asset to our organization. But then you, too, deviated… You’ve asked me before why you have a gap in your memory—from the date of your graduation, up until the moment you woke up in The Shade. Would you like to know why that is?”

I nodded, even as the knots in my stomach continued to grow tighter. It felt like the more information he was spilling to me, the more my fate was being sealed. But if I was going to die anyway, I would rather die in knowledge and clarity than ignorance and confusion. As painful as it was, I would rather understand the full truth about everything my father was.

“History repeated itself that fateful day of your graduation,” he went on. “I promised you that I would be there for your ceremony but unfortunately, I had been unable to attend. I must say, though, Lawrence, that I had fully intended to. Circumstances just… got in the way. I received another urgent call which I had to take in my apartment. Another conference call, ironically. Angered at my absence, you came looking for me as soon as the ceremony was over. You had a spare key to my apartment at the time. And you eavesdropped on the conversation… I was discussing some things involving your mother. And I might have let slip a thing or two about what truly happened to her the night her car went sliding off the mountain.”

I gaped at him, stunned at his coolness, his callousness, when speaking of his own wife’s, my mother’s, death. I couldn’t help but wonder how he ever could’ve loved her in the first place. Perhaps he hadn’t. Perhaps he had only married her because he’d seen some use in her. And when she’d “deviated”, it hadn’t been difficult to write her off as yet another one of the IBSI’s long list of losses. Either that, or he was mentally unhinged.

His words were like poison to my ears as he continued. “I’m afraid to say it, Lawrence, but her death was not the accident the papers made it out to be. It was planned, meticulously. Her movements had been monitored and we had found out about her activities. Unfortunately, I had no option but to lay her to rest. She would not have stopped until she wrecked every single plan I had ever made. Every vision the IBSI had for our planet’s future. She had to be stopped for the good of our planet, and countless generations to come.”

“So,” I began, my voice trembling as I spoke. I could hardly even get a word out straight. “S-So you had her assassinated. You
murdered
her.”

He nodded. “I’m afraid that I did.”

Hearing this admission straight from my father’s mouth, I couldn’t help but choke up. I could hardly breathe for several moments as the revelation sank in fully—to the very core of me—for the first time.

My mother. My beautiful, loving mother had been snatched from this world by my own father. He was the cause of all those years of suffering without her. All those years of grief. And I was only one story. One life affected by him. God knew how many other hundreds and thousands of people had suffered needlessly because of his suppression of the antidote for fourteen years.
Fourteen years.
That was like an eternity in this day and age, in this world ravaged by preying supernaturals, where a vast percentage of the population woke up not even knowing if they’d make it to the end of the day.

“Why?” I croaked. Although my father had touched on the subject, he still had not given me a real reason. He spoke in riddles, of vague notions of “doing things for the greater good”, “sacrificing for future generations”, but he never explained
how
. How his actions could possibly be for the good of anybody but himself and the rest of his power-hungry colleagues.

He stood up behind his desk and began to pace slowly up and down, prowling like a panther.

“Why do you think I do it, Lawrence? Answer me that first.”

I hadn’t been expecting him to redirect his question. I found myself stumbling for words. The truth was, I didn’t know. I only had my own speculations to go by, along with Ben and Grace’s. “Power? Control? If the Bloodless disappeared overnight, what excuse would you have for maintaining your status quo? Everyone knows that the Bloodless are the only creatures you are
truly
effective at quelling… And that’s why you can’t stand vigilantes, right? Even though the people of The Shade—The Shadow League—have only ever worked for the same thing you supposedly are, you call them meddling. Destructive. All you ever did was try to trip them up, never even
attempt
to combine forces and work with them. More than supernatural crime and loss of human lives, you hate vigilantism. Isn’t that fact alone enough to lay bare where you and all your people stand?”

I felt quite winded as I finished. I felt sickened to my stomach just contemplating my father’s and the rest of the IBSI’s behavior.

The corners of my father’s mouth twitched in a smile. A bitter half-smile. “That’s what everybody thinks,” he remarked, “so it’s understandable why you would fall for that, too. It’s an easy soundbite. ‘The IBSI are control freaks. Power-hungry maniacs.’” He stopped pacing and leveled with me. “Now, I’ll be honest with you, son. There are definitely some who join the IBSI merely for the feeling of control and superiority. But those who come with this motive never last long. Because that is
not
, in fact, our ultimate objective. Maintaining our ‘status quo,’ as you eloquently put it, is merely a means to an end. Not an end in itself.” He resumed his seat behind the table. “The IBSI itself was born out of a vision—a vision that I have worked tirelessly to uphold to this very day. As hard as it might be for you to believe it now, I
want
to make this world a better place. I want to improve the state of people’s lives. For them to stop feeling weak and helpless in the face of supernaturals who can swarm our lands at any time.

“For too long, humans have been the weak race—helpless creatures ripe for the plucking by virtually every supernatural in existence. Once they began to swarm to Earth in droves, something had to change… We started by developing a powerful creature for ourselves that could assist us in quelling at least the Bloodless—and our mutants were a result of that. And we are continuing to develop and make them stronger by the day… But that was only the first step. A temporary measure to help keep the chaos and loss of humans at bay. We needed to improve
ourselves
. Make ourselves a stronger species. We will never have the advantages that most supernaturals have, but we can at least make ourselves a force to be reckoned with. Make them think long and hard before attacking us.” He blew out, and gazed at me with an unsettling expression of melancholy. “You Lawrence, were the first true step in that direction. You see it for yourself how your speed almost rivals the Bloodless. Your strength still has some way to go, but you are equipped to fend for yourself in a way that most humans would never dream of. We wish to make all humans like you, but this requires a large amount of time, resources, and space for us to work. And we need control, not only to continue our developments, but to implement them when the time comes and we are ready.

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