Wolf Island / Chapter 8 ALL THE KINGS WOLVES

Chapter 8 ALL THE KINGS WOLVES


Loading...

We walk down a flight of steps, then squeeze into an elevator, just us and Antoine Horwitzer. If he's nervous about sealing himself in with nine soldiers, he doesn't show it. Presses the button for the eleventh floor and smiles pleasantly as we descend.

No one speaks until the doors open. As Pip and Terry nudge out, Antoine says, "A moment, please." He's tapping the control panel of the elevator. "Could you tell me some more about the attack you mentioned?"

"I thought we were going to do that in your office," Shark growls suspiciously.

"That was my intention," Antoine replies. "But upon reconsideration I think there might be a better place for our discussion. There's no need to go into the full story here, but if you could provide me with just a few details..."

Shark looks at Meera. She shrugs, then quickly runs through the attack at Carcery Vale. Antoine listens silently. His smile never slips, but it starts to strain at the edges. When Meera finishes, he nods soberly and presses a button low on the panel. There's a buzzing noise. Everyone tenses.

"Nothing to worry about," Antoine says calmly, pushing a series of buttons. "I'm taking us to the lower levels. That requires a security code."

"How low does this thing go?" Shark asks.

"There are ten floors beneath the ground," Antoine says. "I thought we'd check out the lower fourth and fifth." He pauses, his finger hovering over the number 2. "This is the final digit. Once I press this, the doors will shut and we'll drop. If you have any objections, this is the time to raise them."

Shark thinks about it, then sniffs as if he hasn't a care in the world. Antoine presses the button. The buzzer stops. The doors slide shut. We slip further into the bowels of the building.

We step out of the elevator and find ourselves in a corridor much like any other. But when we follow Antoine through an ordinary-looking door, we discover something completely unexpected.

We're in a huge, open room, dotted with cages, banks of machines and steel cabinets. The cages all seem to be several metres square and three or four metres high. Some show evidence of having been inhabited recently-faeces and scraps of food litter the floors-but most look like they've never been used.

"This is a holding area," Antoine says, taking us on a tour. "As you can see, we try not to cram too many specimens into one place. Despite this limit, if you'd come here a couple of months ago, you'd have had to wear ear plugs-the din they create is unbelievable."

Timas stops by one of the machines and studies it with interest.

"That locks and unlocks the cage doors," Antoine explains. "There are other devices linked to it-overhead cameras, lights, air conditioner, water hoses, implant initiators."

"Implants?" I ask.

"Most of the specimens are implanted with control chips. In the event of a mass escape, we could disable them within seconds. We take as few risks as possible when dealing with creatures as swift, powerful and savage as these."

"You don't need such bulky equipment," Timas says disapprovingly.

"It's psychological," Antoine counters. "Staff feel safer if they have a big, obvious machine to turn to in case of an emergency."

"Ah," Timas smiles. "The human factor. What silly beings we are."

Antoine looks at Timas oddly, then leads us out of the room, into a smaller laboratory. There are several people at work, some in white coats, others in normal clothes. Glass cases line the walls. I go cold when I see what's in them-hands, heads, feet, ears, bits of flesh and bone, all taken from deformed humans... from werewolves.

"What is this?" I croak.

"Unsettling, aren't they?" Antoine remarks, studying a pair of oversized eyes floating in a jar of clear liquid. "I'm not convinced it's necessary for them to be displayed in so lurid a fashion, but our technical geniuses insist-"

"What the hell is this?" I shout, losing my temper.

Antoine blinks at me, surprised by my anger. Then his expression clears. "How thoughtless of me. These remains come from relatives of yours. I must apologise for my insensitivity. I never meant to cause offence."

"Don't worry about that," Shark says, squeezing my shoulder to calm me. "But Grubbs is right-what is this place? It looks like Frankenstein's lab."

"To an extent it is." Antoine sighs. "This is where we experiment upon many of our unfortunate specimens. As you know, we've been trying to find the genetic source of the Grady disease for decades, searching for a cure. Our experts need a place to dissect and reassemble, to study and collate. It's an unpleasant business, but no worse, I assure you, than any institute devoted to animal experiments."

"These aren't animals," I snarl. "They're human."

"They were once," Antoine corrects me. "Now..." He pulls a face. "As you said, your uncle was attacked by werewolves. You didn't qualify that because you don't think of them as humans with a defect. When the genes mutate, the specimens become something inhuman-although, if we ever crack the rogue genes, perhaps we can restore their humanity."

Timas has wandered over to a computer console. "I assume all of your results and data are backed up here."

"They're stored on a mainframe," Antoine says, "but they're accessible through most of the computers in the building if you have clearance."

"You still use mainframes?" Timas tuts. "How primitive." He runs a finger over the keys. "I'd like to study your records. I know nothing of lycanthropy. I find myself intrigued."

"Sorry," Antoine says stiffly. "Our database is off-limits to all but the most strictly authorised personnel. As I'm sure you'll agree, this is a sensitive matter. We wouldn't want just anybody to have access to such incendiary material."

"This is all very interesting," Meera butts in, "but it doesn't explain about Prae Athim or what you said on the roof regarding the missing specimens."

"I'm coming to that," Antoine says patiently. "Trust me, this will be simpler if we proceed step by step." He walks ahead of us and turns, gesturing around the room. "As I was saying, we've been extremely busy, cutting specimens up, running tests on live subjects, introducing various chemical substances into the veins of random guinea pigs in the hopes of stumbling upon a cure."

"Any luck?" Shark asks.

"No,"Antoine says. "We've ploughed untold millions into this project-and others around the globe-with zero success. If not for the continued support of wealthy Gradys, and our dabbling in parallel medical fields, we would have faced bankruptcy long ago."

" 'Parallel medical fields'?" Meera echoes.

"We might not have unravelled the mysteries of the Grady genes, but our research has led to breakthroughs in other areas. As a result, we have become a worldwide pharmaceutical giant. Steroids are our speciality, though we're by no means limited to so finite a field."

Antoine looks like he's about to give us a breakdown of the Lambs' success stories. But then, remembering why we're here, he returns to the relevant facts.

"As you can imagine, specimens are difficult to come by. Very few parents wish to hand their children over for medical experimentation, even if they're no longer recognisably human. Many children have been placed in the care of the Lambs in the past, but only to be... decommissioned."

"You mean executed," I growl.

Antoine nods slowly. "In most circumstances, the parents never enquire after the child once we take it into custody. The less they know about the grisly details, the better. A few ask for ashes to be returned, but almost nobody requests a body for burial. And since ashes are easy to fake..."

"You don't kill them!" I'm furious. This could have happened to Gret or Bill-E. The thought of them winding up here, caged, experimented on, humiliated, treated like lab rats... It makes me want to hit somebody. My hands clench into fists and I glare at Antoine. It takes all my self-control not to attack.

"It sounds inhumane," Antoine says quietly. "I admit it's a betrayal of trust. But it's necessary. We do this for the good of the family. I've seen the grief and anguish in the eyes of parents who've watched their children turn into nightmarish beasts. If we have to lie to prevent that from happening to others, so be it."

"It's wrong," I disagree. "They wouldn't have given their children to you if they knew what you planned to do with them."

"True," Antoine says. "But we can't search for a cure without specimens to work on. Isn't it better to experiment than execute? To seek a remedy rather than accept defeat?"

"Not without permission," I mutter obstinately.

"I wish you could see it our way," Antoine sighs. "But I understand your point of view. This is a delicate matter." He looks decidedly miserable now. "But if you can't find any positives in what I've shown you so far, please be warned-you're absolutely going to hate what I reveal next."

Before I can ask what he means, he turns and pushes ahead, leading us to an exit, then down a set of stairs to the next level and the most horrific revelation yet.

A cavernous room, even larger than the holding area above. Hundreds of cages, many obscured by panels which have been set between them, dividing the room into semi-private segments. The stink is nauseating. Antoine offers us masks, but nobody takes one. As we progress further into the room, I feel sorry that I didn't accept.

Some of the cages look like they've never been used, but many show signs of long-term occupancy, caked with ground-in filth. There are old blood and urine stains, scraps of hair everywhere. I spot the occasional fingernail or tooth. There are people at work in several cages, trying to clean them out. It's a job I wouldn't accept for the highest of wages.

"This smells almost as bad as that world of guts we visited," Shark mutters to Meera. She looks at him blankly. "Oh, right. You weren't there. It was Sharmila."

"Nice to know you can't tell the difference between me and an Indian woman twice my age," Meera snaps. Shark winces-he's made the sort of error a woman never forgets or forgives.

"This is another holding pen," Antoine says. "But it's more than just a place to hold specimens. It's where we breed our own varieties, to increase our stock."

For a moment I don't catch his meaning. Then I stop dead. "You've been breeding werewolves?" I roar.

"The reproductive organs alter during transformation," Antoine explains, "but most specimens remain fertile. We always knew it was possible for them to breed, but we didn't follow up on that for many years. It's a delicate process. The pair have to be united at precisely the right moment, otherwise they rip each other apart. We tried artificial insemination, but the mothers refused to accept the young, killing them as they emerged from the womb. We could sedate and restrain them during the birthing process, of course, but it's much easier to-"

Losing my head completely, I take a swing at Antoine Horwitzer, intent on squeezing his brains out through his nose and ears, then stomping them into mincemeat.

Shark catches my fist. The suited leader of the Lambs ducks and recoils from me with a startled cry, while Shark restrains my trembling hand, staring at me coldly.

"Let go," I cry, angry tears trickling from my eyes.

"This isn't the time," he says quietly.

"I don't care. It's barbaric. I'm going to-"

"Kill him?" Shark hisses. "What will that achieve? He's just a pretty face in a suit. They'd replace him in an instant."

"But-"

"Remember our mission. Think about what's at stake. This guy's an ant. We can come after him later-and the rest of his foul kind. Right now we have bigger fish to fry. Don't lose track of the rabbit, Grubbs."

I struggle to break free. Then my brain kicks in and I relax. Shark releases me, but watches warily in case I make another break for Antoine, who's squinting at me nervously.

"You know your problem?" I snap at Shark. "You use too many metaphors. Ants, fish and rabbits, all in the same breath. That's an abuse of the language."

Shark smiles. "I never was much good at school. Too busy reading about guns." He steps away, clearing the area between me and Antoine.

"Why?" I snarl. "Did you breed them to sell to circuses? To test your products on? Just to prove that you could?"

"We did it to experiment and learn," Antoine says. "The intake of regular specimens wasn't sufficient. We needed more. Also, by studying their growth from birth, we were able to find out more about them. We hoped the young might differ physically from their parents, that we could use their genes to develop a cure. There were many reasons, all of them honest and pure."

"No," I tell him. "Nothing about this is honest or pure. It's warped. If there's a hell, you've won yourself a one-way pass, you and all the rest of your bloody Lambs."

Antoine stifles a mocking yawn. I almost go for him again. Meera intervenes before things get out of hand.

"You didn't need to show us these pens," she says. "So I thank you for your open hospitality. It's hard for us to take in, but you knew we'd have difficulties. I imagine you struggled to adjust to the moral grey areas yourself at first."

"Absolutely," Antoine beams. "We're not monsters. We do these things to make the world a better place. I wasn't sure about the breeding programme to begin with. I still harbour doubts. But we've learnt so much, and the promise of learning more is tantalising. Do we have the right to play God? Maybe not. But are we justified in trying to help people, to do all in our power to repay the faith of those who invest money and hope in our cause? With all my heart, I believe so."

Antoine smiles at me, trying to get me back on side. I don't return the gesture, but I don't glower at him either. Shark's right-this isn't the time to get into an argument. Antoine Horwitzer is our only link to Prae Athim. We have to keep him sweet or he might shut us out completely.

"Where are they?" I ask, nodding at the empty cages. "You said they vanished. What did you mean?"

Antoine nods, happy to be moving on to a less sensitive subject. "Prae was head of this unit for twenty-six years. She's been general director of the Lambs for nineteen of those. She worked on a number of private projects during her time in charge, commandeering staff and funds to conduct various experiments. She had a free rein for the past decade and a half.

"Under her guidance, the breeding programme was accelerated. Bred specimens develop much faster than those which were once human-a newborn becomes an adult in three or four years, with an expected lifespan of ten to twelve years. We'd always bred in small numbers, but Prae increased the birth rate. Some people wondered why, but nobody challenged her. Prae was an exemplary director. We were sure she had good reasons for implementing the changes.

"A few months ago, she began making startling requests. She wanted to close down the programmes and terminate all specimens."

"You mean kill all the werewolves?" Shark frowns.

"Yes. She said a new strain of the disease had developed and spread. We couldn't tell which were infected. If left to mutate and evolve, the strain might be passed to ordinary humans. She wanted to remove them to a secure area of her choosing, where they'd be safely disposed of.

"Nobody believed her." Antoine's face is grave. "There were too many holes in her story, no facts to support her theory. She argued fiercely, threatened to resign, called in every favour. But we weren't convinced. We insisted on more time to conduct our own experiments. Prae was allowed to continue in her post, but I was assigned to monitor her and approve her decisions.

"Just over six weeks ago, Prae Athim disappeared. She left work on a Thursday and nobody has seen her since. That night, operatives acting on her behalf subdued regular staff, tranquilised the specimens, removed them from their cells and made off with them. We've no idea where they went. We've devoted all of our resources to tracking them down but so far... nothing."

Antoine smiles shakily. "I hoped she'd followed through on her plan to destroy the specimens. That would have been a tragic loss, but at least it would have meant we didn't have to worry about them. Now it seems my fears-that she had an ulterior motive-have been borne out. If some of them were sent to attack Dervish Grady, we're dealing with a far greater problem. We have to find the missing specimens as swiftly as possible. The consequences if we don't are staggering."

"I'm not that worried about the werewolves," Shark sniffs. "They're secondary to finding Prae Athim. I mean, how many are we talking about? A few dozen?"

Antoine laughs sharply. "You don't understand. I told you earlier-Prae Athim has worked in this unit for twenty-six years. But this is just one unit of many. We have bases on every continent and have been running similar programmes in each. Prae didn't just take the specimens from this complex. She took them from everywhere. There's not one left."

Shark's expression darkens. "How many?" he croaks.

"I don't have an exact number to hand," Antoine says. "Some of the projects were under Prae's personal supervision, and records have been deleted from our system. It's impossible to be accurate."

"Roughly," Shark growls.

Antoine gulps, then says quietly, so that we have to strain to hear, "Somewhere between six and seven hundred, give or take a few." And his smile, this time, is a pale ghost of a grin.

Prev Next
Loading...