Darius was bored. It would probably surprise a lot of people to discover that vampires suffered from boredom, but it was the graveyard shift on a Tuesday night. Munroe MacDonald was the only living member of Torchwood Glasgow on duty. Shona was at home with Gabrielle. He had completed the cataloguing of the preserved alien body parts that Owen had asked him to do. He had slaked his thirst for blood with one of the blood bank bags he kept in the fridge in his room.
But the Vampire urge to roam was upon him, and it was raining hard outside. Even the UnDead weren’t keen on going out on nights like this.
That was what brought him down to the lower vaults and the discovery of a whole set of tunnels he never knew were there.
He knew the Hub better than anyone else. He was the first member of the official staff to move in there when it was refurbished, his underground lair being drawn up as part of the plans. He had mapped the corridors on every level in his head.
On the lowest level of all, where the fire hadn’t reached and very little alterations had been made, there was a maze of tunnels that went under the basement levels of most of the buildings in the area. Many of them went towards Central Station. The railway was built a couple of decades before Torchwood, but when it was expanded in the late Victorian era these secret entrances to the Hub were established. In those days, of course, Torchwood Glasgow had been a big operation. As many as fifty or sixty people worked there. In the era before road freight became a viable alternative they used the railway to transport anything that came under Torchwood’s purview, from sections of crashed space ships to live alien specimens captured for interrogation. There had even been a locomotive and a couple of carriages kept in a siding especially for Torchwood’s use.
He liked walking around underneath the station. Even at night there were freight trains arriving and departing, being loaded and unloaded in the goods yards, while the long London trains with their first class carriages and restaurant car started as early as four o’clock, meaning that it was almost an all night station. If he concentrated he could feel the lifeforces of the people above him. He liked to do that. He had no urge to feed. He just liked to feel Human life near him.
There was never another soul down there, of course. Even Shona didn’t think wandering around dark passages was any kind of romantic night out. This was a place he explored by himself.
So it was a surprise to him when he heard a voice echoing down one of his tunnels. It was a frustrated voice, verging on angry. Somebody was feeling put upon, somebody resented a duty that had become irksome to them.
All that he got from the few words that he heard from afar, amplified but at the same time distorted by the tunnel system.
He was good at judging distance and direction. He knew the sound came from the south-west and it was no more than a few hundred yards away. He looked down one of the tunnels. It was narrow, wide enough for a couple of people on foot to push a handcart along if they needed to do something like that. The roof was arched and the walls and ceiling made of plain red brick, unfinished in any way. Here and there limestone had leached through making stalactites, some only an inch or two long, a few as much as a foot or a foot and a half. There was a slightly musty smell, though vampires weren’t too bothered about that sort of thing.
And there was a sense of Human life somewhere much closer than the station above him. It was stronger than that, far stronger. He turned into a side tunnel that was narrower still, wide enough and high enough for a man to walk down but not much room for anything else. It was a tunnel he knew about, but one he didn’t often visit, because it went nowhere. It came to a sudden blank wall about fifty yards in. The wall there wasn’t bare brick. Some old plaster had been smoothed over and there were some obscure initials and numbers that probably meant something to the old Torchwood staff or perhaps to somebody in British Rail, depending on which organisation thought they owned this tunnel.
But here, by that blank wall, he felt even more strongly the presence of a living Human.
He didn’t understand. He was alone down there. There was nowhere anyone could hide from him. Besides, apart from the echoing voice, he hadn’t heard any footsteps other than his own. On these concrete floors, footsteps echoed.
Then he heard exactly that - footsteps. They sounded as if they were coming towards him. He turned, looking through the gloom with his vampire vision. But there was nobody there.
The footsteps receded again. He stood and waited, but there was nothing. Even the supernatural sense that somebody was close was gone now.
He wondered if he had imagined it. But he wasn’t given to imagining things that weren’t there. He, like most of the Torchwood team, had enough problems with things that WERE there.
Besides, he was a Vampire.
Vampires didn’t get spooked. They didn’t get creeping horrors from shadows. They WERE the creeping horrors in the shadows.
He heard a noise that wasn’t Human. It was an animal of some sort, one that snarled menacingly. The sound echoed around the tunnel, but by the time the echo died away Darius wasn’t listening. He was running away.
Vampires didn’t get out of breath. They didn’t sweat, either. So when he ran into Hub Central he didn’t look as if he had been running all the way back. Even so, Munroe looked up from his workstation where he had been quietly compiling the water quality statistics from Loch Ness. Darius definitely looked flustered. Vampires could do flustered.
“What’s the matter, sonny,” Munroe asked.
Darius sat next to him and related his story to him. Munroe listened carefully and with an open mind. He worked for Torchwood, after all. An open mind was the only sort to have.
“It sounds as if you were right under the station,” Munroe reminded him. “And we know there’s an old maze of tunnels. It’s possible some ordinary noise from above was distorted and amplified so that it sounded like an animal. Understand I’m not saying I don’t believe you. But we should consider the simple explanations first.”
“Yes, it’s possible,” Darius admitted. “But I don’t think it was. I was there. I know what I heard. There’s something in those tunnels. And somebody knows about it. Somebody was there, talking… and then they ran away. And someTHING growled.”
“Then we investigate it,” Munroe told him. “We’re Torchwood, after all. That’s what we do.” He opened his desk drawer and took out a flashlight. He then went to Shona Stuart’s workstation and unlocked the middle drawer. He took Shona’s service pistol and loaded it before slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket. Darius knew that Munroe rarely carried a weapon. His role even in field missions rarely necessitated it. But he was taking him seriously and taking no chances. “Can you remember the way back?”
“Yes,” Darius replied emphatically.
And he could. He was a vampire. Vampires never got lost. They could always sense where they had been before.
“Some of these are our tunnels,” Munroe said as they walked along. “Some of them belong to the railway. But the government built some of it, too. They did it in the 1950s. They go down to storage rooms for food… in case of the bomb! There would be emergency supplies for the population that survived. Torchwood would have been in on any plans of that sort, of course. So our tunnels connected with theirs. I expect there were gates at some point, demarcation between our territory and the other.”
“Yes,” Darius agreed. “I’ve seen fixings on the walls in places. But they’re all gone now.”
“That might have been the McLeish brothers. I don’t doubt, from all I’ve heard about those two lunatics, that they knew these underground passages well enough. It’s the sort of place they’d skulk around in.”
“Their bodies were found,” Darius pointed out. “At least, some remains that were forensically identified as their bodies. The fire that raged in the main part of the Hub was hotter than hell by all accounts.”
“So I’ve heard,” Munroe added. “It’s not the lost souls of the Brothers McLeish haunting the vaults. I’m sure of that. Did you ever hear about the Beast of Glasgow, though?”
“I think I dated him in the 1950s,” Darius answered with a wry smile. “Andrew Macleod of Shettleston. He was hung like a horse, and could go all night.”
Munroe laughed softly. It was the sort of response he would have expected from a bi-sexual vampire.
“I know the stories,” Darius added in all seriousness. “The great black bear that escaped from a visiting fair in the seventeenth century. It hid in the sewers, preying on cats and dogs and then small children and incautious women, and grew bigger and fiercer, living beyond its natural years, growing fangs that projected six inches from its mouth and could rip a man’s head off.”
“Aye, that sort of thing.”
“You think the Beast is in our tunnels?”
“No,” Munroe replied. “But it would be easy to start an urban myth like that up again. That’s why we want to find out what it really is and take appropriate action.”
“Even shooting the beast?” Darius remembered that Munroe was armed.
“If it’s a potential danger to the general public, yes.”
“You could do that?” Darius asked. “I mean… I’m not calling you a coward or anything, but I never took you for….”
“I was raised in the country,” Munroe reminded him. “My mother kept chickens in our yard. I learnt how to deal with predators that might harm them. I’ve no qualms about dealing with something that poses the same sort of threat to Human life.”
“Good,” Darius responded.
They walked on quietly. Neither of them was scared, but the way their voices echoed in these tunnels was a little unnerving, and in any case they were listening out for something other than their own voices reverberating back at them.
“This way,” Darius said, breaking the silence when he reached the entrance to the narrow tunnel. He walked ahead of Munroe as far as the blank wall.
“I don’t get the sense of a Human presence so strongly now,” he said. “There’s something… on the edge of my perception, but it’s getting close to four in the morning. There’s a London train due out above. There’ll be passengers gathering. I’m probably feeling them.”
“I can’t hear anything,” Munroe admitted. “But your hearing would be keener than the average Human, I expect.”
“It is,” Darius admitted. “But I don’t hear it, either. It was only the once, mind. I don’t know if I expected to hear it again.”
Then they both did hear it – a low growl at first, rising to a vicious snarl. But it was impossible to work out where it came from exactly. The sound was everywhere at once, reverberating around them. Then it faded away as echoes do.
“That cooked the marrow in my bones,” Munroe admitted. “I’m starting to think the Beast might be down here after all, and I don’t mean your old boyfriend.”
“But where is it? And who knows about it? I heard somebody… not an animal, a Human voice, and footsteps.”
Munroe tapped at the blank wall, wondering if the plaster was merely covering a stud wall or something that might easily be broken through. But there was the dull, heavy sound of solid brick beneath.
“Who went to the trouble of plastering one wall down here, though?” he asked, hardly expecting an answer from his only companion. “There’s not a drop of the stuff anywhere else, just this one wall. It’s a mystery in itself. Not as interesting as your growling beast, but a mystery, and I’m thinking it might even be connected.”
“It’s not much to go on, though, is it?” Darius admitted. “Noises in the dark and a wall that somebody went to a bit too much trouble over.”
“I think I need a cup of strong coffee and a wee think about this,” Munroe said. “Let’s get ourselves back to the Hub. No point wandering around here all night.”
Darius agreed with all that except for the coffee. He made do with a bottle of still mineral water. They looked up everything the Torchwood databases and the various internet conspiracy sites had to say about the Beast of Glasgow. Torchwood had concluded as early as the 1890s that it was just an urban myth. The conspiracy sites continued to report ‘verifiable’ sightings of the creature right up to the twenty-first century. There were dozens of artistic variations of what the Beast looked like.
Since no two of them had a single factor in common they dismissed them all as fanciful and wishful thinking, and at least three of them as Halloween costumes.
Darius looked at plans of both the Hub and Glasgow Central station and studied the underground levels where the two merged. He traced his route to the blocked off tunnel, but the charts didn’t give any clues at all. There was no indication that the tunnel continued beyond the plastered wall, and no sign of any other tunnel ever intersecting with it.
“It’s possible the sounds came from a long way from there,” Munroe concluded after they had both studied the plans and admitted they were no closer to solving the mystery. “Sounds do funny things when they’re bent around corners and fed down narrow tunnels. It sounded like it was right on top of us, but it could have been a mile away. It might even have just been a guard dog up in the Freight yard barking near the entrance to the tunnels.”
They had come back around from all the Torchwood kind of explanations to the ordinary and mundane. They would be going back around in circles if they carried on.
“Don’t worry about it,” Darius said. “You’re off duty in another half hour. Are you going home for a sleep?”
“No,” Munroe replied. “I thought I’d go and see Lady Heather and her girls. I could do with one of their kind of massages and a bit of….” He smiled a smile loaded with meaning. “You can use your imagination,” he added.
“That I can,” Darius replied. “But not when Shona is around. She’d break my arms.”
Shona got into the Hub an hour after Munroe had left for his recreational activities. She had Gabrielle with her. Darius reached eagerly to hold the baby. His cold lips brushed her warm cheek in a fatherly kiss. She was nine months old now, a strong-boned, plump child with bright brown eyes that looked at him lovingly before Shona put her into a high chair for her morning oatmeal. He watched the interaction between mother and daughter with a contented smile and a mind that had temporarily forgotten about dark tunnels. Gabrielle was his connection with the sunlight he could never look upon with his own eyes.
“Stop leering like that,” Shona told him sharply as she lifted the child from her chair and unbuttoned her shirt to finish her breakfast with the milk she still produced. There was something deeply psychological about the fact that the shirt was a man’s style one. Nobody was ever going to mistake Shona for a maternal sort. But she held Gabrielle protectively as she fed her.
“I’m not leering,” he insisted. “I’m just madly in love with both of you and I like to look at you.”
“You are a crazy blood-sucker,” she replied. Darius grinned widely. She used to call him a crazy ‘fucking’ blood-sucker, but Gabrielle was close to uttering her first words and even Shona didn’t want that to be one of them.
“You can be cruel to me all you like,” he told her. “I still love you, and our little girl.”
“When she’s older and goes off to nursery like Tosh’s kids, you won’t see as much of her,” Shona pointed out. “I don’t think she’ll want to spend her time underground with a vampire for a dad.”
“You… won’t keep her from me?” Darius’s voice had a worried note in it.
“Not deliberately,” she promised. “But you’ve got to face the realities if you want her to have a normal childhood. One day she’s going to ask a lot of very awkward questions about you.”
“I know,” he sighed. “Not yet, at least. Let me hold her again.”
Shona finished the feed and passed the child back to him. Darius hugged her, feeling her living blood warm his own. Shona was right. The future was going to be difficult. But at least he was happy right now.
Gabrielle was fed and playing with her rattle when the rest of the team came in. Shortly after Owen’s first coffee of the day he called Darius to the mortuary where Dougal delivered a body which had been sent down to Torchwood for a secondary autopsy.
“It’s been around in circles, this one,” Owen commented as he started the procedure. “It was found near the goods yard of the station, within yelling distance of the Hub and went down to Southern General, then back to us.”
“It’s Human,” Darius noted, looking at the documentation that came in with the body. “Any special reason why it came to us, or are they just unloading their work on us?”
“Nature of the injuries,” Owen responded as he opened the body bag. “Our friend Doctor Merrick established blunt force trauma to the back of the head, probably some kind of wooden cosh-like object, making it almost certainly murder. But as you can see there are a large number of post-mortem injuries of an unusual sort. Plus the fact that the police don’t believe he was killed where he was found. The body had been moved after this was done to it.”
Darius looked at the mangled remains and wondered how anyone even managed to establish blunt force trauma as the cause of death. Most of the soft tissue of the face was missing. The stomach was ripped open and the internal organs were gone. The thighs and fleshier parts of the arms were missing large chunks of flesh, too.
“If we were in Cardiff, I’d have put this straight down to a Weevil attack,” Owen said. “But Weevils don’t cosh their victims first. Anyway, we’d better scan these bites and eliminate any indigenous animal lifeforms first before we start worrying about the alien sort.”
“Animal….” Darius had a suddenly worrying thought. “Boss… have you heard of the Beast of Glasgow?”
“I think Dougal might have shagged him before Sandy came into his life,” Owen responded.
“Quite possibly,” Darius responded. “But gay sex gods aside….” While they were scanning and measuring each of the bites on the victim he explained about his night time adventure in the tunnels. Owen listened with an open mind and didn’t put it down to flights of imagination even if he wasn’t convinced about any mythical bears.
“It’s not a bear, anyway,” he said. “The bite is way bigger than the largest known bear which would be the Kodiak bear from Alaska according to the database. They actually have a relatively small bite radius – especially compared to this.”
The measurement on the screen of one single bite from the victim’s thigh told them that they were dealing with something capable of getting its mouth round twelve square inches of flesh at once.
Bigger than a Weevil, and the teeth are different. These fang marks…. Weevils have lots of small slender teeth. These are like…well, I keep thinking about a sabre tooth tiger. That’s the sort of teeth we’re talking about. Fuck knows what sort of animal it really is.”
“And it might be in the tunnels that link Torchwood with Central Station,” Darius reminded him.
“That’s a charming prospect,” Owen responded. “Especially with the Hub doubling as a crèche. I don’t want some hairy thing with teeth that big coming after our kids. I think we’d better have another look down there.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Munroe MacDonald said. Owen and Darius turned to look at him.
“I thought you were with Lady Heather’s girls enjoying some R&R,” Darius said to him.
“I was. But I was thinking about the tunnels.”
“You were in the House of the Fassian Sex Goddesses and thinking about tunnels?” Owen looked at Munroe with unconcealed stupefaction. He had a hard time thinking about anything other than sex every time he drove past the end of the street where they lived. Tunnels wouldn’t be on his mind if he was actually in their boudoir.
“It had me worried,” Munroe explained. “And I got to thinking that the maps we have on the computer aren’t the full set. Some of them still need to be scanned into the system. I saw a whole cupboard full of them in the vaults when we were cataloguing the archive and….”
He held up a rolled sheet of old, thick map paper. Owen pointed to an empty examination table where he rolled it out. He and Darius bent their heads over it. Munroe easily pinpointed the tunnel that led to the dead end where the noises had been heard. But on this chart there was something else marked.
“What is that?” Owen asked, pointing to the rectangular space behind the wall.
“It’s a stairwell,” Munroe answered. “It leads down to one of the fifties emergency food bunkers, and up to a small room at the far end of platform five.”
“Not far from the freight yard,” Owen noted. “Where the body was found. But why doesn’t this appear on our chart on the computer?”
“Like I said, they haven’t all been scanned yet. This one dates from 1955, when the bunker was put in. The one on the computer is from the 1890s when the station was expanded.”
“Fuck,” Darius swore “It’s as simple as that? But it’s a blank wall. We looked at it carefully. Just a wall.”
“A wall covered in plaster,” Munroe admitted. “I said it was a bit funny. I reckon we should take another look.”
“Take Dougal with you and a couple of guns,” Owen said. “You go, too, Darius. You’re the one who found the place. I can finish what I’m doing here. Keep your coms live. If I get ANY idea what you’re up against I’ll let you know.”
“Thanks, boss,” Darius answered him.
Dougal brought a gun and a sledgehammer. He reasoned that was the best way of getting a look at what was behind the plaster.
“That’s going to make an unholy racket down here,” Munroe pointed out when Dougal prepared to take a swing at the mysterious wall. “We’re not exactly going to have the element of surprise.”
“Can’t be helped. We’ve got to get to get through this wall and I don’t know any other way short of a transmat beam, and we don’t have one at Torchwood last I heard.”
“Not one you would want to trust your life with,” Munroe answered him. “We tested a gadget a little while before you joined us. It was fine for inorganic objects. But we tried it on a lab rat and the poor bloody thing re-appeared inside out.”
Even Darius looked worried about that and he could recall desperate times when he was travelling overland through Europe to escape persecution when he had drunk rat’s blood out of necessity.
“Ok, then,” Dougal said and took his first swing. A sizeable chunk of plaster came off straight away. He took three more swings before Darius took over. His slender frame belied a superhuman strength that was more than equal to Dougal’s army disciplined muscle tone. He swung several times, revealing more and more of the original brick wall and covering himself with dust that made his pale complexion ashen.
“What’s that?” Munroe asked. “Darius, hang on there, old son. Let me see.”
With the plaster off it was easy to see that the wall wasn’t as solid as they thought. A different type of brick had been used to block a rectangular section the size of a normal door.
“There’s a crack,” Dougal noted. He shone his flashlight through it, but the gap that was no more than eight centimetres long and less than half a centimetre wide, revealed very little. Darius pressed his hand against the wall and closed his eyes.
“The stairwell is beyond, just as we saw on the plan. I can get through....”
Dougal had seen Darius do this trick before. Munroe was a little surprised when his colleague turned himself to dust and streamed through the narrow crack in the wall.
“Sometimes I forget he’s a Vampire. Then he goes and does a thing like that.”
“It embarrasses him a bit,” Dougal commented. “Doing it in front of us. He always drinks blood in private, you notice. He doesn’t like us seeing his differences.”
“Well, let’s not make a big deal out of it, then,” Munroe decided. Then he turned, surprised by a grinding noise of brick against brick. A section of the wall in front of them moved back creating a void. Darius, fully restored to his usual shape stood in the gap.
“There’s a mechanism on this side,” he said as he stood back to let his friends enter the space beyond. “Doesn’t look like it was used for about thirty years, though. I had to give it a really hard yank.”
Dougal gave the bi-sexual vampire a grin thoroughly laden with innuendo value and was about to follow it up with a remark guaranteed to make Munroe blush despite his recently re-discovered libido. Then he was startled into silence by a snarling animal noise echoing up the stairwell that their flashlights revealed.
“I think Munroe was right about that element of surprise,” Darius commented. All three men reached for their handguns and held them below the flashlights as they made their way slowly down the concrete stairs. The snarling and growling got louder as they descended. They wondered what sort of creature they were going to come up against.
“This isn’t something of your sort, is it?” Dougal asked Darius as they reached the bottom of the stairs and moved warily towards a strong metal door that was partially open. The snarling was coming from inside there. “It’s not… I don’t know, aberrant vampire behaviour or.…”
“No,” Darius answered. “Vampires are not animals. We are always aware of our Human origins, even when the bloodlust is upon us. This is something that has no awareness of conscious thought. It is pure animal.”
They all redoubled their grip on their guns as they approached the door, taking up defensive positions. Dougal pushed the door fully open with his foot and was the first to enter the room beyond. Darius and Munroe followed quickly after him.
In the light of their torches they took in the fact that somebody was living down here. There was an unmade camp bed in one corner of the room. How any Human managed to sleep there, though, was a mystery, because the smell of old rotting meat was overpowering. Gnawed bones and pieces of bloody entrails littered the floor around the grubby tarpaulin laid down as a bed for the creature fastened to the wall by a thick steel chain. It had some Human traits. The legs and lower torso were those of a slender adult male. Since he was naked, the fact that he was male was not in doubt.
But the upper torso and head was like nothing any of them had seen before, including Darius, who thought he had seen everything. Something like vestigal arms were fused to the smooth, glossy trunk but there was no obvious neck between the body and head which was snake like with glittering eyes, flattened nostrils and a jaw that could dislocate to swallow large pieces of food. The only non-snake-like aspects were the fangs protruding from the mouth. They were still reminiscent of the sabre toothed tiger.
The monstrous head whipped around to look at the intruders and it snarled loudly before pouncing, using the Human legs, and arms that detached from the body to grab at Dougal, knocking his gun and flashlight from his hands before he could fire. He dodged back but the creature bit him in the neck, severing the ceratoid artery. Warm blood spurted out of the wound as he fell back against Darius. The vampire swallowed the urge to react to the blood and held onto his friend with one hand while firing his gun with the other. Munroe had shot, too. Both bullets hit the creature in the torso and it fell back. They prepared to fire again if it wasn’t dead, yet.
It wasn’t. It writhed on the floor, bleeding a mixture of red Human blood and a yellowish substance, but it was still alive.
“Finish it off!” Dougal said. “Quickly. Before it attacks again.”
Munroe raised his weapon to fire again. He hesitated because of all the Torchwood team he was the one who knew most about preserving unique species. He was the chief ‘keeper’ of the most famous ‘monster’ in Scotland. This, as far as he knew, was also a unique species, and simply killing it felt wrong.
On the other hand, Dougal had a chunk missing from his neck and shoulder that would surely match the bites on the body in the mortuary. His blood was mingling with the creature’s blood on the floor. It was a predator, just like the foxes that tried to get to his mother’s chickens. He had to kill it. He steadied his hand and lined up his shot to get it square between the eyes.
“No!” With the creature still snarling viciously, Dougal breathing deeply to try to combat the pain and Darius growling softly as the smell of blood overwhelmed his senses it was small wonder nobody heard footsteps on the stairs before a broad-shouldered middle aged man ran at Munroe and deflected his arm as he fired. The bullet buried itself in the wall before the stranger wrestled the gun from Munroe’s hand and knocked him to the floor.
“Get off him.” Darius snarled, sounding almost as vicious as the creature. Dougal had passed out from blood loss. He leaned him against the doorway and in a single move crossed the floor to tackle Munroe’s assailant. He was red-eyed and grey-faced, with his vampire incisors protruding between his lips, but he wasn’t so far gone he didn’t know what he was doing. He restrained the man until Munroe got up from the ground with a pair of plasicuffs from his pocket. Then he turned in time to see the creature rear up, still bleeding but ready to attack again. He briefly imagined a fight between snakeman and vampire and decided that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Instead he drew back his arm and punched the creature in the jaw with all the power of an UnDead right hook. It swayed for a moment then collapsed, out cold. He snapped the chain from the wall and used it to tie the creature up in the tarpaulin while he waited for Dougal to stand up again after his nanogenes had repaired his body and restored him to life again. He could help him get snakeman back to the vaults.
Some time later Darius and Dougal flanked Owen while he sat opposite Munroe’s prisoner in the interrogation room.
“Your name is Maxwell Cullen, and you work as night security at Glasgow Central Railway Station?”
“With a sideline in murder,” Owen added. “We’ve seen the body of the man you bumped off to feed that thing you keep in the bunker. Who is he, by the way? The victim? His family need to know he’s dead.”
“I don’t know who he is - some backpacker hanging around the station waiting for the early morning train. I dumped his stuff in a skip near the freight yard.”
“We’ll check that out later,” Dougal said.
“Yes, we will,” Owen confirmed. He was appalled by the casual reply Cullen had made. He seemed to regard the backpacker as less important than the creature he brought the body to. “That THING you had chained up….”
“That THING is my son,” Cullen replied.
“He was always smarter than me,” Cullen continued. “I left school with nothing but my wits. Worked up to senior security guard on the station. But my boy, Max junior… he was clever. He went all the way through university. He’s an animal biologist. He was working on a major experiment with animal genetics… cross-breeding species, that sort of thing. Something went wrong. His own DNA mutated into… what you saw. At first I hid him in the basement. He fed on stray cats and dogs I brought home to him. But he needed more. I hid him in the old bunker and brought him food….”
“You murdered people to feed him.”
“I had to keep him chained. I couldn’t let him hunt for himself. I had to…. Tramps, winos, drunks who got lost round the station. People nobody would miss, who nobody would care about or trace. When he was done… I’d dump the remains in a landfill. But last night I was late. I didn’t have time to hide the body in my car before the other guard came round.”
“I’m still not hearing any remorse for the innocent people you killed,” Owen said.
“Why should I? My son was more important.”
“Your son is dead, and that thing is going to be dead, too. I’m going to euthanise it when I’ve done with you. It’s fed on humans. It has to be done away with.”
“No!” Cullen protested. “Oh, God, no. You can’t. He’s my son. He’s not dead. He hasn’t gone yet. There’s still something of him inside the monster. Sometimes he knows me.”
Owen had wondered about that, but the entrails and gnawed bones seemed to suggest that Cullen was wrong, unless his son had really odd eating habits when alive.
“When I’m done with that job, you’re going to jail for multiple murder. I want the locations of the other bodies from you first. At least we’ll get closure for some families out of this, if nothing else.”
Cullen told them the location of the landfill. It was only a few miles away from the station.
“But you can’t kill him,” Cullen begged, seemingly uninterested in his own fate.
“Yes, I can, and I will. Right now. Are you so demented you can’t see it has to be done?”
Munroe MacDonald quietly entered the room and put a sealed case with an already loaded syringe in front of him.
“It will be quick and painless,” he promised. “If the animal mind has taken over, then it’s the only thing. If there IS a trace of Human, then this is the merciful end.”
“That’s why YOU can’t do it,” Cullen said. “Let me. I’m the one he trusts. Please.”
Owen eyed him carefully. Was this a trick, some desperate effort to try to liberate his mutated son or did he really mean it?
If it was his son, Owen thought, he would mean it.
“Come on,” he said. “Dougal, Darius, stick with him. If he tries anything… kneecap him.”
They went to the vault where the snakeman was the only inmate at the moment. They heard its growls from the door. Cullen took the syringe from the box and waited while Dougal opened the door to the cell.
Cullen’s former son was lying on the fixed metal pallet that served as a bed for humanoid prisoners, at least. He was chained to it by leg and neck restraints. He could harm nobody.
Cullen knelt beside him and spoke quietly. Nobody heard what he said, and the low growls from the creature didn’t sound like an intelligible reply, but he nodded tearfully before administering the deadly cocktail of drugs. Then he leaned closer. Owen began to call out to him not to do that, but it was too late. He kissed his son on the snake-forehead and in return he ripped his throat out. Cullen fell, bleeding to death, over the body of his dying son. Owen’s instinct was to go to help him, but Dougal held him back until it was obvious that there was nothing he could do but pronounce death on them both.
“This way, it’s over,” Dougal said. “They’re both at peace. The police can find the rest of the bodies and give his victims the same peace. But nobody needs to know how or why. It’s over.”
“Yeah,” Owen agreed. He looked at Darius, who was staying well away from another source of fresh blood. “I’d tell you to get some fresh air, but it’s still nine hours to nightfall. Go and spend some time with your kid. She’s a ray of sunshine on her own. And tell Munroe he’s supposed to be off duty anyway. He can bugger off back to Lady Heather’s for a session with my blessing.”
Darius gratefully fled the scene. Dougal helped to sort both bodies, one for a regular funeral parlour for an ordinary interment, the other to the cryo-unit where unusual specimens were frozen in the interests of scientific discovery.
Yes, it was over.