Message in a Vessel20 min read

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Body Transformation, Death or dying, Pandemic
Originally published in SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire (© Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020)

Nobody knew how the disease-carrying mosquitoes would affect us. Thirty years later and a food shortage to boot, and we knew we’d pay the price. Authorities harvested those in prisons and on the streets. The ones who wouldn’t be missed. Then they went to anyone older than sixty-five. The younger you were, the more protected you were. If you were like me, who had parents that could teach you a valuable trade, then you survived the Cleansing Era.

I sat back in my seat and breathed in a deep breath. Even though we healed better and aged slower, stress was still a part of our lives.

“You look like you need a break, Dr. Jakande.” Cora walked in like her tight pencil kept her tights taped together. She kept her head held high while confidence leaked from her pores. She placed a food card on my lab table. “You’ve been neglecting your allotted daily nourishment.”

“I’m fine.” My growling stomach probably gave me away.

“This project means nothing, unless you eat.” She placed one of her bright red fingernails on the nourishment card and pushed it to me.

“I’m a little busy right now. I’ll go in a minute. Just let me finish this.” I turned back to my computer to review the bioinformatic collection program my team had been working on for the last year and a half.

“I understand the nature of your work, doctor. But protocols are in place. If you don’t eat now, I must report you.”

I hated this woman. Unfortunately, I would also give anything to be off this project permanently, too. A food break wasn’t long enough.

“Dr. Jakande?” She leaned closer. “Please do not force me to get security to escort you.”

“Son of—” I slammed my hand down on the counter and shoved my chair away from my desk. “Are you going to lick my lips clean while you’re at it?”

She said nothing. She lifted her head higher as though protocols dictated everything right down to her cold-hearted determination to make sure I followed the rules. Every click of her heels on the marbled floors made me want to reach back and break her neck. Security would be down on me so fast and probably stab me with enough silver knives to make sure I could only work from the neck up. This project only needed my brain.

I flashed my hand across the keypad and pressed the cafeteria icon. A flashing arrow directed me to my designated elevator. When I entered, I went to the back and waited as more people entered behind me.

The view from the Moon never got old. The Red Giant space shuttle was the tallest spaceship in the solar system and could carry a payload of more than a half million pounds. Because of the engine thrust, it had to launch from the Moon and far enough away not to kill anyone. Our base was built miles away from the project to make sure the space program met our needs, including our dietary ones. The ship didn’t look like much on the surface, but it packed a technological punch. It had the ability to orbit a planet long enough to use the gravitational kinetic energy to power the light speed engines for multiple jumps from one solar system to another.

This was everyone’s dream; to find an inhabited planet out there, but for a few like myself, it was our worst nightmare. We couldn’t pack up Earth and hope to find food out there, so the plan was to bring food to us. My team’s part was the most devious of all. We would use the scanners to probe a planet with inhabitants who were a close match to human DNA and then stick a flag in the star map. If they were capable of interstellar space travel like we were, then great. Come find us. If they weren’t, then they would become adopted into phase two of our mission. We conquer them using the Neutron Starship that was twice as big as the Red Dwarf and only a few years out from launch.

I entered the cafeteria where many of the workers who already had their meals were just sitting around and talking. Some things never changed despite our genetically altered state. I stood in line with the others for a quick drink.

“Dr. Jakande.” Cora touched my back and motioned for me to the left of the line. “You have special privileges. Everyone else waits their turn and not the other way around. You also get fresh food.”

I hated this woman. I closed my eyes to calm my temper. This wasn’t her fault. It was the order of things. Those who were most important got the best of the best in amenities on the Moon. That included live feedings.

Taking a page from her higher-than-thou book, I stepped around the line and went to the front where a shorter line had formed. Cora handed the clerk the nourishment card I had forgotten to take from her earlier. Once my retinal scan checked out, guards allowed me through a glass door on the right.

“I can handle it from here,” I said, holding my hand up to stop Cora from entering the glass container, too.

“Very well. I’ll wait here to escort you back to the lab.”

It didn’t use to be like this. As more mosquitos carried the virus, society did what it did best during uncertain times. We panicked. It wasn’t long before anarchy broke out in the streets. Those with an A blood type and considered healthy were more immune to the mosquitoes, but that didn’t mean they were out of danger. I was type O, born about a year after the mosquitoes finished running through the world, and the only thing left was carnage. Survival of the fittest was the rule everyone lived by. Since the children born to the plague victims were carriers of the disease, the newkind especially sought us. Like many parents, mine changed me to save me.

My parents, both college professors, maintained their contacts, took me away. We hid off the grid for years. During that time, they used their knowledge in biochemistry and bioengineering to come up with alternatives for the “newkind” to survive.

By the time I was a teenager, society had changed drastically. All the fighting and wars resulted in our population dying off by more than half. Leaders around the world made both decisions and concessions to harvest the remaining humans and save the newkind. We ended up with a seven-leader Supreme Council that encompassed all nations’ interests in survival. So far, nothing has worked. Not even the human breeding programs could keep up with the demand. Newkind who lived an average of one-hundred-thirty years only made food shortages worse.

Four years ago, I was using my skills in bioinformatics to help compile information on harvesting animals throughout the world as a food alternative to help sustain our hungry population. Government officials knocked on my lab door and recruited me for a higher calling. I never had a choice in the matter. In this fascist regime, you did as you were told.

The glass cylinder turned around, opening me up into a hall. I stepped out of the vestibule and continued down the hall where there were a dozen doors on either side. A blacked out screen meant that person wasn’t available. They had already given that day and needed to rest. At the end of the hall was a guard’s post and another dozen doors to choose from. Nobody was sure how many sacrifices we had on base, but there was always enough food to feed the three-hundred-ninety-six staff members.

It didn’t matter which one I picked because they were all the same. Those considered most vital to the mission always went straight to the source. Those who worked under us got the donated stuff. Plasma was for the support staff, and that was like giving a starving person bread and water. They only got a pint of blood every ten to twelve days, depending upon the supply.

I stopped at a door of a guy who looked like every other face to me. When I nodded, the guard met me there. He pressed the code into the keypad, and then motioned for me to scan my retina. I did, and the door slid open.

“Good morning, my beautiful, Nubian Queen.” The guy had his shirt off and his pants hung low at the waist. He held his arms out wide. “Well, come on in. The blood is fine, and it goes great with some wine.”

I glanced at the guard and sighed. “I made a mistake, didn’t I?”

“You sure did, Dr. Jakande.” He lowered his rifle to his side and pulled out a sack. “Want me to cover his face?”

“Aw, come on,” the guy said. “I’ll be nice. Promise.”

I stepped into the guy’s flamboyantly decorated, large cell. “I’ve been here for years and this is the first time I’ve ever met you. Who are you?”

“I’m Ramos. I got here about a month ago. They said something about changing out the blood supply. Fresh meat, so to speak.”

“You seemed pleased about it.”

“Why not? I’m one of the few humans left on the planet. A rare commodity these days. Now, I’m on the Moon. Who would’ve thought, right? I consider it a privilege.”

“You’re a prisoner.”

“Only in the eyes of the beholder. Besides, I’m not stupid when it comes to the alternatives. I’d rather be here living among you guys than be down there as a comatose turnip on a food farm.”

How could anyone be okay with this? Sadly, Ramos was a typical blood sack. The kind who decided they were better off being willing cattle than stacked vertically in a coma and blood siphoned off periodically to meet supply and demand. Knowing this idiot, he would be just as happy being a breeder. The only good thing about them was their children didn’t know the truth behind their existence. Controlling their information was vital, so they wouldn’t have second thoughts about becoming the next generation of cattle.

What happened to us? We were better than this. I know because my parents taught me about life beyond the lab and how things used to be. They taught me about history and how it came into being and not this trumped up crap that we’ve been shoveling down our children’s throats. The Supreme Council decreed a change in all history books to reflect how this had always been our way of life. The only part that didn’t change too much was slavery. Officials made sure that always remained in place to prove that this was always the way of things. It was all a lie. Had anyone ever found out about my parents’ counter-teachings, the guard would have decapitated them in a public execution.

“Bag him.” My stomach knotted because of what would come next, rather than hunger pains.

The guard did as he was told. Once he had the bag secured on the man’s face, he placed his hand on his shoulder and guided him to get down on his knees. Most like me took pleasure in knowing their food more intimately. I did not. As hungry as I was, it didn’t mean I was a savage. Unfortunately, the resistance would beg to differ. At least they had the luxury of having their meals from livestock on Earth. This was our only option on the Moon.

When the guard stepped away, I approached Ramos. I opened my mouth and let my fangs sheathe over my normal canines. I leaned forward, tipped his head to the side, and pressed them into his warm flesh.

The delicious hotness of 98.7-degree blood was like drinking a fine, expensive wine. Whatever they fed him, they made sure it tantalized our senses, too. Unlike most depictions, we didn’t ravage our food. Our constant reconditioning throughout schooling took care of that. We drank a good pint or two and that was enough to sustain us for a few days up to a week. It had been nine days since my last feeding.

His hand touched my thigh and slid up to my butt cheek.

Sputtering, I released my hold and shoved him away. The guard swooped in between us with a baton held toward Ramos.

“What?” Chuckling, he held his arms spread wide. “You seemed a little tense. I thought a warm hand might loosen you up.”

“You thought wrong.” I grabbed the towel from the medical assistant who had found her way inside the room. I cleaned my face and made sure no blood was on my suit. “Touch me like that again and I’ll have your ass jettisoned.”

I turned and stormed out of the room.

“Ma’am?” The medical attendant followed me into the hall. She held a thermometer meter up to my cheek. “Your body temperature is still 97.1 degrees. You need to feed more.”

“I’m fine.”

“I must insist. He only brought your body temperature up by two degrees. If you were at 98, then I would let it go. But I can’t. It’s regulations for our most highly regarded personnel.”

Damn. I gulped. That meant I’d have to go through this crap again. After taking a deep breath, I motioned for her to lead the way. If it was so damn important for me to eat, then someone with more expertise needed to choose my next meal.

“What about Ramos?” I asked, thumbing over my shoulder. I shouldn’t have cared, but part of me did. He wouldn’t get a beating for what he did, but definitely a stern warning to never do it again.

“He’ll be fine,” she said, her soft shoes swooshing down the hall. “Ready for another feeding tonight, since you didn’t take as much as you should have.” She stopped in front of a door with a young woman who looked too young. “If you don’t mind me asking, why do you wait so long between feedings?”

I sighed. “I was busy. There’s so much pressure to make sure everything is triple-checked and little to no mistakes are made. My feeding became a distant second. Besides, I can go as long as ten days.”

“I know. Like when you lived with your parents on the homestead.”

I hated that so many people knew my history as well as I did. This woman was a med tech. That part of my history should have never been a part of her medical history, but it was. The space program officials considered people like me to be strong in personality and self-control. A psychological plus for a mission like this, and an example for others to follow.

We had livestock of deer and pigs we kept on our small farm that we fed from. We never ate enough to kill them off, but bred them and sold them to others who thought like us. Feeding from humans wasn’t necessary, if we conditioned ourselves to live longer between feedings. The wild, tangy taste of animal blood was perfect for that. Hence, my ability to go twice as long between feedings.

Nobody cared. My parents plead their case and they had their findings documented and corroborated with dozens of scientists throughout the world. When it came down to it, people were just as impatient and roguish as the young, only they used their words to express their malignant thoughts rather than their fangs. The government thought our research had some merit to set up a hierarchy and maintain order among the Earth’s population. Rather than listen to us about using the animal blood to lengthen our need to feed, they fattened up the farm and wild-game populations to ensure there would always be enough food. Still, we were running out, and in ten years, we would be lucky if we had birds and fish left. Domesticated animals were the first to go when our humanity fell.

“This one is more docile.” The med tech punched in a code and then guided me forward to have my retina scanned. “She’s seventeen years old and has proven to have an exceptional character.”

“Seventeen?” I pulled back when the scan completed. “I thought they were at least eighteen.”

“Yes, but like I said, she’s exceptional. More mature for her age.”

Son of a—! I wanted to strangle this woman for bringing me to her. If I did, it would draw too much attention and starvation insanity didn’t always work. So I left it alone. Since I only needed a little, maybe the two of us could get through this.

The door slid open.

She looked like she was sixteen. She was pale with dark, defined curls and brown eyes. As I approached, I noticed freckles on her cheeks. She could have been any strong father’s little girl who would fight through hell to make sure his precious child didn’t end up like this.

“Close the door,” I said over my shoulder. When it slid shut, I approached. “Don’t be scared.”

“I’m not.” The girl lowered her head and got down on her knees. “I’m here for whatever you want.”

“Here for …?” I glanced around to make sure the med tech left. I kept my voice low because I knew how heightened our hearing had become. Still, it was hard to hear through these solid steel walls. “Is this your first time?”

“No. Others have fed from me.” She paused. “Mostly women. They don’t allow men. Not until I’m eighteen.”

Dear God, help us. I knew what would happen when she turned eighteen and drinking blood was only part of it. My heart swelled at the thought of that happening to her. She was no relation to me and I had never met her until now. Still, I felt something for her. An overwhelming duty to protect her as my parents protected me. The Earth belonged to children like her more than it did the newkind like us. This wasn’t right.

“Are you afraid?” I whispered.

She hesitated, but whispered back, “Only if you don’t get on with it.”

Rather than stand dominant above her, I got on my knees, too, and lifted her head to meet her gaze. “I’m sorry.”

Blinking, she gulped. She swallowed so many times that I almost missed the tears she tried to hide. She nodded once and tilted her head to the side.

“Close your eyes,” I said, holding her shoulders. “I’ll close mine, too.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She shut her eyes like it was better to sleep through this. No clenching them or whimpering. She had become accustomed to this, regardless of her feelings toward it. She did her duty as cattle in the short time she had been here.

I sunk my fangs into her soft, warm flesh and drank. When I finished, I understood why she was here. Not only was she compliant, but she tasted exceptionally good. She was at peak ovulation. Once her menstrual cycle started, she was hands off until it finished. It was the only reprieve she would get.

When I finished with her, I lifted my head away and licked my lips clean. Her eyes slowly opened as though she woke from a dream.

“What’s your name?” I asked as I checked my suit to make sure it was clean.

“It’s Moira,” she replied. “What’s yours, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“It’s Adelynn.” I half-smiled. “Do you like it here, Moira? You can be truthful with me because we both know it won’t change your situation.”

“I know.” She carefully got to her feet and slumped onto a plush couch. She massaged the bruise I left on her neck. “It’s okay, I guess. It’s more important that I fulfill my duty.”

Someone knocked on the door. I jumped and looked over my shoulder. When I turned back to Moira, I noticed two pictures on her desk. Someone must have given them to her because they didn’t allow ties to previous lives.

“Who are they?” I motioned with my chin.

“Oh?” She glanced where I was pointing. “I was told they were my little brother and little sister. I’ve never met them. Someday I will, though. They promised me that when I came here.”

I bet. These people have no clue about how their hopes and dreams are used against them. Most likely it wasn’t her real brother or sister, but someone else’s because the government didn’t care to keep track of frivolities like that.

“Do you have any children?” Moira asked.

Half-chuckling, I shook my head. “No. It would be nice someday, but not now.”

If I had a child, I wasn’t so sure I’d change them. I’d prefer they make that decision on their own. The problem was, if I didn’t make it for them, then they would become veal instead of cattle. Nobody would intentionally drink from veal, but they would be carriers of the newkind disease. They also didn’t have the cravings that we did. Perhaps they and the humans should be the new generation to lead this world instead of us. For all of our strength and metabolic stamina, our biggest weakness was clear.

Someone knocked again. It wouldn’t be long before that door opened.

“It was nice to meet you, Moira,” I replied.

She smiled back. “It was nice to meet you, too, Adelynn.”

Moira gave me more than just blood. She made me remember what it was like to be normal. To be human. I missed that.

I went to the door and opened it. The med tech was waiting.

“You look so much better, Dr. Jakande.” She stepped aside so I could leave. “Did you enjoy her?”

“Yes.” My bland voice said otherwise.

“I noticed you never picked a favorite under your profile. Would you like me to put her down as one? There’s more of a chance she’ll stay, if you do.”

More of a what? Until now, I had never heard of that and I had been here four years. I stopped. “Where does she go, if I don’t favorite her?”

“She’ll probably go back to the farm like the others have. We allow only the most liked to stay as long as they remain in good favor.”

“Then put her down as a favorite.” I didn’t know if I was doing her a favor or not, but I didn’t want to see her there.

“Will do. She needed someone high ranking like yourself to make the call. One more and she’ll be here a while.”

“What has everyone else said about her?” I turned the corner and headed back the way I came.

She shrugged. “She’s okay, I guess. But like I said, I didn’t have anyone of high ranking who liked her, until now. I’ve talked to her, and she seems like a perfect fit here.”

I stopped and turned. “Do you know her name without looking it up?”

“Of course. It’s Moira.”

“Moira what?”

She paused; her smile somewhat faltering. “I’m afraid I don’t know that much about her.”

“Maybe you should look it up. We’re no longer human beings, you know. But that seventeen-year-old girl is. It wouldn’t hurt to treat her like one until she’s eighteen and more than reality slams into her.”

I jabbed the button on the panel to let me out. When the door slid open, I entered the vestibule and exited out the other side as soon as the door opened again.

Someone buzzed my door. I wasn’t expecting any visitors. The few people I hung out with on the base had all left me alone to do some extra work in my cabin. I stepped down the three stairs that led up to my bed with the panoramic view across the Moon landscape. My cabin was more like a luxurious suite that only the wealthy could afford. It was a symbol of my importance to the mission.

When I tapped the vid-comm panel to view who was out there, the med tech was waiting. Why in the world would she be here? I unlocked the door, and it slid open.

“Are you alone?” she asked.

“Yes. Why?” Uneasiness twirled in my gut. I hoped she didn’t notice the slight tremor in my voice.

She waved down the hall for someone to approach. She reached around the edge of the door and shoved Moira into me. She pushed us both into my quarters and closed the door.

“What the hell is going on?” I asked.

“Keep her here until you leave for vacation,” the med tech said.

“What? Why? What’s going on?”

“You care about her, don’t you?”

My mouth wavered as I stared at frightened Moira. Clearing my thoughts, I glanced at the med tech. “What are you talking about? Of course I care. I don’t want anyone to hurt her. She’s just a kid, for blood’s sake.”

“Then you have to take her with you.”

“With me where? You still haven’t said a damn word to help me understand why I should get in trouble for you.”

She sighed. “If you care about Moira Durand, you’ll take her with you. You’re taking two weeks off after the launch tomorrow and you’re going back to Earth to see your parents. I know who they are, and why they will keep her safe. They did the same for you as long as they could.”

“Whoa. You’re asking a lot and you know nothing about me.”

“You’re right, I don’t.” She paused, her eyes pleading. “But your pattern of missed feedings tells me how much you detest them. Your history speaks volumes as to why. You want to find another way to feed us because you know in your heart this isn’t it.”

“What does any of this have to do with her?” I thumbed over to Moira who had sat on my couch looking petrified to touch anything.

“You have privileges others don’t. Take her with you. Call her a gift basket, but I know she’ll be safest with you. When she turns eighteen, she’ll have nobody to protect her. You have the power to do just that, and nobody will question it. Make up any story you want about her running away or having to kill her, but she can never return here. No trouble will come to you or your family—I swear.” When I hesitated, the desperation in the med tech’s eyes threatened to pop them out of the sockets. “You know I’m right. She’s an innocent in all of this. Weshould be on that shuttle looking for a new place to live and leave this one for them.”

We both knew that would never happen. The med tech risked a lot to bring the girl here. At least she was doing something proactive, just like my parents would have done. What good was it for me to harbor such resentment toward my kind if I did nothing to help the humans? At least Ramos made peace with his lot in life. I hadn’t.

Rather than question her any further, I nodded. I would help her hide Moira Durand in the resistance. She didn’t have to say what I already knew was coming, if she risked this much.

I stood by and applauded with everyone else in the command center as the Red Dwarf’s engines fired up and launched our most promising rocket into space. Later that night, I celebrated with a glass of white champagne, since it was one of the few solid foods that still gave us pleasure with no pain. We bared our fangs in solidarity and enjoyed conversation and blood snacks into the night. The whole time, nobody mentioned Moira’s disappearance.

When I returned to my quarters, Moira was reading my tablet where I kept my work. Startled, she dropped it on the floor and scrambled off the couch to hide in a dark corner of the room.

Her body shook. “Why did you sabotage the mission? They’ll kill you if they find out.”

Calmly, I approached her and knelt in front. “You and your med tech friend interrupted me last night. I could only download so much of the code into the Red Dwarf, but it’s enough to make this right.”

“But why? You’ve slayed an entire planet of newkind.”

“How is that any different from what we did to mankind?” I sighed. “I couldn’t get every single newkind on that shuttle, so I made sure nobody will ever find us. The scans will send back false data about inhabitable planets. Also, it’ll send a silent message warning more advanced alien races to stay away. It’ll take some time, but eventually, we’ll die. You and your kind will be all that’s left, as it should have been.”

“You didn’t answer my first question. Why condemn your people to death?”

I sighed. “Because nobody listened to my parents, and they were right. We didn’t survive because of natural selection. We died when we decided it was okay to kill and enslave mankind.” Smiling, I held my hand out to her. Though hesitant, she reached out and took it.

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