Department 19: The Secret History of a Teenage Vampire

Larissa Kinley is a fully armed Operator for Department 19, a secret branch of the government dedicated to saving us all from the supernatural. She's also a vampire. And a teenage girl. When the survivor of a vampire attack is brought to the Department's base, Larissa finds the courage to tell someone her secret. But when the past catches up with you, sometimes it has fangs...

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1. The Secret History of a Teenage Vampire

 

Larissa Kinley was floating a hundred feet above the ground, minding her own business, when the helicopter roared over the tree line and rocketed towards her.

 

Her eyes, which were glowing the smouldering colour of old coals, flared bright red with surprise. Her supernatural hearing meant that she would normally have heard the thunder of the helicopter’s engines when it was still several miles away, but she had been in a world of her own, deep in thought about the mission she had returned from less than an hour earlier, the mission that had seen her black uniform splattered with the steaming remains of two vampires.

 

She swooped easily down through the air and watched as the helicopter roared over her, enjoying the sensation as the downdraft from the rotor blades swirled the air around her, sending her tumbling and spinning towards the grass expanse of the Loop, the classified military base that was the heart of Department 19, the British Government’s secret agency dedicated to policing the supernatural.

 

The ground rushed up to meet her as she pirouetted elegantly and landed on her feet. As she watched, the helicopter began to lose height, then landed in front of the wide open doors of the hangar. Larissa rose back into the air, and floated across towards it, curious.

 

The hangar was a wide semi-circular space, in which Operators, the rank and file soldiers of Department 19, reported for the missions that took them out into the dark corners of the country, searching down and destroying the vampires that the public could never be allowed to know existed. There was an armoury, two guard posts that were manned twenty-four hours a day, a line of black vehicles, and a pair of double doors that led into the rest of the Loop. Larissa floated towards the helicopter as its long sliding doors rolled back, and the passengers disembarked.

 

Two figures, dressed in the same black uniform Larissa was wearing, their faces hidden by purple visors attached to the sleek black helmets all Operators wore, leapt on to the concrete and braced themselves against the turbulent air blasting from the slowing rotors. One of them reached back into the helicopter’s hold, and helped a teenage girl down to the ground. The girl looked terrified, her eyes wide and staring wildly around, her narrow face ghostly pale. The Operator took the girl’s arm, and ran with her across the hangar. She went without protesting, her hand shielding her eyes from the swirling dust, and disappeared through the double doors.

 

Larissa floated over to the second Operator, who was lifting weapons and kit down from the helicopter and piling them beside his feet.

 

“Hey,” she said. “Can I ask you something?”

 

The Operator turned to face her, then pushed his visor back and smiled at her.

 

“Hi, Larissa,” said Dominique Saint-Jacques.

 

“Oh hi,” she said. “I didn’t know it was you, Dominique. You OK?”

 

She was immensely fond of the handsome French Operator, not least because he had helped her boyfriend, Jamie Carpenter, on a mission to Paris several weeks earlier that had meant everything to Jamie.

 

“I’m good,” he replied. “You?”

 

“Fine,” said Larissa. “Had a bit of a messy one tonight. Two vamps in a sewer under Lincoln, draining migrant workers and flogging the blood. I think I’m wearing most of both of them.”

 

“So that’s what the smell is,” said Dominique, smiling. “I wasn’t sure if it was just your natural aroma. Either way, I recommend a shower.”

 

“Thanks,” said Larissa. “What’s the deal with the girl?”

 

“Unpleasant business,” said Dominique. “She was with her friends at a house when a vamp attacked them. We were on our way home when we got the 999 intercept, but by the time we got there her friends were all dead. Four of them. We staked the vamp, and found the girl hiding in a wardrobe upstairs.”

 

“How old is she?” asked Larissa.

 

“Seventeen. Her name’s Gemma Woodley.”

 

“Why did you bring her in?” asked Larissa. “Why didn’t you just take her home?”

 

“She saw the vamp,” said Dominique. “And she saw us. Surveillance will have to debrief her. She’ll have to sign the Act, at the very least.”

 

“Have you told them?”

 

Dominique nodded. “We called it in from the chopper. She should be on her way home soon.”

 

“She looked scared,” said Larissa. “Do you mind if I go and talk to her?”

 

“It’s fine by me,” he replied. “She’s in Briefing Room 2.”

 

“Thanks, Dominique,” she said. “I’ll see you later.”


***

 

Larissa walked quickly across the hangar and pushed through the double doors.

 

Beyond them lay a long corridor that stretched away to either side of her; the entire base was circular, and its top floor was like an onion. One whole half was taken up by the hangar, the other by a series of semi-circular corridors that contained the Briefing Rooms and the offices of the Communication and Surveillance Divisions. In front of Larissa stood the door to the Ops Room, the central hub where the most important missions were briefed.

 

Larissa headed left, then took the first right into a wide corridor. There were four Briefing Rooms set into the wall to her left, and she made her way towards the second one, where Gemma Woodley should be waiting, no doubt scared out of her mind. Larissa knew that the girl was none of her business, and that what she should be doing was taking a shower on Level B, the residential floor of the base that was two floors underground, before trying to get more than the four or five hours of interrupted sleep that was par for the course for Department 19 Operators. But the girl, Gemma, had looked so lost as she was led across the hangar, a teenage girl who had presumably seen unspeakable things happen to her friends before faceless men in black bundled her into a helicopter and brought her to this place that would seem terrifyingly alien when seen for the first time; something Larissa knew from personal experience.

 

Larissa pushed open the door to Briefing Room 2 and stepped through. The room was large, long and tall, which only made Gemma Woodley seem even smaller. The girl was sitting on the floor in one of the far corners, her knees drawn up, her arms wrapped tightly around them. She looked up at Larissa with wide eyes, red from tears, and tried to force herself even further away, as though she could dig herself into the plaster of the wall.

 

“It’s OK,” said Larissa, holding out her hands in what she hoped was a gesture of harmlessness. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name’s Larissa.”

 

The girl stared at her for a long moment, then whispered something that would have been inaudible to anyone without Larissa’s supernatural senses.

 

“Say again?” she said, pretending not to have heard.

 

“I’m Gemma,” said the girl, her trembling voice slightly louder.

 

“It’s nice to meet you, Gemma,” said Larissa. “Do you mind if I talk to you for a little bit?”

 

After a second or two, the girl nodded.

 

Larissa smiled, pulling out one of the chairs surrounding the long table that dominated the room. “Great,” she said. “I’m going to sit up here, but you can stay where you are if you want. It’s up to you.”

 

She sat down, and waited to see what Gemma would do. For a few moments, the girl didn’t move. Then she slowly untangled herself, and got to her feet. She pulled out a chair at the opposite end of the table, as far away from Larissa as it was possible to be, and sat down, her eyes fixed on the girl in black.

 

“I’ll sit here,” said Gemma, her voice low.

 

“That’s fine,” said Larissa. “Wherever you want.” She let silence fill the room, not wanting to hurry the girl, or make her feel pressured. Eventually, when she thought a tiny bit of colour was starting return to Gemma Woodley’s face, she spoke again. “How old are you, Gemma?”

 

“Seventeen,” said the girl. “What about you?”

 

Larissa smiled. “I’m twenty.”

 

Gemma sniffed. “You don’t look it. You look like you’re my age.”

 

“That’s nice of you to say.”

 

“It’s just the truth. It’s not niceness.”

 

Larissa looked at the girl. A hint of surliness was creeping into her voice; it pleased Larissa to hear it. “Gemma,” she said. “Can you tell me what happened tonight?”

 

The girl’s bottom lip began to tremble, and Larissa braced herself for the tears she was sure were on their way. But they didn’t come. Instead, Gemma took a deep breath, and began to talk.

 

“I was at Kelly’s,” she said. “With Shaz and Holly and Lily. Kelly’s mum was out, she’d gone down to see her sister because she wasn’t well, so we had the place to ourselves. We were watching a film, but we weren’t really watching it, you know? It was just on. Shaz was telling us how she’d been on this date with this boy that none of us knew, because he didn’t go to our school, but no one believed her. She’s always talking shit. So Kelly was asking her all the details about this boy, and Shaz kept getting it wrong, like saying one thing then saying something different a minute later, so me and Holly were trying not to laugh, because it was really funny, but it was really sad too, you know? Like, what are you doing making up some boy and pretending you went on a date with him? Have some self-respect.”

 

Larissa grinned. She was starting to like Gemma Woodley.

 

“I went upstairs to the bathroom,” continued the girl. “Then I went into Kelly’s mum’s bedroom, and I was trying some of her makeup, because she has all this expensive stuff that this friend of hers who works for a magazine sends her, when the doorbell goes, and I hear this boy’s voice downstairs. And…”

 

She trailed off. The colour had drained from her face again, her hands, tiny and pale and topped with bright orange nail polish, were starting to tremble on the surface of the table.

 

“Go on,” said Larissa, gently. “If you can. If you want to stop, that’s OK.”

 

Gemma shook her head, and a small scowl of defiance crossed her face. “I’m all right,” she said. “I heard this boy’s voice, and then I heard something else, sounded like a dog growling, like the Alsatian Holly’s brother takes everywhere with him. He reckons it makes him look hard, but the dog’s as soft as anything, and everyone round our way knows it. Anyway, I hear this sort of growling noise, and then I hear a scream, I think it was Kelly, and then it sounds like everyone is screaming, and I sort of just froze, you know, just stood in Kelly’s mum room listening. The screaming got louder and louder, and there’s all these other noises, like tearing noises, like someone ripping sheets of paper, and I was thinking I should go downstairs and see what’s going on, but the screaming was so bad, so I get my phone out and I call 999 and I tell the woman Kelly’s address, and she says they’re sending someone, but the screaming is so loud from downstairs, and it sounds like there’s only two of them screaming now, so I’m thinking the feds aren’t going to get there in time.

 

“So I look around the bedroom, and I see this big wardrobe, like the kind you can walk into, that’s more like a cupboard, so I hide inside it, underneath all these boxes, and I pull the door shut and I listen to the screaming. It’s so loud, and it doesn’t sound like the kind of noises people make, it’s like some animal crying, and now there’s only one person screaming, and I start crying because I don’t know what’s going on and I don’t think anyone’s coming to help me, and then the screaming finally stops, and I hear this horrible noise, like a slurping noise, like someone drinking through a straw, and then it’s all quiet.”

 

Larissa said nothing as Gemma took a deep breath. Chills were running up her spine, and she felt like she couldn’t have managed to form words even if she had wanted to.

 

“I don’t know how long it was,” said Gemma. “The house was all quiet, and I was just huddled down in the corner of Kelly’s mum’s wardrobe, and I was crossing my fingers, because I was thinking that maybe whoever it was had gone, like maybe it was some psycho and he’d run off, and then I hear the bedroom door give this creak, and I see it open, really slowly, and this boy walks in.”

 

“Did you know him?” asked Larissa. “What did he look like?”

 

Gemma shook her head. “I didn’t know him. Then part of me suddenly wondered whether he was Shaz’s secret boyfriend, because why would Kelly have opened the door to someone none of them knew, and I had to bite my hand because I was going to start laughing, even though I was scared. He just looked like any boy, maybe a couple of years older than me, wearing jeans and a hoodie and a red cap. He walked into the middle of the room, and I noticed something was wrong with his eyes, like they were glowing, there was all this red in them, and I could see his teeth, these two big teeth he had, right at the front. His face was covered in blood, and he was sniffing the air, like he could smell something bad, and then he looked right at the wardrobe, and he smiled this nasty smile, like a smile that wasn’t because of anything funny, and he started to walk across the room.”

 

Gemma took a deep breath.

 

“That’s when I heard all this noise downstairs, like people running through the house, and the boy turned to face the door, and growled. It was the worst thing I’ve ever heard, this horrible noise that shook the floor and the walls. Then the door bangs open and these two men all dressed in black pile through the door, and the boy jumps towards them but one of them fires this gun that wasn’t a gun, because it didn’t make a noise like a gun, it made this big pop, like when you burst a balloon, and something shot out of it, and then the boy just burst, just exploded into all this blood that went everywhere, all over Kelly’s mum’s bed. And I screamed, and one of the men pulled open the wardrobe door and saw me, and I screamed and screamed but he didn’t say anything to me, he just backed away and then he shone this purple torch in my face. Then he finally came over and told me I was going to be all right.”

 

Jesus, thought Larissa, staring at the girl. It’s a miracle she’s not catatonic. She’s got a lot of backbone, this girl. She really has.

 

“You did the right thing,” she said. “Phoning the police probably saved your life.”

 

Gemma nodded. “They took me downstairs and out of the house. The front room door was open, and I looked, and I saw—”

 

“Don’t think about that,” said Larissa. “You can’t do anything about what happened to your friends. Don’t feel guilty because you survived.”

 

“He was a vampire, wasn’t he?” said Gemma, her voice low. “The boy. I saw his teeth, and his eyes, and he could smell me, Larissa, he could smell me through the wardrobe door, like some wolf or something. I never thought vampires were real. It’s kids stuff. But I just saw one, didn’t I?”

 

Larissa didn’t answer for a long time. Her mind was racing, wondering what she was supposed to say. The Surveillance Division would be coming to talk to the teenager soon, and she didn’t want to undermine whatever they were going to tell her. But the girl had seen a vampire with her own eyes, had seen him destroyed in front of her, and Larissa didn’t want to lie to her unless it was absolutely necessary.

 

“Yes,” she said. “He was a vampire. They’re real.”

 

“So what are you people, then? Like the vampire police?”

 

Larissa smiled. “Something like that.”

 

“Must be a cool job.”

 

“It has its moments,” said Larissa. “Do you have a job?”

 

“I work in Asda on Saturdays.”

 

“What’s that like?”

 

“Rubbish,” said Gemma, and smiled. “My boyfriend works there, though. So that’s something. Do you have a boyfriend?”

 

Larissa nodded.

 

“Does he do this too? Like, chase vampires?”

 

“I can’t really tell you, Gemma. This is all pretty secret stuff.”

 

Gemma shrugged. “Suit yourself. I bet your parents are proud though, right? They must be all like ‘our daughter kills vampires, she’s like a total badass.’”

 

A sharp sliver of pain stabbed at Larissa’s heart. “They don’t know what I do,” she said softly. “We aren’t allowed to tell anyone. That doesn’t matter, though. I haven’t seen them for nearly three years.”

 

Gemma frowned. “Why not?”

 

Larissa didn’t answer; she was momentarily lost in her own memories, thinking about her mother and father, her little brother who had been so annoying but whom she now missed more than—

 

Gemma Woodley jumped to her feet and slammed her hands down on the table. Larissa’s heart lurched, and she jumped backwards, sending her chair crashing to the floor. And to her utter dismay, she heard an involuntary growl rise from her throat, as heat spilled into the corners of her eyes. She turned her face away from the teenager, covering her glowing eyes with her hands, but it was too late.

 

“I knew it!” shouted Gemma, her voice full of triumph. “I knew you was a vampire! I saw you floating off the ground when they got me out of the helicopter.”

 

Larissa turned back to face the teenager, a frown furrowing her brow. “You knew?” she asked. “And you weren’t scared?”

 

Gemma shook her head. “I could tell you were all right as soon as you came in. I reckon being a vampire can’t make you bad, otherwise they wouldn’t let you work here. So I figure you’re OK.”

 

Larissa shook her head, totally disarmed by the teenager. “So you thought you’d try and shock me into proving you right?”

 

“I’m sorry,” said Gemma. “Would you have told me if I’d asked you?”

 

“No,” said Larissa.

 

“There you go. I don’t know why not, though. I reckon it’s cool.”

 

“It’s not cool,” said Larissa, feeling her heart start to slow back to normal. “It’s not cool at all.”

 

“Is that why you haven’t seen your parents?” asked Gemma. “Because you’re a vampire?”

 

She nodded.

 

“What happened to you?” asked the teenager. “Did it hurt?”

 

Larissa laughed, despite herself. “I’m not talking about this with you.”

 

Gemma scowled. “Why not? I told you. I won’t say anything. Promise.”

 

Larissa stared for a long moment. The part of her life the girl was asking about was the part she kept closest to her chest, kept buried in a place where no one was allowed to go. She had not even told Jamie about the years between when she had been turned into a vampire and when she had been sent to kill him, on the orders of one of the oldest vampires in the world, Alexandru Rusmanov. But she felt a powerful, almost overwhelming urge to tell Gemma Woodley her story; there was something about the girl, something so enthusiastic and non-judgemental, that made her want to unburden herself to her.

 

She won’t think any worse of you, she thought. And you’ll never see her again. Might be a good time to get some of it off your chest.

 

“I was bitten,” she said, slowly. “That’s how you get turned, it’s one of the few bits all the books and the films get right. If a vampire bites you, and you don’t die, you turn into one.”

 

“Who bit you?” asked Gemma, her eyes wide with excitement.

 

“A man,” said Larissa. “I was at the fair with my friends. I’d seen him a couple of times in the days before, but I hadn’t really thought anything of it. He talked to me, and when he got close enough, he attacked me and left me for dead.”

 

“Shit,” said Gemma. “Who was he?”

 

“Just a vampire. A very old vampire.”

 

“So what happened when you woke up?”

 

“It was still dark, so I went home and went to bed. I thought I was all right until I woke up, and the hunger hit me.”

“The hunger? What’s that?” asked Gemma.

 

“The need to drink blood,” said Larissa, and felt a hot wave of shame pass through her. It sounded so awful when stated so simply, even though it was necessary for her survival. “It can take you over if you don’t feed, if you fight it for too long.”

 

“So what did you do?”

 

***

 

Larissa ran back to the park where her nightmare had begun, her legs unsteady beneath her.

 

On some level of her mind, one that was still capable of coherent thought, she wondered if she might go back to sleep there and wake up to find it had all been a dream, that someone had put something in one of her drinks, or that she had hit her head on the Ferris wheel, anything that could explain the scouring pain flooding her body. Near the trees where she had woken up, her legs gave way beneath her and she slid to the wet grass. Her vision closed in on her, and she slipped into darkness.

 

Some time later she awoke with liquid sliding down her throat, and as she became aware of herself she felt an astonishing taste fill her mouth, a taste she could not have described, such was its power and subtlety. It was like nothing she had ever experienced, and her eyes rolled back as ecstasy overwhelmed her and her limbs splayed out around her on the grass like a starfish. Then it was gone, and she sat bolt upright, looking for the source of this miracle.

 

Standing over her was a child, dressed in jeans and a grey T-shirt. He was looking down at her with concern on his young face, and in his hand he was holding an empty medical blood bag, the sort that was used to give transfusions to patients. Instinctively she lunged for it, but the child danced up into the air and hovered above her, out of reach. She leapt to her feet, and as she did so she realised that the pain that had filled her so completely was gone.

 

“Who are you?” she asked, looking up at the floating boy.

 

“John Martin, at your service,” he replied, smiling widely at her.

 

“What did you do to me?”

 

“I saved you,” he said. “You’re welcome.”

 

“What do you mean, saved me?” she asked.

 

“The hunger was taking you,” he answered. “I smelt you from the other side of the park. You’re lucky I got here in time.”

 

Larissa looked at him, and felt tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. “What’s happening to me?” she asked, her voice trembling.

 

He looked at her with an expression of incredible kindness. “Oh dear,” he said, softly. “You don’t know, do you?”

 

She shook her head miserably.

 

“Well brace yourself,” he said. “You’re a vampire. The hunger was on you, hunger for this.” He waved the empty blood bag at her. “I gave you my little snack, and now it’s gone. But it will be back.”

 

Larissa’s head was spinning as she tried to take in what she was being told. It was ridiculous, all of it, but he knew about the hunger, and he had made it go away, and he was floating in the dark pre-dawn air as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

 

“How?” was all she could manage.

 

“Oh, I could explain it to you biologically, but I doubt you’d understand. All you need to know right now is that you need blood. Regularly. What I need to know is, are you going to be good or bad?”

 

Larissa stared at him, uncomprehending, and John floated down nearer to the frightened teenage girl.

 

“Vampire doesn’t mean evil,” he said, gently. “Not in the real world. You’re still you, thanks to me, still the same person you were yesterday. You’re the same up here, and down here.” He tapped his chubby child’s forefinger against his temple, and then against his chest. She saw a red tattoo on the inside of his wrist, a V inside a circle. “But you have to live with the hunger,” he continued. “You have to feed, and stay out of the sun. Some people can’t handle it, and give in to the bad. Some of them are grateful for an excuse to do so. Some stay good, and do no harm. Which are you going to be?”

 

“I don’t know!” wailed Larissa, and burst into tears. “I don’t understand any of this!”

 

“Shhh,” said John, his voice low and kind. “I know you don’t, and I wish I had more time to help you, but I have to be home before I’m missed. And you need to find shelter. The sun is coming.”

 

Larissa started, a panicky look rising in her face.

 

“Don’t worry,” he continued. “You’ve got fifteen, sixteen minutes. There’s a tunnel at the other end of the park—”

 

“That’s miles away!” protested Larissa.

 

John Martin smiled down at her. “I think you might find you are a little faster than you used to be. In the longer term, there is a place, where a number of our kind live in peace. The vampires there are some of the oldest and wisest in the world, and they can help you with the adjustment. So let me ask you again. Are you good or bad?”

 

“I’m good,” said Larissa.

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” replied John. “And I believe you, strangely enough. Very well. The place is called Valhalla.”

 

“Where is it?”

 

“A long way from here.”

 

Larissa frowned. “I don’t want to leave,” she said. “My family is here. So are my friends.”

 

John looked at her, and when he spoke again his tone was stern. “Young lady, your life as you knew it is over. The sooner you come to terms with that, the better. Now, do you want to know how to get there, or not?”

 

“No,” she said. “I’m going to stay here. My family will understand.”

 

John Martin looked at her with a sad expression on his face, and floated down so their eyes were level with each other. “I hope you’re right,” he said. “I truly do. The best of luck to you.”

 

Then he was gone.

 

Larissa looked east, and saw that the sky on the horizon had deepened to a blood red. She started to run towards it, heading for the tunnel John had talked about, an old access tunnel that stood at the far corner of the park, where few people went. Her feet skipped easily over the grass, her chest felt full of air, so she accelerated. Her hair flew out behind her as she sped through the park, and despite everything, she started to laugh; she had never felt so strong, had never run so fast. She made it to the access tunnel with minutes to spare, and lay down in the shadows, thinking about how she would explain what had happened to her parents once the sun was down again.

 

***

 

“So what happened when you went home?” asked Gemma, quietly.

 

Larissa smiled. “I told my parents what had happened,” she said. “Then I floated off the ground, and my mother screamed the house down while my father phoned the Police. I ran, and I looked for the place John Martin had told me about, but didn’t see him again until a few months ago. I lived on the streets for about six months, and then Alexandru found me.”

 

“Alexandru?”

 

“A vampire,” she said. “You don’t need to hear about him. I don’t want to give you any more nightmares than you’re already going to have.”

 

Gemma smiled. “Cheers,” she said, and rolled her eyes. “So you were with Alexandru Rusmanov, and then you ended up here, doing this?”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“So what is this place? Like, vampire police headquarters?”

 

“I can’t tell you, Gemma,” said Larissa. “I’ve already said too much. It’s better for you not to know. It’s for the best, trust me.”

 

Gemma stared at her, disappointment on her face. “You sound like my parents,” she said. “They’re always deciding what’s best for me.”

 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s the truth.”

 

“That’s what they always say.”

 

“I’m sure they’re just trying to look after you.”

 

“Right,” said Gemma, and gave a short laugh that was little more than a grunt. “I want to go home now.”

 

Larissa looked at the teenager; the open enthusiasm that had filled her only moments earlier was gone, replaced by a sullenness that reminded Larissa so much of Liam, her brother, that it almost broke her heart.

 

“I didn’t mean to upset you, Gemma,” she said, gently.

 

“I’m not upset,” Gemma said, looking down at the table. “Get over yourself. I want to go home, right now.”

 

Larissa looked at her for a long moment, but the girl refused to meet her eyes.

 

“All right,” she said, and got to her feet. “I’ll go and find out what’s happening. We’ll get you home as soon as possible.”

 

“Cheers,” said Gemma, her voice flat and bored.

 

***

 

Larissa closed the door to Briefing Room 2 behind her, and made her way along the corridor. She walked slowly, going over and over her conversation with Gemma Woodley in her mind, trying to think of a way she could have handled it better.

 

You’re the grown up, she told herself. You have to get used to that.

 

At the door to the Surveillance Division, she paused; Dominique Saint-Jacques was walking down the corridor towards her. She smiled at him, and he stopped beside her.

 

“You done?” he asked. “How’s she doing?”

 

Larissa nodded. “She’s doing well, all things considered. Seems like a good kid.”

 

“That’s what I thought,” said Dominique.

 

“She told me what happened. Horrible thing for her to have seen.”

 

Dominique nodded. “It was a real mess,” he said. “What the vamp had done to her friends was about as bad as I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot. She had a seriously lucky escape.”

 

“Hiding in a wardrobe,” said Larissa, and smiled. “It’s incredible. She’s just lucky you got there when you did.”

 

“She screamed the house down when we staked the vamp,” said Dominique. “We were trying to get her out of the wardrobe but she just kept screaming and screaming, and trying to pull the door shut.”

 

“I bet she really freaked out when you UV checked her. She must have wondered what the hell was happening.”

 

Dominique frowned. “I didn’t UV check her.”

 

“She told me one of you ran your beam gun over her before you got her out of the wardrobe.”

 

Dominique shook his head. “No one pulled their beam gun.”

 

“Why not?” asked Larissa.

 

“Her friends had been torn to pieces downstairs, Larissa,” said Dominique. “We destroyed the vamp at the scene. Why would we check her?”

 

Larissa’s mind was racing; a chill was beginning to run up her spine, carrying with it the sense that she had missed something.

 

“You didn’t UV check her,” she said, slowly. “Even though she says you did. And you brought her in in a helicopter, so she didn’t go through the authorisation tunnel. And she said something, she said something to me that I didn’t—” Larissa froze, as realisation spilled through her. “She knew Alexandru’s surname was Rusmanov, Dominique. I didn’t tell her that. So how did she know?”

 

His eyes widened. “Christ,” he said, and drew his T-Bone, the pneumatic stake gun that every Operator carried, from his belt. “I’ll sound the alarm.”

 

“Wait,” said Larissa. “Let me go back in. We don’t know for certain, and I don’t want to alert her if we’re right. Get a Security squad and take up a position outside Briefing Room 2. Be ready to come in.”

 

Dominique Saint-Jacques nodded, then ran down the corridor, pulling his radio from his belt as he did so. Larissa watched him go, then turned and walked back the way she had come, trying to still her pounding heart as she did so. She reached the door, took a deep breath, and stepped back into the room.

 

***

 

“I thought we were done,” said Gemma Woodley, giving her a look of contempt. “Am I going home now?”

 

“Not just yet,” said Larissa, sitting back down and giving the teenager what she hoped was a friendly smile. “I’m sorry. They should be here in the next few minutes, and then we can get you on your way. I thought you might want the company while you waited, but I can leave you alone if you’d prefer?”

 

Gemma shrugged. “Don’t care.”

 

“I’ll stay then,” said Larissa.

 

“Do what you want.”

 

She looked at the sulky teenager, and wondered whether she could be right, whether the thought that was thumping in her mind could possibly be true.

 

“You said you had a boyfriend,” she said. “What’s he like?”

 

Gemma cocked her head to one side. “What’s being a vampire like?” she asked, ignoring Larissa’s question. “Do you get, like, special powers and stuff?”

 

Larissa smiled. “I can fly,” she said. “That’s pretty special.”

 

“You can fly?” asked Gemma, the enthusiasm returning to her voice. “That’s ridiculous. Like, that’s awesome.”

 

“It definitely is,” agreed Larissa. “But the rest of it? Drinking blood and hiding from the sun? That’s less awesome. It’s a curse, to be honest with you.”

 

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are,” said Gemma. “My mum always says that.”

 

“Mine used to say something similar.”

 

“I reckon you should be proud,” said the teenager.

 

Larissa looked at her for a long moment, then shifted her weight forward in her seat. It was a tiny movement, so small that she hoped it had gone unnoticed.

 

“Gemma,” she said. “I’m going to draw my torch from my belt and shine it at you. Don’t be scared.”

 

The teenager frowned. “What? Why?”

 

“Because you lied when you told me that my colleague had already done so. And because you know things you shouldn’t know.”

 

“What are you talking about?” asked Gemma, her eyes widening with panic.

 

“You weren’t checked with ultraviolet light, but you know that’s what my colleague should have done. And you know that Alexandru’s surname was Rusmanov. I never told you that, Gemma.”

 

The teenager stared for a long moment, then her eyes bloomed a deep, glowing crimson as she broke into a wide smile. She sat back in her chair, and a different voice, a smooth voice that sounded much older, emerged from her mouth.

 

“Well, aren’t you clever?” she said. “Bravo, Larissa. Bravo.”

 

Larissa stared at the vampire, shock rising through her. “Thank you,” she managed. “That was a remarkable performance. You had me completely fooled.”

 

The vampire shrugged. “I’ve been seventeen for thirty-four years. All that changes is the vocabulary.”

 

“Is Gemma Woodley really your name?” asked Larissa, feeling the muscles in her legs tense. “Or did you make that up too?”

 

“Does it really matter?”

 

“Only in terms of what I call you.”

 

“Call me Gemma, if labels are so important to you.”

 

“OK,” she said. Then understanding burst through her, and she fought to remain calm. “The vampire my colleagues killed,” she said, forcing her voice to stay steady. “He was with you, wasn’t he? You both killed those girls.”

 

“I told him not to fight,” said the vampire, shaking her head. “But he was so full of himself, like they always are. So sure he was invincible. But no matter. Boys come and go. I’ll find another one soon enough.”

 

“You hid,” said Larissa. “And you pretended you were friends with the girls you had just killed.”

 

“I don’t like to fight with the Department,” said Gemma. “Unless it’s absolutely unavoidable. Have you been burned with ultraviolet light, Larissa? It’s extremely painful.”

 

“I have,” she said. “It is.”

 

Jesus, she thought. I told her about myself, things I’ve never told anyone.

 

Gemma sat forward in her seat. “We have a problem, Larissa,” she said, her tone warm and friendly. “I have no intention of spending the rest of my life in one of your cells. So it seems to me that the best thing for both of us is to let me leave and pretend this conversation never happened. What do you say?”

 

Larissa laughed. “Are you serious? You think I’m going to let you go?”

 

“I hope so,” said Gemma. “I would really hate to have to kill you. Not after we’ve become such good friends.”

 

“There is a squad of Operators standing outside in the corridor,” said Larissa. “If you got past me, which I should warn you is extremely unlikely, they’ll stake you before you get through the door.”

 

Gemma sighed. “That’s one possibility, certainly,” she said. “The other is that I kill you and then I kill your friends and then I fly home with my stomach full. Do you want to risk that?”

 

“There’s no risk,” said Larissa. “Just give yourself up, and I’ll make sure no one destroys you. That’s the best offer you’re going to get.”

 

“Really?” she asked. “That’s a shame. In which case—”

 

The vampire that was calling itself Gemma Woodley burst out of the chair in a blur of pale white and flashing red. Larissa leapt backwards into the air, her heart pounding with an emotion she was not expecting; a deep, biting feeling of disappointment.

 

Larissa rose through the air, impossibly fast even by the standards of vampires, reached down, and caught Gemma by the neck. A look of surprise crossed Gemma’s face as Larissa flipped her up through the air and brought her crashing down on the table, smashing it to pieces. She drew her stake as Gemma hit the ground, and brought it round in a flashing arc so fast that human eyes could not have followed it. The point slammed through the vampire’s chest, and punctured her heart.

 

Gemma’s eyes flew wide, and locked on Larissa. “Don’t be scared,” she whispered. “Be proud.”

 

Then she exploded, her warm blood spraying through the air of Briefing Room 2 and splashing Larissa’s face.

 

***

 

“So who was she?” asked Interim Director Holmwood, leaning back in his chair.

 

Larissa shook her head. “We don’t know, sir,” she said, standing up straight before his desk. “There’s no way to find out. The police have talked to friends of the girls who were killed, and they said a girl fitting her description had started at their school a few weeks ago. That seems to have been her pattern, sir.”

 

“Befriending girls the same age as her and killing them?”

 

“Killing girls the age that she was always going to be,” said Larissa.

 

Holmwood nodded. “All right,” he said. “Write it up and have the report on my desk in the morning. I’ll send a memo reminding Operators to check all survivors of vampire attacks.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

“OK,” said Holmwood. “Dismissed.”

 

Larissa nodded, and made her way across the Interim Director’s quarters. She was at the door when he called her name, and she turned back.

 

“The last thing she said to you,” said Holmwood. “She’s right, you know. You should be.”

 

Larissa smiled. “Thank you, sir. I am.”


 

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