Reid looked down at the creature lying by his feet. In the moonlight, the rivulets of blood matting the thick fur were black. It moved sporadically, muzzle wrinkled up with pain, tongue hanging to one side as it panted in uneven breaths.
The bullets had been the devil’s own bastards to make, the melting point so high. There were six in the beast, another six in the clip and one chambered. The articulate and elegant voice of Andrea Marchaud droned against the sweat-filled memories of making them.
It is a bacteria, yes? Specific, evolved, rare, yet how quickly it could spread if the creatures had ever been able to overcome their innate humanity and consider the good of their hybrid species?
A guttural moan leaked from the torn throat. Reid moved closer, the barrel of the automatic rising. In the black and silver landscape, nothing moved except the two of them. He lowered himself slowly to one knee.
Fifteen minutes ago, the front-set eyes had been golden, lambent with hunger and rage. Reid frowned as he leaned closer. Even washed out in the pale light, he could see they were blue, the pupils round, no longer elongated to a vertical slit. They shone against the lumpy features, and gleaming beads of moisture were trapped the tangle of dark fur.
Remorse. From a monster. Too little. Too late.
Internally, Reid shook his head. “You had a choice. You could’ve killed yourself, saved those people.”
Another low moan was accompanied by a rush of black fluid through the hole in its neck.
The Society has been working on a cure for several hundred years. The problem lies with the symbiosis of the bacteria with the heart. Once established, diminishing the bacteria too quickly causes severe damage to the heart muscle. Andrea had smiled at him, her expression difficult to read. They die then of broken hearts.
He was glad there was no cure. The last family had been attacked in their home, parents and children tangled in a mess of body parts it’d taken the coroner four days to reconstruct. The police wouldn’t talk about it. A vague press release talked about a serial killer, reminded folks to beef up their security, but left out the detail that the beast had smashed down the solid oak door in its frenzy to get at them.
We believe it to be related to rabies, creating chemical changes in the brain. Most victims — Andrea had waited for him to contradict the word, but he’d shrugged it off — can manage to hide the affliction for a few months at most. The hunger escalates as the bacteria infest the entire heart and appear to release a secretion capable of passing through the blood-brain barrier at that point. They cannot control themselves. Most are hunted to the point of fleeing. Where they go, what happens to them, we do not know. Perhaps they become animals all the time and fight for survival with the animals of the forest and mountains. Perhaps they die from the infection.
It was passed through saliva into the bloodstream, and into the heart.
The blood that pooled around the beast smelled strongly of metal. Reid made a mental note to ask Andrea about that.
“Good,” Reid grunted.
“Tried… to… stop…”
He kept his expression neutral. “Didn’t try hard enough.”
The creature arched up, bones popping and crackling in its spine, a sibilant hiss as hair dropped from pores. Reid’s finger closed on the trigger as he watched its head flop from side to side, more grisly cracks coming from the bones of its face.
The muzzle was much shorter, overgrown teeth retreating into the upper jaw with a noise like the popping of corn, and the eyes that looked at him from the patchy mask of matted fur were round, closer together.
They don’t remember, you know, Reid. The life of the beast and the life of the human are separated until the frenzy overtakes all their waking and sleeping hours.
It didn’t matter. The images from the scene photographs were burned into his memories. It didn’t matter because the cost was too high and the world had enough predators — too many. Most walked on two legs and would kill for pleasure, not survival, but there were others hunting those.
Why silver, he’d asked?
Silver is antibacterial, she’d replied, turning away to the bench filled with culture dishes. In the case of this bacteria, its inimicality hasn’t yet been explained, but the world we live in has its cures, doesn’t it? The creator has never created something that had no cure, no survival rate. It is up to us to find it.
Silver bullets — or projectiles of any sort, including silver in suspension, injected via dart or syringe — were the only things the peculiar fleshy changes couldn’t spit back out and heal from. The wounds, to shoulders, throat and legs, were agonizing and debilitating but still not fatal. The colony in the heart could, given sufficient time, stop the bleeding, allow the body to return to mostly human, moleculise the metal remaining embedded. Andrea had shown him the test cases.
As it was doing now.
He cocked the gun and aimed for the centre of the chest, now mostly shed of hair. As he squeezed the trigger, he saw its last expression.
They were born human. It is mercy to allow them to return to that state.
Again he hadn’t been able to decipher the expression of the woman. Compassion, perhaps. He got to his feet and glanced at the sky. He had about three hours to clean up.
At his feet, the young man lay in the dirt, seven ragged black holes in his body. Unnatural death.