The Unicorn's Dream
The Kind Shepherds
"There was another outbreak last night," Michael said the moment that Sarah walked into the office. He pointed to the large screen on the wall displaying a map of North America. A new splotch of red pulsated slowing near Chicago.
"That's Kevin's territory," Sarah said, taking a long, slow sip from her coffee mug. "Has he called us for help, yet?"
"There's blood on your lip," Michael said. "And no, he hasn't called."
Sarah pulled a dainty handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her lips. They remained brilliant red, but that was natural for her. She took another sip, careful to pour the blood directly into her mouth this time. She winced. Obviously, it was already cooling. "How are we doing down in Atlanta?" she asked, stepping toward her desk nearby.
The office they shared was not large, nor was it expensively appointed, but a visitor would not fail to realize that these two people wielded enormous power. There were clocks on the walls displaying the correct time in ninety different countries. A glass partition separated them from a bank of computers that powered the displays all around them and kept them connected to a hundred other command posts exactly like theirs. The network cost billions, but money had never been an issue to those for whom they worked.
Sarah sat at her desk and faced the black screen of her primary monitor. It formed a dark mirror, reflecting the wall behind her, the plants, her own office chair. But not, of course, Sarah herself. Grimly, she touched the screen lightly. It lit instantly with an intricate display and multiple windows. The computers here never slept. This far underground, neither did Sarah. These days, she barely had time enough to leave in order to feed herself.
Michael was luckier, she thought. He could go out into the sunlight when he needed a break. He didn't have to worry about his food getting cool. So long as it was raw and recently dead, he would feast. And it was the recently dead that had them worried now. A few swipes of her finger on the touch-sensitive screen brought up the newest outbreak reports. The trouble in Atlanta was being handled well, she saw. A team of werewolves had dispatched the walking dead there with the usual quiet efficiency. Chicago might be another matter, though. She glanced up at another of the huge screens on the wall. That one was split into a grid of twenty squares, each displaying the feed from a major news network. Michael was monitoring the online forums for any talk that would indicate the humans had become aware of their zombie problem. Or, rather, he monitored the computers that monitored the online networks. There was too much chatter for even him to deal with.
Not that it was all on their shoulders. The work was split between all the command posts. In the forty years since the first outbreak had occurred, the humans had become only superficially aware of zombies. The undead filled their fiction, from novels to comic books, television and movies to popular culture. Yet zombies remained firmly in the realm of fancy, just as did the belief in vampires, werewolves, and all the other supernatural beings that humans shared their world with.
"Why do we do it, Lady Sarah?" Michael asked suddenly, breaking into her study of the Chicago after-action report.
She barely had to consider what he meant by the question. "You know why," she said. "They are our food. We have to manage them or we risk ourselves."
"Not that," he said, leaning back in his chair and stretching. Michael was huge. Six feet ten inches tall, three hundred eighty pounds and probably two percent body fat. His other form was even more impressive. He waved a hand at the screens around them. "Why do we let them roam like they do? I know the argument that 'free range' makes better tasting food, but I've tasted both kinds, you know. The ones who were slaves tasted just the same to me as their masters. We could round up a decent, uninfected herd of them, let the rest rot themselves out, and be done with all of this. We could have lives again."
Sarah studied him carefully for a long moment. He was patient. Vampires did not have the same conception of time as other creatures. Michael was two hundred years old, but Lady Sarah was over a thousand, and she was considered young by her kind. "What if we did as you suggest?" she said finally. "We could reveal ourselves fully to the humans. Gather sufficient breeding stock and isolate them from the rest of the population. Allow the outbreaks to go unchecked. What do you theorize would happen?"
"The ones we don't protect would all die," he said promptly. "Not right away, but inevitably. We've seen it time and again. They refuse to believe in what they're dealing with until it's nearly too late. Remember those villages in Brazil? That took us a full two years to clean up. If we hadn't intervened when we did, it might have gotten too large for anyone to handle. All of our food would be tainted then, and we'd die along with the stupid humans."
"No," she said, shaking her head. "You underestimate them. How many werewolves are there on the planet? Perhaps fifty thousand. How many vampires? A tenth as many. The humans outnumber us by a staggering proportion."
"One werewolf is equal to a hundred of them," Michael snorted derisively.
"I concur," Sarah said. Her eyes drifted to her mug longingly. It was still half full. She could smell it. But it was old blood now, with whatever lifeforce it had once contained lost to the drifts of time. It might as well have been empty. Which was, she reflected, exactly how vampires saw the zombies. Once infected, even if they had not turned into the undead yet, they were slowly drained of any useful vitality. They could sustain a werewolf, or a ghoul perhaps, but not a vampire. As the infection progressed, even ghouls could gain no sustenance from them. She said, "You are not stupid, Michael. You have done the math. The humans would overwhelm us in short order. We would be reduced to hiding from them as we have done in centuries past, while they ignorantly allowed the infection to spread among themselves until it was too late to do anything about it. Yes, we could isolate a breeding stock, and no doubt there are plans in place to do just such a thing should our war take a bad turn. For now, it is more than a matter of our palates. It is survival."
"Bah," Michael spat, leaning forward again. She could tell he didn't believe her, but that was his youth speaking. He was still enamored with the thrill of the hunt. He believed in his invulnerability. Sarah knew better. They only true immortality was to be found in one's culture. In what was passed on to those who followed. Vampires and werewolves did not have children. They had no one to pass anything to, and as a result tended to be more insular and self-centered. In a pinch, a vampire, or a werewolf or a ghoul or a goblin or any of the dozens of inhumans which existed, would fend for themselves first. Humans would fend for each other.
She turned back to her monitor. It looked like the Chicago operation was going to take another day or two to resolve. The news reported about some gang activity, nothing more. Quietly, she poured the contents of her cup into the trash and then, for good measure, tossed the cup in after it. She was going to take a vacation, she decided. Winter was coming, and with it could come long nights in the North. A chance to feed directly from the veins. To enjoy the world the predators maintained for their prey. For now, she closed the Chicago report and turned to a new one, a report of some activity in China. It could be another political purge, or it could be an outbreak the humans were trying to quell themselves. She added a note to the report and sent it up the chain for further review.
She wished Michael was right. She wished there would come a time when the last of the infection was rooted out and this unholy alliance between their kinds could come to an end. When they could go back to being enemies. Competitors for the same food supply. If that day ever came, she might take great delight in drinking Michael dry. Until then, she would watch her monitor, read the reports, keep check on the news, and wait.
She was very good at waiting.