Six candles were hardly enough to illuminate the stuffy cellar. Myra raised a hand and rubbed at her eyes. Her head throbbed, but if she stopped writing, she would lose her mind. She considered lighting a seventh candle but pushed the thought aside. The last patrol had returned empty-handed, and she could not afford to waste supplies to satisfy her whims.
The sound of feet tapping against stone startled her, and she put her notebook down at the knock on the door. “Come in,” Myra called with as much cheer as she could muster.
The wooden door cracked open, and her cousin peeked in. “The General is looking for you,” Thea said. “He requested you come to the Headquarters immediately.”
Myra sighed. Calling one of the many underground cells “Headquarters,” or Zack “General,” did nothing to make their pathetic, ragtag team a real army. “If Zack wishes to talk to me, he can come here himself. You’re not his messenger.”
“He’s busy, and this is important,” Thea said with a serious expression on her youthful face. “We captured another one.”
Myra snorted. “That’s what you call ‘important’? Zack should have figured out by now that we can’t learn anything useful from that filth.” She tucked her notebook underneath a moth-eaten blanket and walked to the candles, extinguishing them one by one. “Let’s go, then. Better not keep the General waiting.”
She followed Thea down the narrow torchlit corridor. Her cousin ran forward, her short golden ponytails bobbing up and down at every step. Myra found it hard to keep up with the pace and enthusiasm, but she tried to remain hopeful for Thea’s sake.
About thirty Warriors had gathered inside the Headquarters, waiting for them. Myra spotted Lidia and Thomas, and, of course, the General. “Zack, what—”
He cleared his throat. “Captain Andersen, how good of you to join us.”
Myra resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “You called for me, General Wong.”
“Follow me,” Zack said.
Myra looked at her cousin. “You should go now, Thea.”
The twelve-year-old pouted. “I’m a part of the Resistance too! In less than four years, I’ll be allowed to join the Warriors’ Council. I want to see the prisoner!”
“Why would you want that?” Myra asked. “There’s nothing glorious about fighting a war or interrogating prisoners. Until you learn that, you can’t be one of the Warriors. Go now. Grandma Pia is giving a talk at the school. You should attend as many lessons as you can.”
Thea gave her a glare but complied. Once the girl was gone, Myra followed Zack and the rest of the Warriors into a small candlelit cellar. The air was heavier in this place, but she was certain their guest did not mind.
The prisoner was standing with his back towards the stone wall, heavy chains holding up his shackled hands. Another set of thick fetters encircled his ankles. The Resistance had discovered long ago that vampires possessed superior strength, but so far the titanium chains had been effective in detaining the captives.
Myra narrowed her eyes and looked over the prisoner. She had seen only a handful of vampires, all very different in looks, but all had been the same in their vanity and arrogance.
The first thing Myra noticed was his clothes. The bright lilac tuxedo complemented the vampire’s dark complexion but made him look no less ridiculous. Vamps always dressed in style—or what they perceived to be style—while Resistance members wore whatever they could get their hands on. She wondered what the vampires would do once all the clothes ever made wore out beyond repair. They had destroyed all of the humans involved in production, and as far as she knew, they had set up no system to replace the goods they used up. These creatures could only consume and destroy and never create anything new.
“So this is the famous Resistance?” the prisoner asked, his sharp white teeth glistening under the candlelight as he gave his hosts a smug grin. “More pathetic than expected.”
“You must be quite the fighter yourself to be captured by creatures as pathetic as us,” said Thomas, and Zack threw the red-haired Warrior an approving look. “If we are pitiful, what does that make you?”
“We’re not here to exchange lame insults,” Myra interrupted and glared at the vampire. “We’re here to give you a choice. You can die quickly, or your death can last weeks if you refuse to answer our questions.”
“So, what are you two supposed to be?” The vamp glanced between Thomas and Myra. “The good and the bad cop?”
“What’s he talking about?” Zack asked.
“It’s an Old World thing,” Myra said impatiently. “I’ll explain it to you later.” Really, did Zack ever read books? He was almost ten years older than her, but he knew less about the Old World than she did.
Zack turned back at the prisoner. “You heard your options. You can talk now, or you can wait for us to make you cooperate.”
The vamp snickered. “You are wasting your time. The WeatherWizard is heavily guarded; you can never reach it and live to tell the tale.”
“We know everything about the WeatherWizard,” Zack said. “We wanted to ask you a few questions about Prince Vladimir.”
The vampire laughed—an ugly, mirthless sound. “You cannot seriously think you can plan anything against him. The Dark Prince will swipe you away with his little finger. You kids have no idea what you are getting yourselves into.”
“Perhaps you’ll be willing to tell us,” Zack said. “Lidia?”
The petite woman stepped forward. “Yes, sir?”
“I’ll leave you alone with him. Make him sing. If he refuses, Thomas will take the next shift. One of us will be with him at all times until he agrees to cooperate.”
“I can make him talk,” Lidia said and threw the prisoner a look. She walked to the wall and took a hammer from the rack. It looked huge in her small hand, but her grip around the handle was strong. “I have an idea or two.”
“I know you do,” said Zack. “We’ll be in the Headquarters in case you need us.”
Myra tried to ignore the vampire’s snigger at the word “Headquarters,” hoping beyond hope that the prisoner would speak before her shift came.
Several stone walls separated the Headquarters from the prison cellar, but they did little to muffle the hellish screams. Myra closed her eyes for a moment. “Zack, if you don’t need me here, I’ll go to the clinic and help Dr. Dubois.”
Her leader nodded absentmindedly, and she stood up, barely stopping herself from running towards the door. Once the screams were out of earshot, her pace slowed down. As usual, the corridor leading to the clinic was crammed with people. Patients occupied every bench; many more were standing. Myra sighed, feeling tired just looking at them, and opened the door to the doctor’s cellar.
Dr. Dubois stood bent down, feeling a patient’s stomach. Gary, her aide, waited next to her with a basket full of vials.
The old woman looked up and smiled at her. “Ah, Myra, it’s good to see you. Do you have time to stay and help?”
“Sure. I saw the line on my way here—I think we need to open a second examination room. Do you think any of your apprentices are ready?” They better be. Dr. Dubois was the only one among them trained in medicine in the Old World, and she was over eighty years old. She had been training a few aides, but none of them knew as much as she did.
“I’ve considered this,” the doctor said. “They need to start working on their own, but Lidia is the only one close to being ready. Have you seen her? She needs to be here, learning.”
“We have a prisoner. Her skills are required for the interrogation.”
Dr. Dubois frowned. “I know she likes killing vamps more than she enjoys healing people, but she needs to show some responsibility. Besides me, she’s the closest thing to a doctor we have, and she hasn’t come to the clinic at all the past three days. You come more often than she does.”
“It’s not her fault,” Myra said. “She’s one of our best Warriors. Zack has many tasks for her.”
“We have plenty of Warriors. We don’t have any doctors. Lidia has a head for medicine—more than anyone else I’ve seen—but she won’t learn unless she comes to assist me.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Myra said. “Do you need help with your patient?”
“I’m fine,” the man in the bed said, and Dr. Dubois smiled.
“Yes, he’ll be fine. Gary is helping me. If you have time, can you walk through the queue and check everyone’s symptoms? If it’s something straightforward, give them instructions and send them back to their cellars. If you spot any emergencies, send them ahead of the rest.”
“Sure,” Myra said and left the room. She hated the responsibility of deciding which cases were important and which were not, but someone had to do it. She had considered becoming Dr. Dubois’s apprentice herself, but had discovered that her true passion lay elsewhere.
Myra gazed around the corridor and spotted a pale face at the front of the queue. She frowned and knelt beside the woman. “Nina, what’s wrong?” Myra asked.
“It’s Erik,” Nina said and nodded at her nine-year-old son. “He’s thrown up three times in the past couple of hours.”
“Do you also have diarrhea?” Myra asked him. The boy nodded, and she turned back to his mother. “Did he drink any unboiled water?”
Nina shook her head. “I always boil his water before I let him drink.”
Myra raised her eyebrow at Erik, who was now determinedly avoiding her eyes. “Do you have something to share?” she asked.
The boy looked down. “The water in the underground spring felt so cool and fresh. I hate the taste of boiled water. And it always stays warm, even when you leave it to cool.”
Myra smiled and squeezed Erik’s hand. “I know,” she said. “I also tried fresh springwater once, when I was younger than you. But you have to learn to put up with boiled water. You don’t want to be as sick again as you are now, do you?”
He shook his head and looked away.
Myra looked up at Nina. “He’ll be fine in a couple of days. Give him plenty of water—clean water. He needs to stay hydrated. His sickness will pass on its own.”
Nina frowned. “Are you certain? Perhaps he should see Dr. Dubois?”
“I’m quite certain,” Myra assured her. “I’ll come by the children’s cellar and check on him tomorrow.”
She stood up and moved on to the next patient. “What is it, Irene?”
“It hurts,” the girl said. “Everywhere—my arms, my legs, my back. Even my face.”
Great. As common as tummy problems were in their community, this affliction was much more prevalent. “Does it hurt more when you exert yourself? Do your legs hurt when you stand and walk?”
“Yes,” Irene said. “And my arms hurt even with the slightest bit of exertion. When I open a door, or even when I brush my hair.”
“Have you been taking your vitamin D?”
Irene nodded. “Every three days as instructed.”
“We should increase your dosage,” Myra said. “I’ll talk to Zack; perhaps we can spare some supplies.” But even as she spoke, she knew it would not be enough. It would never be enough. Irene needed natural sunlight. They all did.
Someone cleared his throat. Myra looked up, seeing a blob of red hair at the end of the corridor. She raised an eyebrow at Thomas. “Are you here as a patient?”
He snorted. “I’d rather die in my own bed.” He took a few steps and approached her. “Zack needs you at the Headquarters. The search party is back.”
Myra followed him, her steps quick. Finally, some real news. This last patrol had taken longer than expected, and she was beginning to worry.
Thomas and Myra entered the Headquarters, and Zack greeted them with a smile. “Captain Sanchez,” he said as he turned to the tall woman sitting next to him. “Everyone has assembled. Do you have anything to report?”
Alerie Sanchez stood up from her seat. “We met no vampires on the way. All of us returned alive and unhurt.”
I should have joined the party, Myra thought. She had almost asked Zack to let her go before her fears had stopped her. She did not feel ready to go Outside, but every day spent in those dark cells made her lose a bit of her mind.
Zack grinned. “It’s been a while since a patrol report started like this. Please, go on.”
“We found the ruins of a city thirty miles south of here,” Alerie continued. “We looked through houses and shops, but the place has been searched. The vamps have taken almost everything, but we still found a few useful items.”
She brought a sheet of paper close to the candle. “We found seven cans of peas, three cans of corn, thirteen cans of pork, two bars of chocolate, fourteen large candles, twelve pairs of trousers of various sizes, two pairs of slippers, one pair of flip-flops…”
Myra bit her lower lip as she listened to the list. “Is any of the food still edible?”
Alerie snorted and took a can out of her bag. “It says, Expiration Date: March 2531.”
Everyone laughed, but there was no joy in the sound. The food had supposedly expired over forty years ago. “With cans you never know,” Myra said. “Some of it may still be fine.”
“Did you find any grains?” Zack asked. “Wheat? Rice? Corn?”
Alerie shook her head. “No. We searched everything. Someone had been there before us.”
“What about medicines?” Myra asked.
“We found a few pharmacies, but they were pillaged. Nothing was left.”
“Why would vampires need medicines?” Thomas mused.
“They don’t,” Zack said. “They knew we would find the place sooner or later. They wanted to cut off our supplies.”
Everyone fell quiet. Thomas ran a hand through his red hair, and Zack buried his face in his hands.
“We need the medicines,” Myra murmured, wincing as her voice shattered the silence.
“We do,” Zack agreed. “But as we don’t have them, we need to take necessary measures. For starters, we must reduce everyone’s dosage of vitamin D.”
Myra looked up. “Zack, we can’t! The current dosage is already too low. Most of our people have never seen sunlight, and it shows. You haven’t been to the clinic often enough, but I have. Every day we have more cases of bone pain, even amongst children.”
“A little pain has never killed anyone,” said Zack.
“It’s not just pain,” Myra protested. “This deficiency could lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer. Now those have killed plenty of people.”
Zack rubbed at his forehead. “We have no choice. There are four hundred and thirty-seven of us here. Our current dosage with the available supplies gives us enough supplements to last a little over four months.”
“And this is not the only thing we lack,” said Thomas. “I think we’ll run out of food before we have time to start worrying about cancer.”
Zack nodded and looked at Alerie. “Captain Sanchez, did your party hunt down any game?”
“Two rabbits,” she replied, her words emphasized by a cry from the prison cell.
Myra bit her lip and stared at the stone floor. Two rabbits for hundreds of people. She looked up and saw the same worry in her commander’s eyes.
“Alerie,” Myra said. “Did you come across any living woods?”
Alerie shook her head. “Everything was dead and barren.”
“The rabbits must have come from somewhere,” Myra said. “There must be patches of habitable ground. We need to find them.”
Zack looked about to reply, when the door blew open and Lidia walked in. “The filth refuses to talk,” she said as she collapsed into a chair.
“That’s because he hasn’t talked to me yet,” Thomas said and got up.
Myra gave him a smile. “Good luck. And Zack, if you have no more need for me, I’ll go check on my cousin.”
“Very well,” Zack said. “You’re all dismissed.”
Myra walked out of the Headquarters, and all the Warriors followed one by one.
“Hey, Myra, wait,” Alerie called and caught up with her. “You should bring Thea to my room. I have something for her.”
Myra remembered Alerie’s report and grinned. “Is it what I think it is?”
Her friend smiled. “Don’t get excited. There is barely enough for all the children. There will be nothing left for you and me.”
“That’s fine,” Myra said. “Alerie, I wanted to talk to you. I’ve been thinking about joining the next patrol.”
Alerie stopped in her tracks and looked her up and down. “You are eighteen, right?”
Alerie nodded. “Nineteen. Yeah, why not? You’ve been a part of the Warriors’ Council for three years now. Most people start raiding later, but plenty of younger Warriors have successfully participated in patrols. How is your training going?”
“I’m passable with the gun and crossbow. Not so much in hand-to-hand combat.”
“None of us can hope to defeat a vampire hand-to-hand anyway. I must warn you, though—even if you’re perfect at hitting an unmoving target during a training session, shooting at a real vamp is something completely different.”
“I’m sure it is,” Myra said. “But in general, you don’t think it’s a bad idea?”
“Depends. I think it makes sense for you to go, as long as you go for the right reasons. If you feel you’re ready and want to contribute, then fine. But that’s not the main reason you want to go, is it?”
Would Alerie laugh at her if she confessed her true reasons? “Honestly, I want to go Outside. I want to see what it’s like.” Myra winced. Now that she had said it aloud, the words sounded even more childish than they had in her mind.
Alerie snorted. “Everyone does. But the Outside isn’t everything it’s hyped up to be: barren ground, rotting and dead trees, and thick clouds covering everything in shadow. Not much to see.”
Myra gazed at the dark corridor, barely illuminated by the meager torchlight. “Anything is better than this.”