I could feel Travis beside me again. Trying to spoil my fun, no doubt. There was little to do these days. Most days I slept, hooked to feeding tubes providing me with synthetic plasma that kept me from dying but not at full strength. I was a troublemaker, they said. Not allowed to leave my tubes without proper precautions. The injection from earlier, to keep the bloodlust at bay. Never had the heart to tell them that it stopped working. I haven’t had a need to lash out yet.
“So, what are they here for today? Not another autopsy. Seeing all my bits. Quite rude before we are properly introduced.”
“Not today. Just talking.”
“They aren’t really saying anything. Just staring.”
“Come along gents, introduce yourselves.”
They each stood in turn, moving out of the brightness. My eyes adjusted, following their movements. They each wore a lab coat, a patch with four red drop shapes forming a diamond, buttoned up to the neck, and a name tag. The first, a small wiry man with thin hazel hair, Mattias. His accent sounded French. I like it, like clotted cream and jam, rich and bright. The next is a tall man with auburn waves and freckles all around the temple. Liam has a sweet voice, like honey and lavender, heavy and slow. The last, a large hulking man, with a deep blue black widows peak and short buzzed hair. He’s Russian. No doubt about that. Ivan laps at the syllables, it was nice to hear, but like a mouth full of soapy marbles to talk through.
I bow my head in recognition to each, curious at their eye colors. Travis wore contacts, mostly everyone did; Another of the precautions. My kind, the halflings, can coerce through eye contact. Sort of like telepathic Morse code. Something about our pupil dilation and vocal pitch. Both are required and it’s easier to have slightly shaded view than to wear ear plugs all day. All the rooms were terribly bright; Chrome and silver, with huge fluorescent bulbs in everything.
“I miss Seattle.”
“Why?” Liam chirped, adjusting his sunglasses. Grey green eyes glanced up for a moment then disappeared behind the large black circular frames.
“It was darker there. Softer and more organic. Everything here is so rigid and cold.”
There was a furious scribbling, pen scratching on clip boards. I looked over at Travis, standing there, the ever stoic operator. He is my keeper, so to speak. Each gets assigned a Halfling to access. He promises that I coan read the research paper in the end. He looks tired, with yellowish splotches beneath his eyes and dark stubble that refuses to leave. His hair was greying, though he seems too young for it. I don’t like his voice much, tight and fraying at the ends, like old rope.
“I am hungry.”
“Have your injections not sated you?” Mattias asks, looking up from his clip board. I roll my eyes and changed positions, sliding onto my belly, feet pointing towards the ceiling.
“Riddle me this, dear junior doctor, would you like a burger or would you be satisfied with fat free protein shakes for all eternity.”
He chuckled, before returning his gaze to the clipboard. I like these boys, so eager and inquisitive. The others are boring. With gestures and barely audible reactions.
“Can we bring her a bag?” Liam mouthed, looking at the others beside him.
“I do not know if this is wise. Full strength is not advisable for this one.” Ivan whispers, his voice rumbling towards me.
“I wonder, my dear Keeper, if the boys know that I have fantastic hearing.”
I look at Ivan first, watching him bristle at the comment. My scrutiny slams quickly to the left, where Mattias is smirking. And then, sliding slowly to the middle, Liam met my stare through the sunglasses. I bit my lip, thinking about how sweet he would taste. It must have been quite the expression because a rush of color fills his face.
Travis walks forward, and presses a series of buttons on the keypad next to my chamber. The room burst alive with the sound of machinery clicking and whirling.
“What is on the menu today, I wonder. Pig? Cow? Goat? Kitten?”
Always animal blood, of course. The trick to being a Halfling is a lack of human blood. It allows us to live our lives like humans do, minus the aging problem. We don’t heal instantly and while sunlight is not our best friend, we can walk in it without the allergic reaction plagued by our fully turned cousins.
The drawback tends to be that, The Network, the company that keeps me here, has figured out that halflings are best suited for a life of being a lab rats. We are closer to humans without the risk of sudden death. So, those of us who choose not to drink human blood, tend to spend the first 50 years of our new lives in chambers like mine. We are pumped full of medications and then our reactions help create the current society, free of illness, not including death.
We receive a stipend at the end of our time, and are free to go. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse ways to live, but I do miss being able to wear jeans, or eating chocolate, or going to the movies. I hope they still have movies.
A sharp splat in the corner snaps me out of my musings. Pig. I could smell it through the plastic. My teeth shift neatly, two sets of sharpened incisors slide into the allocated spots and I smiled prettily for the trio. I was not disappointed.
“Would you like to get a closer look?” I purr, sliding off of the table.
Ivan was the one who gulped and shook his head hurriedly. Curious beast of a man he was turning out to be. Mattias and Liam looked to Travis who gave me a strained warning look. He handed the blood bag to Liam and whispered something to Mattias. Liam seemed to tower over me, the tip of his strong rounded jaw hovering a few inches above my head. Jumping back onto the edge of the table, I crook my finger slowly, motioning for them to move closer. I’m rewarded with dual nervous gulps. Ivan scribbles away.
“What do you think of your first up close look at a set of fangs? I am quite proud of the chompers I have been blessed with.”
“They are smaller than I expected.”
“Careful, Mattias, I might gain a complex.”
“I never realized that there were four in total.”
Liam sounds and smells even better up close. He was Scottish, I realize. He smells like cinnamon and aftershave. If I could pick an assistant for when I’m released, he would be at the top of my list. Though he might end up as a Halfling himself if left to my own devices. A low growl slides through my teeth as Liam holds up the bag. Moving to my knees, I pout at the unopened offering.
“A gentlemen would open it for me.”
The warning in the form of my name comes again from Travis. I was a troublemaker in the most entertaining of ways, and my keeper as the ever present killjoy. I sneer at him before holding out my hands to receive the bag. As it slids into my palm, they retreat, stumbling as I wink. The salty sweet liquid was lukewarm but I wasn’t in a position to complain. It was empty too soon.
“Much better. Can’t do a proper Once Upon A Time on an empty stomach.”
“Amazing, she almost looks…” Mattias says, scribbling on his clipboard.
“…human.” Ivan finishes, flipping to a new page. Liam says nothing.
“Now that we are all settled, if you would please, Madeline.”
“Roger that, mon capitaine. Gather ‘round children for a tale of woe.”
“You never let me have any fun.“
Liam again. He sure knows how to get a girl’s fangs in order. I give him a long look, hopeful that I can keep them occupied long enough.
“Madeline has a flair for the dramatic.”
“Says the guy who locks me in a capsule for months on end after one little incident.”
“No need to rush, we will get there in all due time. Now, where was I? Oh yes, I moved to Seattle when I was 22…”