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The trip was supposed to last five days. She had gone during fall break because going to Europe was something she had always wanted to do, and she had recently won money in a contest. It was all planned out. She would leave Saturday morning, get there sometime around Sunday morning, possibly as late as lunch local time, spend the next five days taking in local culture, buying useless knickknacks, and otherwise enjoy herself, then come back on the following Saturday so that she could try readjusting to normalcy Sunday before going back to school. It had been a good plan. She knew the local languages, had a list of things she wanted to see and do that had enough wiggle room built in for the unexpected she was surely to encounter, and she was more than capable, at least according to her kick-boxing instructor, of handling most people that didn't have a gun pointed at her.
Naturally this means that something monumentally wrong is going to happen to ruin this, you do realize that right? Sod's law pretty much ensures that when everything is planned, running smoothly, and otherwise worry free something, anything, will happen.
This unfortunate bump in this woman's life happened while she was skiing. Normally when people ski they do so with at least one other person, after all one could break a leg, arm, or worse out there. The woman we're following decided that a short trip wouldn't hurt, and that she was familiar enough with the path between where she was and where she was headed to feel that she was perfectly fine going alone. In her defense it was a clear day, with no hint of inclement weather, and the path she had intended to travel was one well known and well traveled. Ordinarily if something were to happen to her in all likelihood someone would have been along within five or ten minutes of her hitting her suit's distress beacon, which would have alerted the main desk at the resort she was renting her cabin from both who she was and her position.
Her first and last warning that something was amiss was a low growling from somewhere ahead of her in a nearby bunch of trees. Fears of rabid, or at least hungry, wolves entered her head which caused her to attempt to scurry along as fast as her skis would allow like a sensible person would. Because her back was turned she did not see what attacked her. Instead she felt herself get tackled, hot breath against her ear, animal growling, and pain. Oh yes she hurt. You try getting pounced by something that weighs as much as a linebacker and not hurt. Thankfully for this poor woman she either hit her head on a root, rock, or something to cause her to pass out. I shan't clarify what exactly happened, save that it likely isn't what you believe and that she's safe and sound.
When next this woman opened her eyes she found herself laying on something much like a doctor's examination table and without her outer wear, those thick layers of material protecting her clothes from the snow, and her body from the cold. She was dressed warmly, and in spite of feeling somewhat weak and a little sore here and there she felt reasonably well.. While she took stock of how she felt she made the very reasonable assumption that she had been carried off to be treated by medical professionals. This belief was reinforced by the fact that she was in a clean impersonal room filled with the sorts of things one might find in a doctor's office. The man wearing the white lab coat looking her over seemed to further enhance this notion, because he spoke like a doctor, gentle reassurances that everything was alright and that he was just giving her a quick look over. No worries, just a little blood, you'll barely feel it.
So they thought whatever attacked her might have been rabid? Why not just give her whatever shots they had to anyway? That's how doctors back home did it. They suspect something was rabid, you get fifteen or seventeen injections in the naval. Of course that was painful, and the injections had to be spaced out over time, but then again maybe this fellow and whoever he worked for wanted to make sure before subjecting her to all that.
"Miss Elizabeth Crowley?" The man patted her shoulder reassuringly when he finally spoke to her rather than himself. He smiled at her when he saw her eyes focus on him. "My name is George Shelby. Other than a little blood work that I need to do it looks like you're in good shape. To be honest you're doing far better than you have any rights to considering when you were brought in your arm was mangled and bloodied."
She looked at her arm and flexed. Sure the sleeve to her sweater was gone, probably cut away, but she looked and felt like she'd already healed whatever had been done to her. "I've always been a quick healer Doctor Shelby." That name tickled at the edges of her memory. In the back of her mind she hoped that whatever he was looking for in her blood wouldn't turn up the few oddities that were supposed to be there. "Any ideas what attacked me? All I really remember was growling and something hitting me. I didn't think wolves pounced."
Doctor Shelby looked at her arm and nodded to himself before speaking. "How do you think they get on top of their usual prey? Your visa says you're from America. On break from school and decided to come visit one of the less overcrowded parts of the Continent?"
"Well I had heard stories my grandfather told when he came this way, and my father came here about five years back on business. I figured I might as well follow the family tradition." She started to sit up and, after Doctor Shelby backed away she smiled, somehow invoking a predator eying prey as she did so. "How long before you finish and i can get checked out?"
Doctor Shelby shifted uneasily at that question and, after backing just out of arm's reach then straightening his coat he dropped the proverbial bombshell. "You're not at the," He glanced at the key-card laying by Elizabeth's wallet, "Blue Mountain Resort and Spa." She stiffened at this news, understandable considering she had just been told she'd more or less been kidnapped. "I brought you here because the creature that ambushed you was something I had been hunting for the past three months." He looked somewhat uneasy, but continued in spite of himself. "A rival of mine had sent it and others after me since he'd broke our agreement and started expanding into biological experiments." A pause while he seemed to try collecting himself. "I know any explanation I give is going to sound insane, so I'm going to tell you the truth. First though do you want anything to drink? I assure you that if I wanted to I would have drugged you while you were still recovering, and you are, by all accounts, as unharmed as your attacker has allowed."
Elizabeth coughed at the mention of being drugged, "Well like you said, if you wanted to keep me doped up to sell to some rich Russian it's not like I could have stopped you from just putting a needle in me earlier. Got any beer?" She leaned forward, leaning on her elbows while she eyed the 'good' doctor. If he was dealing in the sorts of business she thought he was she may well have to come clean herself just to absolve him of any feeling of guilt over what he might find.
"I don't think-" Doctor Shelby saw her grin again.
"OK OK I'll get Steve to bring you something. Happy?" Then he muttered something about it being her liver not his.
"Oh don't worry Doc. It's not like I'm going to try for a whole pitcher." Elizabeth made a go-ahead motion, 'You were saying something about you and this rival of yours?"
Doctor Shelby quirked an eyebrow but decided that if she wanted to hear the rest he might as well. "I've been trying to find a cure, or at least a use, for zombies." He watched for a reaction, and was caught somewhat off guard by the lack of any real change in the dark woman's expression. "I'm not talking voodoo or brainwashing someone into thinking they're dead and revived. I'm talking of a virus that infects, destroys the thinking and frontal lobes of the victim's brain, essentially lobotomizing them and give them a hunger for flesh of any sort, but preferably human. Oh sure there have been natural outbreaks here and there for the past few hundred, if not thousand, years. However this thing has been a relatively quiet disease, not getting the sort of exposure or range that most other pathogens that make it out of their natural territory seem to."
Elizabeth perked while that explanation had been given. "Ethics of infecting even willing volunteers aside, wouldn't any lab created strain simply compete rather than supersede the natural variant?" She saw that she had scored a hit so went somewhat further. "I had a friend that did a paper on zombies so I kinda had to put up with a semester's worth of him going on about the material." Again that predatory smile, "Granted there's a world of difference between a term paper and being out in the sticks isn't there?"
"Hm, this friend of yours wouldn't be a tree trunk of a man, someone you'd think would have a brain the size of a walnut, but could run you 'round in knots trying to keep up?" Elizabeth nodded emphatically at this. She knew the man quite well, and loathed how easy everything seemed to him. "I see you're yet another member of those that feel slighted at how the man seems to do eight things at once and expect the rest of the world to meet his standards. Don't worry, you're far from alone in that sentiment."
A buzz from the only door to the room was their only warning before a well dressed man-like thing shambled in the room. I say manlike because while it had the general appearance of humanity there were subtle things about it's expression, or rather lack thereof, the vacancy in it's eyes, and paleness of skin that made it seem more an animated corpse than something alive. Doctor Shelby took the tray it held and waved it off. "Thank you that will be all." He offered his guest a pint glass of a dark liquid with roughly a quarter inch of frothy head at the top of the glass. "You'll like this stuff. I trade regularly with the guy that brews it and," He sighed before setting the glass beside Elizabeth's wallet and other personal things ."Right. Sorry. Forgot to warn you that my servants were undead I'd managed to re-purpose into something a little more useful. They're crap for anything that needs any sort of flexibility or speed, but they're good for carrying things from place to place, don't whine about pay, and if the controls I have wired in ever go on 'em there's a charge just inside the skull that vaporizes the brain without sending messy infected bits everywhere." He waved a hand in front of his guest. "Elizabeth. C'mon it's alright. They won't hurt you. Promise."
"That's just plain creepy man." There was no anger in Elizabeth's voice, nor was there accusation. "Since you've come clean, and you smell worried about something I might as well tell you." She grabbed the glass and took a sip, then a long drink before setting it back. "Good stuff, I'll have to see if I can't get some of it imported when I go home. Anyway George you don't have to worry if I'm going to turn into a werewolf or something like that because of that thing that mauled me because I already am one." George quirked his head to one side, then the other, but didn't interrupt. "Had I been paying attention to my nose I would have known he was there long before I got to where he was waiting, but I've always been a city girl so just took the smell as something that was supposed to be here. I mean I'd had a whole load of scents stuck in my nose I'm not familiar with since I landed."
"That would explain why you've healed so fast," George's eyes flicked to Elizabeth's arm then to her face. "I won't ask for a family history or anything like that, but till you have to go would you mind staying here? I wouldn't mind the company, and while the resorts and hotels around here are good, I'm sure you would like to discuss a few things with someone that won't think you've gone of the deep end, drunk, or have a few crossed wires."
"That actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I've got what, three or four days left before I have to get back. If you can get me to a phone so that my folks and everyone else knows I'm alright I wouldn't mind." She gave another of those predatory smiles. "Just so long as you keep as well behaved as you are right now I think my folks might actually want to know you a little better. They keep whining about me needing to find more people I can relate to and, well..." She covered her lack of anything else to say by draining the rest of her beer.
The rest of the week was spent with Elizabeth learning the ins, outs, and other assorted things that might pop up at George's 'lair'. He laughed when he described his home in terms that most might find more fitting to a mad scientist rather than as the home of a young networked bio-engineer with seven different degrees, and several ancient titles. Though to be perfectly fair if the man went by his full and proper name, Count Milliardo Gregorie Von Somethingorother, we would be somewhat harder pressed into not thinking of the man as something ripped from a cheap dime novel drama, or garishly colored comic-book villain.
George, with more than a little help from Elizabeth, had finally managed to get several of the larger boxes his more usual help had been unable to unpack without destroying the contents, and all but two or three of those that had offered to help seemed to not show up till roughly an hour after the hard and heavy work had been done. Coincidentally this was right when our intrepid duo had relaxed in front of the just-unpacked TV to watch a movie. Needless to say, while they would probably welcome any other day, they were asked with carefully chosen words to find somewhere else to be for the rest of the afternoon.
Elizabeth learned that other than zombies and other engineered life George made it his business to study 'mythic' life. For you and I that means he studies dragons, were-creatures, chimera, and other things that modern science tells us either never existed or were simply based off of half-wrong ideas of how old bones went together. Try telling that to George after he had been out to take a survey of the local population. Granted most were about the size of your average rottweiler full-grown, but then again George holds out hope some of the larger examples will surface.
"I don't care if they're pretty, or a natural part of the landscape. I had an uncle that would go looking for them." Elizabeth had a cross expression on her face when they spoke of George's outing over dinner the night before. "Note the past tense there. Had. As in he went and got himself EATEN!"
George waved off her concern, even though she could still catch a slight whiff of worry in his scent. "Don't worry Beth. I've got everything in hand, and I've got people with me so I'm no more than two minutes from help, five tops. Between that and the mace I tested this morning in case any of them do show up when I'm at any of the nesting sites it'll probably be one of the most boring trips I've made all season.
George's phone rang, prompting Elizabeth to roll her eyes when she thought he wasn't looking. "I know Don. I know, Listen to me. You'll have your money when I have my molecular-decohearer!" He practically stabbed the end call button before setting the phone back down. "Sorry. I'd put an order for a few odds and ends that might make things go a little smoother here." He shrugged while attempting to stop being angry about his order being fouled... again... "What sort of work does your family do?"
"Lets see." Elizabeth looked up from her food. "Mom used to sell furniture before she met Dad. After my little brother got big enough to leave with a sitter she worked part time at a few places, but right now she's trying to get a realtor's license. Dad, well, He'd worked his butt off to try getting in at NASA. Unfortunately once he and mom started dating, well," She sighed theatrically, "He thought it wasn't safe for anyone after that so switched to a position with the ground and testing crews. Sure it doesn't have the glory that the guys wearing the mission patches have, but without thousands of people on the ground working their hearts out those eight or dozen people that go up might not make it back." She gestured with her glass, "Take Apollo thirteen, Skylab, or even a few of the shuttle missions if you want examples of how needed the ground crews are."
George nodded thoughtfully. "An interesting set of parents. What about you and your siblings?"
After taking a drink Elizabeth hmmed thoughtfully. "I think Zack's still got his heart set on opening a hardware store of his own rather than run one of the big box places. I don't get it, but then again I try staying out of the local v national issue. A store is a store, and so long as the people there don't treat me like dirt I generally buy where I know I can get what I want." George seemed to take this in with little comment, so she continued. "Me personally? I dunno. Other than howling at the moon and having a few mad scientists or former experiments show up my family seems to largely go in for the normal humdrum of life. Sure they sent me to a school that teaches cryptobyology and has a few centaurs and other 'mythic' races as staff, but I think they have me pegged to follow in the nice normal routine."
"you sound like you're not convinced you want that." George sounded somewhat sympathetic. "What's the problem, can't find a way to break it to your folks that you want to go for the less conventional?"
"Actually," Elizabeth pushed her plate away from her, "It's more a problem of finding an employer that would treat me as something other than either a minion to be ordered about, or someone to put in a skimpy outfit to act as eye candy for the visitors." She grunted, "I'm sure you know how most mad science types are. It all seems either death rays, big discoveries made in the small hours of the morning, and all about them and their needs. Sure I like the idea of helping someone put conventional science in it's place, but I'd want to be treated with a little dignity."
"Well, I wouldn't mind if you stayed on as staff. Lord and Edison knows I could use someone with a little bit more conversation skills around here." He noted Elizabeth growling when Edison was mentioned and sighed ever so slightly. "Please don't tell me you're another of those yonks that have a burning seething unreasoning hate of Edison. He practically invented the modern laboratory."
She continued growling low until she could think of a proper response. "Without digging up how he treated Tesla I'm going to have to point out that by all accounts his methodology tended to go along the lines of 'throw everything at the wall and see what sticks' instead of trying to do any of the math. Plus it's funny how you seem to speak well of the man since he pretty much put the lone inventor out of business." She smiled warmly at George then added, "I did see his lab once. I might think the man a self absorbed arrogant louse, but his workspace is something to aspire to."
On that point they found agreement, so decided to end the discussion while they were at a point where they weren't shouting at each-other. Instead they finished dinner and went out to tour the latest round of test animals George had been using. Two had died, and autopsies would need to be preformed later to see just how they had died, and a few others were in the process of dying. These were put down painlessly after what was killing them had been noted. Elizabeth didn't like when the animals died, and for the matter neither did George, but both knew that you couldn't find answers without a little mess. Plus at least this way it had been animal lives in the balance. If all worked as they hoped those would save who knows how many human lives over the years. Both also noted that they were combating diseases and other ailments that mainstream medicine had no clue existed.
Soon Elizabeth's vacation ended, and she had to return to the states. For a moment she was tempted to drop out of school and keep working here, but even with an amiable boss, and an apparently low-stress environment were not enough to sway her from her degree. Sure it may not be needed, but not only would her family give her hell over dropping out, she'd have to look herself in the mirror and wonder if she had it in her to grab the brass ring or not. They had talked it over, and though he would miss her help and conversation George said he understood. He also said that if she ever changed her mind he more likely than not would still need that extra pair of hands.
Before she left, George had seen to it that the things that a few added things were packed away that she would not discover till after she had gotten home. On unpacking her luggage she found a note from George asking her to keep in touch as well as a physical address she could send packages to, or expect to receive items from, as well as an email address she could keep in touch with on a more routine basis.
Idly she wondered if people that deal in 'abnormal technology and sciences' would be interested in a more modern approach to social networking. Most were stuck in the fifties in terms of communications, but a few forward thinkers seemed to be trying. and both looked like possible solutions for this social networking problem. She had bigger fish to fry though, school meant working 'round the clock again.