What got us loose was an old wrestling trick, but hey, there's a reason those guys keep making money. First, pick a fight - a loud one, loud enough to attract the attention of the guards. Next, have a fight, the more real, the better. (And trust me, Eve can throw a punch when she feels like it. Girl knows how to power out from the shoulder.)

Last, score yourself a bloody head wound, self-inflicted and minor, to sell the show as you flop down defeated, beaten and - in this case - preferably looking really dead. Have your friends sell it with lots of distress and screams for help while getting their hands very bloody. Eve was maybe a little too over the top, but Pete sold the whole package - he looked grim, scared, and smeared blood around like I'd sprung an arterial leak and was pumping out the last pint.

In all probability, our new friends didn't really care, but like all employees, they would be expected to explain inventory breakage, and nobody wanted to have to say that they'd let me bleed out on the floor without some kind of due diligence.

They opened the door, came in, and I passed Pete the rusty piece of metal I'd used to cut my head open as he bent over me, hands pressed to my neck. 'Come on, man, hurry up, he's losing too much blood!' he said to the two guards who entered. One came toward me, holstering his gun. The other stood at the door and kept his weapon out and ready.

Pete stood up and backed off to make room for the guard, who touched down one knee next to me. Eve was screaming and crying, and kept saying that she couldn't find a pulse, which was nicely distracting. Pete kept backing up, and put his bloody hands over his face as he did; his shoulders shook with what looked like genuine tears. I was impressed. The guy had a future career on the stage. It looked so much like real grief, and there was so much chaos going on around my limp body, that the guard who was at the door missed how close Pete was getting until it was too late.

Pete whirled around, grabbed the man's gun arm and shoved it up as he jammed a knee up into a region that made me wince. That guard doubled over. Eve, at the same time, lunged across my body at the guard checking me out, and I came alive to wrestle him down as she pulled his gun free and rose to point it at him.

The other guard's gun went off as he and Pete struggled, but Pete put him down hard with a blow from that rusty piece of metal, and scooped up the weapon. 'Get her!' he yelled, and pointed at Liz as he threw himself to one side of the doorway. I scrambled up, grabbed Liz, tossed her over my shoulder, and was immediately thrown off balance as she started to struggle.

Dammit, this was not the time for the girl to be waking up. 'We need out of this room!' I said to Eve, who nodded and joined Pete at the door. She tapped him on the shoulder to let him know she was behind him, and he moved fast, out of the room and firing. Turned out that he was firing deliberately high, because when I followed him and Eve out, the guards were down behind overturned steel tables. There was a lot of confused shouting going on.

We ran the gauntlet before they could get organised, because there wasn't much else we could do. Eve broke off and ran to Michael's cage, which I wouldn't have let her do if I'd had any kind of choice in the matter, but she was thinking ahead; she'd lifted the keys from the guard we'd tackled, and as Pete kept the others' heads down, she fumbled through the selection and found the one that turned the lock.

Michael wasn't nearly as debilitated as he looked. He uncoiled himself from the ball he'd been in, crawled out, and lunged at Eve.

For a scary second, I was afraid she'd just signed her death warrant, but it was just a hug, not a full-on attack; his fangs stayed in, and the energy of rising to his feet seemed to be just about all he had, because he sagged against her almost immediately, and she had to drag/carry him toward the door. I caught a glimpse of his face over her shoulder - my boy Mikey was back. Not well, not by half, but that was him, looking at me through those blue eyes.

You go, bro.

It all took about ten seconds, but it seemed like half an hour to make it to the far side of the room; the guards started firing back at us within half that time, and Pete stopped aiming over their heads and started punching neat holes into the steel tables they were hiding behind. That kept them down. I almost went over backward as Liz started kicking and writhing; she was taller than Claire, and strong, and panicked. I let her slide off as we reached the far doorway, and she nearly collapsed as she tried to take her weight on both feet. When she tried to break free of me, I yanked her closer. 'I'm Claire's boyfriend!' I yelled at her. I guess the blood dripping all over my face didn't make me look any more trustworthy, because she didn't seem reassured. 'Go!' I shoved her ahead of me, and she stumbled on barely functioning legs to the closed steel door.

It didn't open.

'Eve!' I yelled, and gestured for the gun she was firing. She tossed it to me and lunged for the door, trying keys with frantic haste. The semi-auto pistols that Pete and I were firing each carried fifteen shots, but Pete was already down at least nine, and Eve had popped off four. It wouldn't last long if we were trying to intimidate a room full of guys with bullets and the hard-core training to use them.

None of Eve's keys worked. She grimly started over, trying them again, and I used four more of our bullet inventory. I hoped I wasn't hitting anybody, but at that moment, I wasn't really opposed to it, either.

Michael came through for us. He moved Eve out of the way, grabbed hold of the handle, and yanked, hard. It broke off, and he pushed the hardware through on the other side, reached in, and pulled back the tongue on the lock. Then he half collapsed again, and Eve had to drag him out by the arms into the hallway.

We weren't out of the fire, but at least we were off the frying pan, and I know Pete breathed a sigh of relief as we escaped out. Michael yelled something I didn't catch, and then he got to his feet and charged forward - by vampire standards, it was more of a lumbering stumble than a charge, because he wasn't moving any faster than the rest of us. But he took down a guy aiming at Eve, tackled him to the floor, and his vampire instincts finally kicked in. I heard the low-in-the-throat snarl, saw the flash of fangs coming down, and I felt a sudden answering burn inside. It came from my arm first; I'd almost forgotten the bite I'd gotten there before I left Morganville, but this reminded me, hard enough to make me stagger and catch myself against the wall. The pain crawled up to my shoulder, and spread like fire over the network of my bones, and I didn't know what the hell was happening to me. I sagged, coughing, and heard Pete demanding to know if I'd been hit. I shook my head.

I wasn't wounded, but I felt sick, really sick, and I knew it was Michael going vamp that had triggered it. Something was wrong with me. Very wrong. It was as if I was reacting to him.

Liz was confused and scared, and she bolted forward, trying to get free of all of us crazy people; I couldn't say I blamed her. We weren't exactly the world's most credible rescue crew ever, what with all the blood, Michael burying his fangs in a guy's throat, Eve ignoring it to scoop up his fallen weapon, and me trying to puke against the wall.

She didn't make it far.

Dr Davis stepped out of the kitchen. He was holding a gun of his own, and he pointed it at Liz; she skidded, arms windmilling wildly as she tried to check her forward momentum. She didn't manage it, and crashed against him. He grabbed her, put an arm around her neck and hugged her to him as a human shield as Pete and Eve both focused their guns on him.

Michael finished with his dinner - I wish I could say that was a joke - and looked up at Davis, eyes glowing a shade of red that ought to exist only in horror movies. He licked his lips, but he didn't move from the crouch he was in. Somehow, that was more frightening.

And I was feeling something new now. Not better, exactly, but stronger. Faster. And with it, I felt a nearly uncontrollable need to rip Michael's head clean off his body. As if he was the only real enemy in the room.

I was pretty sure that last part was wrong.

I shook my head to try to clear it, and blood drops flew like sweat after a good workout. The cut in my head was still bleeding freely. I saw Michael sense it, felt him sense it, and something inside me grinned in anticipation, and roared for him to try it.

Michael didn't come at me, and somehow, I managed to stuff down that impulse to go at him. Liz, I reminded myself. The girl was clueless and in danger, and neither one of us needed the distraction right now of whatever weird thing was going on inside me.

'I'll kill her,' Dr Davis said, and backed up toward the door; he was dragging her with him. I realised that we were in a bottleneck, and his guys would come boiling out of the clean-room behind us any second; I backed up, grabbed the steel door and muscled it shut. No way to lock it now that Michael had busted us out, but at least it would slow them down. Not for long, though. I heard them sliding metal tables out of the way.

Eve stepped forward toward Dr Douche Bag, and she looked like an ice cold warrior princess, if warrior princesses came armed with semi-autos this season. 'Go ahead,' she said. 'As soon as you do, you're dead.'

He licked his lips, and I saw the doubt in his face. I didn't think Eve would pull the trigger in cold blood, but I wasn't really sure, either.

Neither was he. Stand-off. It couldn't last, because his reinforcements were coming at speed, and ours - well. We didn't actually have any that I knew about. Our only chance was to make it outside to the van, hope the car keys were on the ring Eve had appropriated, and drive like holy hell.

That also meant leaving Claire behind, though. And while I wouldn't shed much of a tear for the vampires with her, there was no way I was leaving this damned farm without my girl.

I didn't have to, as it turned out.

The front door opened behind Dr Douche Bag, and Claire stepped inside. She looked tired, stressed, roughed up, and anxious, and her eyes skimmed over us, cataloguing the situation and resting for a long second on mine. I couldn't tell what she was thinking or feeling, but my God, I loved her when she took one long step forward, pressed the gun in her hand into Dr Davis's back, and said, very calmly, 'Let her go.'

I would have probably added, you giant bag of dicks, but that worked just fine. Davis looked as surprised as Wile E. Coyote suspended over a canyon, and he dropped his weapon and let Liz go, fast. Liz lurched away a step or two, then came back and grabbed the gun, which she pointed right at the good doctor's face.

Yow. That did not look friendly. For a sick, breathless second, I really thought the girl was going to do it ... and then she backed off, shaking.

Davis sank down to a crouch, hands up, clearly full of surrender.

'Come on,' Claire said. 'Come on, we have to go. Right now!'

She didn't need to issue a formal invitation. We all bolted to follow her as she left. The farmhouse behind us was ringing with shouts, and I heard the steel door scrape open; we didn't have long before they had us in their crosshairs. To add more trouble, there were three guards coming out of the barn across the gravel yard.

They were dragging three limp vampires by their feet.

I don't know why, but that sight shocked me. Myrnin, Oliver, Jesse - not just vampire-pale, but blue-white. Dead white. My God, what had happened in there?

The guards yelled when they saw us, dropped their cargo, and went for their weapons. We made it to the shelter of the van before they were able to draw and fire, and I slid the door back to let Michael in first - he was already burning in the sunlight - and Eve, Pete and Liz piled in next.

Claire didn't get in. She put her back against the cold metal, breathing hard, and she seemed to feel as sick as I did. Seriously, my whole bloodstream was on fire, and if we hadn't been in a live-or-die situation, I probably would have been collapsing under the pain ... but for now, that had to go away. Better to burn than eat bullets.

'I killed them,' she told me. She sounded devastated. 'I thought - I thought I was saving them. But I think I just killed them.'

She was right. The three vampires lay in the sun, not moving. Oliver's skin had started to smoke a little, like mist coming off a lake. It wouldn't take long for him to blacken, and then to start to burn. The others would follow. Myrnin was old, Jesse might be even older, I wasn't sure. But in the end, they'd be ashes and bones.

It was going to kill her, knowing she was the cause of all this.

'Get in,' I told her. Eve had already scrambled into the driver's seat and was trying keys from the ring; one worked, and the engine caught. 'We have to go. Right now.'

And we tried. We really did. I got Claire into the van, piled in after, slid the door shut, and Eve gunned it in a tight, gravel-spewing circle to head for the exit.

Another van accelerated forward to block us in.

She backed up, yelled, 'Hang on,' and busted through the white rail fence next to the barn, bumping and churning through the dry furrows of a field and heading at an angle for the farm road that had led us here.

We didn't get far before the van - no off-roader - bogged down. The tyres spun dirt but couldn't find purchase, and as Eve rocked it back and forth, she just dug us in deeper.


We had a grand total of four guns, one half-empty, one almost gone, two nearly full. We had a vampire who was looking a little more himself, but still operating at about a quarter speed, at best.

We had me, who was shaking with the need to shoot his best friend and rip his dead body apart, for absolutely no logical reason that I could think of ... and it terrified me. It was as if I was possessed.

I looked at Claire, hoping that she had some miracle up her sleeve, some genius move that would get us out of this.

But Claire looked, in that moment, like a vulnerable eighteen-year-old girl, scared and numbed and overwhelmed, and I dragged her into my arms and held her because that seemed like the only thing I could do, hold her. Try, in that last desperate moment, to keep her safe. Because any second now, they were going to surround this van and riddle it with enough bullets to make us look like a drug cartel pinata. They had nothing to lose. We'd proved we weren't going to be useful to them, and Dr Anderson didn't need Claire any more if she'd just destroyed their vampire stock of lab rats.

And Michael would live through that. Sadly.

'I killed them,' she whispered to me. Her voice was shaking, and I felt hot tears wet against my skin. 'Oh God, Shane, I killed them ...'

I couldn't do anything but hold her. I don't know if it helped her, but it helped me push back the violent impulses inside of me that said I ought to take out the only remaining vampire among us, before it was too late.

The gunfire started, and I flinched and threw Claire to the van floor, covering her. I heard the others hitting the deck, too. I waited for the sound of metal punching in, glass breaking ... but it didn't come.

Whatever they were firing at, it wasn't us.

I waited for a few more seconds, then carefully rose to a crouch. I couldn't see a thing out the front windows, because we were pointed the wrong way, but if nobody was firing at us, it was giving us a chance we couldn't waste.

I opened the van's side door. 'Out! Everybody out! Run for it!'

I didn't even know where we'd go, but staying where we were wasn't an option. Being out in the sun was going to be hell for Michael, though, and I looked around for something to help him. I found a plastic tarp rolled up in a bin behind the driver's seat, and I tossed it to him; he broke the rope that held it closed and draped the thing around him like a portable tent.

'I'll go first,' he said. 'Watch Eve.'

I nodded. With him so close to me, it was hard not to do something violent. The conflict inside was tearing me apart, but I tried not to let it show; even so, Michael gave me a weird look before he bailed out, blue tarp flapping around him like the world's most heavily waterproofed cloak. Pete and Liz followed, then Eve.

Claire and I were the last ones out.

'What are you doing?' I yelled. 'Move-' Because the rest had stopped dead where they were, only a few feet from the van.

And then I saw why.

The guards were down. Well, one was still running and firing wildly, but as I watched, Jesse - Lady Grey - took a running leap that crossed at least twenty feet of space. She landed flat-footed in front of him, grabbed him by the throat, and tossed him twenty feet back, to Oliver, who caught him and - well, broke him. I tried not to see more of that than I had to.

Myrnin was up, too, although all I saw of him was a flicker of motion as he disappeared into the barn. Oliver finished up with the guard, nodded to Jesse, and he followed Myrnin.

She went into the farmhouse. And then there was screaming.

There was a lot of screaming.

'Jesus,' Eve whispered. She crossed herself, an involuntary motion dragged up from childhood habit; what we were seeing was something that not even I had seen before: vampires let loose from all their inhibitions. The purest expression of predator.

It was bloody terrifying.

'They're - they're killing-' Claire was shaking now, and her face was blank. 'They're killing everyone.'

I put my arms around her and didn't say anything. I concentrated on breathing, on trying to cool the fire in my blood; it wasn't getting easier. In fact, now that the three older vamps were back in the game - and sweeping the table clean - it was actually worse. These instincts were screaming at me to do something.

Kill them. Kill them all.

I dropped the gun I was holding. I was afraid to keep holding it. I wasn't sure I could control this thing inside me too much longer.

Myrnin emerged from the barn. He was still icy pale, like a walking corpse, and he was holding two big, clumsy guns - the things that Claire had developed and used to bring down vampires. One of them was trailing wires and broken circuitry.

I thought we could use the one of those that still worked just now, because Jesse came out of the farmhouse, and she looked unholy. I didn't think anything could be left alive in there. There was just that vibe coming off of her - one of dark, total destruction.

Oliver came out of the barn as well. I'd seen him in relaxed moods, almost in good ones; I'd known him as a pseudo-friendly hippie coffee-shop owner, and as a snarky, superior man with a violent edge.

But I didn't know this version of him. It was all vampire, all the time. A god of death.

He stood there in full sun, white as marble, staring at us with eyes red as rubies, and slowly smiled. His fangs were out, and it was incredibly creepy. He was burning, turning black in the sun. And he didn't even care.

Michael stepped forward, hidden under the tarp, and said, 'Are you finished?' He didn't sound spooked, or bothered. I guessed that all this was normal to him, on some really horrible level. He understood. 'Because all that's left here are friends. Understand?'

Oliver nodded.

I wasn't at all sure it was anything but a gesture, and I braced myself for the attack.