What have I done?

It kept running through Claire's mind at breakneck speed, over and over ... that moment when Anderson had pulled the trigger, and the Myrnin she knew had just disappeared. What was left was a crying, shaking wreck of a man who didn't even seem to be a vampire, just a shattered relic of a human being. If she'd passed him in a doorway, she would have assumed he was a homeless, mentally disturbed wreck.

Which, technically, she guessed he was. And she'd done it to him.

Claire had rarely felt so alone. She'd thought coming across the country to MIT was a new start; she'd thought she was here to learn, to grow, to change. But instead, it had been a scam from the start. Anderson had never intended to teach her a thing. She'd just wanted VLAD, and Claire was the means to the end.

Speaking of VLAD, Dr Anderson had been hard at work on it, apparently, and she'd taken it from concept to harsh execution while Claire had been thinking they were going back to basics. All that she'd been doing, she understood now, had just been busy work, so Dr Anderson could perfect what she'd already done.

And test it.

'Can I see it?' Claire asked Dr Anderson, who was still holding VLAD; she'd added a much-needed support strap to it, but it was probably starting to feel really, really heavy. 'I just want to understand what you did. I was thinking of adding a modulator to it, but-'

'Don't even think about it,' Anderson said. She adjusted the heavy weight a little, which meant that she was starting to feel the strain, just as Claire had hoped. 'And we're not going to talk about the tech.'

'But I - I thought you wanted me to help you-'

Anderson gave her a brief, cool, impersonal smile. 'Don't try it. You may have given Myrnin up, but that doesn't mean I trust you with the toys yet, Claire. That, you have to earn. I believe you as far as I can throw your boyfriend right now. And he's a pretty solid-looking guy.'

She looked tired, Claire thought, and a bit shaky herself. She was watching Professor Davis, who was trying to get some kind of blood sample from Myrnin; he was having a time of it, not because Myrnin was fighting him, but because he couldn't hold still. Finally, it took three armed men to pin Myrnin down flat, and he made a sound halfway between a wail and a sob that tore Claire right down to her soul. I did this. I did all of this.

She swallowed hard. 'So what now?' she asked. Her voice had gone harder, and she couldn't seem to soften it. 'You've got Myrnin, and Oliver, and Jesse, and Michael. You've got Shane and Eve. What else do you want?'

'I want data,' Dr Anderson said. 'You're a scientist, Claire. You realise what a rare opportunity this is, I hope - we have vampires who can be tested in lab conditions. We can break down the biology, which is something Dr Davis has been looking into for some time. We can win.'

'I didn't know we were at war.'

'Of course we're at war. And we were winning for a while; the vampires were sick when I left Morganville, and getting sicker. If you'd left it alone and let nature take its course, it would have been over by now.'

'Did you make them sick?' Claire asked, horrified. Myrnin had never completely believed the idea that Amelie's vampire father Bishop had developed and spread that disease. Had it happened right in front of him?

But Dr Anderson was shaking her head. 'No. I can't claim credit for that. I just made sure that the research went nowhere on how to fight the illness. Seemed like for once, nature was favouring humans instead of vampires.'

Claire shivered. She'd thought she understood Dr Anderson; she'd thought they were alike. But they weren't, deep down. They'd both survived Morganville, but they'd come out of it completely differently.

'If you didn't think we were at war,' Anderson said, 'then why did you make this?' She patted VLAD's metal frame.

'I just wanted - I wanted a way for us to stop them if it came to a fight. That's all. It's supposed to be for defence.'

'Well, you know what they say: the best defence is a good offence. We've been working on enhanced anti-vampire weaponry for some time. Including biological weapons.'

'Dr Davis was running experiments,' Claire said. 'That bat-thing that killed Derrick. That was his?'

'Yes,' Anderson said. She was watching Myrnin, but not with any compassion or regret. It was all clinical, the look in her eyes. Clinical and bitterly cold. 'He'd made considerable progress, but our samples were degraded. We'd had to rely on what I brought with me out of Morganville, and it wasn't much. I was working on getting Jesse to cooperate with me, but for all her friendly ways, she's smarter than that. Too bad. If she'd just done it peacefully, I wouldn't have had to take the steps I did.'

'Is Jesse-?'

'Alive? Yes. Happy?' Anderson shook her head. 'I didn't want to do it. But she pushed me into it. I've got a monitor on her. So far, the effects haven't worn off. I'm starting to wonder if the beam does permanent neural damage.'

'Permanent? What did you do to VLAD? It was never supposed to be that powerful-'

'I made it work,' Anderson snapped. 'Your job now, if you want to stay on the right side of the fight, is to take the model that Dr Davis was using and make it work as well. I didn't have time to complete it before this crisis erupted. Myrnin's arrival pushed us into an accelerated timeline. I think we've gotten the situation contained, but if any communications made it back to Amelie, we may have a fight on our hands, and I need at least one more working device to be safe. So, you do that, and I'll make sure your boyfriend and your other friends get out of this in one piece. Clear?'

'Clear,' Claire said. 'Dr Davis's gun didn't work? That was a bluff?'

Dr Anderson shrugged. 'I thought you'd recognise it, and it would slow you down so I could use the one that did.'

It was good strategy. Shane would have approved.

'We're ready here,' said Dr Davis. His goons were strapping Myrnin into some kind of harness. Oliver had been taken out already, locked in a similar straitjacket. 'Back to the farm?'

'As quickly as possible,' Dr Anderson said. 'Nobody's scheduled to come into this building until ten, but an early arrival could compromise everything. Let's move out. We won't be coming back here.'

The farm? Claire didn't know if that was some kind of shorthand code, but it didn't sound like the MIT lab, anyway. She went along with them quietly, and ended up sitting next to Myrnin. He was wrapped up like a mummy in the thick canvas jacket, and his head lolled forward so his dark hair cascaded down in waves to veil his face.

'I'm sorry,' she whispered to him. 'I'm so sorry.' She could feel the animal shuddering of his body, wave after wave of what was either pain, or terror, or both. 'I never meant for this to happen, Myrnin, I swear. I just - I just didn't see it.'

He turned his head toward her. She saw a red flash from his eyes from behind the curtain of his hair, and felt a brief pulse of something from him - hunger, anger, blind rage. Then he sighed, slipped to one side, and rested against the metal wall of the van. Chains clinked as he shifted. They hadn't taken any chances, she saw; the chains were coated with silver, and so were the manacles around his wrists and ankles. It was burning him.

Oliver, across from her, was in a similar state, but he wasn't trembling quite so badly. Maybe he'd just had more practice at handling fear and pain, or maybe he hadn't gotten quite so bad a dose of VLAD's medicine. But he didn't look by any stretch good, either.

Last of all, they loaded Jesse.

She looked awful. Her red hair was tangled into a dry net; her lips were dry and pale and crusted, and her eyes were glowing a pained, painful red. She looked alien and strange and pitiful, all at once, and she, too, was wearing the padded jacket and chains, and they locked her down next to Oliver. She didn't seem to see Claire, or if she did, to comprehend any of what was going on. And she looked dangerous.

But the sight of her seemed to somehow make Myrnin a little better. He stopped shaking quite so much, and sat up straight again. So maybe there was something still inside there, after all.

Claire hoped so. The alternative was way too awful to consider.

It was a long, silent ride. Dr Davis was up front with Dr Anderson, and Claire's only company, besides the out-of-it vampires, were the three armed guards crowded inside. None of them were talkative. She wasn't even sure they blinked. She had plenty of time to observe them, in the dim interior lights - there were no windows back here, which was probably lucky for the vamps. Three men of about the same age, thirties to forties; the oldest had some grey in his hair, but not much. All fit. All wearing what seemed like similar dark suits. Claire was no expert, but they didn't look expensive - more like ... uniforms.

And they were all wearing a pin on their lapels. A rising sun pin.

This looked less and less like the government, and more and more like something private that Dr Anderson had gotten herself in deep with. Private, but well funded. The Daylight Foundation. The people Jesse had been so worried about.

Somehow, that was even less comforting than the idea the government knew about the vampires.

'So,' Claire said to the man sitting next to her. 'Are you, ah, from Boston?'

He didn't say anything. He didn't even look at her. He did look at his watch, though, and adjusted the grip on his gun. He seemed calm enough, but she wasn't going to get anything out of him. Or any of them. Shane might have; he liked to be provocative and confrontational, but it was a tactic that Claire knew she wasn't good at.

So after a few more lame attempts at conversation failed, she waited.

It seemed to take forever, but they finally bumped off the smooth main road onto something that seemed a lot rougher, and then finally pulled to a stop crunching on gravel. The daylight that streamed in when the door slid open made the vampires flinch and squeeze their eyes shut, but they were all old enough to bear a little sun without injury. Still, Claire ached for them as their skin began to steam in the merciless glare. Oliver's broke out into little tongues of flame before they unlocked him, and they hustled him out quickly.

Claire climbed out, and was immediately grabbed by the man who'd been sitting beside her. 'Hey!' she protested, but that got her nowhere. So she looked around instead as he pulled her onward.

Farm hadn't been code. It was an actual farm, and there was an actual barn and a square two-storey farmhouse with a porch. She hoped for the farmhouse, but instead they headed her off to the big, dark-red barn.

She expected hay and horse stalls, but inside, the structure had been turned into a lab, a nice one that had a thick concrete floor, clean-room walls, steel tables and cabinets and bright overhead lighting. It was full of equipment, too. Some of it Claire recognised, but a lot was new to her. Dr Davis took charge of the three vampires and had them led over to the right side of the large open space, where he had them manacled to large steel staples in the floor. All three promptly collapsed into protective crouches.

'This way,' her guard said, and dragged her left, after Irene Anderson.

That part of the lab was a replica of what Dr Anderson had at MIT, with a few changes; one of the most vivid being that two tables were neatly laid out with parts and schematics. Claire recognised one of them as being the constituent parts of VLAD; the second table, though, was different.

That was the pieces of the mod, Claire realised. This would tell her exactly what Dr Anderson had done to make her device into an offensive weapon. Claire picked up the plans and studied them, took each part and looked it over. She was still examining things when Dr Anderson thumped down the heavy weight of VLAD on the table ... not the working one, she realised. That was still slung across Anderson's chest.

This was the prototype model that hadn't yet been upgraded.

'I'm pretty sure you can figure this out,' Anderson said. 'The plans are right there. You wanted to be my lab assistant. Do your job. Any funny business, and I promise you, your boyfriend will suffer for it. Got it?'

Claire nodded. She focused on the plans first. Anderson was right - it was a straightforward enough job, but a lot of it required her to disassemble the base model, and reassemble in the new configuration. She studied the schematics, and examined each piece that she was to add into the machine. That was an amplifier, capable of boosting the signal at least a hundred times beyond what she'd originally planned. That piece, snapping on underneath, was an inverter that changed the signal from something that enhanced to something that cancelled - which was what she had originally intended, to be able to remove a vampire's desire to attack instead of having to fight in the first place. These were the modifications she'd have made in the course of her studies ... something that would have made VLAD a mostly benign defensive weapon.

But the last piece was the most sinister. It was a complex combination of several different pieces, but from what Claire could puzzle out, it was designed to trigger a different set of emotions. Fear, obviously - overwhelming, paralysing terror. It also seemed to have some other component. From what Claire had seen of its effects, it must have sensitised nerves and created a strong pain reaction. Like a taser, only more intense, and very long lasting.

'What are you doing?'

She jumped. Irene Anderson was staring at her, cold suspicion in her gaze.

'I'm sorry,' Claire said. 'I just wanted to be sure I understood what I was doing first. I didn't want to make any mistakes.'

'Don't,' Anderson said flatly. 'You've got an hour. Move it.'

Claire took a deep breath, put the nonworking VLAD in the centre of the worktable, consulted the plans one last time, and began the work.

She built the thing, piece by piece. The tools were all right there, everything precise and perfectly laid out for her. Anderson was watching her, and she made sure that she did nothing, absolutely nothing, that would draw any suspicion.

Not even Dr Anderson could keep her focus completely on her forever. Claire felt when it started to wander; it was like pressure coming off of her, and she had to work hard to not give any kind of physical signal that she knew something had changed.

Just do the work. Do the work.

By the time she was down to the last of it, Anderson's focus had mostly moved on, though she remained close. And when Myrnin suddenly convulsed and cried out, writhing in his restraints, it drew Dr Anderson's complete attention for a critical few seconds, just as Claire fastened the last piece of the machine on board.

She'd already identified the opportunity, when she'd been going over the plans. The last component had switches built inside. They were tiny, not meant to be manipulated without specialised tools, but she'd deliberately chosen the smallest possible screwdriver, even though it was the worst tool for the job she was apparently doing.

It fit into the tiny slots just far enough to slide the switches in opposite directions.

I have no idea if I'm modding this right, she thought. But all she could do was reverse the order of the switches, and hope that it worked.

As she finished and put down the screwdriver, Dr Anderson was right there to take control - even before she'd managed to take the weapon off its stand to hand it to her.

'Good job, and done in time, too,' Anderson said. She handed it to the man who'd been Claire's shadow and guard all this time. He didn't bother with the safety strap. 'It's time to see if you're reliable, Claire. If you aren't - if you decided to try to pull a clever one and sabotage me - then we're going to find out right now, and it won't go well for you. Or for your friends. This is your final exam, do you understand? Pass, and you win the lives of those you care about.'

Claire met her eyes. 'And what if I fail?'

'Then we have acres and acres of farmland waiting for fertiliser,' Dr Anderson said. 'I'm fighting for the human race. I'm not going to flinch from whatever I have to do to save innocent lives for the future.'

'Neither am I,' Claire said. 'You should have trusted me. I'm really tired of people not trusting me.'

Shane would have recognised that tone. But Dr Anderson missed the warning altogether.

Anderson led the way to the other half of the room, through the clear glass door that separated the two parts. The three vampires knelt where they'd been left, all still submissive. Dr Davis had blood samples laid out on his lab tables, neatly labelled, and he was talking to a lab geek in a white coat - but one, Claire noticed, who also had the rising sun pin on his lapel. He looked up when he saw Anderson, Claire, and the guard, and nodded.

'Excellent,' he said. 'We've been waiting.'

'You can afford to lose one, Patrick? Just in case Claire's tried to do something interesting with her project?'

'I have redundancy now,' he said. 'So, yes. If I had to pick one, I'd say the older-looking one. He seems like the most trouble.'

'Oliver?' Anderson nodded. 'Very well. He's got quite the reputation as a killer. I think that seems appropriate.' She turned to the guard, took the heavy weapon, and held it out to Claire. 'Take it.'

Claire didn't hesitate. The weight settled in her hands, throwing off her balance, but she felt better for having it. Stronger.

'Before you try using it on me,' Anderson said, 'please remember that my friend here has a weapon pointed at your head.'

Claire glanced aside, and saw that the guard behind her had drawn his sidearm, and yes - it was pointed at her, steady and calm. He wouldn't hesitate, she thought.

'What do you want me to do?' she asked. But she already knew.

'I want you to shoot Oliver,' Anderson said. 'I want you to prove to me that I can trust you. He looks as if he is recovering faster than the others, and I want you to render him nonthreatening. Then I want you to continue shooting him. Do you understand?'

Claire swallowed hard, and looked at Oliver. He hadn't raised his head. He looked frail, and unexpectedly old and vulnerable. 'Why?'

'Because I need to be certain we can kill them this way,' Anderson said. 'The simulations say it will work. I need to prove the theory, and document how long it takes to accomplish it. You wanted to be a scientist, Claire. This is what it takes.'

Oliver looked up. It seemed to take a vast effort, from the shaking of his body, but he raised his head and met her gaze. His eyes weren't red. They were dark, and human, and afraid.

'Please,' he whispered. 'Please.'

Claire didn't honestly know what he was asking. She didn't know what he wanted. But she knew what she had to do. It had to be done fast, and confidently, and above all, it had to be done without hesitation.

She took a deep breath, said, 'I'm really sorry, but she's right. I have to do it.'

And then she raised the weapon and held down the trigger.

It seemed to take forever. Oliver was caught in the beam, twitching, eyes wide, mouth open, and the chains rattled against the hasp like chattering teeth ... and then, he collapsed. Dead weight. He fell hard, with no attempt to save himself, and hit the concrete limp and lifeless. All the colour that remained had drained from his face, leaving it eerily blue-white; his eyes were open, dark, and blank. His fangs were down, his mouth half-open.

He didn't move.

'How can we tell if he's actually dead?' Davis asked. He sounded completely unaffected by the whole thing. Claire felt hot, unsteady, numbed into stillness. She couldn't look away from Oliver's eyes.

Dr Anderson went to Oliver, knelt down, and used a silver knife from her belt to cut him. No reaction, though his skin still burned and sparked along the edges of the cut.

She stabbed him. Nothing.

'It's dead,' she said. 'Congratulations, Claire. It's quite a breakthrough. With a little more experimentation, we can understand everything about vampires - how to use them, how to control them properly. And it's all thanks to you.'

'I know,' Claire said. 'So's this.'

She couldn't hesitate, couldn't stop to second-guess herself. She turned the weapon on Jesse and shot her, too. Then turned the gun on Myrnin. She didn't have time to hold down the trigger quite as long before the guard started to rush her, clearly not sure whether this was a killing situation or not, and deciding to err on the side of caution.

It was enough time for her to smash VLAD against the concrete floor and destroy the delicate circuitry before he tackled her.

'No!' Anderson yelled, too late. Myrnin and Jesse were lifeless on the floor, like Oliver. 'No, you fool, what did you do?'

'I ended your experiment,' Claire said, as the guards shoved her down to a kneeling position. 'Because you're not a scientist. You're a monster. I'm not leaving any of them at your mercy.'

Anderson's face turned red with fury, and she grabbed the wreckage of the weapon off the floor. 'Shoot her!' she shouted. 'Shoot her, and shoot her friends, too. And bring me Michael. At least we've still got him!'

'Come on,' the guard said, and grabbed Claire by the collar of her shirt. 'Might as well die with them. That was stupid, you know. Real stupid.'

Claire knew. But this time, doing something stupid was the only way she could outsmart her enemies.

Dr Davis was kneeling down next to the bodies. 'Looks like they're dead all right. In any case, they're of no use to us now. Take them out of here and get rid of the bodies. Burn them.'

That was exactly right. Burning was the only way to truly be sure the vampires were dead. Davis wasn't taking any chances ... and Claire didn't want him to take any, either. She needed the vampires to be unlocked.

The air outside of the barn was brisk and cold, and it tasted like snow was coming, even though the sun was still shining. A pretty morning. Probably the last sunrise she'd ever see.

She'd kind of given up on the crazy idea of surviving this, she realised, and that made it possible to take in a deep breath and enjoy the last few moments in the world. She'd done what she could. And maybe it would work out.

But most probably, it wouldn't. The barn seemed deathly quiet behind them. She pictured Dr Davis's lab monkeys unchaining Jesse, and Myrnin, and Oliver ... and she could see it so vividly in her mind, the limp, dead way their bodies slumped to the floor.

She'd either saved them, or destroyed them. There was no middle ground.

And then she heard the yelling coming from the farmhouse where Shane and Eve and Michael were being held, and the day got just a little bit brighter, somehow. Yes. She wasn't the only one raising hell.

Time to raise a little more.

Her guard was distracted for a moment, and when she tripped over a rock and jolted against him, she threw him off balance. His gun weaved off target.

Claire saw it in slow motion in her mind, just the way Shane had drilled her. Against an armed opponent, you had to be decisive and fast, because any hesitation would be your last.

She whirled into his grip, throwing him further off balance, and whipping him around in a strange, stumbling dance. She got her foot between his, and then they were falling, and he instinctively let go of the gun to break his fall. She threw her weight against him as they landed, and flung out her hand to grab the gun as she rolled past it.

She almost missed it. Her fingers slipped off the grip, and she fumbled it, but retrieved it with one last, desperate effort that pulled muscles in her side as his weight continued to roll her forward. She used physics in her favour this time, wrapped her legs around him, and used their momentum to whip him hard around, slamming him into the hard gravel on his back as she rolled up on top of him.

She had the gun, and she aimed it right at his head.

He dropped his hands at his sides, signalling surrender. He looked young, and very scared, all of a sudden.

Claire didn't have it in her to shoot him, but she hit him with the gun, hard enough to leave him curled up and moaning.

Then she ran for the farmhouse, where all hell was still breaking loose. And all the way there, the fear sank in deeper and deeper.

What if I just killed us all?