Myrnin wasn't at the lab when she arrived. That was unusual; she thought that maybe he might be sleeping, but when she checked his room at the back, it was neat and empty. He was just . . . out.
Well, that made things easier.
Claire called home and got Michael and Shane. "I need you to come help me," she said. "And I need a ladder."
"Tell me you did not volunteer us to paint somebody's house," Shane said. "That would be a lot like work. I'm already doing work way too much."
Michael, however, got it immediately. "You need to get through the trapdoor at the lab. Myrnin's not there?"
"No," Claire said. "Can you help?" "Sure. Open up the portal and we'll come straight through."
Claire hung up and rolled back the bookcase that blocked the portal--no easy job, because Myrnin hadn't balanced it for humans, although he'd at least removed the lead, which was nice-- and unlocked the door from a set of keys she found in the mouth of one of Myrnin's discarded vampire-bunny slippers. She swung it open, concentrating on the Glass House, and the image flickered, wavered, and clarified into reality on the other side of the door.
Shane and Michael were carrying an extendable metal ladder. Claire reached through and gave Shane her hand, and he stepped over, pulling Michael after him along with the ladder.
"Wow," Shane said, and shivered. "That's not weird at all."
"You've done it before," Claire pointed out. "When I first fixed the portal."
"Didn't really think about it that time. Never gets any less strange, though. Okay, where to?"
"Here." She'd already unlocked the trapdoor at the back of the lab and opened it, and Shane leaned over and peered down into the darkness. Michael pulled him back.
"What?" Shane asked.
"Better not to present a target before you know what's actually down there, hero. Let's get this ladder in, and then I go first, okay?"
"You bet, tough guy. Last time I was in a dark tunnel, I nearly got my face eaten. I'm a slow learner, but I do learn."
They extended the ladder down, and Shane held it in place as Michael descended. Claire leaned over and said, "The light switch is at the end of the room."
"Yeah, I see it--whoa."
Michael was quiet for a moment, then said, "I'm thinking it's going to be better if I don't tell you. Just hurry."
Shane went first, and then Claire; the ladder felt rickety, but it held just fine. She hopped the last couple of steps down to land on the cave floor. Michael had turned on the tunnel lights, so there was no risk of walking into an ambush by . . . whatever, but she was still wondering what he'd seen, exactly. If he wasn't just yanking Shane's chain, of course. He never got tired of that.
No sign of trouble all the way to the big cave, and Michael hit the main switch there to turn on the banks of lights. The machine--Claire hated to call it a computer, really--was sitting exactly as she'd left it, screen showing normal readouts. Nothing wrong at all.
"Okay, I need to put in a password," she said. "Hang on a second."
She thought about it, and tried Myrnin's name at the keyboard. No, the red light stayed on. She tried Amelie's. The red light stayed on.
She tried putting in Ada's name.
The red light stayed on.
Claire blinked at it. Myrnin didn't have more than three passwords. He couldn't even remember more than one at a time. He didn't have a birthday he could remember; he didn't have any family; what could he possibly use for a password?
Ah. She had it.
The red light stayed on. Claire frowned at it. "Seriously? Now you get security conscious?"
"Problem?" Michael asked.
"No. I'll get it." She tried Bob, for Bob the Spider. Bob was busily spinning webs in a fish tank near Myrnin's chair. Myrnin fed him a steady diet of crickets and flies, which seemed to make Bob happy. That qualified as a pet, right? People liked to use pet names for passwords.
It wasn't Bob, either.
She tried, in desperation, Oliver. Not it. She plugged in the names of every possible vampire she could remember, including Bishop.
None of them worked.
"At least he didn't put a lockout on it," she muttered. She'd tried at least thirty passwords, without success. "Come on. I built you, you stupid piece of junk! Give me a break!"
"How about pulling the plug?" Shane asked. "Just turn off the power."
She thought about it, but shook her head. "I don't know what everything does in here. I could shut down something vital. Or destroy something we can't rebuild easily." She sighed. "He won't be happy, but I'm going to have to ask Myrnin for the password."
Michael's head suddenly turned, but before he could speak, a rich, slow voice from the darkness said, "Ask Myrnin what, precisely?"
That was Myrnin's voice. His hunting voice. Claire had heard it before, and it gave her immediate, life-threatening chills. He stepped out of the dark. The cheerfully neon Hawaiian clothes were gone. He was dressed in elegant black, with a bloodred vest, and his long hair was freshly combed and rippling in waves down to his shoulders, very old-school Gothic vamp. He was smiling.
Not in a nice way at all.
"Visitors," he said, still using that creepy, oddly soothing voice. There was something about it that made Claire feel a little sleepy. A little . . . relaxed. "So lovely to have visitors. I get them so seldom. Especially here."
"Myrnin," Claire said. He was steadily coming toward her, without looking like he was moving at all. His large eyes were fixed on her, luminous, fascinating. She couldn't blink.
"Yes, my dear. How surprising that you know."
"Know what?" She felt stupid, almost drugged. He was close now, gliding up to her. She felt the cool brush of his fingers on her cheek.
"My name," he said. "How surprising that you know my name. Perhaps you should do me the courtesy of giving me yours."
A rush of adrenaline spilled into her body. He didn't know her. Or Michael. Or Shane. He was acting like they were strangers.
To him, they were intruders.
She licked her lips and said, "Myrnin, I work for you. I'm Claire. Remember? Claire."
"Nice try, sweet one, but I already have an assistant. Maybe I'll save you for her. She'd like you."
Ada. Claire's heart thumped painfully as she took it in. Myrnin had been sucked under by the machine, and he thought Ada was still here. Still alive.
"You're talking about Ada," she said, and tried to keep her voice calm and even. "She's not here, Myrnin. She's not coming back. Ada's dead."
It was kind of cruel to say it like that, but she needed to snap him out of it, and that was the verbal equivalent of a hard slap.
Myrnin pulled up short, dark eyes gone cool and unreadable, and then he slowly smiled. "I'd know if she was gone," he said. "Can't you feel her? She's here. She'll be back. I know she'll be back."
"Claire?" Shane said. He started to move toward them, but Myrnin suddenly backhanded him and sent him rolling toward the wall. "No interruptions," he said. "I'm talking!" He was suddenly, terrifyingly angry. "Why would you say something like that? I wonder. Unless you'd done something to Ada . . ."
"Stop," Michael said urgently. "Claire, come over here."
Myrnin made an exaggerated, annoyed motion with his hands and turned to face Michael. "I said no interruptions! Oh--you're not human, are you? Hmm. One of Amelie's latest, I take it. I thought she'd sworn off new fledglings after that last disaster."
Michael grabbed Claire's arm and pulled her close. "Yeah, well, I'm Amelie's, and this one's mine. That other one, too."
Shane, Claire thought, would punch him for that one. When he finally got up.
Myrnin's eyebrows slowly rose. "Are you telling me that you brought snacks, and you're not going to share? How rude. You're an intruder, too, you know. I don't have a taste for you just now, but these other two . . . Well, I haven't drunk a good intruder in ages."
"Myrnin, wake up!" Claire yelled. "It's Claire! You know who I am!"
Myrnin shook his head sadly. "You'd better eat her now," he told Michael. "She's far too loud. Makes my head hurt."
And then he hit his forehead with the heel of his hand, again and again and again, frighteningly hard. Claire clung to Michael. She'd seen Myrnin do crazy things, but this was just . . . creepy.
He stopped. He'd opened up a cut on his forehead, and blood that was slightly paler than a human's trickled down toward his eyes. It closed in seconds. "That's better," he breathed. "Now. You, new fledgling. You owe me a tribute, since you came here without permission. Choose."
"Choose what?" Michael asked.
"Which one I will have." Myrnin's fangs came down, lazy and terrifying, and he reached out for Claire. "I think I like this one."
Michael kicked him, right in the chest. It drove Myrnin back, but not very far.
Myrnin stopped smiling, and tilted his head forward. It made him look crazier. "That wasn't wise, blood child. Not wise at all."
"Run," Michael said to Claire, and shoved her toward the tunnel. Myrnin snarled and jumped, but Michael got him in midair and pulled him down, hard.
Myrnin missed grabbing onto Claire's foot by about three inches. She hesitated at the base of the ladder. Shane was still in there, maybe hurt. She couldn't just run.
She heard Michael let out a muffled cry, and then Myrnin said, in a voice that echoed silkily off the tunnel walls, "I like rats that run. Here, little rat. I'm going to save you for Ada."
She swarmed up the ladder as fast as she could. She was halfway up when she felt it vibrate. Myrnin had jumped and landed on the rungs just a few feet below her. He was almost within grabbing range.
Claire kicked him in the face as soon as he was closer.
"Ow!" he yelped, surprised. She did it again. "Ow, stop, you hellion! What do you think you're doing?"
She kicked him again, and he lost his grip on the ladder and fell. He landed on his back on the floor, looking surprised. His nose was bloody. He straightened it, and it snapped back in place with a soft crackle.
"Ow," he said again, and shook his head. "I won't let you live to regret that, you know."
Claire raced up the last few steps and flung herself out onto the lab floor, just as Myrnin tensed his legs and launched straight up, intending to grab her at the top of the ladder. He missed, hit the floor awkwardly, and rolled smoothly up to a crouch. Claire scrambled up to her feet and ran for her backpack. She didn't want to use the silver, but she didn't know what else to do. She couldn't just let him eat her.
Myrnin seemed to have temporarily lost interest in her. He was standing now, looking around at the lab, mouth half-open. "What . . . what in the devil happened? Did Ada do this? My. She's quite a good housekeeper, isn't she? I remember it being so much messier."
Claire grabbed her backpack on the run and unzipped it. She cut her fingers on the knife she'd crammed inside, but groped around for the hilt and got it out just as Myrnin stopped looking at the scenery and started running for her.
He leaped from table to table, zigzagging as she did, eyes glowing dull red. She saw Michael climb out of the tunnel below, and then pull Shane up after him. Neither one of them looked very good.
Claire waited until Myrnin got close, and then slashed the knife across his chest. She just missed his face.
He stopped, looked down, and said, "Oh, no, I loved this vest." And then the silver started to burn him. His eyes went from dull red to bright, furious crimson.
He looked at Claire. "No one fights back. That's strictly against the rules."
"This isn't you," she said. "Please don't do this."
For a second she actually thought she saw something surface in him, something she recognized . . . but then it was gone, and the old Myrnin, the cruel one, was back. "If you come here again," he said, "I'll tear you apart. This is my home. You're not welcome."
"Claire!" Michael yelled. "The portal! Go for it!"
She wasn't far from it, but there was no way she'd be able to beat Myrnin. He was deadly fast, and very angry. She needed to hurt him enough to stop him, at least temporarily.
She lunged, buried the knife in his shoulder, and left it there. She didn't want to do it, but it was the only thing she could think of in that split second. Myrnin was old, maybe even older than Amelie; the silver would hurt him, but it'd take a long time to kill him. She had to take the risk.
It worked. Myrnin howled and grabbed at her, missed, and swatted at the knife, but it was all silver. He couldn't get a grip without burning himself. Claire didn't wait. She sprinted for the portal just as Michael arrived there and pushed Shane through ahead of him.
Claire looked back over her shoulder. Myrnin was wrapping his torn vest around his hand to pull the knife out.
She plunged through and willed the network to lock down the entrance. She did it just in time; she felt the shock of Myrnin trying to drag it away from her, but she'd had practice at this now, and he was in pain.
His attempts to break through to the Glass House finally stopped.
Claire backed up until she bumped into the sofa, still staring at the blank wall. "Hey, house?" she called. "We have to keep Myrnin out. It's important."
The Glass House had a weird kind of sentience to it--nothing she could name, exactly, but sometimes she asked it to help, and sometimes it even listened. Just now, she felt a rush of warmth, a kind of energy flow that moved through her and toward the portal, overlaying it.
A psychic lock, done better than she could have done it herself.
"Thanks," she said. She wanted to collapse, but instead she looked around for Michael and Shane.
Shane was lying on the couch. Michael was still standing, but his shirt was shredded, and she saw the faint lines of injuries still healing up.
Shane had a cut on his head, and he still looked woozy. "Right," he mumbled. "Hope somebody remembered the ladder. That was a good ladder."
Claire's knees wobbled, and she had to sit down, quickly. It was funny, and not funny at all. It was terrifying.
What had Hannah said about the vampire from the diner recovering? She didn't. Best we can tell, she never will. And Oliver had been forced to kill another vampire who went nuts, just last night.
Myrnin was the old Myrnin. The crazy Myrnin, the one he'd been when he'd been at his worst, before he'd killed Ada and put her brain into the machine. He'd been cruel. And he'd been insane.
He wasn't at all the man she knew. And now he knew what they were after.
"We have to get him back," Claire said aloud, feeling sick and horrified. "We have to."
Because she cared about him . . . but also because Myrnin was the only one who knew the password to shut down the machine.
She tried calling Amelie, but got voice mail. She left a message to send someone to detain Myrnin--more than one someone, preferably heavily armed. Claire promised to try to shut down the machine in the morning, when the lab was Myrnin free. If she couldn't crack his password, she'd do exactly what Shane suggested: she'd pull the plug. Better to destroy it all than to risk this continuing.
Getting Shane's head examined at the hospital was a little crazy, because of the number of strange incidents and injuries that were going on. Turned out he didn't have a concussion, but he did need stitches at his hairline. Again.
He wasn't too upset. "Girls love interesting scars," he said. "Right? Girls? Are you with me?" Eve held up her hand. So did Claire. Michael and Shane high-fived, but not very hard, because Shane winced. "At least whatever's going on hasn't hit any of us four. That's good."
Claire looked at Michael, but he didn't seem to know why she was staring his way. He didn't remember. Or if he did, he'd chalked it up to dreams, the way so many people probably had.
Eve suddenly turned her head and watched someone walk by behind Claire. "Wow," she said. "Can't even come here to get away from the bad elements. Monica on your six, CB."
Claire looked. It was definitely Monica, heading straight for them. She was trailed by Gina, but not Jennifer--both dressed as if they expected a party to break out any moment, but in oddly out-of-date dresses. There was something strange about the way Monica moved, though. It looked less graceful than Claire was used to, almost awkward.
Monica went right past Claire without a glance, glared at Eve, smiled at Michael, and focused on Shane. "Oh, my God, you're here, too! I was wondering where you were. Didn't you get my texts?"
Shane looked at her, winced, and shut his eyes. "Please make the bad thing go away." He groaned. "I've already got a headache."
Monica's bright smile faltered, and Claire could have sworn she saw hurt flare briefly across her expression. Then the smile just got brighter. "Oh," she said. "I guess you didn't get them. I e-mailed you, too. I'll send everything again."
"Let's not," Shane said. "Are you kidding me? What are we, friends?"
Monica frowned at him. "Quit being a little prick, Shane. Of course we're friends." She giggled. Giggled. "Well, you know. Kissing friends."
Shane opened his eyes and stared at her. He opened his mouth, then closed it and looked at Michael, who was staring at Monica with exactly the same WTF look. "Not that we couldn't be more," Monica said, and winked at him. "Remember that makeout session in the closet at school? That was hot, right?"
Shane actually blushed. Little red spots high on his cheeks. Claire stared at them, fascinated, and thought, This is like watching one of those reality-show train wrecks. It was almost . . . entertaining. "Shut up," Shane said. He sounded like he was choking on something.
"Oh, relax. It's not like we did it or anything. Yet."
"Seriously. Shut. Up."
Monica must have finally gotten the idea that Shane was really not joking, because she looked a little thrown, then hurried on to another topic. "So what happened to you? Oh, we're here because Jennifer got into her mom's gin or something and forgot how to drive, even though she just learned. So funny! She totally destroyed her mom's car--at least, I think it was her mom's car. Some kind of red convertible. Tacky! So she's a couple of rooms over. You?"
"Just do me a favor and leave, Monica. I don't need the aggravation right now." When Shane wanted to be, he could be blunt and kind of mean, and Claire actually felt a twinge of sympathy for the way Monica's smile collapsed.
"Jeez, I was just trying to be nice, Collins," Monica said. "You don't have to be such a toe rag all the time. You're not that cute, you know. I can do better. Lots better."
She flounced off. Literally flounced, with her hair bouncing. So odd.
Shane said, finally, "Did that remind anybody else of something?"
"Yes," Eve said, tapping her lower lip with a bloodred fingernail. "How much I need to shave her head while she's sleeping."
"That's not what I meant. Mike?"
"School," Michael said instantly. "That's what she was like in school when she was coming on to you."
"Speaking of school . . ." Eve said. "What the hell was this about the closet makeout session?"
"Did you seriously tongue-wrestle Monica in the--"
"Eve, shut up."
"No, seriously, I have to know this. Were you high? Because that is honestly the only excuse I can think of."
"It wasn't my fault. She grabbed me and pulled me in." Shane got that flush in his cheeks again. "Once. It was once. And I told her to fuck off the next day." Shane's eyes widened, and Claire saw his expression change. "The next day. That was the day she . . . the day she told me she'd make me sorry."
"Oh, man," Michael said. "It was only a couple of weeks before--"
Shane shut his eyes again. "Don't want to talk about it."
Even Eve let that one go, because what was going unsaid was that two weeks later, the fire had started at Shane's house, and Monica had been to blame. Maybe.
And Shane's sister had died.
"She didn't even look at me," Claire said. "She always looks at me."
"What?" Michael asked, distracted.
"Monica. She never lets a chance go by to say something rude to me. But she didn't. It was like she didn't even know I existed."
That was why Monica had ignored her, Claire realized. She wasn't her enemy. She didn't even know her. Monica was mentally back in . . . What had it been, tenth grade? Before Shane's house had burned, and his family had left town.
Monica thought they were all still in high school.
"Creepy," Claire said.
Shane swallowed. "You have no idea. Monica used to follow me everywhere. Send me porn notes and texts. She told people she was my girlfriend. She beat up any girl I talked to. It was miserable."
Wow. Monica had been Shane's stalker. That put a whole different light on things. "How long did that go on?"
"I guess about three months, maybe. Michael?"
"Yeah, that sounds right. It was after she decided I was off-limits." He shook his head when Claire opened her mouth. "Don't ask. She was a serial stalker. Worked her way through most of the jocks, but I don't know why she picked on the two of us."
"Well, how about you're adorably cute and talented?" Eve said. "I crushed all over you, too. Not you, Collins. You, Glass."
The doctor came in around then, and expelled them while Shane got stitches. Claire was happy enough to miss that part. Stitches were painful; she knew that from experience.
Monica and Gina were sipping cans of cola from straws and giggling while they checked out the butts on the interns and doctors. It was so . . . not them. And yet, it was, at the same time. Monica kept looking toward the curtain that hid Shane from view with hungry, fascinated eyes, and that made Claire feel hot and furious and filthy.
Monica still thought Shane was interested in her. All evidence to the contrary.
"This isn't right," Michael said, looking around. "It just doesn't feel right. You know? It's like everything's just . . . out of tune. I don't know if you feel it the way I do. Vampires sense things differently."
"That may be why some get violent," Claire said. "We have to fix it. Somehow. It can only get worse."
"Well, you can't go back to Myrnin. Not after--"
"Michael, I have to! This thing comes and goes, right? People snap out of it. He'll come back, and when he does I have to be there and find out what to do." She took a deep breath. "Or, like Shane said, we have to pull the plug. That's the only other solution."
"Nuke the site from orbit," Eve said. "It's the only way to be sure."
"Do not quote Aliens at me; I'm freaked-out enough already!"
"Sorry. But it's always good advice."
"It actually is good advice," Michael said. "I can go pull the plug. Myrnin won't come after me--"
"He would," Claire said. "Myrnin used to bite other vamps, too, in case you forgot. You can't assume just being in the blood club is going to get you through. And he's strong, and really fast. Don't. Make Amelie go, or Oliver. I don't think he'd bite them."
"You don't think?"
She shrugged unhappily. "I don't know him anymore when he's like this. I don't know what he's going to do."
"We are so screwed," Eve said. "What about Amelie? What's she doing?"
That opened up a whole can of worms that wriggled unpleasantly in the pit of Claire's stomach. She was absolutely sure that Amelie and Oliver wouldn't want her telling anybody about what she'd seen earlier, not even--or maybe especially--Eve and Michael. She decided to hedge. "I don't know. Oliver told me to take care of it, but . . ." Claire was forced to shrug again. "Maybe by now they've both got it, too."
"Well, that would be bad. Epically bad."
It would, Claire thought. "I should check in with them and see what they want to do. It's weird nobody's called me back," she said. "Michael, could you stay and wait for Shane--"
It turned out, as the curtain whipped aside, that there was no need to wait. Shane joined them, moving slowly. The stitches were in, but he had a white bandage taped over them. Claire took his hand, and he smiled. He looked a little pale. "I'm good to go. What are we doing?"
"Taking you home," Claire said.
"Not if you guys are going somewhere else."
"You're walking wounded," Michael said. "I'm pretty sure this isn't optional."
"Oh, yeah? You want to try to stop me, tough guy?" Shane said, and grinned. "I know you better. You wouldn't hit a guy who's down."
Eve held up a hand for a high five with him. "Give it up for Shane Collins, master manipulator!"
He smacked it, and winced a little again. "Yeah, well, you don't grow up with my dad without knowing a few things. So where are we going?"
"To Amelie," Claire said. "She can go with us to the lab and keep Myrnin pinned down while we pull the plug, if he's not . . . you know, better."
"Define better with that guy."
"Not all fangs and raaaaar."
"Oh. Okay. Quick stop at the house. I want to load up on the good stuff."
If Shane expected an argument, he didn't get one. Claire was thinking the same thing.
When you were going into a war zone, you didn't go unarmed.