Authors: Norman Christof
Alex and Chaz sat on chairs in the infirmary next to a sedated Abby. Her eyes were closed, but the rapid movement of her pupils underneath indicated she was in deep REM sleep. A nurse flipped switches on the electronic monitors and made notes on Abby's charts.
“When will she wake up?” Chaz asked the nurse. “We've been here twenty minutes already and we need to talk with her.”
The middle-aged nurse with a name tag that said ‘Ruth’ answered, “It's not up to me. The doctor’s on his way. He'll be able to explain everything, and wake her up if he decides it's OK.” The nurse placed the chart back at the end of the bed and left the room.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Colonel,” Alex offered. “We’ve seen plenty of people pull out of worse predicaments than this. I’m sure just having you here will make her feel better. They say even some people in comas can sense what’s going on around them.”
“First of all, she’s not in a coma. Secondly, did you know what was going on around you the days you spent in a coma?” Chaz asked sarcastically.
“No, actually, I didn’t, but I’m sure that some do.”
Chaz looked nervously around the room. “Yeah, well I’m not so sure. I was in a coma for six years, and all I remember is a lot of crazy-ass dreams just before I woke up.”
“I understand why you’re here, Colonel, but why me? Rabban gave us specific orders from the regent not to deviate from the case. I could have stayed out in the field and kept digging. You don’t know what those people are like when you’re on their bad side. I do. I was there for years. They persecuted the hell out of me. I don’t want to see you end up there, Colonel.”
“I appreciate the concern, Alex, but it’s not my ass I’m concerned with at the moment.” Looking at Abby, he said, “There are enough people in my life suffering right now because of decisions I’ve made. I don’t need any more. I’m responsible for you, and I’m keeping you close. We’re too damn close to those murdering freaks out there. I don’t want to put you at risk.”
“I appreciate that, Colonel, but …”
“No buts about it, kid. We’re sticking together through this. Besides, you’re about the only person alive that I trust these days. I want you here. I don’t always make the best decisions when I get around family, which should be pretty obvious based on the current situation. I need someone with a level head keeping me in line.”
Alex laughed. “I’m not sure how level my head is these days, Colonel, but I’ll do my best.”
The doctor came into the room and picked up the chart from the end of Abby's bed. Examining the chart, the doctor asked, “You the husband?”
“Yes. I am,” Chaz answered.
“She’s been talking about you when she was awake. She’s not very happy with you.”
“Yeah, Doc, I know. Can you bring her around? I’d really like to talk with her. I think I can help her. I can ease her concerns.”
“We’re beyond that at this point, Mr. Sheperd. Right now, I can’t risk bringing her out from under sedative. The last time she was semi-lucid her vitals dropped so low we nearly lost her. Whatever that girl did to her, we haven’t been able to figure it out yet.”
The doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out his mobile. “Here, take a look at this security video from her prison cell. It happened the other night. I can’t make sense of it, but it’s the event that triggered all of this.”
Chaz and Alex both watched the video, and Chaz immediately looked to Alex. “That’s her, isn’t it? That’s Christa; she hasn’t changed all that much.”
Alex nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it sure looks like her.”
The clip showed Christa standing in front of Abby, seated on her bed, with a prison guard outside her cell. Christa didn’t seem to say anything, and the guard just stood there. Christa left after a few minutes, and Abby just went into fits almost immediately.
Chaz asked, “How did the girl get into her cell in the middle of the night? Where’s the guard? I need to talk to him.”
The doctor put his mobile back into his pocket. “The guard won’t help. He can’t remember a thing. Or at least he claims he can’t. What I need from you, Mr. Sheperd, is to stay close. At some point, we’re going to figure out what’s going on inside her head and we’ll be able to bring her around. When we do I want someone here she knows. Someone to help anchor her to reality. Even if it’s someone she’s upset with.”
“I can’t stay, I have work I need to be doing. What about Shax, our daughter? Can’t you have her here?”
“Shax isn’t going to be much help. She hasn’t said a word in over six months. I need someone that knows your wife and can talk with her. Someone who can help her to remember who she is.”
Chaz started pacing. “There are worse things going on out there right now, Doc. Worse things than what are going on in here. If I don’t stop what’s going on, a lot more people are going to suffer.”
“If there’s no one here for her, Mr. Sheperd, she may not come back to reality. With your son out on the loose, you’re the only family she has right now.”
“Don’t you think I know that? I’m already taking risks just being here.” Chaz shook his head. “Now, on top of it all, somehow my son manages to escape from a high-security prison. First you have some girl just walk in here under everyone’s noses and mess with my wife’s head, then you let my son disappear. I don’t what kind of shit show you people are running here, but …”
“Mr. Sheperd, please.” The doctor put his hands up. “I’m just the doctor. I don’t know anything about your son’s disappearance. I assure you, I’d rather have him here as well. It’d give us another option for your wife.”
Chaz looked around the room in frustration. He started to speak, then stopped. Finally, he looked to Alex. “C’mon, we need to go.” Then, looking to the doctor, he said, “I’m sorry, Doc, but I can’t wait around here.”
Chaz and Alex left and headed down the hallway. Chaz spoke up. “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t stay and wait for her. We need to find those freaks, and we need to find Christa. I don’t know what she’s done to Abby, but she’s going to answer for it. If she was trying to get my attention, she’s succeeded. I get it, but she’s gone too far now.”
“What message, Colonel? Christa didn’t say anything. Neither did your wife.”
“She knows I’m out looking for her, and she wants me to stop. She’s been in hiding for years, and she wants to keep it that way. She’s letting me know who’s in charge. That she can do whatever she wants to whomever she wants. It’s a threat. She’s hoping I’ll drop everything and stay with Abby.”
“I don’t know, Colonel. I’m not sure that’s what she’s trying to do. Maybe if you stayed and waited for her to wake up, you’d understand better.”
“I’m not staying. I’m not waiting. Abby’s not the only one in trouble here. If it really was the Freeze that broke Caius out, then my best chance for getting him back is through the freaks and Christa. They represent everything the Freeze are fighting for. Zombies out from under the control of the drugs. We find them, and the Freeze will come to us. I’ll come back for Abby then. She just needs to hold it together long enough for me to finish what I’ve started.”
Rabban entered the regent’s inner office. Only the closest advisers to the regent were allowed into this room. Even security guards were kept out. The regent sat in her high-backed chair surrounded by a smoked glass barrier, which completely circled her. The barrier served several purposes. It kept her advisers from seeing her face while providing a security barrier between her and her company. Additionally, it acted as a life-sized data screen and she was able to view computer data and video feeds from around the world. Most importantly, it was her link to Kongod, the sophisticated computer network that provided her with a constant stream of options to make decisions on. Everything from financial to military to health and welfare issues were presented to the regent.
For some matters however, the regent still had to rely on her human advisers. These kinds of matters tended to be secretive by nature, so there wasn’t much discussion of them in the various social networks. The general population had next to no knowledge of their existence.
“Rabban, tell me why you can’t seem to carry out the smallest of tasks I assign you,” the regent said. “I asked you to make sure the colonel and his partner stay on task, and now I learn that they’ve been sidetracked with personal matters. You do realize the importance of keeping the zombie population under control, don’t you?”
“Yes, Regent, of course I understand. An anomaly has occurred that Kongod didn’t foresee. It appears that Christa is still alive and active. We have reason to believe that she was involved in the death of Captain Willie Molinere aboard the boat with the missing zombies. As of yet, I have no information to connect her with any of the other suspected zombie murders.”
The regent spun in her chair, reading the constant stream of data that appeared on her screens. “Of course you don’t have any information, but I do. Kongod has informed me that she was present at the club where the first public murders took place. Some of the patrons were drunk enough not to panic, but instead recorded the events on their mobile devices. There is now concern beginning to spread amongst the population that the government is losing control over the zombies. Do you realize the ramifications of such a public concern?”
“Yes, Regent, I understand. I am the cultural grievances advisor and I …”
“Don’t waste my time telling me who you are and what I already know. You’ll find a new directive brief concerning this matter waiting for you in your chambers. Additionally, you should be aware that a pattern has formed with the killings associated with the zombies. Kongod indicates with a ninety five percent degree of possibility that these zombies intend to kill me.”
Rabban feigned concern, and asked, “What would be the purpose of that, Regent? Kongod would simply appoint another regent quickly and efficiently. They have nothing to gain by that action, and the risk to themselves would be grave.”
The regent stood from her chair and turned off the computer feeds. Her face was still obscured through the smoky glass. “I would suppose, Rabban, that perhaps these zombies don’t think logically and perhaps have little concern for their own well-being. Perhaps, Rabban, they’re acting purely on animal instinct. Perhaps, Rabban, they only have revenge on their minds. They’ve been prisoners in their own bodies for years. I think that perhaps, Rabban, we’re all in grave danger, and that includes you. You are aware, aren’t you, of the recent murder of my chief financial adviser?”
Backing up a step, Rabban answered, “Yes, of course, Regent, I was informed of the murder.”
“So, Rabban, what I would really like to know is what do you think we should do about the situation?”
Rabban nervously cleared his throat before answering. “I think that maybe it was a mistake to enlist the assistance of this Colonel Sheperd in the investigation.”
The regent nodded and said, “Yes, go on.”
“I’m thinking that there are other more definitive answers to the situation. I believe that while having Christa in a controlled facility would be an ideal situation, it may not be possible at this point.”
The regent sat and turned on her computer monitors once again. She scanned the feeds for several minutes while Rabban waited and fidgeted nervously.
“Rabban, I believe you will find the answers you require in your chambers. I trust you understand the importance of your next few steps, and I must insist that you devote every waking moment to ensuring that things work out appropriately.”
Sensing he was being dismissed, Rabban headed for the door and answered, “Yes, Regent. You can count on me.”
“You have a second chance to get this right, Rabban. There won’t be a third.”
“You damn well better be right about this, Alex,” Chaz said.
“Colonel, you need to relax, I’m telling you, this is going to work. This computer is the most sophisticated piece of gear I’ve ever laid my hands on.”
Chaz shifted uncomfortably in the front seat of the SUV while Alex typed, clicked and tapped on the computer interface installed in the rear section of the SUV.
“Tell me again why we’re sitting here in the parking lot of a shopping mall?”
“Colonel, the data this government network … this Kongod thing has access to is incredible. It tracks every conceivable piece of data about everyone in the country. It ties in financial information, friends, physical activity, entertainment, spending habits, and every other conceivable thing a person could do. This thing can practically predict the future. It knows everyone’s patterns for everything. It probably knows what I’m going to do even before I do it.”
“Yeah, that’s great, but you still haven’t answered my question. What are we doing in this parking lot?”
“Because, Colonel, this is where they’re going to be. Look, we know who the freaks are after. They’re after the regent. You said that, and that means they need to get to someone close to him. There are only six advisers to the regent, and one of them is already dead. That leaves five more possibilities, apart from the regent herself. Obviously the adviser they killed didn’t lead them to the regent, since she’s still alive. They’re going to need to approach another one. This guy, the foreign affairs adviser, is the most obvious choice.”
“OK, great. I still don’t get the shopping mall angle.”
“Well, the advisers’ official schedules are pretty secret, and the regent moves around a lot. Even if you knew when this guy was meeting with the regent, you wouldn’t know where it was. Even he doesn’t know till the regent’s security detachment picks him up. What this Kongod knows though is patterns, and it shows a pattern for him. Whenever he leaves town for a few days, he always takes his wife to dinner at this fancy restaurant in the shopping mall. He’s geographically the closest adviser to the last one that was murdered, so it makes sense that the zombies would go after him next. If they want to get to the regent, they’re going to need to track this guy, and not just kill him. I’m assuming they’re getting smarter as they move along, and they’re not just on some random killing spree.”
“Alright, so how do we find the freaks?”
“I’ve got Kongod using all the security camera feeds in a ten-mile radius from there looking for facial recognition based on the satellite pictures of them on that boat.”
Alex sat back and cracked a smile.
“You’re pretty pleased with yourself, aren’t you, there, kid?”
“Colonel, I’ve been sweeping floors for the last five years. You can bet I’m pleased. This is the first time in a long time that I actually feel like I’m doing something important.”
Chaz reached back and gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you back in action, kid. Hell, it’s good to see both of us back in action. Let me know when your little computer friend there finds something I can chase. Meanwhile I’m going to catch a little snooze.” Chaz crossed his arms and leaned back into the seat with closed eyes.
It didn’t take long for Alex’s computer to come to life. Chaz only had a twenty-minute nap before Alex had a lead on the adviser and the two zombies tracking him.
Alex shook Chaz’s shoulder. “Colonel, wake up! It’s time to go … I’ve got someone for you to chase.”
Chaz woke with a start. “Where are they?”
“They’re just pulling into the parking lot now, in the red convertible. They do seem to like traveling in style. You’d think they’d want to fly a little under the radar. The adviser guy is already in the mall with his wife, walking towards the restaurant.” Alex handed Chaz an earpiece. “Here, put this on. It’s an audio surveillance device, I’ve configured it to pick up the two in the car. Christa’s not with them though. The computer has tagged the other two as Andreas and Leekasha.”
Chaz fit the piece into his ear and listened as they drove into the parking lot.
Leekasha was pleading with Andreas. “All this killing is not helping us any, Andreas. You know it’s not. It’s just plain revenge. It’s not going to get our brothers and sisters out from under the drug. We need to stop.”
“Oh, so now you have brothers and sisters? What kind of trip is that? What makes you think the rest of them give a rat’s ass about us? What have they ever done for us?”
“Are you serious, Andreas? You know they can’t when they’re under the drug. No more than you could have done anything different before Christa brought you out. We should have stayed with her. I should have listened to her. At least she had a plan that didn’t involve killing half the country.”
“Damn it, girl. Think about what you’re saying. What makes you think I don’t have a plan? I do. That’s why we’re here. I have no plans to kill this guy we’re tracking. He’s gonna lead us to the top. Up to the regent. That’s where the real power is.”
“Then what?” Leekasha asked. “You going to kill the regent too? Is that your big plan? Then there’ll be another regent, and another, and another. That’s how it works now. This big computer just picks another one and they carry on. Didn't you listen to anything Christa told us? How stupid are you exactly? Have you paid attention to anything since we woke?”
“Alright, then, what’s your plan? How do you plan to save our brothers and sisters?”
“One at a time. The same way you saved me. But, controlled. Without killing everyone. There’s no need for that.”
“So, you want me to save every damn zombie in this country from the drug. You want me to reach into the mind of every damn freak and save them. Is that what you have in mind, girl? And you think I’m the stupid one.”
“Not just you. I can save them too. We both can, and then the ones that we save can save others.”
“You don’t even know if you can do it. You haven’t been able to see into my mind. How will you see into theirs? Your plan sucks. We need to get to the top of this thing, and chop off its head. I’ll kill as many regents as it takes. That’s the only way we can get this done.”
“You don’t know that I can’t do it. Every day I keep trying. I just need to keep at it. I feel closer every day.”
Andreas and Leekasha headed into the shopping mall while Chaz and Alex followed. The mall wasn’t overly crowded, being mid-week, but the evening shoppers were beginning to show up.
“I don’t suppose that fancy computer of yours told you what time our friend and his wife had dinner reservations for?” Chaz asked.
“Actually, it did. It’s in fifteen minutes.”
“These two just keep circling the place like vultures; we’re gonna have to make a move before they do. I don’t want any more bloodshed on our hands.”
“You heard what they said. You don’t really think they plan on killing anyone here today, do you?”
“They’re freaks, boy. I never assume I know what they’re going to do. I do however think it’s time to force their hand.”
Leekasha and Andreas headed up the escalator to the top floor of the shopping mall.
“The restaurant is up there, Chaz.”
“I know, they’ve already walked by it twice. At this rate, they’re going to eventually spot the two of us doing exactly the same thing. What I’d really like to know is, where the hell is Christa? She’s the one responsible for all this. After what she did to Abby, she and I need to spend some quality time chatting.”
“Did you know she could do whatever that was she did to Abby? What if these ones can do that too?”
“Christa was different than the rest of them. That much I know. These ones, I don’t know. They look human, so they’re definitely some of the advanced ones. Maybe they can do what Christa can. They’ve also been under Pacize for a long time, so who knows what kind of side effects that caused.”
“I don’t think Christa is showing up here, Chaz. If she is, she’s not doing it with these two. None of the surveillance equipment showed her anywhere in the vicinity. Maybe if we take these two, we’ll draw her out.”
“She’s been in hiding for years. If she doesn’t want to be found, she’s not going to be found. We need to take these two alive, regardless of what Rabban’s orders are. I mean to get my hands on Christa, and these two are my best shot at that.”
“OK, so what’s the plan then? You do have a plan, right?”
“Yeah, I do. For the moment, you’re going to hang back and blend into the crowd. I’m going in alone. If it looks like I’m in trouble, I want you to shoot them. Understand?”
“Yes, but …”
Before Alex could finish, Chaz picked up the pace, narrowing the gap between himself and Andreas. As soon as none of the evening shoppers stood between himself and the two zombies, Chaz pulled out his weapon and fired two shots, one into Andreas’ right leg, and the other into Leekasha’s right leg. Every shopper in their vicinity immediately dispersed in a panicked frenzy. Chaz ignored the panic and walked directly to Andreas and Leekasha, who were writhing in pain on the ground.
“Where is she?” Chaz demanded. “Where is Christa?”
Both Andreas and Leekasha did their best to slide along the floor away from him.
Chaz aimed his gun directly at Andreas and said, “I will put another round into you if I don’t get the answers I’m looking for. I’ll ask one more time, where is Christa?”
Leekasha was the first to answer. “We don’t know. He sent her away days ago, back on the old highway. We haven’t seen her since then.”
Chaz looked to Andreas. “How the hell could you send her away? She’s stronger than the rest of you freaks. Why would she let you send her away?”
Andreas stared back at Chaz with a cold glare. Chaz noticed that his leg was no longer bleeding. He aimed his weapon and shot again, this time into his left leg. Leekasha screamed, but Andreas just grimaced and gripped the new wound.
Chaz said, “I can do this indefinitely. I’ve got plenty of bullets. How many do you have room for in that body of yours?”
“Relax, man,” Andreas answered. “I sent her away by getting into her head. Just like she did to me on the boat. I got into her head and forced her to walk away from us. I’m stronger than she is. That’s how I did it.”
Chaz shook his head. “I don’t believe it. Christa could control all the advanced freaks. What makes you so special?”
“I don’t know, man, I just did it.”
“Show me. Do it to me. Force me to turn over my weapon. Prove it.”
“I can’t. I can’t focus right now when you keep shooting me. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Alex, who had been keeping an eye from within earshot, now came up slowly next to Chaz. “Chaz, what the hell are you doing? You trying to get killed? We need to restrain these two and get them out of here. I’m sure by now someone’s alerted the police, and we’ll have to deal with them as well.”
By now, Leekasha’s wounds had healed, but she made no threatening movements towards them.
Chaz looked at her and said, “Why the hell aren’t you bleeding? No one heals that fast.”
Leekasha took her hands away from the wounds and said, “I don’t know. No one’s ever shot me before.”
“Chaz,” Alex interrupted. “We need to restrain them and get the hell out of here. We don’t want to be dealing with local authorities here. Remember, we don’t want the public knowing there are freaks free from the Pacize drug.”
“Fine. If they try anything, shoot them again.”
Chaz grabbed both Andreas’ arms and cuffed them behind his back. He then placed walking restraints on his ankles. He did the same for Leekasha. Chaz hauled them both to their feet.
“Damn, man,” Andreas complained. “How do you expect me to walk with bullets in my legs?”
“Don’t even try screwing with me, freak,” Chaz said. “I see your wounds are healing already. I don’t know how you’re doing that, but I’d bet you can walk just fine. Quit stalling. I’m also betting you can’t mess with both our minds at the same time.” Chaz looked to Alex. “I promise you, if you mess with one of us the other will shoot you.” Alex nodded in agreement.
The four of them made their way through the mall without any incident. Andreas led the way, followed by Leekasha, with Chaz and Alex side by side. It was slow moving with leg restraints on the zombies.
Walking through the parking lot, Alex asked, “What now, Chaz? The regent and Rabban gave us orders to kill these two. I’m not so sure they’re going to be happy if we show up with these two in tow.”
“Actually, they gave us kill or capture orders, and it was for all three of them. Not just these two. I opted for a capture this time, and they’re still our best chance to find Christa.”
“We’re going to capture her as well though, right? You’re not thinking kill, are you?”