Authors: Norman Christof
Prelude to a Kill
The SUV raced back into the city. Andreas drove through every stop light and stop sign he came to. He passed every car he came up behind, and then proceeded to cut through a funeral procession before running the lead hearse off the road.
“Damn it, Andreas,” Leekasha said. “We don’t need to be drawing any attention to ourselves. You know what’s at stake here.”
“Ah, so what? Even if I let some cop pull us over, what’s he gonna do? Write us a ticket?”
“I’m not worried about the cops, you idiot. We’re not invincible, we still need to get there in one piece. All of us, including our passengers.”
“You know, you’re right, girlfriend.” Leekasha crossed her arms and looked out the side window. “I do feel kind of invincible now that you mention it. And smart too. That’s something new for me. You may find this hard to believe, but I never really was that great at school.” Leekasha ignored him, and Chaz had nothing to add. “I was reading through some of the files on that fancy computer back there, and it’s all pretty fascinating stuff. I can remember all of it too. What do you think there, Chaz? You’re a pretty educated fella, right?”
Chaz watched the cars flying by on the wrong side of the road before he answered. “You don’t get to be a colonel by being an idiot. I’m not much for book smarts, but there are plenty of kinds of smart in this world.”
“Yeah, hey I know what you mean. There’s street smart, and people smart, and computer smart and all that. I always figured I was a pretty street smart kind of guy, you know. I could survive just about any situation. I mean, look at me here now. It’s pretty much the zombie apocalypse and I’m king of the world.”
“King might be a little premature there, buddy.”
“Yeah, maybe so, but you do have to start thinking about your place in the world at times like this. Sort of like where do you rank in the food chain kind of questions. Where do you think you rank, Chaz?”
“Haven’t really thought about that much lately. Not a big point of concern for me these days.”
“Ah, go on, give it a shot. I’m figuring you think pretty highly of yourself. You think you’re a pretty big fish, right?”
“Maybe at one time I did. Then I grew up and learned a few things.”
“Hey, that’s kinda funny. I’ve been wondering if you had a sense of humor. Guess you do have some. Well, let me tell you where you rank in the food chain today. Say for instance with just the people in this car. Amongst the six of us in here, I’d put you at a solid number six. A pretty distant number six to be honest. You do have potential though. You could definitely move up. You see your buddies in the back seat there aren’t the brightest sort, but they’ve got the right attitude. They’ll do pretty much anything I ask them. You could say they’re sort of indebted to me. You, however, you’re pretty bright, being a colonel, and you do have a little sense of humor. What you don’t have though is the right attitude. A little change in attitude would likely go a long way towards you moving up the food chain. Any idea what you could do to help with that attitude?”
Chaz looked at Andreas’ eyes in the rearview mirror. “I’m thinking you’d like me to help you get to the regent. You think the regent can clear up this little issue you have with the Pacize, and you figure I can get you closer to her.”
“Wow. Listen to you getting all the right answers. Good for you. I sense you’re moving up already. Now, because I’m such a great guy, I’m thinking I’ll tell you a little story to help you move up.”
Chaz ran his hand over the bristle on his chin. “Well, this ought to be a good one.”
“I’m sure you’ve noticed that this country has come a long way since your little slumber up there under the protection of Fort Knox. I’m also going to assume that you realize by now that a large part of that rapid growth has to do with the current slave force at work in this country.”
“You think zombies are slaves?”
“What would you call them? They don’t get paid for their labor. They have no choice in what tasks they perform. Plus, their deaths go largely unnoticed. They’re simply replaced like a worn-out tire.”
“That’s ridiculous. It’s like calling farm animals slaves.”
“Are you suggesting that I’m an animal?”
“Most of the time. You certainly act like one.”
“What about Leekasha over here? What about your traveling companions sitting next to you right now? What about your old pal Christa? Are they animals?”
Chaz shot back, “What about the one you dragged out of the car and ran over a half dozen times back at the plant?”
“Yes, I would agree that one was an animal. But now I have to ask, how do we tell the difference? Don’t answer, I’ll tell you how. You can tell by putting an end to the Pacize drug.”
“That’s crazy. We’d be at war in a heartbeat if that drug went away.”
“That’s what everyone would have you believe, but I have to ask you now. Are we at war in this car? Right now, we’re having a civil conversation between a former zombie slave and a human. What’s the difference? I might argue that some of the abilities I have make me more human than you. Perhaps you’re the animal. Now, what do we do with that situation? Maybe you should be my slave. Or, as you prefer, my farm animal.”
“The freaks brought this country to its knees. Now you’re suggesting we should give some of them a free pass because they’re being treated unfairly.”
“You need to see the bigger picture here. You need to wonder what the rest of the world thinks when it looks at the Americas. Does it surprise you that there have been absolutely no foreign recriminations against this country for the way they treat zombies? Not a single complaint has been lodged, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because they like what they see. They are all quite envious of our progress, and they want a piece of it. Actually, they want more than a piece, they want to be just like us. They want zombies just like the Americas.”
“How do you know any of this, and why should I believe you?”
“I simply spent time with our Kongod computer network from this car. It’s amazing how much I’m beginning to understand these days. Every time I reach into someone else’s mind, it’s like I get just a little smarter. As to whether or not to believe me, that’s entirely up to you. If I were you, I wouldn’t trust me much. I’m still the same old slimy prick that I’ve always been. Figure it out for yourself.”
“Thanks, I’ll take your sage words of wisdom under advisement.”
“Here’s one more little tidbit of news you might want to consider. It would appear, according to the latest news feeds, that the remaining members of your family are no longer in prison.” Chaz said nothing, but gave Andreas a highly skeptical stare. “It’s on all the news feeds, check it yourself. The funny thing is, no one seems to know if they escaped or if they were abducted. That’s kind of odd don’t you think? That this almighty government can’t seem to keep members of a certain infamous celebrity family behind bars. I’ll tell you what though. If I were you, I’d want to talk to the person in charge. Yep, if it were me and my family, I’d go right to the very top to get my answers. They might just have some idea as to who would be so interested in your family. Who do you think has such an interest in your family?”
A Newer World Order
Chaz contacted Rabban through the secured communication console in the SUV. Rabban picked up the call immediately.
“Colonel Sheperd, where the hell have you been? Do you realize how long overdue you are for your update?”
“I’m well aware of the time, Rabban. Things got a little out of hand here in the field. I’m here to inform you I have the zombies in custody.”
“That’s good news, Colonel. Send me your location and I’ll have a team there to pick you up.”
“I’m afraid that’s not going to work for me. I’ll need a face-to-face with the regent this time.”
Rabban held back a laugh. “I’m sorry, Colonel, I know you’ve been out of the loop for quite a while, but nobody meets the regent on demand. That’s not the way our government works. There are procedures and protocols for such a meeting, even if a request was approved.”
“Can you tell me where my family is, Rabban? Rumor has it they're on a unapproved furlough. ”
“I assure you, Colonel, this government is doing everything in its power to resolve that situation. This is a very embarrassing situation for us and we expect them to be found and returned to the prison promptly.”
“I would have assumed that this government would have made a more concerted effort to keep my family in one place to start with. Especially considering that our deal was predicated on conditions that directly involved my family.”
“Again, Colonel, I assure you …”
“Save it, Rabban. That’s not the only issue at hand here. I have a message that needs to be relayed directly to the regent.”
“Ask the regent if she’d like to comment on a question one of my captives asked me. They wanted to know if the regent was aware that the Kongod computer network was actually owned and controlled by an undisclosed foreign power.”
Almost instantly the video image of Rabban disappeared from the screen and was replaced by the insignia of the regent.
“This is the regent speaking, Colonel Sheperd. I’m sure you’ll recognize my voice from our last meeting. I’m transmitting a location to you now where you can bring your captives. I’ll meet your there in half an hour.”
The communication channel was then cut off.
Andreas grinned from one ear to the other. “Like I told you, Colonel, don’t take my word for it.”
Chaz, Andreas and Leekasha followed the trail of open doors into the abandoned building. Andreas ordered the three new recruits to stand guard at various posts along the way. Eventually they entered a room with only one door. The room had concrete walls, floors, and ceilings. In the center were three chairs facing a single black box mounted on a steel stand. From the box came the voice of the regent.
“Please have a seat everyone and be comfortable.”
The all took their seats, looking around the room.
“I must apologize for the mystery of it all, but I’m sure you all understand that even in these times of peace it’s important to remain vigilant about security.”
Andreas was the first to speak. “This is not what we agreed to. We wanted a face-to-face meeting with you. This wasn’t the deal.”
The regent replied, “I assure you, Andreas, I am not far. Just because you cannot see me doesn’t mean I’m not here.”
“How do you know my name?” Andreas asked.
“We’ve been listening to you since you entered this facility, Andreas.”
Andreas looked to Leekasha and their minds connected. She told him to search for the regent’s mind. Easily, Andreas found it. Leekasha acknowledged she had found it too, but couldn’t pinpoint the location. She told him not to do anything to the regent. Andreas reluctantly agreed.
Leekasha spoke to the black box. “Regent. We need to find a better way for everyone to live together. Imprisoning zombies with the Pacize drug is cruel and inhumane.”
“Are you suggesting that zombies deserve to be treated as humans?”
“I’m suggesting there is more to some of us than you may realize. Andreas and I are examples of that. Can you see that we are not currently physically restrained or under Pacize? Still, we make no attempt to harm the colonel.”
“Surely you jest. Both of you have murdered over a dozen people since your release from the drug.”
“We were afraid and confused, Regent. Our minds had been in great pain for the last six years. The drug did this to us. Now we are free of the drug we don’t need to harm anyone. We can help you if we work together.”
“You claim to know of a foreign influence with Kongod. What drew you to this conclusion?”
Andreas spoke up. “I found the links. They’re obvious when you pay attention. You have to follow the evolution of Kongod. The network began its life as a shared program. During the war, citizens around the world used it as a way to track the pulse of the Americas. Before the war ended, it was abandoned. It never reached the potential its creators had hoped for. They moved on to other projects. Others found the network though and saw another potential for it. Not as a voyeuristic tool, but a tool for guidance. A tool that could help a company or even a country rebuild and grow. Your predecessors accepted it as a gift from the foreigners. It seemed a good way to guide them. They became reliant on it, and it grew. What they didn’t know was that the foreigners never relinquished control of Kongod. It appeared they had, but there were still hooks to it.”
“How would you know any of this? Why should I believe you?”
“Because I’m free. I’m free of the drug that imprisoned me, and I’m now capable of many things. Things you and Kongod can’t even begin to imagine. I learned everything your simple Kongod knew in a few hours. Once I had your basic history in my mind, I could connect all the pieces. I could see what none of you could. I know about Christa. I know about her mutation. I can see Patient Zero and what you’ve done to her. We are not the monsters here, Regent. You humans are, and we won’t allow this cycle to continue. I am the next mutation, and I am the first mutation to be aware of what they are. None of the others knew. Christa didn’t know until you told her. All she knew how to do was hide. I’m not hiding, Regent.”
Andreas stopped talking; instead he focused his stare in the corner of the room. Chaz looked to Leekasha, who was focused only on Andreas.
“Andreas,” she said. Andreas didn’t respond. “Andreas!” She tried again. “Andreas, this is not what we agreed to. Stay out of her head. We were going to talk this through. We need to reach an agreement for all of us, Andreas. This is not the answer … Andreas.”
Chaz spoke up. “Leekasha, what’s he doing?”
“He’s searching for her. She’s in this room somewhere. We just can’t see her.”
“Regent,” Chaz called out. “You need to leave. You’re no longer safe here. You need to get out of this place.”
It was too late. Andreas had found the regent from inside her head. She was in the room, behind an optical illusion unit that hid her from sight. Andreas told the regent to power off the unit and she became visible. Behind her were two soldiers that Andreas mentally ordered to shoot one another. They did.
Leekasha cried out. “Andreas, you can’t do this. This isn’t the answer.”
Andreas ignored her. Instead he planted an idea in the head of the regent: an idea that the only way to save herself from the freaks was to take the soldier’s gun and shoot herself. She did.
“Andreas,” Leekasha said. “Why would you? It doesn’t have to be this way. They’ll just appoint another regent. I thought you understood that.”
“It doesn’t matter if they do or they don’t. I’m going to free everyone. I know how to stop the drug; I know how they spread it through the air.”
“You’ll just start another war, you idiot,” Chaz added. “We’ve done this before, and your kind lost. You’ll lose again. For all your smarts, you don’t understand who you’re fighting against. We’ll never give up.”
“It’s different this time, Colonel. We’re all changing again because of me. My mutation will spread to the lucky ones. The zombies that don’t have it will become the animals you all fear. The ones that will rip your throats out and live in your nightmares. They won’t hurt us though. The fear us because they know we control them. They don’t fear your kind though, and they’ll exterminate you all for us. My kind will be the only ones left. It’s our turn to rule, and there’s nothing your Kongod or your next regent or the rest of the world can do about it.”