Authors: Norman Christof
Chaz found it hard to breathe. Leekasha and Andreas noticed it as well, but it didn’t seem to affect them as much.
“The air is being sucked out of the room,” Chaz gasped. “It must be some sort of failsafe response to an attack.” He looked at Andreas. “Way ta go, wonder kid. I don’t suppose you foresaw this with that great new mind of yours.”
Andreas scanned the room. “There has to be a way out. The regent wouldn’t have locked herself into a death trap without a way out.”
Chaz was already moving towards the bodies of the regent and her soldiers. Moving slowly to conserve air, he searched for a door or a panel to get out. The unit used to conceal the regent had no controls on it. Andreas and Leekasha searched along all the walls, looking for a way out. They tried opening the door they had entered. Chaz fell to his knees, unable to stand from the lack of oxygen. The bodies of the soldiers and the regent lay on the ground before him. He searched the regent’s body and pockets. Then, he noticed the wrist band on the regent’s right arm. He removed it and slid his fingers across the glossy surface of it. The optical illusion unit became active again, and he became invisible to Leekasha and Andreas, who continued to search for a way out.
Chaz felt a light rush of air blow over the back of his neck. He turned a saw a small opening through the wall behind him.
Strange. That wasn’t there before. It must only open when the illusion unit is active. The unit hides the person holding the controls and the door.
Andreas and Leekasha paid no attention to him in their search for a way out.
Now is my chance, while they’re still looking. I’ll be sealing them in without a way to open the door. That’s two less freaks in the world to worry about.
Chaz slipped through the small door, taking the control unit with him. The door closed silently behind him.
I wonder how long it will take the super brain in there to figure out that I’ve left him to die. Probably not long. I better get my ass as far from their mind-control crap as possible.
Chaz made his way through the building to a back door that led to an alley. From there it was simple enough to make it to the front of the building and the SUV.
How hard can it be to hotwire a high-tech government vehicle? I suppose I’m about to find out.
As Chaz was about to open the door, he noticed another strangely familiar-looking SUV heading down the street towards him. Strangely familiar because it looked exactly like the one he was getting into. It stopped beside him, and as the driver’s window rolled down he recognized Alex in the driver’s seat. “Hey, Colonel, need a lift?”
“Well, now that you mention it, I do. We probably shouldn’t just leave the other car here though.”
“Not to worry, Colonel, I’m sure someone will come by to claim it. Jump in the back, we need to talk.”
Chaz jumped in the back and noticed then who was sitting in the passenger seat next to Alex.
“Hey, ya grumpy old bastard. Long time no see.”
It took every bit of energy Chaz had left to restrain himself from lunging for Christa. Instead he said, “Where the hell is my family, you crazy bitch?”
Alex was the first to respond. “Now c’mon, Colonel, you don’t know the whole story. Let’s get out of here first, and then we’ll give her a chance to explain.
Chaz turned his attention to Alex. “You know what, boy, I don’t need you telling me how to behave. For that matter where the hell have you been? I spent a good few hours that I’ll never get back being mind-fucked by a couple of highfalutin freaks. I had to sit and listen to that bastard go on and on about how freakin’ clever he was and how a stupid human like myself had no place in his vision of the world. Do you have any idea how degrading that is to me? I fought for this country, and by extension the whole damn world, to save it from freaks like him. Now he talks like some damn foreign power is ready to swoop in here or something and take all our slaves. Slaves! Ha! They’re damn freaks is what they are. Not fit to sleep with farm animals.”
“Colonel,” Alex said. “I’m sorry. I did the only thing I could do. I went back to Fort Knox. I talked with Dr. Montgomery. She said she gave you some information. Did you read it?”
“Hell yes, I read it days ago. What’s that got to do with any of this? This whole damn mess has gone down a shithole. The regent is dead by the way.”
Christa turned and said, “The regent is dead? Since when? How did that happen?”
Chaz scowled at Christa. “I am not answering any of your questions, little girl, till I find out what the hell happened to my family. If you had anything to do with that, you better start talking now.”
Alex pulled away down the street as Christa explained. “I did it, Chaz. I got them out.” Chaz clenched his fists. “I was trying to help. I got Abby and Shax, but couldn’t get Caius. I tried, really I did, but he wouldn’t come. He’s still with the Freeze, and he’s in pretty tight with them. I was trying to keep them on my side.”
Chaz shook his head. “Why the hell would a zombie freak associate with the religious zealots?”
Alex jumped to Christa’s defense. “Don’t call her that, Colonel. You know she’s not like the rest of them. After everything we’ve been through, that’s out of line. Knock it off.”
“It’s alright, Alex.” Christa put a hand on Alex’s arm. “I can stick up for myself.”
“If anything good comes out of this mess, at least you got some balls back, boy,” Chaz said. “Guess you won’t go back to pushing a broom after all this. That’s assuming there’s anything left to go back to. That fancy computer they’ve got will just pick another regent. That’s the way it works, right?”
“They really killed the regent?” Christa asked. “Was it Andreas?”
“Yeah, it was him. The girl tried to talk him out of it, but he’s gone all king of the world crazy, like he’s the next big thing, and the planet has no chance without him.”
Alex and Christa looked at each other like they knew something Chaz didn’t. Chaz caught them and said,
“Alright you two, what the hell is it? You both look like you’re keeping family secrets.”
Christa spoke first. “Chaz, we were both back at Fort Knox and saw Dr. Montgomery. We know about the research she gave you. I know you don’t want to believe it, but if Montgomery believes it, then we have to at least check it out.”
Chaz turned his head, looking out the side window. “Montgomery’s a crackpot. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Chaz,” Christa said. “I know you’ve spent your whole adult life fighting this and you don’t want it to be true, but there’s a very good chance we can live with zombies. Zombies without drugs in them. Montgomery believes they are an evolutionary step. She believes that every mutation along the way was a step in the direction of zombies like Andreas and Leekasha.”
“That son of a bitch is no evolutionary leap. He’s a cold-hearted, psychotic bastard. He’d kill his own mother for a dollar.”
Alex looked up in the rearview mirror. “Where are they now, Chaz? It’s important we get to them first.”
“With any luck they’re dying and choking on their own puke back in that building. We were all locked in a room with the regent before that freak convinced her to off herself. Leekasha tried to stop him, but she couldn’t. She may have been worth saving. I don’t know.”
Alex had them headed up the highway now, moving north.
“So, where exactly do you two think you’re taking me?”
“We’re headed back to Fort Knox, Colonel,” Alex answered. “Your family’s there, and they’re pretty anxious to see you. I’ve radioed ahead with everything you told us. They’ll be sending a team back for the regent and the others.”
Christa added, “I’m really sorry about what happened with Abby, Chaz. I didn’t want to do that, but I needed to get you off the mission, and I didn’t know how else to do it. It was a bad idea from the start.”
“You’re damn right it was. She didn’t deserve that. She’s had a hard enough life because of me; she didn’t need to totally lose her grip on reality.”
“She didn’t lose anything, Chaz. It was just temporary. Just a few suggestions I planted in her head. They’re gone now. I removed them as soon as I got her back from the Freeze. She’s completely recovered.”
Chaz sat back in his chair and relaxed for a moment. “Sure,” he said. “That’s good. Really good. Now she just has to deal with the fact that she’s a wanted fugitive on the run. I suppose that’s a sight better than being a crazy person.”
“Let’s get back to the fort,” Alex said. “I think we all need to have a sit-down with Dr. Montgomery.”
General Chambers was there to greet Chaz, Alex, and Christa in the Fort Knox lobby.
“I can’t believe I’m willingly coming back into this place again,” Christa said.
“You think it was bad? You should have tried hanging around here for a few more years in my shoes,” Alex said. “It didn’t get any easier on me. I never did get around to thanking you for that opportunity, did I, Christa?”
“I’m so sorry about that, Alex. I was just trying to protect the both of you. I just seemed to attract trouble everywhere I went, and I didn’t want you two to have to suffer through any more of it.
General Chambers spoke. “I hate to interrupt your little family reunion here, kids, but I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of bad news.” All three of them looked to the general. “It would seem Andreas, Leekasha, and the other ones are no longer at the facility where you left them, Colonel Sheperd.”
Chaz spoke first. “That’s not really my problem right now, General. I understand you have my family here. I need to see them right away.”
“You need to hear me out, Colonel. There’s more.”
Chaz took a step towards the general. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about what you’re going to tell me. I need to see my family. Take me there now.”
The general looked directly at Chaz. “The primary Pacize distribution facility in New Orleans is offline. Actually, it’s more than offline. It was completely destroyed in an explosion. Secondary facilities close by are picking up the slack, but if one of them goes, there will be thousands of freaks turned loose on the general public.”
Chaz persisted. “General. Where the hell is my family? I’ll find them myself if you don’t want to tell me.”
“Jesus, Colonel. Andreas and Leekasha were spotted on video security less than a mile from the distribution facility shortly after the explosion. I don’t even want to think about what will happen if they destroy another facility. We are a hair’s breadth away from war and you’re worried about your family?”
“General, the world is just going to have to wait for me for five minutes this time. I demand you take me to see my family … now!”
“Fine, five minutes.” The general changed his focus to Alex and Christa. “You two need to get down to Montgomery’s lab. She’s waiting there for you. She has some information I think you’ll both find interesting.” Looking back to Chaz he continued, “Follow me, Colonel Sheperd. I’ll take you to your family.
Chaz raised his hand to knock on the door, then put it back to his side. He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath and raised his hand once more and knocked three times. He looked down at his feet for a moment to collect his thoughts and looked up again as the door opened.
“Chaz,” Abby said. “Thank God you’re OK.” She threw both her arms around his neck and squeezed tightly. Chaz reached around and pulled her in closer to him. They stood in the doorway like that for minutes. Abby released her hug first, but Chaz took a few seconds longer to let go.
“Well,” Abby said. “What’s gotten into you?”
“It’s just so great to see you smile. With the way things have been going lately, I didn’t think I’d ever see that again. I had no idea how much I’ve missed that.”
Abby reached out and placed her palm on his face. “You’ve changed … so much. That’s something I didn’t think I’d ever see.” They both smiled. Abby pushed the door open. “Come on in. There’s someone you should see.”
Chaz followed Abby into the room and saw Shax sitting on the couch. She had earphones in and was reading from her mobile device.
Abby said, “She hasn’t spoken to anyone in months. The trial was too much for her to process, I think. For a while she’d talk to Caius, but even that stopped. No one could get through to her.” Abby sat down next to Shax, and Chaz took the seat across from them. Abby got Shax’s attention and pointed to her ears, indicating she wanted to speak to her. Shax removed her headphones without looking at her mother. Shax’s eyes were focused on Chaz. She narrowed her eyes as if trying to recall something.
Chaz said to Abby, “Does she know who I am? Can she understand what we’re saying?”
“I don’t know if she remembers, and yes, she can hear everything. There’s nothing physically wrong. She just chooses not to speak to us.”
Shax kept her eyes intently focused on Chaz, like she was trying to figure out a puzzle.
“Shax … baby girl,” Chaz said. “Do you know who I am? Do you remember me?”
Shax didn’t answer.
He tried again. “Shax, I’m your …”
“Daddy!” Shax blurted out. “You’re my dad. I remember you.”
Shax placed her headphones back in her ears and went back to reading. Abby was dumbfounded, just staring at Shax with her jaw hanging open.
“We’ve been trying so hard to get her to speak and you just walk in here and she speaks.” Abby cupped her hands on her chest. “This is amazing.”
“Well … I am sort of a big deal you know,” he said, smiling.
They were interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Damn,” Chaz said. “I’m really sorry, but that’s for me. They need me to talk to someone.”
Abby tilted her head, but still couldn’t stop smiling. “I know. It always is. Please don’t be long.” She looked to Shax and back at Chaz. “Someone’s … no … we’ve really missed you.”
Chaz walked towards Abby and placed a kiss on her lips.
“I’ll be back just as soon as I can.”
Abby did her best to keep smiling. “I know you will.”
With that, Chaz walked out the door.
Chaz walked into Montgomery’s lab to a quiet room of blank stares. Dr. Montgomery, Alex, Christa, and General Chambers were all there.
Chaz broke the silence and said, “Let’s get this done. There are other places I’d rather be.”
“You’ve known all this time,” Christa asked accusingly. “You’ve known all this time and you said nothing to us.”
“What are you talking about?” Chaz asked, taking a seat.
“I’m talking about the information Montgomery gave you days ago. You knew her research pointed towards a solution to all this. A good percentage of the zombie population doesn’t need to be controlled by drugs. Not only can they live peaceably without the drugs, but they’re an incredibly intelligent and gifted group of beings. You saw what Andreas was capable of and yet you chose to ignore it. You hung on to an image of all zombies being brutal, slobbering, killing monsters. We're not all like Andreas. What is wrong with you? You don’t think of me that way, do you?”
Chaz shook his head. “No, of course I don’t. You’re just a little … never mind.”
“You were going to say I’m just a little kid, weren’t you? That’s what you always said. That’s what you always called me before. Before all this happened. Well, I’m not a little kid anymore, and those aren’t all just monsters out there. They’re real beings with a heart and a mind.”
“Not all of them,” Chaz reminded her.
“Yeah, and not every human being is a saint either, but we don’t lock them all up or drug them into slavery. A good percentage of these people are incredibly high functioning. I’m incredibly high functioning, with what I can do. Dr. Montgomery believes they’re the next evolution in the human species. She believes with their abilities they can make a difference. They can actually make the world a better place. Mother Nature is trying to make things better, but we … you … people like you keep trying to stop her. That’s what the war was all about. Humans were afraid of being replaced. You were fighting because you were afraid of becoming obsolete.”
“Christa!” Alex said, shaking his head. “That’s enough. This is not helping. We need to stop arguing amongst ourselves. If we can’t do that, knowing what we know, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?”
Christa turned and walked away as Dr. Montgomery said, “I understand that this is not an easy idea to swallow for anyone, but science doesn’t lie. No matter what we want or feel, science is about the truth, and we’ve all seen glimpses of it. Myself as well. I saw it years ago with Patient Zero. Nobody wanted to believe it, so we just did what we were told. We now as a group have a chance to change that. From what I heard, this Andreas zombie has advanced his mind at an incredible rate. He’s advanced far and above what he was capable of as a human. Unfortunately, it also sounds like he’s psychotic with delusions of global domination. That’s not a good combination. We need to do something about him, but not at the expense of all the rest. They have the potential to do great things, and these days that’s something we could desperately use.”
“That’s all good and great, Doc,” Alex replied, “but how do we fix this and make the changes? We’ve lost our regent; the government is in chaos.”
“Kongod is still functioning and proposing solutions,” the general answered. “It’ll replace the regent within twenty-four hours. That’s not a problem. The concern is, all the scenarios it’s considering are based on a drugged-out zombie population. If we lose Pacize drug distribution and war breaks out again, even Kongod won’t be able to fix things. We need a solution to this immediate threat before we can worry about some freaks being mistreated.”
“Andreas is the first big mutation since Christa,” Montgomery said. “He’s capable of even more than Christa was. The good news, though, is that his mutation is already spreading. The female Leekasha has exhibited signs from what you’ve told me, and in all likelihood the recruits they revived are affected as well. We don’t need Andreas for the rest of the potential zombies to be revived and mutate. He’s expendable and a liability.”
Chaz stood up and walked to the door. “Well,” he said. “It looks like we have one more task ahead. Who’s coming?”