Authors: Norman Christof
Chaz waited all alone for his old friend in the conference room of the military wing at Fort Knox.
I’m not sure how to break this to him exactly. I know he’s going to be unsure at first, but I owe it to him to help him out of this mess. There’s no way I can just leave that kid all alone sweeping floors for the rest of his life. He needs to get out and do some good. He’s a fighter and a survivor who’s just run into a tough spot. I’m sure that once he gets a chance to prove to himself what he’s capable of he’ll come back around.
Chaz heard a knock, and the door to the conference room opened. Matt held open the door as Alex followed him in.
Alex smiled upon seeing him. “Hey, Chaz, where you been? Haven’t seen you for a few days.”
Chaz got up to pull out a chair and motioned to Alex to have a seat. Matt nodded at Chaz and gave him a smile. “Nice to see you up and about again. Try not to overdo things too much. Your right leg still looks a bit stiff. You’re still doing the exercises I gave you, right?”
Rubbing his leg, Chaz answered, “Yes, sir, Doc. Every day just like you taught me.”
Matt smiled and walked towards the door. “It’s a good thing you’re doing here, Colonel. Just hope it’s nothing too strenuous for either of you.”
Matt left, and Alex took the seat next to Chaz.
“What’s he talking about, Colonel?”
Rubbing his stubbly face, Chaz replied, “Well, Alex, there’s this little thing I need to do, and I was hoping you could help me out. It could get a bit strenuous, but I figure it would be good for the both of us to get out and stretch our legs some.”
“I don’t know, Colonel. I’m pretty busy these days. One of the guys on our staff got transferred out the other day, and we’re all picking up extra shifts. I don’t think the general would let me go too far. Do we have to leave the fort? He’s been pretty adamant about keeping me here for as long as he can.”
“You don’t need to worry too much about the general on this one. I’ve kind of gone over his head for this exercise. He’d be glad to let you go for a while, and I’m sure your department can find someone else to pick up the slack.”
Alex’s right eye started twitching off and on. “I don’t know, Colonel. I’m getting pretty used to the work here, and it’s not such a bad place. As long as I keep my distance from the general I have some pretty good days.”
Chaz pulled his chair closer to Alex and looked him in the eye.
“We need to find Christa, son. I think she’s in some trouble and could use our help. I know what happened the last time we tried helping her, but this is different. It looks like she may have gotten tangled up with some really nasty folks and could be in over her head.”
Alex didn’t say anything, but started rubbing his right eye.
“Alex, I know what happened when we were all last together. I know it may seem like she left us in a bad spot, and things didn’t go well for either of us after that. Especially for you. I know that. Matt told me what happened with your dad and everything. That stuff never should have happened to you. To anyone. Certainly, you shouldn’t have had to go through it alone. If it makes you feel any better, I believe Christa was trying to protect us. I think she knew what they had in mind for her, and she knew we’d get dragged into it pretty good if she stayed with us.”
Alex looked up. “I got dragged into things pretty good even without her!”
Chaz leaned back to listen. “Do you really think she did me a favor? She destroyed my entire life. I have no family. I have no friends. I have no life. All I have is the work I do here. I know it’s not much being a stinking janitor, but someone has to keep the place clean. So, why not me?”
Chaz nodded. “You can ask her that when we find her. You deserve to get some answers, and she’s the only one that can tell you why she did what she did. I could be totally wrong, but I think she’ll tell you. You two always had a connection. You looked out for each other and me when we fought our way here. I’d never have made it without you two. You owe it to yourself to at least ask her.”
Alex got up and paced around the room for a few minutes. Chaz didn’t say anything. Alex’s eye twitch got worse, but the walking seemed to calm him down. Eventually he came back and sat down next to Chaz.
“I’ll go,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
Chaz nodded his approval. “Great. That’s good. It’ll be good for the both of us to get out of here for a while. It’s been too long.”
Alex got up and started to head for the door. “I’ll just tell my boss they’ll need someone else to fill in for me for a while.”
“Right, that’s a good idea. I should start prepping things as well.”
Just before Alex headed out the door, he turned and said, “You know, Chaz, I really haven’t missed her. Not at all. I’ve never felt alone all these years, because she always been here.” He raised his index finger to his head. “She talks to me all the time. Christa does.”
Three Zombies and A Dinghy
The dingy was making good time across the Gulf. Luckily the weather held, and the storm didn’t start until they were nearing Gulf Shores just south of Mobile Bay. It was dark, and there wasn’t much traffic, so they weren’t likely to be noticed. The trip had been pretty quiet amongst the three of them until Andreas broke the silence.
“I remember you being inside my head, but not being able to do anything about it. You were distant, and you weren’t making any sense. How did you do that?”
“I’ve had the ability to hear all of you ever since I matured. Mutating is what the scientists called it. I used to be a zombie, but then I developed certain abilities … like being able to talk to you inside your head, and hear what was going on in yours.”
“That’s pretty crazy. Do you know what I’m thinking now?”
“No. Thank goodness.”
Andreas frowned. “What do you mean by that? I wasn’t thinking anything dirty about you or anything.”
Christa rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant. When you’re under the control of the Pacize drug, your mind eventually starts to go nuts. You have no control over your body and you have all these urges you want to act on but can’t. Your mind is constantly screaming in pain. I can hear that. From all of you. Every time I come near one of you I hear all that pain. It gets excruciating for me. At first it almost drove me mad, but I learned to partially block it out. I can’t do it for long though; it’s tiring.”
“Why don’t you just leave then? Get out of here and go somewhere where there aren’t any of us. Just get the hell out. That’s what I’d do.”
Christa shook her head. “I thought about it, but I felt like I was deserting my family or something. I’m responsible for most of this. I’m the one they used to make the drug and to spread the mutation. They used me against all of you. They had to stop the war, of course. I understand that, but what they’ve done to all the rest of you is barbaric. I’m not even sure they realize what they’re doing to your heads. Not that they would have cared; they were desperate. They would have done anything to end it.”
Andreas shifted in his seat. “So, what about her? Leekasha. Can you hear her? Is she screaming in her head?”
“Yes she is, and yes I can hear it. But there’s only one of her, and I can block most of it. I’m used to being around a lot more than just her. She’s not as bad as some, and she’s managing it pretty well.”
“So, what did you do to me? I felt so much hatred for the captain when I came out. I could see he was about to attack you, and I couldn’t let that happen. I felt this strong urge to protect you. I don’t even know why.”
“I have that effect on other zombies. At least some of them I do. Some still want to rip my head off, but you’re one of the advanced ones. I could sense something in you. The pain from you was louder than most, which is what drew me to you. I’ve tracked you for a while. I’ve been searching a long time to find someone I could break free from the drug. You’re the first. I didn’t want there to be bloodshed though. I thought I could control you when you came back. I didn’t expect you to be that strong.”
“I do feel pretty good. Strong. Like I could do whatever I wanted. Like I have no limits.”
They could see lights on shore and Christa cut back on the throttle to come in quietly along the beach. The rain was coming down more heavily and they could see lightning in the distance. Once the boat was beached, Christa rummaged through the small engine tool kit from the bow of the boat. Using the steel pick she found, she managed to make two pinprick-sized holes in the inflatables pontoons. Pointing the boat back out into the bay, she locked the steering, opened the throttle, and flipped it into gear. The outboard jerked but was quickly heading out into open water.
“That should get it far enough out before it sinks.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“We need to get as far away from here as possible and hope no one finds that boat.”
“Why run? I feel strong enough to take on a hundred men.”
“I’m plenty strong too, but I’m also smart. I’ve stayed hidden for almost six years. I know how to deal with people, and you need to learn.”
“Learning can wait. I say let’s find the first tiki hut on the beach and have a few drinks. You and I can celebrate my freedom.”
“Don’t be an idiot. Things have changed a lot since you were under the drug. Don’t assume that just because you don’t look like a zombie now you won’t be noticed. They have ways of detecting us. The security forces have equipment and training to find us. At some point that boat will be declared missing, and there’ll be some sort of search. If they find it without you and Leekasha on board it will look pretty suspicious. I haven’t remained hidden all this time to blow it now. Not now that I’ve finally brought one of you back.”
“Wow, you’re a real buzzkill. So glad to be back in the land of the living. A drink or two won’t hurt anyone. C’mon, have a little fun. I’ve been dead for six years, I’m entitled to celebrate.”
Christa grabbed him by the arm.
“Easy honey, no need to get rough. If you want some of me, I won’t play hard to get. I promise.” Andreas grinned.
Christa tried talking directly inside his head with no effect. Apparently he was able to block her out now.
“Look,” she said. “I brought you out from under the drug, and I can put you back under.” She was hoping he didn’t catch her in that lie. “I have a place we need to get back to. It’s safe there. We can have a closer look at both of you and plan our next steps. It would be incredibly stupid to take risks at this point.”
She pulled his arm in her direction, but he just yanked it away.
“You’re bluffing. There’s no way you’d put me back if what you say is true. I’m going for that drink, and maybe a little something else. You and the mute one over there can go and do whatever. I’ll see you later.”
Andreas turned and headed in the opposite direction towards the main road.
“Damn it!” Christa whispered under her breath. She headed off after Andreas, and Leekasha followed like a lost puppy.
“Dr. Montgomery, I hope I’m not interrupting anything important here,” Chaz said.
Judith Montgomery looked up from her desk to see Chaz standing in her office doorway. “Well, Colonel, it looks like you’re well on the road to recovery. I’d say it was nice to see you up and about on your own, but that would be a lie. It’s been a few years, but I’m still a little pissed that you nearly had me killed rescuing that demon child. The thought of you lying in a coma did my heart some good. I actually believed that karma was real.”
“So now we’re believing in the metaphysical are we, Doctor? That seems a little out of your area of expertise. Are there lab tests for karma?” Chaz smiled and stepped further into the office. “Don’t bother answering that. We’ll just let real life play out and see whether it does or not. You may not be fully aware, but I’m actually more than just up and about. I’ve been recalled into active duty.”
Judith pushed her chair back from her desk. “Really? Now what, pray tell, could the military have in mind for an old war dinosaur like yourself? You do realize that the war is over. There’s no need for men like you any longer. Science was what finally won the war you military thugs couldn’t finish. This is a country on the rise again, and it’s all thanks to science and technology.”
“It’s interesting you should bring that up, Doc. I’ve had a taste of your new world order so to speak, and to be honest I’m not so sure. Sure, it’s sweet tasting on the first bite, what with all these domesticated zombies doing all the grunt work for you. I have to wonder though what the aftertaste will be like when those dogs break their chains. I bet that’s gonna sting like hell. Then where will you turn to solve your problems? What will your science get you then? You’re going to need a big stick to keep those dogs at bay.”
Judith looked down, shaking her head. “What is it you want here, Colonel? Surely it can’t just be to annoy me with your fanciful notions of a future where you’re relevant again? There’s nothing I can tell you about Christa, or the Pacize drug. It’s all classified information.”
“Oh, I’ve seen all the classified information on Christa and the drug, Doctor.”
Judith tilted her head and gave Chaz a skeptical stare. “Why would they give you access to that kind of information?”
“It doesn’t really matter. But rest assured, I know all about the drug. I’ve seen the blueprints for the delivery systems. I know about the initial side effects on humans that showed up in that little midwest town that no longer exits. I know about the pack of freaks that didn’t respond to the initial version of the drug and how they ended up killing an entire research team. They let me see everything. It was part of the deal I made to accept this little job they have for me.”
Shaking her head, Judith answered, “So, what do you want with me, Colonel, if you’re so well informed? I’m sure this can’t just be a social call for old times’ sake. What is it you need?”
“Well, classified documents are always an interesting read. At least, I’ve always thought so. Maybe not all the technical details so much. You science geeks can be a little bit too wordy for my liking. I usually just skip to the executive summary. It’s less reading for us military thugs. What I always find interesting is what they don’t say. Maybe it’s just my suspicious nature, but I never take anything at face value. I’m always thinking there’s another story behind the page.”
“I’m a busy person, Colonel. Get to the point.”
“See, that’s what I’m getting at now. You’re a busy person. But why? Why would you be such a busy person? I mean, your lifelong career goal has been accomplished. You’ve got the freaks right where you want them. Totally under control. Yet, here you are, still busy. Here you are after all this time, still working in a top-secret underground bunker. I would have thought you’d be dying to get out of this place. I mean, who in their right mind after living and working for fifteen years in a damp, cold basement would stay there when they really didn’t have to?”
Judith got up to close the office door before returning to sit on her desk, facing Chaz.
“Colonel. I’m a career person. I don’t have a family, and I never had much of a personal life. For me, it’s always been about the work.”
“C’mon, Doc, don’t play that lonely old maid married to her work shtick with me. I know you’ve had some big offers from the private sector since the success of Pacize. You could have left long ago for a lot of money and a very cushy life. It was all in the classified reports. Hell, with the kind of money they were offering you, you could have bought a real personal life. Maybe even a husband. Maybe even a wife?” Chaz grinned.
“None of that was any of your business.”
“I think you stayed because you know it’s not perfect. You know things could go wrong. You don’t trust the system. Either the drug itself, or the distribution systems, or the long-term effectiveness of it all. You know it’s going to fail at some point, and that bothers the hell out of you. Your grand solution to all this is going to fail at some point, and you’re going to take the blame for it. That’s what keeps you up at night, and that’s what keeps you here. Pride.”
“You want more information from me then? You want what isn’t written down anywhere? You want to know what’s in my head? Why would I share that with you? What can you possibly give to me that I don’t already have?”
Chaz looked down, smiling, then raised his head.
“I can give you the one that got away. The one piece of the puzzle that you thought was lost for good. I’m going to get Christa. That’s the mission they’ve put me on.”
“That’s ridiculous. Christa’s dead. She’s been dead for years.”
“She’s not dead, no one’s ever recovered a body. That’s just what you all wanted to believe. I know that the general conspired behind your back to let us think we escaped on our own all those years ago. I know you were incredibly pissed about the whole thing and wanted her back more than anything. I know she was the one piece that would let you keep tweaking the drug over the years, to guarantee its effectiveness. When you lost her, you lost that ability, and you’ve been trying to find a workaround ever since. It’s in your best interests that I find her. I need to know everything you know.”
Judith moved to sit back in her chair.
“You’re not totally wrong, Colonel. There’s a chance, albeit a very slight chance, that the drug could begin to lose its effectiveness. To date we’ve seen no evidence of it. Christa’s biology is the key to it all. Even though her mutation matured all those years ago, it still changes as she ages. Which, of course, is an early indicator of what the rest of them will do. Because she’s the original, it happens in her first. She’s like an early warning system for the rest. If they do start developing a resistance to the drug, it will be a bloodbath.”
“I’ve seen evidence recently to suggest that Christa may be in contact with some freaks. Some freaks that may already be immune to the drug. Can she do that? Could she make them immune?”
Judith chewed her bottom lip. “I believe she had abilities we weren’t aware of … things we still hadn’t discovered. As far as we know, there wasn’t anything to indicate she had the ability to block the drug in others. God, I hope she didn’t. That could be incredibly traumatic to the subject, if they just snapped out of the drug’s influence. They’d be totally unpredictable. The way the drug separates their mind and body is very stressful to their system. It short-circuits their wiring and stops them from acting on basic impulses. A few times during early testing, some were able to reconnect. That’s how we lost that research team. They acted on all those repressed impulses from weeks of repressed urges. It was horrific. They even turned on one another.”
“That doesn’t totally make sense with the evidence I’ve seen. I was shown satellite pictures of a girl that could have been Christa standing at a murder scene with other zombies. There was some sort of connection between the girl and one of the zombies. They were having a heated debate. The other zombie, the female one, just sat there motionless.”
“What! Was the victim the controller?”
“Jesus, this is bad.” Judith started pacing the room. “And you’re sure the girl was Christa?”
“No, I’m not sure. That’s kind of the point of all this. They want someone to go in and get the girl. The ones I’ve talked with are convinced it’s her. I don’t believe it’s her. Christa wouldn’t murder someone in cold blood.”
“No, unfortunately not.”
“What do you mean unfortunately? That’s good, isn’t it?”
“No, you idiot, it’s not good. If Christa didn’t do it, then one of the other zombies did it. One of the drug-controlled zombies did it. Drug-controlled zombies are incapable of harm. If they’re becoming immune, we are on the brink of war … again, and worse.”
“What do you mean worse?”
“Worse, because these things are everywhere. They’re integrated into every aspect of our lives these days. Those things will turn on their controllers at an alarming rate. On second thought, there probably won’t be any war. We’ll be wiped out too fast. It’ll be spontaneous genocide.”
Judith unlocked a file cabinet in the corner of the office. “I have some information you’re going to need. Is anyone going with you?”
“That’s a horrible idea. That boy is a shell of his former self. Not too stable either.”
“It was my idea. He’ll come around.”
“You better be right. You’re gambling with everything and everyone … again.”
“It’s not your call. I have approval from higher up than you this time.”
“Idiots.” Judith pulled two small storage drives from the cabinet. “I have copies of these elsewhere, but you should read the information on these. It contains information that wasn’t in any of the ‘classified’ reports. It also has some predictions on how to deal with the drug if it starts to become less effective. They may help.”
“Don’t thank me. You’re not going to like what you find out. What you need to do is get the girl back here, if it’s truly her, and for all our sakes I hope it is.”