Authors: Norman Christof
A Difference of Opinion
The car raced along Highway 10 with Christa at the wheel.
I don’t really like taking this road given its close proximity to the Gulf, but it’s the quickest way home. If the authorities figure out what happened on that boat, the towns along the coast are the first places they’ll look. These two are a disaster waiting to happen, and I really don’t want to have them out in the wild for any longer than absolutely necessary. The sooner I get them back the better.
Andreas woke from his slumber in the back of the car and said, “How much longer till we get there, boss? I’m getting a little peckish back here. Could use one of those humans to chew on. Any chance you’ve got some in the freezer back at your place?”
Christa tightened her grip on the steering wheel. “Trying to aggravate me is not going to get us there any faster or make our lives any easier. You know darn well there’s no reason for you to kill humans now. You can survive on regular food just as well as they can. Better actually with your improved biology.”
“Improved biology? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It just means you’re different. You can do some things better than most people.”
“So, it’s true. We’re better than everyone else.”
“I didn’t say you were better, I said you could do some things better. That’s all. It doesn’t make you a better person. In your case, I’d say you’re a little worse than average.”
Ignoring Christa’s last remark, Andreas nudged Leekasha awake and asked Christa, “So, if we’re so much better than the rest of them, why have you been hiding out in the swamps in a hole for all these years?”
“I’m not hiding, and it’s not a hole.”
“It’s a sinkhole, isn’t it? It swallowed up that entire swamp and all the buildings around it. Sounds like a hole to me.”
“It’s an entire network of underground caves. It goes on for miles, and has plenty of nice spots to live in. The water drained from the upper sections years ago, and it’s perfectly dry where I built my shelter. It seemed a shame to let all those building materials from the homes that were wrecked go to waste. It’ll be a little crowded with the three of us there, but we’ll be able to lay low for a while. No one has been there since it formed. Just me.”
Leekasha spoke up. “Anything that keeps me away from the bastards that tortured me all these years is fine with me. I’ll do anything not to go back to that.”
Andreas smirked. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll keep you safe.” He slid over next to her. “Just stick close to me and you’ll be fine.” Leekasha offered him a half smile. “Don’t listen to the driver either. She’s not as smart as she may seem. All these years she’s been living in some hole instead of some big mansion somewhere. You’ve seen how she controls all those people. She could have anything she wanted but she chooses to live like a rat.”
Christa nearly swerved the car off the road. “I do not live like a rodent! I told you, my place is nice. I’m just there for privacy and security. Those caverns stretch for miles. I’ve already found lots of spots where I can make it to the surface and no one would ever find me. There are hundreds more I haven’t even explored.”
Leekasha spoke up. “I really wish you two would stop the bickering. It’s all you’ve done since we got off that damn boat. It’s almost as bad as being locked up in my own head all those years. We’re all in this together, why can’t you two just figure out a way to agree on something?”
“Oh, that’s easy, honey,” Andreas answered. “We both agree that this whole country is screwed up.”
“Stop calling me honey,” Leekasha replied. “That’s not who I am.”
“We do agree that something has to be done about the drug and how it controls everyone,” Christa said. “We just need to find a peaceful way to change things. We can’t be killing humans every time one of us comes out of the drug’s control.”
Andreas laughed. “We already have a way to do it, and it doesn’t have to be peaceful. It just has to happen.”
“You trying to start a war, Andreas? That’s where you’re headed with that kind of thinking. Do you remember what happened last time? Do you? Does your brain go back that far?” Andreas and Leekasha never answered. “I’ll tell you what happened. We lost. All of us that were different lost. We ended up a bunch of drugged-out freaks under the control of our masters. This country has reverted back to slavery days, and if we don’t do anything about it, this is going to spread around the world. You have no idea what’s going on. I’ve been very aware of what’s happened the last six years. Other countries around the world now want what we have.”
“So?” commented Leekasha. “What’s so bad about that? Maybe getting out of this country would be good for us. We could start over in a place that doesn’t hate us.”
Christa pulled the car over and turned around. “You don’t understand. They don’t want people like you and me and him over there. They want the drugged-out version. They want us controlled and sedated. This country has recovered from fifteen years of war faster than any other country in the history of the planet. The economy, the technology, the quality of life. It’s all gotten better. We’ve gone from being a bombed-out third-world country to on par with the best places in the world.”
“It never felt that great for us,” Andreas said.
“Exactly,” Christa said. “Not for us, and they don’t care. If anyone realizes the mental anguish every one of us goes through … They’re keeping it under wraps. What they do know though is that this fantastic recovery is a direct result of having a huge obedient slave work force. Estimates say there are ten of us for every one of them. Zombie slaves work practically nonstop. For free. They just tell us what to do and we do it. The rest of the countries see that, and they want a piece of it. They’re afraid now. Afraid that their economies will become subservient to the Americas’. You can bet there are deals being made behind closed doors in darkened board rooms to start exporting us. We’re just a commodity. The longer they do this, the more widespread it becomes, and the better they get at it. We need to work together to break their hold on us. But not with a war. We lost the last one, and I don’t want to live and die in another one.”
Christa could see the effect her plea was having on Andreas. He got very quiet, and just stared out the window. “Andreas, talk to me. Tell me you understand what I’m saying. Tell me you’ll work with me to make this better for all of us.”
Andreas turned to stare at Christa. He didn’t say anything, but Christa could feel him in her head. “Stay out of my head, Andreas. That’s not what this is about, we need to work together.” Christa felt her hand moving towards the door handle without even wanting to open the door. “Andreas, we need to keep going. We need to get back on the road. There’s no time for this. You don’t need to fight me.”
Andreas stared intensely, focusing his will as Christa opened the door and walked across the road, nearly getting hit by oncoming traffic. She never looked back, but just kept walking into the distance towards the Gulf. Leekasha reached for Andreas’ arm, but he just brushed her away. He got into the driver’s seat and turned the car around, heading back from where they had just come.
Christa planted one more thought into the mind of the prison guard. He opened the door, allowing Christa to step inside. Abby rolled over in her bunk to look up and see Christa staring down at her.
This has to be the stupidest thing I’ve ever tried. Controlling one human is tricky enough. Trying to control the guard and convince Abby to do what I want is going to take everything I have. Damn Andreas. If he wasn’t so strong I’d go after him myself, but after the way he turned me into a puppet that would be nuts. I was lucky he just sent me away. He could have done a lot worse. Now it seems like he’s on a spree. That latest string of murders in the Mobile area has to be him and Leekasha. The media keeps reporting the occurrences as tainted illegal drugs prompting suicides. These are all high-profile people from well-to-do families. They don’t fit the profile of druggies.
Abby sat up in her bed and started to stand. Christa took her focus off the guard for a moment and mentally told Abby to stay seated. The guard fiddled with his keys and started to turn around. Christa flipped her mind back to the guard and told him to keep his hands off his keys and resume his position. He did so.
This is going to be tough. I’ve got to make this quick.
Christa began scanning Abby’s recent memories. It wasn’t too hard now; she was just waking up and her mind wasn’t alert.
People are so much easier to control when they’re only half awake. So, it’s true. Chaz is finally awake again, and coming after us for them. They promised him his family back.
Scanning Abby’s mind was harder as the guard grew restless.
He can’t do that. Sorry, ya grumpy old bastard. I can’t let you do that. You may get your family back, but I’ll lose everything I’ve fought for all these years. I need Andreas and Leekasha. Maybe not the way they are now, but having you turn them over to the authorities would be a disaster. There’s no way I can let you get your hands on me either. At least not yet. Time to seed some thoughts of destruction into Abby here.
Christa felt bad doing it, but it had to be done. She knew what Chaz was capable of, and he needed to be put off his game. By the time she left the cell, Abby was holding on to her sanity by a thread. As the guard escorted Christa from the prison, Abby’s cell block neighbors were wide awake. Abby was throwing her belongings around the cell and yelling delusional rants. She screamed that she had been visited by the angel of death. That her children were burning in their cells, and that it was all her husband’s fault. She demanded to see him, and didn’t calm down till the sedatives kicked in.
The next morning her son Caius heard everything. At first he was amused to hear of his mother’s hardships, but feelings of amusement soon gave way to anger when he heard the stories from other inmates in his mother’s cell block. Stories about a strange girl being escorted from her cell just before the tantrum, and how the guard escorting her paid no attention to his mother. It didn’t really matter to him who the girl was. What he did know was this had to be something to do with his father. Somehow even in prison his father had managed to screw up his family’s life just a little bit more. That would have to be rectified.
Chaz drove the SUV into the upscale Mobile, Alabama neighborhood guided by the GPS. The serene, well-manicured neighborhood was interrupted at the top of the hill by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles parked in front of a large plantation-style home. The red lights reflecting off the marble columns created a surreal effect.
“Trouble in paradise huh, Colonel?” Alex said.
“Sure looks like it. Trouble is what we’re looking for, so that’s a good thing.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many mansions this close to each other. Usually they’re surrounded by acres of trees hiding them from the main road.”
“If there’s one thing the war taught people, it’s that there’s safety in numbers. You don’t want to be miles away from the nearest help when a horde of freaks lands on your front lawn. Even the rich and famous learned that lesson.”
“These places look pretty new, Colonel. I don’t think they were built during the war.”
“Not much was. These are new. Things have been developing pretty darn fast these days. There’s nothing like moving to a new mansion in a new town to help you forget the terrors of the past. Even rich folks like to get a fresh start I suppose.”
A line of a half dozen protesters stood outside the police lines around the property. Their signs read
FREEZE - FREE Zombies Everywhere
FREEZE hell - open heaven
Today IS a cold day in hell
“What’s that all about, Colonel?”
“Ah damn, it’s the old freak-huggers sect from the war. They worshiped the freaks during wartime. Their leaders had them convinced that death by zombies was a guaranteed ticket into heaven. I ran into them a few times.”
“I thought they pretty much gave up when the Pacize drug took effect.”
“Apparently not everybody gave up on a free ticket to heaven. It’s easier I suppose than just being a good person all your life.”
“You believe in heaven, Colonel?”
“I used to. Life hasn’t given me many reasons to believe in it for a while. Plenty of reasons to wish for it, just not too many reasons to believe it’s real.”
“What do you believe in then?”
“I’ve become a firm believer in the here and now. Living in the moment and the moments soon to come. It’s taught me to care about the people in those moments. It’s why I’m doing all this. I want my family back in my moments. It’s all I care about.”
Chaz stopped the vehicle at the side of the road a few houses from all the commotion. Walking through the police line they were greeted by a police sergeant who saluted Chaz.
“No need to salute me, Sergeant. I’m not active military any longer.”
Dropping the salute, the sergeant replied, “Yes, sir, I know that. I served under you in the Louisiana swamps, Colonel. Old habits. Ben Jones. Sergeant Ben Jones now, sir. I transferred to the civilian police force after the military shut down most of its active units at the end of the war.”
Chaz smiled. “Jones, I’m surprised you didn’t try to shoot me when I walked up. Especially since I deserted you back in the swamps all those years ago.”
“Never, Colonel. You know how much we respected you, even back then. After what you did to end the war, every one of those guys would serve under you in a heartbeat.”
“That’s good to know, Jones. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.”
“Yes, sir. We all came to understand once we found out what you did.”
“How the hell did you guys find out? That was restricted.”
“It was, and still is restricted, sir. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t figure it out, sir. A few of the medical personnel that left Fort Knox were talkative. Those medical guys never were good at keeping military secrets. I knew one of them from high school, and he liked to talk about himself. Bit of a show-off, even back in school. He talked like he practically solved the whole zombie problem himself. Based on his description and when you left us, we figured you were the one that found that girl. His name is Charlie Mitchell.”
“Oh yeah, I remember Charlie.” Chaz looked to Alex. “He’s the guy I left tied up on the top of the elevator.”
Jones chuckled. “Really? He never mentioned that.”
Chaz nodded. “I’m not surprised. Take me up to the house and show me around.”
Jones motioned to one of the other officers to take his post, and showed Chaz and Alex into the house.
Inside the house, it was a hell of a mess. There was blood everywhere as soon as they entered the main hallway. There was a wooden coat rack splintered in half. It was smeared with human remains.
“The forensics team has already been through the place,” Jones said. “They’ve moved all the bodies to the kitchen. They didn’t want to move them outside till the protesters were gone. Whoever it was that did this wiped out the entire family. The parents, three kids, and even the dog.”
“They have any ideas why yet?” Alex asked.
“None that they’ve bothered to share with me. Our department investigators aren’t exactly the sharing type. I do know the guy that owned this place is a pretty high-ranking official. He was on the regent’s advisory committee. He’d have regular face to face contact with her on a regular basis.”
“Just like the others,” Chaz said.
Jones looked surprised. “No, sir. I understood they were treating this as an isolated case.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Jones.”
They walked into the kitchen. The tiled floor had five human bodies and a dog covered in tarps on it.
Alex looked to Chaz. “All the other reports were single person homicides. What’s the difference with this one?”
“They’re getting bold and careless. They don’t care anymore if they get caught. Or they don’t think there’s anything we can do to them if they did get caught.”
“Nothing was taken. The rooms upstairs are a shambles though. Everything breakable in the bedrooms is broken or smashed. It’s like they were really pissed. They just wrecked everything,” Jones said.
“They’re angry alright,” Chaz answered. “They’re after people though, not things. It’s why they didn’t take anything. They’re working their way up the ladder. Each person that dies leads them to someone higher in either the business world or the government. This guy reports directly to the regent. Anyone care to guess who’s next on their hit list?”
Jones scoffed. “Nobody gets to the regent. Even this guy wouldn’t know where the regent is. He may know what she looks like, but that’s it. Rumor has it that she moves every day, and those coming to see her are kept blind and dumb on the way there.”
“Yeah, I’m familiar with the drill,” Chaz said. “One thing is for sure though. The closer these freaks get to the top, the smaller their list of possible targets becomes. That makes it a lot easier to find them. I’ve seen enough here; let’s move on, Alex.”
On the front porch, Chaz turned to shake Jones’ hand. “Thanks for the help, and I appreciate the update on the troops from our old group. It’s good to hear no one bears any ill will against me. I’ve already got enough enemies to last a lifetime.”
“Happy to have passed on the news, Colonel. You’re still a hero in my books, sir
Alex shook his hand in turn and said, “If you hear anything else at all that you think might help, don’t hesitate to let us know. The sooner we find the ones responsible for this, the better for all of us.”
As Chaz and Alex walked back to their vehicle, they heard footsteps and voices behind them.
“We know who you are, Colonel. We know the kid as well. What you did hasn’t been forgotten.”
Chaz turned around to see the Freeze protesters following them. A short muscular one leading the group was talking.
“You’ve ruined all our chances. You do know that, don’t you, Colonel?”
Chaz eyed up the group, then answered, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Not officially. I’m Cam. We’re the Freeze, we …”
“I know your group. There’s no need to spew your gospel at me.”
“It’s not gospel, Colonel, don’t confuse us with old school religion. . We believe in faith backed by science. We are believers in fact, not blind faith.”
Chaz chuckled. “So, it’s science now, is it? Well, that’s a change.”
“Not a change, Colonel. An evolution. If you and your leaders didn’t insist on suppressing evolution with their barbaric witchcraft, we’d all be in a better place by now. When will you learn that you can’t defeat Mother Nature with your greed and pride? Biology will get to all of you whether you want it to or not. You can’t fight what’s already inside of you.”
“Maybe not, but I can fight what’s inside of you. I can assure you, my biology is more than strong enough to take on a pack of nutcases and win. I’ve done it before.” Chaz turned to walk away. “You guys enjoy your day at the funny farm.”
“It’s too bad you don’t have the same foresight your son does.” Chaz stopped. “He’s been more than happy to learn about his own biology and what it means for his future. He’s been so much happier now that he’s finally found a place amongst people that care about him for the first time in his life.”
Chaz turned and grabbed the muscular one by the throat. “You don’t know my family. You know nothing about my family, and you better aim to keep it that way.”
The man made no effort to remove Chaz’s grip, but responded through gasps, “Your son knows where he belongs, and for the first time in his life he has a purpose. He’s been most helpful.”
Chaz released his grip. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You really should get back to the prison to visit your wife. Your keepers have been hiding things from you. She’s pretty distraught over recent events. She thinks she’s been visited by an angel of sorts. She really is a pretty confused woman at the moment. I suppose if she had some family to support her, she might be able to handle it. Too bad you’re too busy running around the country with your old pal here on some macho mission.”
The protesters turned and headed back to the house. Alex looked up to Chaz. “You know they’re just messing with you, right? They manipulate people to do what they want.”
Watching the protesters walk away, Chaz said, “Yeah, I know. They’re nuts. I need to make a call, let’s get back in the SUV.”