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Authors: Randy Chandler

Deadside in Bug City

 

Deadside in Bug City
by Randy Chandler
Comet Press Electronic Edition © September 2012
Deadside in Bug City
copyright © 2004
by Randy Chandler
All Rights Reserved.
Previously published in
Bare Bone #6
by Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2004
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Table of Contents

 

DEADSIDE IN BUG CITY

Your name is on the lips of the dead
.

Draven ducked into a saloon to escape the reeking street prophet. The madman came in after him, but the growling barkeep chased him out with a ball bat. Two burly dockworkers at the bar berated the barkeep for not bashing the prophet’s head.

“He darkens that door again, I’ll crack his skull like a coconut,” the barkeep boasted to his beer-swilling critics. “Religious freaks like him is what’s wrong with this world.”

The dockworker with a dead cigar stub in his teeth said, “Aw hell, he was probably hoping you’d kill him so he could go preach to the Rotties in Bug City.”

“He ain’t gotta be dead to do that,” said the other dockworker. “Slip in any time he wants. And anyway, Rotties don’t talk, you moron. The man dies, his preaching days are over.”

Draven sat at the opposite end of the bar and ordered vodka. The words of the demented prophet echoed between his ears:
Your name is on the lips of the dead.
Why that insane declaration should bother him so, Draven didn’t understand, but it did, and he couldn’t get the madman’s insistent voice out of his head.

The barkeep set Draven’s shot down in front of him and said, “Ain’t seen you in here before. You come to see the zombie zoo?”

“No,” said Draven, glancing at his Rolex Submariner diver’s watch before taking his first sip. “I’m here on business.”

The barkeep fiddled with his handlebar mustache and gave Draven a naked appraisal. “Kind of business you in?”

“Depends. I’m a contract troubleshooter.”

“What the hell is that? A hit man?” The man smiled with his mouth, not his eyes.

Draven didn’t bother to smile back. “People need things done, I do ’em for the right price.”

“Yeah? Well, I got a shitter backed-up in the john. Think you could fix that for me?” Now his eyes joined his lips in a smile as he glanced down the bar to see if his regulars were paying attention to his witty performance.

Draven said, “I could close this shithole saloon down and end all your troubles.”

The barkeep’s smile fell. He looked hard into Draven’s eyes, frowned inside his drooping mustache, and then retreated to the other end of the bar to join the less menacing dockworkers.

Draven lit a smoke. He studied his dim reflection in the murky mirror behind the bar and wondered why the street prophet had chosen him as a target for his crazy prophesying. His brown bomber jacket and his close-cropped hair gave him a vague military bearing, but he guessed it was probably his eyes the religious psycho had latched onto. People usually saw a steely intelligence in the illusive depths of his eyes and thought they were seeing a depth of soul he didn’t possess; they saw what they wanted to see and extrapolated the rest.

He downed the rest of his drink and walked three blocks to his appointment on Beecher Street. Gusting winds bore the carrion stench of the fenced-off ghetto inhabited by the undead.

Draven coughed into his hand and then announced himself through the intercom set into the stunted stone wall. The iron gate opened with a buzzing click and he entered the small courtyard, went through a green door and took the rickety elevator cage up to the third floor.

A tall, slender woman in a dark business suit and open-collared white blouse greeted him in the hallway. She extended her hand and said, “I’m Melanie Fisher, Dr. Todd’s associate.”

Draven shook her smooth hand. Her sandy hair was parted on the left side like a man’s but there was nothing masculine about her sensuous face and full bosom.

“We’re right down here,” she said, indicating the door to suite 33. She stood aside to let him enter ahead of her.

Dr. Todd stood in front of a tall window overlooking the railroad tracks behind the refurbished building. He was speaking into a cell phone.

Draven scanned the spare surroundings. Four metal desks that might’ve been government-issue formed a rough square in the center of the room. Each desk held a computer terminal and stackable plastic trays crammed with file-folders and loose papers. An old cherrywood desk sat in front of the rear wall of tall windows. Todd walked to the desk and leaned against it, the cell phone still pressed to his ear. He nodded to Draven and held up one finger in a “wait one” gesture.

Draven stuck his hands in the pockets of his jacket and waited. Melanie Fisher lit a cigarette and blew a stream of smoke toward the high ceiling. She crossed her left arm beneath her bosom and held the cigarette high between two fingers of her right hand. “I’ve been trying to quit,” she said, “but being so close to ground zero, I have to smoke to cover up the stench when the wind’s blowing this way.”

Todd suddenly folded his phone and came forward from his desk. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said as he shook Draven’s hand. “Keeping our backers happy is a fulltime job. I do more pimping than a lobbyist on the Hill. Ah, but those days over now. The government tit’s dried up, the cash cow slaughtered.”

“What Glenn’s trying to say in his off-color way,” said Melanie Fisher, “is that we’ve lost all government funding for our research and we must now rely on the private sector. For a scientist, he makes a pretty good politician.”

“I detest it,” said Todd. “But the good news is, we can pay you five thousand dollars for this assignment, Mr. Draven.”

Draven said, “Lay it out for me.”

“All right. This way, please.”

Todd and Fisher led him through another door and into what looked like a small home theater with comfortable seating and a huge flat-screen TV on one wall. Four smaller screens were affixed to the wall on the right-hand side of the big screen. Todd directed Draven to a seat and Fisher sat beside him. Todd stood behind them and dimmed the lights.

The four smaller screens flickered to life. Each one showed a different view of the housing-project ghetto commonly called Bug City. Human figures dressed in yellow jumpsuits moved about the sidewalks and streets with halting, unnatural gaits. Others stood still or sat staring into space, rocking, twitching or wringing their hands.

Draven knew he was seeing the living-dead victims of the bio-weapon unleashed by terrorists six months ago. The genetically-engineered virus had killed close to 40,000 of the city’s inhabitants. 1,400 of those victims had become reanimated corpses—mindless machines of flesh and bone in perpetual motion.

“These are live feeds,” explained Todd. “Our cameras are set up at strategic locations within the ghetto so we can monitor their random behavior. All in all, pretty boring stuff. We’ve been watching the poor buggers for three months now. As soon as the government decided to use this city sector as the main dumping ground for Rotties, we came on board under contract to CDC.”

The woman touched Draven’s arm as she said, “We observe and record their behavior, then analyze it. We’ve logged over 80,000 hours, but until last Tuesday, we saw nothing remarkable.”

“Melanie was watching when it happened,” said Todd with enthusiasm. “She called me at home in the middle of the night she was so excited.”

Draven was growing impatient. He’d already seen enough of the on-screen walking corpses. It was depressing; it made him feel more depraved than a voyeur at a carnival freak show. “Cut to the chase,” he said. “What did you see?”

“We’ll show you,” Todd said behind him. “Watch the big screen.”

The huge screen lit up and Todd cued the videotape. The scene appeared to be the same street corner shown in the live shot on the lower-left small screen.

Draven leaned forward in his seat as a woman with long, black hair entered the frame from the left and walked deliberately to the brick wall of a three-story housing-project building. Her yellow jumpsuit was noticeably cleaner than those of the other milling subjects. The camera was positioned so that both walls angling away from the corner of the building were partially visible. The woman walked up to the wall and began to spray it with an aerosol can of red paint. Given the camera angle, it was impossible to decipher any recognizable configuration or design in her handiwork, but she moved the can and applied the paint with seemingly purposeful intent.

“What’s she doing?” asked Draven.

“Ah, that
is
the question,” said Todd. “Obviously, she’s spraying paint on a brick wall, but why is she doing it? None of the other victims has ever exhibited such calculated behavior. Some of them walk aimlessly until they run into a wall and then bounce off in another direction like a slow-motion billiard ball until they hit the next obstacle. Others have enough awareness of their surroundings to turn before they hit a wall. But this woman—we call her ‘Raven’ because of her hair color—seems to have retained some spark of intelligence and possibly even a creative impulse. It’s quite amazing, really. And because of her, we’ve been able to secure funding to keep this project going. If the Pro-lifers can show evidence of intelligent life in just one of the subjects, then their lawyers could make a reasonable case against destroying any of the Rotties. The current administration is bent on extermination and doesn’t want things further complicated by any morally ambiguous new data. Which is why our backers will pay you to go in and bring her out.”

Fisher added, “The only thing keeping them alive, so to speak, is what amounts to a legal stay of execution until the court decides their fate.”

On screen, “Raven” lowered the spray can, and stepped back from the brick wall to scrutinize her “art.”

“Look at that,” said Todd. “You can’t tell me that woman is a mindless zombie.”

“Are you sure she’s dead?” Draven asked. “Maybe she’s in there by mistake.”

“Highly unlikely,” Todd answered. “But if she
is
alive, you will be rescuing her from a living hell.”

“That’s it? All you want me to do is go in and bring her out?”

“And to take photos of her spray-painting,” said Fisher. “I’m dying to know what it is.”

“And if you’re concerned about contracting the virus,” said Todd, “don’t be. The bug mutated rapidly and ceased being contagious three weeks after it was released. That’s not government propaganda. It’s a scientific fact. Apparently, Allah’s bio-engineers weren’t the sharpest blades in the box. And I’m sure they had no idea the virus would have this zombie-making effect.”

“I’m not worried about the bug,” said Draven, “but that place must be a cesspool of bacteria with all those rotting corpses roaming around.”

“One of the surprising findings of the medical team is that rate of decay of the typical victim is unnaturally slow. It seems to be a function of the mechanism that reanimates dead organisms. But so far they’re at odds to explain how it works. And of course, the Rotties don’t eat, so there is no human waste to worry about.”

Fisher chimed in: “And crop-dusters spray the entire area everyday with powerful disinfectants.”

“You will be outfitted with a mask and breathing apparatus, the kind mountain climbers use at high altitudes,” added Todd. “They say the stench is unbearable inside the ghetto.”

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