Authors: Saul Tanpepper
You wouldn't be able handle it. You'd spontaneously combust!”
What maps?” Kelly asks, impatiently.
The tunnels,” I say. “Weren't you even listening this morning when I told you about it?” I know I'm just taking out my frustration on Kelly, but I can't seem to help myself.
He frowns at me, then shakes his head and repeats the question.
Ash holds up the disemboweled tablet. What we see on the pixilated screen is an old drawing of the transportation system of Long Island. She points to a pair of lines connecting lower and eastern Manhattan to LI. The first is labeled BROOKLYN BATTERY TUNNEL. The second, QUEENS MIDTOWN TUNNEL.
Schematics are embedded. Which one do you want to check out first?”
We all look at each other without speaking. What we're seeing is highly illegal to possess, much less study. Then we're all speaking at the same time.
The Queens,” Kelly announces, when the rest of us have quieted down. “Let's look at that one first.”
Ash opens the embedded file and begins to read:
Opened in 1940, the Queens-Midtown tunnel connects the Borough of Queens on Long Island with the Borough of Manhattan. It consists of twin tubes carrying four traffic lanes and is 6,414 feet long.
Over a mile,” I murmur. I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it certainly isn't something quite as long as that. “How're we going to get through something a mile long and filled with water?”
Scuba,” Reggie says.
Whoa!” Kelly turns to Reg. “Getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren't we? Nobody here knows how to scuba dive. Besides, we don't even know if the tunnel's still accessible.”
Yeah, well, the other tunnel's even longer,” Ash says, busily reciting facts from the other file. As if it makes any difference. One mile or ten, scuba gear or not, Kelly's right. If the tunnels aren't open, we might as well be talking about swimming through concrete.
By rights, they should all be filled. Or at least gated. And for all we know, they could be caved in. It's a hundred years old, for chrissake. And despite Ash's assurances to me last night, I still seriously doubt they'd just leave the openings unblocked.
Micah asks where the Manhattan opening for the Queens tunnel is.
Ashley taps the screen. “The old midtown,” she says. “Between what used to be East 34
Streets.” She opens another file. Nods. “Yep. It's totally underwater.”
Okay, then,” Kelly says, holding up a gaming controller. “Now that that's resolved, how about weâ”
Check it out?” Reggie says, straightening up. “Good idea. I mean, we won't know for sure what it looks like unless we see it for ourselves, right?”
Ash turns to me. “Did you bring it?” she asks.
I nod and pat my Link. “Uploaded it last night, after Eric went to bed.” Kelly frowns at me like I've betrayed him.
Woohoo!” Reggie shouts. “Road trip!”
The five of us
pile into Micah's beat up old Ford. It's so ancient that it even has a docking station for the old Apple iCorp storage devices rather than getting music from the Stream.
Micah drives. Reggie takes shotgun. The rest of us sit in back. We head down Route 95, which is the quickest way to Manhattan, even though it means having to pass through about a half dozen checkpoints, including the ones at each interstate border crossing.
After about twenty minutes, we pass through the first. The guard looks bored. He scans our Links and doesn't speak.
I see the abandoned Teterboro Airport off in the distance. The moss-covered hangars poke out of the water like giant eggs that never hatched.
Finally the guard waves us through. He doesn't even bother to ask where we're going.
There's the Meadowlands,” Reggie says, pointing off to the side a minute later, and I think about how the old football stadium looks like a giant concrete nest to go with the eggs.
Don't you mean the Swamplands?” Ashley remarks, making us all laugh.
This leads to a discussion by the boys about the banned sport of football, with Reggie arguing that they should bring it back and Kelly saying it was a brutal sport that has no place in our world today. I want to slap him and ask what place zombies have in our world, and isn't the television show,
, on which it's based, just as brutal? But I don't. I feel like we're already treading on thin ice today.
We come to another checkpoint just before crossing the new elevated bridge that will take us into Manhattan. Here, the guard asks us where we're going and what we're doing. “School project,” Ash pipes up. The guard gives us a doubtful look and she quickly adds, “Summer school.”
College track,” he says, sneering, but he scans our Links, then asks if we all have implants. After recording our IDs, he lets us pass.
School?” Reggie asks, once we're clear. “Really? That's the best you could come up with?”
Ash laughs and shrugs and says she just got nervous. “You know me. I don't think well under pressure.”
Soon we're zooming right over Central Park. Looking down is enough to make anyone queasy, but Reggie sticks his head out the window and howls like a wolf. The wind whips the spit from his lips, and I'm suddenly glad I'm sitting in the middle of the backseat. If anyone gets sprayed, it's Kelly, but he doesn't say anything. He just sits there glowering out the window.
I elbow him and give him a smile. He sighs and offers me a half of a smile back, his way of forgiving me. He relaxes, resting a little more of his weight against me. For his reward, I give him a kiss on the cheek.
Get a room, lovebirds,” Ashley groans. But of course, this just makes us laugh and want to do it some more.
I'm practically sitting on Kelly's lap when the road curves right and begins its gentle decline toward south Manhattan.
Another checkpoint,” Micah announces. “I quickly plop back into my seat, wiping my lips with the back of my hand. I reach down and squeeze Kelly's thigh and he nearly jumps through the roof of the car. I can't tell if he's so tense because of me or because we're getting closer to LI.
And we are close. I can smell the ocean. Water surrounds us all around, canals wending their way through and around the old skyscrapers, most of them abandoned now, crumbling. It's our own version of Italy's Venice. Of course, the real Venice is long gone now, buried under thirty feet of Mediterranean Sea years before I was even born. A diver's paradise.
Not that any of us'll ever get to see it.
We pull up at the checkpoint and this guard, after giving Micah's car a good looking over, flatly tells us no access. “This is a commercial district,” he states.
Ash points to me and says I have a permit. I flash him my Link with Eric's permit on it and he inspects it for minute before handing it back. “Remember the curfew,” he says. We all nod dutifully and promise to be out of New York long before dusk.
Despite all the restrictions and the hassles of the checkpoints, the roads are crowded with business people. So are the waterways. Water taxis ferry people around, drawing white trails in the deep blue. Despite all the flood damage on this side of the East River, despite the proximity of LI, Manhattan still somehow manages to be a bustling city. It's still the financial center of the universe, even though New Merica has essentially isolated itself from the rest of the world.
But then, every so often, I catch a glimpse of the stark gray walls of LI rising up across the water, looking like a giant alien ship or a prison.
How do these people work here every day knowing what lies on the other side of the river, not two miles away? How can they look out over it and see that wall every day and not give it a second thought? It's so close. Or do they just pretend it's not there?
After the first outbreak, thirteen years ago, the military went in to control the Infected Undead and evacuate the living. Certain parts were declared disaster areas. They set up barriers and controlled access, preventing people from moving back in. These eventually became known as Forbidden Zones. But the zones kept growing, getting larger and larger, spreading out until, eventually, they began to connect with each other. The flooded Wastelands were now truly lost, leaving only the higher points of land free, isolated pockets on which the last stubborn islanders remained.
The government said sealing the island off was for the protection of the living from the Undead. But Eric once told me the truth was quite different. It was to protect the Undead from illegal poaching by people who didn't think it was right to let the Undead roam free.
The government considers zombies assets,” he told me. “Even those without implants. After all, each one could take the place of a living soldier who won't have to go into combat.”
But nobody knows if anyone ever went in and implanted any of the IUs. It seems unlikely.
Congress passed the Life Service Law almost ten years ago. Now, every single person is legally considered government property after death, not just the ex-criminals, and not just the ones that made up the Omegaman Forces. Although the law has since been challenged several times in the Supreme Court, the politicians and the judges are too spineless to strike the thing down. And, honestly? Nobody except a few rights activists really wants to. We may not like the idea that we'll become one of the Undead someday and have to pay our dues to the government, but it's better than going back to the old ways, when living people fought wars and cleaned sewers.
The road finally reaches its lowest point, which is still about sixty feet above water level. It's where the experts say sea level will be when all the arctic ice finally finishes melting. They say that won't happen for another hundred years, but that's what they said forty years ago before the first major ice shelf broke off and raised sea levels by thirty feet.
Times Square,” Micah calls out. We all look to the right. The place is a dump, abandoned and disintegrating. “We should be just about parallel with the tunnel now. A few more blocks to the south and we'll be there.”
Traffic has thinned out quickly and is now almost nonexistent. We come to one last checkpoint. Here, the guard is all business. We sit silently as he checks our Links. He takes each one and scans it, then does the same with each of us, making sure our Links match our implants. He spends a lot of time with Micah's until, finally, Micah asks for his Link back. He messes with it for a moment before returning it to the guard.
It's been having problems lately,” Micah says. “I think it's time for an upgrade.”
The guard frowns for a moment, stares at the screen, then at Micah. His jaw clenches and he takes in a deep breath.
This is an inner zone,” he says. “What's your reason for coming here?”
This time, when Ashley explains that it's an extra-credit project for summer school, he just stands there tapping his thumb on his own Link, waiting for us to come clean.
We swear it,” Ashley insists. “It's part of our community service commitment.”
And the NCD permit? How does that fit in?”
My brother works for the department,” I explain. “Eric Daniels? You probably know him.”
The guard just stares.
We're doing a survey in conjunction with the police department. It's onâ¦”
Potential sources of outbreak transmission,” Kelly says.
The guard sighs. “Zombie freaks. Okay. Just don't go anywhere restricted. Heed the signs. Don't get in any trouble. Fines are doubled in an inner zone. And remember the curfew.”
We all breathe a sigh of relief as he waves us through.
Outbreak transmission?” I ask Kelly, once we've pulled away.
I had to say something. You guys were totally boffing it back there.”
Thanks,” I say. “I knew there was a reason I kept you around.” I lean over and grab his face for another kiss.
Aw, sheesh,” Ash complains. “Not again.”
We stop at a traffic light, and dutifully wait for it to change, even though there are no other cars around. I glance down and see an empty water taxi stand just outside the old Grand Central Station. A bunch of obsolete train cars had been hoisted onto the rooftop platform and converted into high-priced restaurants and hotels. They all stand empty and rundown now. Grass sprouts out of every corner and crack.
Take a left here,” Reggie says, checking his Link. Micah turns on his blinker, making Reggie snort and shake his head.
After a few more minutes, the buildings thin out, become shorter, squatter. Then the vista suddenly opens up. We all exhale as one as the dull gray desert of the East River spreads out before us, as if it's the most wondrous thing we've ever seen. In truth, it kind of scares me.
According to my Link,” Micah says, “we're almost where the opening should be. Just a few hundred feet .”
We all look down, but of course there's nothing to see. It's not like there's going to be a blinking sign pointing the way:
Access to illegal tunnel to LI