This is Book 9 in the series
EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES
Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: The Zombie Plagues is copyright © 2016 W G. Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet
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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons’ places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
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In this world time moves by, doesn’t stop for you or me. The ones who stop and wait are the ones who never see…
So my feet… move me on though they’re weary of this flight. They will lead me to tomorrow, wipe the fallen from my sight…
In my life I have seen distant dreams of futures past, and the one who filled my cup left it empty at the last…
And my eyes, tired from sight, rimmed in red and slow to see, can’t conceive eternity from the edge of what can be…
Walk alone through this world. Through this cold I’ve always known. Taking only what I need from the seed that has been sown…
And this world sells itself pretty dreams that cannot be, and though we stop to look we can never truly see…
Take my time, tap the glass, raise the bubbles from my cure. Pull the curtains on my pasts, and all I thought they ever were…
As my soul finds its way, push the darkness from my mind. Lay your words upon my heart as my rest I go to find…
Pick me up. Fill my cup. Fix the damage in my head…
Fill my soul. Make me whole. Raise me from the dead…
Show my eyes what can be. shine your light so I can see…
Let my heart lead me on, from your memories in my mind. Lay your coins upon my eyes, speak your magic line by line…
As my sun slowly sets I will try not to forget all the lessons from this world and the souls that I have met…
Lyrics copyright 2010 Wendell Sweet BMI Music, Used with permission
Year 32: October 39th
Bear sat at the mouth of the cave staring out over the valley below. This close to the thick plastic the air was cold, but the wooden benches were comfortable, if a little hard. They had served for dozens upon dozens of people since Mike and James had built them some thirty years before. They still served them well. He turned and smiled at several children who sat nearby pointing out different landmarks in the valley far below. The children, especially, never seemed to tire of sitting on the low benches and looking out over the valley.
Bear chuckled to himself, turned his eyes from the other benches, and back out on the valley far below. The snow was falling heavy. Two hours ago late fall had been holding steady, little smudges of green had still existed throughout all the fall foliage in the valley. Now it was quickly becoming a blanket of white. Fall had lost this round.
Years before they had devised a new year that better kept track of seasons and the much longer year the Earth now had. Even with a year that now held some 95 extra days, spread throughout the year to even the seasons out, the time still seemed to move by too quickly. Time was never a friend to anyone, Bear thought. Well, maybe to death, nothing else.
The seasons had worked themselves out after a few years. Some longer, some shorter, it was winter that had come out the winner in that round. Even slightly longer winters had a huge impact on the year around weather and the planting that could be accomplished. It took much longer to get through winter, longer for spring to thaw the valleys and fields for planting, longer for the sun to warm the ground, and glaciers were forming in the north. Growing ever bigger year by year. Bear had sometimes wondered in years past if he would see them come this far. Of course the answer was no. They would not come this far in his lifetime, but he had no doubt they would come her eventually.
Winter was coming in strong, there would be little left to do soon, but plan the bison hunts, and tell stories around the fire.
They still kept their own herds, started from the stock they had worked so hard to bring into this valley, but they often hunted. The habit was good, and it passed the skills down to the younger ones. There were places in this still young world where those skills were essential.
The whole mouth of the cave had been closed off from the elements for many years. Thick plastic sheets that spanned floor to ceiling. An aluminum frame that held them. Warmth inside, the elements without, but always within reach. Something James had built. The last thing James had built, Bear remembered sadly. That had been back when Mike had lead the Nation. No, he told himself that had been back in the council days. Before the wars had begun. Before the years of leaders, kings, the two queens and everything else that had come with the wars. With the end of the Zombie Plagues and the second great death. Even so, even in the council years, Mike had been their leader. The council had made its decisions but Mike had lead them.
Bear had been the leader of the Nation for several years now, he had assumed it when the Nation was broken, falling apart. He had helped to rebuild it, but he was getting older and it was getting closer and closer to the time when he would need to turn the reigns over to a younger, stronger person. Maybe even this winter, he thought, as he watched the snow swirl and blow.
Back in the cave behind him there were three generations waiting to take their own steps into the procession that would bring them to leadership. Some of those young men and women were ready now. It really wasn’t something he should be thinking about, it was something he should be doing.
Bear smiled up into the eyes of Rain, a newborn at her breast, her swollen belly a testament to the one coming. There were so few. He took one of the furs from his shoulder, and laid it across the worn wooden planking for her. A second went around her shoulders as she sat.
“It’s not too cold for the baby this close up is it?” Bear asked. The plastic held the weather out, but it was still very cold this close to the huge plastic sheets.
Rain smiled back. “Thank you, grandfather. No, it isn’t too cold.” She looked out over the valley too.”It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It is, but it can be treacherous. Winter is here now… Probably you should stay?” he asked the last. Too often he came off as demanding. The rule giver. It was something that Beth had always chided him about. His mind clouded at the memory of her, gone now for the last ten years. And him still here, still leading.
“It’s what Ron and I thought too. Alabama Island will be there in the spring. I thought we could send a messenger… Maybe tomorrow after the snow?” She smiled widely. She knew he had been worried, and she was glad that he had given them the time to work it out between them. Glad now to give him what he would consider good news. Bear had already stood and turned though, his large frame standing tall from the rock floor.
“Candace,” he called out.
A young woman came from the back area of the cave. She was tall, dark, short cut black hair framed her face. Her clothes were stitched leather, heavy, well made. A machine gun rested upon her back. A wide belt circled her waist, pistols on both sides, and a knife sheaf depended from it. Firepower was a luxury. Not easy to come by any longer. At one time everyone had made their own bullets, but the wars had destroyed most of that. Now the Nation was one of the few that still knew how to make it, and more than that, had the materials to make it.
She came and stood next to Bear. She looked so much like her mother and namesake, Bear thought, that it amazed him. He had known Candace at this age, the resemblance always threw him when she was here, and made him think for a second that reality had side slipped and he was back in time somehow.
“I will need you to deliver a message to your mother for me,” Bear told her. He stood and walked a short distance away and continued to talk to her in low tones. Rain turned her face back out to the valley and watched the thick flakes of snow fall. When they finished their conversation they both came back to the benches. Candace starred out over the valley, her eyes veiled.
Rain smiled at Candace, but her face barely softened. She was so serious. The OutRunners never smiled, Rain thought. Always serious, and Candace was no exception. Rain supposed she had been the same during her service too, but something in Candace had gone past service, she had come to love it. She had never left it. It was her life. Younger than Rain herself, she had already been an OutRunner for several years. Rain had done her own duty for two years and had then become a wife and mother. She and Ron were going to Alabama Island to be considered for leadership within the Fold. She listened to the low whispers of talk between Bear and Candace and thought about her own life as she did.
She had come to this valley as a child with the original settlers. Years past now. That bought her to nearing her middle years, the age of leadership in the Fold. As she looked out over the valley she realized there was little left of the original settlement she had watched rise from the valley floor as a child. In those days the people had still clung to the old technology. That was long gone now, except with the OutRunners, and some other applications like the power plant, a few others. The people themselves had gone back to simpler roots. The old ways James had taught them. His motto had been, why use it just because it’s there? Do we really want to return to the old life, or do we really want to move on to something else? Always a challenging question, and one everyone had to answer in their own way.
The cave, the ruins of the stone houses; that was all that remained. It had all been destroyed in the wars. There was only a Nation at all because Bear had come back, killed the interlopers that had enslaved the people, freed them, Rain included, and taken the valley back. In those days the Fold was a small faction and the Nation ruled everything. The Nation went on to rule all of North America, but as all large peoples they had fallen. The Fold had ascended, and then they had fallen too. Now the remaining peoples waited for the real end. They ruled their own small places, nothing else. The end that had begun all those years ago was finally coming to fruition.
Those women born before the end had started, those women could reproduce. The new ones could not. The potion that had given them all a shot at living through the catastrophe had caused them to bear children that could not continue the human race. Occasionally one would bear a child, deformed, and they didn’t live long.
Bear spoke, interrupting her thoughts.
“A team is outgoing with Candace. She will tell them to look for you in the spring.” He smiled. “Maybe that will give me time to talk you out of leaving.” He smiled, but it was an uneasy smile.
Rain smiled. He didn’t know why they were leaving. They had told him it was simply time to move. She didn’t know how he would feel if she did tell him, but she hadn’t wanted to hurt him.
Bear turned back to the valley, speaking as he did. “They will know inside of a week.”
Rain made up her mind. “They have asked us to come… To be considered to lead… Mike himself asked for us.”
Bear turned and straightened. “Mike?” He nodded. “I thought surely he would be dead by now, he has been so poorly. Candace is still strong.” He looked from Candace to Rain as he spoke.
“He lives… Mother rules now,” Candace told him quietly.
“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up, she shifted the baby, and looked at Bear.
Bear nodded. “You should not leave here. I have, just today, sat staring out at this valley and wished you would stay so I could offer you this leadership,” He turned away to hide his own eyes from her. “Not so large as Alabama Island, but large. And in need of new blood.” He turned back to face her. “Had I known, I would have offered. I was afraid you would refuse it.”
“I…” she caught herself as her voice broke. “I didn’t know…” She turned her head away and then stood quickly and walked away.
Bear turned to Candace. “I had thought that it would be that would lead after your parents stepped down.”
“It was offered, I refused. My place is here, in the Nation. This valley was where I was raised, not there… I … I refused,” her eyes seemed to struggle to say more, but it was not really necessary.
It was the same with many aspects of the split that had torn the Nation apart. There were sides and they were chosen. After all of these years he couldn’t think of a single reason why he had stayed and fought for the Nation as opposed to the Fold. He reached out and placed one large hand on her shoulder. “I understand your choices. I am glad that there are no barriers between your mother and father and you.” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I hope to be going with you. I should make some changes here.” He glanced over at where Rain stood talking with Ron.
Candace followed his eyes.
Ron had watched Rain from the seat he shared at the fire with some of the other hunters. He excused himself, and followed her to the back of the cave where they made their own winter quarters.
“Rain?” he asked as he came to her and placed one massive hand on her shoulder.
“He is stepping down… He wanted me to know he would have already given the leadership to us.” She turned and buried her face in his shoulder and wept. The baby fussed for a second, upset at the confinement and emotion, and then went back to nursing, sniffling as she did.
Ron smoothed her hair with his roughened hands. He turned her slowly, and then pulled her and the baby down to the floor where he held her silently for a few moments.
“What do you want, Rain. What do you want?”
“I can’t leave now. I can’t. We can lead here. We can make it bigger. Rebuild it even more from the wars. It could be good,” Rain said as she looked at him with her tear reddened eyes.
“Trade the sea for the snow?” he asked with a smile.
“Leaders can visit.” She shifted around. “I think all the people that caused the wars are dead now. Just the ones who worked so hard to end it are still going, except Beth. Bear, Mike, Candace, Patty, Billy, and Pearl. They are still here. They still want it all back together. We should try to get this all as one again. As Leaders we could do it. I could accept leadership here, you could accept it there. It could work.” Her eyes pleaded with his own.
“They will turn both of us out if we tried that,” Ron told her.
“Not if we were straight forward. Accept leadership here and take the proposal to them next spring. We will already be leaders here. They can only say no, but I do not believe they will say no. I think it is time to put us all back together,” Rain said softly. The baby let go of her nipple and began to fuss. “Poor, baby,” she soothed as she put her over her shoulder and patted her back softly, rubbing for short periods. Her eyes met Ron’s own.
“Tell Bear. Tell Bear and see what Bear says about it,” Ron said after a few moments.
Bear watched the heavy flakes fall. He had not known what to make of Rain jumping up and leaving so quickly as she had. He only hoped it was because she wanted time to talk to Ron about what he had said. What he had essentially offered.
He had shocked himself. While it was true that he had been sitting here thinking about turning leadership over, he had not thought it would be so soon. He had hoped that when Rain and Ron came back from their trip to Alabama Island he could approach the subject with them. Now he could see that it would have been far too late then. They would have left and they would never have come back.
It saddened him to think of passing leadership to someone else, but in another way the responsibilities were too heavy. He was too old. Candace and Mike were both younger, Mike’s health was poor, but Candace was strong. He couldn’t understand why she would give up leadership. A position she had held in one capacity or another for all of the years since the end had come. She was a natural. What would make her consider stepping down, he wondered as he stared out over the valley.
He had been on the verge of rising, going to find Rain, when Ron dropped down beside him.
Bear held his eyes when he turned to him. “She spoke to you?”
“She did, grandfather.” He laughed. “She would never leave you now.”
“It wasn’t meant to make you stay… It was time,” Bear said. He turned his eyes back out to the valley. In the far distance a herd of bison grazed. Whether their own or a wild herd he could not tell. At one time the entire valley had been closed. No longer. A smaller valley on the opposite side of the mountain held the winter herd. Small. What they could afford to keep and feed through the cold months, and the cold months were lasting longer and longer now. The rest were turned loose. They mingled with the wild herds, but they never forgot the valley was their home, and so they could be depended upon to come back in the spring.
Ron followed his eyes and watched the herd of Bison in the distance through the blowing snow. “Big herd.”
Bear nodded and then turned. “You will stay?”
“She will stay…” he paused and let his words sink in. Concern mounted in Bear’s eyes. “She seems to think that I should take the leadership being offered by the Fold… Bring us all together as a people again.”
Bear smiled. “She is like my own blood.” He laughed. A small laugh, but then he let it roll out of his huge chest. “Might give Mike a reason to live after all. I can see it. I can see it.” He fell quiet, watching the bison as they moved more fully into the protection the walls of the valley offered. Their coats were already snowy, carrying the weight of the snow as it hid them from the eyes of predators. Ron watched with him.
“Almost gone already… If I didn’t know exactly where to look…”
“Yeah. I never get tired of it,” Bear agreed. “I’m older than all of them, you know. It’s so unfair. Beth was so young, should have outlived us all. Here I am in my late seventies, almost eighty now… Soon I will be…” He sighed. “Mike is barely fifty, Candace a little younger than that.” He shook his head. “Where did it all go to?” He turned and met Ron’s eyes, but Ron only shrugged as he held his eyes. Both men turned back to the valley, but just that fast the Bison, who had been moving nearer, had disappeared under their walking blankets of white.
“Insulates them too. Hard for me to believe that but it is true,” Bear said. He turned back to Ron. “She’s right… It’s what should have been done long ago.” He stood and turned back into the cave where Candace stood talking to several other OutRunners. The only vehicles they still had were the OutRunner vehicles. Everything else had long been given back to rust and age. The OutRunner vehicles had only gotten better. Built from scratch and modified with more and more technology as they came across it in the old, hidden military bases they sought out on their missions.
Bear stood to his full height and raised his arms high above him. “People,” Bear’s voice boomed out and the people in the cave stopped what they were doing and looked to him. He may have been closing in on eighty, but there was still a great deal of fight in that voice. Power. He waited until he had everyone’s attention, at least those that were inside. At one time there had been several thousand people here. Now there was slightly more than two thousand. Still a great responsibility, and a growing one even with the world on the brink of the extinction. Most were working at this time, but it didn’t matter. The news would find them.
Rain came from the back. The baby gone. Most likely sleeping on a pile of furs with a few others, Bear thought. She came to Ron. Her face tense. Unsure what was about to be said.
“You all know me. You all, I hope, know that I am not pretentious. I pray to God I never have been or will be. I am just a man.” He paused. “There is no easy way to say this, for I love you all. You mean something to me. Every one of you. And if you can look at this in that light you will realize it is past the time I stepped down.” A few gasps punctuated the silence and a very low buzz of hushed, surprised conversation.
“It has never been concealed from you that I have looked upon Rain as my blood. That is why I hope and pray that you will accept her leadership of this Nation.” Bear fell silent and the silence in the cave held for a few moments before the cheers began. With a few seconds the crowds around himself and Rain were so thick they found themselves pushed together and herded back into the central area of the cave. Questions. They would have them. He had to answer some of them at least.
Bear raised his arms and waited for the quiet. “I give you your leader… Will you accept her?”
The cave reverberated with the shouts of yes.
“It’s finished then,” Bear said softly. He said it softly deliberately, to hold their attention for a moment longer. “Before the celebration begins I will explain why it had to be now. When Candace and her OutRunner team leaves I will be going with them to Alabama Island. I will leave tonight with them, and I do not know if I will return. My wish will be to return, but that old dog age is nipping at my heels, and who knows, maybe I will reach the warmth of the sea and wish to stay there.” He waited for the laughter to die down. “You needed a leader now. A leader that can take you to the next place the Nation needs to be. The same place we have all worked to attain, togetherness, healing, advancement. A man or a woman grows, or they die. The Nation is the same way. We forgot that back in the wars. I have remembered it now. Rain has never forgotten it,” his voice fell even lower. “Something I only wish I could claim. Something I am proud of to see living within her.” He met as many eyes as he could.
“God willing I will see you all again,” Bear told them. He turned and embraced Rain as her tears fell and then his eyes fell on Candace where she awaited him. He kissed Rain’s eyelids, told her he loved her and wished her all the best there could be: He then joined Candace. A moment later they were making their way through the tunnel to the eastern side of the mountain where the OutRunners had their own quarters. The laughter and cheers of congratulation falling away behind them.
“You surprised me,” Candace said as they walked.
“I surprised me,” Bear agreed.
The OutRunners were ten all in all. He found that impressive. The first group he himself had formed had been only four. And what they had then was nothing compared to what they had now. Weapons, vehicles, armor and bags of tricks, some of which Bear was sure he himself didn’t fully understand the implications of.
They turned from the main tunnel way into a wide open area filled with large trucks and bustling with activity.
“Ten minutes…” Candace faltered, unsure how to address him. For so long she had addressed him as Leader: Grandfather, when she had been younger, she didn’t know what to do now that he had turned his reigns of leadership over so quickly.
“Bear will do,” he told her as her face colored. “Or grandfather.”
“Ten minutes… Grandfather,” she said at last. Bear nodded and turned his attention to his own preparations for leaving as he waited. He pulled his pouch from one wide pocket and rolled a cigarette.
“Roll me one,” Billy Jingo said as he walked up. “That was so fast, Bear.” Billy told him. Behind Billy, leaning against the wall from the tunnel, Pearl gave a hand wave and Bear smiled and waved back before turning his attention to Billy.
‘Shit will kill you,” Bear said as he rolled a second smoke and passed it to Billy.
“So I hear, yet I am still alive.” He studied Bear for a few moments. “Took me completely by surprise. I thought it would be this… The easy life right to the end, Bear.”
Bear sighed. “So did I, to be honest. Things sometimes do change fast though. And that is what happened here. I had a chance to do the right thing, and I did it. Doesn’t make up for all of my life… A little though.”
“I have always liked Rain,” Billy said. “She’ll make a good leader.”
“You’ll support her?”
“With everything I am,” Billy agreed. “Pearl, Dani too.”
“Bear,” Candace said as she approached. “We need to get going.”
Bear took the hand Billy offered, and then Bear hugged him, pulling him to him. “Been a long road,” Bear said huskily.
“It has. I for one believe you will be coming back. Don’t make me wrong,” Billy told him as he followed Candace to one of the huge trucks. Bear stepped inside and then turned back. “Give Rain a big hug for me… I will be back if I can, Billy. If I can.” He turned back, the door hummed and then disappeared. Billy stepped back as a moment later the truck came to life, and began to roll near silently across the floor to a huge metal door set into the wall. A second later that metal door began to lift, revealing the swirling snow outside. A few seconds later and the truck was gone. The door down, the floor wet and steaming. Billy turned and found Pearl behind him, she took his hand and together they walked back to the long tunnel that lead back to the main cave.
Before the plagues
Project Bluechip: Watertown NY
Complex C: Patient Ward
Test Subject: Michael Hunter
Gabe Kohlson moved away from the monitors. “Heart rate is dropping, don’t you think…” He stopped as the monitor began to chime softly. Before he could get fully turned around the chiming turned into a strident alarm that rose and fell. “Dammit,” Kohlson said as he finished his turn.
“What is it,” David Johns, wheeling his chair across the short space of the control room. His outstretched hands caught him at the counter top and slowed him at Kohlson’s monitor.
“Flat lined,” Kohlson said as he pushed a button on the wall to confirm what the doctor’s one level up already knew. Michael Hunter was dead.
“I see it,” Doctor Ed Adams replied over the ceiling speakers. The staff called him Doctor Christmas for his long white beard and oversize belly. “Berty and I are on the way.”
“Lot of good that will do,” Johns muttered.
Kohlson turned to him. “Go on in… Do CPR if you want… They don’t pay me enough to do it. I don’t know what that shit is. Look at the way the Doc suits up. Michael Hunter will be in rigor before anyone gets in there at all.”
“No argument,” Johns said. He wheeled back to his own monitor, called up an incident sheet and began to type.
“Me too,” Kohlson agreed. “Preserve the video, med and monitor data.” He punched a few buttons on his console and an interface for the medical equipment came up. He saved the last 48 hours of data, and then began to fill out his own incident report. These reports might never be seen by more than one person, maybe two if you counted the person that wrote it, Kohlson thought, but it would always be there. Classified. Top secrete for the next hundred years or so. And he wondered about that too. Would it even be released after a long period? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was bad shit. Shit you didn’t ever want the American public to know about. This incident report, along with the one Johns was doing, would probably get buried deep under some program listing that no one would ever suspect to look into. Or, maybe, it would get burned right along with Michael Hunter’s body. He glanced up at the clock and then went back to typing.
“Uh… Call it 4:32 PM?” He asked.
“Works for me,” Johns agreed.
“I got 94 for the body,” Johns said.
“Yeah… Yeah, me too. That’s a fast drop but we both got the same thing. 94 it is… No heart, no respiratory, dead as dog shit.”
“Dog shit,” Johns agreed. They both fell silent as they typed. A few moments later the doors to the observation room chimed, the air purifiers turned on with a high pitched whine, and they could both feel the air as it dragged past them and into the air ducts. The entire volume would be replaced and the room depressurized and then re-pressurized before the doors would open. And that would only happen after the air was tested and retested. A good twenty minutes away before anyone would step foot into the room with Michael Hunter.
Complex C, Autopsy Room: 5:58 pm
Ed Adams and Roberta Summers had dissected Michael Hunters body methodically. The autopsy had been painstaking. It had to be, it was recorded in detail and some General somewhere, hell, maybe even the president would be looking that video over in the next few days. Maybe even watching live now. They had that capability. There was nothing to see. He had suffered a major heart attack. The heart had a defect. No history. One of those things that just came along and fucked up your two billion dollar research project all at once.
“Coronary Thrombosis,” He spoke in a measured voice. “Appears to be after the fact. The artery looks to be mildly occluded… The myocardial infarction appears to be caused from a congenital defect… Specifically an Atrial Septal Defect… Berty?”
“I concur. Easily overlooked. The lack of sustenance put a higher demand on the heart, the defect became a major player at that point… Bad luck for us.”
“Uh, bad luck for Michael Hunter,” Ed Adams added.
“Of course. Bad luck for the subject, Michael Hunter. I simply meant bad luck for a research volunteer to be defective in such a way that in effect it would compromise a project of this magnitude so badly.” She turned her eyes up to one of the cameras she knew to be there. “This in no way paints a true picture of V2765. We should proceed, unsatisfying as these circumstances might be, we should proceed with subjects 1120F and 1119X… Same compound.” She turned back to the corpse on the table. “You want me to do the brain biopsy,” She asked Ed.
Ed frowned as he made eye contact with her. They had decided, at least he had thought they had decided, not to mention brain biopsies. Three times now he had discussed the importance of not focusing on the changes that V2765 made to the brain. Anything that altered the brain could alter financing, funding, lab time. Even the government didn’t like changes to brain matter.
“Are you thinking there could have been an embolism?” He asked.
‘Well I,” she sputtered away for a second until Ed rescued her.
“I think all we would see is evidence of the embolism that occurred near the heart. We could search out areas of the body and most likely find more than one occurrence of embolism. Well thought, but I believe we will take a look at the brain later in the week. Right now I want to focus on the enzymes, blood work, and readying the other two for a conclusion of this trial.”
“Yes. I agree entirely,” Doctor Adams.
“You have your samples?”
“Yes of course, Doctor. Rex?”
Ed frowned hard and shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the thick glass. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “None down here. That was stupid, Berty.“
“What was that,” Kohlson asked Johns in the control room.
“What?” Johns asked.
“That… Whisper, I guess,” Kohlson said.
“Oh… That. You know those two got it bad for each other. Probably making little remarks you don’t want to hear. Besides which, you make a report on that and we all have to deal with it. Them, sure, but us too because they’ll be pissed off about it. Best to let that shit slide. If the boss wants to know he will. He looks at all of this shit in depth.”
Kohlson looked about to say more when Doctor Christmas began talking once more in the autopsy room.
“Let’s close him up,” Ed Adams said. He stepped on a switch set into the floor, paused, and then spoke again. “Lower the air temp. in here. We intend to keep him a few hours while we attend to other parts of the autopsy… No one in here for any reason.”
Out in the control room Johns keyed his mic button. “Will do… How low, Doc.?”
“I guess about 34 Fahrenheit will do… Just to slow it all down for a while.”
“Done,” Johns agreed. He adjusted a temperature graphic on a nearby monitor via his mouse.
Kohlson leaned over across the short distance. “So we got to look at that shit for a while? Great.”
“They’re gonna sew him up so it won’t be so bad.”
“Yeah… That’s like, I got a mild case of flu. It’s still gonna suck because every time I look anywhere I’m gonna feel compelled to look at it.”
“Yeah. Me too. It’s there. Draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re gonna end up looking at her. She’s the reason you bought the magazine after all.”
Kohlson nodded and smiled. “And I’d rather look at Miss January than a dead guy with big stitches across his belly and over his chest, sewing him back up again. That is some ugly shit.”
Johns laughed. “Human nature. Why do you think people slow down and look at accidents?”
“’Cause we’re morbid mother fuckers,” Kohlson agreed.
“Well, that too, but it is that fascination with death we have. Look,” He pointed at the monitor. Do you think Michael Hunter knew he’d be laying on a steel slab this afternoon, dick hanging out, with Doctor Christmas shoving his guts back in and stitching him up with his nursey assisting?” They both laughed and turned away.
“She ain’t half…”
A scream cut off the conversation and both men turned quickly back to the monitor.
Michael Hunter was sitting up on the steel table. Arms drooped at his side. Mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Berty was nowhere to be seen.
“What the fuck… What the fuck. Get a camera on the floor… Maybe she fainted,” Kohlson said.
“Got it,” Johns agreed. He stabbed at the keys on his keyboard and a view of the table at an angle appeared. Nurse Bertie’s leg could be seen, angled away from the table, skirt hiked high. The camera paused briefly and then the view began to shift as Johns manipulated the camera angle. Her face came into view. Mouth open, blood seeping from one corner.
“Doctor,” Kohlson called over the speaker system. Outside the airlocks had clicked on and the air was cycling. Good, he thought, in twenty minutes the Calvary would be here. “Doctor Adams?”
The doctor finally took his eyes off Michael Hunter and turned toward one of the cameras. On the table Michael Hunter leaned forward and tumbled off the edge of the table. At the same instant the air purifier quit cycling and three armed men in gas masks stepped into the airlock.
“Jesus,” Johns sputtered. “You guys can’t do that shit. That air has to be worked?” Three more men stepped through the lock and the door to the autopsy room opened as well as the door to the control room. A split second later the rifles in their hands began to roar. The sound was louder than Kohlson expected in the enclosed space. He clasped his hands over his ears, but it did little good. The soldiers, he saw, were wearing ear protection of some sort. Noise canceling head-gear. The remaining three soldiers had stepped into the control room, he saw as he looked back up from the floor. They kept their rifles leveled at them, the others were still firing within the confines of the small autopsy room. A small gray cloud was creeping along the floor and rolling slowly into the control room. The stench of gunpowder was strong in the enclosed space. The air purifiers were off. Kohlson knew there was another control room outside this one that controlled this space, and possibly another outside of that space that controlled that space. Built in protection, and from what was apparent they were in a very bad space.
Kohlson saw Michael Hunter Lurch to his feet and stumble into the soldiers who were firing point blank range in the tight confines. A series of bullets finally tore across his chest and then into his head and he fell from view. A second late the firing dropped off and then stopped completely.
Johns was listening to the sound of his own heart hammering for a space of seconds before he figured out it was his own. The smell of gunpowder was nauseating, and he suddenly lunged forward and vomited on his shoes. As he was lifting his head he saw that the soldiers were retreating back through the airlocks and into the outer spaces of the compound.
“Jesus,” Kohlson managed before he too bent forward and vomited too. He heard the air filtering kick back on and both of them rolled away from the puddles of vomit and quickly disappearing low, gray vapor from the rifles firing. The doors into the autopsy room suddenly banged shut and then their own door whispered closed as well. Once again they were isolated in their small space.
They both sat silent for a moment, and then Kohlson left and returned from the small bathroom with a mop and bucket from the utility closet there. He left and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed down the vomit and the balance of the small room.
“That won’t do shit,” Johns said solemnly. We’re infected. Whatever they infected that guy Hunter with, we got it now.
Kohlson ignored him, waited the ten minutes for the disinfectant to work and then cleaned up the mess. Neither spoke while he returned the equipment to the small closet and then came back and sat down.
“You heard me, right?”
“I heard you,” Kohlson admitted. “I just don’t give a fuck… It’s too fresh… I can’t believe it right now.” He looked up at the clock. “Mother fucker… I was off duty in twenty minutes… Twenty goddamn minutes!” He spun and looked at Johns, but Johns was looking up at the monitors that were still on in the autopsy room. The smoke was being drawn out by the air exchange, and the horror of the room was slowly coming into focus.
Doctor Adams lay sprawled in one corner, a line of bullet holes stitched across his back. The back portion of his skull was missing, jagged bone and gray-black hair clumped wildly around the fractured bone. Johns gagged and looked away.
“Jesus… They killed everybody,” Kohlson said as he continued to watch. Nurse Bertie lay where she had fallen. Only her legs visible in the shot they could see. Michael Hunter lay against the end of the stainless slab. His head a shapeless mass. The stitches across his chest and stomach bulging. Kohlson finally turned away too.
“They’re coming back for us.” Johns said.
Kohlson spun to the door.
“Not now, stupid ass, but you can’t think we get to live after that. They contaminated our air. We’re dead. No way are we not dead.”
Kohlson said nothing.
It was six hours before the soldiers came. They had finally taken a better look at the room. Johns moving the camera around as Kohlson watched..
“Dave… Tell me I’m wrong, but that fucker came back to life, right?” He was unsure even as he said it.
Johns shrugged. “I think what happened is they missed something… We missed something. Maybe a lead came off. You know, and the lead came off and so he seemed dead and he wasn’t dead at all, not really, he was still alive. Just that lead was off.”
“Yeah. I mean… I mean the alternative is that he came back to life… You don’t think that do you? I mean, do you? Cause that’s fucking crazy, Gabe. Crazy.”
“No. No, I can see what you mean I can see where…”
The air lock cycled on and six soldiers stepped into the hall like space that was actually just an airlock between the control room, the autopsy room, the former patient ward and the outside world. Johns tensed, waiting for the door to their space to cycle on, but it didn’t.
The soldiers were dressed head to toe in army drab plastic coveralls. Respirators, big units, sat on their backs and a full face shield and breathing apparatus was on their face, somehow joined into the coveralls. Tape was wound around the elastic cuffs of the legs and the plastic boot covers that joined there. Flexible olive green gloves covered their hands, also taped where they slipped under the plastic coveralls.. They never looked their way at all, just waited for the air lock to cycle and then stepped into the autopsy room. A second later the monitors went dead in the control room.
“Fuck, David Johns said. “That is not good at all.”
Kohlson got up and left the room. A minute later he was back with two diet colas. He handed one to David johns and then sat back down. Johns glanced down at the cola. The top was open already. He looked at Kohlson and Kohlson stared back unblinking. The med supply was also in that closet. They had talked it over once. They had decided that… He pushed it away and focused on the low whisper of the air exchange
“You think they will outright kill us,” Kohlson asked after a few long minutes of silence.
“Gabe… I think they will, Gabe.” Johns said after a hesitation. He tried to stop himself but he glanced down at the cola in his hand. It was half full. White powder floated on the surface. Clumped and drifting like tiny icebergs across a cola sea.. “Probably… No. They’re listening in right now, I’m sure. Listening to see where our minds are at. As soon as those flunkies in there are finished with that job they’ll be in here to finish up the clean up.” He swallowed hard.
“Yeah. I guess that’s how I see it too,” Kohlson agreed. He raised his can and tapped the side. “Been good knowing you, Dave.”
Johns stared him down for a few moments and then sighed. “Yeah. Same here. He raised the can in a salute and then downed it. Kohlson followed suit. Silence descended on the control room.
Watertown NY: Subterranean base.
Commanding: Major Richard Weston
Major Dick Weston read the report slowly. This was not the first hitch in SS. Last year they had lost a whole patient ward, three patients compromised, two doctors, and three control rooms, six personnel there that had to be terminated because of it.
He rocked back in his chair and pulled at his lower lip as he read the report. So it had some drawbacks, but there was too much focus on the problems, and not enough on the positives of V2765. Of all the compounds they had tested, this one did exactly what they needed it to do. It prolonged life far past the point of termination. Grave wounds, starvation, dehydration, nothing mattered. This compound changed the cells and made them able to adapt to the consequences of war. The only drawback was that it did it’s job a little too well. It continued to allow the subject to live after death. Everything stopped and then everything started up again. Usually with a much diminished capacity for understanding. Just the basic low end survival instincts any animal had, eat, protect, eat. And it did those things very well.
Some of the doctors at the third level, men whose reputations would be on the line very shortly when V2765 was released on a squadron of troops bound for the Middle East, in fact, wanted a brain biopsy. They had studied the video and decided that good Old Doctor Christmas might have been hiding something with the secrecy he had afforded the previous brain autopsies. He stopped pulling at his lip. Leaned forward and fed the paper sheaf from the incident into a shredder.
The thing is there was a secret. Major Weston had no idea what it signified, he was no doctor, but he had found the good doctor’s private files and brain biopsy reports on the previous candidates. Significant structural change to the brain cells. Not just slight modifications as the virus did when it infected the host, no, something deeper. A mutation. That file lay nearby on his desk too. He reached for it. If that information got out there would be a fast end to SS, and he couldn’t have that. SS was not his baby, some General he had never even met had that honor, but Bluechip was his base, and SS was a feather in his cap. It meant jobs. It meant growth. It meant over a mile of top secret base three miles below ground. These were things that could not be compromised. If, in the field, there were incidents, so be it. They could be isolated. Tests so far showed that very few came back after actual death. Destroy the brain and it destroyed whatever life had kicked back in. REX34T could easily take care of that if there was a large outbreak. REX34T took it all back to normal. The doctors had nicknamed it Rex. Rex, like a trusty dog that could get the job done, but what sort of job did Rex do? He didn’t know. Rex seemed to reverse the process that V2765 started. It undid the cell changes. It didn’t leave a single trace of the V virus when it was finished. The dead died. According to this report, there was a counterpart to REX34T that was meant specifically for the living. Release it in the air, same as Rex, and it affected only the living, reversing the changes that the V virus had made, and the living went on living, maybe. The testing insinuated that the longer the process that V2765 had started had gone on the more of a shock to the human body it was when it was removed. It suggested that some might not survive the withdrawal of the V virus.
He glanced down at the two vials that sat on the edge of his desk. One small vial filled with dark red liquid. The other a small aluminum canister that reminded him of the canisters that held the V virus. He beat out a nervous tempo with his fingers on the desktop and then picked up the two vials and slipped them into a plastic bag. He set the bag on the desktop, withdrew the test results from both Rex drugs from the thick file and then placed the bag into the file itself. A second later he placed the file into his personal file cabinet and locked it. He called up the same report on his monitor, excised the three pages of reports, and then saved the file. He pulled a fresh file folder from his cabinet before he closed and locked it, then dropped the pages into the empty folder. He hesitated and then fed that smaller file into the shredder too.
No problem, no liability, because if there was an acknowledged problem that was preexisting in this lawyer happy atmosphere every ex-soldier would be suing when the first x-ray showed the alteration in brain cell structure. No higher climb up the ladder for Major Dick Weston, and probably General whoever he was too. And that would be a long stop from where either of them wanted to be.
“Alice?” He looked over at his secretary.
“I want you to take this out and burn it.” He pulled the wastebasket free and slid it across to her. “I guess I’ve thought it out. Those two fools who took the overdose on morphine?” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I think it was a mistake to try to save them. I would like you to take care of that personally, Alice… Doesn’t matter how. Let me know if you need anything.” He held her eyes for a moment. “That will be all,” he finished.
“Sir,” Alice said. She picked up the wastebasket and started to leave the office.
She stopped and turned back.
“Have that med closet removed. Stupid to put it in an interior control room… Have it moved to the very outside. From now on when they need something like that they can damn well get it walked in by our boys.”
“Sir,” Alice nodded. She turned and left the office.
Back to the Beginning…
Thanks for reading this free chapter read of book 9 of the America the Dead series. If you enjoyed this book you can get the full copy at the links below, Dell…