“Are you sure?” Mercedes asked, one more time, just to be sure.
“I am,” Ruff replied. He eyed Hector to stop him from asking the same, even though they already asked him, his answer would not change. Ruff even had a spare box or two. Or three.
“Do we…need that many?” Hector asked.
“Better safe than sorry,” Ruff answered, pocketing one. “You saw the news. Who knows how many there are. It’s the whole place. They’re always crawling with the scum of the Earth by the dozens anyway and now they’re crawling with more, and going to overflow out into the streets. And that’s exactly what we have to prevent from happening….”
Mercedes was sharing her head. “What if the cops come?”
“Then we’ll get medals for doing them a favor.”
Ruff already had his boots on, eying his partners in crime, his partners in vigilance.
“Right. Shall we?”
Hector and Mercedes followed suit, imagining for themselves the homeless shelter looking like their previous stops: the school, the clinic, the soccer field…and how they looked after they left. Did they do the right thing? Was the piles of carnage the right thing? They stopped it. But, if they stopped it before….just how did it manage to appear again?
Just how long would this go on?
Hector and Mercedes tried to talk with Ruff about it. He did not have all the answers, just as he did not have all the solutions, although he acted like his primary plan was the only plan. They seemed to not have much time for lengthy discussions…especially when someone was trying to eat them.
So, they headed out to the homeless shelter, the one in a particularly seedy part of the neighborhood with seedy residents and lack of regular human interaction. It was an area begging to be demolished, to be washed over and scrubbed clean of all kinds of infection. For now, they were going to start with one kind.
Ruff parked the truck at an odd angle, overseeing the yellow lines in the parking lot as there were no other cars. When the three stepped out and eyed the building, they knew it was going to be ugly.
From the few feet away they could hear the elongated groans, the violent coughing, and a few snap snap snaps of bones. They creaked and they croaked as they crunched, either by falling apart on their own, or done by force. The yells that sounded out the window told them it was the latter. Ruff griped his rifle.
“Let’s put these scum to rest.”
Hector and Mercedes followed him, watching the front door that was weakly hinged and expecting a mass breakout. The door handles were gone, and in their place were a few planks hastily nailed at odd angles.
“Looks like we’re not the first,” stated Hector.
“And someone knew better than to go in! They want to keep them from coming out!” Mercedes added.
“Wanted,” was Ruff’s reply. He pointed to the ground with the end of his rifle, and they noticed the trail of blood that ran up the sidewalk. It was noticeably thicker until it ended in a splotched puddle near the grass. The three of them looked back to the door at the sound of it squeaking. The hinges were stubborn, but would not hold out forever. The two by fours were put on as a desperate and fast solution, and would definitely not hold for long.
“Around this way, come on!” Ruff gestured to the window on the side that was also pathetically boarded. He used the butt of the gun to break through the thin piece of wood. Immediately, they heard the activity on the inside react to the activity on the outside: The cries of alarm and surprise, the quickened shuffling of feet, and the gathering of the masses. Ruff, Hector, and Mercedes were able to see that inside through that safe viewpoint and it froze them in fear. They saw those masses, they saw the gray and yellow faces of the people who used to be alive. They saw the opaque whites of their eyes and how the stiff joints of their bodies made walking difficult. They knew it wasn’t going to be pretty…but they could never predict just how bad some of them would turn out.
And this time was the worst.
They immediately held up their guns as the lifeless things staggered toward the window. Putting them out of their misery would be the best thing for them anyway. So one by one, they fired them off. The bodies collapased to the floor. They could not be saved.
One by one, they fired them off.
Karen went first and the rest followed suit. They were pleased at the easy handling of the laser guns…and the effect. The infected were zapped, and the bodies fell to the floor. They were not dead, only stunned, only still enough for them to be taken back and tested.
They could be saved.
“Laser guns,” Cassandra repeated.
“Stun guns,” Bruce added.
Karen still held the gun as she mulled it over. They all looked from the weapon to its effect on the wall, leaving no mark at all, leaving no destruction on the outside.
“Tranquilizer gun, then,” Dr. Ann determined. “Meant to stun and not kill.”
“So, someone has a collection of stun guns in the event of a zoo breakout?”
Dr. Ann got a funny look on her face, but she didn’t say anything. She stared at the working gun, and stared back at the wall display.
“They are meant to stun, and not harm,” she started.
“You’re not thinking….
“How do we know they don’t harm at all?”
“I know exactly what you’re thinking.”
Dr. Ann faced Bruce. “I know you know what I’m thinking, that we have a solution right in front of us.”
“I don’t know about this,” Cassandra said. “We can’t just go shooting something just to try it out.”
“You think we’re better off running around with syringes?” Karen asked, now more and more supportive of the idea. “Look, this could help against the very aggressive ones…stun, not kill. Stun enough to put them under.”
Karen let her words sink in before she did another test shot at the wall. This time everyone observed it carefully.
“So it obviously does not blow the wall up, but that doesn’t mean it can’t scramble someone’s brains,” Cassandra pointed out.
“It shouldn’t,” Dr. Ann offered. “I don’t think it would.”
“What if it ‘unscrambles’ them?” Karen said, only half-joking, her eyebrows jumping up at what seemed like the solution.
Bruce and Cassandra considered her for a moment before Dr. Ann became the voice of reason.
“Right. I don’t think anyone here, including myself, is a weapons expert…but giving the benefit of the doubt.”
No one argued with her.
“We’ve got to have something to protect us.”
“I say we give this a shot, no pun intended.”
“We don’t have anything to lose.”
“It is worth a try.”
Dr. Ann turned towards the control panel and wires. “Let’s see about charging some more up.”
She explored the tangle of wires and pulled out four ends, laying them across the open side of the table. Her companions complied, each bringing a gun from the wall and plugging it in.
They stood back as the four guns drank their sustenance from their new feeding tubes, the red light blinking with each gained beat of life.
They stared at the guns that were ready for them.
“You sure about this?”
Their fearless leader nodded.
“There is no other way.”
One by one they picked them up, feeling the weight, the power, almost intimidated by them.
“This is the best and only way to take care of them.”
They held those rifles… and pocked the extra bullets. They didn’t know how much they would need, but any outbreak proved to be masses. Ruff smiled at his two friends.
“We’re going to be heroes.”
“Well,” Cassandra started.
“Some collection,” Karen stated.
All they could do was stand there and stare at it all. There were shadows of dust outlining them on the wall to show that they had not been touched in a very long time, a long-left exhibit in whatever kind of museum they were in.
“What in God’s name did we stumble into?” Bruce took a short step forward. “Look at this. This is not for hunting deer.”
“Some sort of military headquarters?” Dr. Ann was shaking her head. “A very secretive military headquarters, looks like. Very.”
Bruce was the first to reach out to one of the rifles on the wall, lightly brush the nozzle, and all the way down to the handle. Then he just took it off and held it right in front of him, right in front of the others.
“Relax,” he answered Cassandra who, like the others, leaned away from him as the held the weapon. “I’m not going to set it off. I’m just…curious.”
“They wouldn’t be sitting there all loaded, would they?”
“Who can tell?”
“Well, whoever was here, they left. And they left without these weapons. Something to think about,” Dr. Ann said.
“That might be a good thing,” Cassandra thought.
“But they never came back,” Karen pointed out.
“It’s not loaded,” Bruce said. “It’s not…anything.”
“What do you mean?” Karen looked at him.
“There’s nothing in them, and I don’t think these are real guns.”
“How can you tell?” Cassandra stared at the rifle in his hands as he turned it over and around, inspecting every inch of it.
“I mean they look real, feel real, but it seems like something is off.”
Bruce met their intrigued smirks. “My uncle was a gun nut.”
He pressed a button on the side of the gun and the magazine dropped out, a parenthesis shaped curl. He opened it to reveal the hollow, empty inside.
Bruce then fumbled with the switch on the side, taking it off safety and even pressing trigger a few times.
“None of these probably–
“Wait, look at that one.”
Karen was pointing to a gun not on the wall, but on the counter by the control panel. The lone rifle was sitting among a pile of wires, and to everyone’s surprise, they saw that the gun was attached to one of them.
“I knew they weren’t real guns.”
“What kind of guns plug in like that?” Cassandra wondered.
“These must be used for military training,” Dr. Ann remarked. “Training of some type. I have seen something like that before.”
Karen picked that rifle up, the cord emerging and unraveling as a cobra would, but stopping abruptly as it was still plugged in. She took that cord out from the butt of the gun.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
She walked towards the doorway of the room, rifle nose out, something she never imagined she’d do in life. Bruce walked with her with his hand on the side by the switch.
“As soon as I take it off safety, pull the trigger and see what happens.”
“Will you relax? It’s not a real gun!”
The others circled around to see better as Karen aimed it at nothing in the empty room. She flipped the switch and instantly a red light dot appeared on the wall on the other side of the room, as small as the head of a pin. She took the safety off and pulled the trigger. The red dot flashed and the gun reacted with a short electrical surge as recoil.
But that was it, it was all electrical. They saw the flash of red as the only projectile.
Hands on top of hands on top of hands pushed against the windows, and the garage door continued to rock on its hinges.
The four froze in place as though it would make them invisible.
“There’s so many of them.”
“Where did they all come from?”
The invalids groaned louder at the sounds of their voices, pounded against the garage door and scraped their finger nails on the glass. Dr. Ann and the others skirted out of sight and ducked behind a crate. They instantly recoiled at what they saw on the floor.
It was still remotely fresh, from what was left of it. The bone was sticking out of the top in chewed, sharpened edges and the shoe was still on despite the laces already torn off.
“Leftovers,” Dr. Ann remarked. “They ate the rest. It was not that long ago.”
The others shuddered at the trainwreck of human carnage, wanting to both look away in disgust and stare at it in scientific study. Above them, an overhead light flickered with the threat of going out.
“Looks like there’s a door down this way,” Dr. Ann remarked.
Ignoring the foot–and ignoring the small mob on the other side of the garage–they followed her past another stack of crates to a badly molded brick wall. The overhead light in this area had already gone out, leaving them with no proper view of what was ahead. Except more brick wall, and more dead overhead lights.
Dr. Ann stopped and felt around at the door, instantly noticing that the knob was broken off and loosely hanging from its hole. She felt among the dents and holes in the door itself, a slab of wood that seemed as weak as a sheet of cardboard. These holes were fist-shaped. Flakes of paint flicked off as Dr. Ann outlined one with her thumb.
To no one’s surprise, the door opened easily.
They met another bricked hallway…which only led to more bricked hallways of vast unused warehouse space. The invalids could have come from any direction, and went back in any direction, and there was no telling exactly where the garage door was. At one moment they were distracted by their search for them and instead fixated on something else: They came to a small flight of stairs that led up to another door, but this one told them it led to an entirely different interior: It was stark white with no signs of disarray, with a silver horizontal handle one always opened in authority. In purpose. Someplace that seemed successfully shut off from those invalids…and perhaps led to others like themselves. The four of them contemplated it for a second before Dr. Ann tried the door, pulling it open with almost no effort. This area complemented its entrance. It seemed to them they were in a completely different building.
The blinding whiteness of the walls told them they were in an area much like their own, an area reserved for scientific purpose and order, but the sudden chill in the atmosphere told them something was not quite right. Some thing told them that they should not be there. From the moment they closed the door behind them, they heard nothing at all…nothing except for a static ringing in their ears that could only come with dead silence.
The stretch of white hallway brought them to many other corridors and an area that could have been an office. Perhaps it was an office, at one point, because it was all deserted. They saw a control room with dust-covered TV screens and chair facing them, like someone got up and left in a hurry. And never came back.
“This is bizarre,” Karen whispered.
Cassandra shook her head in disbelief. “And creepy. I feel like I have seen this movie.”
“Look at how old this equipment is, though,” remarked Bruce. “I haven’t seen anything like this in this century.”
“Looks like it hasn’t been used this century, either,” Karen said.
Dr. Ann kept her head held high. “There’s no sign of…anyone here.”
They found another open room, where they could faintly see something stacked up on shelves against the walls. At first, they thought it was pipes, or tools…but they caught the glimmer of the shapes, and saw the way they all lined up.
“Hit the light.”
Karen found the light switch, found that it worked, and they all found what was really in the room: It looked like the armory of a military base. There were CQB short rifles, AR-14s, and even some glock pistols on the lower sections. All noses pointed to the right, all stacked in rows, all resting on the walls, and all waiting to be grabbed in a hurry.
Now, the lab table had more of them lined up like the products on a manufacturing belt. This time though, Dr. Ann filled as many syringes as she could.
“So that’s the plan?” Bruce asked. “You’re going to run at them and give them shots?”
“You’re acting like that takes a lot of effort,” Dr. Ann said tightening another needle. “My instincts will be faster than theirs.”
“And then….we just being them all back here and put in rooms,” Cassandra finished, playing the scene in her head, which did not look as easy as Dr. Ann was making it out to be.
The four of them, scientists and zombie child included, just watched her line up her supply. She took empty cases and loaded them in as much as she could fit, battle weapons at the ready. Two cases filled, she stacked them at the end where they were standing. The last row of syringes was hers…and these she proceeded to fill her jacket pockets.
“Aim for the neck,” Dr. Ann was saying as she gave each of them their own supply. She started out for that hallway, officially starting their mission. Guppy watched her leave and the adults follow suit. She stayed put, as instructed. Grown ups were supposed to make everything–and everyone– all right. It was their job.
Now, they walked those same steps, each with a syringe of formula at the ready. Dr. Ann led them with her nose, mainly, for any hint of rot that drifted close enough. And everyone listened with their ears: for any creak or scuffle or groan in the floors and if it was anywhere near them. They went through the back medical rooms, went through the last area of the building that was considered theirs before moving into uncharted territory. The boiler room was damper than earlier due to the rain, leftover puddles unseen in the almost pitch black.
The sewer was more pitch black than the boiler room, any daytime light already morphing into dusk. It was also more quiet…more so now than it had been before. The three scientists could do nothing but trust the instincts of their leader, to take their cues from her, syringe weapons at the ready…ready to pounce whenever they got that cue.
Now, she moved through the sewer as though she knew they were alone. She stepped through the pipes and looked down the hallway that led to that next room. The rest followed suit, but stayed behind, not saying a word. Dr. Ann stood still, nose lifted in the air, and turned back to face them. Wordlessly, she beckoned them to follow.
The hallway lightened as they left the sewer and walked up a small ramp into what was the warehouse. Broken pieces of drywall crunched under their feet and they cringed, fearful it gave away their position, but still Dr. Ann carried on.
“I don’t think there are too many out in this area,” Dr. Ann finally said in a whisper. “But they can come back. They will come back.”
“This is….bizarre,” Bruce breathed. “We have never seen this area before, we don’t even know what used to be here.”
“Or who used to be here,” Dr. Ann said. “But then again, they might still be here.”
Karen, Cassandra, and Bruce let their eyes wander all around the warehouse, seeing nothing but the large white crates stacked on top of one another. They could not even identify what they were, or why they were set up the way they were. As they followed Dr. Ann a little more into the room, they realized the creates made it into a maze.
They turned one corner, and it was confirmed. Those stacks surrounded them now, all blandly identical, with no way of telling them apart and which ones led back to the sewer.
This instantly gave Karen, Cassandra, and Bruce a new wave of panic,until they heard what gave them another wave of panic. The pounding was subtle at first…and continued into a rhythmic sound that could almost be knocking. Someone was knocking.
None needed to bring it up to Dr. Ann.
“This way. They are over here.”
The three tensed up as Dr. Ann rushed away from them and towards that noise.
“Wait!” Karen hissed.
They fumbled in their jacket pockets for a syringe, now expecting to be attacked from every and any angle.
“Dr. Ann?” Cassandra called in a half-whisper.
Her face appeared around the corner of another stack of crates, and she was pointing to something else.
“Come and look.”
When the three turned where she was, they froze with their syringes in the air. The knocking was a pounding, and it was the sound of the garage door slamming on and off the wall. It was closed, but there were forces behind it that were desperately trying to change that. They could see through the small rectangular windows: dirty as they were, and smudged with grease, there was no doubt of the horde pushing against it.
The tubes lined up across the table gave them the exhilarating sense of Deja Vu, except this time it wasn’t the rainbow of different outcomes.
It was one solid color of light green, pale like the underbelly of a frog, and even smelling like a swamp. One color with one outcome, possibly.
They were both impressed and intimidated by Dr. Ann, and the way she paced up and down the table scrutinizing her manufactured product. There were eleven tubes, so far, and it seemed that she intended on continuing.
“This might pass,” she finally stated.
“Might?” Cassandra echoed.
Dr. Ann nodded. “It’s very similar, almost a straight up imitation, but I believe the outcome will be the same. It will slow down those cells, possibly completely stop them in place…but this isn’t something that will kill the cells. Not yet, anyway.”
“So it’s basically the same formula you made before?” Bruce asked.
“Somewhat,” she answered. “It’s still the green color I originally got…though not as strong a color. I don’t know if that means not as strong…”
She turned and looked at the three of them.
She picked up the nearest tube and took a small sip, making eye contact with all of them. The taste was a little different, like the difference between condiments pulled cold from the fridge versus left outside in the sun. It was still the same, but with a little change. She took a deep breath, watching them watch her.
Karen shook her head. “What are we looking for?”
“My pupils,” Dr. Ann answered. “Have they dilated?”
All three leaned in.
“They have started to,” Bruce replied.
“That’s the first step. I feel…normal.”
She inhaled, and then exhaled slowly.
“Okay, I feel calmer…no other changes.”
“So you did it? You recreated your formula?”
Dr. Ann smiled at Cassandra. “It passed the test on me. It needs to with others now.”
Dr. Ann wasted no time heading to the rooms the others were kept, starting with David. He was asleep, but appeared so stiff he could have been a corpse. Dr. Ann walked up to his bed where she could see his face better, a face as a lump of wax, molded but still looking incomplete. A face that used to be human but had melted into less in time. She held his mouth open enough and tipped the vial enough for a sip.
She moved on to the other rooms and did the same for each of their co-workers turned patients, all listless, all asleep. She noted the effect the solution had for all of them: if they were not already sound asleep, they instantly became so and drifted off into sleep.
“It’s the chemicals working against the cells,” Dr. Ann explained. “It is already slowing them down…”
“Now what?” Karen inquired after they shut the door of that last room.
“Now nothing,” Dr. Ann shook her head. “See how they act when they wake up.”
“It caused them to fall asleep, how come it didn’t do the same for you?” Bruce asked her.
“They are much further along than I am,” Dr. Ann answered solemnly. ” It is a lot more for the solution to fight against. We have no idea about our other friends that are in this building, and we are going to have to find out.”
“Looks like there is still one more to test,” Cassandra said as their little sea child joined the party. By instinct she gravitated to Dr. Ann, who already grabbed another vial.
“Here, honey,” Dr. Ann said leaning down. “Can you take this for me? It’s medicine.”
Guppy obediently took the vial and drank it. Most kids would scrunch their faces at the taste of any bitter medicine, but she had little to no reaction. It seemed to have little to no effect on her as well.
All four scientists watched her, noting once her pupils dilated, but nothing changed her behavior.
“I am going to do my best to make you all better again,” Dr. Ann said. “I am going to try. You…and anybody else I can.”
They got back to their part of the building in rush and relief. The civilized part, they thought to believe. Karen even locked the doors.
“This is bad,” she said. “This is very bad.”
“You think?” Bruce blurted out.
“We don’t even know how long have they been there,” said Cassandra.
Dr. Ann stood with her arms folded, not sure what to do next. She put her hands in her pockets and brought out the empty vial from her last excursion, giving her the reminder.
“Well, I am going to start by making more of this,” she held it out. The others looked at it. “It was what I was looking for…before.”
“The cure?” Cassandra asked.
“The… treatment,” Dr. Ann corrected. “I need to go through your supplies to see what you have and recreate it.”
“And then what?” Karen asked. “Go in there and…I don’t know…give a hundred shots?”
Dr. Ann didn’t answer that, and they wondered if she had an answer or if she was just making it up as she went along. The latter seemed obvious.
“Eventually, but that would take too long. We need to figure out another plan…a quicker one.”
The others stood there staring at her like she was suggesting they hire a SWAT team.
“I will take care of this,” she assured them. “Somehow, someway.”
No one saw Guppy enter the room, but she circled around the adults until she found Dr. Ann and hugged her around the waist. Dr. Ann, startled, dropped her vial on the table, but hugged the child back.
“How are you doing?” she asked her.
“She lost some teeth earlier,” Bruce remarked.
Dr. Ann lifted the child’s face to hers.
“Let’s take a look, honey.”
Guppy obediently opened her mouth to show off the new holes, reddened and curved around the edges like newly blown craters.
“Regular childhood loose teeth,” was her answer. “We need to worry if she looses an ear.”
Upon hearing that Guppy reached up and cupped both of her ears.
“I won’t let anything happen to you,” Dr. Ann said to her. “Or anyone. That’s why I am here. Now, take me to your supplies.”
Dr. Ann went with the others to cabinet after cabinet, and she helped herself to various things. They questioned all of them, especially whenever she paused and asked about something they did not have.
“I’ll have to work with something else as a substitute…but it may not have the same effects.”
Before anyone could say anything she held a hand up. “And I will be testing whatever solution I make on myself.”
Their concerned faces amused her.
“I have nothing to lose,” she replied with a hint of humor. “I am half dead.”
Dr. Ann put her finger to her lips as they crouched behind the sewer pipes, as though anyone needed to be told to stay quiet and out of sight. They saw the shadows; they saw the humanoid forms move across the floor as far as they could see. Could they even see them where they were? Far enough, and in the dark? If anything, if closer they could probably smell them. That was the first thing Dr. Ann said.
“They could?” whispered Karen.
“Aggressive, animal instincts. You revert back and only respond to the natural, strong instincts to hunt and eat. And they will act on them.”
“Who are they?” Bruce demanded rhetorically. “Our lab workers?”
“They might not be, at least not all of them.” While still whispering and staying low, Dr. Ann faced the three. “You really don’t know what else is in the building you work in?”
“It has been all unoccupied since we got here,” Cassandra explained. “Nothing but empty storage rooms.”
Dr. Ann blinked. “Well, they’re not anymore. So that means either those are all your former labmates turned feral, or some got in.”
The whispering subsided.
“Got in?” Karen hissed.
Dr. Ann nodded. “Think about it. People running from the infected looking for a sanctuary and bust into an empty building, only to be greeted by workers from a science lab who are at the hot spot of that very infection.”
Dr. Ann knew the silence that came after that was one hundred percent guilt.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” she said.
“Then why are they still here?”
“Because they want what they smell…you.”
“So, do we…?” Cassandra trailed off, pointing past the pipes.
Dr. Ann looked at all of them. “We have to. And you’re all armed with a weapon. Don’t forget, you are also being guided by one.”
So, Dr. Ann was the first to slide out from between the thick, black pipes. When the others emerged, she made a point to kick over the stray arm from earlier and cause them all to jump back.
“Shhhh!” She shushed Karen. “Whatever is up there has been here for a while. A long while, it seems. They will smell a likeness on me right away, but once they catch a whiff of you…”
Dr. Ann didn’t want to describe to them, in detail, the pungent freshness of their meat that she herself could smell, and she herself craved only an hour ago. She was lucky enough to still have their trust. So, she just asked them to follow her.
They moved carefully, watching the darkness ahead of them clear up enough to see the walls of the hallway…and the things move about. Some shadows gathered together, and some disappeared. They turned a corner into that hallway, curled around another brick wall where those shadows drifted away.
“They’re moving away,” Dr. Ann said. “They’re moving towards something.”
Up ahead, they saw the opening into the building’s empty space: the white walls of vacancy, but they were mostly blocked by towers of stacked crates. The crates were the same bleak color as the walls and blended in well, if not for the rows of metal criss-crossed all around them. It weighed them all down in place, because they were heavy, and whoever was behind them had a hard time making them budge. Even when someone–or something– kept slamming against them. Thunk, thunk, thunk…groan. And then again, a few feet away: Thunk, thunk, thunk, groan.
Dr. Ann motioned for them to stay still, stay where they were. She crouched down and crept along the crates, peering around. She turned her head back to face them, so they could see her look of utter bewilderment. She hastily dashed back and pulled them back down the hallway.
“Back to headquarters,” she rushed. “Come on, move move move, and quickly!”
No one argued, no one questioned, at least not until they got past the boiler room.
“What is it?” Bruce demanded. “What did you see?”
Dr. Ann sighed. “That warehouse is full. Full of infected. And I saw a whole group of them feasting on a body. Fresh body. Drawn and quartered…that’s all I am going to say.”
Bruce, Karen, and Cassandra all expressed disgust and horror as they rushed with Dr. Ann back to their lab.
“There is more,” Dr. Ann kept saying. “So much more than we thought. There are too many to handle.”
Dr. Ann moved faster, and faster, and faster. She saw those shadows, and whoever they belonged to must have seen her as well. She did not even see how many there were. She did not have to.
Bruce led the way, with Karen and Cassandra taking up either side of him.
“No, Guppy,” Karen said sweetly. “Stay here.”
The child stood before the double doors about to follow them out wearing a forlorn look on her face. She wore the doctor’s sweater, and pointed in the direction they were going to go.
“Yes,” Karen said. “We’re going to go find her.”
Guppy responded by reaching in her mouth, lips dry and quivering. To their surprise, they watched two little teeth fall out and clink on the floor…rotten and gray and holey and looked more like little buttons.
“Oh, no,” Bruce stated.
“She needs her more than ever,” Cassandra said. “Let’s get going.”
Karen was holding three metal pipes, and held out two. “We might need… protection.”
The others each took one and acknowledged it anxiously.
“I’m not talking about her!” Karen stated. “I’m talking about…any others.”
Bruce shook the thought off. “Right, let’s just go.”
Dr. Ann made it past the boiler room area and froze against the wall at the sound that echoed in her head. She could not tell what direction it was coming from. Behind her? In front of her? Was it one of the scientists…or one of their fallen comrades that patrolled beyond the sewer?
She listened again for that scream…hearing it faint enough to be considered far enough. It did not seem to be a scream of pain, or a cry for help. It seemed to be a scream for attention; a warning, a declaration. Whoever was back there did see her after all. She hurried back towards the lab.
The three of them, impromptu weapons in tow, met the darkness of the back hallway and moved on. They never said a word until they all stopped short in their tracks before the boiler room.
“Did you hear–“
Cassandra was cut off by the sound of rushing footsteps. They raised their metal pipes and four voices rang out in cries of surprise when the two parties collided. Dr. Ann threw her arms up in stimulus response to the raised pipes, which were all pointing at her.
“Get back!” Bruce cried. “Get back!”
“I’m all right!” Dr. Ann shouted, lowering her arms enough for them to see her face. “I’m…normal…”
The three straightened up from their defensive positions, staring at her with little light to go by. They saw her shadow and form against the wall standing straight and poised as opposed to hunched and predatorial. She still held her hands up.
“Listen,” she said.
“I heard a scream!” Cassandra proclaimed. “Did you?”
“Yes, yes…I came to find you. There are more out there. More than we thought.” She eyed their weapons. “And I think it’s going to take more than that to stop them.”
The three of them lowered the pipes, and although there was no light on their faces, it was plain to Dr. Ann that they were sheepish.
“You intended those for me.”
“Just…hang on,” Karen interjected. “It was mainly because we don’t know what’s out there.”
“Like you said, here are more of…infected.”
“And you were, well…in an uncontrollable state.”
“I’m fine now,” Dr. Ann said.
“Are you sure?” Bruce asked.
“Yes,” she said again. “I came back this way because I had a vial of solution in my pocket before and I dropped it. I found it and it helped. This is the solution I plan on making more of to help you all with your little problem.”
“Our little problem?” Karen parroted.
“Does that mean you cure it?” Cassandra asked.
“I don’t know. It depends on how far along the infection spread. I can delay it, I can stop it, but I don’t know if I can get rid of it for good. There is only one way to tell…” She trailed off and gestured behind her. “Your friend David came down this way for a reason…he was drawn to others. We are going to have to see exactly what we are up against here.”
They nodded. Dr. Ann pivoted on her heel.
“Come, I’ll show you exactly where.”
She led them out of the boiler room, and started to tiptoe the moment they reached the sewer. They heard nothing except for the bated breaths they took in trying to contribute to that nothing, that quiet, that stillness that put them all on edge. But there, just beyond the pipes, were the shadows, and they were more than Bruce, Karen, or Cassandra could count.
She prepared for the fight that did not happen, for when she grabbed that arm, she saw it wasn’t attached.
Instead of the hand flinching and revealing who it belonged to, all it did was flop on its side and surrender the vial. Dr. Ann, prioritizing, scooped it up and drank it down.
She stepped back and leaned against one of the sewer pipes while the medicine worked its magic. She had to wait to feel the aggressive fires cool down. She had to wait until her brain could refocus enough. She squeezed her eyes shut and reopened them, narrowing her thoughts to civilized ones. She was a scientist. She had work to do. She had people to help. A disease to maintain…and destroy.
She looked back down at the arm, having to now consider how old it was, how long it had been there, and where the rest of it went. It was plain from the start there would be a massive seek and find. The scientists did not tell her how many had turned, but that was most likely that they did not know themselves. Dr. Ann knew that would be part of her responsibility. She pocketed her empty vial with that knowledge, at once also knowing there would need to be plenty more where that came from, and not just for her. She sighed and stepped over the arm. She’d come back for it.
The remainder of the sewer stretched on a bit more. Dr. Ann coughed immediately as a cloud of dust passed through her face while at the same time noticing it got a bit lighter. She was soon stepping into another narrow corridor, but immediately freezing when she saw the shadow movements. There was no mistaking what they were…and how close they were. That was all she needed. This required more reinforcements.
Bruce, Karen, Cassandra, and Guppy all met back together in the middle, all shaking their heads.
“She’s not back here.”
“She’s not with David, either.”
They gathered by the table, Guppy picking up some of the lab tubes. They were empty but the scientists noticed the way she looked at them very closely. The girl placed them inside a knapsack sitting on the table that did not belong to anyone there. Her hands brushed against a sweatshirt hidden underneath it, and she promptly picked it up, sniffed it, and held it.
“She likes her,” Bruce said. “She is not afraid of her.”
“She can tell that she is more of a person,” Karen remarked.
“Of course she can,” Cassandra said. “She could tell right away. If anything, that should tell us.”
“If it takes one to find one, and we can’t even do that, do you think that means she is gone?” Bruce asked a question that was either dumb or thoughtful.
“No,” Karen said. “I mean, the only place left to search is beyond the sewer, but…”
“We also still don’t know if she is still…zombie.”
“We’re going to have to go down there next,” Cassandra finished her thought. “All together.”
“Leave Guppy behind, we don’t want her getting hurt.”
“If she were still ‘zombie’ though, wouldn’t she still be trying to find us?” Karen wondered.
Cassandra crossed her brow. “Wouldn’t she be trying to find us if she were human?”