Authors: Bryan James
Tags: #Zombies, #Lang:en, #LZR-1143
To my wife and son.
When the apocalypse comes, I’ll save room in the car for you both.
Unless you’re zombies, in which case, that would just be stupid.
A Zombie Novel
Book Two of the LZR-1143 Series
Published by Bryan James.
Copyright 2011, Bryan James.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real persons, events or places is purely coincidental; any references to actual places, people or brands are fictitious. All rights reserved.
Five years ago, we escaped.
Well, we thought we did.
We ran from the walls of a mental hospital, crawling with the undead. We fought our way through a falling civilization, and we battled the festering corpses of our countrymen to a secluded laboratory in the mountains. We survived an encounter with a mad scientist and retrieved the only known vaccine against the spread of mankind’s most virulent threat, only to be forced to flee again.
Yes, we escaped, but to what?
Escape is a relative construct, an act of comparison. Your prison is what you make of it, freedom just another term for choice. And today, our choices are fairly frickin’ limited.
In the darkness, we survive. We resist. We fight for our right to exist in a world made mad and chaotic by the triumph of change and the perverted side effects of man-made evolution.
We are few, but we are alive. Enough to start over, to persevere. Not as many as
the outbreak, of course—before LZR-1143 turned the world on its ass—but more than we had the right to hope survived. We are immune, but we pay the price of that immunity. We live in a world of our own making, the victims of our own success, twice over.
And me? I survived. But at a cost.
In a world bereft of sunlight and stories, one in which history has lost all meaning and gained new value, this is
story. Or a little piece of it, anyway.
After all, what are entertainers for, if not to tell stories?
I really had to stop waking up this way. My delusions were now taking to the sea.
I wasn’t sure what was worse, the dreams or the waking.
In my dreams, I was certain I would wake. Danger and fear permeated my consciousness, but it was an awareness shot through with the tangible belief of dissociated reality. Nothing was real in the dream. Not me, not my surroundings, not my illness. My wife was alive, and I was free. I existed in the world of the living, and the earth was not populated by the living dead.
Not so in reality. When I woke, I woke to a world of nightmares.
So it was when I stepped from my doorway into the hallway of what was quite clearly a ship. A very big ship, if the lack of significant roll was any indication. What I first mistook for the dizziness of delirium was actually the gentle rocking of a large ocean vessel, churning slowly forward. I could feel the hum of the engines through the cold steel floor under my bare feet as I padded slowly through the metal doorframe. I ducked instinctively as I stepped carefully over the slightly raised ledge.
I was confused.
I know that us hero-types aren’t really supposed to reveal this kind of information, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on and how I got here. The last thing I remembered was a flash and the sickening lurch of a crashing helicopter. Now, here I stood, in all my hospital-gowned, bare-assed glory, standing like a moron in the middle of a whitewashed metal hallway on an unidentified ship.
The the narrow passageway extended about thirty feet in either direction, and was lined with bulkheads and closed doors resembling the one I had just stepped through. Other than the low-pitched humming of the engines below, no sounds of activity were discernible in the distance. Utilitarian instructional markings in military block lettering could be seen in random intervals; phrases like “Low Beam” or “Caution” lined the openings in the bulkheads adjacent to alternating yellow and black strips. Brightly colored fire extinguishers and hoses were evenly spaced down the hall, which ended in a sealed doorway.
I stood for several minutes, trying to orient myself to my surroundings. I even stepped forward, across the hall, to try the handle of the door opposite my own; at least until I remembered what could be behind every door in our brave new world. My hand paused above the handle, and I stepped back, deciding instead to return to my room and try to peek out my window.
Yes, much safer, that.
As I stumbled toward the exterior wall, I remembered in my still-groggy delirium that I still couldn’t reach the window. I stood, peering around the room with what must have been a vacant stare, grasping for ways I could have ended up here. I even scratched my head; as true and
honest a picture
of confounded bemusement as you’re ever likely to witness.
Nothing was as it should be.
wasn’t as I should be.
God knows I shouldn’t be in the condition I was in. I should have been a shambling, rotting, brain eating scourge of humanity; a terrible, nasty aberration of natural laws owing my genesis to a government-funded search for human WMD’s. I had been bitten, but here I was.
Thinking, breathing and confused.
Shuffling and shambling? Yes.
And maybe even drooling a little.
human,” I said softly to myself as I flexed my formerly wounded shoulder and held my hand up in the late afternoon sunlight. I closed my eyes briefly, squeezing the lids shut hard and reopening them, squinting in the light.
As I remembered the pain,
I staggered under the avalanche of memory, some of which was still just conjecture. The loony bin and the plague; the virus and the vaccine. Maria’s death. Our running, fighting, surviving. Our betrayal at the hands of a friend.
Stumbling, I caught myself on the edge of the desk. It was cold and hard industrial grade steel, coarse on the edges. I was thankful for the feeling of something real and steady.
We had followed the trail of my distorted and sporadic memories, through a landscape of death and destruction. Friends had come and gone, and in the end, we had located what we had hoped to be a cure, but which was merely a vaccine. It had been held by a maniacal religious zealot, who had seen himself as the hand of God bringing the mark of the beast upon the world in a fit of Revelation-inspired craziness. He had loosed the original virus on the world, and we had barely managed to save the last remaining vial of the vaccine. I had jumped onto a departing helicopter from a roof full of flesh-eating zombies. Then I blacked out.
I panicked, remembering the vial. The small blue vial that held a sliver of hope for those uninfected still left in the world. My eyes flashed around the room, but I expected nothing more than I found: empty drawers and bare walls.
The vial would be with my clothes. With Kate and Hartliss.
Too much to remember, too much to worry about.
The unrelieved white of the metal room was blinding. I covered my eyes as I sought to maintain my balance. My mind was reeling as the memories continued to flood my consciousness, like the steady, powerful waves of a storm surge, pushing against the soft resistance of a dune. My resistance crumbled, and the sandy barrier dissolved; the room spun briefly and I staggered, leaning against the cold metal wall as I remembered the final conversation with Kopland and his unbelievable story about Maria.
It couldn’t have been true. There was no reason for her to steal the virus, no reason for her to do something like that. She had taken the vaccine, yes, but the reasons for doing something like that were plethora, especially if she had suspected Kopland. But she had no cause to steal the virus. It was unbelievable. Preposterous.
My mind was flustered and confused, flooded with shadows and cobwebs of doubt, but I knew there had to be a reason, a way that this made sense, and her stealing the virus made none. She had the vaccine loaded in the syringe when I got home, meaning that she was preparing to use it. If she had believed it to be a cure, she would have injected herself long before she turned. It wouldn’t have been loaded in the syringe. But it was. Loaded and ready for injection, as if she planned to inject me, not just herself.
And she did. Whether by design or by accident, the vaccine coursed through my veins at this moment. Then there were the minor scrapes and bruises that had healed so fast in the last couple weeks. At first, I thought I was imagining it, but when we got to the facility and heard the reasoning behind the development of the virus, I thought that maybe, somehow that vaccine had some sort of healing quality; it had been a long shot, but it looked like it paid off.
I looked at my hand again, flexing my shoulder and thigh. No aftereffects of the wounds. No pain. I had been right. But it still didn’t explain how Maria was infected, and why.
It wasn’t until I heard the muffled thumps far in the distance, and felt a slightly different, almost fleeting, vibration run through the metal floor, that I was jarred out of my stupor. Low frequency sound waves massaged the thick glass of the high window.
I attempted to drag the bed to the window, but it was fastened to the floor. Same deal with the small bedside table. But I had more luck with the chair that belonged to the writing desk against the far wall. Metal scratched on metal as I dragged it to the window and stepped up, grabbing the cold rim around the porthole for stability and plastering my face against the glass.
I wasn’t sure what I thought I would see. Maybe I was expecting a sunny day and beaches full of palm trees and bikini-clad vixens on far land. Perhaps the distant glimmer of sunlight off the clean, reflective windows of beachfront office buildings and hotels, untouched by madness and destruction. One rarely learns to manage one’s expectations in enough time to avoid disappointment. Today was no exception.
The world was burning.
Dark water churned beneath the dark gray hull as the ship moved forward, parallel to a coastline that slowly burned in silent fire and dark decay. Orange flames licked the sky between pillars of oily looking smoke that rose from a coastline covered in buildings. Houses and hotels, restaurants and boardwalks, they all burned. The late afternoon sun was setting behind the smoke filled sky, highlighting the volume of destruction rising into the twilight sky.
From the left side of the window, two bird-like silhouettes suddenly and quickly streaked across the sky merely two thousand feet above the flames and the smoke, cutting through the smoldering remains of the city like twin knives through soft butter.
I recognized the buildings and the landmarks. Harrah’s and Trump and MGM and the boardwalk.
I was watching Atlantic City burn to the ground.
No, check that.
I was watching it get leveled.
No lights illuminated the signs or windows, no sound made it to my ears, but I could hear the city dying nonetheless. And in my mind, in the memories of my recent ordeals, I could hear the moans and the grinding jaws of the world’s newest dominant species, as those that survived shuffled on, in search of food. In search of us.
Rubbing my hands across my eyes, I remembered their faces and their shambling pursuit; their implacable, unstoppable hunger. The memories were like a foul taste, briefly obscured by a better flavor, reigniting on my tongue after the promise of better things to come.
better things. Kate. Hartliss and the others. Some of them must have survived, or I wouldn’t be standing here. The memories of my last moments before I blacked out were foggy, as obscure as the buildings on shore, covered in a glaze of delirium and choppy confusion. I remembered the helicopter, the edge of the building, and a loud crash. After that, it was all black.
“So how the hell did I get
,” I whispered softly to the glass, resting my forehead on the cold glass, and opening my eyes once again to the infernal picture of a crashing society. The glass fogged with my words, causing the reflection of her in the small circular window to blur as Kate slowly swung open the door and appeared in the doorway. Her voice was beautiful, a much needed memory of something known and sure.
“Because you have some kick-ass friends who dragged your million-dollar ass here, that’s how.”
As good as it was to hear her voice, I was suddenly struck by one singular and unavoidable fact. I was standing on a chair, leaning forward, in a hospital gown.
The kind that doesn’t close in the back.
This left certain parts, normally quite substantially covered by a pair of pants, exposed to the very wide world behind me. A world currently occupied by one particularly attractive individual, who could hardly see anything
those parts. So, I did what any self-respecting man clamoring to regain a shred of his dignity would have done under the circumstances.
I shrieked like a 5 year-old girl, lost my grip on the window ledge, tripped on my gown, and fell to the floor.
I lay there, breathing heavily, willing myself to disappear, or explode, or implode, or teleport, or … any of the variety of things you wish upon yourself in such times of dire need. It was to my distinct displeasure that I heard soft laughter, and a kindly voice accompany approaching footsteps and felt a warm hand on my arm.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage to yourself lately? We hardly need you breaking bones on top of everything else, do we now?”
Kate kneeled down, her voice coming closer to my head, which remained glued to the floor. I pressed my eyes shut, embarrassment proving to be superb mental superglue. I slowly cracked one eyelid, searching for her face above me while seeking to maintain my fiction of unconsciousness.
She smiled slowly, staring directly at my slightly opened eye.
I opened both eyes, searching for something funny to say. Nothing would come. For once in my goddamned life, I couldn’t be a smart ass.
It sucked to be me.
Thankfully, she brought me some pants.
She had to speak slowly as I got dressed and she continued in hushed tones as we slowly followed our Marine escort down the long hallway to the infirmary, where the ship’s doctor waited to examine me.
We passed several crewmen, who alternately nodded, smiled or stared. All of them knew me. All of them knew
me as well. Kate just smiled pleasantly, moving carefully as she stepped over bulkhead after bulkhead.
The story of our redemption was nothing short of insane. My memories were accurate through the point at which I blacked out. Kate filled in the rest.
The chopper malfunctioned during our ascent from the facility, and Hartliss fought it tooth and nail to keep it in the air. We had struggled over the trees until we reached the main road, following asphalt into town, where he found the roof of the largest building in town and set down. Through the pain of his gunshot wound, Hartliss cared for the sick bird until it could get airborne again. His effort had been heroic and superhuman, and Kate still shook her head at the memory. The entire flight, he had tried to raise the Liverpool, desperate for a response. All he received was static.
Kate tried to convince him that the ship was fine, that it was a radio malfunction and that the commotion he heard before it blacked out was just one incident, not proof of a more nefarious end. He didn’t buy it. Those were his friends, his comrades, his shipmates, and they needed help.
We had staggered back to the Bay, fuel exhausted, pilot near dead. The Liverpool was exactly where we had left her. Except this time, she had a cargo ship parked in her port side. Zombies covered the decks of both ships.
Hartliss knew a lost cause when he saw one. He circled the ship several times, even firing the last rounds of the chopper’s cannons into the milling crowds of undead, but it was a cathartic act, nothing more. Hundreds, mostly former crew-mates of his, still wandered on the multiple decks, some stumbling into the ocean. As the Liverpool listed into the Bay, we landed on the only safe surface available: a fully loaded garbage scow.