ZOMBIE FEVER 1 Origins by B.M. Hodges Copyright 2012 B.M. Hodges Smashwords Edition Cover Image: (c) chrisharvey / www.fotosearch.com This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold 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. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Your support and respect for the property of this author is appreciated. This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. Chapter 1: And it begins… As the plane touched down at Lindbergh Field, Tomas brushed his black locks from his face and leaned forward, looking up and over the ample breasts of the morbidly obese man crammed into the adjoining center and window seat. Glimpses of palm trees and sun-baked stucco buildings whipped past. Shimmering San Diego came into focus as the Air Canada ERJ-190 braked on the runway tarmac. Snippets of the conversation he’d had with his mother and stepfather at their last get together flicked through his consciousness as the plane taxied toward the gate. There were obvious signs during those last few days that some sort of parental, for-yourown-good speech was in the works. There had been an escalation in the hushed conversations and closed door arguments between his mother and stepfather. He’d sensed that it would come at tonight’s dinner, which was why he was cruising on a couple blues prescribed by the therapist his parental units insisted he visit twice a week. He’d found himself yet again having to justify his life, “The situation between me and Jan is a bit tense, but we’ll work it out. We always do.” “We just don’t want to see you get hurt, again.” His mother countered, her eyes darting back and forth between her son and his stepfather, Stuart. He sat back calmly in the creaky wooden chair and half-listened as they began their planned and well-rehearsed lecture. A tune flitted around in the back of his thoughts and he couldn’t put his finger on the name of the song. It had been bothering him all day. Stuart cleared his throat, “Look Tomas, graduating university is a big deal. It’s an event in your life that you should have been preparing for long before now. In two weeks, you’re finished with your finals. Then what? We’d hoped by now that you’d have a job lined up or at least an internship. Living in our basement without a job, savings, steady girlfriend, heck, without a longterm plan for your life isn’t where we hoped you’d be when you finished your degree.” Since their marriage ten years ago, Stuart had heroically assumed a fatherly role with Tomas but always at a distance, taking his cue from Bev’s mothering style. “Let’s face it,” Stuart continued. Bev stared at Stuart as he talked. I could see her mouth move as Stuart spoke the words she’d put in there earlier, “now is the time for you to grow up and take some responsibility over your life. There’s no reason you should be in this predicament. You have so much going for you. What with the scholarship and your flair for science. You’ve been given a gift that most people would give anything for…anything. To be able to complete uni before your twentieth birthday; well, let’s just say you have a major leg up on the competition. Then to blow off applying for graduate school and having no plan in the works is…” There was a pause the parental units gathered the courage to meddle in his love life, “You’re squandering the most formidable years of your life on a girl who doesn’t seem to have your best interests at heart. She repeatedly dumps you, ‘dates’ a bunch of men for two or three months then makes nice when she is lonely. You need to end it. Now is the time, Tomas. We want you to try to see it from our perspective.” There was that ‘we’ again. It annoyed Tomas to no end that they spoke in tandem whenever they had anything serious to say. It had been years since his mother had actually spoken to him in the subjective “I” when it came to anything important. Tomas focused on the speck of thyme sticking to the lip of his empty water glass. Outwardly, the pills kept him calm and serene, but inwardly his stomach twisted in knots as he listened to their critique of his intensely personal relationship with Jan. He wanted to jump across the dining table and knock their heads together. If one thing was certain, it was that he loved Jan and would do anything for her. He’d loved her since they met at breakfast after a long night of partying during the summer between high school and university. She was wearing a dark blue cotton dress, he remembered, she was so casual and charming, beautiful really. They fell into a rapport, ignoring the rest of the group and made love for the first time that night. Their love-making was electric, sensual and addictive. “Don’t take this the wrong way, dear. We think some time away to clear your head is what you need.” Bev reached across the table and took Tomas’ hand, covering up the ‘J’ he’d tattooed on his ring finger his freshman year at UBC right before Jan dumped him the first time. His body was so relaxed that he didn’t even flinch at the unusual physical contact from his mother. She must be serious he thought. “A summer in San Diego with your father may be just the thing to put your life in perspective. He’d love to have you. Imagine the possibilities. You could try surfing. I know you’ve always wanted to give it a go. Besides, you know what it will be like here in Vancouver, pleasant but the same old, same old.” He glanced up and noticed an airline ticket stuck on the fridge with a Ski Whistler magnet. “But what about flight school? I’m two lessons away from my first solo flight, Mom.” She looked at her husband for encouragement and said, “We’ve decided to stop paying for your lessons for now. Getting your pilot’s license when you have no plans to become a commercial pilot is an indulgence you can’t afford at this critical point in your life, Tommy.” Stuart piped in, “Listen, Tomas. If you take this summer seriously and come up with a solid five-year plan, when you get back in September, you can pick up on your lessons right where you left off.” “We only want what’s best for you,” they said in unison. His dreams of whisking Jan away on a private plane to romantic destinations unknown evaporated when he realized they’d boxed him in a corner. He had no choice but to go. Getting a summer temp job in retail wouldn’t cover the remaining costs of his private pilot’s license. His plan to impress Jan and win her back with promises of high flying adventure would never come into fruition if they didn’t pay for it. The seatbelt sign switched off. Eager to escape the cramped stuffy cabin, Tomas squeezed into the aisle with the rest of the passengers. As he exited the plane, a flight attendant he had flirted with shook his hand and slipped him a note and a wink. Her tag said, “Ginger” and she had hair to match. The note said, “Drinks?” followed by her telephone number. He took out his wallet and shoved the note into the back fold, adding to the other numbers he’d forgotten. Tomas strode through the terminal, ego stoked, feeling invincible. Against the advice of his stepfather, Tomas had packed his forager steel-framed backpack instead of a standard carry-on. Now he wished he’d taken that advice as he was on the ground and eager to get on with the day. At least having to go to baggage claim made it easier to rendezvous with his father, he thought. Tomas spotted Andy right away. It wasn’t difficult. Just look for the person in the room the least self-aware. Andy was standing next to the baggage carousel but facing the juice bar off to the right, no doubt drawn to the two Nordic stewardesses sitting on high stools drinking smoothies at one of the tables. His father had a habit of wearing sunglasses indoors and openly gawking at people behind the darkened lenses, as if they didn’t instinctually sense his predatory stare. He stood there with his legs spread apart and arms folded across his chest, his authoritative stance comical compared to his slight frame. It was one of those things a child notices about a parent, one of the many sources of unrelenting embarrassment. Tomas could see a toothpick darting back and forth between Andy’s thin lips. His father was wearing khaki pants and a shirt that looked like he stole from a rent-a-cop. But he is a rent-a-cop, Tomas remembered. Andy worked as a security guard somewhere near La Jolla. For a laugh, Tomas crept up behind Andy and grabbed him roughly by the shoulder. His father jumped about a foot off the ground, the toothpick flying out of his mouth and into the fluffy white hair of an elderly woman cruising by on a scooter. Andy flipped around, yanking off his aviators, red with anger at this unexpected physical intrusion. But his demeanor changed when he saw his son. “Tommy, my boy!” Andy hollered too loudly as usual, drawing the attention of the surrounding travelers. He grabbed his son in a bear hug, tears welling up in his eyes. “Hi, Andy,” Tomas muttered, uncomfortable with the public display of affection. Tomas had always called his father by his first name. Even as a child when his parents were still together. It wasn’t a sign of disrespect, just habit. He pulled away and grunted, “You’re looking healthy.” His smiled and ran a hand through his thick black mane, “Still have all my hair if that’s what you mean. But these are fake,” he leaned up close to Tomas’ face and clicked his bright white teeth together. “One good thing about working for a pharmaceutical company, they have excellent dental. These are drilled right into my jaw bone with steel posts, better than the real ones.” Tomas nodded and threw some flattery his way, “Well, you look half your age with that tan. How many hearts have you broken down here in So Cal?” Andy drank it in then lightly punched Tomas in the arm when he realized he was being pandered to. He rubbed his hands together and looked towards the carousel, “How many bags you got? We need to hurry. I have to drop you off and get to the office. I’m on the night shift these days. You’re going to be on your own quite a bit while you’re here. Something important is going down at the facility and everyone’s pulling overtime. But I’m sure you won’t mind. It’ll give you some time to chase the foxy ladies.” They waited a while until the carousel began to turn. Tomas’ backpack was the second piece of luggage through. Andy drove a fifteen-year-old pearl white Roadmaster. It was a behemoth, one of those automobiles built for the WWII generation who coveted the styling of tank-like autos from the nineteen fifties. Andy was in his late fifties, but driving a car meant for his parent’s generation made him look that much older. They cruised along I-5 towards La Jolla at a brisk ninety miles per hour, a rate dictated by the speeding traffic around them, the dynaride suspension making it feel as though they were riding on giant marshmallows. The vehicle reeked of stale cigarettes and Tomas had to lean against his open window to catch outside air streaming through so he wouldn’t gag. Andy had this peculiar habit of smoking two or three drags off a cigarette then snubbing it out and lighting another. In the ashtray below the climate controls, reeking half-smoked menthols were stuffed tightly together like candles on a centenarian’s birthday cake. And there were half-empty packs strewn across the floor and halfempty forgotten cartons strewn across the backseat amid checked ties, gym shoes and fast food wrappers. Tomas noticed a couple butts from ladies slims with smears of lipstick on the tip in the ashtray of the passenger side armrest. Andy’s been randy, Tomas thought. Smoking wasn’t the only bad habit that Andy had. Andy had been living alone for two decades and had developed unconscious behaviors and ticks extremely irritating to anyone sitting with him in confined quarters. Tomas listened as Andy sucked air through his teeth repeatedly like a high pressure toothpick, then murmur and cackle, glance over at Tomas when he realized that he’d made a noise, then grab the arm of his aviator sunglasses and bob them up and down on his nose. Truth be told, Tomas loved his father, but these annoying ticks were a significant factor why Tomas always found an excuse to say ‘no’ when his father invited him to stay down in San Diego. He hadn’t been down to visit for eight years. The guilt of his selfishness bubbled to the surface for a moment when Tomas thought about how lonely Andy’s life must be. “Remember when you used to think that was Disneyland?” Andy asked, nodding towards the gaudy Mormon temple looming menacingly over the side of the San Diego freeway. “Now I think it looks like Superman’s fortress of solitude,” Tomas replied, knowing it would please his father. Andy slapped his leg and laughed his crazy hee-haw laugh. Traffic began to grow thicker. Andy shifted lanes to the far right one and when the rest of the cars slowed to a crawl, he eased onto the shoulder and kept driving, oblivious of the fist shaking and obscene gestures from the drivers stuck in the masses too law-abiding and sane to try such a maneuver. His father was the most reckless driver he’d ever know. Tomas gripped the armrest and leaned forward slightly to check the tension of his seatbelt. It was a miracle Andy had held onto his license all this time. He knew if he popped open the glove compartment there would be a stack of tickets ranging from minor traffic violations to reckless driving. The Sorrento Valley exit appeared and the Roadmaster glided off the freeway. Instead of turning right towards I-805 and Mira Mesa as Tomas remembered, Andy went left, explaining as he turned, “May as well show you where I work.” It only took a minute or two until they were thick inside an industrial park. Tomas watched as they drove past nondescript buildings made for car wholesalers and chemical plants, plastic furniture manufacturers and auto collision specialists. Andy turned onto a side street. The road was empty until they reached the end. Hunkered down at the bottom of the cul-de-sac was an imposing red brick wall topped with razor wire and an iron wrought gate in the center. There were no guards, but there were two poles positioned on each side of the gate with three industrial strength security cameras mounted on the top and sides. Through the gate, the road disappeared down a hill. All Tomas could see were four identical roof tops bunched together, their style similar to the non-descript buildings back along Sorrento Valley Road. To the right of the gate there was a small bronze sign that said, “Vitura Pharmaceuticals, Inc.” “There it is, one head of an enigmatic and powerful beast,” Andy chuckled conspiratorially as he turned the Roadmaster around the cul-de-sac and back towards the main road. He pantomimed zipping his lips together, “If I had a nickel for every time they remind me about the company’s confidentiality clause…” “Why, what’s the big deal?” Tomas asked. “What do they do in there? Have they discovered the cure for cancer or are they creating bio-weapons for the government?” “Something along those lines is definitely in the works,” Andy replied mysteriously. “So, want to grab a burger before we get home? We can hit the IN-N-OUT drive up near the apartment.” “Sure.” Tomas hadn’t eaten since his breakfast with Jan that morning. He’d begged her to meet at their favorite café in Stanley Park. ‘The least you could do is see me before I go,’ he’d said knowing she’d feel guilty if she didn’t. She’d reluctantly agreed though they were still on the outs at the conclusion of the meal. The breakfast was uneventful and bland. Jan had sat there stone-faced, eating a dry blueberry muffin then insisting on splitting the bill before she sped off in her jeep. With a sack of burgers in hand, Tomas sat patiently while Andy navigated through the maze of apartments that were Majestic Estates. When Tomas used to visit his father as a child, he used to think of Majestic Estates as a sunny paradise of endless cobalt skies and swim parties. These days, however, the two story apartments were showing their age; web-like cracks spidering up the blue-tinted walls, the rusted rain gutters hanging limply along the roofline. Andy read his expression, “Management doesn’t give a damn about the condition of the place, just collecting rent checks and enforcing eviction notices. You remember Belle from 8B? They threw her out on her ear when she got behind after emergency hip surgery. Real shame. She was a couple months away from qualifying for Medicare when she fell. A real shame.” They passed the central swimming pool, once the jewel of the complex and now empty, the bottom coated in a brownish slime. Tomas prodded his father, “So why don’t you move? You have to be making enough to afford better than this place. You could be nearer the coast, away from the constant roar of those insufferable military planes. Yeah, I remember the planes.” But Andy was very sensitive about his financial affairs. Back in the day he was making six figures as an engineer. That was before computers and the internet took over and ol’Andy had failed to keep up. Pagers and XP were the height of his technological savvy. “Let’s just say that my money is tied up in investments,” he replied. They pulled up next to Andy’s block. He shut off the engine, pulled the keys out of the ignition and took the apartment key off the oversized key ring, “I’m running late, Tommy. Go ahead and make yourself at home. Probably want to stay in for the night. This area has gotten dangerous after dark. There’s a six pack in the fridge. Have a few, I won’t tell your mom. I’ll see you in the morning.” Tomas took the key, hesitating for a moment, “It’s good to see you again, Andy.” Andy’s face softened and he smiled warmly with those big artificial teeth, “You too, son. I’ll try to get back around eight and we’ll have breakfast on O. B. Pier like we used to. Run along now.” A musty smell of bachelor living mixed with household cleaning supplies wafted out the door as Tomas entered the two-bedroom flat. It was obvious from the hint of ammonia and bleach that Andy had spent most the afternoon cleaning up for his arrival. Tomas tossed the sack of burgers onto the circular glass dining table and walked down the short hallway to his former weekend bedroom from back when his parents shared custody. He opened the door and was stunned to discover that everything was in the same place he’d left it after his last visit eight years ago. The new boogie board still in its cellophane was leaning against the mirror beside the junior-sized chest of drawers. Posters of surfers and the ’98 Padres World Series still hung on the wall, the corners curling from age. On the card table, his advanced Kem5500 chemistry set with its professional grade test tubes, alcohol burner and highly dangerous chemicals was set up just as he’d left it. He remembered the pride he felt when he got it as a Christmas present at ten, knowing that the label on the side said, “For Teens 14+.” He set his backpack on the bed and removed his bathroom kit. The two prescription bottles for his diagnosed, yet non-existent anxiety prescribed by the family shrink had been filled the day before his flight. He took out two blues and a green, went to the kitchen, opened a beer and swallowed them with a swig of micro-brewed lager. Chapter 2: Disappearance The deafening roar of a KC-130 Hercules thundering overhead from Miramar jerked Tomas out of his drug-induced sleep. He was half-lying, half-sitting on the couch in front of a muted infomercial wearing yesterday’s clothes and still gripping half a bottle of beer in his right hand. Must have dozed off right after eating those burgers, he thought, stretching and checking his watch. 11:13 am. Tomas crept to his father’s bedroom door, opened it a crack and peered inside. The bed was empty, still made up from the day before. Probably had things to do after work, Tomas reasoned. He wasn’t worried considering he had no idea what his father’s daily route was like these days. Maybe he went out to breakfast with some chippy, he mused. He took a shower and called Jan, but she wasn’t answering. So he got on his laptop to see whether he could find her online. He saw she was logged in, but when he sent her a message to chat, she went offline. So he scanned her latest posts, looking for indications of who she was currently ‘dating.’ One hour passed, then two - and still no Andy. In his haste to get to work, his father had failed to give Tomas a contact number and now he felt stranded without a car or plan. By seven o’clock that evening, Tomas was royally pissed and slightly worried. Why would Andy leave me with nothing in the fridge but a six pack of beer and expired bologna? He contemplated phoning his mother but knew she would give little sympathy and it would only reinforce her negativity towards his father. Instead, Tomas ordered a pizza, took a green pill and spent the evening watching college basketball on the tube. ***** Again he woke on the couch the next morning and Andy still hadn’t come home. Now he was worried. It’s been two days. Should I call the police? Maybe he’d pulled a triple shift. Could he still be at work? Tomas spent the next few hours searching online for a phone number to Vitura Pharmaceuticals. He found a few numbers with the right area code, but when he called, all he got was an automated answering service. Tomas jumped in the shower, pulled on a pair of wrinkled cargo pants and his favorite Canucks hockey jersey. He had a couple twenties in his pocket, so he decided to call a cab to his father’s workplace down on Sorrento Valley Road. He walked down to the clubhouse to make it easier for the driver to pick him up, munching on a cold slice of pepperoni pie. The cab driver was friendly and talkative. But Tomas didn’t hear a thing the driver said. His mind was on his father. As they drove into the cul-de-sac in front of the iron gate, Tomas recalled his father saying the company was an ‘enigmatic and powerful beast.’ He had an uneasy feeling as he watched the cab pull away. Tomas turned to the gate and looked for an intercom or a guard to let him in. The entire place looked deserted and the slope of the road made it impossible to see twenty yards of the road beyond the gate. So he took a step back and began waving and shouting at the cameras on the poles above. After ten minutes, he gave up. Faced with a long walk back to the apartment, Tomas sat on the curb to try to think of a new plan. Just as he was about to get up and leave, he heard the hum of an electric motor behind the gate. He turned and pressed his face against the iron bars. The hum got closer, then a golf cart came zipping up the hill towards the fence. Tomas made out the uniform of a security guard and aviator sunglasses so he called out, “Dad!” However, when the cart pulled up he realized it was a much younger man in that khaki uniform. “This is private property! No trespassing! Get away from the gate or we’ll notify the authorities!” the guard barked, expecting to frighten the young man off with the threat of police action. “I’m looking for Andy Overstreet. He works here as a security guard. He’s my father. Do you know if he’s here?” Tomas asked. “Andy?” The guard looked surprised, “Sure, I know Andy. He’s my boss. Hell, I didn’t know he had a son. Look,” the guard paused, it was evident the grimace that appeared on his face that he was conflicted about how to respond, “something’s happened. Wait here.” The golf cart zipped back down the hill and Tomas was worried. Five minutes later the guard was back. He raised his security badge towards the cameras above. There was a click and the gates opened just enough for Tomas to squeeze through. As the golf cart zipped down the hillside, Tomas got his first glimpse of Vitura Pharmaceuticals and he was unimpressed. The buildings were reminiscent of fascist architecture: symmetrical and simple, with no ornateness whatsoever. The buildings were four windowless gray cubes, each about the size of Tomas’ high school auditorium. They were lumped together in a square pattern. There were covered walkways between the cubes but absolutely no vegetation near the buildings for aesthetics, shade or otherwise. In the exact center of each of the two front buildings there was one set of double doors painted a darker gray, again with no windows. The parking lot surrounding the compound was empty except for several non-descript cargo vans, the occasional white shipping container and a couple forklifts. Encircling the parking lot were clumps of eucalyptus trees planted close for shade and to limit the view of the compound from the outside. The guard climbed off the golf cart and Tomas followed. They walked up to the double doors of the first building and the guard flashed his badge toward the doors. There was a click and the doors slid open revealing a spectacular circular foyer in stark contrast to the dull exterior. Granite floors and balsa wood panels lined the walls. A crystal chandelier in the form of stalactites - or giant teeth - hung from the entire ceiling. The guard motioned him to enter, then turned back to his cart and sped off. An androgynous receptionist in a slick charcoal suit with a bleach blonde flat top came strolling up, hard soled two-tones clacking on the floor like a woman’s stilettos. He stuck out a gloved hand and said, “How do you do. Mr. Overstreet? Please come with me. We’ve contacted Mr. Bertrand. He was on his way to Los Angeles, but when he heard that Andy Overstreet’s son was knocking at the door, he turned back and will arrive post-haste. I’ve been instructed to make you as comfortable as possible.” He turned and Tomas followed him through an alcove opposite the front door and down a long corridor. The corridor was dimly lit. However, as they walked down the hall, the lights noticeably brightened around them, then faded behind. It was very scifi. Tomas would have been distracted by the gaudy display if it weren’t for the gnawing concern for his father. As if reading his mind, the receptionist said sympathetically, “Real sorry about your father. Mr. Bertrand will answer all your questions. Here we are.” He held up his badge and a door slid open on the right, “Can I get you something to drink? Tea or something cold, perhaps?” “Uh, tea,” Tomas replied, afraid to ask what he meant about being sorry about Andy. The conference room was nearly as stunning as the foyer. It was a standard meeting room with an oblong table made of a crystalline substance positioned in the center with twelve highback leather chairs. The walls were made entirely from what looked to be oleophbic-coated glass. When the receptionist pulled off a glove and pressed his palm against the surface, the entire room turned into a live scene from a nearby beach, complete with the sounds of the surf, the sun high over head and surfers in the distance waiting for the perfect wave. It was as if they were sitting on the Torrey Pines shore facing the Pacific. The receptionist saw the look of wonder on Tomas’ face, smiled and said, “Trust me. This is much more soothing than the local news or a football game. But I could change the channel to a normal television screen if the viewer is too much for you. Some people can’t take the shift in perspective for very long.” “No, this is fine,” Tomas said as he slipped into one of the supple leather chairs. The receptionist brought his tea then left him with his thoughts. What happened to my father? What is this place? Was he okay? Why did this have to happen when I just got here? Should I call Mom or Jan? Tomas took out his mobile phone, but there wasn’t a signal. He’d felt a couple of loose pills in his pocket when he reached inside for his phone. He brought them out and swallowed them dry, forgetting the cup of tea in front of him. A pair of lovers walked hand in hand across the beach in front of the conference table, holding their sandals, laughing and enjoying the ocean breeze. The pills kicked in. After dozing for an hour to the sounds of the surf, Tomas heard voices in the hallway. The ocean scene disappeared, the lights brightened overhead and the door slid open behind him. An impeccably dressed gentleman entered the room. Trailing him was a middle-aged woman in a lab coat carrying a tablet, her black hair streaked with white. Tomas stood and held out his hand and was about to say, ‘Hello,’ but they looked straight ahead, ignoring him as though he were invisible. They walked around to the other side of the conference table and sat next to each other. Tomas sat back down, wondering how to react. The woman leaned over and pointed at the tablet display. The man nodded and whispered something in her ear. Then he brushed his hand across hers and Tomas noticed the woman stiffening and then cautiously pulling away. Anger began to well up inside Tomas. Where is Andy? He cleared his throat, “Excuse me.” The woman held up a finger to silence him. They sat there consulting the tablet and murmuring inaudibly. Frustrated, Tomas slammed his open palms on the table and yelled, “Hey!” The tablet nearly bounced out of the lady’s hand. Finally, looking directly at Tomas, the impeccably dressed man said in a South African accent, “That’s very rude, son. Mind your manners around your elders.” “Rude? This is ridiculous. Where’s my father?” Tomas growled, the pills only making his anger and his overreaction easier for him to accept. The woman glanced at her companion, got a nod of approval, and then replied mechanically, “Your father is dead.” Tomas could feel the blood drain from his face. He swooned back into his chair, feeling the room swirl around him. “Son, if you would be so kind as to give us a moment, we’ll answer all your questions. We must complete this teleconference with the board first.” The man said in a soothing voice, pointing to his ear. Tomas hadn’t noticed that both were wearing translucent earpieces, which would account for the odd disjointed conversation between them. So Andy was dead. Tomas had avoided visiting his father for so long. All those missed chances to catch up and build a true father and son relationship. His guilt was overwhelming. Tomas put his head in his hands and began to sob. He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the woman in the lab coat. She seemed genuinely sympathetic. She took Tomas in her arms and consoled him in a motherly embrace while the man with the South African accent finished his private teleconference. Once Tomas began to calm, the woman slipped away and sat back down. “Son, my name is Karl Bertrand and this is Dr. Greer. I’m in charge of the San Diego biological research and development division of Vitura Pharmaceuticals and my lovely companion is our senior scientist in residence.” He took a deep breath, “Let me begin by saying that I knew your father well. I worked with him for years. He was a good man. Courageous. And his death was not in vain.” He swiveled around and tapped out a code on the wall, “However, before we discuss the circumstances of your father’s unfortunate death, I think it’s best to show you his heroism first.” The room went dark and a screen made from light appeared as though floating above the center of the conference table, suspended in the air between Tomas and the two Vitura representatives, a logo with Vitura Pharma turned slowly on the display. The screen went blank, and then there was Andy walking down a hallway, his aviator glasses hanging from his lapel. He was fishing out a cigarette from a crumpled soft pack pulled out of his shirt pocket. At the bottom right of the screen the date and time read the day before yesterday at 3:23 am. He almost made it to the exit when, suddenly, the hallways lights began to flash yellow in an emergency fashion. Andy dropped his cigarettes, turned and ran down the hall shouting silently. The camera changed to another view inside a large antechamber that dipped towards the center. And in the center was a sealed glass laboratory complete with its own system of air locks. Inside the glass laboratory, three scientists in powder blue bio-safety positive-pressure suits were milling around a large malfunctioning device spraying a fine greenish mist into the air. Andy could be seen bursting through the doors and leaping down the stairs of the auditorium style room towards the enclosed laboratory. Inside, the three scientists were fading out of view as the green mist enveloped the clean room. Andy ran to a control panel against one of the walls. He flashed his badge against the panel and punched in a code. The mist began to clear as vents in the clean room floor began to suck out the contaminant. Then there was a flash as the camera overloaded for a second as an explosion of flames began to incinerate everything inside the glass laboratory, including the three scientists. The heat must have been tremendous as Andy had to back away to the far corner of the room and shield his eyes while the interior of the clean room was sanitized by fire. When it was over, there was nothing left in the container but steel tables and instruments, a lumpy mess where the spewing device previously stood, ash and bones. The screen split in two and Tomas watched as several more guards appeared in the hallway outside the main room locking the thick metal and hardened glass doors; locking his father inside. They remained behind the door, looking through the windows watching as Andy took stock of what he’d done. There must have been a ring or a buzz because Andy looked towards the control panel, walked over, picked up a receiver and began speaking to one of the men outside holding another receiver he’d pulled from a concealed panel in the wall. Andy began shouting and cursing into the receiver. He threw it down and ran to a first aid closet against the opposite wall next to a rack of powder blue pressure suits. Tomas watched as Andy pulled out an indecently large syringe from a plastic case and inject himself in the neck. Then he slumped down beside the rack of bio suits, his head falling slack against his chest. He slunk to the ground, lying there unconscious. The screen vanished the way it had appeared. Mr. Bertrand and Dr. Greer patiently waited for Tomas to collect himself. Tomas took out a pizza napkin he’d stuffed in there earlier and dabbed at his eyes. “Your father is a hero,” Dr. Greer started. “What your father did was stop a potential biological disaster that could have wiped out the entire population of California and the adjoining western states,” Mr. Bertrand added. Tomas didn’t understand what they were talking about. The video he witnessed and what they were saying only confused him. It was if they thought he had prior knowledge that wasn’t there. “He killed those men. How does that make him a hero? I don’t understand.” Mr. Bertrand smiled empathetically, “Perhaps we need to slow things down.” He pressed an unseen button and Tomas waited while the receptionist came in with his tea service, topping Tomas’ empty cup and pouring two more for Mr. Bertrand and Dr. Greer. Bertrand sipped his tea for a moment then said, “What do you know about Vitura Pharmaceuticals, Tomas?” Tomas let out a deep breath and after a long pause said, “Nada.” “But surely your dad talked about his work. Everyone needs to blow off steam after a long day. Surely you discussed Vitura over dinner on occasion?” Was this guy interrogating me? Shouldn’t I be asking the questions? “Look, Mister, I came to San Diego two days ago and my father drove me by the front of gate then dropped me off to go to work. That was the last I heard from him. I looked for a telephone number on the web, saw your global website and watched a couple clips about genetically modified wheat and a potential cure for malaria. When my father didn’t come home for two days, I took a cab here to find him. Like I said, I know n-o-t-h-i-n-g.” Bertrand and Dr. Greer looked at each other in satisfaction and Bertrand murmured to her, “See, I knew Andy was a company man.” Mr. Bertrand turned back to Tomas, “Then let me fill you in on some details. It will put your father’s death in perspective. Vitura Pharmaceuticals is a global conglomerate that strives to be on the cutting edge of biological ‘enhancements’, if you will. Our research and development facilities are located in eighteen countries and are second to none in advanced bio-nanotech and genetic research. From heartier strains of wheat, as you saw in our propaganda material, to eradication of virulent disease, Vitura strives to make the world a better place through the manipulation of god given hereditary traits so often taken for granted.” He sipped more of his tea, “However, some of our research is … controversial. We therefore strive to maintain a small informational footprint in the media and public at large. This is why you may have not heard of us prior to your arrival in San Diego. “Two nights ago, our technicians were recalibrating an aerosol dispersal unit. What you saw in that laboratory was a malfunctioning canister of a genetically engineered bio-agent developed at Vitura called IHS. IHS is a chimeric virus engineered from Zaire ebola, rabies and influenza and given super powers, if you will. It is highly contagious through human-to-human contact. It has a fatality rate of 100%. There is no treatment or cure. When the contagion is deployed, the aggressive strain infects a host body then seeks other hosts. It provokes an autonomic response in its victims, an urging if you will, to spread the virus. “Our IHS research is in the final stages and for the last two months, Vitura’s San Diego campus has been working day and night to fulfill an order for a military organization that shall go unnamed at this time. IHS is our crown jewel, an achievement twenty-five years ahead of its time. No other genetic research facility has come close to its magnificence.” A chill crept into his core as Tomas listened to the frank, matter-of-fact way this man was speaking about manipulating genetic abominations. To him, this man sounded like a megalomaniacal opportunist sowing the seeds of world destruction. Was he actually boasting about creating a biological weapon that turns people into human dispersal units? Dr. Greer sensed that Tomas was growing agitated as he listened to Mr. Bertrand. She leaned forward and gently interrupted, turning the conversation back to his father. “IHS, while not an airborne contagion, if released into the general public has the potential to devastate the world’s population. For obvious reasons, we haven’t been able to conduct human trials; our research with primates has given rise to emergency protocols that may seem harsh to an outsider. When Andy died, he was following Vitura protocols to the letter. He knew exactly what he was doing in those final minutes. You see, all employees at Vitura are vetted through rigorous background checks, testing, and in-house conditioning. This company is on the cutting edge and its research is dangerous. But we don’t hide this hazardous side from our employees. From the CEO to the janitors and security guards, every one of them knows the risks of working at Vitura as well as the rewards. Your father was no exception. Andy Overstreet’s quick actions saved potentially millions of lives.” “So what killed him then? Was it that syringe he stuck in his neck?” Tomas asked. “Dear,” Dr. Greer explained, “when your father decontaminated the clean room, the aerosol spray ignited inside. That minor explosion you saw on the screen before the flames wasn’t supposed to occur. There was too great a chance that the pressure on the container may have been too much, causing a release of the bio-agent into the main chamber. Your father did the only thing he could do that would raise the odds of his survival. He injected himself with a cocktail of drugs intended to induce a form of hibernation, slowing the heart and, more importantly, respiration. Unfortunately, the hibernating solution has a three to five percent fatality rate and your father was one of those fatalities.” She pause to let him absorb the information, then said in a sincere tone, “I’m so sorry, Tomas. But you must understand that if your father hadn’t followed protocol, purging the contaminant and administering the required injection, it is possible that the world would already be a very different place.” The two of them consulted for a moment and then Bertrand taped his ear piece and said, “There’s no point dragging this out. Bring him in.” Two men with solemn expressions entered the conference room, one ceremonially carrying a large crystal cylindrical container similar in design to the chandelier in the hallway, the other a stack of files. The man with the container came up next to Tomas, whispered, “My condolences,” set the container on the table and left quietly. The other man sat next to Dr. Greer and quietly began sifting through the paperwork. “The crystal vase is an urn that holds the remains of your father,” Mr. Bertrand said in a matter of fact tone. “Once we were able to enter the main laboratory where your father passed, we immediately took his remains to the onsite crematorium and disposed of them in accordance with bio-hazard protocols. We had to take every precaution to avoid an outbreak. I assure you that we took great care to respect and dignify the process. But please understand that the potential for contamination weighed far greater on the scales than the need for a proper funeral and burial. Though, he did have one request for the disposition of his remains: that his ashes be scattered at Sunset Cliffs off Point Loma. The request was for Vitura to carry out the directive. But I think, considering that he now has family present, that it should be done by you.” Tomas stared at the crystal urn. He could make out through the translucent material a dark spot in the center that must have been his father’s ashes. Mr. Bertrand stood, straightened his jacket, squeezed Dr. Greer’s shoulder and said, “While I am sensitive to your situation, you must understand that I’m a busy man. You will have to excuse me. Mr. Louis has some formalities for your attention having to do with the no-fault settlement and the assets in your father’s retirement account and his company life insurance policy.” Without a handshake or farewell, Mr. Bertrand marched out the door. Dr. Greer looked as though she wanted to say something but clamped her mouth shut and followed. Mr. Louis took his cue, “I trust that you know you are Andy Overstreet’s sole beneficiary. Part of my job as in-house counsel is to advise and assist Vitura employees with estate planning issues.” He picked up a postcard-sized paper and slid it across the table towards Tomas, “This is Mr. Overstreet’s death certificate. As you can see, the cause of death is stated as a heart attack which is technically true as his heart seized the moment he injected the dose of hibernating serum. It was signed off by the county coroner and everything is in order with the state.” The attorney paused to let Tomas take it in, then continued, “If you look on the bright side, Vitura’s no nonsense approach to decedent’s affairs saves families the bother of planning a funeral or deal with time consuming probate courts, allowing them time to grieve. Now, before you start to think about filing a wrongful death suit, please examine Mr. Overstreet’s employment contract,” he pushed across a document of at least thirty pages, “which specifically accounts for just such company accidents. Make no mistake: if you decide to sue, we will come after you, your family and all your assets. We are relentless and we will ruin you.” At this point Tomas had withdrawn far into himself. The Vitura attorney kept talking and passing paper after paper across the desk, which Tomas picked up and pretended to read. But all he could see was the lump of ash inside the urn at the periphery of his vision. “And here,” he slid another document across the table, “is your generous settlement agreement. You will see in clause 14b, that upon signing this agreement you are bound to keep everything you know and have heard about Vitura Pharmaceuticals confidential, including your conversation with Mr. Bertrand, all aspects of said settlement, your father’s employment and cause of death and the amount of compensation you will be walking away with today, including but not excluding your father’s retirement accounts and life insurance.” Finally, Mr. Louis was finished. He summoned an impartial notary and two unnamed employees into the conference room to act as witnesses and Tomas put his gnarled signature on somewhere in the ball park of forty documents. Once everything was signed and stamped, copied and scanned into an unseen database with Mr. Louis’ scanning wand, Tomas was handed a sealed envelope with one check inside to ‘make things easier,’ Mr. Louis advised in his lawyerly voice, “Don’t lose that. You’ll be hard pressed to get this company to issue another.” Tomas took the envelope and shoved in his pants pocket, “Can I go now?” he asked. “Certainly,” Mr. Louis replied and fished out Andy’s oversized key ring from his trousers, “I’ve taken the liberty of having my clerks load your father’s personal items into his car, which you will find towards the rear of the lot. May I offer a bit of advice, Mr. Overstreet?” he asked, using Tomas’ surname in an official manner. “Take some time to grieve then find a competent estate attorney to handle your affairs. There are plenty of sharks ready to take advantage of a beneficiary of a windfall.” And with that, the receptionist came strolling in and led Tomas, crystal urn in hand, back out through the front doors, closing them behind him with a big plastic smile. Chapter 3: Filial Burden The Roadmaster had a thin coating of dust across its windows from sitting idle out in the open for two days. Tomas set the urn in the passenger’s seat and pulled the seatbelt across it, strapping his father’s remains securely next to him. As he did this, he again had to wipe away tears, thinking about how his father hated wearing seatbelts. Once he got out of the industrial park, he made a quick decision. “No time like the present,” Tomas muttered to his father, navigating the Roadmaster onto I-5 north towards Ocean Beach. The drive was uneventful and Sunset Cliffs were beautiful. Looking out across the cliffs and the waters of the Pacific, it was easy to see why Andy had designated this spot as his final resting place. Tomas took the urn as near to the edge of the cliffs as possible, twisted off the top and set the cap down next to his feet. “Well, Dad,” he said, holding the open urn close against his chest, his voice breaking, “this isn’t what I thought spending the summer with you would mean. I’m … I’m sorry for not being around more. It wasn’t that … well … I love you and I hope you know that.” There was a pleasant breeze moving away from the cliffs towards the sea. Tomas turned the urn on its side and let the ashes spill out into the void. With the container upside down, he shook it hard to make sure all of Andy’s remains had been sent on their way. Something clinked out of the bottom and clinked off the urn’s cap beside his foot. Oh, no, Tomas thought. Was that a tooth or bit of bone? He leaned over and picked up the small object. But it wasn’t a part of Andy: it was a mini SD card used for extra storage in smart phones with a whopping 512GB on its side in tiny print below the initials V.P., Inc. Tomas stood there with the empty urn under one arm, perplexed as to why there would be a memory card buried in his father’s ashes. He went back to the Roadmaster, climbed inside, shut the door and looked around suspiciously. Then he took out his mobile phone, inserted the card and watched as thousands of file names scrolled across his screen. When it had finished, he scrolled to the top and saw that the first file was named “Read me-Tomas.” He clicked on it ; and instead of a document, a video began to play. It was Dr. Greer. She was leaning into the camera so only her face could be seen. She whispered, “Tomas, you need to listen to me. This is important. You are in grave danger. Vitura is not what it seems. Your father said you could be trusted with the files. Meet me at the lobby lounge in the Hotel Del Coronado tonight at ten. Make sure you aren’t followed. And Tomas, your father is still alive. I need your help to save him. Be alert and watch your back.” Tomas played the message half a dozen times. His confusion over the message contents and the elation he felt about the news that his father was alive were nearly overwhelming. He tried to access more of the files, but they were a jumbled mass of encryption. The digital clock on the dash read three o’clock. He had seven hours to kill. He drove the Roadmaster back to his father’s apartment in Mira Mesa, finished his pizza, took a long shower, popped a couple blues, changed into a newer but slightly wrinkled dress shirt over his cargo pants and flipped channels while he watched the clock. ***** When Tomas arrived at the hotel lounge at a quarter past ten, he was back in control of his emotions. He didn’t know what was going on, but he believed he had to stay strong because Andy was counting on him. He spotted Dr. Greer right away. It wasn’t easy to forget her raven hair streaked with white. She was dressed in a spectacular purple evening gown, as though she’d just been to opera or some other event of a high-brow nature. She’s fairly attractive for an older woman, Tomas thought, feeling a twinge at the sight of her tastefully presented cleavage. If she were ten years younger, I might have hit on her. She saw him enter the lounge, nodded slightly and sipped a glass of wine. Then she held up her hand indicating two more of the same to the cocktail waitress. “Where’s my father?” Tomas demanded as he sat down. “Tomas! My dear, it’s so good to see you!” Dr. Greer stood and kissed him on both cheeks. She sat back down, all smiles and slid a cocktail napkin across the table where she had written, ‘Shut up and do as I say. There are ears everywhere.’ When she saw he had read it, she crinkled the napkin in her hand and pushed it into her wine glass where the last drops of wine soaked through, obliterating the message. “So how is school? Your father told me you’re quite the scientific genius.” Then she whispered, “We’ll finish our drinks and you are to wait ten minutes then make your way up to room 213. I’ll tell you everything there.” One thing about Tomas, he was good at improvisation. He’d dabbled in acting during his freshman and sophomore year at UVC. He’d even considered minoring in the theatrical arts until one night when Jan teasingly said it was effeminate. Seeing the look of urgency and fear in Dr. Greer’s eyes when she whispered to him, and watching it turn back into glazed happiness as she waited for his answer to her obnoxiously loud question about school, made him think twice about calling her out. He followed her lead, “I graduated uni last month and came down to San Diego to hang with my dad for the summer. Got all A’s in my biology classes and ended up summa cum laude.” “Wonderful! Wonderful! You’re handsome and intelligent to boot! I bet you have to beat off the young ladies with a stick!” she replied, eyes darting around the room looking for anyone who may be showing interest in them. “Yep, beat off is what I do,” Tomas joked. They continued the inane conversation, drank their wine, and then Dr. Greer excused herself, saying she was meeting friends. Tomas waited eight minutes, got antsy and went to the restroom. He then proceeded to room 213. Its door was slightly ajar and Tomas eased it open to a darkened room, the only light coming from the moon and the harbor lights filtering through the sheer curtains. Dr. Greer was sitting in a dim haze inside at a small marble table by the window. She was smoking and there was a much different look on her face. “Sit down,” she commanded. Tomas sat opposite and noted that the two butts in the ashtray were the same ladies slims he’d spotted in the Roadmaster on the drive from the airport. “Your father and I were lovers,” she began abruptly. “Yes, I said it, lovers. We met eight years ago at a company picnic. Your father has a great analytical mind and the two of us were drawn to each other immediately. But our relationship as lovers had to remain under wraps due to the sensitive nature of my work at Vitura. I’m telling you this because you need to know that I am on your side. Andy is more important to me than Vitura, world domination, even my own life. Mr. Bertrand told you half truths. Andy is alive and held in the research lab. The video you saw was accurate, but the hybernox solution your father injected into his system didn’t kill him.” Did she say ‘world domination’? They’re all insane. “So, if he’s still at Vitura, why would you and your boss tell me he was dead? What’s going on? Why did you say we need to save him in your video message?” Dr. Greer leaned across the table and set her hand on top of his, just as his mother did two days earlier, “Tomas, your father is alive, but he’s … changed. When he purged the chamber of the laboratory, aerosol containing the virus escaped. The injection worked as it was intended but he was exposed to the virus before administering the hybernox solution. He’s been infected and there is no cure. Yes, he’s still alive and if we don’t save him, they’re going to experiment on him until his body can no longer take the abuse. Afterwards, they’re going to vivisect him as is the protocol for disposing carriers of IHS.” “Then why did you say we need to save him? If he can’t be cured, how are we going to save him?” Tomas asked, feeling he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted, distraught at the thought of scientists turning his father into a guinea pig. “Honey, in order to save him, we need to kill him.” Tomas stood up, shaking his head, intent on racing for the door and getting away from this woman, “This is crazy. You’re all crazy.” “Tomas, there’s more. Please sit down. This is bigger than you, your father and me.” Tomas hesitated, still reacting to the fight or flight adrenaline pulsing through his veins. He sat on the edge of his seat. “Mr. Bertrand was surprisingly forthcoming about IHS. I think he believed that the confidentiality agreement you signed for your settlement and the ensuing greed from your new wealth would shut you up for good. It is true that IHS is a virus that has military applications. But Vitura isn’t working on a contract for an ‘unnamed military organization’ as Bertrand put it. Vitura is working for Vitura. “You have to understand, Vitura is a global corporation the likes of which has never been seen before. It is a hydra, completely decentralized, with no actual headquarters running the operation. It was set up that way so operations could continue even if most of it was shut down or destroyed. Bertrand mentioned that Vitura is in eighteen countries, but those aren’t its only locations. Vitura has also absorbed a fleet of six cruise ships that they have converted into mobile research facilities and reclaimed four derelict oil platforms for corporate operations that function well outside the jurisdiction of international law. And in reality, each of those eighteen branches is an individual cell, wholly enclosed and self-sufficient. Due to its international presence in various non-treaty countries and its unconventional corporate structure, Vitura Pharmaceuticals operates outside any single country’s law. And with the fortune it has amassed over the last ten years through intellectual property patents and genetic breakthroughs, Vitura has become the wealthiest corporation on the planet, surpassing many country’s GDP.” She paused, her eyes glittered for a moment at the brilliance of the company’s success, “But the beauty of Vitura is the way that the wealth and its power is delegated so, while in the last twenty years it has grown to become a global power, it has remained under the public’s radar. The founders of Vitura are master architects, master craftsman of a transnational corporate structure that operates above mundane global affairs. Its reach extends beyond politicos and state rulers. It’s omnipresent.” She lit another cigarette and smoked in silence for a few moments while she reminisced about Vitura’s greatness inside her head. Tomas coughed. That brought her back to the present. Dr Greer snuffed out her cigarette and continued, “Andy and I have been working at Vitura’s San Diego campus since it was incorporated eleven years ago. Most employees at Vitura are independent contractors on one-year contracts or less as another layer of security. Because of our longevity with the company, your father and I have become privy to information that most employees at Vitura Pharma wouldn’t even have the slightest inkling of. “Vitura is getting too big to remain hidden. It knows this and has been planning proactively to announce its presence to the world on its own terms. The initial deployment of IHS in Guangzhou, China next month is going to be their coming out party.” She paused long enough to light another cigarette. “You see, Vitura, while headless, does have its own internal ideology. Vitura sees the big picture. And one of the tenants of that ideology is a desire to control nature for the betterment of mankind. “One of Vitura’s cells is a think-tank devoted to creating theoretical models of the company’s long term survival in a world where billions of people are born every decade. Projections have shown that an increasingly overpopulated world will eventually destroy itself and Vitura. Their solution: If the population could be eased back down to less than five billion, many of the world’s problems would go away or diminish to a manageable extent and Vitura could thrive. With current technology, hunger, disease, green house emissions, even poverty is curable if we could put a reasonable cap on the world’s population. “So the think-tank began to create models of a world where the population is selectively culled, in critical areas where disease and war would most likely threaten humankind with annihilation. They submitted a request to Vitura’s San Diego campus. Our contribution to the cause was an engineered chimeric virus that can be deployed then rendered inert before spreading out of control. How? By creating a virus that infects through human-to-human contact, is easy to diagnose and containable with efficiently managed quarantine zones. “And the best part is, the think-tank believes that once governments see the effectiveness of IHS, that they will open their coffers and pay Vitura to cull their populations.” Tomas had enough of this nonsense. He didn’t trust a word she said. She must be one of those stalker types who feed off the misfortune of others, he thought. “Give me a break lady. This isn’t a Bond movie. There are no global conspiracies. You’re off your rocker.” He rose and stormed towards the door. As he reached for the knob, he heard a barely audible ‘click.’ He turned back and saw that Dr. Greer was pointing a pistol at his head. “Sit down, Tomas. Your father warned me that you are impulsive and emotional. He was right - you’re more impetuous than a schoolgirl. And hand over the memory card. If you want proof, you have all the proof you need in your possession.” Tomas backed away from the door and dipped his hand into his pocket, fishing out his phone amid crumpled wads of dollar bills, Andy’s keys and the forgotten envelope. He ejected the card and flicked it across the table. It slid to a stop next to the ashtray. “I’m so glad you didn’t throw it out with the ashes. There was no other way to smuggle out the files. Employees are searched and sent through a backscatter full-body scanner when leaving the premises. I knew you were in town and figured it was just a matter of time before you came snooping around the facility for your father so I planted the card in the urn.” She set the gun on the table and reached down into a bag beside her chair, brought out a tablet and inserted the card. After typing in a complex series of codes, she handed the tablet to Tomas. “That’s all the information you need. I’m confident you will come around once you have taken a look at those files. Take your time,” she said. “We have five hours before the night shift changes at the facility. You should be able to slip in with the rest of them to save your father then.” Tomas began flipping through the files. His quick mind, his degree in biology and his fascination with chemistry as a teenager allowed him to read into the files near the level of a second year lab tech. The files were solely from Vitura San Diego. There was no mention of other ‘cells’ as Dr. Greer called them. Nearly every file had to do with IHS. Along with the documents, were photos of animal experimentation as well as video. Tomas gasped when he delved deeper and found a file unabashedly called, Human Trials. Vitura had been recruiting homeless in San Diego, LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas to take part in benign experiments using placebos and faux questionnaires. However, some homeless, the ones too schizophrenic or addicted or senile to be missed, weren’t so fortunate. They were ruthlessly experimented on. Photos, video and detailed observations of bloated moaning zombielike creatures leaking greenish fluid out of their orifices and splits in their skin, were catalogued and organized neatly in the files. Some of the homeless were used as food for the infected; some merely bitten, scratched or sprayed with viral goo to see how long it took for the fever to take hold. An hour had passed before Tomas had had enough of the carnage, ruthlessness of the scientists and the unethical treatment of their subjects. He was cognizant of Dr. Greer in many of the videos and photos, tablet in hand, barking orders to her underlings as they experimented on the infected. He could feel the glass of wine from earlier turning in his stomach. He ran to the bathroom, got down on his knees and puked burgundy across the lip of the toilet bowl. He splashed cold water on his face and went back out to face Dr. Greer who now looked to him like a monster. She sensed the change in his demeanor and said, “Yes, I was head of clinical trials of the virus. And yes, I am personally responsible for the deaths of forty-two ‘volunteers,’ I have no excuse for my actions. My ability to remain detached and impartial during those experiments is a talent that I am ashamed of, but it is the talent that I was recruited for. Mr. Bertrand trusts me because I am the one who will fry in the electric chair should any of this become public. I am responsible and there is nothing I can do to change the past.” She went to the mini-bar, poured a scotch and tipped it back. “I loved your father, Tomas. All my life, I have been alone. My family was killed in a tragic accident when I was very young. Science and research have been my life. I’ve never had any lovers until I met your father. But I want to attempt to atone for my sins. I want to take my knowledge of Vitura and IHS and put a stop to their plans before they kill millions of people with what is essentially my baby, the virus that I helped create and bring into this world. “With your help and with the wealth that your father’s death has brought you, we can put a stop to Vitura. Inside those files is research and discoveries that I have been a party to that we could patent … hell, inside those files is enough research to synthesize a vaccine for IHS. We could inoculate the world, Tomas, and save millions, possibly billions of people.” “But Andy isn’t dead. You said so yourself. This check,” Tomas pulled the envelope out of his pocket, “is useless if it’s all a fraud.” “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, my dear. The man that you know, as your father is dead. His body is still alive; but technically, Andy is brain dead. Like those creatures you saw, he is still walking around, but only because he is trying to find others to infect. He is no longer Andy, no longer my Andy.” Tomas could see that she was actually tearing up. “We need to put him down. Then I can move on. But I can’t do it. If I try to do it, they’ll surely catch me.” She came up close to Tomas and put her hand on his shoulder, “Your father has a spare uniform and badge. Go to Vitura at exactly three a.m. and enter when you see the change of shift. Use his badge to get through the gate and into the research building in the rear. Then it will be a simple matter to gain entrance to the laboratory level and light him up.” “Light him up? Do you really think I’m going to burn him alive?” Tomas was close to a nervous breakdown. This day was too much for him. “You’ll have to. If you get too close, he could bite you and you’d be infected as well. Incineration is the only way. Then get out and leave for Canada immediately.” She walked over to her bag and pulled out a wad of hundreds, “Here’s two thousand dollars cash. When you’re finished, drive straight to the airport and buy a ticket home. I’m crossing into Mexico tonight with these files. From there, I’ll take a plane to Panama and charter a vessel to Australia. I have contacts over there who can help us. After a few months, I’ll find my way back to Canada. If both of us are successful, I will contact you for a meet and we’ll discuss how we’re going to take down Vitura. Now go Tomas and be brave. Do it for Andy. And keep that check in a safe place. It’s seed money for saving mankind.” And with that, Dr. Greer opened the door and practically shooed him into the hallway. “Andy would have been proud,” she said before shutting the door. Tomas was alone in the hallway. He took out the forgotten envelope, realizing he hadn’t bothered to open it earlier. The check inside was written out to Mr. Tomas Overstreet for one million seven hundred and forty-seven thousand dollars. Chapter 4: Groundwork Tomas leaned against the corridor wall to steady himself. I’m a millionaire. His legs were weak and he had trouble staying on his feet. But after the initial shock over the seven digit settlement began to subside, it dawned on him that since he arrived in San Diego, he was being manipulated. If it wasn’t by his father who knew about his employers evil deeds and his secrets, then Supervisor Bertrand and a ‘settlement check’ that was nothing more than a thinly disguised pay-off - and now Dr. Greer, who claimed she loved his father but was leaving his fate entirely in Tomas’ hands. No. Tomas wasn’t going to let Dr. Greer off that easy. She is trying to railroad me into doing her dirty work. His father was alive and he had to do something about it. But if I were to even consider helping Andy, I’m going to do it my way. He carefully folded the check and put it in the back of his wallet then turned and banged on the door, “Dr. Greer! Open the door! I’m not leaving until you speak to me! Dr. Greer!” The door opened, but she’d kept the security chain latched and he could see she was pointing the gun, now equipped with a silencer, at his abdomen. She whispered into the hallway, “Stop attracting unwanted attention or I’ll shoot!” When he calmed she said in a frosty tone, “You need to start acting like a man. There is a much bigger world outside that comatose stupor you put yourself in with those pills you take. Oh, yes, your dad knew about the pills and I can see their effects in your slightly unfocused eyes right now. Even during this critical time, you’re high. Now, if I open this door and let you back in, will you act civilly?” For a few fleeting seconds, Tomas had felt as if he was finally in control of his life when he’d looked at that check. But after Dr. Greer’s scolding, he felt more like a child than someone in control of his destiny. That kind of tongue lashing wasn’t something he was accustomed to as his mother tended to avoid delving into that more difficult side of parenting, instead preferring to withdraw until the need for such discipline passed. Dr. Greer opened the door and stood back, the gun still pointed at his abdomen in case she’d misread his intentions. “Ma’am, I agree that something needs to be done about Andy, but I just can’t go in and kill him.” Tomas had a keen mind and he was already formulating an alternate plan, “I’m going to help Andy, but I need four or five days to put everything together. If my plan is to succeed, I’m going to need your help throughout the entire ordeal.” She started to shake her head. Tomas held up his hand to keep her quiet and continued, “You can still leave the country tonight. I’m not saying I need you here ‘physically’.” He pulled the two grand out of his pocket she’d given him, “Wait here for me for a couple of hours. This should be enough to pick up a couple of those new com-links just released on the market. We’ll be able to stay in contact and you can get out of here. You’re going to have to provide some logistical information about your company’s compound. Otherwise, I don’t think my plan will work.” “What’s your plan, Tomas?” “I’m going to break Andy out of there, that’s what I’m going to do. I won’t ‘put him down,’ but the least I can do is get him to a safe location where we can work on a cure. My father is a good man. I don’t think he’d be opposed to using him to study the disease he’s infected with if it means helping the innocent. If you’re serious about stopping Vitura, having a live specimen will only bolster your knowledge and experience with IHS, wouldn’t you say?” Dr. Greer seemed more receptive now that she realized that Tomas was planning to help Andy and looking at the whole picture. He’s right, it would certainly be useful if she could get hold of live virus. She set the gun down and said, “The consumer tech you’re talking about is child’s play compared to the equipment our R&D division has been working on. I can do you one better. Let me make a phone call. Andy and I aren’t the only disgruntled Vitura employees.” She went to the hotel phone, attached a device to the receiver, mumbled instructions to an unseen party and turned back to Tomas. “Do you favor your left or right ear?” ***** Tomas couldn’t wait to get started the next morning and was already up by five. He took a cold shower and sketched out an inventory of a few but necessary items needed to carry out his plan. His right ear cavity was sore from the com-link that Dr. Greer’s techie friend had implanted deep and inside as close to the eardrum as possible the night before. He didn’t mind the pain, however, as the enhanced audible range and ability to instantly communicate with Dr. Greer, if needed, were more than sufficient trade-offs. At least he didn’t feel as if he were in this alone. After dwelling over the plan for some time and making minor corrections he came up with a simple list: Breakout Items -Andy’s uniform -1 working security pass (Andy’s? check w/ Dr. G) -1 liter flask of thermite -4 tannerite cakes -5 gallons of gasoline -1 extra large coffin -1 angle grinder -1 moving van (paint white) -1 industrial strength tarp - 12 ft. nylon rope -Sedatives -4 cellphones and bubblewrap -Private plane rental w/pilot -US$20k in hundred dollar bills The goods and services on the list were easily purchasable once the settlement check cleared, except for the explosive compounds. But he was fairly confident he could make them if they weren’t. The cash may have raised some eyebrows at the bank if he was an ordinary customer, but depositing nearly two million dollars should give him enough leverage to avoid any unnecessary questions. “Dr. Greer, you there?” he asked. “Tomas, I didn’t expect you till later. How’s the reception? I’m two hours south of Baja on a schooner. Is there any interference on your end?” “I hear you like you’re sitting next to me. Doc, I need some chemicals that may or may not be illegal in the States. Do you know where I can pick up some tannerite, thermite and magnesium cord in the Mira Mesa area?” Dr. Greer laughed, “The first two are impossible to purchase unless you have a demolition company. I thought you were a lab geek? I’m sure you can whip up some thermite and tannerite on your own; recipes are all over the net. You’ll have to improvise your ignition devices for the tannerite, but magnesium cord can still be purchased. Is there anything else? The skipper is eyeballing me. Please only use the com-link when absolutely required. I’m not your yellow pages or confidante, and I’m shutting it off as soon as your mission is over.” Tomas didn’t reply. He stared at the chemistry set. Yes, he knew how to make tannerite and thermite. Even lab geeks had to have some fun and blowing things up was a great way to end a grueling data intensive semester. His primary concern was that purchasing, then making the chemicals would be too time-consuming. But they were essential to his plan. But first, he had to get some transportation and deposit that check. He needed that money for the most expensive items in the inventory. If he couldn’t access those funds by tomorrow, he’d have to postpone or maybe even give up on helping Andy. He combed through the online classifieds for temporary transportation and found an inexpensive motorcycle for sale in the neighborhood directly behind Andy’s apartment complex that claimed to be in ‘excellent working condition, helmet included.’ He had a motorcycle mothballed in the back of his parent’s garage, but it had been years since he’d ridden, so if he was satisfied with the bike and bought it, he thought it best to limit his driving to the surrounding area. No sense trying to take it on those treacherous freeways, especially since he didn’t have a valid motorcycle license. Then he scribbled down the addresses of the nearest machine shop, funeral parlor, HAUL-IT transport vehicle sales and an auto body shop. Tomas was anxious. He went into his room and took out the two pill bottles, opening each of them, counting the remaining pills he had left. Dr. Greer’s scolding was fresh on his mind. She was right: he indulged in his pill habit too much. He didn’t think he was addicted in the strict sense of the word. It was just that life could be so dull or too harsh. His little blue and green companions were the remedy for either, making an otherwise tedious day more tolerable or smoothing and rounding the edges of prickly social encounters. No more pills, for now. But that didn’t mean these they couldn’t be repurposed for something useful. So he spent the half hour grinding the pills into a fine powder, mixing them in one of the smaller Kem5500 test tubes. He figured he could sedate Andy if he was too much to handle. He thought twice about turning it into an injectable solution. Poking an infected was unwise. The videos he’d watched on Dr. Greer’s tablet made it clear that one of the virus’ mechanisms for transmission was from puncturing the skin of a swollen, bloated infected which caused a forced ejection of viral fluid. It was one of the features that the Dr. Greer in the videos was most proud of. If Andy was infected with zombie fever, he would have to be handled most delicately. It was still early in the morning but he couldn’t wait any longer. He called the number of the motorcycle seller. The seller sounded groggy and annoyed at the early call until he heard it was about money and he perked right up. Tomas jogged to the house about a half-mile away and, satisfied with the bike’s condition, he was soon cruising towards the machine shop from his list on the thirty-year old 650cc Nighthawk. Four hours later, his errands were finished, the check was deposited and he was back in the apartment concocting the thermite and tannerite with metal shavings from the machine shop, a bag of ammonium nitrate from the gardening store, a nine-volt battery and six busted Etch-ASketches for the aluminum powder inside. By sundown, he had four tannerite cakes the size of sticks of butter and a flask of thermite ready to go. Working on plans found on the underbelly of the net known as the ‘Silk Road,’ he took apart the cell phones and created crude trigger devices for the half-pound tannerite cakes. Then he wrapped each of them carefully in pillow cases and bubble wrap, securing each with ample amounts of duct tape. Now he had four rudimentary low-yield grenades roughly the size of footballs that would be loud but only about as explosive as a dozen M80 firecrackers. His plan called for two, but he wanted to make sure he had enough in the event he needed them for distraction. There was nothing for him to do the rest of the evening, so he tapped out a teaspoon of the crushed pills, swallowed the powder with a glass of water and crashed out for the night. ***** The next two days were a flurry of buying and preparing. Tomas wished he had someone there to help him and almost got hold of Dr. Greer to go over the plan, but resisted the urge as she was clear she didn’t want to be disturbed unless it was unavoidable. Everything was ready. All he needed now was an overcast night and a whole lot of luck. Tomas put on his father’s spare uniform and glasses. He almost fit the part except for his thick shoulder-length hair. There’s a time for vanity and a time for action, he thought as he shaved off his locks down to the scalp with a pair of clippers he found under the bathroom sink. He hadn’t shaved since before his morning breakfast with Jan three days earlier. He was a stranger in the mirror with that darkened muzzle and freshly shaved head. He put on his father’s aviator sunglasses and the look was complete. As he stared into the mirror, he visualized the daring breakout one last time that he and Dr. Greer had formulated. Drive the van to the entrance and flash the badge. Once inside the compound, toss two tannerite devices onto the roof of the front administrative building and head to the R&D building in the rear. Sneak into the cargo bay and find the floor panel approximately forty paces from the cargo bay doors. It will be locked, but opening will not be necessary. Pour the thermite onto the panel. Make anonymous call to the fire department to ensure maximum confusion. Light and run. As soon as the thermite burns through, trigger the tannerite devices on the roof, which will create a large bang and cause some fire damage and a lot of smoke and will set off the emergency system, causing a general evacuation and lockdown. The thermite should have burned through the cable underneath the panel by then; disabling the steel shutters that otherwise would have secured building. Get to the second floor and search the labs for Andy. The angle grinder would make short work of any locked doors that might get in his way. Sedate Andy with the crushed pills and load him into the coffin. Use the twenty thousand cash to grease the hands of anyone at Vitura who gets in the way because, as Dr. Greer put it, most lower level employees were only loyal to the extent of their short-term contracts and should stand aside for a couple of Benjamins. Drive the van south. Get to Lindbergh Field. Load Andy into the plane’s rear compartment and fly to Vancouver. Show the death certificate at customs. Tomas knew there were some logistical problems with the plan, such as getting Andy from the building to the van and hefting the coffin into the plane without too many questions from the pilot and ground crew; especially, if Andy was still kicking around inside. But he figured his improvisational skills would make up for the weaknesses in the plan. I can do this. Chapter 5: Contravention Two days later and the sky filled with dark clouds and it began to rain, the normally bright San Diego night now dark and foreboding. It was time. It was closing in on ten o’clock. Tomas checked in with Dr. Greer one last time to go over the plan and double check his mental diagram of the Vitura Pharmaceuticals compound. Dr. Greer was upbeat and positive. “I know you can do this, Tomas. You have a fire within you, I know it and your father knew it. He was always bragging about your inner power.” She was still on the schooner on the way to Panama and full of caffeinated pep of someone set free. Once in Panama, she explained to him that she planned to meet one of her contacts for a round of cosmetic surgery that would alter her profile. Then she was going to procure a passport that would match her new face and get her into Australia undetected to start her recruitment drive to find allies in their battle against corporate zombie contagion. He made one last phone call to the pilot he’d hired on standby to prep the single-engine Cessna Skylane. The pilot had been sitting idle at Lindbergh Field for the last two days. He was obliging but eager to make the run. Tomas had booked the pilot and plane open ended and the bill was running high, but he couldn’t risk not having the plane ready at a moment’s notice; and even as the bill neared the ten thousand dollars, it was relatively small compared to his new found wealth. Besides, the pilot agreed to keep his flight off the books and to be at his beck and call for a lump sum payment. Before hanging up, the pilot reminded him they’d have to stop to refuel in Stockton as the plane’s maximum range was just short of their destination. The small Cessna had barely enough cargo space to accommodate the coffin’s dimensions with the rear seats removed. He’d thought about opting for a larger plane for its longer range and space, but didn’t want to be too conspicuous. Tomas fingered the security pass in his pocket and did a final inventory check of the duffel bag by the apartment door. He thought again about bringing along a weapon, staring at the block of kitchen knives on the kitchen counter. During the last two days he’d struggled against the urge to purchase a combat knife, stun gun or even pepper spray. But he’d always been opposed to physical confrontation and didn’t want to invite trouble by preparing for it. He looked around his father’s living room, knowing this would be the last time he would see the place, recalling fast food dinners on the coffee table, building forts out of sheets and the dining chairs, kissing a girl for the first time at the age of twelve on that worn sofa one night while his father was working late. “I’m coming for you, Dad,” he said, not realizing that he’d used the ‘D’ word for the first time since he was a small boy. Tomas walked briskly to the moving van in the RV parking section of the parking lot. He’d secured the coffin and his motorcycle inside the rear the night before. He set the duffel bag on the front seat and climbed inside. The smell of the fresh pearl white paint was strong in his nose. He started the van and pulled away. Dr. Greer had said that the best time to attempt an infiltration into the compound undetected was during the change of shifts at three a.m. But Tomas wasn’t sneaking in. His plan was to hide in plain sight. After all, he needed to get his father out of there and the only way he believed that would be possible would be to sneak in with a transport van similar to the ones he’d observed parked in the compound. He figured that once he made it through the front gate, the rest of his plan would fall into place. He turned on the windshield wipers as droplets of early summer rain began to fall. His vision was limited as he’d painted most of the windshield with a dull gray paint to obscure his face from the security cameras out in front of the Vitura compound. He had to lean forward close to the wheel to see out the small clear horizontal line he’d left as his only means of seeing ahead. The rain began to beat a steady rhythm on top of the van as he waited at one of the many stop lights along Mira Mesa Boulevard. He held his breath, hoping that a random police officer on patrol wouldn’t come up behind him and run the plates he’d stolen off one of Andy’s neighbor’s trucks, or notice that his windshield was intentionally obscured and pull him over for a vehicle violation. But the promise of rain must have driven most late-night commuters indoors as the boulevard was virtually empty and less than five minutes later he was driving along Sorrento Valley Road. Before turning into the small dead end lane where Vitura Pharmaceuticals was located, Tomas pulled to the side of the road and switched off the lights. When the road was clear of vehicles, he climbed out of the cab, went to the back of the van and, as quietly as possible, lifted the rear door, pulled down the ramp and rolled the motorcycle out of the bed, parking it off the road under a cluster of trees. Every getaway movie he’d ever seen had a Plan B. The motorcycle was his Plan B; - a means of escape in the event everything went haywire. He got back in the van and drove into Vitura’s drive. His stomach started doing summersaults as he got closer. While he wasn’t opposed to ingesting the occasional illicit drug or breaking an inconsequential law to, say, skinny dip with his ex in a hotel pool after hours, he was an exceptionally law-abiding person when it came to other people’s welfare - his moral compass holding steady when it came to harming people. But his plan involved committing several serious and potentially violent felonies. Breaking bad was something new to him and wracked his nervous system. “Doc, you there?” Tomas asked. His throat was dry and his voice cracked. “I’m here, Tomas.” “I’m turning towards the gate now.” “Tomas. Focus and don’t hesitate or you’ll look suspicious. Remember, fluid movements. Calm and serene. You can do this.” The van pulled up to the gate. Tomas cranked down the window and held the badge out high towards the cameras. He turned his head away and waited. There was a clank and the gates trundled open. Tomas rolled up the window and drove through. It was a mystery to him why his father’s old security badge was still functioning and he couldn’t help but wonder if Dr. Greer didn’t have something to do with it. Even exiled, he imagined she still had colleagues working inside the compound sympathetic to her cause and willing to do her favors when called upon. The white cargo van stopped alongside a line of similar white vans. As casually as possible, Tomas exited the compartment with his head down and cap low, carrying the unzipped duffel bag, his eyes darting back and forth searching for trouble. He raised the van’s door up and pulled the ramp down, leaving the door open for easy access when he had his father in tow. His father’s soft-soled orthopedic shoes were cramped and hurt his feet as he walked. Tomas winced, his pinky toes screaming in pain as his toenails snagged against the torn bits of leather inside the worn shoes. Two scientist-looking types appeared on the sidewalk in front of him. He nodded as they approached but they ignored him as they strolled past, absorbed in their conversation and above acknowledging a lowly security guard. This gave Tomas some relief. If it were common practice to ignore the working class employees, then all he had to worry about were the other security guards, and maybe the janitors, blowing his cover. He turned and followed the sidewalk between the buildings and started circling the administration building. When he thought the coast was clear he veered close to the building, reached into the duffel bag and, as he walked hurled, two tannerite devices - one at a time - onto the roof of the three-story structure. Even with the light rain and cool wind blowing in from the nearby coast, he was sweating nervously: the khaki guard’s shirt sticking to his back, saddlebags of perspiration forming under his pectorals. He zipped up the bag, acted like he’d forgotten something, turned and began walking back towards the two rear buildings, taking deep breaths and gathering his courage now that the initial stages of the plan were behind him. If the plan were to fail, he’d expected it to happen when trying to enter the compound or when he was throwing the bombs onto the building. Both of those aspects of the plan required a dangerous degree of exposure. Now he just had to keep his head down and find his dad. The buildings didn’t have any signage or markings. Dr. Greer said the laboratories were in the building diagonal from the administration building he’d been in earlier in the week. Tomas rounded the corner and, to his relief, saw that the cargo bay doors were wide open. There were three men inside using a noisy forklift and heavy-duty pitch arms to load a truck with large metal containers. The forklift made a racket and the pitch arm’s joints whined as the men angled the containers in with the mechanical extensions. They didn’t notice the unfamiliar security guard making his way along the far wall behind the shoulder high crates packed with industrial machinery. He counted off the paces … thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty … stopping when his feet hit a hollow plate on the concrete floor. He poured the thermite into a convenient little mound on top of the metal floor panel and stuck the magnesium cord into the pile. Now for the telephone call. Tomas dialed the fire department and whispered, “There’s a huge five alarm fire at Vitura Pharmaceuticals on Sorrento Valley Road. I think there are people trapped inside. Bring everything you’ve got.” He hung up before the operator could ask any questions. He lit the magnesium cord and ran down the aisle away from the flashpoint, knowing that it would release an extreme amount of heat energy and light, possibly attracting unwanted attention. As he ran, he clicked the call button three times on his phone and heard two successive booms outside from his roof bombs. Yellow warning lights inside the building began to swirl around and the emergency sirens began to wail. The thermite was doing its business; a radiant glow and popping sounds came from the molten iron that streamed off the metal plate. The thermite ate into the compartment onto the thick cable underneath. Tomas watched the three workers as they evacuated the cargo bay. One of them noticed the radiant light on the far side of the room from the thermite burn. He shouted to his co-workers but they were more concerned about their own hides and pulled him along with them out of the building. There was a metallic clunking sound and Tomas panicked as he watched two-foot thick steel shutters begin descending along their tracks in front of the cargo bay doors. He was going to be trapped. But the shutters stopped three-quarters of the way down as the thermite finally ate through the security cable, disabling the emergency system. “I’m in,” he said to Dr. Greer who was waiting anxiously to hear those very words. “Okay, Tomas. Now, I need you to listen carefully. This may sound antithetical to your current situation but I want you to hold where you are for five minutes. You need to give the scientists and other workers time to evacuate before you start searching room to room. Otherwise, someone will stop you. Sit tight and breathe. I know this will be difficult, but it needs to be done.” “Roger.” He went a step further and climbed under a large fabricator on blocks beside the flight of stairs to the second floor. Safely hidden, he watched as employees ran by, their feet not more than six inches from his nose. He wasn’t sure whether exactly five minutes had passed, but it had been two minutes since the last pair of sensible shoes had hurried by, so he crawled out, climbed the stairs and slipped inside. The yellow lights and emergency sirens gave the corridor a fun house appearance. Just as he entered the hallway, a group of workers in lab coats came thundering down the hall towards him. He was too early after all. Tomas straightened up, held open the door, and said authoritatively, “This way, people.” They ran by with scarcely a glance his way. The double wide corridor stretched down the center of the second floor for at least a hundred yards and there were at least a dozen doors on each side labeled Laboratory 1, Laboratory 2, Laboratory 3, etc. Every door had an electronic lock with palm and iris scanners. It would take him at least an hour to break into each of them with the angle grinder and search inside for Andy. “Doc, I’m on the lab level. There’s like a kajillion labs up here. Any advice on where to start?” “Sorry, Tomas. My research department wasn’t in that building. I’ve only been on that floor a few times. Do you see the security booth to the right of the door? Maybe you can still access it with Andy’s card. There should be a manifest or something of that nature that might be of use to you.” Tomas went to the booth and jiggled the door handle but it was locked. He slid the security card through the reader attached to the door frame but it flashed red. Frustrated he cupped his hands and peered into the booth, hoping to get a glimpse of a handwritten list among all the scattered papers on the desk or a blueprint of the floor or anything helpful. But there was nothing in view worthwhile. He was about to abandon the booth and break the door, when the rotating image on the desktop monitor flicked to a different view. Tomas gasped. The hi-def picture showed a tight shot of Andy, crisp and clear, unconscious and suspended upright in an acrylic cylindrical tube in a translucent fluid, an oxygen mask clinging to his face and hundreds of tiny colored wires sticking out of tiny holes in his skull. And underneath the image, the screen read, “Laboratory 9.” A rage consumed Tomas - the likes of which he’d never felt before. He remembered the cold, reptilian way Bertrand had explained his father’s ‘death’ and the sorrow and guilt that had coursed through him when he dumped the urn over Sunset Cliffs. And there was his father, alive, just as Dr. Greer had said, being ruthlessly experimented upon for the benefit of a misguided, nefarious multinational corporation. Andy may not have been the best father, but he always had the best intentions in mind for Tomas. No matter what type of contract he signed, no matter the amount of money paid, that poor man didn’t deserve to be exploited in such a shamefully heinous manner. Tomas sprinted down the corridor counting off Lab 1, Lab 2, Lab 3, until he finally reached Laboratory 9 near the end of the corridor. He made a mental note that he’d have to make a gurney with the tarp inside the bag and pull his father all the way back to the cargo bay. His initial plan was to lead Andy along with the rope. But now that seemed impracticable seeing the state his father was in. He dropped his duffel bag beside the door, retrieved the angle grinder and began cutting the door jamb near the bolt. Dr. Greer had said interior lab security was more for unauthorized entry of personnel than to secure the contents inside and that the palm readers and iris scanners were the main impediments to entry. The doors themselves were standard variety commercial doors and the angle grinder sliced the metal with ease. Less than a minute later and it was open. Laboratory 9 was a mammoth place that had the air of a medieval torture room. There were large circular saws attached by long arms to stainless steel tables. There was a row of shelves with large jars with brains, heads and other body parts floating inside. Tomas counted off fourteen different machines bizarrely sadistic in nature. All of them had diverse configurations but they shared some common features; chairs or seats inside or on top, complete with leather straps, head prongs, long tentacles attached to probes, cutters and small metal hands. And in the rear of the chamber were six upright cylindrical chambers: five of them were empty, but the last one held his father. The duffel bag dropped to the floor, forgotten as Tomas ran to the tube which stood on a waist high pedestal crammed with electronics. He touched the side of the tube and it was cool. The curvature of the glass gave his father the circus side show look of an image reflected in a funhouse mirror. And Andy was in a much worse condition that he’d seen on the security monitor. Andy hung in the jelly-like fluid nude, a thick tube running into his rectum and equally grotesque catheter jammed into his urinary tract where his genitals used to be. There were countless wires protruding from his skull and they’d removed his right arm below the elbow and inserted tubes into the stump, capping it with a black rubber sleeve. The utter lack of humanity, the sole crushing humiliation and disregard for the dignity of this individual’s life struck a chord in Tomas. He felt a profound shift in his core, unaware that seeing his father exploited in this manner had severely altered his world view. He circled around the cylinder, looking for a way to open it to get Andy out of the chamber. But it looked as if the only way to extract him was from the top of the container, at least four feet above his reach. “Doc, I need more advice. Andy’s floating in some tube. Have you seen this before?” There was silence on the other end and Tomas thought Dr. Greer hadn’t heard his inquiry until she spoke. Her voice was different somehow; compassionate yet gravely serious, “Tomas, I’m afraid you’re going to have to abandon the rescue. I was wrong about their plans for Andy. I thought that my absence would set back the zombie fever project but it sounds as if Vitura had accelerated their timetable. It seems that my colleague Dr. Taverna has taken over and final approval has been given for the deployment of the current IHS strain. They’re not going to ruthlessly experiment on Andy after all. What you’re seeing is the latest in advanced stasis. They’re planning to preserve Andy for as long as possible. Tomas, they’ve turned him into a living culture for the virus. They’re going to keep him like that indefinitely, withdrawing live virus to use on the rest of the world. He’s become patient zero for the program.” There was a clinking noise behind one of the steel tables. Tomas ducked behind the stasis chamber and scanned the dimly lit room looking for the source of the noise. “Tomas? Did you hear me? You have to turn off the machines running the stasis chamber. There should be a purge button on the control panel. Tomas? Are you still there? You have to shut it down. Shut it down, now,” she ordered. With the angle grinder in his hand still in his hand, Tomas circled around the source of the noise. A man in a white lab coat was crouched behind one of the vivisection machines and as he got closer he could hear him whispering. He grabbed the man by the collar and yanked him backward onto the floor. The cell phone that the man was whispering into slid across the tiles and under a table. “Who are you?” Tomas yelled, the burning fire of righteous anger fueling his attack as he took to one knee and, not giving him a chance to respond, repeatedly pounded the man’s face with the angle grinder. Dr. Greer was yelling into his ear, “Tomas! What’s going on! Tomas! Speak to me!” But he heard none of his. He was violence. He was animal. Sometime later, breathing heavily, his arms hanging limp at his side, the knuckles on his right hand scrapped and raw, the angle grinder coated in gore, Tomas stared blankly down at the blood from the man’s crushed nose and busted face. Teeth jutted from the crimson pool like remote islands around his head and the gold name tag with ‘Dr. Taverna’ hung from the torn lapel of his lab coat. Minutes passed as the scientist fought against death with Tomas standing over and watching. Dr. Taverna rasped and gurgled through his broken jaw, little bubbles of air escaping through the effluvia obstructing his nasal passages. He’s lucky to be alive. Tomas wiped his hand on his cargo pants and dug into his ear, pulling out the com-link to Dr. Greer and crushing it underfoot. Still hanging onto the angle grinder, he marched over to the stasis chamber. Screw Vitura. Screw Dr. Greer. I’m going to get my dad out of there and find a way to save him from the virus. He steadied the grinder against the base of the glass, intending to drain the fluid near the base, and then cut a hole large enough to squeeze Andy out of the chamber. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” a familiar voice said behind him. Tomas glanced back over his shoulder at Supervisor Bertrand and four security guards brandishing semi-automatics. In his periphery, he saw two other guards attending to Taverna. They hoisted him by his shoulders and legs and carried him out. “And what if I do? Are you going to shoot me?” He raised the arc grinder and flipped the switch, the blood on the blade splashing in spurts across the acrylic glass and Tomas’ face. “Well, that fluid inside the chamber is teeming with infection. If you don’t want to die an excruciating death akin to an Ebola fever, I suggest you do as I say.” One of the security guards fired a warning shot at his feet. Tomas was more stubborn than brave, and he would have tried to take them on. He knew that youth was on his side. He was considerably stronger than the forty-something guards due to that fact alone. And he would have if they were brandishing clubs or bared fists. But guns were another matter. Maybe it was the peace-loving Canadian-style neo-hippy upbringing, but he’d always had a healthy fear of firearms. Getting shot wasn’t in his plans. He switched the angle grinder off and its humming blade hummed to a stop. “Put the power tool down and raise your hands,” the lead guard commanded and Tomas complied, dropping the arc grinder onto the floor beside him and slowly raising his hands into the air. Two of the guards cautiously approached him, spread his legs and press him up against the stasis chamber, mashing his face into the glass. Tomas tried not to look at his father’s body and the humiliating way his private area had been mutilated and violated with the catheter and exposed for anyone to see. It filled him with renewed rage. As he was frisked, Supervisor Bertrand gloated, “You chose the wrong assignment, Buddy. We knew all along that Dr. Greer would try to sabotage our work once we found out she’d defected from our organization. My hat’s off to you. You almost did it. I don’t know how, but you managed to hone in on the heart of our project. If Dr. Taverna hadn’t stayed behind to secure his work and warned us when he discovered your intrusion, your little operation could have set us back years. But you’ve accomplished nothing except to make this evening a little less mundane for our nightshift employees. Are you in contact with Dr. Greer now? Dr. Greer! Can you hear me?” The guards turned Tomas around to face Supervisor Bertrand. Bertrand had the smirk of ‘gotcha’ on his face but that quickly turned to bewilderment when he recognized this would-be saboteur who was now his captive. “Tomas Overstreet?” It couldn’t be. The shiftless, heavily sedated young man he’d met earlier in the week didn’t seem capable of holding a minimum wage job, let alone pull off a stunt like this. He shook off his surprise and let out a hearty laugh, “Oh God, please don’t tell me you’re here to save your father!” He looked up at Andy’s blank face behind the oxygen mask, “You didn’t risk your life for this piece of meat, did you? Damn it, boy. I told you your father was dead.” He pointed at Andy, “That isn’t your father. That is a Petri dish.” One of the guards handed Bertrand Tomas’s phone. “Is this how you’re keeping in contact with Judith?” he asked, referring to Dr. Greer by her first name. “Let me guess. She buttered you up with complements and used the last of her aging feminine wiles to connive you into doing her dirty work. Did she make it sound as if she had changed as a person? Did she tell you she’s the matriarch of this program?” He nodded at the stasis chamber. “Boy, you’ve been sold a bill of goods. Judith is out for Judith. You’re here to eliminate her competition. This,” he waved up at Andy, “was a carrot; an incentive to manipulate an impressionable kid.” Tomas remained silent. Bertrand and the guards hadn’t noticed his discarded duffel bag leaning against one of the vivisection machines behind them. His mind raced. Time to improvise. “You’re right,” he cried and hung his head against his chest. “Please, don’t hurt me. I was only trying to free my dad. Sir, I can get you Dr. Greer. Give me the phone and I’ll tell her I was successful and got Andy out. If you give me the phone, I can get her to tell me her location and you can let me go. Please, sir. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Maybe if it were your father you’d have done the same,” he sniffled. Supervisor Bertrand was an exquisitely intelligent man. He’d gone to the finest European schools and was bred for power and success. But like all men, he had a weakness. And his weakness was Dr. Greer. He’d fallen for her the day he’d recruited her from the Ivy Towers of Cambridge. She was brilliant in her field and had an unwavering scientific mind. Nothing got in the way of her research. That is until Andy was hired on as a security guard. He’d known about their affair for years, but couldn’t bring himself to interfere. His weakness had allowed her to become too valuable to the San Diego campus’ operations. Instead of rotating in other young budding intellects into her position as was standard practice at Vitura, he’d allowed her to remain well beyond the typical two year contract, stretching her tenure beyond a decade. And he’d done the same for Andy because he knew it kept her happy and loyal. To say that Judith’s sudden defection after Andy’s death was a shock to Bertrand was an understatement. He’d always thought they had a personal connection, albeit platonic on her part, which went beyond the professional. He had to get her under his control again; if not to limit damage to the zombie fever project, then at least to keep her close. So, in another moment of weakness related to his infatuation with Dr. Greer, he let his guard hand over the phone to Tomas and stepped back beside his comrades. “Go ahead, call her,” Bertrand said. As Tomas dialed in the number, his hands began to shake uncontrollably. His eyes darted up to meet Bertrand’s, who stiffened when he saw the now frantic look on Tomas’s face. Supervisor Bertrand raised a hand and was about to bark an order to his guards when Tomas tapped the talk button three times. Click. Click. Click. The remaining tannerite cakes ignited inside the bag behind them. A confetti blast of twenty thousand dollars worth of shredded hundred dollar bills was expelled into the air, the concussion slamming against the backs of the guards and Bertrand, sending them crashing forward towards Tomas onto the floor. The blast blew the vivisection machines in an outward circular radius, smashing into the shelves holding the body parts, their containers exploding into the tile floor in wet sloppy clumps of preserved flesh and organs. Tomas was hit by the blast. But while it did knock the wind out of him, he managed to stay on his feet. Bertrand and the guards weren’t going anywhere soon; the concussive force knocking two of the guards unconscious, the remaining two and Bertrand clawing at the floor, their nervous systems unable to comprehend what had happened, blood leaking from their ears and noses. The stasis chamber had been pushed back a few feet, but was still running and Andy remained undisturbed inside. One of the guards lying on the floor was trying to work his assault rifle, his hands above his head flopping uselessly against the stock of the gun. Tomas lurched at the guard and wrestled the gun’s strap from around the man’s neck and circled to the rear of the stasis chamber. There was a rubber-coated cable about a foot in diameter attached to the chamber, the other end snaking back ten feet and disappearing into the floor. Correctly assuming the cable was powering the chamber, Tomas checked that the rifle’s safety was off, aimed at the cable and fired a short burst of rounds into the cable and floor. The lights and monitors surrounding the chamber’s base flickered then died. Andy eyes opened wide and he began to convulse in the tank as oxygen deprivation took hold. Tomas pressed his hand against the glass as he watched his father suffocate, telling himself that the bewilderment and terror in Andy’s blazing zombie red eyes were instinctual and that he was beyond comprehending what was happening. Tears trailed down Tomas’ cheeks through the dusty muck from the explosion, rivulets of sorrow from the heartbreak of having to assist his father into the void. And then he was still. “You won’t get away with this Overstreet,” Bertrand’s groaned thickly as he tried to sit up, “not a chance.” Tomas took three steps and kicked him squarely in the jaw, knocking him unconscious onto the tile. He dropped the rifle and ran through the lab towards the hallway. But as he approached the door, he heard boots clanking up the stairs from the cargo bay. He ran into the hallway and turned left, away from the security reinforcements now giving chase and shouting for him to stop. One of them fired off a round and it whizzed by his head. He reached the end of the corridor and found a travelator to the first floor used to transport the heavy machinery conveyer-belt style. Dr. Greer had advised when discussing the breakout that it could be useful as another means of exiting the building. Tomas ran down the travelator’s belt and into the cavernous storage room that took up most of the first floor, listening to the guard recklessly stumble then tumble down the belt as the momentum of gravity from the thirty degree incline got the better of the guard in the lead. There was an emergency exit near Tomas but its two-foot thick shutters had closed blocking his retreat. A fork lift sat idle in the hallway facing the exit. Tomas jumped onto it and by raising the fork into a tall stack of wooden crates, managed to create an avalanche onto the lower end of the travelator, momentarily blocking the security guards from reaching the first floor. Then Tomas grabbed a tank of oxygen from a rack and hefted it into the driver’s seat against the gas pedal, released the brake and unleashed it on the shutters. The fork lift accelerated into the shutters, pulling them off their hinges, and bursting through the double doors. Tomas climbed over the wreckage and squeezed through the opening. He did a quick sprint away from the damage then slowed to a casual walk in the direction of the front gates. San Diego fire trucks and emergency personnel had come through and responded to his call with everything they had available. There were countless firemen evacuating workers and spraying the roof of the administration building where his first two supposedly low-yield explosives had turned the building into a raging inferno, billowing black smoke and flames rose above the structure. Stunned Vitura employees gathered in groups towards the perimeter gate, mouths agape as they watched the fire dance and leap across the central walkway onto the other buildings setting those ablaze as well. The rear building where Tomas had just escaped was yet to be touched by the flames but it was obvious that the fire was out of control and it was just a matter of time before all the buildings were ablaze. “You!” a fireman supervising the fire noticed him in his guard’s outfit walking towards the administration building, “Get back towards the fence with the rest of your colleagues. We don’t need your assistance up here. Make yourself useful and tend to your personnel.” “Yes, sir!” Tomas saluted. Well aware that the remaining guards on duty had been alerted to his presence and were combing through the compound below, Tomas walked towards the groups of Vitura employees, casually turning towards the curved path that led up the hill to the gates. He slipped out of the compound as two more fire trucks drove inside, sirens blaring, their red and white flashing beams lighting the night. The Nighthawk fired up and Tomas took off towards the freeway. He roared up the onramp and, instead of turning south towards Lindbergh Field and his awaiting plane he turned north instead. Vancouver was a long, long motorcycle journey from San Diego, more than a thousand miles of road grime and blacktop. Tomas vaguely wondered if the thirty year old motorcycle would be able to handle the trip to Canada then shrugged off the negative thoughts as the cool night hit his bare face under his black half helmet, the air crisp and salty. Tomas gunned the engine and as the miles ticked by, tried to empty his mind and keep his thoughts in the present and the physical sensations that kept him rooted in the moment; on the sound of the engine, the smell of the ocean, the vibration of the motorcycle underneath. But his father’s fate and thoughts of zombies kept creeping back in. The End. ****** Bonus Preview Zombie Fever 2: Outbreak ****** IMAGINE grainy, shaky handheld footage of crowds running frantically down dim-lit streets. See the bloated carcasses lying in pools of green-tainted blood and guts with their crushed skulls and random bullet holes. Cut to hospitals overflowing with feverish patients strapped to gurneys, chairs, to each other. Can you sense the fear and panic of family members holding onto their loved ones as they struggle against their restraints, biting at the air towards healthy flesh, eyes unfocused and bloodshot as they seek to spread the virus? Listen. Can you hear the gunshots and screams resounding in the night? This is zombie fever and the reality of the contagion isn’t pretty. I know as I’ve seen the contagion first hand. I’ve witnessed the devastation and carnage the disease wrecks on innocent people. Now ask yourself if you’re the type of person who devours these sights and sounds brought to you by so-called journalists in flimsy hazmat suits with their sensational tabloid stories of the walking dead. Are you one of the millions who gets voyeuristic chills from viewing those poor lost souls shuffling around in the streets consumed by a primordial cellular hunger, destined for a death from starvation, dehydration, exposure or a bullet in the brain? Have you bought any of the merchandise? Watched the blockbuster film? Did you play the video game? Like most people, you probably answered ‘yes’ to most of these questions. Heck, not long ago I was just like you. I was even a willing accomplice in the exploitation of the disease and its tragic sufferers. In fact, I was one of the participants in that reality TV show that you may have watched right before the global outbreak that originated in Singapore and spread across Indonesia, Australia, then Europe, Russia and North America. You know the show I’m talking about, the one where they sent pairs of contestants in Cera cars to compete in events, racing through Malaysia during the height of the zombie outbreak. Even if you didn’t catch it, I’m confident you know what I’m talking about. It was an international phenomenon, very popular, and the precursor to the outbreak of zombie fever that spread throughout much of the world. Although if you are one of the millions who saw and believed the events that occurred during the simulcast of the final day of the Cera’s Amazing Rally Showdown, I’m here to tell you that what you witnessed was carefully and artfully manipulated to show a sequence of events and outcome that were, well, not entirely true. Maybe I shouldn’t wreck your perception of those days’ events, but you need to know the facts. Believe me, I’ve contemplated keeping silent. After all, we’ve been practically blamed for the beginning of what some would say was the end of humanity. And who am I to try to change public opinion? But I need to tell my story because I feel compelled to try to convince you, the world, that it was the show’s production team that was to blame for the virus escaping the quarantine zone and not, as the media have portrayed, the honest and dare I say naïve contestants who were merely vying for a million dollar potentially life-changing prize. So with your permission, I’d like to recount that week of filming as clearly as I possibly can down to every detail that I can think of. And I’ll try to keep conjecture to a minimum and just try to tell you as factually as possible about the events that Jamie and I participated in throughout the Malaysian Peninsula and back in Singapore for the grand finale. However, before I begin, please bear with me for a moment so that I can give some background details about IHS, i.e., zombie fever, for those people who’ve been living under a rock or who simply go out of their way to ignore mainstream media. As you well know, IHS is a viral infection that turns people into zombies. Well, not zombies per se. Unlike the zombies you see in the movies or read about in books, real life victims of IHS aren’t actually dead. We’ve all heard countless times from the experts parading around espousing their clinical diagnosis of the zombie plight. They say that the infected are survivors of a virus that begins with a raging fever, which destroys most of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Meanwhile, the infection floods the extremities with a greenish viral soup of contagion causing a grotesque swelling the infected’s limbs, their taut skin reminiscent of overstuffed sausages. The virus then seizes control of the host and sends a never-ending loop of instruction, something along the lines of, ‘Seek out humans. Hungry, Hungry, Feed!’ Once the smoldering fever cools, the bloated near catatonic shell of the former person rises with a new lease on life. An existence, however, that is now restricted to a never-ending appetite for living human flesh. Like SARS and H1N1, we’ve been told that IHS originated in animals but instead of pigs and birds, this time the critter culprits are tropical ground squirrels. Those experts say the virus jumped from squirrels to humans in rural Asia where tastes are more exotic and where it’s quite common to clobber those adorable creatures over their cute little heads and, after careful preparation, mix a little of its meat with rice or noodles depending on your preference. I remember when I first heard about the first documented IHS outbreak. I was sitting around one evening with a group of friends at a nearby bubble tea café and having a great time chatting about math homework and netball. Out of the blue, the café owner rudely interrupted a rather handsome athletic young man singing karaoke to a Canto pop video. The jerk switched the feed streaming on the big screen that made up the rear wall of the café from the karaoke station to international news, leaving the hunky crooner hanging in the middle of the chorus. Then the café owner cranked up the volume, forcing us to listen to an English speaking reporter in the middle of announcing that something terrible had happened in the Guangdong province of China. Flashing on the screen, the caption read, “ZOMBIE ATTACK!” just like that, in all caps. The broadcaster was in the middle of his report but the gist of the story was that after a meeting of the brethren, clan members from a secret society in Guangzhou discovered that one of their own had collapsed on the floor in the rear of their clandestine conference room. At the time he was uncommunicative and had a dangerously high fever. The clansmen rushed him to the most experienced practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine in the Panyu district. The acupuncturist and his hunchbacked female assistant attended to the new patient while three helpful clansmen held their colleagues thrashing limbs against the steel doctor’s table. Utilizing his expertise, the medicinal practitioner inserted a long, thin needle into a pressure point in the ailing gentleman’s thigh just above the knee intending to lower the man’s heatiness. As if under a great deal of internal pressure, a gushing fountain-like expulsion of fluid erupted from the small hole, expelling a putrid smelling greenish-yellow puss into the air and infecting all in the room save for the surgical mask wearing doctor who had erroneously inserted the needle into the taunt and swollen leg in the first place. Within twenty-four hours, those three clansmen and the hunchbacked female assistant passed the contagion on to their close family members. Within a couple of days, it was estimated that there were over thirty-two thousand infected wandering around the Panyu district of Guangzhou, scaring residents and tourists alike with their herky-jerky shuffling advances and monotone moans of hunger. Fearing that the contagion may spread, the Chinese military ordered the carpet bombing of the entire area, effectively eliminating the spread of the contagion along with, unfortunately, about a quarter million of their citizens who were unlucky enough to be in the hot zone. We listened politely to the news report and then the café owner switched the screen back to the karaoke feed and we went back to our inane conversations. That may surprise you, but our response to the news wasn’t unusual in Singapore. Most Singaporeans responded in a similar unconcerned manner to the zombie outbreak, considering the news was about China and so far away from our daily affairs. As for the rest of the world, instead of the global panic you’d expect, the response to the new disease was more akin to a morbid fascination with the footage and news stories. Maybe it was the overblown hysteria brought about by the nerfed pandemics of SARS and H1N1 that caused a kind of pandemic apathy. Then add to that the last few decades of terrorism, war, torture, economic upheaval and severe natural disasters brought about by global warming. Who knows? But instead of the alarm you’d expect, people across the globe accepted this new reality with curiosity and awe. Cable ratings of shows covering the contagion’s advance across Asia were off the charts. Internet networks crashed from millions of hits each time a new clip of some unfortunate wandering bloated soul was uploaded onto the web. “Zombies?” “You serious?” “WTF?” “Get out! Zombies are the stuff of horror movies not day-to-day life!” “Infected people walking around trying to eat other people? What up wit dat?” “Awesome!” Stories of zombie sightings and outbreaks became daily news and the butt of many latenight comedian jokes. They morphed into wet market gossip between aunties here in Singapore and idle chit-chat around water coolers in high-rise corporate offices of business districts around the world. Many of these zombie tales became reminiscent of folklore, having been absorbed into the collective consciousness. One of my favorites is the one about the supposed second IHS outbreak. I’m sure you’ve all heard this one, but it bears repeating and, I confess, I enjoy telling it as well. About two months after that initial outbreak in Guangzhou, an aged rice farmer turned zombie shuffled and lurched his way into Tangxi village on Hetang Island in the early hours of the morning and fell into the communal well, wedging himself upside down. An auntie in need of a bucket of water for the morning washing up came upon his two bulbous legs protruding out of the well, kicking slowly in the frigid pre-dawn air. She ran to the large ancient iron-caste bell in the main square of the village and rang out for emergency assistance. Not realizing what they were dealing with obliging villagers answered the call, went to the well and pulled the zombified farmer free. Once upright, and to the astonishment of his rescuers, the farmer promptly tried to eat one of them. Fortunately, an elder of the village had wisely brought his small black-market pistol to the village center and, after hearing the surprised screams from his neighbors at the well, stepped forward, pulled the .22-caliber revolver out from his dingy robes and pointed it in the direction of the moaning farmer. When the zombie lunged a second time for the exposed fleshy forearm of a simple but helpful young woman, he put a bullet in the farmer’s left eye, slowing and eventually stopping the unsightly gnawing motion of that blackened diseased mouth as it stretched towards the bared limbs of his rescuers. Regrettably though, while the infected rice farmer was wedged upside down in that village well, his saliva and stomach acid had dripped down into the drinking water. Within a week, most of the villagers were either down with a debilitating fever or up and walking around with an inappropriate appetite. The moral of the story of the zombie farmer and the well are twofold. First, kill the infected immediately by any means necessary and second, stop drinking from communal wells, you stupid peasant hicks. I can’t decide if that story of the zombie farmer is supposed to be funny or serious. And the only shred of evidence that gives this story credence is that around the time of this second supposed outbreak, the Chinese military carpet bombed the entirety of Hetang Island, calling it a ‘routine military exercise’. Anyway, the original Guangdong outbreak was four years ago. Since then, isolated cases of infected and pockets of contagion have continued to crop up around Asia. There have been sporadic reports of the fever in parts of Java, Myanmar, Vietnam, North Korea, Mongolia and Malaysia. When the true danger of the virus became clear, it was decided that rounding up zombies and subsequent disposal of the infected required an international effort. So after much debate, voting and re-voting the United Nations conferred responsibility onto the shoulders of the World Health Organization. With full international authorization and a healthy budget, the WHO created a paramilitary branch of their organization whose main objectives were to contain and eradicate any zombie outbreak in any part of the world. And it only took about a year when, after their fourth deployment and victory against the zombie menace, the WHO’s elite IHS field team members were branded modern day heroes. These days they have their own action figures, a cartoon TV series, a blockbuster movie, arguably the most popular interactive website and a highly lucrative 3D MMORPG aptly called ‘Zombie Hunters’ with over sixteen million paying subscribers. So if anything, the pandemic helped to bolster the entertainment industry, creating new jobs for media professionals who took advantage of the zombie trend. At the end of the day, the problem with dealing with the so-called ‘living zombies’ is one of simple mathematics. Like an exponential formula, when a zombie makes a public appearance, it’s likely they’ve unwittingly infected several people during the fever stage. Some of them will have already gone out to dinner and shared a dessert with their partner or picked their nose prior to touching a doorknob or sneezed without covering their mouths onto fellow passengers on a commuter train. Then those people go home and hug their family members or shake hands with colleagues at a business meeting. In other words, once a zombie has been reported, more and more infected are already crackling away with the fever or beginning to drag themselves out of the dark spaces with the sole intent to infect others with their gross blackened mouths. Whoops. Sorry. Was that too much info? Jamie often tells me I’m an unwelcome fount of TMI (too much info). I may have got a bit sidetracked with some irrelevant details. Just let me give you just a few more tidbits and then I’ll begin my story. Officially, the Malaysian outbreak began three months ago with an isolated case in Perak, which spread to eight victims, then eighty-eight in the region. Soon after the infected appeared in their community, the Malays began calling them by a new name, the ‘Berjalan penyakit’, which loosely translated into English means the ‘walking infection’. Hushed rumors from my relatives living in Ipoh were that no one really knew the size and scope of the Malaysian outbreak and there was a common belief that Malaysian authorities were engaged in a campaign to cover up the true numbers. This belief was compounded by the Malaysian government’s refusal to sanction WHO’s presence in their country, claiming the international organization was attempting to control the world and would assault the country’s sovereignty. And now they’ve quarantined the states in the northern part of the peninsula and have been trying to enforce a complete media blackout. But rumor has it that containment has been ineffective and, this time, the contagion may be getting out of hand. Whew, that’s the gist of what you needed to know before I began my tale. But who am I, you may be asking? My name is Abigail Tan. I’m twenty years old and a proud Singaporean. My parents are Chinese but many of my ancestors are of Indonesian heritage. So I’m what you’d call ‘mixed race’ living a comfortable balance between two cultures rich in tradition and history. I have lived a quiet life with my parents in a five-room flat in Bishan near the Astrana Junction shopping center. And these days, I’m world famous. No matter where you live or which country you hail from you‘d probably recognize me if you saw me in person, thanks to the infamy brought about by Cera’s Amazing Rally Showdown, CARS for short, and the subsequent brouhaha over the vaccine running through my veins. Besides, how could you forget such a pretty face? Now sit back and let me tell you about that week of reality television show filming and the horrific events during and afterwards that still wake me up in the dead of night screaming, shivering, drenched in terror. ***** To continue with Abigail’s perilous adventure into the zombie quarantine zone, please purchase the ebook at Barnes & Noble: Zombie Fever 2: Outbreak ***** Works by B.M. Hodges Horror Zombie Fever 1: Origins Tomas decides to spend the summer with his father, who works as a security guard for Vitura Pharmaceuticals. Soon after his arrival, his father disappears without a trace. Tomas searches for his father, only to discover Vitura is more than it seems to be. Zombie Fever 2: Outbreak A young woman is cast in a reality TV show. Zombies are running rampant. The contestants race cars deep in the Zombie Quarantine Zone. Who will become infected with zombie fever? Who gets eaten by the zombie horde? And most importantly, who wins the million dollar prize? Zombie Fever 3: Evolution In less than twenty-four hours, the Zombie Fever virus has mutated and is out of control. Vitura has sent Jayden to hunt down Tomas and Abigail and bring them back, dead or alive. Tomas must find Abigail and get to her to safety. Only they can stop the virus from becoming a global killer. Science Fiction The Martian Escape Plan (Coming Soon) After leading a failed effort to colonize the Planet Earth, Darius Janner thinks he’s finally found a way home. Dystopian Rodent Literature Buddy the Rat An innocent rodent subjected to fickle fate. Sent to a house filled with the worst of humanity. Escaping and finding solace in a forbidden love. Yet peace will not be had. Onward he travels... Short Stories Germaphobia Singapura (An Annoying Short Story) Roy had always dreamed of living abroad in the tropics, somewhere remote and exotic. So accepting the offer to teach in Singapore was a no-brainer. But poor Roy failed to anticipate how living in one of the world's most densely populated cities would arouse his intuitive preoccupation with cleanliness. Naively Irrelevant (A Bitterly Short Story) An ode to the anguish and bitterness of infidelity. About the Author B.M. Hodges studied in the United States and Singapore where he was awarded a Master's Degree in Literary Studies. He began his writing career in 2008 with the dystopian rodent literary novel Buddy the Rat. In 2012, he published Zombie Fever 1: Origins and Zombie Fever 2: Outbreak and, most recently, Zombie Fever 3: Evolution. He is currently living in South East Asia and working on the fourth installment of the Zombie Fever series that will be released in 2013.
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