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Simplex Z, The Beginning

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The first outbreak of Legba Simplex Z was recorded in 2036. Scientist had thought that it was a new strand of leprosy, but when the patients started to gnaw on the nurses. They had to re-evaluate their diagnosis. Thousands of victims were lost to the Simplex Z virus, and by 2046 the world had went into a state of martial emergency. They started to quarantine whole families inside ghettos where they were barely given any food. The governments rationed off their supplies as if giving them one more loaf of bread was going to speed the degeneration process along. For years the ghettos were maintained in hopes that those within would die quietly out of the public view, or they would kill each other off in their desperation.

For 40 years families infected with the virus, and those that the government just didn’t want to deal with were sent to these areas. It didn’t matter to the rest of the world. As long as you weren’t their problem you were just another faceless statistic that they didn’t have to worry their head about. No one cared. As long as you stayed on your side of the line and died off quietly they would continue to give you scraps. By this time the government had decided to use the money set aside to aide those in the housing projects for the space programs. Wondrous jumps in technology were made, and soon space stations were popping up on several planets. They didn’t count on those in the ghettos to live long enough to complain. They also didn’t count on the virus mutating and those infected would become sentient.

The next 46 years were some of the Earth’s darkest. Children who had been infected with the virus due to the exposure had grown up to be sentient flesh eaters. Killing those who were not infected without mercy because they had never been shown any. Something about the children growing with the virus made them harder to kill. Their cells regenerated, and shooting them in the head was no longer a guarantee that you were safe. The only sure way was to sever their head or burn them alive.

By the year 2132 we were at war with those with Simplex Z. They called themselves Legion for there were many. Their numbers continued to rise due to the savagery of those infected. What was left of humankind took to the stars. Whole towns were pulled into space ships and carted away. They populated entire planets, and people were religiously checked to make sure that no trace of the virus was taken with tem. For a period of about 50 years humans were safe again.

On July 4th 2182 Lunar Space Station 25 reported that battle ships were leaving Earth. It got out one transmission before the station and most of the moon’s inhabitants were wiped from the planet’s face. A military call to arms was given, and every man and woman at the age of 23 was drafted into Z-core. If you survived five years you were allowed to retire anywhere you chose. The war continued to wage and both sides had sustained massive losses. They were at a stalemate that seemed to be going nowhere. But Z-core decided that it was time to fight fire with fire. They took orphans that no one wanted and infected them with a controllable strand of Simplex Z. Simply calling the low-grade infection Zombie 9 and trained as zombie assassins.  Though they had no cure for Simplex Z, they had a vaccine for the low-grade infection. At the age of 23 if those infected survived 5 years they were given the antidote, our tattoos removed, and we were set free.

All was find and dandy for about 60 years until the public learned that there are those of us who are walking around infected. They wanted us quarantined and put in cells like blood hounds to be taken out of their cages until needed. Unfortunately for them they needed us, and without our Z9 tattoos you couldn’t tell who was who. Nor did they know how many had already been released. So the public deals with it. They hate us, but we are a necessary evil. They just make sure to remind us on a regular basis that we are not like them.

This brings us to December 3, 2302. The tat on my right shoulder told the world I was Z9- MCCXXI Alicia “AJ” Jenkins. I am now 27 and in exactly one week I will have served 5 years. I sit in the convoy traveling to planet Volta-23900 with 6 other members of Z-Core. Our unit specialized in evacuating space stations. We go in, evacuate people, and probably kill some zombies on the way out. I pull one of many micro braids out of my eyes and tuck it behind my ear. Each one of us had something that we were good at. Though only 2 of us were inked with Z9s. The tallest of us and sitting at one o’clock was Brom Torrez. He was our IT guy. He looked like he would be more at home swinging an tomahawk out in the field, but he was the gentlest giant you could find. He never said much, but when he did it was quick and to the point. To my direct right was Tamara “Tammy” Smith. She was our diminutive blonde medic, and resident starched shirt. She had grown up in a trailer in a space station on Jupiter as the 5th of 9 children, and did everything she could to leave the stereotype behind. She was one of the few to be happy to have been drafted. It got her out and moved her up. The core was everything to her.

The non-descript brunette to my left was Kevin Michaels. He was good with a gun, but he had dreams of retiring to some far off section of Venus where the climate was good, but the neighborhoods were selective. Being in the core was also making him upwardly mobile. He supported the continued branding of those with the Z9 tats. Which meant we had problems. Across from him was our resident heartbreaker and scientist. Rocco D. He called himself the Italian Stallion, and by the amount of chicks he pulled I could only assume he was right. Across from me is our dare devil and mechanical engineer. Kira Arashi. If it moved he could fix or operate it.  He was also kind, and kind of nice to look at. My eyes move away quickly before he caught me staring. It wasn’t easy to want what you couldn’t have.  Those with Z9’s were not allowed to date, marry, or otherwise engage in anything that even remotely looked like a relationship with those who were not infected.

To his right was our esteemed leader and the only other person with a Z9. Chase Branforth the 3rd.  He was 6’2 of Southern Saturn dark chocolate. He was special, and kind of a legend amongst Z9’s. He was the only one in space’s history to not only serve 3 terms in the core, but to have willingly gone through the Z9 infection process. It was said that he was the model that all new Z9’s were patterned after.  Even those like Kevin who were Z9 snobs gave him the respect he was due. Chase disrespected no one and didn’t take any disrespect from anyone. You were here to do a job, and you would do it and shut the hell up.

The convoy lurched, and I lay my head back against the seat. We were given very little information about this particular mission. We were supposed to evacuate the space station there, and destroy it. But from what I gathered the station was populated with almost 3,000 residents. The battle ship we deployed from would hold maybe a quarter of that. I didn’t say anything out loud. I had one week left, and then I was leaving the Core. Unlike Chase who had chosen this life. I had never seen anything but the worst part of human nature. In truth I wasn’t all that sure what we were saving, but then again who was I to judge?

Chase stood and stretched out to the enjoyment of the women on the convoy. Infected or not he was a very pretty man. “Okay people, we’ll be landing on Volta in roughly 2 hours. We are to start the evacuation process for this station. The Legion has been targeting this particular station, and we are to remove anything they can use before they can get to it. We were specifically chosen by the space station and the Core to complete this mission, and complete it we will.”

Rocco looked at his communicator, and pulled up a 3D schematic of the station that we were about to evacuate. “Why this station though? There are dozens of stations that are more important then this one.”

Chase shrugged, but even to me he looked concerned. “No, idea Rocco. Ours is just to do and die. Z-Core says they want this place cleaned out, and that’s what we are here to do.”

I didn’t say it out loud of course, but something didn’t add up, and I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t come all this way to die my last week of Z-core. I was very ready to see what my life as a semi regular human was going to be like. I look towards the window, and suddenly my eyes happen to lock with Kira’s. Our gaze’s hold steady for a moment, but I look away first. I may out rank him Core wise, but with me being infected he would always win where it counted.

Kira’s lips tugged at one corner. I was glad he was amused, because my warm cheeks definitely weren’t. He looked out of the window I had been trying to see out of, and turned to Chase. “When was the last attack made?”

“3 days ago. They want whatever is in there pretty badly.” Chase looked out of the window, and we all turned to see what he was looking at. Large scaffolding had been erected on one side of the station. Clearly whatever the Legion did must have been pretty effective. They hadn’t punctured the inner shell holding the inhabitants, but another hit like that and they would.

“Why hasn’t the Core sent a larger army to take care of the problem? We could easily kill off whatever they have here with a few thousand soldiers.” Kevin’s voice personally grated on my nerves, but he did have a point. Why wasn’t Z-Core taking this more seriously?

“They are abandoning the station, and don’t feel that it is prudent to send large amounts of soldiers to protect something they are about to throw away.” I look over at Chase and I know he’s lying. I can’t call him on it, but I know what a lie looks like. It sounds exactly like when Z-Core administration tells me they are going to let me go peacefully.

I watch as we begin to descend to Volta. The planet was an arid wasteland. It was an anomaly among the other planets. It was one of the farthest plutoids from the sun, but it was literally a desert planet. The sand wasn’t like the moons of Neptune where there had once been water. Volta was more like a volcano that had imploded on itself several times until it formed a planet. The sand was all black volcanic rock that had shifted and rubbed itself into tiny granules that would cut through your feet if you were stupid enough to walk bare foot. I could see from the window that the winds were high. Large swirling dust storms seemed to rotate around the planet in counter clockwise circles. I hadn’t read to see if there was any life on the planet to speak of, but from the look the farming equipment near the station they had found a way to grow something.

“From the looks of this place I’d catch the nearest ship out as soon as I could.” Tammy sniffed disapprovingly and settled back in her seat. As far as she was concerned there was no reason for her to be there, but she owed her life to the Core. And like any good soldier she would go where she was told.

Rocco looked up from his map, and I smile and shake my head. He didn’t pass up a chance to tease Tammy. “Aww is Princess Tammy unhappy? Want to come over here, so I can make it better?”

Tammy gave Rocco a sharp look, and turned her attention back to the window. “Rocco, I have repeatedly asked you to call me Tamara.”

“That wasn’t a no!” You couldn’t really miss the hopefully lilt of Rocco’s statement. He clearly was hoping she would take him up on this offer or any of the many others he had thrown at her. Rocco was crazy about Tammy. It was like watching a little boy pull some girl’s pigtails on a playground.

“It was implied. AJ, you’re awfully quiet. What are you thinking? This doesn’t look strange to you?” Tammy’s ignored Rocco, and turned to look over at me.

As soon as Tammy asks the question Chase turns to look at me. Our eyes meet, and something passes between us. It was no secret. Just the basic understanding that I knew something was up, and I wasn’t killed for it. Chase turned back to the window, and I shrug. “No, nothing the Core does surprises me any longer.”

“So bitter for one so young. You should be thankful that the Core is giving something like you the chance to make something of yourself.” That snide remark came courtesy of Kevin.

I rolled my shoulders and centered myself. It was one of the first lessons they taught us in the Z9 program. The infection made us more aggressive. Scientist assumed it was due to the Simplex cells deadening emotion receptors, so our animal instincts would not be inhibited. My first impulse was to break his nose, but the mission hadn’t started yet. It was a little early to shed blood. Especially of those you were trained to save. I don’t answer him I just looked out of the window and silently focused on breathing in and out.

 “Kevin you are seriously a manner less chit. Must you be so crass to someone who hasn’t done anything to you, but saved your life repeatedly?” Tammy’s indignation on my behalf was comforting, but unnecessary. I had heard much worse by much better than Kevin.

“The core was also the one who infected her.” Something in Kira’s voice had me look over at him. I wasn’t sure what it was, but he sounded the closest to annoyed that I had ever seen him. Kira didn’t really do angry. He felt there was too much in this world to enjoy. He was always happy, and I envied him that ability.

“What? I’m just saying that…” Kevin started, but was cut off by Chase.

“Don’t say anything. Suit up and shut up. We’re about to land.” Chase’s voice was always law, and we moved to do his bidding.

I look up to see Kira watching me. He offers me a smile, and I return it a slight one of mine. I didn’t want his pity. In truth I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I had it. It didn’t matter though. We were there to do a job and go home. I zip up my suit and buckle up, and connect my helmet to the air compressors on my pack. The sooner we got the job done the sooner I could get processed and get out of the Core. I allow these thoughts to warm me as we land on Volta. The convoy rocked sharply due to the intensity of the winds outside.

The swirling sands made it hard to see much of the terrain, but the visors we were wearing allowed us to make out various shapes. Brom took a step forward, but I moved in front of him placing my hand on his chest with a shake of my head. One of the other highlights of being a Z9 was that we could sense when someone fully infected was nearby. Brom stepped back with a nod, and I moved ahead of him. I holstered my gun, and pulled out my light batons. Z9’s were taught to fight with Zombies up close which was the opposite of the “try not to get touched” method uninfected Z-Core units were taught.

We left the landing pad, and moved towards the entrance of the city carefully picking our way through the swirling sands. I could feel the zombie, but I couldn’t see it. It was very close however. Though in the end I didn’t have to wait long.  A shot barely missed hitting my shoulder, and I took off at a run towards the Zombie’s location. It was hiding behind a set of rocks off to our left. It was a poor choice of location because it didn’t leave the Zombie any time to run, but that wasn’t my problem.

“Insubordinate shit! Get your infected ass back here!” Kevin was starting to tread that line of being the protected to being hunted.

Though Kevin’s voice wasn’t the only one I heard. Kira’s voice was right behind his on my com-link. “AJ! Fall back into formation!”

Ignoring their calls I continue to move forward. I scaled up the rocks, and dropped out of sight of my team.  The zombie in question was not one of the prettier near sentients I had ever seen. Half of his stomach was torn open, and his face was shredded beyond recognition. He had clearly caught the virus due to being mauled, and not exposure.  The zombie shambled forward, and I said a small prayer for it before using the light batons to cut off its head.  I holster my batons, and pull out my gun. Shooting the corpse through the heart. Once the bullet hit a red light started pulsing and slowly disintegrating the zombie leaving only glowing embers.

“AJ!” I could hear Kira’s voice over my com-link. He sounded worried. “Damn it AJ! Where are you?”

“I’m behind the rock face to your left.  I’ll be down in a minute.” I stop and center myself trying to see if I felt any other zombies nearby. The problem was that I could feel more nearby. Not just more, hundreds of them. There were just so many I couldn’t get a bead on where they all were. I climbed back down, and moved back to the landing where they were still standing.

“Captain. She broke formation, and took off on her own without permission. We should send her back to the main ship, so she won’t do anything else stupid. ” Kevin pointed at me like I was child who had stolen his lunch money.

As far as I was concerned that had torn it for me. I stepped forward towards Kevin fully intending to punch his face in until no one remembered what he looked like. Brom and Rocco however moved in front of me to hold me back.

“Look at it. She’s rabid! We ought to put her down before she bites and infects us all!” Kevin was standing behind Tammy, who only gave him a disgusted look, and moved out of the way. Kevin was brave as long as he not in any direct danger. The rest of the time he was coward.

Rocco laughed, and kept my arms at my sides while I struggled to break free. “Hold on killer. He’s not worth it!”

“Another time.” Brom’s words stilled whatever anger had flared up, and I stopped struggling. He was right. Kevin would get his soon enough.

Turning to look for Chase I see Kira standing at his side. I out rank everyone in this unit other than Chase, but they continue to issue me orders as if I was new cadet. Kira’s body language tells me that he is none too happy about me just leaving. Well that was just too bad! I had a job to do, and I was here to do it. If I hadn’t been infected I would have never even been questioned. Taking a deep breath I look away from Kira to focus on Chase.

 “Sir, we have a problem. There is a massive amount of zombies on this planet.” I couldn’t see his face with his helmet on, but I knew he was feeling what I was feeling by the way he slowly kept looking around. Like a compass that was too close to North. “There are so many I can’t get a reading on where they all are.”

Chase nodded and waved everyone forward. “There is no help for it. Everyone get in formation we have job to finish, and the sooner we get it done the sooner we can get out of here.”

When Chase spoke there was no argument. We all got in line, and made our way towards the city. Kira flanked my right, but I didn’t say anything. His movements were stiff and agitated. I ignored him for the time being. I was dealing with my own anger issues at the moment. Something at this station was pissing me of, and making me feel more aggressive. I had to focus. Chase was right. We had to job to do, and we needed to get it done quickly. When it was over he could berate me for doing my job, but for right now he would just have to stay angry.

***

The oddest thing about the Volta space station was that it was so far away from all of the other space stations. It wasn’t even as impressive as most space stations. Normally the stations were designed to be symbolic beacons. More like shrines as opposed to the living quarters for scientist that they were.  Outside of the damaged area everything was pristine and sterile. If I didn’t know that there were a large amount of zombies walking about I would never know that anything was amiss. We move through the gates of the station and we stop. Looking over the buildings and gardens it looked peaceful, and very serene. It was a complete contrast to the swirling chaotic winds outside of the station’s doors.

“It’s dead here.” As always, when Brom spoke he hit the nail on the head.

That was exactly the way it felt here. There was no life. Sure the plants were still growing, and the water was still running, but the place was like an elaborate tomb inside. I look around, and I see that the lights were still going. Clearly the attack had not broken the generators. It was just so still inside. We moved through the city to the main citadel in the center. For a space station it wasn’t very large. You could probably jog around the entire circumference of the top part within an hour or two. But like most stations the laboratories were below ground, and that is where we would start the evacuation process. That way when we got to the top. We would just walk away, and not look back.

We stop just outside of the citadel to get our bearings. We didn’t want to go inside without having a game plan. Kevin bickered with Rocco about what area we should evacuate first, and if we should split up or go in teams. Brom and Tammy started cataloging our supplies and weapons. Chase was on his com-link with headquarters getting last minute instructions. Kira and I were on guard duty. Normally we would be chit chatting, but Kira was still pretty angry with me. I tried to ignore him for the most part, but after the second time we bumped into each other I snapped.

“If you have something you want to say, say it!” I tried to keep my voice low, and the sound came out as more of a hiss then I would have liked.

“Fine” Kira turned to me with a frown and nodded. “You broke formation, and took off. You could have been hurt or killed! There was no time to come look for you. You were just gone. We’re a team, but you don’t act like it. You act as if no one here is watching out for you, or even has your back. It’s irresponsible and dangerous.”

I was feeling chastised, and I hated it. I was just doing my job! “Kira, there was a zombie shooting at us.”

Kira nodded and continued to look down at me. He was only about an inch taller than I, but it was enough to make me feel like I was an eleven year old. “Right, and we could have handled it as a team.”

“There was no time! By the time a game plan was made it would have picked off at least two of us!” I was trying to reign in my temper. Something out here was making me agitated. I don’t know if it was all the zombies I could feel and couldn’t see, but it was not helping me stay reasonable.

Kira sighed, and he shook his head like I was a slow child that was missing something completely. “There was plenty of time to make sure that everyone was safe. You are not the only one out here AJ.”

“Wrong. I am the only one of us with this tattoo who is not our captain. If I don’t take care of myself no one else will.” I was so angry. I couldn’t stop myself once I had started talking. “Let me ask you something. If I weren’t infected would we even be having this conversation? Seriously. Would you even be questioning my judgment as superior officer this way?” I regretted the words as soon as I said them. Kira looked as if I had slapped him when I pulled rank. I hated myself at that moment. “Kira, I… apologize. That was tacky. I…”

“If you were not infected, you wouldn’t be so careless with your life or the way others would feel if you lost it, Lieutenant Jenkins.” Kira gives my formal address, and I wince inside. He turns and continues to patrol. I watch him walk away for a few minutes and turn to continue my own rounds.

After about twenty minutes Chase calls us all over. Kira is studiously ignoring me, and I mentally sigh. I deserved it for the impromptu bitchy moment. Hopefully he wouldn’t stay mad long. Tammy looks between us, and her brow lifts up at me. Ignoring the questioning glance I focus on Chase. As long as I focused on work everything would fine.

“Okay team. The word from upstairs is that our main goal is to destroy the labs below. We aren’t supposed go any farther down then the 3rd level. Once we clear out the third level we’re to blow the place, and head back. Any questions?” Chase looks around, and of course Kevin has questions.

“No lower than the 3rd level? According to the schematics. This place has 4 levels. What if the Legion decided to drill to get to the rest of it?” Once again I didn’t want to agree with Kevin, but he had a point.

“Those are the orders we were given. We…” Whatever Chase was about to say was lost when a large explosion hit the side of the station with the scaffolding.

A small convoy about the size of ours flies through the opening. I look over at Chase, and he nods. Whatever was in that convoy was the real deal. The zombies that were coming out of that ship were going to be little more than human. Which meant that the rest of our team needed to get inside that citadel now. The ship opens fire on us, and I push Tammy through the door of the lab building. She barely missed being run over by Kevin in his haste to get out of harms way. Brom and Kira started firing at the ship to give the rest of the team time to get through the door. Rocco had jumped in front of Chase, and had taken a hit to the leg. They made it through the doorway, and Chase gave Rocco over to Tammy’s capable hands. Tammy had started to fret over him, and Rocco didn’t look like there were too many places he’d rather be at that moment. The shots had ceased, but that was because the convoy was landing.

“You ready AJ?” Chase looked over at me, and I took a deep breath and nodded. Kira and Brom were out there. I was more than ready. “Good, Kevin, you stand at the door and cover Brom and Kira as they come in. If AJ and I don’t make it Kira is in charge, you are to complete the mission and get out of here.”

“You got it sir! I am ready to kick some zombie ass!” Kevin moved to the door like no one noticed the way he turned tail seconds ago. He was safe behind a barrier, so he was ready to be universal soldier. “I got this!”

Chase smiles as he catches me rolling my eyes, and we walk out of the doorway. The convoy lands with a sharp jerk, and a slight hiss of steam signifies that door was opening. Chase and I step out to the center of the courtyard, and pull out the light batons. Chase motions for Kira and Brom to take cover, and head towards the buildings entrance. I catch Kira’s eye, and nod at him. I didn’t want there to be any bad blood if this should end badly. Kira of course gives me that smile I’m so used to seeing, and it makes what I’m about to do worth it. Chase looks over his shoulder at me, and gives me a grim smile.

Chase looks back at me for a moment, and then looks towards the convoy. “Be Careful.”

“Yes sir.” I bounced a little bit on the balls of my feet to get ready. Loosening up my limbs for the approaching fight.

“I’m not talking about the zombies.” Chase closed his eyes for a few minutes and seemed to be focusing. I guess he was centering himself the way I did.

“I know sir.” I was going to do my best not to have the speech I knew was coming. I was very aware that Kira was not infected and I was.

Chase nods, and his full attention turns to the job at hand. I can feel the shamblers. The sentients always rounded them up and sent them out as shock troops before deploying any sentients. Sadly the shock troops were comprised of fallen Z-Core members that hadn’t made it out fully alive.

“There are 10 Shamblers. 2 sentients are flying the convoy.” Chase murmurs the number over to me, and I frown some.

“How can you tell? I know that there are zombies in there, but I can’t tell what type.” In truth I didn’t know there was a way to differentiate between the two. It wasn’t something that was taught to us in training.

“They feel different. When the shamblers come out focus on them for a moment. They are all chaotic energy, but they don’t feel like anything.” Chase brought up the light swords as the convoy door folded down to release the zombies into the courtyard.

I nod and bring up my light wands as well. I take a deep breath, and look back long enough to see how close Kira and Brom had gotten to the entrance. I hear the first groan of shamblers and I begin to move forward. As always I say a prayer and move in. The first zombie I cut down, I do so without focusing on what Chase said. By the third one I was starting to feel what he was talking about. They had no feeling. Only hunger. They didn’t care if you were infected or not. They just wanted to feed.

By the time I had gotten to the ship Chase was already inside taking care of the pilots. I stepped into the cockpit, and one was already dead. The other he was just holding down on the ground. I notice that the zombie’s arm was gone, and I look over the left. There was an arm over to the side with a gun in its hand. I turn to look at Chase who could only shrug. In his defense he was restraining a zombie.

“What do you and the rest of the Legion want with this station?” Chase was half turned away from me, and I could see the zombie angrily hissing at him.

The badge on the sentient’s chest said first class agent Hobbs. He wasn’t bothering to bite Chase. To real zombies we felt like real zombies. Which begged the question of were we real zombies? I shake off the question all Z9’s ask themselves and keep my head in the game. We had a lot to do in a short amount of time. When these guys didn’t come back they were going to send more. And this time they wouldn’t be shamblers.

“I don’t know. I just fly where I’m told.” Agent Hobbs voice had that soft hiss like quality that all sentients had. It was something about the way the virus affected their vocal chords. “Whatever it is. They want it bad enough to kill everyone of you to get it.”

Hobbs smiled and started to laugh, and Chase punched him in the face. Which was fine. I had just been about to do it. Only it didn’t shut him up. Apparently pain made Hobbs talkative.

“You Z9’s think you’re so much better than we are. You’re just tools that they are using to win this war. Once it’s over what use will they have for you then? Who will save you from the humans that you protect?” Oddly enough Hobbs looked over at me when he was talking. I guess he felt Chase was beyond help.

“Lt. Jenkins. Remember how I told you that sentients feel different then shamblers?” Chase also looked back at me ignoring the way Hobbs tried to struggle out of his grip.

“Yes sir.” I step forward, and look down at Hobbs. He wriggled his eyebrows at me and made kissing motions with his lips.

“She can feel anything she wants to. Ever had a zombie girly? We can do things that you would not believe!” Hobbs leered over at me, and I try not to be amused despite the disgust I feel. Zombie, Z9, human they were all the same.

“Focus on this one. Do you feel how angry he is?” Chase un-holsters his gun with his free hand, and puts it into Agent Hobbs mouth.

I focus like I’m being told, and I don’t feel anything for a moment. I stop and center myself then I feel it. The hunger was there, but it was more than hunger it was rage. It was a very palpable emotion that seemed to surround the zombie.  My eyes widen, and I look over to Chase who nods when he sees that I understand. He turns to look at Hobbs, and pulls the trigger.

“Remember that. The more sentient they are the more rage you’re going to feel. Z9’s have the rage, but not the hunger.” Chase cleaned off his gun, and he turns away from the cockpit.

I move in front of him, and I lean my head to the side. “Do you agree with what he says about what the humans will do to us once the war is over?”

Chase looks down at me, and his brow lifts. “You say human like you aren’t one.”

“Am I?” My voice dared him to contradict what the zombie had said. If I was honest with myself I wanted him to tell me that I was still human. “They don’t think so. If you walked in there right now and asked Kevin if we were the same as he was he would say no. If he could he would shoot us down, and say we were trying to eat him.”

“Kira seems to think you’re human enough.” After Chase said that I had the good grace to look down and step aside. He patted me on my shoulder and moved towards the entrance to the convoy. “AJ, we live in a world of implants, cyborgs, and credit cards embedded in our fingertips. We are just as human as anyone else out there. More so because we know what humans are supposed to be.”

He walks out into the courtyard, and moves toward the entrance of the building we were sent to destroy. I follow only feeling marginally better about what we were up against. The closer to the end of my 5 years the more uncertain I became about my role in life. I wondered if that was why Chase stayed in the Core. Was it some sort of institutionalization? I had honestly never heard of a colony of other Z9’s living an awesome life outside of the Core. Then again when I left I planned on forgetting the whole thing existed as well.

We get to the door, and we hear a scuffle and Tammy screaming at someone to stop. Chase curses, and I pull my gun following in right behind him. I could only imagine what fresh hell we were about to walk into now.

***

 

Chase and I slowly move through the doorway with our guns drawn ready to jump into the fight, but when I saw Kevin’s face twist to the side. I holstered my gun. No need to render aide there. Kevin stumbled back, and I saw that it was Kira that was swinging on him. From the way Kevin’s face looked he was doing a good job. Chase just stood there in surprise. Not that I could blame him. He wasn’t thrown into situations like this normally. He expected adults to act like adults. I look around the room, and see Tammy and Rocco on the other side of the room. Her arms were wrapped around his shoulders protectively, and Rocco didn’t look like he had anything to complain about. I look at his bandaged leg than look up at him, and he could only smile really wide. My lips twitch, and I search for Brom.

Locating Brom was a slight problem. He was massive, but he was silent. I finally find him when I turn around. He was sitting behind me close to the door. I was going to have to ask him to wear a bell when he was not on duty. I walk over not really too concerned about the fight. The fact that Brom wasn’t stepping in told me someone was getting an ass whooping that deserved. I lean back against the free area of the wall he sat back against and crossed my arms.

“Zombie’s gone?” He didn’t bother to look up at me he was busy watching the fight, but I knew he was paying attention to me.

“Yeah, for now. More will be coming though. That was just their first wave to kill off any fighters, and gain new recruits.” I motion to Tyson and Bedford with my chin. “What happened?”

“Kevin decided that since he was the senior member he should be in charge instead of Kira. Kira had sad that no one was in charge. You and the Captain were coming back, and we would wait it out. Kevin informed Kira that he wasn’t sitting around doing nothing because he had a crush on some Zombie whore.” The tale wasn’t riveting, but as always Brom was succinct and to the point.

“I see. Zombie whore huh?” I nod slowly. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who that was, and I sigh sadly. “Poor Chase.”

Brom snorted and Chase sent a sharp look in my direction. He turned to the two fighters and moved forward. Apparently he had enough of waiting on them to whined down. He got in between them, and he caught Kira’s arm mid swing, and blocked Kevin’s attempt to take advantage of it. I had to hand it to Chase he was fast. In short order he had stopped the fight, and flipped them both onto the ground without breaking a sweat.

“And that is why he’s the man!’ Rocco clapped, and Tammy shook her head, but seemed to agree according to the smile on her face.

“Cool off and get ready to go. We have a mission to complete ladies.” Chase looked more tired than angry, but he also had a lot on his plate. Then again it could be that he was feeling the presence of Zombies even stronger. I knew I was.

“I’m fucking transferring as soon as I get back to the base! I’m so sick of how everyone coddles that zombie bi…” Kevin’s little speech was cut off by a loud crack against his jaw that was made by Chase’s fist smashing into his face.

“Regardless of what you feel she is. She is three things for a fact: A lady, your teammate, and a superior officer. It would do you well to remember that when you send your complaint up the chain of command. She is included in that chain.” Chase turned and stalked off towards the elevator. “Everyone get your things and lets get this over with.”

The stunned silence that followed Chase’s words stretched out for a few moments. Not for too long however because no one else wanted to be on Chase’s shit list. Kevin looked like he wanted to draw his gun, and I was personally hoping he would. I was looking for an excuse to get rid of some of the aggression I was feeling. However Kevin picked up his gear instead and followed Chase to the elevator along with everyone else. I guess he weighed his chances of survival, and found that he had none.

“Well that was exciting. All right doll face. I know you can’t keep your hands off of me, but we got a job to do!” Rocco patted Tammy’s hands and stood up with a long stretch. Tammy watched him move seemingly unaffected by the mere flesh wound he had sustained and began to sputter indignantly.

“Why you! You, you, oh you…!” Tammy was really trying to find something scathing to say, but she was so out done she didn’t really know what to do. She stood and glared up at him for a moment before gathering herself and her things. She turned to follow Chase making sure to step on Rocco’s foot on her way by.

“Ouch! What was that for? Women! Can’t live with them, and duct tape is against regulations!” He called after her, but picked up his gear and followed her with a happy whistle.

Brom moved past them to the elevator with a slow shake of his head. It must have been nice to live in Brom’s world. Nothing was ever a problem.

I catch up to Kira as he shoulders his pack, and pick up his hands to look at his knuckles. I tsk some and set my pack down long enough to get some ointment out of one of the pockets. His knuckles were bloody, and they weren’t very pretty looking, but it was nice to know that he cared enough to defend my dubious honor.

“You okay killer?” I half smile, and begin medicating his hand. Humans temperature wise were 10 degrees warmer than Z9s. No one knew why it was just a quirky fact.

“Yeah, how about you? Any worse for wear?” Kira looked me over in a way that didn’t make me feel like he was checking for bruises. I could only smile and shake my head.

“No, but if we don’t hurry to the elevator that might change with the mood Chase is in.” I adjust my bag and quickly turn to the elevator. All this feeling was too much for my first day out. For the first time I felt that everything would be okay between Kira and I.

Kira caught up to me, and put a friendly arm around my shoulder. Leaning into whisper into my ear. “You can run for now AJ, but not for long.” He dropped his arm and moved into the elevator first. Kevin was near the back, and I guess he didn’t want him too close in case something happened.

The ride down to the 3rd level was uncomfortable and tense.  Chase finally breaks the silence at about the 2nd floor. “ All right. According to Rocco this elevator is going to take s all the way down to the 3rd level. We’ll do a sweep, and burn and shred all of the paper files we see. Brom you’ll head back up to the first floor, and start emptying the computers. Start looking around those glass offices, and see if there is anything there that needs to be destroyed. If nothing goes wrong, we’ll be in and out here in under two hours.”

“Sir, what about the zombies sir?” Kevin made “sir” sound like a dirty word and just the sound of his voice made me want to punch his face in.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to center myself. The further down we got the more I felt zombies, but it was odd. There wasn’t any hunger or rage just the feel of them close by.

“If everyone sticks to the plan we’ll be out of here before they can get another convoy over here.” The door opens, and we all step out. “Lets move out. The first floor rooms belong to Kevin and Tammy. Second four are for Rocco and AJ. Kira come with me we’ll take the last four. Brom you know what to do.”

Brom nods, and hits the elevator button to go back up stairs. The rest of us split up into our assigned teams and get started. The hall looked like it could be the “Weird Science” version of the shining, but it was as up stairs completely empty. The first two rooms Rocco and I cleared were fine. There was very little to shred or burn. Whoever had run this facility was either really anal, or there wasn’t much going on here. By the third room Rocco had started to feel talkative.

“Hey, did you see the way Tammy was all over me?” Rocco was all smiles, and he lit a match and tossed it into a can filled with reams of documents. He was so happy that all I could do was arch my brow and continue shredding with an amused shake of my head.

“I saw the way you tricked her into being all over you.” I couldn’t help, but smile back at him. His smile was infectious. “She didn’t seem to appreciate it though.”

“Yeah… but it was worth it you know? I’ve been trying to get her to go out with me since she transferred to our team. I even stalled this company Cerberus from sending in a request to hire me on, so I could have more time to get her to like me. But no dice you know?” He looks at himself in a two-way mirror and flexes giving his biceps a few kisses. In his defense they were impressive. “I’m an attractive guy right?”

I smile, but don’t bother looking up at him. I refused to stroke his ego right now. We had work to do, and we didn’t have a whole lot of time to do it. I thought that Chase’s estimate of 2 hours wasn’t enough time.

“Hey, right?” Rocco sounded worried, and I looked up at him with a small frown.

“Yes, you’re very attractive Rocco. Hand me those files please” That was my polite way of telling him to get busy. Rocco handed me the file, and went back to looking at himself in the mirror.

“Damn right I am! So what’s the problem?” He moves around the desk, and stands next to me leaning back against it, and crossing his arms. I look up at him, and he shakes his head. “No really. Why won’t she say yes?”

I don’t know what was sadder. The fact that she wouldn’t say yes, or the fact that he was asking someone who had never had a relationship advise on a relationship. I sigh, and continue to feed paper into the shredder thinking about my answer carefully. “Rocco, Lets say you do go out with her. What than?”

It was Rocco’s turn to frown. “What do you mean?”

I shake my head in exasperation, and look up at him from my paper shredding. “The fact that you don’t understand that question is why she’s no saying yes.”

He pulls himself on the desk, and gets comfortable. “Well make me understand oh wise one!”

“You two go out. You have a good time, and than what? You two spend the night with each other? You spend a year together? What’s the game plan? She has a lot invested in her career in the Core. What if she gets pregnant? What if she falls for you, and you lose interest? Where does that leave her?” I had finished shredding the papers, and the stuff Rocco had burned was slowly dying into warm embers. By the time I finish talking I wasn’t sure if I was speaking for her or myself.

“So she wants to get married?” Rocco squeaked the word married, and coughs to correct him self. “I mean married?”

“No necessarily. She needs to feel secure, and she won’t feel that until she knows what you want. You won’t be able to give her that, because you don’t know what you want.” I patted myself on the back with that one.

Rocco pounded his fist into his hand like a light bulb had gone off. “Oh, like Kira is with you!”

And I was done. I dust off my hands, and head to the door. “Okay well it looks like we’re done here. On to the next room shall we?”

“Don’t try to deflect that!  I’m surprised you hadn’t gotten knocked up with all the eye sex you two give each other. You should see the way you look at any girl who talks to him. Remember that red head…” Rocco must have seen that I was about to choke him out. So he went back to the original problem. “Right, so Tammy needs Security.” I nod and turn towards the door. “Is that what you need?”

I turn around sharply, and try to figure out how we got back to me. “I needed to have never have been made a Z9/”

“You won’t be in a week.” Rocco’s brow wriggle, and I take a deep breath. I don’t know how I got pulled into this conversation.

“Doesn’t matter. Z9’s are not allowed to have relationships with non-Z9’s. Period” I head towards the door, and he grabs his stuff to follow me.

“Sounds like an excuse.” Rocco catches up to me, and leans over my shoulder as I open the door to the last office.

“Sounds like a rule.” I can hear the others working in the other room, and bring my voice down. All I needed was one of them to hear this.

“That you’re using as an excuse!” He smiles and I glare at him. He leans forward, and twists the handle on the door. Sweeping his arm out to allow me to go first.

I shake my head and move past him ignoring the way he smiles at me as if he had eaten 3 canaries. I step into the lab, and I stop short. There is a short man with silvery gray hair and thin wire frame glasses. He looks up at me with a smile, and stands up from his desk. I take a step back, and barely miss bumping into Rocco.

“Holy…! Rocco get Chase now!” I move my hand to my gun, and watch the man take off his glasses, and put his hand into his pocket. Lucky for him light brown fingers pulled out a handkerchief to wipe off his glasses.

“What’s wrong? The hell?” He sees the man, and turns on his heel to go get Chase without another word.

“Why hello! I am so glad you’re here! I was wondering when they were going to send the next shipment. It’s been months!” The man was in his mid sixties. The badge on his lab coat said Rahjal.

“What shipment?” I hear Rocco coming back with Chase and Kira, and I step further into the room to give them some space when they got there.

“The shipment of retired Z9’s of course. I was starting to get worried after the last shipment never came.” Dr. Rahjal was all smiles for someone who had just told me, and this was where I was going to end up in a week.

I stare at the man for a few minutes waiting to see if he was going to correct himself. I felt my self grow cold in the middle. I lean on one of the tables, and close my eyes for a moment to center myself. He frowned at me as if I was slow, and impatiently waves his hands in the air. He pushed back form his desk and I took a step back, and brought my hand to my gun once again.

“Who is in charge of your team?” His arms cross stuffily, and I almost shoot him. He’s “retiring” Z9’s and he wants to know where my superior officer was?

Rocco gets back with Chase not a moment too soon. I roll my shoulders in aggravation, and hand Kira my gun. I thought it was best to leave it in the hands of someone who wasn’t one third as pissed of as I was at that moment. Rahjal sees Chase and he smiles once more.

“Ah you look like you’re in charge here.  Where are the Z9’s?” He looks at all of us expectantly, everyone but me. I was busy scowling at him.

“You’re expecting Z9’s?” Chase says the words slowly to Rahjal like he was a child.

Rahjal sighs heavily and begins to clean his glasses again. Clearly it was a nervous tick. “Well of course. Why else would you be here?”

By this time Kevin and Tammy had come up. Tammy saluted and motioned to the other rooms with a nod of her head. “ The first four rooms have been swept Sir.  We are ready to begin planting the explosives.”

“Explosives? What in heaven’s name are you planting Explosives for?’ Rahjal put his glasses back on, and this time he looked like he needed to be the one centering himself.

Kevin saw the man and smiled and stepped in fanning his hands out that was meant to mimic smoke, but came out looking like jazz hands. “We’re destroying the lab, and everything in it”

“Kevin.” Chase’s voice was low and clearly a warning.

“Going to make it go boom!” Kevin ignored Chase for the moment when he saw he was scaring the Doctor. Clearly he was happy to find someone he could bully.

Chase rolled his eyes, and moved into the room. “Kevin, go help Brom.”

‘But…”
“That’s an order.” Chase voice was sharp and impatient. Kevin was working his last nerve. I idly wondered if Chase was starting to feel the same aggressive impulses I was.

Kevin stalks out of the room bumping Kira’s shoulder on the way out. Kira turns to follow him, but Rocco grabs his arm and shakes his head. Kira gives me a rye smile, and hands my gun back. I take it with a shake of my head.

“They sent you to destroy the lab? But why?” I almost feel sorry for Rahjal. Than I remember what type of shipment he was expecting, and the feeling passes.

“Yes, we are here to destroy the station. How often do you get shipments of Z9’s?” Chase didn’t give him a reason, and I wonder why he doesn’t explain about the attacks. Though looking at the way Rahjal was trembling it was probably a good idea he didn’t say anything.

“Every 6 months are so.  I would be expecting another shipment in…” Rahjal does the math in his head and smiles. “Exactly 7 days from now.”

They all turn to look at me, but I was feeling sick. I didn’t have anything to say, and I had gone completely numb. I knew the recruiter had been lying when he said I would get to retire peacefully. I pull of my jacket and gun, and both to Kira. I wasn’t exactly sure what other surprises Rahjal was going to give me, but I really didn’t want to shoot someone for being innocent. Stupid, but innocent.

Chase turns to look back at Rahjal who was watching me like I was a rabid dog he didn’t want to get too close to. “What do you do with the Z9’s once you have them?”

“We breed more.” Rahjal smiled like there was nothing wrong with what he was saying. I lunged forward, and Kira tossed my jacket and gun to Tammy.  He caught me, and spun me around into his arms. Firmly holding me in place while Rahjal continued talking. “Would you care to see?”

Kira turns me around in his arms, and just looks into my eyes. The look on his face was telling me to keep it together, but I didn’t want to keep it together any longer. I was tired. All of that work was just to get the chance to breed more soldiers they could mistreat.

Rahjal peered at my arm and he clapped almost girlishly. “You’re a Z9! How extraordinary!” He moves forward, and Kira drags me back before Rahjal could touch me. “And you were born here! How marvelous! Tell me everything? How have you adjusted? Do you find that the false memories that we implanted of your childhood helped? I have never gotten to speak to an actual product of this lab before! This is very exiting!”

I stare at him for a few minutes. I look back at Kira, and he shrugs and lets me go. Rollin my shoulders I smile, and my fist connects with his nose. “I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me? Am I adjusted?”

Rahjal pulls out his handkerchief, and holds it to his nose for a moment. “Yes, that was insensitive. You’ll have to excuse me. I’m sure it’s a shock to learn you were created here. Why don’t I show you to the holding area?”

I look to Chase and he nods. He was taking this news pretty well considering that he was a Z9, but I guess it wasn’t the same for him. He had volunteered for the process. He turns to everyone else, and waves his hand giving the signal to follow Rahjal.  We all packed into the elevator and Rahjal hit the button for the fourth level. Every ride on this elevator was tense and uncomfortable. Kira put himself between the lab coat and me the whole time. He didn’t say anything. He just slid his fingers in mine and kept them there, even when I tried to let them go.

He leaned forward, and I could feel his lips hovering over my ear. “ I told you there would come a time when I wouldn’t allow you to run. Times up. Whatever is in there we’ll face it together.”

Kira straightened and I took a deep breath. The elevator stopped, and I closed my eyes trying to block out the near debilitating feel of so many Zombies in one place. I look at Chase, and he’s just staring straight ahead. The door opens, and I wait for everyone to step out before I move through the door. I look around, and I wish I had never stepped out of the elevator. There was clearly a reason the Core hadn’t wanted us to go down here.

***

I step out into a wide-open area, and all I can see is rows and rows of bodies sleeping inside cryo chambers. I was behind Chase walking side by side with Kira. Chase’s tense shoulders, and the stiff way he was walking told me everything I needed to know about how he felt about this situation. Rahjal continued to walk forward until we got to the center of the large room. He turned to us, and waved us over to the tanks. I release Kira’s hand and move to chamber holding a woman with long black hair in a blue liquid with various tubes keeping her alive. She looked peaceful. I wondered how long she had been there. Was this my fate? Was this why Chase stayed in the core? I just stared dumbly at the rows and rows of glass holding Z9’s suspended between life and death.

So we were created in a lab. I guess that was slightly more humane than picking up random children off the street and forcing them into this life… Then again they had to start somewhere. I placed my hand on the tube, and I felt sick.

“That’s Trisha. Lovely isn’t she? She an exceptional Z9 she has had borne 3 children so far.” Rahjal smiled proudly as he looked out across the room. Kira made it a point to put himself between the doctor and myself.

“Why leave them like this? Are we really so dangerous that we can’t live amongst humans?” My question was low, but in the stillness of the room it was easily heard.

“Dangerous?” Rahjal looked confused, and I turned to look him in the eye. I wanted to see if he was going to lie to my face the way the recruiters did.

I could feel myself start to shake with the rage I was feeling on their behalf. “Why else would they be kept in these chambers and used as cattle to create more Z9’s?”

“My dear girl. They are no more dangerous than any other human…” I cut Rahjal off with a laugh.

“Human? No Dr. Rahjal we are not human. Would you do this to humans? Trick them into serving a Core that hates them by believing that they’ll be set free only to trap them below ground and breed more Z9’s to be treated badly?” I was seething and for the first time I understood what Zombies felt when they were set down in human populations. Why care about something that would shoot you as soon as look at you?

“My dear child. I don’t know what you think it is that we do here, but I assure you what you see here is progress! It’s the cure for Simplex Z. They can’t contract the virus, and they can’t pass it on to anyone else. They are the next stage of our evolution. . You would think being a part of that would make you more exited!” Rahjal was indignant, and I was incredulous at how insulted he sounded.

“They are locked up like animals to breed more soldiers for a war were both sides hate us! I don’t know what you think it is you do here, but creating a cure is not it!” I hiss at him angrily, and Rahjal starts to look concerned.

“Hates them?” Rahjal looks disturbed, and for the first time tonight I feel sorry for him. I wonder how long had he been stuck here.

“Yeah Doc. Your little experiments down here are pretty much barred from doing anything that non infected humans do.” Chase quietly walks around looking at the various chambers. He had been so quiet it was kind of a shock when he finally said something.

“And now you tell her that this is where she will end up in a weeks time.” Kira shakes his head, and takes a deep breath pulling a hand through his hair. He seemed to finally be feeling some of the hopelessness I’ve been feeling.

“They aren’t volunteers?” Rahjal’s voice breaks, and Tammy rolls her eyes at him.

“Who would volunteer for this?” Tammy shakes her head, and keeps her eyes down. She didn’t seem to know where to look, and Rocco wraps his arms around her protectively.  “Why would anyone volunteer for this?”

“Why to further medical science research of course!’” The exasperation in Rahjal’s voice made me lunge at him again. How dare he be upset about no one wanting to live in out his or her lives in cryo tubes!

Rocco releases Tammy just in time to keep me from tearing him apart. I struggle for a few moments, and Rahjal was starting to look scared. And well he should be! I finally pull it together long enough to turn to Chase.

“We have to get them out of here! They served the Core just like everyone else. They don’t deserve this!” Chase looks over at me when he hears my voice and watches me for a second before nodding slowly.

“Yes. We do. It’s time.” Chase moved to the control panel and begins looking for the release switch. “Dr. Rahjal would you begin the sequence to release the Z9’s?”

“Wait, I’m all for getting them out of there, but how are we going to get this many people out of here before the Legion get’s here with more troops? That elevator barely held all of us.” Rocco looks around kind of at a loss. I couldn’t blame him. There were enough people here to populate this space station and keep it running.

“They must have gotten them down here somehow Rocco. We’ll figure out away.” Tammy squeezes his hand, and Rocco’s nods giving her a slight smile. I don’t think they even notice how close they had gotten in the last 6 hours.

“Why yes of course. They are brought down from the landing pad to a hidden panel outside of the gates of the city. They are brought in by our underground train system. It’s how most of the supplies is brought to the station.” Rahjal had moved over to the control panel, and had begun punching numbers. A large panel slid open out onto what looked like a large train track system. There were rows of large cars that would be enough to carry all of them out.

We all walk out into the underground system, and for the first time I feel hopeful about the chances of the Z9’s in the cryo tubes. I look Kira, and he gives me a sad smile. I look over at Chase and he nods turning to the other three.

“Kira, Rocco, and Tammy. You will take Brom and Kevin and complete the mission you were sent here to do. Tell Brom to erase the information on the program here from his computer. We don’t want it falling into the wrong hands, nor do we want anyone with all the names of the Z9’s here.” Chase was pulling off his Core jacket containing all of the medals it held, and I started to do the same. I wouldn’t need these any more. Not with what I was about to do.

Kira was frowning, and just watched us for a few minutes. “What are you and AJ going to do?”

“Give them the life they were promised by the Core. We owe them that much.” Chase’s shoulders roll. I looked over at his tattoo, and for the first time I noticed the three-headed wolf beneath his Z9 registration number. I could tell the agitation was finally getting to him. There were too many here.

“Sir. You’re going to need our help! You two can’t do this alone.” Tammy stepped forward picking up our jackets, and folded them over her arm. She was an awesome solider. I smile at her need to keep the jackets tidy.

“You three are going to need to keep your careers.” Chase told them pointedly. I nod in agreement. This wasn’t their fault, and it wasn’t fair to ask them to throw everything away to help us.

Tammy looks mildly disturbed. Her need to do what was right was conflicting with her desire to rise in the Core. I smile at her to let her know that there were no hard feelings. Rocco pulls Tammy back into his arms, and gives me an apologetic smile. I walk over past him and pat him on the back. I walk over to Kira and look up at him for what might be the last time. I had known from the beginning that we wouldn’t make it. The only reason it hurt now was because I had allowed myself to believe that it could, even if it had been for a moment. I turn to walk away, and Kira pulls me back and places a kiss on my forehead.

“AJ…”

Kira starts and I shake my head stepping away. It hurt enough. I look back at Chase to see if he was ready. He turns to Rahjal and the Doctor nods as well.

“The release tab is in the other room.” Rahjal punches a few more buttons, and turns around to head to the other room.

We all follow suit and head back to where all of the Z9’s were being held. Rahjal stops short and I almost crash into him. I begin to curse, but stop short as well. I see Kevin peering into the tubes making faces at the sleeping Z9’s. Looking around and giggling like a child at an aquarium. He finally turns to us with a broad smile on his face, and I feel a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“So this is what the zombies are looking for!” He laughed, and lifted his hand to knock on one of the tubes with his knuckles. “Nobody told me we were having a family reunion.”

Kira put his hand on my shoulder; it was so odd how I had come to depend on him to keep me calm during shit storms. And if there was ever a situation that deserved that title this was it. We had the threat of the Legion heading this way, but now Kevin knew all of these Z9’s were sleeping here. We wouldn’t be able to let him leave here alive, and keep the lives of these Z9’s intact. I look back at Chase, and I knew he was thinking the same thing. The situation and gone from bad to even worse. For the first time today I knew that we would not return to the base as a whole team.

***

Everyone just stared at Kevin for a few minutes. I don’t think anyone was really sure what to do about him now. Kevin however continued to be all smiles as he came towards our little group. He stopped about 4 feet away, and looked around again before looking at Chase and I. “So, how does it feel to truly know you’re not human?”

“I beg your pardon sir! Z9’s are most certainly are human. Why I…” Kevin laughed and waved his arm around the room effectively cutting Rahjal off.

“This would never happen to me. So no, I don’t think so.” Once again I hated Kevin, but in his defense I used the same argument earlier.

“You really suck at following order Kevin.” Kira rolled his eyes, and took my hand intending to walk past him.

Kevin stepped in our way, and held up his hands with a shake of his head. “Actually I’m awesome at following orders. Brom told me to relay that another Zombie ship had landed, and that he had barricaded the door. I, being the amazing human soldier that I am came to warn you.”

“Good to hear! Lets get upstairs and set the explosives. We can finish this mission, and you can go home.” Chase nonchalantly moved to walk past him as well, only to be stopped by Kevin too.

“Which job? The one we were sent here to complete, or the one where you and Zombie Barbie mutiny and rescue your relatives?” After Kevin made that statement Rocco cursed and I silently joined in. The little weasel had been down there listening for a while before delivering the news about the zombies. So chances were they were already in mid attack.

As if in benediction to our thoughts the building began to shake with the force of the Legion unit hitting whatever barricades Brom had put up. Kevin who was still smiling looked up and shrugged. Clearly he had more to say. This time he looked at Kira, and I knew at that moment whatever he was about to say was going to get him killed.

“So, this is what we are going to do. We are going to complete the job. Get back to the ship, and Chase is going to radio in that he is stepping down as Captain of our team. He is going to relinquish the position to me because he feels he is unfit as a leader due to his inner monster taking over, and ask for your zombie tramp to be transferred out as well. The rest of you are going to stay quiet because you want to keep your careers. Understand?” Kevin nodded slightly as if he was talking to a group of preschoolers.

Kira’s hand moved to his gun, and Tammy places her hand over his with a shake of her head. “Are you insane?” Tammy shook her head and turned to watch Kevin as if he was rare slug she had never seen before. “No way are we agreeing to that!”

“You’re gong to do whatever I say sugar tits. If not I will have you kicked out, and sent back to that trailer park you slept your way out of so fast you won’t have time to even spell public assistance!” The building shook again, and Kevin barely sidesteps Rocco grabbing for him. If it hadn’t been for Kira and Chase catching him he would have made it. I was all for letting him go. Why stop him from doing what we all wanted to do?

“Sir, you don’t understand. You can’t blow the facility up. These humans are alive and…” Rahjal, God bless him, was trying to reason with the nut. I mentally shake my head. By the crazed power mad look Kevin had in his eyes we had jumped off the reason train 20 minutes ago.

“Stop calling them that!” Kevin screamed at the doctor causing him to take a step back. “I don’t see any humans in here except for 5 of us. The rest are just rabid dogs that are slowly being put down now that they are no longer needed!”

Chase had gone very still and I could tell he was centering himself. I followed suit and took a deep breath trying to release the anger and see what he was seeing. Suddenly I felt large amounts of Rage that had nothing to do with what was going on down here. My eyes opened, and I suddenly felt awareness. I looked to the cryotubes, and the eyes of ever Z9 in the room had opened. They felt the sentients up there too. They couldn’t really move, but I watched as their eyes followed each action that we made. Each Z9 a living statue surrounded in bluish liquid.

Brom came down at that moment pulling on his back. “If we are going to do something now would be the time to do it… what the hell?”

Kevin laughed and waves his arm around. “Brom thanks for joining us! I’d like to introduce you to your new Captain! Me!”

Brom watched him for a second and in typical Brom fashion got straight to the point. “No”

Kevin looked as if he hadn’t heard what Brom had said, which was pretty amazing because it had only been one word. “No?”

“No I will not follow you.” Brom turned and moved back to the elevator hitting the button and leaving all of us stunned and confused.

Tammy shook her head, and suddenly laughed. It was honestly the first real laugh I had ever heard from her. It sounded as if she just didn’t care any longer “If I wasn’t in love with Rocco I’d marry that man.”

Rocco almost gave himself whiplash in his effort to look over at Tammy. “You’re in love with me? Why are you waiting until just now to tell me?”

Tammy continued to watch Kevin waving his gun around. The ground shook again and she looked over at Rocco with a shrug. “We’re about to die. Now is as good a time as any.”

Rocco looked a little floored, but that didn’t keep his smile down for long. “Marry me.”

“Yes” Tammy nodded and Rocco picked her up and starting swinging her around with a whoop.

I for one was amazed at how calm everyone was being considering we had enemies attacking and Kevin was waving a gun at us. I looked over at Kira who could only smile and shrug. I shake my head slightly and look back at the doctor. I motion to the controls with my eyes, and Rahjal nods emphatically. Nothing had changed we were going to get the Z9’s out of here. Kevin might be delusional, but the rest of us were getting out of here as planned.

Chase moved forward and Kevin lifted his gun taking aim at the center of Chase’s chest. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Where do you think?” The building rocked again, and Chase smiled. “It may have escaped your notice, but we are under attack. I am going to go upstairs and handle the problem. Unless you as our new Captain think you can do it by yourself.”

I had never head Chase be sarcastic with anyone. If it weren’t for the circumstances it would be funny. Kevin heard it to, but he was busy calculating his chances of survival without us, and I guess they didn’t look too good. “Fine. We’ll take care of that than blow the place up. Everyone upstairs.” Kira and I moved forward, and Kevin picked up his gun again. “Except you Kira. You keep your zombie-loving ass down here with Dr. Frankenstein. If I make it out alive than I will allow them to come and get you before we blow this place up.”

Kira releases my hand and steps back. I stiffly move forward, and Kira catches my arm. He pulls me back, and this time the kiss he gives me takes my breath away and stops my heart. I close my eyes and try to center myself only to find that it wasn’t necessary. I was already calm.  My arms wrap about his shoulders, and I relax into his embrace. I know that the world is going absolutely insane around us, but I have no desire to acknowledge it or let Kira go. I take this one moment to be selfish, and enjoy every moment of it. When he finally lets me go, all I can do is stare at him for a moment.

“My man! I knew you had it in you! That’s what I’m talking about!” Rocco grabs Tammy and moves past us. Stopping to pat him on the shoulder. “Hey! You can be the best man at our wedding!”

Tammy nods a lot and pulls Rocco to the elevator with a laugh. “ You’d look darling in a pink brides maid dress AJ!”

I watch them go by and look back at Kira who only smiles at me. Clearly the threat of death made everyone a little crazy. We just all seemed to be coping in very different ways. I take a deep breath and square my shoulders. We had a job to do, and if I wanted to see Kira, and rescue the Z9’s I had better start doing. I turn to the elevator, and Kevin mockingly bows with a wave of his hand allowing me to go first. Not that I blame him. I wouldn’t let me stay where I couldn’t see me either.

We pile into the elevator, and Kevin reaches from behind me to press the button for the first floor. I watch Kira as the door closes. I silently mouth that I would see him again. He nods with a salute keeping eye contact with me until the door shuts. I didn’t know what we would find when we got up stairs, but I knew some of us weren’t going to live through his experience. I could only hope that I would be able to keep my promise to Kira.

***

We make it upstairs and Brom was already setting up the explosives. Brom was a true soldier in every sense of the word. Nothing swayed him once he set course. He looked over at us once we stepped out of the elevator and deliberately ignored Kevin to speak to Chase.

“The electronic barricade won’t hold for much longer. I have emptied the cubicles in the main room as you requested. The glass is bullet proof. I guess this is also where the stations security detail was supposed to have been located. I have taken all of the files, and rigged the explosives Sir.” Chase pats him on the shoulder and moves toward the door looking around.

“We have to hurry. How many ships landed outside Brom?” You could almost literally see the wheels turning in Chases head.

“Three Sir. and they didn’t look like Shamblers.” Brom shook his head tiredly. He handed Chase the controls for the explosives and stepped back into a resting stance.

“They aren’t. Okay. Our best bet is to lure them down to the 3rd floor and blow the building as planned.” Chase looked around for any disagreement, and he found it in Kevin.

“Than how are we going to get out?” Kevin voice had seriously started to grate on my nerves.

“We can use the tracks below the building. The cars may not work due years of non use, but the tunnel shouldn’t be a problem.” Chase had clearly been ready for an argument from Kevin.

Rocco clapped his hands and started moving table with Tammy. “Sounds like a plan lets…”

“No. We are going out the way we came.” Kevin’s skirt was starting to show. He shook his head adamantly. “There is no way I’m going to be stuck in the dark with a bunch of Zombies”

“Don’t be stupid Kevin it’s our best way out. This way everyone makes it!” Tammy clearly had finally had enough. She was starting to snap, and the tiniest amount of her Jupitarian accent was show through.

“I don’t think you heard me.” He aimed his gun at Tammy, and Rocco moved in front her. “I’m in charge here, and I say we aren’t going!”

“We don’t have time for this. The Zombie’s are breaking the door down now!” I shout over at him as another explosion hits the door. They had gotten tired of playing it seemed.

 “You know. I am really tired of you not knowing your place. “Kevin’s shoulder rolled, and I could see he was just on this side of losing what cool he had left.

“And I’m really sick of you breathing.” If no one else was done playing with Kevin I was. We didn’t have time to entertain him any longer.

“Really? You want a piece of me? “He moved forward and got right in my face the action causing him to lower the gun.  “Bring it.”

Too bad he wasn’t as intimidating as he thought he was. The heel of my palm connects with his nose, and I kick the gun from his hands. “It’s already here.”

Kevin stumbles back a few paces, but regroups quickly.  He swings, and I dodge forward dropping one knee slightly and twisting my opposing elbow into his face. He takes a step back, and pivots on his right foot sending his left into my side. I hiss slightly, but shake it off. I wasn’t going to stop swinging on him until he was crawling away. I slide take to steps forward jumping on the last one to plant the heel of my boot into his chest. Once I land I don’t give him time to regroup I start hammering away at him. Some of the punches he blocks, and he even manages to get a few in. I’m just too angry to care the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins wasn’t allowing me to feel anything other than the need to hurt him as bad as I was hurting earlier.

I leap again and this time I land on his waist twisting so that he is thrown off balance and taken to the ground. Once there, I continue to drop punch after punch until he finally finds a way to throw me off. He rolls tries to grab for his gun. Rocco kicks it away and shakes his head at him. Kevin gets up, and reluctantly turns back to me bringing his hands up. He sees that the only way he’s going to end this fight is the long way.  We circle each other a few moments He puts himself between Chase and I. I’m watching him closely to see what he’s about to do, and just when I think he’s about to lunge for me surprises all of us and swings at Chase instead.

Chase is caught by surprise, and Kevin is able to land the punch everyone thought was coming at me. He grabs the explosive device, and looks me directly in the eye as he hits the button destroying the third floor. I can hear each bomb go off room by room, and all I can do is watch as fire surrounds the elevator box, and comes through the doors.

I numbly stare at the hole where the elevator used to be and say nothing. Tammy comes up behind me and wraps her arms around my shoulders. Rocco takes over the job of kicking Kevin’s ass.

“You stupid fuck! You’ve killed all of us! That was our only way out, and you’ve destroyed it!” Rocco lands a punch into his face with each word. I wish I could enjoy the fervor of Rocco’s anger but I was in so much shock I couldn’t do it.

Kevin laughs and spits out the blood that had collected in his mouth. “Now that those things are gone we can focus on the job at hand”

Rocco gets up and looks down at him for a minute before kicking Kevin in the side. “Your time is coming real soon.”

“Just not today.” Kevin laughs, and lies there trying to catch his breath. I was hoping someone would shoot him

Chase comes up to me, and pulls me out of Tammy’s embrace. He loos down at me and I can only nod. We don’t have time for grief. We need to get Tammy, Rocco, and Brom out of here. They had whole lives to lead, and they didn’t deserve to die on this planet like Kira and the other Z9’s did.

Chase looks around at the cubicle Brom had mentioned and motion for Tammy, Rocco, and Brom to go hide.  “Get into that room and don’t come out. They are going to come for you guys first because you aren’t infected. They won’t know AJ and I are here. The sentients aren’t shamblers, but they still need to consume flesh.”

Kevin gets up and makes his way to the cubicle to hide with the others. Tammy locks the door on him and waves at him from the other side of the glass. He jerked on the latch a few times, and than turns wide eyes to Chase and I. “Wait! Tell them to let me in I’m not infected!”

“You have a choice .You can fight your way out of here, and maybe survive. Or you I can shoot you now.” Chase turned his back on him, and focused on the door that was starting to get wedged apart.

“Are you crazy? There is no way I can fight off that many zombies!” Kevin’s voice had started to take on the edge of hysteria that would have been sad to listen to coming from anyone else.

“Let’s hope you can’t” I don’t even bother looking at him. It was way too much to ask for some sentient zombie to turn him into what he hated most.

“I’m giving you more of chance the you gave everyone down stairs. I suggest you stop wasting time and get yourself together.” Chase looks over at me, and I nod. We took opposing position near the elevator, and watched the door open wider and wider.

Kevin scrambles to find his gun, and he turns it on me. Unfortunately for him I was already aiming at the light source and shooting it out. Plunging the room into total darkness save for the artificial light coming from the groaning door. He turns around to see if Chase and I are still there, and we had already moved.

 “You can’t do this to me” Kevin screams and begins to wildly swing his gun around. “I’m human I have rights!”

I silently scoff and roll my eyes in the darkness. The door opens up wide enough to allow a few troops in, and they immediately train their weapons on Kevin. He drops his gun, and holds his hands up. I shake my head, and try not to do him the favor of ending his life.

“I want to talk to whoever is in charge!” Kevin screams, and his words are slightly garbled due to the beatings he had taken earlier.

One of the zombies turn and go back outside, but the others continue to keep their guards up. I wonder what they are waiting on. Than suddenly feel this massive amount or rage at the door way and turn to see what’s coming. I had never felt anything like it. The other zombies turn to attention to whoever was coming up to the door. Whoever it is knocks, and the sound echo’s in the stillness of the entryway.

“Hello, and excuse me, but… do you have a moment to talk about eternal damnation?”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the dark pleasantly amused voice wasn’t it. In fact had I not known that whatever was coming in wanted to kill us all; I might have asked him come in. I hold my breath trying not to step away from the rage pulsing through the room. It made my flesh crawl. I might not have been completely human, but I was certainly more human than what was about to walk through that door.

***

The rage pulsing from him was like a living breathing thing. He wasn’t just sentient he was focused. The tall black boots and the medals on his chest announced that he was a colonel. He was all removed his hat, and his chillingly handsome face was all smiles. He knew his place on the food chain, and was very comfortable with it. Everything from the dark wavy hair to the bright white smile said he was vain. Though If I looked like that in sea of shamblers I’d probably be vain to. Actually, if I looked like that now I’d probably be vain anyway. From the look of him he wasn’t infected due to exposure or mauling. He was born that way. He had no idea what it was like to be human and from the look on his face when he looked at Kevin he didn’t ever want to.

I watch him look around at the surrounding darkness, and he lifts his nose to the air. He was searching for other humans. I saw him look in the direction of the cubicle Tammy and Rocco were hiding in, and my heat jumped up in my throat. He tucked his hat under his arm, and calmly walked over to Kevin.

“Hello. My name is Fredrico Alvarez.  I hail from Earth, but I have many cousins who live on the moon. You asked to speak with me?” Alvarez’s voice was light and friendly. I was hoping for Kevin’s sake that he was smart enough not to trust him.

Than I remembered it was Kevin I was thinking about. “Cousins? You animals can breed?”

I close my eyes at the ignorance of that statement. I had to hand it to him though. At least he wasn’t being fake. If his plan was to end this quickly it was going to work magnificently bad.

“Why yes. There are millions of families on our home world. “ If Alvarez was insulted he didn’t show it. His voice remained pleasant and softly amused. As if he found a flea circus, and one was doing tricks.

“Look. I got not beef with you. Let me go, and I’ll give you anything you want!” Kevin of course was taking the direct way to coward land.

Alvarez continued to smile, and his hand lifted to his chin as if thinking about the offer. “Ah, humans without honor.  My favorite. Not to eat though. Desperation does the meat that disagrees with my palette.”

“To my left are three humans One has all of the computer files that the place had before he wiped it clean.” Kevin waved his hand in the direction of where the other were, and took a deep breath. It was too soon. I had to wait.

“How helpful!” Alvarez turned and held up his hand before Kevin could continue. “Hold that thought.”

Another sentient came in. She was also lovely. She had warm cinnamon brown skin, and a short blonde afro. She was leading a team of five shamblers in by leashes. All of them were wearing gas masks and lifting their faces to the air searching for humans.

Alvarez smiled and took the girls hand in his before placing a kiss in the center of her palm. “Elizabeth! Glad you could make it! This human by the name of…?

“Kevin Michaels”

Alvarez nods and smiles back at Elizabeth. “Yes, Kevin is squealing on his team mates. Make yourself comfortable dear.”

Elizabeth looks Kevin over slowly and looks over at Alvarez. “Don’t eat him. He’ll hurt your stomach.”

“I was just telling him that!” Alvarez laughs and looks over at Kevin. He was toying with him, but Kevin was too desperate to see it. “Wasn’t I just telling you that?”

“Uh yeah.” Kevin was watching them not sure of what type of devil he was making a deal with. Not that it mattered it was far too late to turn back. “Do we have a deal?”

“No.” Alvarez handed his hat to another soldier and began to look around.

“What do you mean no? I told you where they were!” Kevin was starting to whine, and that seemed to make Alvarez drop some of his smile.

“I can smell them, so I didn’t need you to tell me. And you told me before you made any deal. So the answer is no.” Alvarez moved over to the cubicle. It was dark so he couldn’t see in, but he could smell them just fine.

“Wait… There are two here that you can’t smell.” Kevin shouted as the soldiers caught his arms.

That seemed to catch Alvarez’s attention. “Ahh there are Z9’s here. Did they come from the basement?”

“Uh no. The one’s in the basement are dead. The Z9’s in this room killed them” Kevin lied so quickly that I almost believed him. That sonofabitch was seriously placing his crime on us!

Alvarez watched him for a moment. Seeming to weigh Kevin’s words carefully. “That information might be worth something. Where are the two that are left?”

“Let me go first.” Kevin had remembered the deal this time, bully for him

“As you wish” Alvarez motioned for the troops to let him go.

“Just like that?” Kevin watched him suspiciously.

“Just like that” Alvarez smiled and waved his hand towards the door.

“This isn’t’ a lie?” Kevin was still disbelieving.

“Please don’t insult me. I’m not human enough to lie.” Alvarez sounded truly insulted for the first time this evening. Kevin for his part looked irritated that someone said the word human the way he said zombie.

However he wasn’t stupid enough to stay. He got just outside of the door and turned to look back in. “The Z9’s are waiting for you by the elevators.”

“Thank you. Elizabeth, take care of him please.” Alvarez turned his back to Kevin and moved further into the room.

Elizabeth released the leashes and pointed at Kevin. “Kill him, but make sure he doesn’t come back as one of us. He doesn’t deserve the honor of serving in our army”

Kevin fell onto the ground and began to crawl backwards “ You said you wouldn’t kill me”

Alvarez looked back of his shoulder with a shake of his head. “I said I would let you go. And technically I’m not. Elizabeth is.”

“But… stop… Stop…!” Kevin’s words ended in a scream. I closed my eyes, and said a prayer for him. He didn’t deserve but than again who did?

Alvarez gets to the center of the room and stops. Slowly looking around to se if he can pin point where Chase and I are. I was actually closer to the door, where as I believed Chase to be closer to where the guys were hiding.

“How you Z9’s put up with and continue to protect humans is beyond me. Why don’t you come out, and we’ll talk about it?”  He waited for a few minutes, and the request was met with nothing but silence. “Is it true that you killed your fellow Z9’s? That’s some dedication to your cause. The Legion could use soldiers like you. We had actually come to rescue you. We heard that there was a whole colony of Z9’s who needed to be liberated.”

I rolled my eyes at the not so obvious lie. They had come to get the Z9’s, but I highly doubted it was on some benevolent peace mission. Alvarez looked around waiting to see if we would come out on our own accord, and actually smiled.

“No? Not buying it? Fine.” Alvarez shrugged, and continued to look around for us. “Truth is we find that like humans. We can produce offspring with Z9’s. If we get enough of you we can create human like sentients. Just thin of it! Flesh eaters that can pass for humans! We’d win this war in 25 years or less, and everyone would be happy! No war. Humans would be put into farms where they would be taken care of like the cattle that they are!” Alvarez was trying to get a rise out of us now. Admittedly it was starting to work.

I place my hand son my wands ready to pull them out whenever Chase gave the signal. Alvarez sighed and shrugged stepping back towards the light where he could see. HE took his girlfriend’s and began leading her out. “The hard way than. Elizabeth, shall we?”

The step outside, and roughly 25 troops fill the room. They start to fan out into the darkness. I hear Chase’s wands before I see the flash of them through the darkness. I pull mine out, and we get started thinning out the troops as best we can in the limited light. We continue to shot and kill, until I hear Chase shout out in pain. I kill the last zombie I was fighting with, and shift back into the darkness to see where Chase had landed. I see Elizabeth standing over him. He must have gotten too close to the door.

Elizabeth picks up Chase’s chin and slowly looks him over. Chase jerks his head back from her touch, and she smiles. “Alvarez, can I keep this one. He’s pretty.”

Alvarez walks in and looks Chase over dispassionately. “We’ll see but I’m sure they will want him to create children before they release him to you. Where is the other one?”

Chase watches Alvarez steadily. “What other one?”

Alvarez sighs and shakes his head. “Are we really going to do it that way? You did all of this by yourself?”

Chase shrugs and looks Elizabeth over in boredom. “Zombies aren’t that hard to kill.”
Alvarez looked a little irritated, and he sank down so that he was eye level with Chase. “You’re no different than me.”

“No, I may not be human, but I am nothing like you.” Chase glared at Alvarez, and I turned my attention to Chase. Did he change his mind about Z9’s being human after all?

Alvarez leans his head to the side. Looking at Chase as if he was trying to see what made him so special. “What makes you so much better than us?”

Chase shakes his head with a sad smile. “When I became sentient the first thing I did was to look for a cure.”

“Sentient…You’re a Zombie!” Alvarez’s eyes were wide with the surprise I was feeling. “How are you staying under their radar?”

Chase shrugged, and all I could do was stare. He wasn’t a Z9? The world was starting to lose all sorts of sense. “I eat my steaks very rare”

I’m shocked but that doesn’t stop me from using the time he was giving me to move closer. Zombie or not, he had saved my life way too many times to leave him at their mercy. They were going to hurt him now that knew he wasn’t a Z9.

“ I was going to kill you, but now I think I’ll take you back to have you studied. Where is the other one? Is the other one a zombie like you?” An Alvarez question is met with silence. “As you wish. Elizabeth may I see you gun?”

Elizabeth hands him the gun. And Alvarez stands aiming the gun at Chase’s shoulder. I wasn’t sure what to do. If I shot at them I risked hitting Chase. If I waited they were going to cart him off to heaven knows where and use him as a lab rat.

“Lets see how long it takes for the other one to come out.” Alvarez pulls the trigger, and Chase calls out before biting the sound off. Alvarez waits for a few minutes and looks around. “All of this can stop if you just come out from hiding.” He sends another shot into Chases thigh. “This is hurting me far worse than it’s hurting you. Not as much as it’s hurting him though.”

 

It would though. I would make sure of it! I continued to move until I was near the door. Trapping them inside. They would not make it out of here alive. I was taking aim when a shot came through the door. Everyone ducked for cover, and it sounded like one of Z-Core’s convoys had come to check on us. The sound of gunfire, and groans filled the air. I kill off the last 5 sentients surrounding Chase.  Chase rolls away, and finds his gun. He starts shooting at Alvarez, who was hoping and jumping in and out of the light to keep him self from getting hit. I kill two more zombies that were trying to run into the building for cover.

Elizabeth comes up behind Chase, and taps him on the shoulder. He turns, and she shoots him in the head. Everything seemed to go in slow motion after that. I scream and drop run up behind her. Punching her in the back of the head causing her to drop the gun. She turns only to meet the butt of my gun hitting her in the face: once in the nose, once in the chin, and than one more into the stomach. She falls and Alvarez reaches picks up his gun. I grab Elizabeth’s hair and he puts the weapon down immediately holding his hands up in surrender.

“Hello Beautiful! I see that you and…” He looks down at Chase’s tattoo to get his name. “Chase Branforth the 3rd were close! I’m sorry that Elizabeth shot him. Where you lovers? Maybe he was a father figure?”

I bring my gun down and look him straight in the eye when I shoot her shoulder out. She screams, and bends over in pain. I used her hair to straighten her out. Never once looking away from Alvarez.

“I like you. “ Alvarez looks me over and nods. “Strong, decisive, and gorgeous! I’m getting chills just looking at you. Before you do anything hasty lets talk for a moment. What can I do for you?”

I shoot Elizabeth in her thigh. She started to sob, which affected me not at all. You could tell when someone was used to inflicting pain as opposed to getting it. She struggled, and I put my boot onto the hole in her thigh and pressed in. That put a stop to that.

“There’s nothing that you want? Nothing at all that I can give you to let her go?” Alvarez didn’t strike me as someone who made the type of loving attachments that would prompt this type of effort. Then again who was I to make those kinds of assumptions about Zombie behavior? I worked with Chase for almost 4 years and didn’t know he was a Zombie.

I smile at Alvarez, and he seems to relax. I guess he felt that he was getting through to me. Though when I shot Elizabeth through the heart from behind his eyes widened in surprise. I let her go, and didn’t bother to watch her smolder into ashes onto the floor.

Alvarez however recovered very quickly. He sighed, and shook his head. Smacking his lips together thoughtfully. “That was unfortunate she was a Libyan princess.”

“Now she’s ash” Too bad for him I had no fucks left to give. Kira was gone Chase was gone, and I had to go back to a Core that was going to try to use me as a breeder. In truth I didn’t have anything left to lose. I pick up my gun and aimed it at his head.

Alvarez was watching her burn like no one told him that he could die. “Now she’s ash. Well what do we do now?” Alvarez looked up from the floor to smile over at me.

I shrug; I was pretty resolute about the ending of this game. “You die.”

 Alvarez shakes his head slowly. “You sure? Lets take a good look at what we have here. I’m at your mercy true enough, but my squadron is outside just waiting on me to say the word to come in. We’re at a bit of a stalemate.”

“Are we?” All I heard was blah blah me, blah blah you, and something about mercy which there would be one of.

“If you kill me you will have nothing to bargain with.” Alvarez was doing his best to appeal to my humanity. Unfortunately for him Kevin and Elizabeth killed it.

“If I kill you it means I’m not in the mood to bargain” And I truly wasn’t. I look at my gun, and sigh because I need to reload. I look up at Alvarez with a smile. “Hold still please I need to reload. It would be a shame to make me kill you with my bare hands. I will however if pushed.”

 “You are extraordinary for a Z9. Most of the ones I’ve met are so institutionalized. We like to call you guys Core zombies.  All you think about is your duty much the way shamblers only think about food.  Why not come back with me? You would be treated like a princess.” Alvarez gave me what I assumed was his sexy smile. In truth it was pretty sexy, but it wouldn’t be after I finished shooting him.

“ I don’t do barefoot and pregnant hells. I’d rather die on my feet not on my back in some lab” I load my gun, and sigh in satisfaction at that click that let me know it was ready to shoot.

Alvarez frowned and shook his head vehemently. “I wouldn’t let that happen to you. I’m very fond of you already.  Can your core give you that? From what I understand Z9’s aren’t allowed to marry and have families. Why go back to a place where they will treat you like a slave when you can come back with me and be treated like royalty? If you came back with me I would see that we were properly married.”

“She’s taken” A bullet whistled past me and caught Alvarez in the face. His body began to crumple and smolder from within before he was ash like his princess. I look behind me, and my mouth hangs open as I see Kira and the doctor coming through the door. I just stand there unable to move. I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating, but I was too happy to care.

***

Kira caught me up in a hug and swung me around. All I could do was hold on to him, and try to memorize the feel of his skin against mine. “I leave you for ten minutes and you’re already cheating on me.”

“Then stop leaving me” I wrap my arms around Kira, and I don’t let go. Not even when I hear Brom and the rest open the door to the room they were hiding in.

Tammy runs out, and catches us both in a hug. Laughing jumping over to give Rahjal a hug too in her exuberance. “I thought you were a goner! How did you get out? I thought the 3rd level would have crushed you and the rest of the Z9’s.”

Kira nodded a half turned to look over at Tammy, but keeping his arms around me. An action I had no reason to complain about. “It would have. But we started evacuating the moment the door closed. Rahjal hit the release, and started ushering everyone out. We didn’t get everyone out in time, but most of them made it.”

Rahjal nodded sadly shaking Rocco’s hand. “Yes, we are missing about 15 of the younger ones. But come the other Z9’s want to talk to you and Chase.”

I look onto the ground, and everyone finally notice we’re missing one. “Chase didn’t make it.”

They look over and see Chase body resting on the ground. Brom and Rocco move and pick him up. They would take him back to base to make sure that he had a proper military funeral.

Tammy wipes her eyes and shakes her head sadly. “I can’t believe he’s gone. I honestly thought if anyone of us was going to make it. He would.”

They bare his body outside, and I have to blink a few times to adjust to the light. There were so many Z9’s walking about. They were al in various states of undress. Some were laughing, others were hugging, and some were even crying. Others were embracing others, and talking animatedly. I smile, because it was what Chase would have wanted. One of the Z9’s wrapped in a blanket sees us and comes over with a wide smile.

“Hello, you must be AJ? Kira was telling us about you.” He sees Chase and frowns taking off the blanket he wore to give to Rocco. “Please wrap Captain Branforth up in this. It’s all I have.”

“It’s enough thank you.” I pass the blanket over to Brom, and look around at the sheer amount of people. “What will you do now?”

“Stay here. There are enough of us to keep the space station going. We all have enough skills from out time in the military to cover most of what is needed here.” He shrugs, and I can see that his tattoo says Z9-MXXXIIIX Marshal Kasik. “Doctor Rahjal is going to continue his research on finding a cure.”

Rocco frowns and looks back at the building. “But the lab was destroyed.”

Rahjal laughs and shakes waves his hand over the various other buildings. “It was one of many. If your friend won’t mind leaving our research with us we can pick up where we left off.”

Brom take the computer from his shoulders and looks over at me. I nod and he hands it over. “Funding?”

Tammy nods and looks over at Rahjal. “Yeah, how are you going to get the supplies you need without the Core?”

“Dear girl the Core was never our supplier. A private company named Cerberus funds us. They send supply ships regularly” Rahjal laughs and accepts the computer from Brom.

“Why would they do that?” I was confused, but honestly there was a whole lot that happened in the almost two days we had been here.

Rahjal blinked like the answer was obvious. “To further medical science. Why else?”

I was going to say something to the effect of that it was highly unlikely that furthering medical research was the reason, but Kira stopped me with a shake of his head. He was right whatever kept him looking for a cure was fine. There was no reason to disillusion him of his dream. Kira lets go of me long enough to help Brom and Rocco wrap Chase up.  They take him to our convoy and settle him down on the floor. They walk us back to the ship, and I turn to Rahjal to shake his hand.

“Well we wish you the best of luck. We better get Chase back to the battle ship. We haven’t checked in, and they will send someone looking for us.”

“Farewell dear girl. Please keep in touch! I would like to know of your progress so that I can document it.” Rahjal smiles up at me, and all I can do is nod. I didn’t know where I would go, but I would keep track of the Z9’s on this planet. Hopefully direct other Z9’s there in turn.

We all climb in, and Kira goes to the cockpit. Our pilot was slumped over the steering panel. It looked like a zombie had torn him open. We pull him out, and shoot the body. Taking his id with us to turn it into base.  Kira slide into the pilots seat, and I sit in as the co-pilot. He brings the convoy around, and we take off towards the skies.  Once we’re in open space I turn on the radio, and tune it to our battle sips radio.

“Core ship Z-345. This is Lieutenant Jenkins. The mission has been completed. However we were unable to save any of the computer logs due the damage of Legion attacks. However we made sure that there was nothing there they could take with them. We sustained heavy losses during the fight.” It was a small lie, but it was for the greater good, so I wasn’t too concerned about it

The radio crackled for a moment and a disembodied gravely voice came over the radio. “Copy Lt. What losses?”

“We lost Captain Chase Branforth the 3rd. and Private first class Kevin Michaels along with our Pilot. The legion attacked as we were leaving.” I read the tag quickly. “Private Allen Jacobson.”

“That’s unfortunate. This is Lt. Colonel Rightson. I am sorry to hear about Captain Branforth. He will be missed along with the rest of the crew.  At least the Legion did not make off with the information. Lieutenant Jenkins you are in charge until you get back and give us a full report… I understand that you have 5 days left in the program? “ The gravely voice seemed to be truly mournful of Chase’s loss. It made feel marginally better.

“Yes sir.” I straightened and looked over at Kira who could only shrug. He wasn’t sure what lie I was about to be told either.

“Once you and the others have given your report you will begin your exit. As a Z9 you will be to go through certain processing procedures” The voice seemed to disappear for a moment and come back.

“I’m sure there is…Sir.” I roll my eyes thankful that Rightson couldn’t see me. It wouldn’t do for him see me disbelieving him.

“Once your story is put on file. you will report to Cerberus Corp. They will be handling your civilian exit.”

“Yes sir.” My voice sounded kind of flat even to me, but there wasn’t really much I could say about them knocking me out, and sending me to a planet I just left from.

“Very good than. Over and Out” The line went dead, and I turned off the radio ad sat back into the co-pilot’s seat. Kira reached out and placed his hand over mine. All I could do was rub the pad of my thumb over his palm.

I look out of the window and sudden thought made me frown. I turn my head to look over at Rocco who was cuddled up with Tammy in the back making wedding plans. “Rocco, did you get offered a job by Cerberus Corp.?”

He kissed Tammy on the head, and nodded vigorously. “Yeah I did come to think of it. They said the needed someone in their testing facility. Isn’t that who Rahjal said funded his research?”

“I did too actually.” Kira looks over his shoulder at Rocco. “ You remember that red head that approached me last month? She was from Cerberus. She said they needed a pilot who would handle their cargo.”

“I’m a little foggy. AJ you remember a red head?” Rocco tried to look innocent, but his smile ruined it for him. All I could do was give him a dirty look, because I did in fact remember.

Tammy laughs and slaps him on the arm. “Stop it crazy!” She smiles over at me, and I can only shake my head at them. “It’s weird though. They were the ones who gave me the medical scholarship.” She frowned and shook her head. “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence though.”

I frown, and look over at Kira. He was clearly thinking the same thing. It was much too large of a coincidence. I look over at Brom who as always remained silent. “It might be. Brom, did you have any run ins with Cerberus recently?”

Brom looked turned from the window he was looking at and nodded. “Yeah I used to intern there during the summer when I was in school.”

“Oh yeah?” Rocco was as surprised as all of us. Brom just kind of did his thing. We didn’t really know much about his background. “They a good company to work for?”

Brom looked over at me, and seemed to think long and hard about is answer. Something in the pit of my stomach told me that whatever Brom was about to share would be important. He seemed to find what he was going to say and smiled.

“Yes, They treat everyone with respect. The best part is the company cafeteria. They serve their stakes very rare.”

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Sheena_Williams

Written by Sheena_Williams

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