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Authors: James Knapp

Element Zero

BOOK: Element Zero
11.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for
State of Decay

“Knapp’s intense debut is a high-adrenaline thriller that takes the familiar zombie story down a radically new path. . . . [His] writing is sharp, and his fast and furious plot twists keep the pages turning. . . . Fans of zombie fiction and readers looking for a good thrill will find it here.”

Publishers Weekly

“Will appeal to readers who like Jonathan Maberry’s zombie thriller,
Patient Zero
, and fans of gritty SF author Richard K. Morgan (
Altered Carbon
) will enjoy it as well. Highly recommended.”

Library Journal

“There are many strong points to Knapp’s story, the best being his reimagining of the zombie tale. . . . This is a very unique and excellently plotted debut.”

Sacramento Book Review

“An intriguing futuristic Americana thriller. . . . The story line is action-packed with the zombie concept fresh. . . . Fans will appreciate this entertaining look at the future.”

Midwest Book Review

“The dialog is strong and believable. . . . The plot hums along, moving briskly but repeatedly dodging the obvious next twist. And the conceit Knapp is playing with here is a fascinating one, and bigger than one book can hold. Hopefully the next one in the series will be up soon, because I want to know what happens next.”

—The Green Man Review

“A good blend of urban fantasy and sci-fi mixed. It’s a very original idea with the concept of zombies that keeps you on the edge of your seat. . . . I’m looking forward to more!”

—Night Owl Romance

“This impressive debut incorporates futuristic technology, fantasy, zombielike creatures, mystery, danger, and intrigue. It’s a dark and gritty, complex story, full of intense excitement and suspense. With the creepy feeling of zombie horror, this fantastic mystery thriller will satisfy any genre fan.”

“An awesome science fiction ride. . . . Knapp manages to keep the tension high throughout the story. . . . The plot has twists you won’t see coming, with an ending to match. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

—Sci-Fi Fan Letter

State of Decay
takes all the familiar tropes of zombie fiction and gives them a real world spin that is both convincing and plausible. . . . Knapp’s writing style
really interesting. He manages to pull you into the story very easily and manages to convey a lot of ideas very quickly. . . . Thumbs up.”

—Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ Book Reviews




Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2,
Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,
Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park,
New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

First Printing, April 2011


Copyright © James Knapp, 2011

All rights reserved


Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

eISBN : 978-1-101-51356-9


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

For Kim


I would like to acknowledge the following people:

Kim, who puts up with the many, many hours I spend writing.

Jessica, who puts up with my endless (occasionally last-minute) adjustments, and who helped make this book, and this series, the best it could be.

Jack, who is far more savvy than I, and who tells it like it is.

And my parents, who are both rocks—not everyone can say that.

This series wouldn’t have been possible without all of their help.



Nico Wachalowski—Restaurant District

It was warm inside the noodle house, and the window to my left was fogged at the corners. The place was crowded, full of bodies and the blanket of conversation that bled through the noise screen at my table. It looked, as far as I could remember, the same as it had five years ago. The only difference was that this time I was alone.

The last clouds of steam drifted up from the bowl of ramen that sat untouched in front of me as I looked out onto the street. It was dark, and the snow had piled up. Streams of people wrapped in coats and scarves moved down the narrow sidewalk between the restaurant and a snowbank that had reached waist height. At the intersection vehicles idled, big flakes beginning to accumulate on their hoods and roofs, while a crowd trudged down the crosswalk. To see it then, it was hard to believe any of it had ever happened.

The permanent dark spot swam in front of my eyes as I stared out the window. The brain scans always came up green, but sometimes I thought that spot had grown larger over the past five years. The damage had made me immune to a type of mind control I hadn’t even known existed before then, but I wondered if there wouldn’t eventually be a price to pay for that. One more, on a growing stack.

My eyes wandered to the other side of the table, where the chair sat empty. I found myself wishing I had used my JZI to record our last conversation. Too much had happened since then. Now when I thought of her, I saw her moonlit eyes staring out from the shadows of their sockets. Her warm, full lips had turned bloodless and cold. My memories of her were fading, replaced with the face of her revivor.

Did I choose the wrong side, Faye?
I knew what she’d say now. When she came back, the person she’d been was lost. Now she worked directly with Samuel Fawkes, the same revivor that had her killed, and that fact didn’t even seem to faze her. Now, like Fawkes, she believed any cost was acceptable if it meant destroying their enemies. It didn’t matter that I found myself sitting in that camp, however uncomfortably. I knew where she stood now, but I wondered what she would have thought back then.

Five years ago, when I first met Zoe Ott, I found it hard to believe she had the power to alter people’s memories, and maybe even see the future. Even after I experienced it firsthand, it was hard to believe. Later, when I traced that first string of terrorist attacks back to Fawkes, and he told me that Zoe wasn’t unique, that there were hundreds or even thousands just like her, it didn’t seem possible. Now Zoe had been whisked away somewhere, out of my reach, and I was working alongside that very group because they offered something no one else could—the chance to stamp out Fawkes. The difference was that I was doing it to protect the city. They were doing it to protect themselves, and I knew it.

I’d told myself early on that it was a means to an end—that I’d address the threat they posed after they had helped me stop Fawkes. As the years went by, though, it became clearer that Fawkes might actually be right about one thing: he might be the only one in a position to stop them, but to do it he would destroy the city, and everyone inside it.

Did I choose the wrong side?

The food in front of me was getting cold, but I wasn’t hungry. I don’t know why I’d come back to that place, what I thought I’d find, but it was the last time I’d seen her alive. We’d been apart so long, but her quick hug and the smell of her had brought it all back in an instant. All the reasons I’d had for staying away evaporated, and I’d never been able to get them back. It was a chance to change things, to fix things, but I didn’t. No matter how many times I played back that meeting in my mind, it kept coming up the same, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I sighed, leaving my breath on the cold window glass. The trip had been a waste of time I didn’t have. Whatever I was looking for wasn’t there. All that was there was an empty chair where Faye might have been if I’d done things differently.

Every day that passed was another day lost. It had already been three years since Fawkes had stolen the next-gen revivor prototype Huma. That was three years of distribution, and with the ability to create potential soldiers with a simple injection, we had no way of knowing where his numbers were currently at. We assumed he was administering the injections the same way he had before, to third-tier citizens through free clinics, but so far our canvassing hadn’t turned up anything. I’d personally visited more than I could count, and found no sign of Fawkes anywhere. He’d lived under our radar for far too long, and he had his thumb on a button that could claim thousands of lives whenever he wanted. For all I knew, half the people sitting around me were among them.

I have to get out of here.

I was just about to push my chair back, to get up, pay my bill, and leave when someone stepped close to the table and spoke from inside the noise screen.

“Was there a problem with your order?” It was a young Asian man in a black, frog-closured shirt. He’d served me when I first came in.

“No problem,” I said. “I just need to settle up.”

“No charge,” he said.

“Really,” I told him. “The food was fine, I just—”

“I remember you.”

I took a closer look at the boy, but he didn’t look familiar. He noticed the orange flicker in my pupils as I ran his face against my list of past contacts, and smiled slightly.

“You won’t find me in your system,” he said. He was right.

“Where do you know me from, then?” I asked.

He looked out the window, out onto the street, toward the intersection where the line of vehicles had begun to move forward again.

“The revivor stood right there,” he said, pointing. He was looking at the spot where, five years ago, the van had stopped and the revivor stepped out, strapped with explosives. I could still see its face and the way it looked around almost curiously when I tried to contact it over the JZI. I remembered its stony stare as it pinpointed the source of the transmission and made eye contact with me.

Time to wake up, Agent Wachalowski.
At the time, I’d had no idea what it meant.

“I waited on you that day,” the boy said. “You and your lady friend.”

“Oh.” I didn’t remember him at all.

“I didn’t see the bomb at first. By the time I did, you had run outside to confront the revivor.”

He stared out at that spot. His face was calm, but his eyes were intense.

“You want to sit down?” I asked him. He glanced back at the front to make sure no one would see him; then he took the seat across from me.

“It was hard to see what happened after the explosion,” he said. “I thought maybe you died that day. I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Me too.”

He looked out the window again and watched the people stream past.

“We had run out of green onions in the kitchen,” he said. “My mother had run across the street to buy some, to get us through lunch. Coming back, she was caught in the blast and killed. She was fifty-one.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I remember that day so clearly. You know? I saw her, on the other side of the street just before it happened. You had raised your badge, and the revivor looked at you. Your lady friend tried to pull you away, and my mother watched as you suddenly turned and pushed the woman down behind a delivery truck. I knew the explosion was coming then. I opened the door and shouted to my mother, but she didn’t hear me.”

He wanted answers. He wanted to make some kind of sense out of why the whole thing happened, but even if I could tell him everything I knew, I didn’t think it would help much. The truth was that while I’d never forget the attack that day, it was just one of many and it was already in my rearview mirror. The threats kept piling up, eclipsing the ones before them.

“You really got to me that day,” the boy said. “I thought if I had been you, or someone like you, at least I might have had a chance to save her. I was determined that when I was old enough, I’d enlist, but my father needed me here, and as you can see . . . ” He shrugged.

I wished I could tell him that we’d at least gotten the ones responsible, but he knew we hadn’t. Samuel Fawkes’s main target, Motoko Ai, controlled much of the media through the Central Media Communications Tower and its mogul, Robin Raphael, but even they couldn’t cover up things completely. Only a small handful of people knew the truth, but our investigation was too big to keep invisible. Something big was still brewing out there, and everyone knew it. Whispers of mass arrests and secret detention centers kept circulating. It was starting to happen faster than Motoko’s people could keep up with.

“We almost went out of business back then,” the boy said. “A lot of places on the strip were struggling and the damage was too much for them to absorb. No one wanted to come here after what happened. It made no sense that there would be a second random attack in the same spot, but people were afraid.”

He pointed again out onto the street.

“But when you look at it now,” he said, “it’s like it never happened. Right? We all came together in the aftermath. We helped each other. The damage was repaired, the streets are clean now, and everyone is open for business. Some are even better now after rebuilding, and there’s something here that wasn’t here before. Like a bond. You know? Now if a stranger or a tourist were to come here, they would never even guess what happened right there.”

I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I hadn’t thought much about the area at all since then. As I watched the dark spot in front of my eyes drift across the falling snow, I knew there had to be stories just like his all throughout the city. Had I begun to lose touch? That had been both Fawkes’s and Ai’s mistake.

The thing was, though, that the kid didn’t know everything. He had gotten caught in the crossfire of a conventional bombing that didn’t really even have anything to do with him. If Fawkes had pulled off his plan three years prior, there would have been at least three nuclear detonations in the heart of the city, one for each of Ai’s strongholds. How long would it take to bounce back from that?

I opened my mouth to say something when my phone buzzed inside my jacket pocket. I took it out and saw the name VAN OFFO flash on the LCD.

A year ago, Alain Van Offo became my partner. The assignment came from high up, and he reported privately to Alice Hsieh. Motoko and her people knew they couldn’t directly control my mind anymore, but they still had him shadow me. Van Offo was a good agent, but he was one of them and he never pretended to be anything else. Like all of them, he controlled the minds of the people around us as a matter of course. Sometimes he had a good reason for it. Sometimes he didn’t. I dropped the phone back into my coat pocket without answering.

“You’re busy,” the boy said. “I should go.”

“I wish there was something I could tell you,” I said.

He waved his hand. “Maybe it’s stupid, but I wanted to tell you that we are okay. I wanted to tell you that even though you couldn’t stop the bomb that day, we are persevering. We’re strong. If another attack comes, we will overcome that too. If my mother was alive to see us still here, she would be very happy. You know?”

“It isn’t stupid. And thanks.”

Someone yelled across the restaurant in Chinese, and he glanced back before getting up.

“No charge for the food,” he said.

“Thanks again.”

“When you find the prick that did it, though, kill him for us.”

He wormed his way away from my table and back through the crowd.

“I’ll do that.”

Incoming call.
The words flashed in the air between me and the empty chair across the table. It was Van Offo. Whatever he wanted had to be important.

Call accepted.

Wachalowski here.

You didn’t answer your phone.

I know that. What do you want?

The data sweeps just got a hit. They think it’s related to revivor tech.


Black Rock train yard.

I brought up details on the location and found it off the projects of Dandridge. The satellite photos showed that a big chunk of it was out of commission. A graveyard of retired freight carriers sat half-buried in the snow, waiting for the scrap heap.

It looks abandoned.

A flyby picked up heat and a big electrical signature. Magnetic scan suggests at least one heavy-duty lock. Someone’s there.

Got it.

I browsed through the satellite footage and the more I did, the more convinced I became that we were dealing with Fawkes. Since he’d gotten out of stasis and rejoined the living, we knew he’d disappeared somewhere inside the UAC. That meant sticking to places no one wanted to go. Even when he’d directed things from his box on the other side of the planet, that had been his MO. The city’s underbelly was big, bigger than it should have been. It was easy to get lost in, and he knew that.

Who were they communicating with?
I asked.

They were unable to track the remote location, so we’re going in. SWAT is assembling now. Get back here.

Understood. I’m on my way.

I got up and made my way to the front door, a little bell ringing as I pushed it open and stepped out onto the sidewalk. The temperature had dropped and the snow was picking up. I joined the flow of foot traffic and started back toward the garage to get my car.

Any one of these people
, I thought as I walked among them. Any number of them could be carrying the Huma injection. How many would Fawkes feel he needed before he decided to go ahead with whatever his plan was?

At the intersection, the light had changed again and I stood with the rest, waiting while snow began to blanket the vehicles that piled up along the side street in front of us. The spot where the revivor had stood was less than ten feet away from me.

The kid was right, though. The wound had healed, and you couldn’t tell. The city had been bruised but not beaten.

BOOK: Element Zero
11.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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