Authors: John Ringo
Tags: #Fantasy, #Urban, #Paranormal, #Contemporary, #Fiction
“Is there anything else critical?” Bateman asked.
“Not that you can’t get on the TV,” Curry said. “But you need to get that X-ray machine. And it will require some installation. Radiation shielding among other things. But that’s details I can go over with Mr. Smith. Until the vaccine is somewhat cleared, we’re in a holding pattern.”
“Very well,” Bateman said, nodding. “Thank you, again, for your assistance in this, Dr. Curry.”
“Just make sure the check clears,” Curry said, chuckling.
“Break this down,” Bateman said.
“The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are assembling an unprecedented group of both professional and amateur synthetic biologists in a desperate search for a cure to the ongoing pandemic…”
“The FBI is searching for a white or Hispanic male in his early twenties believed to have last been seen in the Miami area in regards to the deliberate spread of the Pacific Flu Virus…”
“With the Pacific Flu wide-spread throughout the Pacific Rim, science reporter Timothy Karl has this report on Chinese authorities battle against this deadly disease…”
“Finally some good news as the World Health Organization last night reported a breakthrough in curing the Pacific Flu pandemic…”
“Any idea what he wants?” Bateman asked. All that he knew was that Curry had asked for a meeting. Given that the WHO had announced a “breakthrough” in vaccine
, he’d been expecting the call earlier.
“No, sir,” Tom said. He’d called Curry last night as soon as he got the word. Curry had been tight-lipped and just asked for a meeting the following afternoon.
“Dr. Curry,” Bateman said into the screen. “Still holed up I see.”
“Yes, sir,” Curry said, licking his lips.
“We’re all agog on how you’re going to save us,” Bateman said. “I’d expected the call earlier.”
“Are we secure, Mr. Smith?” Curry said, temporizing.
“We are,” Tom said, curiously. “It’s only the three of us.”
“I’ll have to trust that,” Curry said nervously. “When I covered all the stuff about attenuation in the previous meeting there was a reason: The WHO was kind of ahead of itself on announcing a vaccine.”
make a vaccine?” Bateman said, sitting back, his face hard. “That’s not good news.”
“Just…” Curry said. “Let me get there. There
a vaccine. It’s just a matter of a sort of big logistics issue. The primary vaccine method has been known the whole time. We can do a flu vaccine, given time, in our sleep. But the flu, itself, is besides the point at this point. We need a vaccine for the secondary expressor. We could build a protein sequence mimicking the binding sites for that. They’re working on it. And it will take another two months, minimum. Then there’s certifications.”
“Doctor, we don’t have two months,” Tom said. “I’m not sure we have two weeks at the rate this is spreading.”
“I’m getting there…” Curry said.
“I need an
, Doctor,” Bateman said.
“You want me to take this slow,” Curry said. “The secondary expressor turns out to be a lot like rabies. It’s definitely based upon it. About thirty percent of the same RNA, similar protein coat… It infects nerve cells. Primarily central nervous system. The spinal cord and brain. That’s…where you find the…face it the zombie virus.”
“Understood,” Bateman said. “And the attenuation vaccine. I think you mentioned lab rats. We got you quite a few. I suppose we can find some of the virus…” he said, looking at Smith.
“I’m sure…” Tom started to say.
“I asked for them assuming that I could work with them,” Curry said, grimacing. “They’re…basically just eating up rat food. Although you should probably get some rabbits or monkeys to use as cover… The thing is… Pasteur and CDC have both confirmed that this pathogen
affects higher order primates. That’s the
source of the virus bodies to attenuate.”
“Oh,” Tom said, leaning back and his face closing down. “Oh…bloody hell.”
“Higher…order…primates…” Bateman said, slowly and carefully. “That includes…?”
“Various…monkeys if you will,” Dr. Curry said, gulping. “Rhesus monkeys would do. Green monkeys possibly. Rhesus definitely. Possibly chimps. Probably chimps… The problem being, the supply of those is already being eaten up by the government for critical personnel. Has been eaten up. Critical personnel and research. There’s just none… None available. That was what I was checking. Thus the logistics problem.”
“Of course, homo sapiens is a higher order primate,” Tom said, his face hard and cold.
“And…yes,” Curry said. “Homo sapiens would… Yes, we are.”
“Thank you for that information, Dr. Curry,” Bateman said. “Besides attenuable virii, what do you need to make vaccine?”
“It’s been a week, sir,” Curry said. “Everything is installed and ready to go. As soon as I can get some virus bodies I can start cranking out the vaccine.”
“Understood,” Bateman said. “And, again, thank you for your assistance in this time of difficulty.”
“Thank you,” Curry said, closing the connection.
“Now I understand his insistence that this conversation was secure,” Bateman said. “And it never occurred.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom said.
“Dr. Curry needs some materials to produce the vaccine, Mr. Smith,” Bateman said, standing up. “I’ll detail a significant budget for this. Are there any questions?”
“No, sir,” Tom said, standing up. “I’ll take care of it, sir.”
* * *
“You understand that this never happened,” Tom said, suiting up.
Although he’d been told he’d never have to “take care” of something, he’d also been hired for his proven ability to plan ahead. And part of planning ahead was making sure that he had back-up in case his bosses were wrong.
Jim “Kapman” Kaplan and Dave “Gravy” Durante were part of that planning.
The term was “functional sociopath.” Both were former special operations. Both had combat experience. Both enjoyed combat. People, other than those close to them, weren’t really “real.”
Tom understood the mindset. He had the same type of brain. It was almost required to be in elite military units. It didn’t mean any of them were serial killers. He’d had them go through advanced poly tests to ensure that they weren’t going to be an “issue” as employees of the bank. They’d never done so much as assault that wasn’t under controlling legal authority. They kept their killer side under control by tight discipline. They just had the potential. In fact, they just really needed a good reason. Like, say, fighting terrorism. Or saving their bosses and family from a disease.
“Your bonus is one out of fifty doses,” Tom said, putting on the gloves of the Hazmat suit. The warehouse was a nondescript property in Alphabet Soup that the bank had reposessed. It was ostensibly untenanted. Setting up the “lab” for this mission had been easy enough. “We get vaccinated right after Dr. Curry. Curry, us, Dr. Bateman and then down. You can use the doses for anyone you want and you get two seats on the evacuation plan.”
“Understood, sir,” Kaplan said, pulling on his own gloves and holstering the taser. “Although I can actually see some value to this. Better than NYPD’s answer.”
The “Afflicted Temporary Holding Facilities” had already made the news. And the term “hell hole” was generally used.
“I’d rather be turned into vaccine than put in that place,” Durante said, holstering a back-up sidearm in case the taser didn’t do the trick. “And since we’re bonding, that’s my official answer. If I go full zombie, make me into vaccine.”
“Will do,” Tom said, getting an odd sensation. It took him a moment to recognize it. It was the feeling of coming home. This, really, was where he was designed by nature to be. In a team on the sharp end. “Same here.”
“All for one and all that,” Kaplan said, grinning through his mask. “I’m in. Strip my spine and put my head on a shelf.”
“I’ll do that for you, Kap,” Durante said, mock sobbing. “I’ll put your head on my mantelpiece and toast you once a year on the anniversary of you becoming a zombie. I swear, man!”
“Let’s load up,” Tom said, opening the door of the Heavy Emergency Response Vehicle. “Before you Yanks start kissing and stuff.”
They rolled out of the warehouse and down Avenue B, maneuvering carefully through the traffic. The one positive to the disaster was that traffic was getting lighter and lighter as people found anywhere but New York to exist. Everybody knew that no matter what the government was saying, things were getting bad and getting bad fast.
They didn’t even get to Houston Street before they had their first customer.
* * *
Corinda was cursing her choice of delis for lunch and blessing her decision to wear walking shoes. If she’d been in heels the zombie would already have caught her. Unfortunately, it seemed to be in better shape than she was and was obsessive in chasing one Corinda Carfora, wildcat marketer. She’d been running nearly two block and it wasn’t even swerving for other pedestrians. She’d turned the
for God’s sake!
And, being New York, nobody was so much as giving a second glance to a naked man chasing a woman down the street. Much less helping.
“You’re passing fatter people you idiot!” she screamed, giving a glance over her shoulder. Still there. This was
. The other mercy was that lunchtime walking traffic was light in Alphabet City so she didn’t have to dodge much. But she was wearing out. “Look! That guy!
Never a cop…
That hoary adage was belied when she was half way down the first block of B Avenue. A big black truck marked “Biological Emergency Response Team” swerved into traffic with blue lights on and stopped, blocking half of north-bound to a blare of horns.
Puffing, she swerved towards it as a pair of men in moon-suits and masks exited. One of them waved for her to pass between them as they both pulled out guns. She recognized that one was holding a taser. The other was a gun-gun. Bang you’re dead gun.
“Thank you,” she panted as she passed between them. “Thank you. Thank you…”
* * *
Tom waved the woman between them and took up a position covering Durante. Kaplan was driving and prepared to move out as soon as the zombie was tagged and bagged.
“Deep breath, mate…” Tom said, soto voce.
“Don’t make me laugh,” Durante replied, then took the shot.
The zombie seemed to throw off the effect of the taser at first, nearly reaching Durante, then dropped to the ground, shuddering.
“Keep up the juice,” Tom said, stepping forward. He holstered his Glock and pulled out an ampule. The auto-injector drove 15 ccs of Dilaudid into the zombie’s thigh. Then he stepped back.
“Let up on the juice,” he said.
The zombie, a man in his early forties and previously in good condition from the looks of him, stumbled to its feet and started to lunge for the team leader, then stumbled to its knees. In a moment it was back on its face as the narcotic took hold.
“Tag and bag,” Tom said, pulling out a pair of flex-cuffs. “Ma’am, do you know this gentleman? Can you identify him?”
“Never seen him before in my life,” Corinda said, still gasping for air. “He just came around the corner as I was going in the deli. I’ve been running ever since. I mean he
turned the corner
off Houston to chase me! Why?”
“No idea, ma’am,” Tom said. He and Durante had already flex-cuffed the zombie and bagged his head in case he came to. As Durante started the blood test Tom pulled out a receipt and filled it out with bogus information. “If you know of anyone looking for him, please refer them to NYPD. They’ll be able to determine his disposition.” He pulled the receipt off the pad and handed it to her.
“Okay,” Corinda said, looking at the paper. “Is he… Is he going to the Warehouse?”
“I’m afraid so, ma’am,” Tom said. He looked at Durante who nodded. “He’s positive for neurological packet of H7D3.”
“I… Guess I survived my first zombie attack,” Corinda said, trying to smile. “That’s something.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tom said, taking one of the zombie’s arms. “Have a nice day.”
* * *
It had only taken an hour to collect five zombies. Three male, two female. And they’d seen more “incidents” on the way back to the warehouse.
“I can’t get that people are still just going to work,” Durante said, hooking one of the female’s flex-cuffed ankles into a hoist hook. “I mean, they’re walking right past other folks being attacked and it’s like ‘Whatever. Got to get to lunch.’”
“It’s New York,” Kaplan said, bringing over the butcher knife. “What do you expect? I mean, how do you tell the difference between a zombie apocalypse and every day?”
He drove the knife into the woman’s throat, then cut out and away. There was a spray of carotid blood that fell on the pre-spread painting tarp in a broad splatter of red.
“Hey, look,” Durante said. “We’re making modern art. We could probably sell this in a gallery for big bucks.”
“Can it,” Tom said. He understood. At a certain level they all really hated what they were doing. They hated that it was necessary. And they hated even more that they were enjoying it. They hated themselves. And so they joked. But if he let it go too far they might forget that they were, in fact, humans and under discipline. “Cut all the way up and back to the highest cervical vertebra.”
“Roger,” Kaplan said, slicing further into the neck as Durante stabilized the woman’s body. The ceramic knife slid up through the muscles, tendons and arteries of the neck like butter. The cut around the spine was somewhat ragged but serviceable.
“Okay,” Tom said, coming over. “This is the tricky bit. Gravy, hold the body firmly. Kap, get the clippers and bag ready…”
Tom applied a sharp twist and snapped the connections at the disk, then slowly and smoothly slid the spinal cord out of the spine.
“Don’t let it hit the floor,” Tom said, juggling the head in one hand and catching the falling spine with the other. “We want to reduce contamination.”
“Roger,” Kaplan said, holding the lower portion of the white cord. “This I’ve never done. I mean, slaughtering pigs, yes. I’ve done that. And goats. But I’ve never stripped a spinal cord.”
“I don’t think many people have,” Tom said, holding up the head by the woman’s hair. He tried to ignore that it was a fine, light brown. The woman was probably in her forties but she’d taken care of herself. Until she became a zombie of course. “Got it?”
“Got it,” Kaplan said, working the cord into a zip-lock bag. He gathered the ropelike material into the bag, then snipped it at the base of the woman’s spine with a pair of bandage scissors. The last of the spinal cord dropped into the bag. “That it?”