The young woman swung her sword in a circle, cutting down corpse after corpse. A few yards away, her older brother swung a scythe at the reanimated dead. Others used guns and explosives, and perhaps they were more efficient, but the two of them found modern weaponry to be too cold and impersonal. Besides, you could really feel the gore if you used something short and sharp. She neared the edge of the horde of undead, and someone ducked, raising a hand.
“Looks like we’ve got a live one here!” she called to her brother. “Get in the van, unless you’d rather be eaten alive,” she said to the cowering man, who ran towards the van, following the clear trail she had left.
There was an older man stood by the back doors, who opened one of them as he approached. “Mind your step, Reaper’s got some spare blades in there. What’s your name then?”
“Mike. My name’s Mike,” the guy stuttered.
“Jones,” said the other guy, holding out his hand for a shake. “Those two are Cat and Reaper, no points for guessing which one’s which. We’ll take you back to base when we’re done here, they’re just rounding a couple up for testing.”
“Fuck!” Cat shouted. “You don’t bite me and get away with it, you bastards.” She yanked her arm out of the zombie’s jaws and severed its’ head.
Jones pushed Mike through to the front seat. “They’ll be sticking one of them in here in a minute. The front’s safer.” He left the back doors open and climbed into the drivers’ seat. A couple of minutes passed, and they heard scuffling, groaning and cursing from the back of the van as Reaper bundled a zombie into the back, locking it into a cage. “You two back in yet?” Jones shouted through.
“Cat’s on her way. Chuck us the bandages, she got bitten,” the young man replied.
Mike looked alarmed. “If she got bitten, that means she’s infected, we can’t let her in here!”
“We’re not leaving her behind,” Reaper said shortly.
Jones gave the newcomer a reassuring look as he passed the box of bandages back to Reaper. “It’s fine. Cat and Reaper seem to have some kind of natural resistance to the virus. Doc’s hoping to find out what it is, and make a vaccine,” he said as the young woman climbed into the back of the van.
“Let’s go. One of those bastards tried to rip my arm off,” she told her brother as Jones drove away.
Reaper nodded, tending to his sister’s wound. “I noticed. You’ll have to let Doc take a look when we get back.”
Cat sighed and rested her head against the side of the van. “Yeah. So what are we calling this one?” she asked, kicking the cage. The zombie inside snarled at her.
“Do you have to name them? It’s creepy. Like naming the lamb you’re going to butcher for dinner,” Jones said from the front.
“We’re creepy. You’ve said so yourself,” Cat retorted. “Besides, it’s better than calling them Subject One, Subject Two, and so on. How about George?” she asked.
“Sounds fine to me. We can put him next to Boris,” Reaper said. “So what’s your story, new guy? Looking for family, escaping the undead, trying to find somewhere that’s still civilised?”
Mike turned to look at the two in the back. “Just looking for other survivors. Strength in numbers, and all that. I don’t think there’s any kind of civilisation left, is there?”
“You got that right,” said Cat scathingly. “Civilised people didn’t survive long. They couldn’t handle the amount of killing they had to do to live. Though, I don’t know if you could really count it as killing, on account of them already being dead.” She lapsed into silence.
Jones leant across and whispered to Mike as Reaper switched on his headphones. “Watch yourself around those two. They’re mostly alright, but they can be a bit strange. From what I’ve been able to work out, they never had a particularly high opinion of the human race anyway, and they seem to find it hilarious that what’s left of humanity is now dependent on sociopaths like them to survive.”
“Right.” Mike glanced back at the siblings. They did look creepy, with pale skin and long black hair. As he watched, Cat pulled out a stone and began sharpening her sword. “Why do they use those? Wouldn’t it be easier to use guns, or something?”
Jones shrugged. “Several reasons. They don’t run out of ammo with those, and that’s the worst thing that can happen to you when you’re surrounded by corpses that want to eat you. Plus, they like to feel what they’re killing. Like I said, they’re a bit strange.”
Arriving back at the heavily fortified office block they were staying in, Jones parked up and led Mike inside, leaving Cat and Reaper to drag the caged zombie in.
What do you make of this new guy then? Cat thought to her brother. They were extremely close, and while they weren’t actually telepathic, each could usually tell what the other was thinking by watching their minute facial twitches.
Seems ok. Bit useless though, survival wise. Reaper shoved the cage to the back doors. “You ok to lift this with your arm?” he asked aloud.
“Should be.” She took one side while her brother lifted the other, and they carried the zombie into the building.
A frizzy-haired man approached, staring at the animated corpse that was trying to reach out and grab something. “Ooh, it looks like you two found a good subject this time,” he said enthusiastically. “Let him out, you can bring him up to the lab.”
The ‘lab’ was a commandeered office space, that Doc had filled with several bits of pilfered equipment from around the city. Along the back wall were a few glass cubicles, containing zombies in various stages of decomposition.
“Here you go George. Some nice food in there for you,” Cat said, shoving it into an empty cubicle. The zombie fell upon the chunks of uncooked meat immediately. “Doc, you should take a look at this too.” She rolled up her sleeve and removed her bandages.
Doc gasped. “You were bitten? Let me take some samples,” he cried, pulling Cat over to a bench. She glanced back at her brother, thinking here we go again. You reckon he’ll find anything useful this time?
Probably not. Still, best to just put up with it, Reaper indicated back. He walked down to another zombie. “Hello Boris,” he said, tapping the glass. The zombie stared vacantly across at him.
Further up the building, Mike stared around at the motley collection of survivors living in the office block. “Hi,” he said nervously.
“This is Mike, everyone. Cat found him while we were out earlier,” Jones told the others. There were three of them in the room, all looking very serious and drawn. A tall, stick-thin blonde woman nodded to him.
“I’m Sarah. These two are Harley and Seven. You’ll probably meet Doc when he gets out of his lab. I assume he’s down there with the latest catch?” she directed the question at Jones.
Jones nodded. “Cat’s down there as well. She got bitten again,” he told them.
The short, stocky man sat at a table playing cards snorted. “So we’ve got a foul-tempered bitch on our hands for the next few days, have we?” He leant back, displaying a large ‘Harley-Davidson’ tattoo across his left shoulder.
“Would you rather go out there and collect specimens yourself? At least Cat and Reaper don’t turn into flesh eating corpses when they get bitten,” Sarah snapped back at him. “You ought to be grateful they haven’t infected you yet, the way you treat them.”
Mike turned to Jones. “I thought they were immune to the virus?”
“They are,” Jones said. “They can still infect others though. They’re carriers, they don’t have any symptoms themselves but they’re still infectious for a while after being bitten.”
“So don’t piss me off, or I’ll spit in your eye,” Reaper called from the doorway, grinning across at the others. “Only joking. You’re ok. That fat bastard on the other hand…” He glared at the back of Harley’s balding head.
“Reaper,” called a quiet female voice. “You don’t harm the living, remember?” Seven had lifted her head to watch the young man.
Calm seemed to pass across his face as he looked back at the woman in the shadows. “Quite right, Seven. Irritating twats though they are at times, we mustn’t fight with each other.” He smiled, quite pleasantly, and walked across to sit next to her.
“Doc and Seven are the only ones who can calm those two down,” Jones told Mike. “It’s still best not to wind them up though. They get enough crap from Harley.”
“Why? What’s he got against them?”
“I’m right here, retard!” Harley yelled, jumping to his feet and knocking his chair backwards. “And what I’ve got against them is that those two fucking psychos killed my girlfriend!”
Jones stepped forward. “Calm down. You know perfectly well that your girlfriend was infected when they killed her. You were shitting yourself in the corner, screaming for help, if I remember right.”
“They didn’t have to fucking smile while they did it though,” Harley replied, slightly less angry. “And how fucking long is it going to take to get what we need out of them? That senile old shit should have come up with something by now.”
“’Senile old shit’? That’s a new one, Harley,” Doc said as he walked in. “But you are right. I should have something by now. Which is what I’ve come up to announce. Cat, would you like to do the honours with me?” he asked, smiling at the young woman beside him.
Cat snapped her fingers twice, and a zombie came shuffling in. “Come here Boris,” she called to it. It shuffled across to her, and stopped, gazing into space with desiccated eyes. “This is Boris. Doc’s been giving him some anti-viral serum, that he’s distilled from several samples of our blood.”
As Doc began embellishing details of his research, Reaper stood and frowned at his sister. Boris? That’s the one we’ve been training. What are you up to, Cat?
Doc needs to show some progress to this bunch of losers, otherwise he’ll be kicked out of the group, Cat signalled back to her brother. Right now, it doesn’t matter whether it’s anything to do with anti-virals. Once he finds whatever makes us safe, he’ll come up with something for real. Until then he needs support and protection from the others.
We’d look after him. Blood is thicker than water, Cat.
I know. But if there are others about, he’s protected even when we’re out, or sleeping. She winked surreptitiously at her big brother.
“So, I worked out that it was something genetic. It won’t cure the virus, as you can see Boris here is still one of the walking dead. But when I work out how to properly extract the DNA, it should be simple enough to turn it into a genetic therapy vaccine that can be given to the healthy. As it stands, I’m not entirely certain what set of genes need to be extracted, but once I work it out…”
“Why not just inject their blood into us?” Harley interrupted.
“Because they’ve probably got a different blood type to at least some of us. Giving us the wrong blood type could be fatal. Besides which, they’re carrying the virus already,” Sarah told him. “You do remember how the virus is transmitted, don’t you?”
Harley sneered at her. “Bodily fluids; spit, blood and the like. I fucking know that, but you can clean the blood before you inject someone else, right?”
“Actually, no.” Mike looked nervous. “I was training to work as a nurse, before the virus hit. You can’t clean blood of infections, that’s why they wouldn’t let AIDS patients donate blood or anything.”
Jones spoke before Harley could start an argument. “So how did you manage to get the anti-viral into Boris the zombie?” he asked Doc.
Doc looked a little flustered. “Well, as Boris was already infected, it didn’t matter if he received infected blood, so all I did was concentrate the samples and inject Cat and Reaper’s blood straight into him. Obviously, I couldn’t possibly do that with a healthy, living person.”
Boris groaned. “Fuurrrd.” Barely concealing a grin, Cat led the zombie back down to his cubicle to be fed. Reaper went after her.
“How long has he been talking?” he asked, walking a step behind her.
“Not long. He can only manage one word at a time, anyway,” Cat replied. “If we can keep this up, we might even be able to organise some of this lot, get a little ‘village of the dead’ going.”
Reaper copied his sister’s manic grin. “Sounds like a good idea. Maybe we’ll be more accepted if we live with a bunch of ravenous zombies,” he quipped. “I don’t think we’ll be welcome with this lot for much longer.”
Harley stomped across the room, turning over tables and chairs as he went. “Where are they? I left them right fucking there, and now they’re fucking gone!”
“Lost something, Harley?” Sarah asked sarcastically.
He turned to scowl at her. “Some fucker’s taken my cards. Was it you?” he accused.
Sarah shook her head and returned to her book. It was rather dog-eared and dirty, but still readable. It had been one of two books she had managed to rescue from the library she worked at before the infection hit a year ago, and she had been carrying them ever since. If humanity was to survive, she thought, people would need books. Even if the only two around were a gardening manual and a slushy romance novel.
“Sit down, Harley. They’ll turn up,” Jones called, fed up of watching the stout biker wreck the room. “Besides, the more mess you make the more likely it is you’ll cover them up.”
Harley stomped out of the room, cursing as he went. “Bunch of shit-head retards, couldn’t fucking find their arses with both hands.”
“Jones, where are Cat and Reaper? There’s something I wanted to ask them,” Sarah said once the foul-mouthed ranting had faded away.
Jones shrugged. “I think they’re down in the lab with Doc and Seven. No idea what they’re all doing though.”
Sarah closed her book and wandered down the stairs. She knew there was a library nearby, and she wanted to visit it to see if there were any more books she could rescue. She had always loved reading, from when she was very small, and since the virus had hit she had retreated further and further into the fantasy worlds she found in novels. The only way she had managed to survive was by sticking with her obnoxious neighbour Harley, who she did not get along with at all. But he’d kept her alive, through sheer dumb luck more than anything, until they had found the others.
“No Boris, they’re not for eating,” Cat said, gently pulling the cards out of the zombie’s mouth. “They’re for playing. Let’s try again… Oh, hello Sarah,” she said, noticing the slim librarian enter the room.
Sarah stared in stunned disbelief. “You’re teaching it to play cards?”
“Snap, to be precise. Though Boris doesn’t quite get it yet,” Cat replied, pulling the cards away again. “What’s up, anyway? I think we could use a break.”
“I was wondering if either you or Reaper would be willing to escort me to the library,” she asked. “I’d go alone, but I doubt I’d make it back alive. Also, we’re running low on food supplies, we could pick up a few things while we’re out.”
Cat nodded. “Sure, I’ll take you. Come on Boris, let’s get you back in there,” she said, taking the zombie back to his cubicle. “Someone sort these cards out? Harley’s probably missing them by now,” she called to the two men on the other side of the lab, who were peering down microscopes. Reaper waved a hand vaguely in answer.
“So that’s what happened to them,” Sarah said. “You realise he’s been turning the place upside down looking for them,” she told Cat.
Grinning gleefully, Cat took a small handgun and her sword from a cupboard and hooked them through her belt. “Like I care what that twat thinks. He’s going to get them back anyway, just a little chewed up. If you’re that bothered, we can get him a new pack while we’re getting the food and your books?” she said, feigning concern.
Sarah couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m not that fussed. Let’s go,” she said, leading the way down to the ground level. “So, how’s Doc’s research doing? I’m guessing he’s done some more work with… Boris, was it?”
“Boris, yeah. He’s doing alright, no major developments yet but he’s getting there slowly. Have you got a bag or something for the stuff you want?” Cat replied, changing the subject. Sarah nodded, checking her pocket.
“Hey, mind if I tag along?” Mike popped out from a door. “There’s not much to do around here, and Harley’s in here looking for his pack of cards,” he said, as they heard a crashing noise from inside the room.
“Why not? Here, take this,” Cat said, handing him the pistol. “I don’t use it much, so you might as well keep it. We’re going for more food supplies and Sarah wants to go to the library.”
Mike pocketed the gun and fell into step behind them. “So, what did you two do before all this broke out?”
Sarah was first to answer. “I worked in a library. Not much by way of a personal life, but I was happy with everything. Lived on my own with a couple of cats, only heard about the virus after the couple next door got infected and tried to eat me,” she told him. “I got out of there and went looking for someone else who was still alive, found Harley - he used to live just down the road from me – and his girlfriend, and the three of us kept on the move for a while until we found Cat and her friends.”
“Technically, we found you,” Cat said, picking up the story. “We weren’t staying here then, we were living in the van. Bit crowded, but we managed. There was me, Reaper, Jones, Doc and Seven. Jones had only just joined us, or we’d joined him. It’s his van, see.”
Mike nodded interestedly. “So what happened? How did you all join up?”
“We were staying in this old hotel, because Harley’s girlfriend had been bitten but he refused to leave her behind. For some reason the idiot thought she’d get over it, like she’d only got a cold or something,” Sarah continued. “So, we were staying there, and then I heard someone break in downstairs. Harley wasn’t likely to do anything about it, so I went down to see what was going on and I found Cat and Reaper raiding the fridges in the hotel kitchens.”
“Rubbish food in there. Anyway, we stopped to restock the van and met Sarah and Harley. Didn’t like either of them to begin with, if I’m honest,” Cat said. “Thought Harley was an intolerable twat and Sarah was a stuck up cow. Changed my mind about one of them, though. So we stayed for a while, and then there’s this yell from one of the rooms. Harley’s girlfriend had turned, and he was squealing in the corner, begging her not to kill him like she could still understand. Reaper and me ran in and chopped her up before she could eat him. He’s hated us ever since,” she said with a smile.
Mike blinked as they left the building and the bright sunlight hit his eyes. “That doesn’t make sense. If she’d turned, there was nothing else you could have done,” he said, wondering what the fuss was about. “We’ve all had to kill zombies who used to be people we cared about.”
“Harley doesn’t quite understand this virus. He still thinks that you can be cured if you’ve turned,” Sarah told him. “Doc’s tried explaining that it doesn’t work like that, once you’re a zombie you’re stuck that way, but he either can’t or won’t understand that. I think the library’s that way,” she said, pointing down a street to the left.
They walked for a while in silence, reaching the library without encountering any undead. Sarah wandered about, looking at shelves and taking books down, while Cat and Mike kept watch for any zombies that might be lurking between the bookshelves.
“So what about you, Cat? What did you do before the outbreak?” Mike whispered. Though it was deserted, and the three of them were likely the only living humans around for miles, it was still a library.
Cat stared into space for a few moments before answering. “Not much to tell, really. I was still in uni when the virus hit my area. Studying chemistry. Reaper called me a few days before anything happened on campus, told me to keep myself safe, there was some kind of deadly virus going around. That was before people realised that the victims were coming back after they died.” She turned to look at him. “What about you, you said you were training to be a nurse, right?”
Mike frowned at the sudden change of subject, but realised that Cat probably wasn’t used to talking about herself. “I’d spent several years in college and uni, then went on to med school. I’d always been interested in the profession, but I didn’t quite get the grades to become a doctor, so I decided to train as a nurse. I was only a few weeks away from taking my exams when the virus hit. Nobody seemed to know where it came from, but everything just went crazy.”
“Yeah, nobody’s found out where the virus came from,” Cat interrupted, speaking very quickly. “Carry on, you were saying everything went crazy.”
“I was interning at a hospital in London, and we suddenly got a bunch of people coming in that were suffering from some unusual symptoms. Extreme hunger, blackouts, vomiting, you know,” Mike continued. “They all had bite marks somewhere on them, of course none of us knew what it was then, and they all started dying within a couple of days. When the bodies went down to the morgue, we got a call from the pathologist saying that we’d sent living patients down. Then there were screams, apparently, and the line went dead… What?” he asked. Cat had gestured for quiet, staring at the end of the row.
“Something moved,” she said, walking to the end of the shelves and peering around the corner. “That you, Sarah?” she called softly.
“No, I’m back here,” Sarah replied from behind.
Cat unsheathed her sword. “Stay here. Make sure nothing gets close to either of you. Shout if you need help,” she instructed Mike, and turned the corner.
As Cat went out of sight, Mike walked back to where Sarah was standing, looking at a couple of science books. “I think Cat’s seen something. Maybe we should get out of here. We can always come back another time,” he suggested as Sarah glared at him over the top of a basic chemistry book.
“If this place is full of zombies, I want to get as many books as I can out of here. They’ll only be forgotten about,” Sarah retorted.
They heard soft, splatting noises from the next row over. “You two get out, now!” Cat shouted. “There’s several of them. Go get the food, I’ll catch up with you there.” Sarah stuffed both books she was holding into her already overfilled bag, and followed Mike out of the door.
Cat sliced up the closest zombies and glanced around at the rest. She figured it would be easier to dispatch them if there was a little more space, so she climbed up the bookshelf behind her and ran along the top of it. The zombies below stared up at her and shuffled after. She jumped down in a more open space that seemed to have been a reading area. Shoving the chairs out the way, she turned to face the shuffling undead that approached her. “Right you rotting bastards, come and get it!” she yelled at them.
Mike ran ahead of Sarah, stopping when he reached the library car park to wait for her. She caught up with him and led the way to the supermarket. “So how many did you manage to pick up?” he asked her, noticing the straining seams on her bag.
“Several factual books; science, mechanics, history, things like that. I didn’t get a chance to look at the fiction books though,” Sarah replied sadly. “Maybe I can come back some time for them. If they haven’t been chewed up. It should be just down this street,” she said, pointing.
Mike went half a step ahead of her, pistol held ready to shoot at any zombies they might see. “Have you got any room in the bag for food?” he asked quietly.
“Not in this one, but I do have another bag. We can put the food in there,” she replied. “We’ll have to wait for Cat though. Just for a few minutes, if she can’t find us there she’ll head back to the offices.”
They wandered around the supermarket, picking up stuff they had run short of. Mostly tins and packets of dry stuff, as the fridges and freezers had cut out several months back. Fresh fruit and vegetables were rare things now. Sometimes they stumbled across a garden, or a couple of fruit trees, but the last time they had found anything like that had been weeks ago. Sarah was careful to leave a little space in the bag, until they reached the sweet aisle. She topped off the bag with some biscuits and chocolate bars.
“It’s been ages since anyone had anything sweet. I think it’s about time we treat ourselves,” she explained to Mike.
Cat came sauntering into the shop as they were leaving. “Hey Mike, Sarah. Look what I found,” she held out a large book. Sarah took it.
“ ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’… Thank you, Cat. At least one of the greats will be preserved,” Sarah said, a large silly grin on her face.
Cat shrugged. “I would have grabbed a few more, but it’s pretty heavy and I needed one arm free. If you like we can go back sometime. I’d suggest moving in there, but I doubt some of the others would be too impressed. Knowing Harley, he’d chuck all the books outside to make room for his crap.” She wiped some congealed blood off her face with her sleeve. “Shall we head back then?”
“One minute,” Sarah said, and she ran back down an aisle still clutching her book. She returned a few minutes later, carrying a handful of Milky Ways. “Here, I know they’re your favourite,” she said, handing them to Cat.
“Thanks Sarah,” Cat replied, a child-like gleam in her eye.
Mike looked from one to the other, uncomprehending of the apparent friendship between them. “Come on ladies, we should be getting back. The others will be wondering where we’ve got to.”
They headed back, reaching the offices without incident. “You!” someone yelled out of a window as they got close. “You owe me a new pack of cards, bitch! Your pet fucking zombie ate half of these!”
“Sounds like Harley’s pissed off about something,” Cat said facetiously. “I wonder what it could be?” Chewed up cards drifted down towards them like snowflakes.
“You enjoy winding him up, don’t you?” Mike remarked as they entered the office block. The only reply he got was a manic grin, and an echoing cackle as Cat ran off towards the lab, presumably to share her chocolate with Reaper.
Sarah turned to look at him. “Jones has warned you about those two, hasn’t he? They can flip moods in a split second.”
“He told me they were a bit strange. ‘Sociopaths’ I think he said,” Mike replied. “They seem to like me, or at least I think they do. But they can be a bit crazy sometimes.”
“Cat and Reaper aren’t crazy,” came a quiet voice from inside a nearby room. “They’re very troubled, and try to hide it behind a rather strange sense of humour.” Seven had been listening to their conversation.
Mike was curious. “Troubled how?” he asked without thinking.
“I can’t tell you that. Society may have dissolved, but I still retain the principles of patient confidentiality,” Seven answered him. She walked out of the room and past the two of them, humming quietly to herself as she went.
Still can’t figure out what happened? Cat thought to her brother.
Reaper shook his head. Damn rats just die, I can’t work out what the sequence was. I’ve got to recreate it before Doc can study it.
“What are you two thinking?” the old scientist asked, noticing the siblings watching each other.
“I can’t work out the DNA sequence of the virus,” Reaper replied, tearing off his latex gloves. “I’ve tried every possible combination I can think of, and…” he stopped abruptly, seeing Jones at the door.
Jones raised a hand. “Don’t mind me, I was just wondering if any of you had seen Mike or Sarah.”
“Not today. Last time I saw either of them was last night, they were making a library up on the top floor,” Cat told him. “Try looking up there.”
“I’ve been up there, it’s empty,” Jones replied. “You don’t think they would have gone out somewhere, do you? I know Sarah was on about going back for more books the other day.”
Cat and Reaper looked at each other. “If they have, then knowing Sarah, she’s got her arms full of books and they’ll have no way of defending themselves,” Reaper said. “I’ll go look for them. I’m getting nowhere fast with this, maybe a break would do me good.” He strode across to the cupboard and took out his scythe.
“We can take the van, it’ll be quicker,” Jones said, heading downstairs. “Check the library first. They’ll probably be there.”
They sped off in the van, Reaper fixing a fresh blade to his scythe as Jones drove. They screeched to a halt outside the library minutes later.
“I’ll go in and check for them, you stay out here with the van,” Reaper said, jumping out of the back doors. He walked purposefully towards the library doors, until he heard gunshots and a scream from inside. Then he ran.
Sarah was crouched in a corner, huddling over a pile of books, apparently trying to protect them from the zombies. Mike was standing in front of her with a handgun, shooting inexpertly and doing very little damage to anything besides the walls and lampshades. Reaper sighed and began swinging his scythe. Rotting heads and limbs flew everywhere, and Mike sensibly dropped to the floor next to Sarah. When all the zombies in sight had been dispatched, Reaper stood over the two cowering living ones, staring down at them with a raised eyebrow and sarcastic smirk.
“Thanks Reaper, I don’t think I could have held them off much longer,” Mike said, standing up carefully to avoid the curved blade that was dangling above him.
“I don’t think you were holding them off much anyway,” Reaper replied dryly. “Come on, Jones is waiting in the van.” He turned and headed back to the doors.
Mike went to follow him, but Sarah remained on the floor. “Sarah?” He reached down to help her up, but she twitched away from him. “Wait, something’s wrong with Sarah.”
Reaper turned, eyed the woman on the floor carefully, and stalked back over to them. “Get outside,” he told Mike.
Mike started to protest, but saw the hard look in Reaper’s eyes and thought better of it. He picked his way across the corpse-littered floor and got out to the van.
“Sarah, look at me,” said Reaper, holding his scythe ready just in case. She turned her head slowly, until she was staring straight up at him. Her face was blank, drained of any expression. He couldn’t see any marks on her, but that wasn’t always a reliable indicator. “Have you been bitten, Sarah? Any of their blood get on you?”
She shook her head, slowly. “Not on me. On the books,” she said in a low voice. “There’s blood on the books. I wanted to take them back, but they’re ruined now.” She turned back and remained hunched on the floor.
“Oh, for fucks sake,” Reaper cried in exasperation. “Pull yourself together, Sarah, there are plenty of other books.” He pulled her up with his free arm and dragged her out to the van where Jones and Mike waited.
“What’s wrong?” asked Mike anxiously as they drove off. Sarah sat opposite him, staring at the floor.
“She’s upset because her books got ruined. Nothing overly serious,” Reaper said dismissively, cleaning his scythe blade. “And next time you two want to go on a little adventure, let someone know where you’re going.”
Mike looked puzzled. “We did. I told Harley we were coming here. Didn’t he say anything?”
“Oh. Well…” Mike began, before realising that Reaper had plugged into his headphones again. The rest of the journey passed in silence, Sarah staring blankly into space and the three men lost in their own thoughts. They arrived back at the office block quickly, and Mike helped Sarah inside. She seemed to have retreated into herself. Jones locked up the van and replaced the barricades, while Reaper headed back up to the lab. Mike followed him, wanting to ask about Seven. “Reaper, can I talk to you for a second?” he called down the corridor.
Reaper turned and stared at Mike. “About what?”
“Seven. She said something the other day, I was wondering if she’s a psychiatrist? I think Sarah’s really upset about those books, so…”
“Yeah, Seven’s a shrink. Pretty good one too. Anything else?” Reaper was just as terse as ever. Mike wondered if he ever had a lengthy conversation with anyone except his sister.
“No, nothing else. Thanks,” said Mike, deciding not to ask. He watched Reaper disappear into the lab, and headed upstairs to find Seven. He found her in what seemed to be the main room, watching Harley quietly as he ranted to himself about something. “Seven, could you come and talk to Sarah? She’s a bit upset, some books she wanted got ruined and she’s acting a little strange,” he said.
The small, dark haired woman turned to face him, her expression inscrutable. “Certainly. Take me to her, I’ll see what I can do for her,” she said in a soft, calming voice. She followed Mike down the stairs and into a room that had presumably once been a break room. Sarah was huddled on a chair beside the broken coffee machine. “Would you be so kind as to give us some privacy?” Seven asked.
“Sure.” Mike nodded and left the room, wandering aimlessly back up the stairs. He debated for a while about going to find Jones, since he was the only one likely to be able and willing to hold a rational, pleasant conversation. Before he could make a decision though, he walked straight into Harley, who was clearly in a foul mood.
“Get the fuck outta my way,” he growled, pushing past Mike.
Mike called after him. “Hey Harley, how come you didn’t tell the others where Sarah and I went earlier?”
The stout biker turned and sneered. “Why the hell should I care what you and that frigid cow get up to? Not like you did anything worth talking about anyway, just looking at some stupid books.” He glared at Mike for a few seconds before stomping off down the stairs.
Mike carried on wandering through the building, nosying into various rooms as he passed. Most of them were empty bar some office furniture; a few had been turned into improvised bedrooms. Sticking his head round one door, he found what looked like a twin bedroom. ‘Must be Cat and Reaper’s’ he thought to himself. Knowing perfectly well that he shouldn’t, but being thoroughly bored, he went in and flicked the light on. There were several pictures of a family group stuck on the wall opposite the door, a collage of news clippings across the left wall and what looked like a collection of decorative swords and daggers on the right. He walked across to the family pictures, wondering who they were.
The largest picture, given pride of place in the centre of the wall, seemed to be a holiday snap. Set against the backdrop of an idyllic beach scene, there were six people. A tall man, with sandy brown hair and bright green eyes, arm around the shoulders of a slightly shorter woman with darker brown hair and blue eyes. Two suntanned, cheerful teenagers, a boy and a girl, sat cross-legged on the sand. The boy looked a couple of years older than the girl, but they were both very alike. An older woman, white haired and smiling, stood next to an old man with frizzy grey hair… hang on, thought Mike, that guy looks like Doc. He looked closer at the others. The brown haired man and woman were unfamiliar; so was the old woman. The two teenagers looked like familiar faces, wearing someone else’s expressions. Suddenly it hit him like a ton of bricks. The smiling, tanned teenagers were Cat and Reaper.
Turning hastily away from the happy family photos, he found himself facing the newspaper cuttings. He read a few of the headlines with an increasing feeling of intrusion. ‘Brilliant Geneticist Retires; Hands Laboratory to Nephew.’ ‘Important Discoveries Made: Could This Cure HIV?’ ‘AIDS Cure on the Horizon.’ ‘Science Fails; HIV Cure a Flop.’ ‘Suicide at Science Lab.’ A tiny clipping – ‘Son of Suicide Scientist Tries Again; Can He Make it Work?’
Mike stared at the clippings, reading a few sentences here and there. He was reading the ‘Science Fails…’ article when he felt a cold, sharp pressure along the side of his neck. Raising his hand to see what it was, his fingers found a long metal blade.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” came a cold female voice.
Turning slowly, away from the blade, Mike saw Cat standing behind him, her face a taut mask of suppressed emotion and her sword held at precisely the right angle to sever his head. “Cat, I… I’m sorry…” he began, stuttering slightly.
“Get out.” Cat’s voice was steady, and icy.
Mike hastened to follow her directions; he wasn’t in any rush to get his head cut off. “Mike,” she called from behind him. He turned.
Cat was staring at him. “If I catch you in here again, you’re a dead man. Just think yourself lucky that it was me who caught you. Reaper wouldn’t have hesitated.”
Unable to think of anything to say, Mike nodded and left quickly. As he closed the door behind himself though, he was sure he heard a muffled sob.
Seven sat back in her chair, watching Sarah intently. It was clear that the woman had suffered some kind of mental breakdown, triggered when she had lost the books in the library. She spent most of the time huddled in a corner, muttering softly to herself. Seven had plenty of experience with psychological trauma, mostly gained from her treatment of Cat and Reaper, but it seemed such a trivial thing to be the sole cause of Sarah‘s problem. There was obviously another factor here; finding out what it was would be the difficult part. She leant forwards again, about to ask another few questions, when a loud banging distracted her. Hoping one of Doc’s test zombies hadn’t escaped, she thought she’d better go and check it out.
“Wait here, okay Sarah? I’ll be back in a moment.” Seven stood slowly and left, following the noise down the corridor and away.
Sarah sat in her corner, hugging her knees and ignoring the rest of the world. She had, quite simply, had enough of the post-apocalyptic misery; her mind had fled into its’ own fantasy retreat and left everything else behind. She didn’t notice Harley edging into the room and shutting the door.
He made his way over to her, crouched down on the floor beside her, and whispered in her ear. “You’re a real cock-tease, you know that? All that time playing hard to get, pretending you weren’t fucking interested; we all know what you want, bitch, everyone can see you’re gagging for it. Making out you don’t want a relationship, guess what? Neither do I. I just want to fuck you raw,” he told her, fumbling with her clothes. Sarah neither helped nor resisted; she felt as though she was only reading about this, watching it happen to a character in a book. She hardly felt the cold floor against her bare back as Harley pushed her down.
“If you’d just spread your fucking legs when I first told you to, I wouldn’t have to do this now,” he said, pulling at her jeans and pants, his breath coming in sharp jerks. “So this is really your fucking fault. You start screaming and I’ll have to hurt you, so just lie there and fucking enjoy it like I know you will, really. No need to start acting like you hate it.” Trapped by her own mind, Sarah only stared blankly up at the crumbling ceiling tiles as he began thrusting into her.
Cat wandered through the corridors, bored senseless. Reaper and Doc had had some kind of breakthrough with the virus, and her brother had told her to ‘sod off somewhere while we figure this out’ because he thought it might be dangerous. She had looked for Mike and Jones, knowing Seven was in session with Sarah, but the two men had gone out for food supplies. She had no intention of speaking to Harley, so was wondering whether she should go and do some sword practice when she bumped into Seven.
“Oh, Cat. Hello,” said the small, softly-spoken woman. “Say, did you hear any thumping a minute ago?”
“Thumping? Can’t say I did,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”
Seven shrugged. “I heard something just now; I wondered if it might have been one of the test zombies.”
“Reaper and Doc are doing something up in the lab, they reckon they might have something. I’ve no idea what it is they’re doing though. How’s Sarah doing, any progress?” she asked. Cat had taken quite a liking to the shy, day-dreamy librarian; she was the closest thing to a friend Cat had ever had, besides her brother.
“Still unresponsive. You could check on her if you like, usual room; I’ll just see what Doc is up to before I go back.” Seven pointed down the corridor towards Sarah’s room.
Cat headed along, hoping for some small improvement in Sarah’s condition. It had been three weeks since Mike had brought her back from the library in an almost catatonic state, and she had hardly spoken to anyone since. Arriving at the door, she turned the handle and pushed it open. “Hey Sarah, how… What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” she screamed. Rather than what she had expected – Sarah curled up in a corner, or perhaps on a chair – she was confronted by Harley’s oversized buttocks rising and falling as he lay on top of Sarah, pinning her to the ground.
He grunted as he turned, looking back at her. “What, you want some too? Fucking weird bitch. Piss off.”
“Get off her!” Cat pulled a dagger from her belt and threw herself at his back. “I’ll fucking kill you, you bastard fucking asshole!” She got a few good cuts in before the much larger man pushed her off. “Seven! Reaper! Anyone!” she yelled as loud as she could, thinking someone had to hear.
Harley fastened his jeans quickly, scrambling upright. “She fucking asked for it! She fucking wanted it; not that you’d know anything about it. Bet you’re still a fucking virgin. Or are you screwing that creepy brother of yours?” he asked with a sneer.
Cat screamed inarticulate fury at him, almost flying across the room dagger first. She stabbed and sliced, not knowing or caring what parts she hit. Pure rage lent her strength, the build-up of resentment from months of verbal abuse and taunts finally released by catching him raping Sarah. She was still swiping the air when someone pulled her away from him. “What are you doing, let go, let me kill him!” she cried, struggling against whoever was holding her back.
“Cat, calm down.” The only voice that could possibly have cut through her anger; Reaper. “What happened?”
She relaxed slightly, turned to face her brother. He was raping her. That bastard stripped her, pinned her to the floor, and forced her to… “He asked for it.”
You’re bleeding, Cat. Reaper wiped a trickle of blood away from her eye.
No longer in the grip of blind fury, Cat began to feel bruises and cuts where Harley had obviously fought back. Her jaw clicked as she moved it; she would have to dig out a first aid kit.
Seven, Mike and Jones stood in the doorway, looking into the room with expressions of revulsion. “Harley, why is Sarah naked?” Jones asked, staring at the biker while Mike covered the prone woman with his own coat. “I’m not an expert on psychotherapy, but I don’t think it requires the removal of clothes.”
Harley spluttered for a moment. “She was begging for it! Come on, you’ve all seen how the bitch looks at me, she was desperate for a fuck! I just gave her what she fucking wanted…”
“Desperate for a fuck?” Mike exclaimed. “She despised you! She loathed you! She turned you down after your girlfriend got infected; yeah, she told me all about that,” he said. “How you came pounding on her door in that hotel, saying that you had needs and you were sure your girlfriend would understand; how she had to lock the door, climb out the window, go round the ledge and into the next room just to get away from you. I’d say it’s a pretty good indication of rejection when a woman climbs out of a sixth floor window to avoid you!”
Harley mumbled something that sounded like ‘hard to get’.
As the others argued, Cat and Reaper were having one of their silent thought-conversations. Doc thinks we’ve got something; maybe it’s a cure, maybe not. We need test subjects to confirm it, thought Reaper.
So we’re off to collect more zombies soon?
No. We need someone who’s infected, but not yet zombified. A living subject.
Cat made a rather unpleasant expression. I think I can help you there.
The three men were still shouting; Mike and Jones berating Harley while he tried to make excuses. Seven had gathered Sarah’s clothes and taken her to a quieter room. “Look, why he did it really doesn’t matter now,” said Jones. “The thing we should be discussing is what to do with him,” he told Mike, jerking a thumb in Harley’s direction. “Under normal circumstances, I’d call the police and have him arrested; thing is, these are anything but normal circumstances.”
Mike frowned. “Well we can’t just pretend nothing’s happened. What if he tries it again, or goes for one of the other women?”
Lost in debate, they didn’t notice Cat and Reaper approaching Harley; he holding the biker still while she took some blood from a cut on her own cheek and wiped it across a gash on his arm. “And there’s your living subject,” she said, her voice cold and quiet, yet somehow managing to cut through the others’ conversation like a scalpel.
Silence hung in the room for several shocked moments. Jones was the one to break it. “Cat… did you just do what I think you did?” he asked, his voice hushed.
Cat turned to face him slowly, a cruel smile twisting her mouth. “Surely this solves everyone’s problem? You don’t have to worry about what to do with this asshole, and Doc gets an ideal subject to test his new breakthrough on. If Doc’s cure works, there’s no lasting harm done; if it doesn’t, we haven’t lost anyone important,” she said, her voice as cold as ice. “Win-win situation, wouldn’t you say?”
“You did agree that if anyone got infected, we could have them for testing,” said Reaper, dragging Harley towards the door. He seemed to have the biker in a kind of headlock, arms pinned behind his back; not that Harley was struggling anymore. “Excuse me, I do need to get back to the lab. Doc will be very excited about his new subject.” He squeezed past the other two men and out of the doorway, looking rather pleased with the situation. Cat followed her brother, still smiling malevolently.
“She’s right, you know,” said Mike after a few seconds of silence. “I mean, what would we have done with him, anyway? We’d have found somewhere to lock him up, or at least thrown him out of the group, right? This way the bastard’s doing some good, and getting punished for raping Sarah.”
Jones frowned, chewing his lower lip. “So you agree with what they’ve done? Purposely infecting someone, and hauling him off for experimentation?”
Mike struggled with his thoughts for a moment. Just considering the siblings’ actions, it was wrong; they had effectively killed him. But factoring in who they had done it to, what the guy had just done himself, and what kind of person he was anyway… “I’m not saying it was right, exactly, but it’s not black and white, Jones. They had a reason, and Harley’s a nasty shit anyway. We both know how he treats people; everyone, not just Cat and Reaper. The guy’s a dickhead. Besides, like Cat said, if Doc’s cure does work out, he’ll be fine; if it doesn’t, good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“Being a dickhead isn’t call for a death sentence. A punch in the face, maybe, but…”
“Perhaps not, but assaulting a mentally traumatised woman could be seen as reason for such a sentence.” Seven had returned, and apparently been listening to the ethical debate. “Particularly when someone close to said woman catches him in the act, as I gather Cat did. Throw in Harley’s constant insults to both Cat and her brother, and their low regard for human life in general, and their actions become perfectly understandable, if not necessarily acceptable. Do excuse me, I need to pick up my pad.” She walked across to the table in the corner, picked up a small notepad, and left again.
“How’s Sarah? Is she hurt, I mean?” Mike asked, following her out of the room.
Seven looked worried. “Externally, she seems relatively uninjured; as she put up no resistance, she only suffered some bruising. I don’t have the facilities to perform internal checks, though.” She paused, scowling at a nearby door as though it had just insulted her. “Mentally, I suspect Sarah may be further from recovery now than she was this morning. Harley has done a lot of damage to an already fragile woman. Personally, I’m glad Cat infected him. We really don’t need people like that here; those undead out there are bad enough without us having to contend with rapists.”
She stalked off, leaving Mike in the corridor with only his confusion for company.