John Khane Medical Center
Alice stepped quietly out of the room. She shut the door with a barely audible click, not that it would make much difference to the man in the room. He was out cold. She paused for a moment, looking back through the window to his room. He was a rough-looking man, mainly because of the stubble across his jaw, but his eyes were kind, and for a man ten years her senior, he was attractive.
She turned from the room and walked down the empty, poorly lit hallway towards the cafeteria. She found the coffee pot half full, but the machine was off and the contents an unappetizing sludge. She dumped it and started over.
Alice sank into a chair near the counter; she didn’t want to see out the windows at this hour. It wasn’t her Chicago out there anymore. The things would be outside, there was no doubt. The zombies, or hostiles as Grace was still insisting they be called, came every night. She put her head on her arms, hoping for a few moments of rest. Instead, her head filled with thoughts of her family, a family she no longer thought existed.
Sighing, Alice sat up. The others were impressed and a little worried by how well she was functioning on only a few hours of sleep a night. She couldn’t tell anyone why she wasn’t sleeping well. She knew any of the survivors would understand, but she couldn’t bring herself to talk about it. Talking about it made it real, and she wanted desperately for it to not be real. She stood when the coffee finished brewing; she needed a triple jolt of caffeine. She poured two cups and went to find someone else to talk to, anyone who would help take her mind off the past.
In the security room, Jake Collins’ balding head drooped low at the console, then bobbed. The movement woke him, and he jerked his head back up. He wiped at the thin line of drool that escaped down his chin and glanced at his watch. Only fifteen minutes had passed since the last time he checked. It didn’t seem likely he would have missed anything on the monitor. Most nights passed uneventfully. It was four-thirty in the morning, and like every night, the hostiles were out in force.
Hostiles. Jake smiled to himself. God damn zombies. Dead people who were up and walking. It didn’t matter what the military and President had called them at first, they were zombies. Jake’s four-year-old grandson had known that, before he became one, but the people in charge of the hospital were military, so Jake tried to remember to call them hostiles.
He focused on the monitor again, watching as the hostiles leaned against the main doors. They didn’t make any effort to figure out how to get inside, they just waited. Perhaps their primitive minds instinctively knew that someone would lose it and take a suicidal run into their mass at some point if they were patient. Jake would have laughed at the idea weeks ago. That was before he was given night watch and witnessed three such suicides. Seeing men and women he knew run wildly into the arms of death was something he hoped not to witness again, though he feared he would be forced to if he kept up the watch.
The door to the office opened and shut softly. It would have startled him if he hadn’t expected it.
“Coffee?” a warm female voice offered behind him.
“Please.” Jake looked away from the monitor long enough to smile gratefully at Alice Davenport and take the coffee. She brought him coffee most nights. Alice was young and did well operating on little sleep, unlike Jake who felt as if his brain was throbbing by four AM.
“Anything?” Alice sat in one of the rolling desk chairs and scooted over beside him to see the monitor better. When she leaned in to peer at one of the views he breathed in the scent of her, vanilla shampoo and fresh coffee. The smell combined with the warmth of her so near sent a shiver of yearning through him. At fifty-four he thought he had left that sort of thing behind. But somehow she managed to wake a wiggling need inside of him. It crawled through his loins and brain uncontrollably.
“Nothing,” he mumbled, feeling like a teenager and glad the dim light would make it hard for her to notice his blush.
“Jake, are you alright?” Alice asked. A look of concern wrinkled her otherwise perfect face. The girl was barely old enough to go out for a drink. Not that anything like that mattered anymore. It wasn’t as if anyone was around to stop her from walking into a bar at noon and downing a whole bottle of whatever she felt like. Finicky rules like that were part of the past.
“Just tired, sweetie,” Jake answered in his best dad voice. He turned back to the screen, where the sight of the hostiles was usually enough to kill any urge other than the one to hurl the contents of your stomach into the nearest trash can. Right now that seemed preferable to any further exploration of what he was feeling. Given his paunchy gut and balding head he was probably the last person Alice would find attractive. She’d be waiting for a younger man. The image sent a burst of jealousy through Jake. He pushed it back, but it still nibbled at the edge of his thoughts.
“How’s Cale holding up?” Jake asked, trying to distract himself.
“Good.” Alice leaned back into the chair, tying her long dark hair back.
Just that little movement and she was far enough away that Jake could think while looking at her. That far away he couldn’t reach her and wouldn’t be tempted to act on the jumble of fantasies that sang him to sleep each night. He took a moment to perfect his mental image of her. She was a brunette; her dark hair thick and healthy, constantly getting pushed behind her ears while she worked. Even in the jeans and t-shirt which had become her work uniform the perfection of her body was apparent.
Jake caught his thoughts and realized as long as she was there he couldn’t look at her and think clearly. He turned away and cleared his throat before speaking again. “He’s not infected?”
“Not at all.” Alice shook her head, a slow relieved smile crossing her face. “No symptoms since being injected with the virus Prime vaccine yesterday morning.”
“Good.” Jake nodded, still eying the hostiles. “Son of a bitch was damn lucky to make it here at all. Woulda been a shame if the vaccine hadn’t held.” He gave a rough half laugh, glancing at Alice from the corner of his eye.
“Sure would have been,” Alice said. She stood and began to pace. Jake spent enough time with her to know this meant she had something on her mind. It was only seconds before she revealed it. “He had some strange things to report though.”
“What’s that?” Jake asked, still keeping his eyes averted. He was curious what could possibly be considered strange these days with the bar raised so high, and the living dead knocking on their door.
“He told Grace and Quigley that where he came from the zo-” she caught herself before saying it. “The hostiles seemed to be growing more intelligent.”
“Impossible.” Jake barked a laugh. “Psych should evaluate him.”
“Jake.” He could hear her smile and turned to see it. “There’s no one left in Psych.”
“Oh.” Jake flushed at the mistake. “I still forget sometimes.”
“I know. It’s fine. I mean, all this has everyone messed up. If Cale has gone bit nuts, he’s not the first one and won’t be the last. Zero doesn’t seem too stable to me either.”
“Zero was an addict, strung out on who knows what and now finally coming down from what seems to me to have been a life-long high,” Jake said. “I wouldn’t expect him to seem stable. I’ll be surprised if that young man’s brain isn’t jelly when he wakes up.”
“I guess he saved our lives though.” Alice’s eyes drifted to the round, red scar just above the crook of her elbow. That was where the needle filled with vaccine had slid inside her, miraculously saving her life.
“I’d credit the doctors mostly, but sure, Zero’s got a bit to do with it,” Jake agreed, watching intently as Alice bit her lip. “But it isn’t as if he was purposefully brewing up a cure in his veins.”
“Could it have saved everyone?” Alice asked. This seemed to be the root of her nervousness, and Jake understood that. He had lost that hope though; the damage had gone too far in his opinion.
“Maybe.” Jake sighed, tired of all the ‘what if’ questions, and ready to let things lie. Still, it was obvious she needed reassurance. “If we had enough, and if we found it sooner. Of course we would have needed to find a way to kill the hostiles en masse before it could have done any good anyhow. I think even after the first month there were too many infected for the vaccine to help on a global level.”
“Right.” Alice nodded and took a deep breath. She forced a fake smile. “I’ll see if either of the doctors has any psych experience. Maybe they can talk to. . .” Alice trailed off, squinting at the monitor. She stepped closer, leaning over Jake and looking closely at the screen.
“What?” Jake turned to study the views. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but even now he was having a hard time paying attention to the monitors with Alice in the room. His eyes kept drifting to peek at her breasts.
She pointed at the screen, her finger pressing against the glass. “Here.” Jake looked closer at the view, and his heart thumped its way into his throat as he watched. “Have they done that before?” Alice asked shakily. She gave him a look that pleaded for him to say it was nothing new.
“Go get Grace and Quigley.” Jake slapped the record button, so that view four was being captured.
Without another word, Alice was gone, probably halfway to Grace’s office. He stared at the screen in horror as one of the hostiles banged a jar against a rail; it must have been plastic because it didn’t burst immediately. After a few tries the lid cracked off, and the thing reached inside, pulling out its sausage shaped reward.
As the other hostiles surged towards the thing, Jake stopped recording. He leaned back in horror, waiting for Alice to return with the others. In the back of his mind, Cale’s report that the hostiles were becoming intelligent nagged at him. Jake hoped he hadn’t witnessed the first stage of that intelligence.
Alice burst into Grace’s office without trying to be quiet, or worrying about knocking. Grace looked up sharply. She was a motherly-looking black woman, though her attitude was much more drill sergeant than mother most of the time. Quigley, her second in command, sat across from her and was looking at Alice expectantly.
“Yes?” Quigley asked, as if Alice had interrupted something important. His auburn hair looked as if it hadn’t been brushed in days, and his eyes hung heavy in dark circles.
“The hostiles are doing something-” Alice paused, trying to come up with a word for it, but failing. She continued lamely. “-something really strange. Jake wanted me to get you both.”
Grace narrowed her eyes a moment, as if thinking it over, and then pushed herself up. “Strange?” She crossed the room in a few long strides. Quigley, a foot shorter than her, hurried to catch up. “What are you talking about?”
Alice turned, leading the way quickly back to the surveillance room. She jogged to keep ahead of Grace. Alice pulled the door open and stepped back. Jake glanced back at them as the door opened, but quickly looked back at the monitor
“What is it?” Grace strode purposefully into the room, immediately seizing command as always. In her mid forties, she was actually younger than Jake, but he never questioned an order from her. He had no idea what her rank was before the infection, but she was the one in charge of things now. Grace stepped up when no one else could. She had shown up and started giving orders. Everyone else just scrambled to obey, more than happy to have someone in charge.
Quigley, a scrawny man also in his forties, was right behind her. He had been the next one to ball up and start making the tough decisions. The aptly named Bill to Kill had been his motion. The bill allowed anyone to be killed once they slipped into the coma. When some of the kids started living through the comas he took some flak for that, but he never seemed fazed by it.
“Here.” Jake transferred the recording to its own monitor and started playback as Alice stepped into the room. There was silence as the hostile opened the jar.
“Have you seen this before?” Grace’s lips were tight, eyes glued to the screen where the image of the other hostiles surging forward had frozen.
“No,” Jake assured her. Grace looked back at Quigley, her eyes worried.
“Quigley, I think we need to talk to Cale again.” She looked back at the screen, as if unable to take in what she was seeing.
“Damn straight,” Quigley agreed. Grace reached over Jake and grimly restarted the clip.
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