Authors: Scott Shoyer
Tags: #Zombie Outbreak
“But…” I start to say, and get cut off.
“But nothing,” she says, almost shouting. “You heard Brice. These animals have been altered both physically and intellectually by God knows what. If that tiger wanted to kill Brice, then Brice would be dead.”
I’m having trouble accepting what she is saying, but deep down, I know it is true. These animals have been in control since before we even got on the train. At first, it seemed all they wanted to do was kill us. The conductor and a few of the passengers on the train were slaughtered outright, but then, gradually, their plan seemed to change. Instead of just killing us, there seemed to be a larger purpose. Almost as if they wanted us for something. I let that thought pass as a shudder runs through me.
Soon after our discussion, Julie and I help Brice and Jason to their feet and we continue to follow the tracks.
Fi has been unusually quiet the last few hours. I know that everything that’s happened is going to result in years of therapy. Before today, the concept of Death was something she never even considered, but now it’s been shoved in her face in the most graphic and primal ways. I’m worried about her, but realize that my primary focus has to be on getting her out of here alive. So far, I’ve been very lucky. Thanks to Julie’s help, we’ve kept Fi safe and away from those animals. Nut again, there is that thought in the back of my head:
If they wanted to take or kill her, they could’ve at any time. So why didn’t they
? I shake these thoughts out of my head. There would be plenty of time to ponder the ‘what-ifs.’ Right now, we need to get out of these fucking woods.
I help carry Brice. He has his arm around my shoulders and we walk carefully. It doesn’t help, and with every step we take he inhales through his teeth in pain.
Julie helps Jason and finds a tree branch that he can use as a makeshift cane. Jason is nearly doubled over in pain from his broken ribs. Neither one still have any idea that I am pretty much blind. Julie stays only a couple feet in front of me and I make sure to match her step by step every inch of the way. Fi walks between us. I’m hoping at least Fi feels, but Julie and I both know that if those animals really wanted her…
I’m amazed that both Jason and Brice can even stand, let alone walk. They are in a lot of pain, but their injuries should have rendered them immobile. Jason had even mentioned that he was in pain, but that he felt like it was subsiding with every step he took. Either he was going numb due to massive infection, or whatever the animals had passed along to him was starting to affect him. Neither scenario was good.
Since we started walking after the last attack, we have been aware that the animals are all around us. The trees are shaking, bushes are rustling, and the occasional animal screams out. If not for Fi, my will may have been broken by now. Fi keeps me going, and I need to protect her and bring her home safely. I was unable to do that all those years ago with my friend Dave, frozen in fear and watching him get butchered by that dog. All these years I’ve been so focused on whether or not I was brave that summer day. Walking through these woods, I understand now that ‘bravery’ isn’t what it’s all about. ‘Bravery’ is a meaningless and hollow word. Back then, I was a ten-year-old-kid who didn’t realize how fucking cruel and violent the world was. That summer day opened my eyes and shattered my innocence just to show how ugly and brutal life can be. It’s not that I didn’t act bravely that day; it’s that I didn’t act at all. Life requires action, and on that day, I had stood there completely paralyzed. Unfortunately, Fi is coming to understand that same realization.
“What’s that?” Brice says through clenched teeth. I can tell he’s looking at something in front of us, but all I can see is that fucking milky fog of my eye. I instinctively drop to the ground. Brice screams out in pain. “I… I think it’s a car,” Julie says.
I say with some excitement, standing. “Is it the parking lot?”
“Hey, yeah,” Brice weakly says. “He’s right. I see a bunch of cars.”
I almost cry. Fi and I have been on that train so many times that I thought I recognized some of the landmarks. I was pretty sure we were going in the right direction, but with my eye, I wasn’t going to get everyone’s hopes up.
Jason starts to scream for help, but he can’t inhale deeply enough to scream. Julie counts out nineteen cars in the parking lot. You have to figure that there are at least two people per car, so there should be at least thirty-eight people walking around. The Austin zoo isn’t that large. Someone is bound to spot us.
“Hey, if the parking lot was back there,” I say, “then the train platform should be up this way another fifty feet.” No one says anything. “I’m sure there’s gonna be a ton of people at the platform waiting for the train. It’s only a few hours late,” I say, trying to inject some humor.
“Don’t you find that odd?” Brice winces. “That fucking train crashed hours ago. Why the hell hasn’t anyone looked for us?”
Then a little voice says, “Maybe they tried, but the animals found them first.”
We all look down at Fi. She’s right. There’s no chance a search party isn’t out there looking for us. Either they gave up, which I doubted, or they were slaughtered by the animals.
“Jesus Christ,” is all I could say.
Fi tugs on my shirt to get my attention.
“What is it, Fi?” I ask.
“I can see the train platform in front of us.”
I can see the others’ eyes light up as they spot the platform. I don’t even bother looking for it, but I do notice one thing right away: the entire area is silent. There is no one waiting at the platform.
The others start getting excited as we approach the platform. “Keep it down everyone,” I hiss loudly. Everyone stops and looks at me. “Don’t you all feel how wrong this is?” I finally ask. “Look around. There’s no one here. The train’s first run is at eleven o’clock and then it runs every hour on the hour until closing time. This is usually the busiest spot in the zoo. So where the fuck is everyone?”
“They probably closed the train ride down and told people it was broken,” Jason offers. No one appears to buy it.
“Jesus,” Julie almost whispered. “What if the animals attacked people here too?”
We walking on the tracks until we finally make our way to the platform. The others are looking around. There are no signs of an attack. It just looks deserted.
Julie jumps onto the platform first. She and I help get the others up onto the old wooden planks. Jason screams as he rolls himself up. The others are looking around for any signs of people or animals.
Once on the platform, we see a large cage to our left. Julie asks what that usually houses and I tell her it is home to a very large turkey vulture from South America.
The cage is empty.
We walk off the platform and away from the train depot. In front of us are picnic tables where people would sit waiting for the train to arrive. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of a struggle. Then Jason points out a woman’s tennis shoe along the back fence behind the tables. The hair is starting to stand up on my arms.
Behind the row of picnic tables and the fence are four small cages. I remember looking into them once and saw a porcupine in one and an iguana in another. Again, they are empty. Part of the porcupine’s cage has a huge hole in it. Either something broke out of the cage, or something broke into it. We walk past the empty cages. This is only a small part of the zoo, but I continue to get the eerie feeling that there is no one around. There is no laughter from children or the sounds of angry parents yelling at their kids.
There is just an uneasy stillness in the air.
Brice breaks the silence. “Look, we’re all thinking the same thing. We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions. Maybe they evacuated the zoo in time.”
“If they evacuated the zoo, then why are all those cars still in the parking lot?” Julie asks.
Brice ignores the question. “I think the smartest thing we can do is make our way to the gift shop,” he finally says. “There’s some food and water and most importantly, phones.” We all silently agree that is the best plan we can come up with.
We start walking toward the gift shop and I can’t help but think,
Has our situation gotten better, or worse?
Wilder and his men have no idea what to expect as they follow Butsko down the hallway. All along the corridor are metal panels that Wilder assumes are the same kind of retinal security scanners that Butsko used to get into the lab with the infected animals.
He shudders just imagining what kind of horrors are behind these thick steel and concrete doors.
Wilder has been in too many combat scenarios than he cares to remember, but none of them could’ve prepared him for the things he has seen here today. Infected animals clinically dead and then reanimated as aggressive predators, with the apparent goal of self-propagating the infection. That scares the shit out of him. He is used to the kind of enemy who is well-defined, easily recognizable, and easily killed.
Butsko had briefed him on the entire history of the project that led to this disaster, and he admitted that it started with the intention of saving the lives of soldiers mortally wounded on the battlefield. But like everything else, the military brass weren’t happy with the original results. The stasis phase of the experiments had been a huge success. Causality rates on the battlefield had dropped thirty-eight percent among soldiers immediately put in stasis after being wounded. Researchers had set up experimental sites in parts of Afghanistan and Iraq where American forces were taking heavy casualties. In those facilities were special containers large enough to fit an adult male, filled with an oxygen-rich liquid in which injured soldiers could be submerged. The liquid would fill the lungs, thereby making breathing easier. This immediately reduced the amount of deaths due to post-injury cardiac and pulmonary arrest. Soldiers who had collapsed lungs and internal injuries could breathe without having to gasp for breath.
They had also discovered another benefit of this procedure. The oxygen-rich liquid also helped to cool the brain, thereby slowing the metabolic rate and bringing on a state of stasis. The soldiers were basically placed in a state of deep hibernation and completely stabilized for the long journey home. Once home, they were brought out of stasis in state-of-the-art hospitals. The rate of success for bringing the men out of stasis was one-hundred percent, but it still wasn’t a perfect process.
Being in stasis did nothing to help repair the injured soldiers. They woke up with the same injuries sustained on the battlefield, and one of the side effects of the oxygen-rich liquid was the appearance of flu-like symptoms. This proved to be very detrimental to the soldier’s recovery. So the researchers pushed to try and solve these problems. They hypothesized injecting the soldiers with some kind of virus to help repair the body during transportation back to America, but this led to a dead end. Every virus the scientists engineered did exactly what viruses do: they tried to take over the host. Attempt after failed attempt was made to engineer something that could help repair damaged organs, tissue, and bone.
Then a small lab outside of Austin, TX had a breakthrough that would change the face of the program.
The tech experts at Sils are still repairing the damaged hard drives from the destroyed lab. As of now, what exactly was injected into those animals while in stasis is unknown. The answer lies in that damaged equipment.
Butsko, Wilder, Laning, and Reynolds stop in front of a metal panel. They are at the last room in the corridor, almost as if they are trying to hide this lab from the rest of the facility. Butsko punches in his code, submits the retinal scan, and the doors open with a silent “whoosh.”
Stepping inside the lab, it looks exactly the same as every other housing the animals. Wilder guesses that every lab on this floor looks alike. The lights come on and just as he’s guessed, there are viewing windows situated along the perimeter of the entire room. However, there aren’t any infected animals.
In the middle of the room is a large cage with thick, transparent glass, and no visible door. There are indentations all along the outside for scientists to insert their hands and be able to work on what was inside. In the middle of the enclosed cage is a lab table.
Wilder takes a step closer.
On the table is an adult human. It is difficult at first to tell if it is a male or female. There are tons of wires hooked to the subject’s body, face, and head, leading to a dozen different machines. Each machine records different bodily functions, including brain waves, pulse rate, and breathing. Scientists work in checking the information coming from the machines. By every indication, the subject on the table is dead.
Everyone in the room is wearing a level-four containment suit. Everyone, that is, except Butsko, Wilder, Laning, and Reynolds.
“It’s okay,” Butsko says, almost reading Wilder’s mind. “This is as close as we’re gonna get to the subject.”
Then Wilder suddenly recognizes the individual on the table. It is the same man that he and his men transported to this facility.
A thousand questions fill Wilder’s mind. He finally settles on, “Who is he?”