Part 3 -The Pitts
The gunshot was still echoing off the concrete walls of the pumphouse when I heard the moaning. I knew what it was. And Zack wasn't here for R&R. Zack's idea of R&R was my guts on a plate. I had to go.
I lifted Williams off the ground, grunting with the weight, trying not to think about what was pouring from the shattered ruin that had been his skull. Dripping onto me as I carried him up to the hatch in the roof. Sunlight was beaming down, outlining Salida- "Six Gun" - like a waiting angel of death. She aimed past me with her weapons, ready to nail the first Zack that came after me. Her eyes were tracking like gunsights.
"Why do you have him? He is dead."
"Intel. I don't have time to check the body. Clean!"
Chad van Horn, "Clean", looked down, his face indistinct in the sunlight. "Hey man. Why'd you kill that dude?"
"Pass down the cable, I can't lift this guy up the ladder."
"Whatever, dude." He passed down the recovery cable.
It was twisting in my hand, still suspended from the dirigible that had dropped us off, now hovering above us. I hooked it to the harness of my CC suit, shouted up to Clean. "Signal the chief to pull us up, slowly."
Two guns went off inches from my head. Salida Khalid, "Six Gun" gave the first Z following me a double tap, almost rupturing my eardrum in the process. Then the cable yanked at my harness and I was too busy hanging onto William's body. The former senator had been eating well, it seemed. Having a good time right up until he blew his own brains out.
Out in the sun, the cable suddenly went tight and I shot up towards the blimp with my cargo. LTAC 49 was stenciled on it's sides in letters ten feet tall along with it's call sign and nickname- "Streetgang". That stuck in my head as we swayed on the cable, Airman Reyes waiting by the boom, grabbing Anson and pulling both of us in. Then something wet dripped on his hand from the dead man's head and he jumped back, cursing in spanish. I missed a lot of it, swinging myself in when Reyes jumped back, unhooking William's body and searching it.
A money belt. A thick wad of new dollars, another of swiss francs, some bars of gold the size and shape of small candy bars. A notebook, filled with numbered lists. Probably numbered accounts. I put that away for later.
I dimly sensed Six Gun and Clean both coming up, felt the deck of the blimp tilt as we started rising away from the ruins of what had been William's little kingdom. Then I noticed Chief Crowder watching me. "Why'd you kill him?"
"He killed himself. He was face to face with a zombie and he freaked. I'm looking for intel. What did you do with his bodyguard?"
"He's secured. Funny, Williams freaking out at a Z after all these years."
"That Z had been a girl, barely out of puberty, dressed in a garter belt and stockings. Strangled. There's no good story behind something like that."
I'm done. I shove his body out over the cabin door. Leaving the world no poorer, he vanishes into the trees below.
"What's Kilgore saying?"
Crowder laughs at that. "The Arclight mission was canceled. His boys have set up a perimeter around the water park. Look."
We're banking past the water park that was part of Big Mountain Resort and Casino, now out of business. The casino is a burning wreck, smoke pouring out. The water park is untouched. Kilgore's air cav are landing on the nearby airstrip. I glimpse one of his people going down the waterslide.
"All right!" Clean is leaning out, cheering them. "Chief, let's go back, check it out!"
"Get back in uniform, Clean, and put that friggly CC suit away. All those suits get sterilized! You not in the Army, you in the Navy! Remember that!"
I walk past Crowder reasserting his control and step into the sleeping quarters. The big guy we pulled out of the wrecked casino is sitting there, zip ties on his wrists. Crowder apparently doesn't trust him. Good for Crowder.
The bodyguard doesn't look happy. "I'm Captain Leonard Sykes, US Army. Who are you?"
"Louis Morelli, pleased to meet you. Is there any reason you got me tied up?"
"What's your connection with Senator Williams?"
"I was security for Big Mountain Resort. Ever since things went to hell. Just security."
"Why were you with Williams just now?"
"He came running off the roof just before you guys attacked, told me and Dan Pastore to follow him. You saw what
happened after that."
"Have you ever heard of Colonel Walter Kurtz? Or Charles Taylor?"
"Naw, I'm just a guard."
I slap him across the face with my .45. Not too hard, just enough to show I mean business. He'll have a bruise, but he won't lose any teeth. He yelps, more from surprise then pain, begins to protest. Then I press the barrel of the pistol into his forehead, hard enough to hurt. He shuts up.
"Morelli, there is nothing underneath us but Zack. Lie to me again and you go out the door and zack strips the meat from your bones." I calm myself. Focus. "Now, have you heard of Charles Taylor or Colonel Walter Kurtz?'
"Okay! Okay, yeah, I seen them. They were with the Walderberg group guys. Them and Williams were buddies around the casino. Used to be, some of those Walderberg guys would fly in every couple of weeks, blowing off steam, I guess. Taylor was, like, the go-between, the fixer. Kurtz was with them too, but he never, you know, got anything. Not even at the start, before it got crazy."
"Tell me more."
"When this all started, Big Mountain was, like, a clearing house for the Think Tank. That's what the Walderberg guys called their place. They'd come in to blow off steam, meet government reps, talk with scientists, all that. Williams, when it started, he said we were laying the foundation for a new world. Big talk for a guy running a casino, right? Even when things went to hell and the government pulled out. Except, once it was just them, things started to get strange. I was just a guard, y'know, but I heard stuff. Weird stuff. Like when CDC went down, a bunch of them came in for a conference, but they sure seemed like they were celebrating. That's when they started ordering in the really sick, kinky stuff. Perverted stuff, you know? For them and their buddies. It was almost like, I don't know, like they were trying to see how bad they could get."
"Just for them?"
"Mostly for their buddies at first. Guys from the government or the army, big shots. Williams called them his party favors. But then the guys from the think tank started dipping in too. Drugs, girls, boys, anything they wanted. Willing or unwilling. Word was that Williams had some of the rooms wired so he could blackmail people but I never saw those."
"You just pimped for them."
"No! I was just a guard at the doors, y'know? Beat doin' the old shamble and moan. Taylor was the guy doing the pimp daddy thing. Working for Williams."
"What about Kurtz?".
"Kurtz never did any of that. Acted like he was too good for that stuff, even when he was with the groups. Right up till the think tank blew up. Word was, some guys were saying..." Morelli's voice went low, as if someone might hear. "Word was that Kurtz did it. He blew up the think tank."
I shook my head. "Barracks B.S. Rumors like that always go around. The biomass plant that powered the complex blew up and the explosion drew in a chain swarm attack while the defenses were down."
"Except there were no zombies around to be drawn in. I went there a couple of times, as window dressing for Williams. You know, big man, got his bodyguards, all that. There were no Z's on the fence. None at all. Hell, they left the gate open. The only Z's I ever saw there were a couple dozen they had in holding pens, for research. It's back in the hills, man, there ain't nobody around to be a zombie. Except the video showed that place crawling with them. Hell, the day it went up, half the Z's in our moat went off to the Think Tank, and it's twenty miles away. It was creepy, man. Like somebody blew a whistle."
"What did Williams think of it?"
"He was relieved, man. It was like somebody had offed his loan shark or something. Funny, since those guys were most of his business. He and Taylor were both happy, until Kurtz showed up. They tried to keep it secret, but everybody knew. Taylor was, like, Kurtz' fence, selling stuff to get Kurtz ammo, gear, food, that kind of stuff. Williams was trying to cut a deal with the Feds on something, behind Kurtz's back. But after all the stuff he'd done, the hookers and the drugs and illegal stuff, Williams needed to get rid of the evidence. He needed someone to blame it on too. Taylor got to be the patsy."
"And the girl who cornered Williams? The girl zombie? Williams knew who she was, didn't he?"
Morelli doesn't say a word.
I jam the pistol barrel into his forehead. "Didn't he?"
"I don't know nothin' man!" He was almost crying now, struggling in the zip ties, eyes closed. "I was just a guard, man! I don't know anything!"
"Well if you don't know anything, we might as well chuck you out the door and give Zack a free meal."
I grab his collar, opening the nearest exit door. It slides open, the air blowing in, nothing but blue sky beyond.
"No! Wait! I know a guy that Taylor found, he was going to give him to Kurtz. Some guy that Kurtz wanted dead, real bad! He knows something about Kurtz!"
"What's his name? Give me a name and a location or get ready to learn how to fly!"
"Reimer! Dave Reimer! He's hiding out at the Pitts! He was one of Kurtz' people at the think tank! He has something
Kurtz wants, really bad!"
I shut the door.
Crowder is looking at me from the door. Looking at me like he thinks I'm insane. He could be right.
"Chief, file a flight plan for the Pitts."
Crowder snorts and shakes his head. "Figures. This mission gets better and better."
I help Clean and Six-gun sterilize the CC suits, then we check each other for bites and tears. People will get bitten and cut in combat, infected, not even noticing it in the rush of the fight. Then they die in the middle of the night and you have Zack in the bunk next to yours, while you're asleep. It turns out Clean and Reyes were watching my interrogation. I have street creds with them now. Whoopee.
After that, as we head to the Pitts, I study Kurtz' files, trying to figure out what made this guy tick.
I couldn't believe they wanted this guy dead. He was perfect. Connected. Military family, married the right wife, went to the right schools. He was a sure bet for General, two stars, three stars, War College, Joint Chiefs of Staff, anything. He chucked it all to go to work for Walderberg. He had to have known he was throwing away his career.
"Man on foot, portside!" Reyes had port lookout. "Some hillbilly with a crossbow I think. He's waving."
Crowder checks the instruments. "Bring her around. We'll pick him up. Clean, hook up to a jump line, get ready to pull him in. Reyes, get the tranq gun if he gets twitchy."
I shove the papers into my briefcase. "Let's skip this guy. He's survived in these hills for four years without us, he'll be fine."
"Orders are to pick up any uninfected human we find in the red zones, sir." Crowder grins. His orders supersede me.
"Why does he carry a crossbow?" Salida spares a glance at the cameras.
Chef is checking the power controls for the zip line as he talks. "A lot of people in the Red Zones use them. They're silent. My dad used to hunt deer with those things."
"He's rabbiting!" Pak at his console is working the cameras. "I got him, he's heading for the brush line!"
"I got him." The ducted fans roar to full power, an odd sound but so loud we have to shout over them suddenly, while the blimp shakes. Reyes takes aim with the tranq gun, leaning out the window. He fires. "Got him!"
"Let's hurry guys." Pak's voice just changed. "I'm picking up zack closing in, multiple readings on the motion sensors."
Six Gun calls back, her voice icewater calm. "We are coming up on him. Clean, on my mark- go!"
Clean throws himself out the door, the jump line screaming as he drops. The rope creaks and groans, then the winch starts pulling him back in. On the radio, I hear "Missed him! He jinked left. That tranq is slowing him down though."
"Get him quick!" Pak is almost shouting. "Zack is all over the place!"
"I got him- oh fuck!" Reyes hits the override on the jump line and the motor screams as it reels them in. I lean out to see.
A zombie is clinging to our civilians leg, her head seeming to bob as the civilian gives out a weak scream. Then the zombie lets go, tumbling into the woods below. We reel in Clean, gripping the civilian. The civilian is young, unconscious now, his leg a bloody mess. Clean pushes him away frantically, flying back away from the splashed blood. There's a lot of blood coming off the torn pants leg, probably a nicked artery, almost spraying blood.
"Nice going, Chief. He's been bitten. He's infected."
Crowder shakes his head. "That might be a scratch, not a bite. Six-gun, where's the nearest field hospital?"
The Chief is in full denial mode. I give a quick glance to the crew. They aren't going to defy him. Crowder speaks with emphasis, as if he can make it true by saying it strongly enough.
Too bad. I'm not here to deal with the Chief's mistakes. My concern is with much bigger mistakes.
"He is infected. Even if it's just a scratch, those thing's nails are septic as hell. You know this, dammit. You screwed up! Let's move on!"
"We're gonna take him to a field hospital! They could still save him!"
I shoot our civilian in the head. Shove him out the door. Close the door.
They look at me in horror.
"I told you not to stop. Let me know when we're closing on the Pitts."
It used to be Pittsburgh. It had been Pittsburgh until a week after the fall of New York. The dust hadn't settled from the disaster at Yonkers when some genius of a sports promoter sold the idea that an exhibition football game at Pittsburgh would be just the thing to distract people. Genius. The walking dead popping up all over the country, our biggest city the home for four million flesh eating ghouls, the US Army just shot itself in the foot on national television (and Webcast), and a football game is going to make people feel all better.
That's football fans for you.
30,000 fans crowded into Pittsburgh Stadium, not a capacity crowd, but it looked pretty big on TV. They were there to watch the Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers battle each other to prove, well, who could win a football game.
Fast forward to third quarter, Denver ahead by one point. While this has been going on, there's been a massive chemical accident at a refinery nearby. The story was that Z's overran the control room. However it happened, the oil refinery began exploding and a cloud of toxic gas drifted out of the disaster, over the suburbs and right onto Pittsburgh stadium.
A lot of accidents like that happened around then.
30,000 fans turned into 30,000 screaming, panicking people, jamming the exits, trampling each other. Some poor bastards threw themselves off the high walls of the stadium rather than choking to death on the poison gas.
There must have been some infected in the crowd, because by the time emergency services got to the stadium, the bodies were starting to rise again. Lost in the smoke and fumes, most of the Pittsburgh fire and ambulance services died right there as a wave of zombies spread out. That was where the term "Pittburger" came in- zombies among multiple dead bodies who would take one or two bites, then go on to the next body. Behavioralists are still trying to figure out that one. It meant that the Pittsburgh Z's were mostly intact. The last broadcasts out of the city ended two days later, ripping the heart out of central Pennsylvania.
A year later, the high command decided we needed an air base to function as a bridge, somewhere in the eastern red zone. They wanted an airfield on defensible terrain, not surrounded by open fields that zack could swarm over. Pittsburgh International fit the bill, surrounded by hills and deep vales even between the individual landing strips. The Rangers dropped January First and by March, when Zack began to defrost, there was an established perimeter, forts made out of stacked connex boxes and a working airbase. It had been a good start.
It was what happened over the next two years that earned it the name "The Pitts". The ruins harbored an incredible number of zombies, but was too hard to reach for a single mass attack. Instead, there was a constant chinese water torture form of attack, a steady trickle of Z's probing the defenses, never allowing any rest. Then the Army began using the Pitts as a punishment detail, a dumping ground for various hardcases and knuckleheads. Criminals, deserters, thieves all found themselves thrown off the transport choppers and left at this place. Some of them began establishing hookups with the transport flights constantly using the airport. Soon, it was the central distribution point of the eastern US for black market drugs, stolen loot, what have you. Repeated attempts to clean it up later, the Army tried to forget this place existed.
Night was falling as we neared the Pitts. The perimeter was only partially lit, the base a patchwork of electric lights, oil drum fires, even a few bonfires. Outside the perimeter, a couple of long-burning coal mine fires glowed like dim, angry volcanoes. Sprays of tracer from perimeter positions livened things up. Chief Crowder called me up as we orbited the airfield. "They don't want us to land! Saying they don't have the ground crew to support an airship."
"How are you on fuel?"
"Little over half full, Sir. I don't trust anything I get out of this place nohow."
"All right. Drop me off and circle. I'll get with you in a couple of hours."
Crowder nodded, looking at the dark spectacle below us. "You'll need commo. Pak, sign the captain out a Wif-com and make sure he has a spare battery."
I was gearing up in my new army blues and my old desert camo flak jacket. They made an odd pairing but I got the feeling the biggest threat in the Pitts wouldn't be Zac. I was checking the loads in my M4 when Pak offered me a small radio and a clipboard. "Here's your Wif-com. Sign here."
I signed, turned it on. "Looks like a radio to me."
Pak shrugged, giving a shy grin. "Navy has to have a different name for everything. That's a wireless frequency communicator, also known as a Wif Com. Range is about five clicks. We'll be listening on channel 11."
"Good to go. Do you have any flares?"
LTAC49 filled up the sky as it hovered over a disused portion of airstrip, dropping me off. By the time I was checking my gear, a pair of Hum-Vees with flashing lights and MP markings were racing up to me.
The MP's who got out were very pressed and polished and slightly overweight. The Lieutenant in charge looked at me like I was a bug. Nobody was pointing weapons at me, but everyone had them out. That was actually reasonable.
"Put down your weapons and put your hands above your head!" The LT strode forward like divine wrath itself, a pistol in his hand. "You have made an unauthorized landing in a zone under Martial Law and you are subject to arrest and confinement for-"
"Can it, Lieutenant." I really didn't have time for his games. I only had time for my games. I give him the orders that said I was an inspector for the Adjutant General's office. "I'm here on orders straight from Fifth Corps. You're instructed to assist me fully. I need to talk to a David Reimer, a civilian staying at this base."
That gave them a bit of a shock. A couple of the MP's gave each other glances. One actually looked scared. Interesting.
The MP lieutenant read my orders and cleared his throat. He reminded me of a kid caught after he'd thrown a rock through someone's window. "Dave Reimer's not- There is no person named David Reimer on this base, sir."
"Dave's not here, man." I couldn't resist. The Lieutenant didn't seem to get the joke. I went on. "Don't you even want to check? There are supposedly three thousand personnel at this base, military and civilian."
The light was bad but the LT seemed to be getting more sickly looking with every word I said. Or it could have just been the bad lighting. "I'm, uh, very familiar with-"
A radio in one of the Hum-vees howled, squelch set not nearly high enough. Volume set way too high though. I could clearly hear the voice on the other end. "Patrol One, who the hell just landed at my airport? Is it an unauthorized delivery? Patrol one, answer!"
He almost ran back to the Hum-vee, turning down the radio. A few minutes later, he looked over at me, considerably deflated. "Sir, General Hammond wishes to speak with you."
Hammond's voice was friendly, confident. "Captain Sykes, is it? I'm afraid you'd been sent here on a wild goose chase. There is no Dave Reimer at this base. We have a flight going out in a couple of hours, or you can call back your ride if you wish."
He sounded very smooth. Maybe he wasn't lying. Then again, maybe that black stuff inside a zombie's skull is raspberry jelly.
"Thank you for the offer Sir. But as the Lieutenant obviously told you, I've been sent here on orders from Fifth Corps and the JAG office. I have it on excellent authority that he is here. The matter I need to speak with Dave Reimer on is unrelated to the operation of this base. But if he is hiding among your garrison, I may have to call in an investigative team from CID to interview your troops and conduct a full investigation. I know those can be very disruptive of normal operations, but if that is our only option, I can get on the horn to Fifth Corps right now."
And if half what I've heard about the Pitts is true, General, the last thing in the world you need is a CID investigative team crawling up your ass.
A personal radio beeped on the Lieutenant. Their own wireless, apparently. He grabbed it and spoke furtively, facing away from me. I got the impression this kid was used to shooting people with inconvenient questions rather than coming up with a decent lie.
The General's voice over the radio again. "Captain? I've instructed Lieutenant Hill to assist you and escort you through the base while you're here. There is a civilian consultant who might be the person you're looking for."
The Lieutenant gave me a sickly grin.
Out on the perimeter, it was a straggling line of chain link fence, concertina wire, barbed wire scavenged from some farm, connex boxes and wrecked busses forming a half-assed wall fading off into the night. The troops holding the lines were the kind of soldiers you'd expect to find holding those lines on a post the army was using as a dumping ground. They seemed to have sorted themselves out along racial and ethnic lines but there was no qualitative difference I could tell. Uniforms were dirty, equipment was haphazardly slung or missing, noise and light discipline was nonexistent. The perimeter was obviously a free fire zone and there seemed to be a lot of shooting for an established perimeter. Then again, with all the flares and loud music playing, the base was probably drawing in Zack from all over the state.
Some soldiers were obviously stoned, high or drunk. I smelled marijuana and khat more than once. We passed one groups of soldiers loudly celebrating their return from a patrol. By their accents, they were from well south of the Mason-Dixon line, with several confederate flags proudly displayed. They also proudly displayed bottles of looted whiskey and wine, rattling bags of loot from pharmacies with all sorts of chemical goodies, or jewelry looted from stores. They made loud boasts of how they'd be able to trade this loot for time with "the girls" or visits to the pharmacy.
Lieutenant Hill looked like he wished he was dead. Finally he spoke. "General Hammond encourages the units on the line to be pro-active in patrolling and engaging the zombies. It keeps the local undead population down. There's also an incentive program for bringing in militarily valuable items out of the ruins, to augment the base supplies."
"Sure there is, Lieutenant. Do we have much farther to go?"
"Just a bit more sir. Keep in mind, there's an ongoing shortage of doctors. They suffered some of the heaviest losses during the first wave of infections. The individual we're going to meet is a trained doctor, the best we've been able to get, so we cut him a lot of slack, even if he is a civilian. But you can't believe much of what he says."
"Freeze motherfucker!" The voice was panicked, high on something, on the verge of cracking. It came from a black soldier holding an M203, the M4 rifle with a 40mm grenade launcher underneath the barrel. Serious firepower. The soldier's eyes were wide, the whites standing out in panic.
He wasn't aiming it at us though. He was aiming it at half a dozen other black soldiers, but he whipped it towards us as we came around a corner. He was bare to the waist.
One of the other black soldiers spoke. "Put that down, niggah! You gon' kill somebody!"
"I gon' kill everybody before I let you kill me! You motherfuckers see a scratch and right away you say he been bit, shoot him! Ain't no damn bite! I scratched myself on the barbed wire! Ain't no one gone kill me fo' a scratch!"
"Shit man, you been bit!" A voice from the back, anonymous in the darkness. "Stupid niggah! Gone die and then bite us all when we sleepin'! Fuck that!"
"No, fuck you! I blow all your bitch asses away before I let you shoot me!"
"Ain't no scratch when that zack was hidin' under all the bodies and bit you!"
This looked bad. The Lieutenant started to step forward. I stopped him. A situation like this, all it needed to go to full disaster was an outsider stepping in and making themselves a target.
One of them, a sergeant, spoke up. "Chill Darnell, chill! We got the Roach comin'! He gon' check you out."
"Yeah, get the Roach! The Roach'll know!"
Things didn't quite degenerate into a firefight over the next couple of minutes, until two more soldiers came through. The biggest one was huge and quiet, a red cross armband on one brawny arm with a medic's pouch over one shoulder. The other hand held a pistol. The soldier with the M203 recognized him instantly. "Roach! Glad you here! These motherfuckers like to kill me for a scratch! Tell 'em it ain't no bite!"
The Roach's voice was quiet, but it carried. "Let me see it, Darnell. I got to take a close look. Real close."
"Okay. You. But nobody else." Darnell let the Roach approach him silently, then turn on a flashlight, looking at the torn pants leg of Darnell's uniform. He got up finally, wiping his hands after he turned off the flashlight. Everyone was silent.
"It's a scratch, that's all." The Roach spoke finally. Calming. Reassuring. "Just a scratch from some of that friggly ass barb wire we got. Darnell, you need a tetanus shot."
Darnell almost sobbed, lowering his M203 and almost collapsing. "I knew it. I knew it was just a scratch." A chorus of jeers came from the other soldiers.
There was a gunshot.
Darnell dropped, the right side of his skull suddenly blasted out.
The Roach put away his little .380 automatic, shook his head sadly. "It was a bite, Darnell."
The other soldiers were silent now. The sergeant stepped forward, taking the weapon from the corpse. The others came forward silently.
The Roach looked at us. "Sir? Lieutenant Hill, what you doin' out here?"
"We're here to see the doctor, Corporal. Can you take us in?"
"Yessir, but you know he hates late night visitors."
The Doctor appeared to be living in an old hangar, set just on the outside of the perimeter. The concertina wire and chain link fencing around this building was well set up with no gaps. The building itself was guarded by half a dozen MP's. Interestingly, for a doctor's shop at a base deep in the Red Zone, there was no traffic going in and out.
Inside, the walls had been soundproofed. A generator ran somewhere and I caught a whiff of air conditioning. The cool air on my skin made me realize how hot and clammy it had been outside. The Roach, whose uniform tag read "Woodall" pressed the codes in two separate keypads to get in. The second keypad came with a phone. "Corporal Woodall? What brings you here?"
"Sorry to bother you, Doctor, but we have visitors. A captain from Fifth Corps and Lieutenant Hill."
"Lieutenant Hill can stay outside, Corporal. I don't feel like having this place fumigated. I'll talk to the Captain."
Hill shoved himself forward. "I'm sorry Doctor, but I have my orders. I've been ordered to accompany Captain Sykes at all times."
"It's your neck, Lieutenant." The door buzzed. It was plate steel, the hinges squealing like damned souls as it opened. "The Roach" gave us a quick tip of the hat and left. Hill seemed reluctant to let him go, but even more reluctant to speak.
Inside, the furnishings were spare, but tasteful. Exquisite paneling made it look like the reception room of a doctor's office, complete with magazines. The man who met us was middle aged, his face sharp featured, almost foxlike, dark hair going back in a widows peak, his eyes very alert. He seemed to draw in his breath before he spoke, each time, as if he was trying to convince you that what he was saying was vitally important.
Which, for that matter, some of it was.
"Captain Sykes? To what do I owe the honor?"
"Sir, I've been sent by Fifth Corps Intel to question you about any interaction you've had with Colonel Walter Kurtz, Senator Anson Williams, the Walderberg Group and an establishment known as "The Think Tank."."
Reimer pursed his lips. "Come with me. Leave your weapons in the locker there."
He indicated a locker, watched as we put our weapons and gun belts in it. Then he turned and walked away. We followed. We walked past rooms where I could smell traces of alcohol, ether, other chemicals, with chemistry lab equipment to match. Other rooms were fixed up with computers, living quarters, sleeping quarters. A tall redheaded woman- girl really- in army blue slacks cutoff to shorts and a halter top watched a TV in one room. She tried to talk with Reimer as we passed. He silenced her with a wave of his hand.
We ended up in the most cluttered room in the place, but also the one that looked the most used.
He seemed too assured. I tried to rattle his cage. "Doctor, would you mind telling me what you're doing operating a meth lab in the middle of a US Army base?"
It didn't shake him. He smiled. "Very good, Captain. There's a brain working behind those steely grey eyes. What else have you noticed?"
"That you're obviously doing this with the support of General Hammond. That he is probably supplying you with raw materials through the loot his troops scavenge out in the Pittsburgh ruins, so CID doesn't have to see anything smuggled in. That he uses part of the meth you manufacture to keep the troops in line."
"Captain, that's going too far!" Hill stood up, faked outrage radiating from him like an aura. "You are insulting a great officer with baseless-"
"Oh shut up, Hill." Reimer shot him three times with a silenced pistol. I hadn't seen the pistol before. Reimer was full of surprises.
The pistol barrel looked very small as he aimed at me. "Stay still, captain. I'm about to put this pistol away, I just don't want you to shoot my by reflex. Loyalty to a brother officer and all."
"He ain't my brother, Doctor. He's just heavy."
He put the pistol down, slowly, looked at the corpse and shook his head. "It was inevitable, really. With the real US army showing up, Hammond's little game is about to end. I wonder if Hammond realizes that. I assume Hill left his squad waiting outside?"
"Five men, all armed."
"That gives me about an hour. Candice?"
The redhead looked in. I noticed she'd armed herself. No Hollywood pointing at the ceiling for this girl. She had her rifle braced against her shoulder and sweeping the room as she came around the corner. "What have you done now, Doctor?"
"Our lease is about up, Candice. Do you still want to come with me?"
"Then we roll in fifteen minutes. Could you please contact corporal Woodall and let him know he has fifteen minutes to get to the rendezvous point? No more than one additional friend, if he's late or brings anyone extra we will not stop for him."
She left. He sat down, shook his head. Then his hands shook. He gripped his chair, closed his eyes, counted slowly. At the count of twenty, he opened his eyes, visibly calmer. "My apologies, Captain. You'd think I'd be over it, but even now, killing someone disturbs me."
"Not to contradict the only man in the room with a gun, doctor, but was this really necessary? If you needed protection from General Hammond-"
"From that buffoon? No, Captain, Hammond was a big stupid wall I could hide behind. As long as I kept him supplied with meth, he'd leave me alone. Hell, I could probably talk my way out of killing Lieutenant Hill. No, it's Kurtz who scares me. He should scare you. If you've been able to track me here, Kurtz will too."
"Why would he track you?"
"I have something he wants, Captain."
He pulled a bottle out of his desk and poured himself a drink.
"Before this all started, I was the research assistant to Doctor Hans Bergholm at the Royal Institute of Science in Denmark. I took the job as his assistant straight out of medical school for the chance to work with him. His work with Beta blockers and antivirals was revolutionary. If any one man could have found an effective antiviral agent for the Z virus, it would have been him. The Walderberg Group called us in for a consultation, about two months after New York fell. They flew us into Big Mountain, but they'd only let Doctor Bergholm go on to the Think Tank. I relaxed at the resort, waiting for him. On the third day, he called me from his satellite phone. He sent me an attachment. He wasn't afraid, but he was outraged. The next day, he didn't call. There was a news release that he and his assistant had been killed in a tragic lab accident. The assistant was me. I didn't stick around to let them tidy up any loose ends."
"So what was in the attachment?"
He pressed a couple of buttons on his computer. A video came up, grainy, like a poorly done transfer from video to digital. There were two zombies in an enclosure. Someone had dressed them in 70's fashions as some kind of sick joke. They were throwing themselves against the chain link walls of their enclosure, trying to get to someone standing outside.
That someone came into view. Another polyester suit, this one holding some kind of electronic gear, about the size of a toaster. He flicked a switch and the two Z's were suddenly still, staring slack jawed at the toaster. Then he opened the door to the cage and stepped inside, standing next to them. That close, a living body should have had them in a frenzy.
Then it hit me. "They're fake. People dressed as zombies. Is this from some horror movie?"
The man holding the radio pulled out a pistol. He put it to the temple of one Z and pulled the trigger.
I've seen a lot of human heads take a bullet in the last few years. This one looked just like the rest of them. Very real.
Jump cut. Interruption in video. Now he's holding a machete. The Z that's still functional stares at him. He chops sideways, a single strong hard stroke, making a noise like chopping open a coconut.
Yep, that's what the inside of a zombie skull looks like.
"Okay, if this video isn't a fake, they have a technology that makes zombies passive. So what? Why aren't they selling them and becoming filthy rich?"
"Check the time and date stamp on the video."
The numbers and letters were small, grainy, hard to read. It took me a minute. Another minute to read it again. The answer was obvious. "Bullshit. This is a fake. They set the date and time for a video camera to.."
"February 11th, 1974." Reimer finished his drink. "Fake or not, Kurtz and the Walderberg Group are willing to kill to get this back. Other than you, every person besides me who has seen this has been killed."
"What's that device he's holding? What's it supposed to be?"
"A sound emitter of some kind. But there's no sound on the audio track. That made me think it might be ultrasonics. It's out of my field, really. I don't have the equipment I need to test the theory. I played around with a dog whistle and some recent expires here. The results were fascinating. The right notes could render any expiree- any zombie- totally passive. But even the slightest variation in tone or pitch might throw them into a frenzy. Instant, manic attack. They'd tear themselves apart trying to get to a living human being."
He gave me a small red USB drive. "Here. Now you have all the data I have. I'm afraid I have no idea where Kurtz is. With the lieutenant dead, do you need a lift out of here? I'm certain that Hammond has arranged for accidents for a number of individuals before."
"I can call in a lift, if you can show me to the roof. What about you?"
"Candice and I will disappear. I have an LAV I've kept fueled and supplied for just such a situation. It has gold, food, trade items, everything we need to find some place and disappear. In a city with half a million corpses, stealing ID from some of the corpses was one of the easier things I've had to do. We'll drive out of this place on the other side of the building from Hill's goons and five minutes later, this place will explode. Can you be out by then?"
I was already on the Wif-com. Pak answered as we climbed the ladder to the roof access. "Doctor, how did you get explosives past Hammond?"
Reimer laughed, a short, barking laugh. "Captain, this is a meth lab. The hard part is keeping it from blowing up."
I braced myself on the roof, prepping one of my flares. "You could always come with me, doctor. Wouldn't you like to find out the truth?"
Reimer laughed again. "Sorry, but I'm going as far from this place as I can get. You're in the asshole of the world, Captain!"
I lit my signal flare, waved it back and forth over my head as I heard the roof hatch shut behind me..