Locked Out will be coming to an internet near you Monday. So, why not show off chapter one, just to whet the appetite a little.
And now, I give you chapter one of Zombie Bedtime Stories, part two. I recommend reading Locked In first, but there are no real spoilers and the stories are pretty much interchangeable as far as series chronology goes. You might even recognize some people.
Doctor Anna Lewis sighed. Her blond hair was bound in a too-tight bun that made her scalp ache, and freckles sparkled on her pale skin below her hazel eyes. She was closer to forty than she’d like to admit, but she maintained the boundless, youthful energy needed to do her job. She administrated a small, underfunded and understaffed infectious disease research center had been ordered to take on an important, top priority project. She waited in her small, utilitarian office for the courier who would bring the samples and briefing. The morning sun peeked through the window behind her, illuminating the room and the specs of dust floating in the air. Anna was annoyed at the request and the strain it would put on her staff. She wondered if they would have to work double shifts and overtime. Anna didn’t know why they couldn’t handle the problem at the much newer facility in the capital. She’d heard there was a riot there, but it was doubtful that a riot would affect the efficiency of a world-class laboratory.
She busied herself with endless paperwork, signing off on purchases, reviewing grant applications and various proposals concerned with expanding the facility. She had been in charge of the facility for just under a year. It had been a significant career advancement for Anna not only because it was a prestigious posting, but because Anna was early into her career as a researcher. She attributed most of her success to the brain drain—many capable scientists had already left the country for greener pastures and bigger research grants. Willful ignorance and resentment towards the scientific community didn’t do much to encourage the remaining scientists to stay. She was anxious to find out what this mysterious new project was, and if her labs were up to the challenge.
The sound of a phone cut through her concentration. It was the receptionist’s extension.
“Hello Lucy, are they here?”
“Yes, Dr. Lewis. They’re setting up in the conference room,” the girl answered with a hint of tension in her voice. The formal language she used was strange and uncomfortable.
“I’m on my way, thanks Lucy.” She got up from the simple wooden desk and locked her computer. A bookshelf dominated the other side of the room—a relic from the past. Anna filled her bookshelf with obsolete text books. She liked to imagine what the golden age of Western science was like, and having a bookshelf laden with reference books seemed like a quintessential part of capturing the experience. For actual reference she used a body heat powered reader that could fold into her pocket. Some paintings decorated the walls, and notes were stuck to every available surface close to her desk. She checked her hair on the way out, making sure her tight blonde bun hadn’t frayed and straightened her black framed glasses. She regretted her decision to forego wearing make-up. Freckles stood out along the bridge of her nose. She snatched her notepad and pen from the bookshelf and headed for the conference room. Unfamiliar voices trickled down the hallway, and she heard the buzz and whine of hand-held radios.
Turning the corner, she missed a step as she took in the group of uniformed men. She recognized their green army uniforms, and was taken aback by the crates of equipment, sealed samples and the glare of sunlight that shone through the usually sealed outer doors. Lucy was overwhelmed by the volume of equipment and personnel coming in. Her attempts to keep up with the requisitions and signing off on new equipment were frantic and rushed. A few researchers had ventured out of their offices and simply watched the spectacle, mouths agape. A tall, solidly built man with a powerful jawline and a graying crew cut approached her and extended a hand. Deep lines ran down his face and crow’s feet framed his deep blue eyes.
“Doctor Lewis? I’m Major Cartwright. I apologize for commandeering your facility, but time is of the essence and I think you’ll agree about the urgency after I brief you.” The words were spoken with a trained confidence, but his rapid presentation belied his anxiety.
“You’re turning my facility upside-down, I hope it’s for a good cause,” she said, to keep the interaction cordial and maintain control over the situation. He motioned her into the conference room.
She sank into a high-backed chair while the major fiddled with his laptop, connecting it to their often-difficult projector. There was a pile of adapters next to him. That projector was almost 20 years old, but she hadn’t been able to acquire the funding to replace it, or the rest of their decaying computer equipment. Her lead researchers, balding and white-haired Dr. Grant and the spindly Dr. Evans filed into the room, taking seats on the opposite side of the oval table. The old projector finally flickered on, revealing a paused slideshow.
“I imagine you’re wondering why we’ve taken over your labs. Well, we have a situation on our hands. If you’ve been listening to the news, no doubt you’ve heard about the riots in the capital.” He straightened, pressing a key on the keyboard. A grisly scene played on the screen. Hordes of bloody, battered forms fought with police and soldiers, shaking off any blows and injuries while continuing to advance. “Truth is, this is no political rally. These people are out of control, and we need to determine the cause. The capital has been shut down and is being evacuated, but the surrounding cities are beginning to report incidents of random, yet intense violence.” Major Cartwright stood silent as the disturbing scene looped endlessly on the wall. Anna stared and struggled to process the gruesome, visceral visuals.
“So why us? Where do we come into this?” Anna felt obligated to speak. She needed answers, to glean sense from that scene cut straight from a horror movie. “You have negotiators, police and guns. We research diseases and catalog new microbes.”
“Good question. The answer is, we can’t negotiate. Every single person we’ve managed to capture has been violent and completely uncommunicative.” The major’s brow furrowed as he drew in a deep breath. Dr. Grant fidgeted in his high-backed chair; audible squeaks broke the long pause. “What’s more, is that every time we’ve taken somebody into custody, we’ve lost control of the facility within twenty-four hours. This suggests to my superiors that this is more than a sudden wave of intense political indoctrination.”
Anna stood up and glared at the man. “So you’re saying we’re looking for an evil bug that makes people go crazy?” The idea was absurd. Anna knew there had to be some kind of logical explanation.
Major Cartwright pushed a button on his remote, and the video loop transitioned into a grotesque photograph. Limbs were strewn across the ground, flesh flayed from the bones. A torso contained by a green fully-intact Kevlar vest lay nearby, head still connected. The right side of the man’s throat was torn open, strips of skin pulled from his face, giving the appearance of a grotesque mask. Burned bodies littered the background. Anna sank into her chair, and fought down the bile in her throat. Dr. Evans spun her chair to the garbage, and threw up. Dr. Grant sat, mute and transfixed. “What happened there?” the old man asked.
“This was the capital late yesterday afternoon, taken from an evacuation point at an elementary school. This man’s injuries were caused by unarmed civilians; some of them children,” he paused. “I will remind you that tearing off limbs is a feat of strength beyond the abilities of most people.”
“Why do the news reports say that there are riots going on, if this is the reality of the situation?” Something didn’t add up, and she wanted to know why.
“To prevent panic, we’ve limited information about the situation. We don’t have all the facts. We needed to clear out the downtown core in a hurry, but everyone in the suburbs are being asked to stay indoors. The phone lines are down and fires are breaking out. We don’t know what we’re up against.”
“Something doesn’t seem right about all of this. When did it start? Where’s the first case?”
“The first reported cases were two days ago. They were isolated incidents, random violent attacks. The subjects were very difficult to apprehended and control. From the few first responders we were able to interview, we learned the subjects were completely irrational and even attacked those close to them. They also appeared to be immune to non-lethal defense methods. One man claimed that he saw one of them get hit by a Taser with no reaction at all.” Major Grant flipped off the projector. Anna could still see the grisly image in the back of her mind. She realized that if it was biological, it would make her career. If it wasn’t, this would all be for nothing.
“We’ll go with that. So, what goodies did you bring for us?” Anna asked with an irreverent smile. Prim Dr. Evans shook her head in disapproval.
The major smiled for the first time, revealing straight, white teeth. His sharp blue eyes locked with hers. “Right to the fun stuff? I can deal with that. We’ve brought samples straight from the front lines, and some refrigeration units for said samples. I hope you weren’t attached to your cafeteria, my technicians are overhauling it as we speak.”
“My lunch was in there. What kind of samples are we talking about?” she suspected she knew the answer, but wanted to be sure.
The smile melted from Major Cartwright’s face, his jaw settled into a practiced hardness. “Bodies.”
You’ll get the rest on September 5, 2011.