“Good Evening, sir,” said a zombie, appearing on one knee before Victor. His fist was pressed into the ground, and his eyes were looking down. His accent was strange, from somewhere in western Europe. He was wearing a black suit and black shoes, and his blonde hair was cut short, and combed forward.
“Who are you, and what is your purpose,” asked Victor.
“My name is Drake. You are my creator,” came the reply.
Victor kept his eyes on the man, clearly confused. “Me? I didn’t create a zombie, I’m a human.”
“You created my structure. You’re my prime.”
“Stand up. What the fuck are you talking about?” asked Victor. He was starting to feel uneasy at this whole situation.
The zombie stood up. He was a full head taller than Victor. His skin was perfectly smooth, except for a series of ridges running up his forehead.
“What’s wrong with your head,” asked Victor. “You look like a white Klingon.”
“You ordered us to take all the E’clei. I have done so. But there is no more room in this humans skull, so we appear as ridges under the skin. Those E’Clei will die without access to the brain. We can not continue to absorb more.”
“Then your orders are complete, kill yourself,” said Victor.
“Yes, sir. However, before that happens, we hoped you might reconsider your order.”
“Why would I do that? You’re a zombie. I’m going to kill every one of you.”
“Because, sir, we are valuable. We have more E’Clei than any other creature on this planet. We are your ally, and would like to continue to serve.”
“Can you kill Laura?”
“Probably not. The E’Clei she carries are the original soldiers sent to earth in search of hosts. The ‘bugs,’ as you call them, that she carries are older than this planet. The E’Clei we carry are only months old, having been created after we arrived.”
Victor made a mental note of his confirmation that Laura was still alive. “If you can’t kill her, how can you be useful to me?”
“We can infiltrate her upper command; we are powerful enough for that. I will report her plans to you, and together we can kill her. Then I will absorb all of her E’Clai. Once I’m in control of the Primes, you will have won. No more humans will die.”
Victor thought the proposal over. He knew he was going to need allies. He’d faced Laura twice and hadn’t managed to kill her either time. The last time he fought her, combining his powers with those from Kris he hadn’t been successful. By the end of that second attempt, it took everything he could muster just to keep his friends and himself alive. If that much strength thrown at Laura didn’t kill her, Victor wasn’t sure what would.
As he thought about it, Victor realized Kris didn’t really understand the full extent of her power. In many ways she was more powerful than he. Her particular talents were capable of such widespread destruction, abilities like hers were a key element in battles against massive hordes of undead. He felt a strong sadness at her loss, not just because of her combat abilities, but because she grounded him. He hoped she was happy wherever she was.
Dozens of ideas floated through Victor’s head. “Can you control the areas of the brain the E’Clei go to when they enter a host?”
“We are unsure of the intent of your question.”
He paused, rephrasing the question in his mind. “If you were to transfer your extra E’Clei to me, can you control what brain functions they would attempt to take control of first?”
Drake’s response was immediate. “No.”
“If you transfer them all to me, what would happen to me?”
“There is a reasonable probability that you would die.”
“Why? I’ve been infected a number of times,” said Victor.
“That volume of E’Clei may be able to overcome the toxin in your brain chemistry long enough to shut down the gland that secretes it. Then, they would genetically modify you to not excrete that toxin.”
“So they could make me not immune?”
The blonde nodded and replied, “And you would become one of them.”
Tookes knew his powers were not enough to take on Laura. He knew he needed more.
“We can see where you’re going with this. Allow me to educate you. You actually have relatively few E’Clei in your brain,” Drake said, without a hint of expression on his face. “What makes you unique from every other survivor is that you killed a prime. When you opened the skull of James Watley and were splattered with his blood, a small percentage of his E’Clei entered your system through your nose and mouth. Reflexively, they attached themselves to your brain, where they died. Normally, even in a non-immune human, those E’Clei wouldn’t be enough to take control of a host, and would die off. Because James Watley was a prime, and was originally infected with ancient E’Clei, they were strong enough to start the process before your brain chemistry killed them.”
“So, I need to find Primes and absorb them slowly before I try to kill Laura?”
“That would be one way. That path is dangerous though. You are very strong, but you got lucky with Watley. He was overconfident. In the beginning, it was not known to the E’Clai that there would be humans who were immune. They were still trying to figure out what you and your son were when you killed Watley.”
There was a long pause in the conversation before Victor finally said, “Give me some of your E’Clei.”
“We are under no compunction to obey new commands from you,” Drake replied. “You didn’t include that in our original programming.”
“You said I am your Prime,” said Victor.
“That does not mean I am obligated to obey new commands, only the ones you first implanted.”
“If you don’t, I won’t remove the command to kill yourself. That urge has got to be getting strong now.”
Drake looked at Victor, thinking of any possible way to avoid this outcome. “We will comply.”
Victor held his arm outstretched, and braced for the pain. Drake bit into his arm, sending searing pain up through his shoulder. He was sure it was his imagination, but Victor was sure he could feel the E’Clei moving up towards his brain. He felt his legs growing weaker and he sank down to his knees. There was a heavy fog spreading through his mind and the corners of his vision began to fade into darkness. Slowly, he fell to one side and then rolled onto his back. As he lost consciousness, the last thing he saw was Drake standing over him.
“We told you,” Victor heard as the blackness encompassed him.
Max’s eyes opened suddenly and he knew something wasn’t right. Even when he and his dad were miles apart, Max was always able to “feel” Victor. Only moments ago, the line between father and son went silent as Victor’s body was overcome by E’Clei. His daddy needed help.
The three children were all nestled together on a queen sized bed. Holly, the youngest, was tucked between Max and Maya so she wouldn’t roll out of the bed. Renee, ever watchful, was sleeping on the floor between the children and the door. She had taken one of the blankets and rolled it into a ball to use as a pillow. It looked like she was still sleeping soundly. For a moment, Max considered going out alone. Quickly, he pushed the thought aside. The last time Max went out by himself, he got hurt very badly and upset a lot of people. He wouldn’t do that ever again; he needed extra help. Not wanting to wake Holly, Max slipped out of the bed and softly padded over to his aunt.
Max was very close to her ear as he softly said, “Aunt Renee?” The woman flinched in surprise as her eyes opened.
“What’s up, buddy? Bad dream?” she whispered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
The little boy shook his head. “No, Daddy’s in trouble,” he said simply. “You have to get Uncle Marshall and go get him.”
The color drained out of Renee’s face as she slowly sat up. She tried to keep her voice calm as she asked, “What’s happened?”
“They bit him and there are lots of bugs. I can’t hear him anymore.”
“Oh shit. Stay here,” Renee said. “I’ll send Jo to watch you guys.”
“I have to go too,” said Max. He grabbed her hand.
In the bed, Maya had stirred from her sleep. She slowly sat up and whispered, “What’s going on, Mommy?”
“Maya,” Max said, “We’ll be back soon. Remember when we were in the truck with the mean guys and I told you that we would be okay, because your Mommy was out there?”
“Yes, Max,” said Maya, nodding.
“I have to go tell Daddy that it will be okay, because we are there.”
Renee pushed herself off of the floor and went over to Maya. With a small smile, she placed a kiss on her cheek and said, “I’ll be back soon.”
“Do you promise?”
“Yes. I promise.” She kissed her again. “Go back to sleep. We’ll be back before you know it.” Renee walked back over to her nephew and said, “Max, I’m going to give you a piggyback ride.” She lifted him up onto her back. As she lifted him, she marveled at the depth of thought that this little boy had. At times, he acted well beyond his years. “Hold on tight!”
Max clung tightly to Renee’s neck while she ran as fast as she could to the end of the compound where Marshall was working to get the water tower ready for the generators. They covered the distance quickly, and found Marshall with his head buried in a manual, reading by flashlight.
“Marshall,” Renne said, reappearing in front of him, “We need to go, Victor is hurt.”
“I’ll get the truck,” said Marshall.
“I’m going to go get Jo. I hope she can watch Maya and Holly, I’ll meet you at the truck in two minutes.” Renee put Max down on the ground and knelt down in front of him. “Max, we’ll get to your Daddy. Tell Uncle uncle Marshall what you saw.” Renee was gone before she finished the last word, a small trail of dust marking her passage in the thin moonlight.
Less than two minutes later, Max was in the truck seated between Marshall and Renee, Jo was heading over to get Maya and Holly, and the family was headed off into Yuma after Victor.
After they’d driven about ten minutes, Max’s eyes lit up as he spoke. “I think. I think we are close. Yeah! We are close!.” His smile at helping his aunt and uncle find his father quickly turned into a frown, and he added “I still can’t hear him.”
Renee pointed at the sign overhead, “There’s an exit here, Marsh.”
Marshall turned the truck left onto South Avenue at the bottom of the Interstate 8 off-ramp. Less than a quarter mile later, he slammed on the brakes as his headlights lit up a blonde man leaned over the corpse of his brother. The blond man’s mouth was attached to Victor’s neck next to a pickup truck loaded down with loot. As the lights of the truck fell on them, the blonde man pulled back from Victor. Dark blood ran down the corners of his mouth and chin, beginning to stain the collar of the white Oxford shirt he wore. The man looked down to Victor again before sinking his teeth back into his shoulder. Renee was invisible and out of the truck well before it stopped. Marshall slammed the gear shift into park and charged the zombie killing his brother. Max unbuckled his seat belt and slid out the drivers side of the truck.
‘Max, something isn’t right here,’ Max heard inside his head. ‘That zombie has more E’Clei than anything we’ve ever seen. He is very dangerous.’