Scene 13 – Suavium

SUAVIUM

AKANE

We finally headed back to our dorms about two hours later, after making absolutely sure there were no screamers left. Derek had eventually been forced to admit that we were indeed immune to infection after Ling got bitten. More like nibbled, really. Of course, that still meant we were the only ones who could safely clear out the zombies.

My speed was useful, to be sure, but the creatures weren’t very smart, so it was hardly necessary. Even Laura and her little soldiers managed to have quite a bit of success. The problem was that there were just so many of them, all working towards a single purpose. At least rats and dumpster-dogs can be expected to fight each other as much as you.

We had reached that annoying point where you’re too tired to stay up and too awake to sleep, so we decided to just head back to our rooms and celebrate our first victory. We’d need to change clothes, though—not because of the blood and sweat, but because one of the infested stores had its fire sprinklers running, so we were all soaking wet. Clean, though. Small favors.

“Laura, I’ve been meaning to ask,” Ling began. “What’s with that ring? You engaged or something?”

Laura’s hand went to the engagement ring hanging on the short chain around her neck. She paused a moment before answering. “No…this belonged to my mother.” She didn’t say more.

Ling looked like she was going to question further, but Derek cut her off. “Her mother died shortly after she was born.”

“Ah,” Ling said quietly as we entered our building. “Sorry I brought it up.”

We entered the elevator in awkward silence, headed for the ninth floor. We didn’t bother stopping at Laura’s room; she wasn’t wet, and hadn’t done anything physically strenuous, so she didn’t need a change of clothes.

Ling and I went into our room quickly and changed without comment. We were still a bit damp, but not so much that it soaked through. When we came out, Derek and Laura were still standing outside.

“I can’t find my keys,” he muttered. With his clothes soaked, he could barely get into the pockets. Eventually he managed it though, and unlocked his door swiftly, probably looking forward to getting out of his clothes.

But when he went inside, he yelped in surprise, and the rest of us piled in to see what was wrong.

Well, the good news was that we found Adam.

The bad news was that he was in the middle of having sex with Lily.

She shrieked and scrambled for the sheets, leaving Adam only barely covered. He had the good grace to look embarrassed, and mostly tried to shield Lily from view. I glanced at Derek to see how he was taking this, but he had already covered his eyes with one hand.

He held out his other arm. “Akane. A change of clothes and a towel, please.”

I hurried to obey, grabbing some jeans and a t-shirt (and boxers) from his closet, then draping it on his outstretched arm with a towel. He turned away without a word, heading for the bathroom. I assumed to get changed.

Laura didn’t seem all that perturbed by the scene, though I did notice she kept her eyes away from the pair, and set about collecting their clothes from the floor. It didn’t take long, and once she handed them off she left the room, dragging us with her and closing the door behind her.

We only had to wait a few minutes before Derek came back; by that time, judging by the sounds coming from the room, the two lovebirds had gotten changed. Derek nodded at me, and I knocked. The door opened quickly to show a disheveled—but clothed—Adam.

“Right. Sorry about that. I guess I expected you to be gone longer.” He gestured for us to come in.

Lily was dressed and sitting primly on the right bed; Ling and I quickly took the left one, and Laura followed close behind. Derek sat at his desk, while Adam carefully slid next to Lily.

“So it seems you two are getting along.” Laura’s voice didn’t hold any apparent sarcasm, but the deadpan expression on her face told another story.

Lily blushed deeply. “Well, you see…”

“I like your tattoos,” Ling put in quickly, seemingly out of nowhere.

Lily turned completely scarlet, and the marks Ling had noted disappeared back into her skin. I had heard about that kind of thing before. Sometimes in the throes of…passion people can lose control of their AT tattoo toy, resulting in fascinating patterns appearing. I had never actually seen it, though.

“So what were you all doing out so early?” Adam asked in an obvious bid to change the subject. “Out at a club or something?”

“Screamers,” Derek replied without preamble. He wasn’t mad about the two lovebirds, but he was pointedly ignoring it anyway. Derek…is not good with romance, so he just pretends it doesn’t exist. “About a hundred, north of the campus. Right outside the wall.”

Adam swore vehemently. “I should have been there, but I was…” he glanced at Lily. “…busy. Everyone alright?”

“We captured one,” Laura reported. “Killed the rest. Ask MC for a full report later, but there’s not much more to say.”

Adam nodded, but Lily frowned.

“Wait…does that mean you’re the Paladins Butler was talking about?”

I winced. Oops.

Adam looked like he was going to come up with something stupid, but Derek spoke first.

“Yes. We are. Although I’m going to have to ask you to keep that to yourself.”

She mimed zipping her mouth shut. “My lips are sealed.” She grinned. “Although…I would like to see those specs the Big Boss mentioned.” She looked at each of us in turn. “What can you guys do? Shoot fire?”

“Derek can make shields,” Adam admitted. “Ling can control rock, Akane is a speedster, and Laura…”

“Laura can detect lies,” the girl in question finished. “Hardly impressive.”

Lily frowned at Adam. “What about you?”

He shrugged. “Nothing. No powers whatsoever.”

She clicked her tongue. “In addition to being clay? That sucks.”

Adam blinked. “Uh…”

Lutum informis,” Derek supplied. “’Clay’ is the more common term.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ling supplied happily. “Most people only have a couple cosmos. It’s not like you were actually planning to join one of the gangs.”

He frowned. “I was more worried about the buffs, actually.”

“Ah…” her face fell. “Right. Of course.” Then her smile was back, and she turned to Lily. “So how was he?”

Adam blanched, and Laura choked, covering it up with a cough. Derek nearly jumped out of his seat. “Ling, that is hardly—”

But Lily just shrugged. “Not bad.” But she grinned. “Really good considering he didn’t have any practice.”

Adam looked horrified. “You…I…you knew?”

She shrugged.

Ling leaned forward excitedly. “I need details.”

“No, you don’t,” Derek cut in before Lily could answer. “That’s between Lily and Adam. Even—” he glared at Lily. “—even if one of them feels otherwise.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to get so bent out of shape.”

He just frowned. “I’m just hoping to build up good will. Hopefully this will keep you bunch from asking too many questions if you catch me in a similar situation.”

Adam raised an eyebrow. “Virgin?”

Derek shrugged. I knew it was true, of course, and I doubt he cared if anyone else did too.

But Lily snorted. “Screw virgin, this moron hasn’t so much as kissed a girl.”

I nearly jumped off the bed. “What?” That wasn’t…I thought…

She smiled at me coyly. “Oh, you didn’t know? Yeah, I heard it from the Princess of Killing Sparrow last year. Apparently when you two got separated, that’s how he drove her off.”

I blushed, remembering the event in question, but didn’t say anything else. What could I say? But if it was true—and Derek certainly didn’t seem to be denying it—then that meant…

“Dibs!”

I stared at Ling, who was grinning like a moron. “What do you mean, ‘dibs?’”

“Exactly what it sounds like. I call dibs on his first kiss.”

“But…” I couldn’t find the words. “You can’t!”

Her grin widened. “Why not? He’s the hero, and he doesn’t have a love interest. That’s a crime, I say, and one I will not allow to continue.”

“But…I’ve known him longer!”

She cocked her head quizzically. “So?”

I made up my mind. “So I get dibs!”

“Girls…” Derek said with a sigh. “Be nice.” I didn’t even have to look at him; I knew he wasn’t taking this seriously.

Well, I was.

“There’s no reason for you to get it,” I pointed out. “You met him yesterday.”

She held her hands to her chest. “But it was love at first sight!”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Well, maybe not quite, but he did save my life.”

I knew from experience what kind of effect that could have. She seemed to be serious, but I couldn’t tell.

“Girls, seriously,” Derek said in a frustrated tone. “Don’t joke about this kind of thing.”

I glanced at him, but mostly I saw Lily rolling her eyes.

That’s right. Lily was here. And so was Ling and Laura and Adam. I was having a heated discussion about kissing Derek in front of four other people.

My face felt so hot I was sure it had already caught fire.

“Silence implies consent!” Ling crowed. She tried to jump around me, heading for Derek, but I knocked her back onto the bed.

What else could I do? I couldn’t actually…could I?

“Oh, screw this.”

I looked just in time to see Laura grab Derek and shove her tongue down his throat.

No one spoke for nearly a minute—unless you count Derek’s desperate attempts to pry Laura off his face as talking. I couldn’t breathe. I think my heart skipped at least six beats.

Finally, after an eternity, she let him go, her lips trailing saliva. He gasped for air, a truly shocked expression on his face, while Laura just wiped her mouth, as though she hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary.

“Anyone got mouthwash?” she asked nonchalantly. “I’ve got a weird taste in my mouth.”

No one spoke. After a moment, Lily managed to get out “There should be some in the bathroom.” Laura nodded and headed in that direction, closing the door behind her.

The room was quiet again. I could hear early morning birds outside the window—which, I noticed, the lovers had opened at some point to air out the room. Some intelligent portion of my brain thanked them for that.

“Well,” Adam muttered, breaking the silence. “At least there will be no more fighting over that.”

Ling immediately brightened. “Dibs on—”

NO.”

She glared at me. “I was just gonna—”

I gripped my sword meaningfully.

She pouted sullenly. “Fine.”

A few more minutes of sullen silence.

“She’s taking a while,” I whispered, meaning Laura. Honestly, I just wanted to get out of the room. I stood to go.

“Leave the sword,” Adam advised. I glared at him, but he didn’t back down, so I complied. Like that would stop me if I really wanted her dead. Which I didn’t.

Mostly.

The girl’s bathroom was all the way at the other end of the hall, which was annoying. Laura was there, just standing at the sink next to the mouthwash dispenser. These really were well-kept bathrooms. Who knew how long that would last when students actually came in, but still.

“Laura?” I asked gently. Something about her posture made me worried.

She jumped. “Yes, what is it?”

I kept my voice from quavering with an effort of will; I still wasn’t used to her. “We were just wondering what was taking you so long.”

“Ah, right.” She brushed back her hair and sighed. “I’m just tired. It’s been a long day and it hasn’t even started yet.”

I smiled sadly. “That’s the truth.”

She walked past me, out of the bathroom. “Anyway, we should get back. We really should give Adam a real briefing, and maybe work out some strategies.”

I hadn’t even thought about that. I nodded, then glanced back to the sink she had left and frowned.

She shouldn’t leave stuff lying around like that. It piles up, and soon the janitors can’t deal with it. I took the liberty of throwing out the cup, still full of mouthwash, for her. Seriously, why is it that the smart ones are always scatterbrained?

Behind the Scenes (scene 13)

I had more fun writing this one than I should have.

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Scene 12 – Morsus

MORSUS

LING

I woke up instantly when I heard the screaming.

One might not have been enough to jolt me out of bed, but it sounded like there were a dozen or more. I couldn’t really tell how far away they were, but they were north of AU. Probably still within the campus proper.

“Akane, wake up.”

“I’m up already,” she replied snappishly. Guess she’s not a morning person. “What time is it?”

“It’s…” I glanced at the clock glowing over her bed—I couldn’t see mine from this angle. “Five in the morning.”

She cursed. Loudly. I guess she was really not a morning person.

It only took us a few minutes to get dressed, during which time Laura managed to text that she’d meet us downstairs. Akane chose these really short cut-off jeans that didn’t even reach her knees; I’m guessing she found it easier to move like that. I was just getting my boots on when there was a knock at the door.

Akane was busy putting her hair into a ponytail, fastened with what looked like a strip of leather holding a bunch of white beads, so I hopped over to the door and opened it to reveal Derek, already dressed and ready to go. He was wearing some kind of leather jacket, probably for extra protection. It looked…good.

“C’mon, we have to hurry,” he said. “I called MC; she said the Necessarians are there, but the screamers are infecting people as we speak.”

Listening closer, he was right—it did sound like there were more than before. That wasn’t good.

“Where’s Adam?” I asked as I headed for the door. I didn’t particularly like the guy, but he had guns.

Derek shook his head. “No idea. While I was in the shower, he left a note saying he was going for a walk, but he never came back.”

Akane frowned as she finally finished her hair. “You think a screamer got him?”

“I don’t know. All his guns are still here, so I hope he wouldn’t be stupid.”

“Laura’s waiting for us downstairs,” I said before things could get awkward. “Let’s shut these guys up so we can get back to sleep.” At least school didn’t start ’til Monday.

As promised, when the three of us exited the elevator, Laura was already waiting for us, her hair in a ponytail and her gun ready. She was wearing pretty much the same as the rest of us, jeans and a jacket, but she was tucking away that necklace of hers when we first saw her. We headed off without a word. Once we were actually outside the dorm, we just started running. There were no cabs in AU, so its not like we had any other choice.

Luckily for us, there wasn’t far to go. We found the screamers just outside the Springfield wall, at the northernmost corner of the campus. It quickly became clear that we weren’t very good at judging how many there were just by how many we could hear.

There were nearly a hundred.

The Necessarians were trying to keep them contained at this one corner, but they were fighting a losing battle. There were only a couple dozen officers, armed with handguns, and they had to cover the three streets the screamers could flee through. The creatures weren’t making any efforts to leave, however. They were focusing their attacks on the shops and cars trapped with them. Great for keeping them in one place, but not so much for those still trapped with them.

And sooner or later, they’d run out of victims.

“They’re afraid of the guns,” Laura murmured. “Good. That will keep them contained for the moment. First, we need intel.”

“Officer, status report,” Derek asked the nearest ‘sarian who wasn’t actually firing her gun at the moment. She had a fixer on her left arm, so I guess he figured she had to be relatively clear-headed. The name stitched into the rank path embroidered onto her left sleeve was ‘Drakela Sanguinas,’ which was the vampire equivalent of Jane Smith.

The vampire looked at him through her thick goggles—the sun was coming up—and demanded “Blood and shadow, who are you?”

“Reinforcements. Call MC if you want. Now I need a status report. What can you tell me?”

Sanguinas glanced around. “Look, I’m sure someone else can—”

But Derek wasn’t in the mood to pussy-foot around. So he used the tried and true method of getting a soldier to take you seriously. “ATTEN-SHUN!”

“Sir!” She saluted instantly. She caught herself quickly, but gave the report anyway. “Just under a hundred hostiles. Seem to be screamers, as reported, and show no signs of weapons.”

“What are their powers?”

“I don’t know about powers, sir, but they’ve got huge jaws—I mean like shark big. And they’re using ’em pretty well. Anyone who survives turns into one of them.”

“Ingenious,” Laura whispered. “The other ones didn’t bite unless they had no other choice, limiting how fast the disease spread. But if their power requires biting, then it will force them to use it more often, spreading the virus like wildfire.” She looked up. “If we don’t contain this, it will quickly become an epidemic.”

Derek nodded grimly. “Agreed. Laura, stay with the ‘sarians, coordinate them. Keep the screamers contained. Ling, Akane and I will go in.” He turned to us. “I’m on point. Ling, rearguard.”

“Wait, hang on,” I protested. “I’m not willing to just blindly follow your orders—”

“Then stay here,” Akane said bluntly as she followed Derek into the fight.

I turned to Laura, and she shrugged. “He probably knows what he’s doing.” I sighed and followed Akane.

The ‘sarians let up their fire for a few moments, long enough for us to get to the biggest of the shops, a small grocery store. Derek ducked inside first, then waved us through.

“Remember, no killing unless absolutely necessary.”

Akane immediately sheathed her sword, but looked him square in the eye. “Derek, we’re outnumbered thirty to one. We can’t afford to pull punches.”

He returned her gaze levelly. “These are people—almost certainly curable.”

“We have no proof of that. If you tell me not to kill anyone, I won’t, but I don’t think we’ll survive this fight.”

There was a long, long pause, during which I became acutely aware that there was a screamer only ten feet away, behind one of the shelves and out of sight. At least the damn things were loud.

Finally, Derek looked away. “Fine. But we should take at least one alive for Butler and Clarke.”

Akane drew her sword again. “Agreed. Now what’s the plan?”

“First, Ling needs to block the door.”

I started. I had been kinda focused on the screamers searching for us. “With what? A cart of fruit?”

“With your powers.”

Oh. Right. Those. I ignored the pointed looks my companions were giving me, and concentrated on the entrance. With effort, I could feel the glass of the doors, the metal frames, and even the linoleum tiles. Beneath that was concrete, something I could actually control. I closed my eyes, and with a great grunt of effort, lifted the concrete.

It broke through the tiles quickly, flowing upwards like a tree growing at lightning speed. The doors shattered almost instantly, and the frames screeched as they were pushed aside. I finally stopped when the wall kissed the ceiling.

I nearly collapsed. I was completely exhausted; the wall was half a foot thick, ten feet wide and about as tall. I could already feel my reservoir replenishing, but that would take a minute.

That’s when the screamers struck.

I should have expected it; they were loud, but even if they didn’t hear it, my little display shook the entire building. The two dozen or so in the store swarmed in like a flash flood.

The vampire’s words about the screamers having shark jaws proved to be inaccurate. Their jaws were huge, yes, absolutely massive. But they were also clearly human, just heavily exaggerated. Human teeth and jaws, triple their normal size, but I could still identify molars and incisors and all those others I forget the names for. There were more than a few fangs too, of course. The vampires who forgot to get their shopping done before daybreak were turned as well.

Shark, human, vampire or mosquito—it didn’t matter. They were coming in a rush, and I was unarmed.

But Derek quickly threw himself in front of me, bolstering the defense with a large half-dome, like a big blue plastic shield leaking glowing azure mist. I couldn’t see Akane at first, but then one of the screamers collapsed as it’s head was severed from his body. She reappeared nearby, breathing heavily as she waited for her own reservoir to fill.

Another screamer leaped at her, but she was hardly defenseless. She slashed it vertically, causing it to scream in pain and flinch back, before taking advantage of the opening to remove it’s head. Blood fountained from the wound, dousing her in red.

“Akane!” Derek shouted. He expanded his shield suddenly, pushing the screamers back, before letting it fade and rushing to her side while they were disoriented. I followed.

“I’m fine, I’m not turning,” she promised. “We need to move.”

We fled as quietly as we could—not that it mattered, with those things screaming—to the opposite corner of the store, dodging zombies as much as possible. We ended up in the frozen food section, behind the meat counter, which somehow felt safe.

“Don’t let them bite you,” Derek reminded us. “We still don’t know if we’re immune.”

Akane looked down at herself, soaked nearly head to toe in blood. “Uh…”

“He was technically dead before the blood touched you, so that’s not quite proof.” Before we could argue, he held up his hands in a placating gesture. “I know, I know, but we need to be cautious. Ling, are you ready?”

I placed my hands on the ground and took a deep breath. I felt the concrete again, and with a grunt of concentration pulled it up, shaping it around my hands and forearms like boxing gloves. They were heavy, about two pounds each, but I could use my ability to help lift them, and I was strong for my size regardless.

I nodded to Derek. “I’m ready.”

“All right then. Akane, you go right. Ling, you go left. Neutralize—” Akane gave him a level stare. Derek glared right back “—neutralize them all. If you have to kill them to do it, then fine.” I didn’t say anything, but I knew I didn’t have the skills to fight these things and hold back. “I’m going to try and capture one.”

He pulled something out of his waist band—a long rope, wrapped around his waist. He uncoiled it quickly.

“Where’d you get that?” I asked. It looked like silk.

“Last night I called MC for it,” he explained. “Butler was already delivering some ammo for Adam, so it was no big deal.” He paused. “Which reminds me: There’s a chance Adam is here, infected. Don’t kill him. Go.”

Akane sprung forward quickly, me only a step later. I heard the screams from her direction change pitch, going from the emotionless background noise the zombies always emitted to the true cries of rage and fear.

But I didn’t have time for her. I had my own things to worry about.

I wasn’t as experienced a fighter as Akane or Derek, so I had to just go all out. I punched one of the screamers full in the face, with all the weight of the stone behind it, which worked pretty well. It’s face imploded with a sickening crunch.

I wasn’t ready for the next one. It leaped past my kill before I had a chance to recover from my swing, and tried to strike from my left side.

I brought up my hand quickly to block, but it just bit down with it’s giant maw. Bit down on a stone glove. That wouldn’t have been all that disturbing; the fact that it took a huge chunk out of it, however, was.

I yelped and stepped back, nearly tripped on some spilled cans. How do you fight something that can bite through stone?

Then my mind cleared, and I did a mental facepalm. The same way you fight anything, obviously: Avoid the dangerous part.

I dodged a second bite without any real difficulty, and punched it hard in the temple with my right rock-fist. It staggered, but didn’t fall, and I hit it again. This time it’s skull cracked, and it hit the ground.

I paused to repair my left rock-fist with concrete from beneath my feet before moving on. There were about thirty screamers here, and I needed to finish off fifteen or more by myself.

It wasn’t hard. In fact, the hardest part was remembering that they were people, victims. I moved through them like a farmer scything wheat; the same moves worked over and over again. They were too stupid to adapt to my tactics.

As I fought, my mind drifted. That may seem odd, but I was used to physical exertion from soccer, and good at distancing myself from it. I had only taken a single semester of boxing, but even those laughable tricks worked on zombies.

However, my mind wandered too far, and I stumbled a bit. The screamer I was fighting was quick to take advantage. I didn’t have time to raise my rock-fists, but I tried anyway. I didn’t do much, just made the floor under it’s feet tremble, but it was enough to trip it and give me a chance to counterattack. I didn’t waste the opportunity, and smashed it’s skull in.

With a thought, I cracked my gloves, letting them crumble to the ground. I only had a few screamers left, and I needed more practice.

The first one came from the left. I concentrated and brought a concrete fist up from the ground. It hit it in the stomach, doubling it over, and I wrapped it around the zombie like a snake, squeezing it with the sickening crunch of breaking ribs.

That was most of my power; I could feel my reservoir replenishing, but it would take time. So I fled back the way I had come, across the splattered bodies of screamers, with another zombie close behind.

I tripped it up, same as before, and delivered a skull-shattering kick as he tried to rise. I did get into AU on a soccer scholarship, after all.

Another came, from the right. I tried to bring up a single needle of concrete, to kill it with the least amount of effort, but another fist came up instead. As before, I couldn’t manipulate anything that finely.

But it knocked the creature off balance, and I took advantage, vaulting over the short pillar of stone I had created to give the zombie a great two-footed kick to the back. It was knocked to the ground and it screaming cut off for a moment, but it twisted around to try and bite me with that massive horse-mouth. I brought up a hand of stone to hold it’s head and stomped down hard on it’s skull.

That’s when I realized there was no more screaming from inside the store. Had we won?

I searched around, eventually finding Akane and Derek back at the entrance I had sealed up. Derek was sitting on the counter, eyes watchful for a surprise, while Akane sat on the floor with her legs crossed and her eyes closed, silently meditating, apparently on the sword across her lap. Despite her jeans and t-shirt, she looked like nothing so much as an old samurai in a dojo.

Her eyes opened as I approached, and she stood. Derek nodded in acknowledgment of my presence as well.

“We did a good job in here,” he said without preamble, “though we didn’t catch one alive. But there are more out there, and the ‘sarians can only hold them for so long.” He slid off the counter and gestured towards my concrete wall. “Ling, if you would.”

It was becoming easier for me; I parted the artificial wall like a curtain. We walked into the street, Derek leading, ready to confront another horde of zombies.

Behind the Scenes (scene 12)

I originally had a few paragraphs of Ling thinking about the gang, wondering what everyone’s roles were and so on, but it didn’t flow at all. I’ll pepper it in her later scenes, but its nothing the readers haven’t already figured out. Now, to the meat of this rant.

Powers don’t work quite the way you’d expect. There isn’t much I can say without spoiling, but there are a few things that will make the story more clear.

General powers are called powers or abilities. The proper name is actually songs, but its going to be a loooong time before you hear someone use that.

More specific than that are the talents, more accurately called instruments. These are the way the power manifests itself. For example, Derek’s power is to create solid force fields. His talent, however, is to create shields. Another with the same ability might have the talent for creating blades or bullets or what have you.

The “biters,” as the screamers in this scene are called, actually have morphing (think shapeshifting, but permanent unless reverted) as a power. But the first person infected had some interesting desires, and received the ability to enhance and enlarge the jaw as a talent. Now everyone infected with that strain receives the same talent—even though if things were allowed to progress more naturally, they would almost certainly have another talent. Or, more likely, another power altogether.

Scene 11 – Conpedis

CONPEDIS

The  COMPOSER

My subject was chained down and screaming. I don’t really know why. I hadn’t even done anything to her yet, but she was already weeping and begging for her life. Seriously, I was almost glad that I wouldn’t have a chance to torture her. Takes all the fun out of it.

“Please, just let me go, I just want to go home…”

It was ever so tempting to flay her alive (only a little bit, she’d live), but I resisted. Because I have willpower. That’s the secret to success, really. Prioritize what you need over what you want.

Instead, I whispered a song in the girl’s ear. Her weeping slowed, then ceased, as she was caught up in the beauty of the music. After a moment, I stopped singing, but the girl didn’t start crying again. I unlocked the chains with a wave of my hand.

I snapped my fingers and she followed the sound, thought she didn’t come out of the trance. I carefully waved my fingers in front of her face, back and forth, in a simple pattern.

“None of this happened,” I explained to her in a gentle voice. “You woke up and decided to go for a walk.”

“I woke up and decided to go for a walk.”

“That’s right. Now leave this place and forget it ever existed.”

My new conductor did as she was ordered, leaving my little lair without so much as a word.

I sighed, this time with pleasure. The chorus were the most obvious of the ‘zombies,’ but far from the real threat. Butler and his little gang would chase them around, while the conductors kept everything under control. Until the time was right for the good guys to win, of course. And I had pieces already in play for just that occasion.

Five directors running around, ready to stop a zombie apocalypse. Well, four directors and that idiot Adam. He’d die soon and get replaced by my fifth director. What was she doing? The others had to have contacted her by now. I couldn’t have made mistake…

Bah. It would be easier to just kill them all and start over with a fresh batch. But I had already invested too much effort in these. If only my goal was easier, I wouldn’t have to deal with all this frustrating planning.

What I needed was to kill something. Run off into the night like a chorus, screaming my head off, and just rip through a cafe or something. But that would skew all my results. The directors would hear the screaming, they’d come investigate, so on and so forth. I couldn’t risk playing my hand so early in the game.

So annoying.

But, such was my curse. Greater good and all that.

Heh. Greater good. That wasn’t my goal. I just wanted to kill things. But, it’s been pointed out to me more than once that if I didn’t do this right, I would eventually run out of things to kill. So, I’d wait and bide my time.

I glanced at the clock. It was five in the morning. I grinned. It was a little ahead of schedule, but why not give those fools a nice wake up call?

With a snap of my fingers another conductor I had created a few days earlier lost all conscious control of her body and began to sing. There weren’t that many people around her, but there were a few, and they stopped to listen to this hauntingly beautiful music.

And then, one by one, they became chorus, and they began to scream, an endless, emotionless cry that shook the soul.

Five people sleeping soundly in their beds woke up with a jolt.

I grinned to myself.

“And…here…we…go.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 11)

Here’s the main villain! Ominous, yes? We’ll call him/her/it/them “the Composer” for now, fitting in with the musical theme.

Scene 10 – Amare

AMARE

ADAM

As Derek left, I brought the box inside. It was pretty big, about the size of a suitcase, and made of some solid material I couldn’t identify. As Butler had promised, there was a simple number lock on the front. Before closing my door, I glanced across the way at room 0910. Their door was closed; the girls were probably going to take showers soon as well.

But seriously…what was up with Akane and Derek? He said they were just friends, but something didn’t add up.

I shook my head. It wasn’t important. Instead of thinking about it, I shut the door behind me and put the box on the bed.

It opened at the code—14113—with ease, and I heard a few extra locks click open on the inside. I lifted the top to see four guns nestled in foam packaging and tied down with velcro straps on both the top and bottom of the case: A pistol, a shotgun, some sort of submachine gun, and a rifle.

I pulled out the pistol and quickly saw a folded piece of white paper underneath it. My first thought was that it was some sort of coded message from one of the gang lord’s harassed lackeys, but it proved to be a simple instruction manual. It was a Telum brand Sica model, whatever that meant, with a twelve round magazine. 4.5 caliber—in millimeters, of course. It was simple, black, and modern; clearly a no-nonsense weapon, if a little small.

The rest was mostly simple step-by-step diagrams on reloading and proper safety. Derek and Laura had already shown me most of that earlier. They claimed to be not very good with guns, but they knew the basics well enough. I put the pistol back carefully.

The others were about the same; the rifle was an Olympian mark 3 Athena 5.56 long with a moderate scope. It didn’t bother with a fancy wood stock or anything like that; it was all just composite, with a nice big rubber shock absorber where it rested against my shoulder.

The shotgun was impressive, even to someone like me who knew nothing about guns; a massive St. George 6-gauge will make anyone take notice. I thought higher numbers were bigger, but apparently it’s the other way around for shotguns. The instructions went into more detail about how that all worked, but I skipped that to read the part about loading the thing.

I really didn’t know what make of the submachine gun. It was a Telum Caedes 4.5 mm fully automatic with a clip about a foot long. I couldn’t really see myself needing that much firepower, but at least it shared ammo with the Sica.

Speaking of which, there didn’t seem to be any ammo included. I guess that was to make sure if the case was stolen there wouldn’t be a janitor running around shooting people. Fair enough. I flipped open my phone and hit the MC button.

“Yes, Mister Anders?” the program answered smoothly. “What may I help you with?”

“I need ammo for the guns Butler sent me,” I said without preamble. “How do I get some?”

“I will inform Mister Butler of your situation. Can you tell me exactly what you need? I will then pass it along to Mister Butler, and he can decide whether he can help you.”

“Uh…” a couple hours using the tour program, and I was already used to MC’s programs being infallibly helpful. “He sent me the guns, so I’d assume he’d be fine with sending me the bullets.”

“I’m sorry,” the program said with generic sweetness. “This program is not as widely used as most others, so it does not receive as much feedback, and is not as intelligent. Would you like me to transfer you to the real MC?”

“No…no that’s not necessary. Just pass along the message to Butler that I need ammo for the guns he sent me—that’s enough for a 4.5 pistol, 5.56 rifle, 6-gauge shotgun, and 4.5 SMG. Got that?”

“Yes, and I will give you Mister Butler’s reply as soon as possible. Will that be all?”

“Yes. Thank you.” I hung up without another word, and sighed.

This was a weird city. But, it was my home now, and what’s more I was apparently in charge of protecting it. For some reason, whenever my thoughts strayed in that direction, rather than feeling apprehensive or proud, I just remembered shooting the screamer in the chest. It had felt…

Good.

I needed air. I scribbled a note on the whiteboard on our door—every dorm room had one—telling Derek I was out, locked the door behind me, and headed downstairs. I took the actual stairs. If I was going to be fighting super-powered zombies, I needed to do at least a little exercise.

The RA…Emily, right? Was still asleep on the couch. I walked past her without pause, into the cold night.

And it was cold. I had a long-sleeved shirt on, but I was still a bit chilly. I just grimaced. I’d deal with it. Instead of standing there shivering, I headed to one of the nearby cafes MC had mentioned on her tour. It was only a little ways outside of campus. As expected, there were just as many people on the street this late at night, if not more. I suppose when you can buy nightvision, that happens.

The cafe itself was an excellent example; the outdoor area was separated by a wall of black cloth, anchored to the ground and reaching up about twenty feet. On one side, it was completely dark, but still filled with customers. On the other side (the one closer to the dorms), there were lights on each table for those without the ability to see in the dark. I took a seat at one of the empty tables; MC had explained to me during the tour that a waitress would be by shortly.

“Oh—Adam? Is that you?”

“Who the—Lily?”

I wasn’t expecting to see her again, but there she was, dressed in a waitress smock and holding a pad, likely for taking orders. She looked cute as a button, though I was still having trouble getting used to the toys. Her eyes were glowing a very soft red, and her tail was thrashing about dangerously. I’m sure it indicated her mood, but hell if I knew what it meant.

“It’s great to see you again!” She seemed genuinely happy, but it was hard to tell. “I thought I scared you away earlier.”

I smiled. “Well, a little, I’ll admit. What are you doing here?”

She waved her hand airily. “Oh, you know, just more work. But I’d love to hang out with you a little. I’ll be off in about ten minutes—can you wait that long?”

I smiled. “Yeah, of course, I’ll be right here.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Ah…just a coffee, black.” She tapped it into her pad and spun away.

By the time I finished my drink and paid, Lily’s shift was over. She walked up just as I was leaving the register, her smock under her right arm, and slipped her left arm into the crook of my elbow. “C’mon, walk with me.”

We headed away from the dorms, deeper into the night. She let the silence hang for a few minutes as she leaned against my shoulder. It was a nice feeling. Up until now, my interactions with women had been pretty much limited to my mother, my aunt, my little cousin, and the chief of security. This was something new.

Eventually, once we were out of sight of the cafe, she did speak. “Have you been settling in all right?”

“Ah…” what was I supposed to say? That I was now involved in fighting super-powered zombies? I had a feeling that even for this city, that would be a bit out there. “I guess I’m fitting in. Derek’s helping with that.”

“Oh, yeah, he’s a great guy. Just be careful around the girls.”

“…what girls?”

Any girls. Haven’t you noticed? They’re all in love with him.”

“I…” I hadn’t really noticed.

She sighed. “He has this hero complex. I find it annoying, but that’s because I can take care of myself. He seriously rescues like, three people a day. Plus he’s kinda hot. Throw those two together and you see where it leads.”

“Yeah, he saved me from a truck earlier today.”

I think she rolled her eyes, but it was hard to tell in the dark. “See what I mean? I love him for that kind of thing, I really do, but I just find the fact that he treats everyone like that annoying.”

I thought for a moment. “Is that what happened with Akane? She seems…”

She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something happened when she first moved to the district, something involving a girl’s bathroom. I dunno, I wasn’t there. But she’s followed him around like a puppy ever since. Poor girl.”

“So I guess they’re dating. If you can call an unbalanced relationship dating.”

“No, its not that. They’re not dating, they’re…complicated. And its not my place to say; ask Derek about that. But their actual relationship is weirdly balanced.” She waved her hand again. “You’ll understand once you ask him. But no, I mean how she’s totally in love with him and he never notices.”

“Really? I mean, even I kinda saw that, and I saw them together for like, two hours.”

“Yeah, he’s a moron. He’s completely in love with this other girl, Elizabeth Greene. Completely blind to all else. Don’t know what he sees in her.”

“Elizabeth…Lizzy? Laura’s roommate?”

“Hm? Oh, I didn’t know they were rooming together. But that makes sense, the three of them were childhood friends before Laura moved away.”

“Derek said she’s sweet, but he didn’t mention—”

I felt Lily shrug again. “He keeps things close to the vest. And she is sweet, and cute, but he has his pick of the crop. I just don’t understand why he chose her.”

“So they’re dating.”

“No. I think she might be as oblivious as he is. And I’m not ruling out the possibility that she’s gay.”

“I can imagine.”

“But most of the girls get over him pretty quickly, and just ogle him from a distance.” She shook her head sadly. “Not Akane.”

“Hm. And the sword is…normal?”

“Well, she’s in kendo, if that’s what you mean.”

“Well, most kendo doesn’t let you use real swords.”

Lily shrugged again. “Domina is different. There’s a half-decent chance we’ll be attacked by a crazed ghoul right now. Pretty much everyone is armed.”

I…couldn’t really refute the logic of that. I kinda wished I had brought a gun, for intimidation if nothing else. “Are you? Armed, that is?”

“No.” She didn’t elaborate.

I stayed silent for a few minutes longer. We passed through a colony of vampires who all nodded at us as we passed. I don’t know if they were just being polite or if they knew Lily.

After we got through without incident, she guided me over to a shop that sold TV’s.

“What’s over here?” I asked.

“I want to check the news real quick. My sister texted me before I got off work, said something’s up.”

As expected, there were a number of televisions on and tuned to the news. Oddly, though the shop had two sets of windows, the TV’s on the right were off. Actually, at second glance, they were on—I could hear sound coming from them.

“Is something wrong with those?”

Lily glanced where I was looking. “Oh, no, those are the vamp’s TV’s. Their eyes work on different wavelengths, so they can see it. Normal ones will blind them at night. Now shush. I think this is it.”

The TV switched to some news station. The anchorwoman—who didn’t have any obvious cosmos—began to speak. “Welcome everyone, for this special report. I’m Eliza Cassan, and with me is Artemis Butler.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the gang lord I had met with not four hours ago, sitting comfortably in a leather chair, ready to be interviewed. From the way the others were talking, I had assumed the entire city knew he was the Big Boss of the Necessarians.

He wasn’t as impressive on TV, I noted. His gravitas and force of presence didn’t translate well onto the screen. Instead of looking like an unmovable mountain, he just looked like a fat albino. But he was clearly aware of this; he held himself straighter, sitting more like a politician than a gang lord. In person, he knew his willpower would be apparent. On TV, he had to cheat.

The newscaster smiled at Butler warmly. “Sir, you requested to make this announcement personally. What, exactly, is wrong?”

He frowned, clearly considering his words carefully. “We have an interesting situation, Miss Cassan, one that I truly believe we can handle, but not one the public should be kept in the dark about.

“This morning, a peacekeeper patrol heard a man screaming in an alley. They went to investigate, and found the man violent and aggressive. He did not respond to any attempts to communicate, but showed some animalistic cunning.

“When Officer Red Matthews tried to approach the man, he was immediately attacked and bitten on the neck. The man then abandoned Matthews and attacked the rest of the patrol with what they described as ‘bolts of lightning emitted from the palm of his hands.’”

“Wait one second,” the anchorwoman interrupted. “This…creature had superpowers?

“Yes,” Butler said gravely. “It has been confirmed from multiple sources. But please, be patient. There is more.

“The creature was shot in the chest, and died shortly later. However, Officer Matthews succumbed to a viral infection within moments, devolving into a similar state as the creature that bit him. He immediately tried to attack his patrol with the same lightning, but Officer John Romero shot him at close range, killing him. Unfortunately, some of Matthews’ blood splashed on him, turning him as well. The rest of the patrol were able to deal with him without further casualties.

“We were hoping these screamers—as we’ve taken to calling them—were an isolated case, but that quickly turned out to be overly optimistic. Less than four hours ago, another screamer was discovered. This one had fire powers, which leads us to believe it is another strain. It was dispatched quickly, however, which leads me to the good news.

“These screamers are not the only ones with powers. We have managed to recruit a small number of people who manifested similar abilities, and have employed them to hunt down these screamers. MC has dubbed these people ‘Paladins,’ which I think sums them up rather well. I am keeping their names off the air, at their request.”

Well, I don’t think we actually specifically requested that, but it was nice of him to make the effort.

“Now, as I said before, these creatures turn their victims very quickly, so we do not have to worry about an epidemic as long as everyone remains calm and in control. On that note, I do not believe I stressed enough the source of their name. These creatures are compelled to scream, an unearthly, emotionless sound that is impossible to describe. I mean it when I say you will know it when you hear it. If you hear this and cannot locate the source, call MC, and we will have either the Paladins or a peacekeeper patrol at your location quickly. If you can locate the source, back away from the screamer very carefully, and do not call MC until you are out of sight. These things are in many ways animals, and we hope we may be able to cure them.”

The anchorwoman was nearly dumbfounded. Of course, you don’t get a job like that by becoming tongue-tied. “That…is quite a lot to take in, Mister Butler.”

“I am well aware of that,” he replied sincerely. “And I sincerly hope that this all turns out to be an elaborate hoax that everyone can laugh about in a few days. But I do not think so. If you have any other questions…”

“Just one: Are you going to release any photographic or video proof of these creatures?”

He nodded. “Yes, but only that which does not contain the Paladins. Again, I would like to keep their identifies private. That media should be uploaded to the main Necessarius site shortly, along with a copy of this announcement.”

“And thank you very much indeed for that announcement, Mister Butler.” As Butler rose to leave—very slowly, I noted, with heavy support form his cane—the anchorwoman turned to the camera again. “That was Artemis Butler, head of Necessarius, giving us a much-needed public service announcement. We will shortly transfer to a panel of disease experts, who will be theorizing on how this pathogen could be combated. But first, I would like to reiterate one of Butler’s first points: Do not panic. Everything is under control.”

As promised, the show switched to a number of older men and women sitting around a table, who quickly started talking about disease vectors and so on. Oddly, many of these did have cosmos.

“Dear lord,” Lily muttered under her breath. “A real zombie apocalypse. With superpowers.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure the ‘sarians can handle this one alone.” She led us away from the storefront.

“Lily,” I asked slowly, “what do you make of all this?”

She was quiet for a moment before speaking. “Butler knows what he’s doing. Appearing personally makes it clear that this isn’t a hoax—or at least if it is, he’s being fooled too. He also did a wonderful job of reassuring the populace. Giving concrete details like that lets people know how much they need to panic. Hopefully, very little.”

“So you trust these Necessarians.”

“Only as far as I can throw them,” she replied with a laugh. “But let’s get off this depressing topic. I want to talk about you more.”

“Well…” now that I was used to her fangs, they were quite cute. It was hard to resist that smile. “What do you want to know?”

“Where’d you grow up? What’s your family like? Your girlfriend? Just whatever you like, I want to hear about.”

I knew where this was heading, and I smiled. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

She smiled back, even more broadly than before. “See? I’ve already learned something good.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 10)

Yes, most of those guns are made up. But I researched this; they’re all well within the realm of possibility. No twelve-inch shotgun shells. Domina uses the metric system for a lot of things, but I understand in the real world we’re still on inches. So the 4.5 is a .177 caliber and the 5.56 is a .22 caliber.

Oh, and for people who care, Akane’s colt is a Colt Paterson 1990, a remake of the original Colt Paterson. No, it doesn’t exist in the real world.