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 1

  I sat on the cot, staring hard at the closed cell door.

 What the hell had just happened?

 I couldn’t wrap my mind around how I’d ended up locked up and disarmed in such a short period.

 Sure, I’d been in survival mode when I’d entered the building, but I should’ve been more on guard than I was. By the looks of things, we all should’ve been.

 We’d gotten onto the base easily enough, but so had the horde of zombies. With those turned on our asses, we’d rushed the open doors of the military building without thought, and the people waiting for us had taken advantage of the situation. That should’ve never happened.

 All of us had taken the vaccine we’d brought to show the Germans, who’d invaded the base and were threatening to destroy us, in the hopes that it would stay their hand. Just because we weren’t at risk of catching the virus didn’t mean the turned couldn’t kill us if they overtook us, and that fact had distracted us enough to let these people capture us.

 The Germans knew we’d taken the vaccine, knew we weren’t a threat to them, even if one of those things had bitten one of us. So, to be treated this way was an insult.

 Okay, they only had our word that the vaccine worked and that we’d taken it, and they had no reason to trust us, but still, treating us this way was an overreaction.

 If they’d showed up at Shore Haven, we’d have put them in quarantine as well, but we’d have been gentler about it. We’d been nicer to every person or group who’d come to the compound since the outbreak. We’d let the survivors stay together in the quarantine rooms. We’d allowed them to bathe themselves and keep their weapons so that they would feel safe. We hadn’t treated a single person as if they were one of the infected. That might make us sound naive, but the people, once in the quarantine rooms, couldn’t hurt us, and with a touch of a button, had they proven to be the slightest bit of a threat, we could have killed them. This base was no different.

 These assholes, on the other hand, hadn’t been anywhere near polite. The second the door to the building opened, a man in military garb had grabbed my arm and told me to run. I did at first, fearing the horde. Once a good distance inside though, I’d tried to jerk away from him. Samantha had been beside me. I needed to know where she was.

 From the moment I’d found her in a department store seconds from being eaten by her own sister, she’d been mine to protect. I’d barely let her out of my sight. I couldn’t lose her now. If that horde made it inside the building, we could all die. I couldn’t let her die alone.

 The man gripped me harder and yanked me down a hall. With the number of people flooding into the building trying to escape the zombies rushing us, I didn’t have much choice but to follow him. All around us, people were scrambling to get inside and away from the entrance.

 As we were rounding a corner, I heard the main doors close. Thinking we were safe and the man would let me go, I tried a second time to pull away from him, but he didn’t release me. I struggled, but he was stronger than I was. Before I could think about what was happening or how I was going to get away to find Samantha, he shoved me into a cell.

 The instant I understood where I was, I spun around, aiming for the door.

 “What’s going on? It’s us…the ones from Shore Haven. I’m Jason,” I said, moving toward the man. When he didn’t respond, I asked, “Where’s Samantha and the rest of my people?”

 He didn’t answer. He did turn his gun on me.

 “What the hell? I want to speak to someone in charge,” I demanded.

 “Move to the middle of the cell and slide your weapons my way,” he ordered.

 “The fuck I will,” I said and tried to push my way out of the door.

 The man shoved me back into the room as if I was a child, but I wasn’t going to let his strength intimidate me.

 “My name is Jason Masters. Your people, your doctors, are expecting us. We aren’t infected. We can’t catch the virus. There’s no need to treat us this way. Who’s in charge?” I asked, moving back to the door. That time I had my baton out with the intention of fighting my way out of the cell. If they were treating me like a prisoner, then they were doing the same or worse to Samantha and the rest of my people.

 “Stay where you are,” the man said, raising his gun and aiming for my head.

 A second man came to stand next to the first. He was also armed.

 I froze. I was beyond livid, but there was no way I would survive an attempt to flee the cell.

 “Drop the baton and slide it and any other weapons you have to us,” the second man ordered.

 “Why?” I demanded.

 “You no longer need them,” the first man said.

 “From where I’m standing it looks as if I do.”

 “We don’t intend to kill you unless we have to. If you’ve come here to help us as you say you have, you won’t need them. No zombies made it through the door; therefore, you have no need of a weapon,” the second said.

 “As an American, I have the right to bear arms. And considering that we’re in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, I feel the need to be armed at all times.”

 “This cell is zombie proof, and you’ll be in here alone. You have nothing to defend yourself from. I won’t ask again. Give us your weapons.”

 Hoping that they were putting us in quarantine and not taking us prisoner, I gave them everything I had.

 “Where’s Samantha?” I asked, sliding my last knife toward the door of the cell.

 Neither man answered. I hadn’t expected them to tell me the truth. For one, they wouldn’t know which one of the women who’d come in with us was Samantha. Secondly, if they did know, they wouldn’t tell me on the off chance that the knowledge would spur me into trying to slip by them to get to her.

 Once the second man retrieved the knife from the floor, he used it to point at my backpack and outer clothing. I pretended not to know what he was asking.

 “Your pack next, then your clothing,” the first man said.

 “What about them,” I asked, purposefully being obtuse.

 The second man growled and stepped forward with my knife out in front of him as if he were going to gut me. His partner put out a hand to stop him.

 “Pass us your pack and remove your clothing,” man number one said.

 “Fuck you,” I said.

 He ordered the second one to taze me.

 “Okay. Okay,” I said, throwing my hands up in resignation. I’d planned to give them what they wanted anyway. I was just being difficult to make myself feel as if I hadn’t willingly given in to the situation.

 I shrugged out of the pack and slung it hard at the second man. He caught it with a grunt that made me smile. It faded when he shouldered my belongings.

 Next, I removed my boots. The second man, who was now grinning like a fool, tied the laces together before draping them over his shoulder. The jumpsuit was a bit more cumbersome, and I took my time getting out of it. Underneath the suit, I had on boxers and a t-shirt.

 When I went to remove the boxers, the first man said, “You can keep on what’s left for now.”

 “Thanks,” I said with a sneer.

 Without saying another word, the two men pulled my cell door shut, locked it, and walked away.

 For a long time, I stood in the middle of the cell at a loss as to what I should do. I could hear muffled noises from out in the hall, but I didn’t have a window to let me see what was happening.

 Eventually, I started pacing and searching the room for a camera.

 I found nothing.

 How could I have let this happen?

 Granted, we hadn’t known much about the Germans other than they planned to blow up our country to stop the spread of the zombie virus, but when we’d told them we had a vaccine, they’d promised to postpone their bombs until we could get it to them.

 I understood that they didn’t trust us. Since our world was first destroyed nearly a hundred years ago, the United States and what was left of Europe hadn’t communicated that much. First due to the lack of telephones, internet, and people, then as each continent tried to rebuild. We’d all pretty much left each other alone, but nothing in any of our conversations since the Germans had landed on our shores a few months into the outbreak had indicated to them that we weren’t willing to cooperate with them in any way possible to save what was left of our nation.

 We would have willingly gone into quarantine if they’d met us civilly, and not ambushed and disarmed us at the door, making us feel like we were one of the infected.

 Growing weary, I sat on the bed, stewed over my situation, and worried about Samantha. I knew I shouldn’t have let her come with us. I should’ve been more forceful with her when she requested to join our group. I just couldn’t. I knew crossing a zombie-infected world would be dangerous, but I couldn’t bear being away from her.

 If they’d hurt her, I’d kill every one of them. That thought made me smile. I lay back on the cot, picturing the look on man number two’s face as I stabbed him in the throat with my knife.

2

 I don’t know how long I lay on the cot, thinking about the things that I would do when I got out of that room before I heard someone approach my door. It could have been minutes or hours. I hoped only minutes.

 I’d been lying there trying not to think about Samantha locked in a cell like mine for such a long time.

 When the door opened, I didn’t sit up, didn’t acknowledge the person or persons in any way.

 “Jason Masters?” a female asked.

 I grunted in the affirmative.

 “You’re Jason Masters. From Shore Haven?”

 I grunted again.

 “You can speak English, correct? Your uncle hadn’t sounded as if he’d lost the ability. None of our communications with the U.S. over the last few years suggested that the English language had become obsolete.”

 “I can speak just fine,” I said. “Since your people behaved like barbarians when we first arrived, I figured you were the ones who’d lost all common decency over the last hundred years, so I was keeping my replies simple so that you could understand them.”

 I didn’t lift my head from the pillow to look at her as I spoke.

 “I’m sorry for the way my people treated you, but you have to understand…”

 “I don’t have to understand shit. We’ve had plenty of survivors show up on Shore Haven’s doorstep in the months since the outbreak, and not once did we treat them as brutally as your people did me and I assume the rest of my group.”

 “Surely you quarantined people,” she said, sounding shocked at the idea that we might not have been intelligent enough to do so.

 “We did, but after we explained to the survivors what we were doing and why. We also let them stay in groups so that they wouldn’t be scared or lonely. We didn’t drag them apart and force them into a cell at gunpoint. Hell, we even let them keep their weapons to ease their minds further. What you’ve done here was dickish, rude, and wrong.”

 “I’m sorry you feel that way, but we did what we thought best under the circumstances with that horde chasing you.”

 I could understand how seeing the zombies behind us would have frightened them, probably made them a bit leery about us as well, but I was too angry to let that justify their behavior.

 “Fine. How long are you keeping us locked up?” I asked, turning my head to look at her.

 “We aren’t sure yet. You’re getting a shower today, though.”

 Before I could move off the bed or say a word, two men entered the room, yanked me to my feet, and dragged me into the hall.

 “What the hell,” I said, glaring at the woman as we passed her.

 Okay, I’d put up a fight earlier, so they’d probably expected me to resist the shower. I hadn’t planned on it, but I guess I couldn’t complain about the manhandling…too much.

 “I can walk on my own, you know,” I said, trying to break free from the two men.

 “You’ve proven yourself untrustworthy, Mr. Masters. For that, you get guards,” the woman said, following behind us.

 “I wouldn’t have behaved that way had your people treated me like a human, to begin with,” I said.

 She didn’t respond.

 The showers on the base weren’t anything like our decontamination showers back at Shore Haven. The building the Germans had chosen on New Norfolk’s base was laid out a bit like the ground floor of the compound, but our facilities were much nicer and were made to appear inviting. We didn’t want to frighten anyone who had to suffer through the shower and quarantine.

 The room the two men all but threw me inside was long and rectangular. At the far end of the room, urinals lined the wall on the left, and a few toilet stalls sat to the right. Toward the entrance, sinks and mirrors filled the left side of the room, and three wide shower stalls faced them on the opposite side.

 “Do you have to use the bathroom?” the woman asked. I hadn’t realized that she’d followed us into the room.

 “I could take a piss, yes, but not with the three of you watching,” I replied.

 “You’re welcome to use the stall, but if you’re worried about us seeing you naked that won’t matter in a few minutes when we do your shower,” the woman said.

 “We? I’m a grown man. I think I can clean myself on my own,” I said, growing worried.

 “I’m sure you can, but we’ll be doing it for you to ensure you’re thoroughly clean and don’t have any bite marks,” she said.

 “The fuck you will,” I replied backing up a bit. The movement was impulsive, as I had nowhere to go.

 “We will. Please don’t make this difficult. If you want this entire ordeal over with as quickly as possible, you’ll comply. The more you fight and argue the longer it takes us and the longer you and your people will be stuck in your cells.”

 The woman was right, but that didn’t mean I was happy about it, nor did it mean I made cleaning me easy on them. I entered the last stall to relieve myself. One of the guards stood at the entrance to the open door.

 I couldn’t do anything about that, but I did resist removing my boxers when it came time for the shower, so one of the men held me down while the other cut them off. They both had to hold me for the woman to check around my penis and ass.

 “Why the hell would I have bite marks there?” I asked as I tried jerking away from her touch. “Who would let one of those things get that close to them?”

 She didn’t reply. I guess I should’ve been glad she wore medical gloves during her examination. The gloves and the hazmat suits they wore made me feel a little less violated…only a little.

 Once she finished examining me, they turned the showerheads on me and began scrubbing the shit out of my skin. I hadn’t had a single drop of blood anywhere on me, which I reminded them of, but that didn’t stop them from nearly scouring me raw.

 When they were finished, they left me cowering in the corner of the stall, shivering while they changed out of their wetsuits into dry ones that someone I hadn’t seen had brought to the shower while the three were cleaning me.

 I grew angry all over again at the thought of more people seeing me naked. I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to voice my opinions though.

 After they were dressed, one of the men threw a large white towel my way and ordered me to dry off, which I eagerly did. The woman handed me a thick bathrobe when I stepped from the stall.

 I merely glared at her instead of thanking her.

 She didn’t look the least bit apologetic.

 “What do you plan to do to me next?” I asked, wrapping my naked body in the robe.

 “We’re taking you back to your cell for now,” she said, motioning her hand toward the bathroom door.

 I went willingly to my room where I found a pair of grey sweatpants, a white t-shirt, and white socks folded on the bed.

 “What, no underwear?” I asked sarcastically.

 No one replied. One of the men shoved me a bit further into the room and shut the door behind me.

 A part of me really did understand why these people were behaving the way they were, but understanding their motivation didn’t stop me from being utterly pissed off about the ordeal.

 I didn’t think there was a camera in the room, but I pulled the pants on under the robe. I was done with people seeing me naked.

 Without having anything better to do and feeling exhausted from the day, I crawled under the sheet on the cot, threw the robe over that, and tried to go to sleep.

3

  I think I dozed some between the time I got back from the shower until the woman returned to my room. I don’t know how much time had passed. It felt like hours, but it could have only been ten minutes for all I really knew.

 “Hello again, Mr. Masters,” she said. She entered with a clipboard and a folding chair. No one else was with her. She never gave me her name, and I refused to ask for it.

 I grunted but didn’t turn to face her. I probably should’ve taken advantage of the situation and escaped, but I figured she most likely had a guard outside the door waiting for me to do just that.

 “Still unhappy with us, I see. I’m truly sorry for all the discomfort, but you have to understand why we’re taking such precautions. As far as we know, the virus hasn’t spread off the North American continent, and we’d like to keep it that way. We aren’t used to the zombies, as your people are, so we can’t be as casual as you have been about accepting people into your home.”

 I had to give her that, I guessed, but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about my treatment.

“To help us keep this virus from spreading, I’d like to ask you a few questions. Is that all right?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” she said, sighing with impatience. “Did any doctors or scientists at Shore Haven create the virus?”

“No.”

“Do you know this for a fact?”

“Yes. Shore Haven was months from being fully functional at the time of the outbreak. The only scientists that were there had come to explore the facility. The same with the doctors. They only began using the equipment we had when our family members started getting sick.”

“Your family? Even theirs?”

“Yes. That’s why Uncle Jasper had me bring Keisha, my niece, to the compound when she got ill. A lot of people on Liberty Island were already sick, and a few of them were at Shore Haven exploring the compound, so he wanted her there if the doctors discovered anything.

“They never even figured out what it was or how it was transmitted. Everyone thought it was a bug a first, then possibly another outbreak of some kind when people got worse. No one knew this would be the outcome.”

“Did any of the sick at Shore Haven get better?”

“No. Once someone got sick, that was it. Death or zombie was the inevitable outcome.”

“Not everyone turned into one of those things then?”

“Most did. I’d say about ninety-five percent of the population that gets sick becomes a zombie. The rest die immediately or shortly after that, depending on what their medical condition was at the time of death. Keisha had a tumor. The virus sped up its growth and killed her shortly after she turned. Russ, another guy in our group, said his grandmother had dementia, so she just died. Those things don’t live forever either. Yeah, you can kill them, but if they go long enough without food, they start to decompose.”

“You could have fooled me.”

“The numbers you see in New Norfolk don’t reflect the rest of the nation. Once you leave the city, you rarely see a zombie, and if you do, it’s usually a dying one.”

“Why are they flocking here?”

“They’re gathering in the bigger cities in hopes of finding food. Even if they can’t smell their prey, they can hear them. Cities, even ones that are empty make noise. Metal signs flap in the wind, one of their kind or an animal knocks over a trashcan—that sort of thing happens more and is louder in larger towns. Those sounds draw them here.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“I found the existence of zombies hard to believe, but here we are. Don’t take my word for it. Send your people out there to find out.”

“Send them to their deaths? I don’t think so.”

“If they’ve taken the vaccine and they stay quiet, the turned won’t even know they’re there.”

“They knew you were on this base.”

“That’s because we were in a vehicle. We were making noise.”

“I simply can’t take your word on any of this.”

“Then why are you in here asking questions? We brought you two of the doctors who created the vaccine. Talk to them. Test out the vaccine. You’re wasting your time with me.”

“We are talking to the doctors you brought. As a matter of fact, we’re talking to all of you to see if your stories match.”

“Most of them will, but some people in our group are new. We picked them up on our way here. They won’t know much, if anything, about Shore Haven, the lab, or the vaccine.”

“But they took it anyway?”

“They did.”

“Why?”

“Faith. I knew one of the men in the group. He trusted me, and his people trusted him.”

“You Americans are gullible.”

“Probably, but we’re also desperate, and it wasn’t like we’ve lied to anyone. The vaccine works, and even if we discover that it isn’t permanent, the zombies are dying on their own, albeit at a slow rate, but dying nonetheless. We want to do everything we can to survive until they’re gone.”

“How have you survived?”

“Luck, mostly. Shore Haven was built for the end of the world, so in the beginning, my uncle and I waited out the outbreak there. When people started turning, the governor ordered the bridges of Liberty raised. For months those on the island couldn’t go anywhere even if we wanted. Once it was down, we only left to follow leads on vaccines. Eventually, we found one and started distributing it.”

“Other survivors, strangers to you, have taken your vaccine?”

“Yeah. We’ve encountered some groups over the last month or so who’ve taken it.”

“All of them took it on faith that you weren’t lying to them?”

“Pretty much. I mean, some needed proof, others we sent to the lab to talk to the doctors there, but most took it on faith.”

“What kind of proof did you give them?”

“A lot of times, all we had to do was approach a zombie to let the person see that the creature didn’t react to us. Having something that simply did that was enough to get people to take it. One of our members went as far as letting a zombie bite him to prove to a group that the vaccine was real.”

“Which one of you did that?” she asked, sounding intrigued for the first time.

“Trevor. He’s not with us. He’s a young kid. Up to that point, none of us had been brave enough to let one of those things bite us to test the vaccine.”

“Have any of you done it since?”

“No one here has. I don’t know if anyone else has tried it since we left.”

“Why not?”

“We haven’t had a need to. Donte’s people are the only group we’ve run into on our way here, and they didn’t require that kind of proof.”

“I find that hard to believe, but as you said, your people are scared and desperate. If I were in your shoes, I guess I would’ve done the same thing. Luckily, we have the luxury of being able to test the vaccine for ourselves before any of us risk taking it,” she said, making one last note on her clipboard before standing.

I didn’t like the look on her face or her last words, but when I sat up to question her, a man opened the door and stepped into the room.

“Take him down to the lab,” the woman told the man before leaving.