Edward slumped further in the truck as it pulled away from Rae’s building. The woman had done many things so far that would lead him to trust her, but there was still a fear in the back of his mind that she would turn him in. He couldn’t help it. His nerves were too frayed from everything that had happened so far. Earlier he had been able to maintain something resembling calm, but now he felt the shakes coming on. All of this was too much for one man to deal with. He wanted to curl up in the cage and go to sleep in hopes that he would wake up and none of this had happened. But he had already been to sleep once and woke to find the whole world was still a nightmare. He didn’t think it would work a second time, either.
He looked up as the truck came to the end of the block and saw Rae staring after him, and again he doubted for a moment her intentions. Maybe she was staring because she thought she wasn’t going to see him again. Maybe Ringo was taking him in to whoever was in charge and she had known all along. That didn’t make any sense at all, especially with the door unlocked and only held shut by a metal latch, but he still dwelled on it.
Then he saw her rifle on the floor of the cage near the door and smiled. Right, that made much more sense. She hadn’t been staring at him, she’d been staring at “Spanky.” He sat up a little and leaned over to pick up the gun. Before the Uprising and his reawakening he’d known as much about guns as most men in Wisconsin. He’d gone deer hunting every November and had kept a locked cabinet full of hunting rifles in his den. He would have thought he would recognize the make and model of Rae’s rifle, but he didn’t. It looked similar to the rifles he had used during his brief time in the Army, but besides the obvious customization there were other differences. It was lighter, for one thing, and didn’t appear to have any wood or metal in its composition. He wasn’t quite sure where to load the bullets, either.
Edward nodded, admiring it. He supposed all the differences made sense. This was fifty years from the time he knew, after all. From what Rae had said, the world had gone through a short dark age and then came out of it to rediscover all the ways and technology of before, but one thing that had continued to evolve through that whole time would have been weapons. Weapons manufacturers would have developed guns specifically for use against zombies. Technology had probably temporarily gone back to the Middle Ages, but mankind hadn’t been willing to go back to axes and arrows. Humanity hadn’t been able to afford that sort of leap backward.
He set the rifle back down. He really did want to sleep, but he supposed he should concentrate right now on what he should be doing next. Rae had been able to fill in some gaps in history, but he knew none of the information that was important to him. If this Merton Security company was so intent on getting a hold of him, and admittedly he wasn’t sure yet why or even
There was Julia too, and although he hadn’t allowed himself to hope before, it suddenly occurred to him that she might still be out there as well. She had become a zombie before he did, he realized that, but whatever it was that made him special could have made her different, too. Even if it hadn’t, she could still be wandering around out there somewhere, and if he could come back from being undead then he could find a way for her to come back, too.
He closed his eyes and put his hands to his forehead. No, he couldn’t allow himself to think like that. He couldn’t allow himself to get his hopes up over something that was so ridiculously implausible. His wife was gone, and probably so was his daughter. They were probably both dead, or undead, or undead and then dead again if someone had killed or destroyed them after they had come back. There was no chance he could ever have them back. Everything he had ever wanted and worked for in his entire life was more than likely gone.
Tears began rolling down his cheek, but Edward didn’t have the time to cry properly before the truck’s brakes screeched and he slammed against the side of the cage from the momentum.
“Ow! Shit, Ringo, what the hell?” Edward said as he banged on the back window. But unlike when Rae had knocked, Ringo didn’t answer.
“Ringo?” Edward said, poking up his head to look through the window. Ringo was staring straight ahead, his hands tight and white on the wheel. Edward was about to ask what he was looking at, then looked through the front window.
Two cars had pulled across the street in front of them, blocking the way forward. They were newer, unidentified models, just like the ones Edward had seen in front of Rae’s apartment.
Edward turned around to see two more cars pull up behind the truck. They stopped about fifty feet behind, and for several seconds no one in any of the vehicles moved.
Edward’s first thought was that Rae had set him up after all. She had known this was going to happen, right? But that was stupid. There was the cage door, and also if she had set him up she wouldn’t have been stupid enough to leave the rifle behind where he could grab it. Or maybe she just hadn’t thought a zombie would ever be smart enough to operate a rifle. Or maybe…
Or maybe nothing. Rae probably hadn’t known this was going to happen, but it didn’t matter to Edward right now. All the mattered was that all his hopes at being able to do anything about his new condition and life were wrecked before he’d had any chance at all. He was screwed, all because some agency he’d never even had a reason to hear of before today suddenly decided that he might be a threat or might be something interesting to dissect. None of these people cared that he was going through hell and he had no family anymore and no friends in the God-forsaken new world.
And he was sick of it. Without thinking of it anymore, he cleared away enough of his tears to see, then scrambled for the rifle from where it had skidded when the truck stopped.
“Stop!” someone screamed, and Edward ducked down in the truck bed as a gun went off and a bullet whistled past somewhere over his head.
“Holy shit, what the fuck is going on?” Ringo screamed from the front, but Edward ignored him. Instead he looked at the rifle in his hand. The trigger, at least, looked exactly like any other he had ever seen. He could use it if he must, although he had no idea how many bullets it had. He searched for the safety to make sure it was off, not even sure if the rifle had one, and he heard several car doors in front of and behind the truck open and many people get out.
“Confirmed,” a female voice said from somewhere behind the truck. There was another sound as a car raced down the street towards the altercation, but that seemed incidental to Edward at the moment. “We have the Z7 trapped and it is armed.”
There was a squawk from a walkie-talkie followed by a static-covered voice that Edward couldn’t make out, but he could tell that the voice on the other end was frantic.
“Driver!” a man called out from in front. “Get out of the truck now and step away from the vehicle.”
Ringo’s door opened just enough for him to call out. “On whose God-damned authority do you think you’re doing this?”
“Joint task force from the CRS and Merton. You are harboring a biological weapon.”
“You people are absolutely crazy!” Ringo said, but he slowly opened the door and got out of the truck, keeping his hands up in the air as he stepped away. “You rat-shit government bastards better not harm my truck, you got that?”
“Step clear, sir,” the male voice said again, and Ringo left Edward’s limited vision from in the bed.
“You, the zombie in the truck!” the female voice said. “We know you can understand us and we know you can use that rifle. Throw it out of the truck now!”
He was surrounded, and they had already shown that they were willing to fire on him. His hands tightened on the rifle, shaking, and he stared down at them. They were mostly healed, with only a few smaller spots of missing flesh and a slightly unhealthy color to his skin. He probably looked nearly back to normal, but he didn’t think any of these people would care. He was just a monster to them. They didn’t give a shit that he could feel and think, that he was in pain and mourning his family and angry that everything had been taken away from him. These people would never care. And they wouldn’t care for a single second if he stood up right now and they all had to shoot him down. If he really was still a zombie then he might be able to survive bullets to most of his body, but a single headshot would kill him for real.
And he couldn’t bring himself to care. He had nothing, no chance, and if they were going to kill him in cold blood then just for this moment he didn’t care as long as he took a few of them down with him.
A car screeched to a stop behind the truck, and a new female voice screamed. “Stop! Everyone stop! Stand down! Don’t shoot him!”
“He’s armed!” the first woman said. “DuFresne gave us permission to take him down!”
“DuFresne doesn’t have the slightest fucking clue what he’s doing. I order every single one of you to lower your weapons.”
Edward held his breath, trying to listen for any sounds that the people surrounding the truck were complying. He couldn’t tell for sure. He could hear other people now murmuring as footsteps came closer. A lot of people, probably not just the ones who had stopped the truck. This whole incident had likely caught the attention of everyone living in the buildings around them, and they were coming out to see what the fuss was about. Although Edward definitely didn’t want to see anyone innocent hurt, he hoped at least that the onlookers would make the people from the cars think twice before they fired.
After a few more seconds of silence from behind the truck, the new woman spoke again. “Sir? You in the truck? Can you talk?”
Edward took a deep breath and tried not to let his voice sound like he had just been crying. “Yes.”
There was a murmur from a few people. “Sir,” the woman said, “could you please sit up where we can see you?”
“No, you’ll shoot me!”
“We won’t shoot you, sir. Please, I’m sure you’re very confused right now. I can help.”
“Yeah, confused sure as hell is right. I might even say I’m a little pissed off at the way I’m getting treated so far, too.”
There was a pause in the woman’s words that Edward probably wouldn’t have heard if he hadn’t been relying solely on his ears. “Pissed off. Yes, I’m sure you are. But we’re not here to hurt you.”
“Sure as hell could have fooled me.”
“I understand. I’m sorry. There was a miscommunication. The people we asked to help us bring you in, they don’t truly understand what you are.”
“And just what the hell am I, huh? Would someone please finally answer me that?”
“Yes, sir, I will, but I need you to throw the gun out of the truck first. Can you please do that for me?”
It could be a trick. In the past he might have believed that was just a paranoid way to think, but after everything that had happened so far he figured he had a right to be paranoid now. They could just want him disarmed so he would be easier to shoot. But this new woman that had suddenly shown up talked to him unlike most people had so far. Even Rae had been unwilling to treat him like a person at first. This woman, however, kept calling him ‘sir’. Not zed, not zombie, not monster, not thing, but ‘sir”.
And she actually sounded like she knew what she was talking about when she said she knew what was going on.
“I’ll do it, but on one condition.”
“What is it, sir?”
“I’ll do it if you stop calling me sir. I worked for a living, thank you very much.”
The woman made what was perhaps the most shocking sound since he had woken up. He had almost forgotten how wonderful that sound was. She laughed.
“Absolutely. What’s your name?”
Edward threw Spanky out through the bars and heard it clatter on the road. He stood up with his hands where everyone could see them. There were a few gasps from onlookers, probably at the still-sorry state of his face, but they weren’t as bad as he would have expected earlier. He could probably pass as a regular human by now, albeit one with a serious skin condition. For some reason that brought him a great deal of satisfaction.
“Edward,” he said. “Edward Schuett.”