Chapter Twenty Two

It was tough for Edward to tell how much time passed. He never got a chance to go outside and none of the rooms he went between had windows. He would have tried to judge the number of days by the number of times he slept, but he never slept for more than two hours at a time and even then it seemed like he got sleepy at completely random intervals. He didn’t want to ask anyone, though. Keeping track of time was the sort of thing any old person should have been able to do, and he refused to admit he couldn’t.

Other things, at least, seemed to get easier. He still couldn’t hold down anything other than meat, but as time went on and his body no longer made any obvious changes he no longer felt the urge to eat it raw. Even better, his bowel problems started to get under control. For what seemed like several days after he arrived at Land’s End he had to wear adult diapers. He would have simply called them Depends, but Liddie didn’t know what that meant; they were apparently just another brand name that had disappeared a long time ago. His accidents became fewer and fewer, however, and soon he was able to go without them.

His room, too, changed for the better. He didn’t have to stay in that cramped little cell for very long. Liddie came to him several times asking him unusual questions ranging from his favorite color to his rest index ratio, which he had no idea what that was, but he eventually figured out that was something to do with advanced beds that hadn’t been invented yet in his time. He didn’t know what it meant until she came and led him to his new room, although it was really more of an apartment. It had been built in the facility just for him, and he could still smell the fresh paint and brand new carpet. She’d put a rush order on the place, apparently, and refused to let any of the tests on him start until he had a comfortable place of his own. That gesture alone would have meant a lot to him, but the cap on it all was the yellowed yet framed poster of Dale Earnhardt Jr. she’d put on his wall. She hadn’t know who Dale Jr. was, but she’d found out and searched high and low for it just for him.

He’d been nervous about all these cryptic tests Liddie kept mentioning, but once they actually started they proved to be little more than annoyances. They started out by taking only a few blood samples, but once it was discovered that he regenerated blood just as quickly as he could regenerate any other wound they began taking far more than a normal human would have been able to survive. All it did was make him feel slightly weak once in a while. There were also treadmills and various strength tests, the results of which surprised everyone including Edward. He’d always had a decent amount of strength, but he’d never been what he would call a bruiser or anything, and he certainly had never done very well running. But on the treadmill he could now keep up a good jogging speed for nearly an hour without getting winded, and he could generally lift more than he’d ever been able to in his previous life. The only side effect was that every time he pushed himself to that level he craved raw meat again.

This was all just the beginning, he was assured. Not only would there be more complicated and involved tests in his future, but they were going to see what they could do to help him recall events during his missing fifty years. On the outside he acted like this was something he was okay with, even excited about. After all, it was possible there might be something in there that could give him information about Dana or even Julia. But inside he was scared out of his wits at the idea of remembering. The red-tinged dreams had continued, except he knew damned well they were more than just dreams.

He was brooding on his brand new couch about that exact issue when Liddie knocked at his door. The door still remained locked whenever he was in here, but at least he didn’t have to ask for permission to go the bathroom anymore thanks to the toilet and shower of his own right in the apartment.

“Are you decent?” Liddie called from outside.

“About as decent as I ever am,” he called back with a smile. He’d only been in the new apartment a short time, but that had already become their familiar call and response every time she came to see him. She visited at least twice a day, once to collect him for the day’s battery of tests and once to just talk. They didn’t usually have a lot to talk about, but it was nice to have her around. It wasn’t like he ever had anyone else to talk to that didn’t want to stick another needle in his arm.

Liddie opened the door, but she didn’t come in right away like normal. Instead he heard some grunts and mumbles from the hallway.

“Liddie, is everything okay?” he asked as he started to get up from the couch, but Liddie’s voice stopped him.

“Don’t come out here,” she said. “Just stay on the couch and close your eyes.”

“Are you sure? It sounds like you need some help out—”

“No, don’t come out. You’ll ruin the surprise!”

Edward shrugged, sat back down, and closed his eyes. “Okay, they’re closed.”

“Good. No peeking, no matter what you hear,” she said. What he heard was more grunts, and he realized that she wasn’t alone. For a moment he almost panicked and opened his eyes. Maybe someone was coming for him. Maybe Liddie was just trying to distract him while some goons came to take him out. Maybe the CRS had for some reason decided that their precious Z7 was too dangerous after all.

Then he relaxed. He barely knew Liddie, but he believed she was trustworthy enough that she would never spring something like that on him. She would warn him and try to save him, or at least he hoped she would.

There were some bumping noises and someone cursed. It sounded like there were at least two other people with Liddie, and they were coming through the door slowly.

“Careful,” Liddie said. “It took a lot of convincing to get my mother to approve this thing, and I don’t think I can get her to approve another one if this one ends up broken.”

Edward raised an eyebrow without actually opening his eyes.

“Put it right over there. We can have someone move it later if he’d prefer it somewhere else.”

“Liddie? Can I open my eyes now?”

“Just a second. Okay guys, that’s good. You can go now.”

The two extra people left, leaving Edward alone with Liddie and whatever they had brought in.

“Okay,” she said. “Go ahead.”

Edward opened his eyes and gasped at one of the largest televisions he had ever seen in his life.

“What’s all this about?” he asked.

“Happy birthday, I guess.”

“It’s not my birthday. Or at least I don’t think it is.”

“I thought about asking you, but I thought that might give away that I was planning something. Really, I thought it might be something to help you pass the time, since you can’t exactly do much socializing or get outside.”

Edward got up to take a closer look at it. It was longer than he was tall and held up by a stand connected to the back, but for all its size it didn’t look heavy. He took a look at it from the side and was shocked to see it was nearly paper-thin. There was a small bulge on the side that he couldn’t identify, but there was a slot in it for something.

“I’ve got some other things for you, too.” Edward finally looked at her and realized she had a folder in her hands. “Now, I hope you realize how tough it was for me to get this first thing. I had to do a lot of research on your time, and I had to find some archive somewhere that actually had these recordings.” She opened up the folder just enough to pull out a small disk about the size of a golf ball with a hole in the center, then slid it into the slot on the television. The screen turned itself on, and despite its apparent lack of speakers the television suddenly blared the sound of cars speeding around a raceway. Edward backed away and gaped at the image.

“Oh my God. Is this what I think it is?”

“This is the last NASCAR race ever recorded,” Liddie said. “It would have been the day after you were bitten, if my research is right. Despite the spreading infection, some people tried to pretend that life was going on as normal. You can see in the stands that there are fewer people, but the race wasn’t interrupted at all. It was a long time before the Uprising was under enough control that organized sports events started up again, but by then there was a fuel shortage problem. NASCAR never made a comeback. But there is at least this. I even know who won, but I’ll let you find that out for yourself. I’ve got recordings of other races, too, although those you might have seen.”

Edward smiled as he saw the familiar number 88 race around the track. “It’s great. Thank you. Makes it feel a little more like home.”

“Well, that’s not really the most important thing. There’s something else. Something important.”

“What is it?”

“You really need to sit down for this.”

Edward shrugged and went for the couch. Liddie lightly touched the edge of the TV screen. He thought maybe she was going to turn it off so they could talk in quiet, but it sounded like the TV got louder instead. It wasn’t a lot, and maybe she hadn’t even done it on purpose, but it was strange enough that he took note of it.

Liddie took a place next to him on the couch, sitting closer to him than she usually did, and he had a sudden uncomfortable feeling. Ever since the Walmart, people had done their best to stay as far away from him as possible. Liddie hadn’t gone to the extremes that some others had, but she still hadn’t let herself get this close before.

She took a deep breath before she opened the folder. “Dana Schuett. Born June 10, 2004. Died April 29, 2055.”

Edward’s heart missed a beat.

Liddie’s voice wavered as she spoke. “It took some time to find all this. Take a look in the folder and you’ll see everything we discovered.” She handed him the folder. He took it with shaking hands and looked at the first item. It was a printout of an obituary. The photo wasn’t very clear, and at first he didn’t understand he was supposed to be looking at his daughter. But it had to be her. She had his prominent chin, although her mother’s high cheekbones were no longer so noticeable. She was also in her fifties.

“You can see from the obituary that she changed her name. That’s because she got married when she was in her twenties, although the ways to make it federally recognized didn’t exist again until she was thirty one.” She paused. “And you can see at the bottom of the page that you were listed as having passed before she did.”

Edward wasn’t interested in that so much at the moment. He had just found out that his daughter had lived through the worst of the Uprising, had even gotten married and maybe even had children of her own. Did that mean he had grandchildren out there somewhere? But even as these questions went through his mind, his eyes still went to the bottom of the page like she had said.

For the second time in less than a minute it felt like his heart stopped. This time, however, it was not out of joy. Someone—he had to assume it was Liddie—had written something there in a clear feminine hand but with tiny letters. They were so small he could barely read them, but they were there:

Everything in this file is fake.

Before he had time to say anything she reached over and flipped to another sheet of paper. “You can see here that we found hospital records indicating she gave birth at least once, but elsewhere in the file you’ll see where we think we have evidence she had at least one other child before they started keeping records again.” She pointed at a place on the paper near the bottom, just above another tiny note:

They’re watching. Pretend you believe everything I say.

Edward knew he should speak, but he didn’t know what would sound convincing. He wasn’t even entirely sure yet what was going on. Either the things she was saying or the things she had written down were a lie, but he was too shocked to come to any other logical conclusions.

“So, um, what did she die of?” he asked. He hoped he sounded sufficiently choked up. It wasn’t exactly an act.

Liddie’s voice was quiet and unsteady. Edward realized now why she had turned up the volume on the television. She wanted to cover up any flaw in her performance for the security cameras.

“Here. We were able to obtain a copy of the death certificate.” She turned to another page. This time she didn’t need to direct him where to look for the next message.

They’re doing this to get your cooperation. They have no intention of looking for any real evidence. You have to pretend this all satisfies you for now.

He forced himself to look at the fake death certificate. “Accidently killed by friendly fire when her husband was defending their home against an undead attack?” he asked. He felt sick. They had wanted to make it look real, he understood that, but if they were going to give him the false fate of his daughter couldn’t they have at least made it a less bloody and painful death?

“Yes. I’m sorry,” Liddie said. Edward looked up at her. She really did sound sorry. In fact, her eyes looked a little watery. That could have just been part of the act for the cameras, but he found himself meeting her gaze. Her eyes didn’t waver. He thought she honestly was sorry, sorry for being a part of tricking him, maybe sorry for playing with his feelings.

Or maybe he was reading the wrong things into it. For all he knew this was all some complex mind game, another experiment to determine how inhuman he was.

“We know that at least her youngest child is still alive,” Liddie said, gesturing for him to turn to the next page. “So you’re a grandpa.” This sheet was intended to look like an article from a Wisconsin news site. The article was text heavy, but a small portion had been highlighted for his benefit. His granddaughter, the one that didn’t exist, had apparently been named to her school’s honor roll. Underneath, it said:

Rip off these messages as soon as you can and destroy them. Be careful you’re not seen.

Edward nodded. “This…this is a lot to think about. I think I need some time to sort this all out in my head, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” she said. She started to get up, but he touched her arm before she could.

“Liddie, I suppose I should thank whoever did this.”

“I’ll make sure they know,” Liddie said. She hesitated, then leaned in and gave him a hug. She kept her mouth close to his head, presumably where none of the cameras could see her speak, and whispered into his ear. “I swear to God I will help you find out what really happened to her.”

Edward hugged her tightly back, then let her leave.