“I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
"First I'll kill you, bitch."
The vials were the answer. They had to be!
No, they were the cure! That cult leader lunatic was talking out of her ass. Only one way out? Turn on that nuke and kill off millions to save billions? No, like hell was he gonna do that!
Enough of losing more lives because 'the ends justify the means'. Enough of losing friends around him!
Enough was enough!
He was done with this voodoo, higher morale shit!
The weakened runner scrambled to the thin vials of dark-blue liquid.
"...And save my friends…"
Get the vials, get out, and get back to the Tower.
"And you can rot in hell."
He picked one. Two. Then a third for good measures.
The walls around him blurred into a dizzy, sickening soup. He was almost swimming in it and yet some willpower leftover was ushering him to keep going. Don't stop. He couldn't afford a short rest.
Then the visions flashed.
He was gone under for a couple of minutes, watching the faces violently snarl at him. Try to kill him. But his body kept going. Once he surfaced back up to reality, he found himself clumsily wobbling into some white containers. Somewhere else.
"You can't change anything, Kyle."
Something was wrong. He couldn't put his finger on it. This dizziness was taking far longer than he expected, along with this killer headache.
"What's happening to me?"
"You'll see for yourself…"
The colors were wrapping around him into shiny spheres. Again, he went down. Like drowning at the bottom of the ocean and he was clawing back up for a breath of air. A set of old mattresses softened his lumbering fall.
"I… I killed you! I fucking killed you!"
Where was she? Where?! He'd do it again if he had to!
"This is a poison…"
"It's not a poison!" His anger died out quickly as he desperately pulled out a vial. It was confirmation to himself, just to calm him down from losing to insanity. "It's a cure!"
Again, he squeezed his fingers on the vial. It was real. Not an illusion!
"Lena?" he called over the line after keeping the vial away. "Lena, I'm coming back with the medicine. We'll be able to help everyone now! Tell Camden that he has all the time in the world… No! Tell him that we have a new lead… A better one…"
Again, he went under. The flashes were getting worst. When he breathed back up, he was by a barricade of blue containers. He heaved himself over them to spot a ray of hope gushing down a manhole.
A way out. A ladder, at the end of the tunnel. Out of this damp, sewage.
With all the determination he had left, he pushed himself to keep going. Ignore all the one-second faces going by. The masks, the symbols, the crazy fanatics, fuck all of them. They were history. That damn Mother voice in his head was just the after effect from having his brain smashed up inside - that was all. Because she was silent now, no more whispering.
Replaced by something else. He couldn't hear it.
Just go, Crane. Get out.
Out into the light.
Once the delirious runner was up on the surface, everything was relatively clear in his head. The blurriness had stopped and he found himself on the edge of a playground. A cozy suburban area with well-cut lawns behind picket fences. Playing by the monkey bars were two kids while an adult - their mother - was watching nearby.
No zombies. No cries of help. Just a peaceful afternoon.
"Where am I?"
It felt a bit alien to him. After everything he had gone through, none of this felt real to him. It was as if he had been dropped into a reality where the Harran virus didn't exist and everyone was moving on with their lives.
He hopped down. Maybe the family could give him some details. Where he was, what was happening, all the questions. He needed to get to the others pronto-
The visions flashed again - violently. One of the infected launching at him with bared teeth for a split second was familiar. No, she was familiar.
Suddenly, one of the kids pointed at him. They were looking at him directly with terrified faces. Why? Both children rushed over to their mother like chicks under the protection of the hen.
He reached out-
And gasped at the sight before him. His hands...they shouldn't be his hands. Orange veins like molten lava running through him, glowing out of crusty, disgusting blackened skin. Nails were sharpened and wrapped into talons.
He had seen these kinds of hands. Only at night. These weren't his hands!
But they were attached to him.
No. No! What is this? What...why is this happening?
He wanted to yell. He wasn't a monster. He was trying to help people! Save them! Scream out his name to confirm he was human. He was still inside! He wasn't one of those mindless freaks!
Please! Someone hear him!
Then the dimming of one enormous light caught his attention.
Sun was setting. And just as it slowly descended behind the houses, something creaked out from the center of his mind.
Dark whispers telling him to tear, rip, kill. Getting louder the closer night was falling.
He turned back to the family. He wanted to tell them to get away but a snarl came out instead. The unknown energy was building up inside his muscles, readying him for the stalk. The hunt. His teeth were aching for some sinking. And look over there, someone in the back of his mind murmured toxically at him. Easy prey.
Stop! This is not what I wanted!
He tried again.
But all that came out of his mouth was the howl of a predator in pitch nighttime.
Eight days later...
The loud lyrics of sunshine and joy echoed uncannily throughout the dark tunnel.
The small boat zoomed smoothly across the gentle foamy waves and all of its noise was taunting the slow walkers at the banks. Any survivor upon seeing the boat would think the driver had a deathwish - the infected already limping towards the sound of the propeller, only to clumsily fall into the saltwater. Like chicken who can't swim, they sunk right under after a few clawing at the sides.
The driver didn't care, her fingers tapping to the music. As of now, water was one safe haven from the undead around her. The channel was the only best route that would surely get her to her destination safely before noon.
And the morning sunlight seeped in once the boat reached the end of the tunnel.
A slender, gloved hand lifted up, shielding her eyes. The sneaky bright rays slipped past her shades. But once her vision finally readjusted, she glanced at the familiar Mediterranean coastline of Harran. The Slums were just a line so far away in the distance.
The blue water and crystal clear sky weren't breathtaking enough to dress up the city from its own horrors: the many streams of black smoke and the screams of the damned. Isolated apocalypse was upon humanity and while the destruction was laying waste in the streets, the city seemed to rebel against it. The walls were still staying strong and whatever was left of survivors were trying to push through. One more day. Just one more day.
So the driver of the small speedboat couldn't help but feel stunned at the sight.
Then her short attention drifted to one thing on the dashboard that annoyed her. A weird bobblehead knockoff, probably from China. She was told it was some game character - a rap singer with an open black shirt, red bandana over his eyes and one big golden B-pendant chain around his neck. It just tempted her to poke at it and watch the head bobble.
"You sure have some weird taste, Lenny..." she uttered, a thick accent escaping her lips.
There was a feeling of vibration in the pocket of her sling bag. At first, she decided to let it run - because she knew who it was going to be. Maybe this upcoming earful would be less loud since it was still daybreak. He'd be looking for a wake-up by now.
At least, that was what the woman was betting on. She slipped out a small earpiece, linked to the walkie-talkie on her belt, and placed it in her ear.
Beep! "Jack. Do you read me?"
Oh, she could hear the sweet, lovable voice of her comrade. Steaming and ready to give her a vocal one-two punch. So she deliberately kept quiet and watched the scenery.
"Goddammit. I know you can hear me!"
"Sorry about that, Bones. Just admiring the view."
"Where the hell are you? Everyone's been looking for you this morning."
"Somewhere near the Coast. I'm heading to the Slums in less than an hour."
"Ok. I don't even know which to be angry at. Thinking you got killed during a run. Or of all the places in Harran to go to, you're heading there! Asem's going to be pissed."
"Actually, she gave the OK."
"You gotta do what you gotta do for family. And she knows it more than me. Besides, I'll be back in a jiffy. These waters' got no zombies to worry about. And this boat ride is relaxing."
"Well, that explains Lenny going ballistic this morning. Geezus, Jack. What are you thinking?"
"Like I said, it's just a drop-in. Tower's been silent since last week now and that nitwit of a cous is probably losing his cool again. So I'm just gonna drop by and give him a pep talk."
"You never liked your cousin."
"We had our falling. But he's a bloody idiot and he's all I got. And hey, I get to meet up with Jade. Rahim too. Might even shake hands with this new runner they've been talking nonstop about over and over. Says he's been doing good with the folks there."
"Sounds like he's completely the opposite of you."
"Ah-ha. Good joke. Remember I'm the only one who's doing this little pet project for you. And when have I never done a good deed for you guys?"
"No, I mean - you are a good person! But sometimes your methods are...unorthodox."
"At least it delivers the bread on the table. And sounds like I'm not needed over at the Ravs. Maybe I should stay at the Tower for a while."
"What - No! Of course you're needed. Stop putting words in my mouth!"
She chuckled. "I'm kidding, Bones. The Ravs is my home now. I won't abandon ye all."
"Heh. That's good to hear. Asem would put a curse on me if you did… And, Jack. Are you sure you want to be doing this away from the Ravs? There's nobody to get you if you go under. And no one outside the Ravs can know about this 'pet project'."
"Don't worry too much. I'll be careful. I'm just birdwatching, see how those freaks think. And let a few zombs take a few quick bites off me-"
"For collecting data, not screwing with your life," the young man on the other end heaved a heavy sigh. "And we have zero idea if that will work. We haven't even finished the tests, for Pete's sake!"
"Look, you saw it yourself. It did. It'll take time for them to go down but it works. And if I can get the info you need, then we can help the Tower out with that cure, right?"
"Theoretically, yes. But-"
"Then it's a better solution than nothing. I beat the odds and I'm the only one brave enough to get close to those zombs. You know that."
There was a muffled scream - hands over a mouth. Bones was surely having a hard time trying to win this one-sided argument. "...You were cutting so close to the thread last time. We can't lose you again. Your cousin, Harris...if you two really do care about each other, he's gonna be real broken about you."
The tension could be felt through the earpiece. He was still beaten up about the previous week. Hell, it was understandable so Jack couldn't help but feel a little apologetic.
"I know, Bones. I know. I'll...try to be more careful."
"That doesn't give me a vote of confidence. And you're not going to listen to me one way or another… Ok. You're wearing your PACT, right?"
Jack glanced down at her left wrist. The tight black bracelet with a thin green monitor - pulsing with the easy readings, from reading her adrenaline spikes to chemical influx. "As always. You should really come up with better names."
"Shut up and keep an eye on the color. When it hit blue, contact me with the results. When it hits red, contact me! Keep that tracker on at all times, got it?"
"And no heavy combat!" he hissed. "Just...find a weapon. Craft it out of thin air, for all I care. But no fists. Don't even be a hero. We can't lose our best fighter out there."
"Ah, come on. I'm Mad Jack. I'm immortal."
"Was. Keyword, was Mad Jack. Don't make me read your file again," he groaned, letting a pause swing by. "Contact HQ when you've arrived there."
"Yes, dad. You'll hear from me in three hours."
"What is it?" Over the line, another voice could be heard in the background as her worried companion moved away from the mic. "Jack, heads up. GRE has been sighted over the horizon. Asem thinks they might be sending the cavalry to finish the job for good."
"Asem's always right on her sixth sense. Wasn't there some rumors about them leaving a bomb in Harran?"
"And pray to God, they never find it. I am not going to go down in that kind of blast of glory."
"Amen to that."
"They're coming in heavy too. So avoid those hotheads at all cost. We need more time."
"Affirmative. But you know they could just bring in another bomb."
"Jack, why can't you just be optimistic for once?"
"I'm being realistically optimistic. There's a difference."
"Just get back here in one piece. Good luck."
With the other end gone cold, the runner kept the earpiece back in its original spot.
"...I don't think I can promise you that."
Looking back at the scenery again, she decided to retract back her earlier thought. It was a bittersweet sight. The infected filled the streets like packs of lionesses, slow and sluggish by day and by night, much greater threats came out, thirsting for flesh and blood. And that was just the tamest part of the city.
Citizens were struggling with food, water, and even Antizin. Survival of the fittest was the main game for the past few months, leading to factions being self-deluded beacons of hopes while lashing at each other for the drops. The most dangerous one she had heard from the Slums was one large group by some psychopath but that also went silent before Tower went off the comms.
Well, if anything, that was probably for the better. Humans were far more threatening and vicious than the undead freaks. And she knew that from her own experience. Jack didn't want too much trouble while she'd stay over in the Slums.
"...Harris, you better be alive or I'm gonna kick your ass back to hell when I find you."
Just as she turned back to the front, something arose up to the surface fifteen feet away. It was barely in the seconds that she noticed the strange form picking up the pace towards the boat.
"What the hell-?!"
Despite her best effort to steer around, the unknown thing hit the bow. Hard.
The sheer force bashed the boat right to a 45-angle left, heading towards a stone pier close back. There was nothing she could do but brace for the impact.
"GARGH!" Her whole body went flying, right onto a pile of blue garbage bags to cushion her floor. The full brunt knocked the wind right out of her as she rolled off with a huff of pain.
Her vision went blurry for a few seconds as she recoiled on her knees. She wasn't alone on the dock. Vials were everywhere, staggering towards the one noise they heard: her.
Then she remembered the boat. Its side was smashed in and with nothing to pilot it, it aimlessly drifted away from the stoned dock, from her.
"No, no! The boat!" Jack hurried after it-
"Grooooaaawnn!" Coming in unexpectedly, an 8-feet-tall Goon lifted up a rebar. High up it went, ready to pound down her head like a watermelon.
The concrete before her cracked apart as she skidded back a good five feet distance. The Goon's hollow white eyes glimpsed with raw instinct. To kill a puny human.
"Yeah, you know what? Keep it!"
She was off. She was defenseless and carried little on her. The rest of her equipment was now at the bottom of the sea. But speed was the best tool a runner could use in times like this. Speed was vital. Stop for a split second and one would be chomp food.
There was one slight problem. She didn't have anywhere else to go.
After the pier was a two-storey-tall, thirty-feet-long barricade. An extra wing of Harran's City Walls, creeping into the coastline and stretching from one end of the beach to the other. It was a new addition after the rebuilding of those surrounding walls in the past, now barred with all sorts of protection to keep any hoppers from jumping over. The Coast was a closed-off area with the GRE and authorities establishing a means of protection from the nearby quarantine areas, bordering off the shorelines and the city of Harren.
That was why she took this route - minimum zombies along the pier. And now she was gonna pay the price.
"Shit! Someone! Anyone!" she hollered along the side. Just one kind soul over the tall concrete wall to hear her and pull her out, which was highly unlikely. They'd shoot her on sight. If she must, she was going to have to take a dip in and face whatever was lurking in the water.
Her sprint dropped to a skip as her eyes widened at a new sight. Crumpled rocks laid waste on the floor.
From a giant hole in the wall.
How? When did this open up?
Oh, the questions didn't matter right now. Her life did!
The gurgling groans and snarls were coming right behind her. Surrounding her. The zombies were picking up the pace on their new prey as she galloped through the tear. And sure enough, beyond the walls were more infected, heads spinning round to the tasty prey.
"Get up, Jackie! The floor's lava!"
With a foot on a fence and another on a sliding, she swooshed her way up to the second deck of coastal houses. Hopping from one balcony to the next, Jack eyed around for any likely safe spot to stay for a good amount of time.
Either way, being up and above was far safer than below on the streets.
"Oomph!" A Biter came charging to her fast, out from an open door of the second deck and both tumbled off the balcony. This time, there was no soft cushion for Jack.
A blinding pain wracked through her body in an instant. Ringing could be heard in her ears. Oh, did she really hope her skull was fine. Bones would never forgive her or even let it go if he heard word about this. But as her head cleared up, she felt another source of pain still lingering.
On her leg. The Biter that fell down with her was latching onto it with arms and teeth.
"Get off me!" She kicked it off. No sign of a tear in the fabric but a bite wasn't and shouldn't be her main concern.
A second Biter was darting after her. Quickly, her hand searched behind her and gripped on a pipe lying around. The space between them wasn't enough time for her to use it like a weapon - the infected runner was already pinning her down with its rotten body while she pushed back the snapping jaws with the pipe.
Seriously? This was how she was gonna end up? Getting eaten by these bastards?
"Mad Jack...isn't gonna die here! Not until I say so!"
Just as she was about to boot the Biter off her-
The Biter was off her in seconds. Two bodies rolled off but one stood triumphantly and exhumed out another roar.
Great, a second new type she'd never seen before. It had been a while since Jack felt fear. Her heart was in her throat and she was shaking in her shoes, trying to inch away. Because that thing was a beast, bashing the second infected to a bloody pulp with its bare fists.
Fists? Wait. Zombies don't punch. They flay their arms at victims in an attempt to overwhelm them. And those were split-opened claws.
Then yellow eyes shot at her.
Just eyes and the baring of canines. Maybe before the infection, the bastard was wearing some sort of head covering before it turned into draping rags. Which was good. Of course, she didn't want to see its ugly face. Its whole body was already hideous with bone spikes piercing out through the back of its green jacket.
And now it wanted her.
"Fuck! Are you kidding me?!"
Jack climbed back onto her feet. The dead onlookers hawked towards her as she zoomed into an uphill street. One good swing of the pipe and she sent a head flying off.
The predator's roars and the sound of a few backers falling like flies didn't tempt her to peek back. Seemed like the tough guy didn't want to share her with the other zombies. She'd take that conflict between 'their kind' as a blessing in disguise.
Jack gazed up. Up ahead was a fenced-up warehouse - double-reinforced up and with a person jumping up and down, waving her arms at her.
Two more joined the short runner on the top, clearly in similar runner attires as Jack herself. They pointed out handheld spotlights with the purple lens as if they were assault rifles, right at her.
The light didn't seem to do anything under the bright sun. But the sound of sizzling skin and hisses made her realize one thing.
"Open the gates!" the black-haired teenager hollered down below, which whoever was behind compelled. The heavy man-made gates growled loudly and opened too slowly. It'd be a tight squeeze but Jack quickly dropped down into a skid and slid through the gap.
A loud roar echoed behind her. And that sounded big.
"Close it! Close it!"
One thug that towered even most men Jack knew hurried to the center of the gates and with all his strength, cranked them shut. The gates suddenly banged forcefully, pushing the hulk off his feet. Quickly, the teenager dropped down to hurry up with the locks.
"Keep the UVs on that thing!" The dominating voice of a man boomed across the front yard of the warehouse. "Get some heat out now! Gab, check our visitor."
An old man kneeled beside Jack, immediately uttering out words she couldn't understand. Polish? Then he tried Arabic. Next, English, "Are you alright?"
Jack was all too weary to assess any more of the situation or speak up. Every part of her body - inside and out - was burning and in knots. She was even too numb to notice the doctor examining for any injuries.
None of this was how she planned. But then again, most of her plans never went the way she wanted them to go.
"B-Bloody fucking dandy…" was all she could muster out as a murmur. Jack let the exhaustion win the battle this time and closed her eyes shut. Didn't matter if she added more salt to her headache once the back of the head hit the dirt. She needed forty winks.
Well. Guess she was stuck in the Coast for a while.