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“Well this is going to be a bastard to fix.”

Colonel Schaffer was pissed to say the least. She hadn’t been happy to hear about the outbreak of the infection and she certainly wasn’t happy when the report finally reached her than the Infected had swooped in to claim the island’s sole survivor a whole month ago without her knowledge.
That was a lot of paper work she had to cancel under Kelly’s name.

“So now there’s no one,” she stated to herself, but the agent who had reported the news flicked through his clipboard as if to find an answer for her. “Everyone is gone? Not a single survivor? Why wasn’t this news brought to me earlier?”
She leant back in her chair, shutting her eyes briefly and hoping she would open them and it would all be a dream.

“The report was sent to the General first, but it was never redirected. I’ve already sent out a memo to direct all new information straight to you. We don’t have a record of anymore survivors but all of the Infected are still successfully contained to Hatchetfield as of now.”

“Ah mother of Christ. You’re telling me Perkins has been gone for- for how long?”

“Almost a month now it seems. We believe it was a man named Paul Matthews who took her.”

“What about Ben Bridges? Did they take him too?” She questioned.

“We watched the security footage and it seemed Ben Bridges was infected all along,” he stated. “We ID’d him to an office worker named Pail Matthews.”

In that moment she wanted to scream at her team for being so incompetent, but it was as much her fault as anyone else’s, if not more. She slammed her hand down on her table. “Christ! Well shit!” She couldn’t believe she had let that slip. He had been so silent in what she had assumed was some sort of trauma, some sort of selective mute situation, but in hindsight it was so easy to see how he had tricked them all - tricked her.

She pounded an angry fist back down on the bench. “Well I want patrols increased along the channel. We don’t want anyone crossing from Hatchetfield to Clivesdale anymore, there’s no telling what damage that could cause if it spreads,” she pressed her fingers to her forehead, massaging away the growing tension. “So what do we have then, Sargent?” She cut her ramble off to cover her annoyance.

“Not much,” he reported. “We had General McNamara’s unit taken in by the infection earlier of course, so we’re missing an entire task force.” He flicked through the pages of his clipboard. “Another General is preparing to evacuate Clivesdale citizens near the base, but in better news, the cure has had quite a breakthrough this week and good progress has been made.”

Schaffer let out a sigh of relief, tipping her head back. One hand clutched to her hat to keep it on her head to remind her to quickly regain her composure in front of the Sargent. “Perfect. And the test subjects?”

“No incidents or breaches. The branch at the lab is making some breakthroughs in drug design though. We need you to sign off on a few things before we test it if you have a moment to come down to the lab.”

Schaffer stood up, brushing out the creases in her uniform and fixing her hat. “Affirmative.”

She lead the march down the hall, making sure her boots were stomping the whole way to make up for the authority she was still lacking in. She had been promoted to be in charge of the case after McNamara was infected, but this was the biggest task force she had ever been assigned to.

Their test subjects were two teenagers, both about 18 years old. They were fairly easy to transport from Hatchetfield to Clivesdale as well, partially due to their age but primarily because of how slow their reaction time was.

The scientists had plenty of hypothesises for it too. ‘It’s because they’re young!’, ‘It’s because they haven’t been infected as long!’ The scientists spent a whole afternoon arguing over who had the more valid point as they waited for the toxicology report.

The email had been sent out at sunset and a very red-faced Private had delivered the message to her. “Ma’am, the results suggest...” he had stammered, his stoic expression breaking out into laughter which he couldn’t quite contain. “They’re high, ma’am. Stoned out of their heads.”

And Schaffer laughed with him. The scientists weren’t going to like that report.

The two of them were contained in two seperate observational chambers. The rooms were empty, almost like padded cells.

Scientists in sterile, white, full body hazmat suits were littered around the room, typing away and scribbling down messy observational notes.
“Colonel,” one greeted her in passing as she entered the lab.

They had managed to ID their test subjects. Daniel Joseph and Sofia Hart, but it seemed they mostly went by Danny and Sof. They were being held in two separate chambers, but video evidence and observational recordings showed them lingering at their wall as if it was more comfortable to be close. And for the time being, they allowed that mercy on the teenagers.

There were plenty of ideas being thrown around. Separation or isolation, even one very angry Sargent commented ‘just remove the vocal chords! Then what’s the difference?’ So in short, things were not going very nicely.

Both of them hummed lazy tunes, staring off into nowhere and pacing absently up and down the lengths of their tiny cages like restless zoo animals.

Their heads were always spinning and their eyes slitted. It hurt to be so far from the Hive. But otherwise they kept up their dancing and singing, Danny liked to drum out beats on the walls and the ground, sometimes going as far as head bang or howl or even mimic the sound of dreams.

Sof’s behaviour was harder to understand. The older scientists were confused and drawing blanks. Their first idea was that the distance from the Hive was causing a degradation in their musical abilities. She would kick her legs and pump her fists and flick her arms in all sorts of uncoordinated movements.

It was until a younger scientist in their early 20’s was on their first visit to the lab. Taylor was a new scientist who worked in geological samples mostly, but got lost on their way to their lab and entered the testing lab instead.

There was an immediate fear that Taylor had seen something they shouldn’t have when they laid eyes on Sof. But instead of panicking or asking questions, Taylor had very jovially exclaimed “that was the best woah I’ve ever seen!” Before returning the gesture, apologising for entering the wrong lab and leaving.

Being the only one to have any sort of ‘youth understanding,’ Taylor was welcomed into the testing lab any time they wanted and Sof seemed to like them too. It was their first establishment of inter species contact even if it was through ‘whipping’ and ‘dabbing’ and a collection of other strange moves no one but them understood.

“Why did Sophia just do that with her fingers?” Schaffer asked as Taylor approached her.

“Oh, that’s from a Vine,” Taylor nodded sagely. “It means ‘I’m gone’ usually, I think it’s an insult. She’s really mad today.”

Schauffer grimaced at Sof. Even Danny was resigned from his usual beats, he was singing louder than usual and leaning against the wall of Sof’s chamber.

Schauffer checked the chamber’s status on the digital panel in between the glass panes of the two rooms. Usually there were chemicals being pumped into the room to put them in ‘altered states of consciousness’ which was just the scientific way of saying ‘high’ to keep them calm. But according to the panel, there were no ‘ASC’ chemicals in the air.

“What’s happening?”

“That’s what we need you to sign off on,” a man in a white uniform and long coat delivered a form to her. The resident doctor. “We’re sobering them up to test the new round of treatment. It’s a pill that should increase substrates with complementary structures to the virus’s receptors. They’re competitive inhibitors so it should stop the virus reproducing.”

“Lovely, perfect.” As Schauffer was reminded, she did not visit the laboratory nearly enough. She scribbled down her signature on the paper handed to her. “But how do we remove the virus?”

“Well we already have an antiviral drug. It blocks the reverse transcriptase in the virus so it can’t reproduce or kill off cells.”

“Brilliant.” Schauffer clicked the pen back down on the table. “But the virus is already in the body,” she reminded him.

The man was quite nervous in general, but it was a good boost to her currently quite frail ego. So she straightened her back and widened her stance. “Doctor?”

“The innate immune system should take care of it. It’ll take a while though, they’ll need regular doses. We think a sort of vaccine will work better than a pill for now.”

“Sof’s afraid of needles I think,” Taylor leant over the desk closest to the observation windows. They threw up a sign at Sof. “Gang signs,” they announced mainly to themself.

“You know gang signs?” The resident doctor, Adam, she believed, gave them a shocked look.

“Oh nah, we talk mostly through vibe really,” they flicked their wrist very powerfully into their next jumbled sign and Sof returned it just as quickly. “And if we’re talking through vibe, Sof is pissed. Sorry, a more scientific word, infuriated.”

Taylor wasn’t good with their jargon or protocol, but no one could kick them out of the lab anyways.

“So can we go ahead with administering the treatment?” Adam asked.

“Affirmative,” Schauffer sighed, tired from all the tests that had failed already.

The scientist working on the laptop besides her clicked a button and a warning siren went off overhead to alert any excess staff members to clear out. Most other laboratory staff were told to take their break while Taylor had their hazmat suit checked.

Taylor drew up the head of their hazmat suit and wiped their gloved hands together. “Alright, party time. Stand back guys, colonel.”

Schauffer kept a hand secure on their gun as Taylor and one guard entered the room leading into the chambers.

They took a moment to fiddle with the needles and tools waiting for them in the preparation room before Schauffer could see them enter Sof’s room.

Of course, Sof’s reaction was offensive. She raised her arms high above her head and let out a piercing note at the sight of the guard before attempting to lunge at him.

Schauffer couldn’t hear them clearly through the glass but Taylor mouthed an apology to their test subject as the guard restrained them.

“Vibe check,” Taylor announced loudly as they injected the needle into the girl’s neck.

The girl writhed under the guard’s grip, convulsing violently and trying to rip herself free of him.

The guard cursed, resorting to knocking the spasming girl out and dumping her down onto the ground to save himself being infected.

Taylor and the guard exchanged a few words, waiting to observe Sof for any immediate changes before wrapping up and moving over to deal with Danny.

“Good, this is good,” Schauffer reminded herself.

“Pardon, colonel?” Adam asked.

“Just thinking out loud,” she changed her stance to a more thoughtful one, massaging her temple with her thumb. “We’re nearly there.”

———————————————————

“Don’t step away from your partner at any point during the strike for any reason. Do not leave the planned radius for any reason. Do not shoot to kill for any reason.”

Only the highest ranked soldiers were invited into the strike. Few of them were even above her own rank, and their eyes twitched at her commands. But the Brigadier had given Schauffer power for this task because she was the last one to see ‘Kelly’ alive.

Ugh. Everytime she thought about her she could only think about all that paper work.

“Remember, we aren’t securing anyone we can. Don’t bother with children or the elderly. We want to target weaker members of the Hive who are on their own. Only one per group and only suitable candidates. We are only focusing on finding new test subjects. We are not breaking down their numbers.”

Her task force gave her a confirming nod.

“And do not shoot to kill. I repeat, this is not a lethal mission. Use only your tranquillisers, and stun guns if necessary. Our aim is to take who we can. I don’t expect any more than three new subjects, and if it’s dangerous, retreat. Don’t leave your groups under any circumstances.”

Another nod.

The cure was a work in progress it seemed. After a week of intense vomiting and fatigue and fever, Sof and Danny could speak like normal people and it had been proven that they couldn’t infect anyone else (Taylor, who had grown quite close with Sof had proven this point by encouraging Sof to bite their arm ‘just to see’) but they couldn’t kill off that urge to dance, and they still spoke in rhymes.

Unfortunately for that, Danny and Sof were minors which meant if they were following the ethical code they could no longer experiment on them now that they were semi-human again so they were all flown back over to Hatchetfield to abduct some hopefully not-teens for the next round of testing.

Schauffer guided them down from the helicopter pad to the bottom floor. It was an old hotel building no longer in use - the Hive didn’t need sleep anyways. They downed the winding staircase as the sound of music rose all around them and echoed threateningly through the empty building.

They split up under the order to meet back at the helicopter in twenty minutes or less, but if anyone was missing past the half hour mark they were leaving without them. This was an in and out stealth mission.

She partnered herself with someone a little bit taller than her. She couldn’t see who it was under the helmet and mask but assumed from his build it was a man. She gestured to him to head one way as they exited the lobby, their footsteps cloaked by the ever-present singing that filled the island.

But for a town crawling with infected zombie-aliens, they weren’t having much luck encountering any good candidates.

They had seen a grandmother with her grandchildren and a group of teenagers and an elderly man. A boy the right age, but in a wheelchair and a girl walking with a cane. They needed someone fit and able bodied to ensure their results could be generalised.

They wanted someone in peak heath, but a vast majority of the Infected they were seeing were elderly or teenagers. Anyone at a more suitable age was walking around in duets or choruses.

Schauffer moved in silence, one shoulder pressed to the wall of the building as she crept down into the closest alley way. It was a narrow and lined with trash cans weren’t in use either.

“Spotted,” her partner spoke into his mic and gestured Schauffer down behind a group of trash cans, his tranquilliser prepped.

She dropped down to one knee, gaining a line of sight between two rubbish bins.

There were two targets in their direct line of sight, engaged in some sort of bickering duet.

One was a tall man in a cop’s uniform, dark glasses hiding the blow glue of his eyes. He was tall and looked reasonably strong. He was their best bet now that their time had dwindled to a measly ten minutes before meeting. Unfortunately, the cop looked to be scolding a younger girl in some intense, stupid jazz song along the lines of ‘Hey! Don’t smoke weed in public areas’ that made her groan.

“Is everyone in this town high?” Her partner sighed, raising his tranquilliser.

“Don’t, she looks too young. She’s probably a minor,” Schauffer gestured for him to lower his gun. “Go for the cop.”

“Won’t he notice if he loses his interlocutor?” He argued.

“Yes, but I’ll take care of the kid, you get the cop,” she hissed, raising herself up to move in.

Her partner hesitated briefly, not prepared to put away his tranquilliser. “Wait! Get down!” He grabbed at the strap around Schauffer’s shoulder to pull her back down, holding his breath.

Schauffer heard the singing before she saw the sight, but she knew how serious it must’ve been from the fact her partner just broke in-field protocol.
He had pulled on her so fast that she had dropped to both knees and he had rolled onto his back.

Schauffer raced to get a clear view of the street from their hiding point.

“Target sighted!” She called through her mic so he could hear her over the louder than life singing. She prepped her tranq, her hands steady with practice on her target.

Emma Perkins, or now officially known as Kelly Elswood, was walking down the street hand in hand with who she once thought was Ben Bridges. If the skip and the rhythm in her step wasn’t enough indication, then the blue stain around her lips was quite a clear sign she had been infected.

Schauffer rested her free arm on top of the sticky, mental bin lid and squinted through her gun’s crosshair. “I need you to get ready. That’s our new target, white shirt, black shorts. Cover the other three targets, I’m going to-“

“Colonel, you don’t have a clear shot. There’s too many of them, it’s not possible. We can’t have witnesses.”

“It’s possible,” Schauffer snapped. “Change of plans. You take the target, I’ll cover the others.” She didn’t wait for his confirmation, pulling the trigger on the cop who promptly collapsed.

None of them expressed surprise, but Paul and Emma changed their harmony, their eyes landing on him rather casually. The teenager only knelt over to retrieve a small bag of marijuana from his hand that had been confiscated from her.

“Go, go, it’s clear, shoot!” She hissed to her partner. “The woman, get her! Clear shot!”

She saw it happen in almost slow motion. The shot fired and Paul and Emma saw it at the same time. Paul pulled Emma into a single spin before dipping her, in theory, it would’ve protected Emma from the dart.

But in practice, the girl stood back up from the cop’s body before immediately toppling over as the dart landed squarely between her shoulder blades.

“You are fucking with me.” Schauffer’s hand slapped her forehead, not even bothering to look over at her partner. “I’m going to kill that Paul Matthews with my own hands if I have to.”

Paul and Emma didn’t even seem phased at the two bodies in front of them, but the former, while unable to locate his Hunter was not pleased that someone had attempted to hurt Emma and he was showing it. His teeth were bared and he would be frothing at the mouth if he could. His face was painted with an anxious, blue sweat, his free hand balled into a fist, when he yelled he sprayed blue spit from his mouth.

“Ah!” Emma gave him an affectionate grin. Almost too affectionate. “Oh boy of mine, there’s no need to worry. We’re both just fine.” She stood up on the tips of her toes to give him a long kiss. It was almost a bit to passionate for Schauffer to look at comfortably, and the fact the Infected didn’t need to breath didn’t make it any better.

Paul eventually drew away from the kiss, a happy, blue blush covering his face. But where Emma had been holding his cheek there were bloody fingerprints. And then almost as if they had forgotten, they stepped right over the bodies to continue down the street with a cheery, love-struck tune.

Schauffer and her partner gave each other equally confused looks.

It wasn’t as if they had really forgotten, more like the two of them couldn’t possibly picture any sort of threat that would endanger them, and had brushed off the collapses of their colleagues as irrelevant in each other’s company. They thought they were invincible.

Schauffer hunched her shoulders in to tuck herself between the trash cans as Paul and Emma continued cheerfully down the street with a song in their hearts and a skip in their step.

“We missed,” her partner breathed.

“They’re fast.” Schauffer wiped the sweat on her hands off on her pants. “The others weren’t that fast.”

“Doesn’t matter. Let’s just get these guys back to the helicopter, look at the time,” she ordered, ducking out from their makeshift hiding spot onto the road. She grabbed the young girl, scooping her up in her arms.

Her partner hauled the tall Officer up onto his shoulder. He was almost too tall to carry comfortably.

“Why’re you bringing the kid? Can’t you give me a hand with him? It’s one person per group.”

“We’ve wasted too much time to come back empty handed.” She had something to prove to herself. “Maybe she’ll be older than she looks.”

Her partner didn’t argue with her but she could feel he didn’t agree, and that he was mad with her as he lugged the cop back up the staircase.

They made it back to the helicopter pad at the twenty-five minute mark, dumping their finds into the second helicopter.

“Where’s your partner?” Schauffer pointed at a soldier at the edge of the group. The numbers were uneven.

“He got taken by them,” whoever he was he sounded breathless. “They grabbed him and infected him right on the spot. I saw it!”

“Who grabbed him?”

“These two infected bastards!” He held one hand to his own arm as if it was injured, and his stance was lacking.

Schauffer groaned. “Black pants, white shirt, brown hair?” She asked, she had quite a good idea who this mystery duo was.

“Yeah, did you see them? I tried to shoot them and they dodged! Dodged an actual bullet! Fuck!”

His colleagues turned to him worriedly as he spoke.

“They grabbed him and ripped his fucking throat out like it was nothing! Now he’s one of them!”

Schauffer shook her head. She didn’t want this man scaring the task force.
“We can’t deal with that now, get into the helicopter so we can get out of here!” She gestured them up into the first helicopter.

“They’re like the Hive’s power couple,” someone whispered to another solider as they climbed up into the helicopter.

Schauffer climbed into the second helicopter herself. It was being used to transport their Infected haul, and she wouldn’t risk anyone else transporting them but herself.

There were four bodies in the containment cell all up. She expected more, but for now It would do just fine.

There was the teenager she had brought, along with the cop they had shot down. An older looking man in a perfectly pristine suit and someone who would be about the same age as Taylor with a head of perfect brown hair tangled around her shoulders.

It was a good catch for their first strike.

She climbed into the front seat, glancing at the unconscious bodies that all tangled and entwined with each other from the way they had been deposited, but they almost looked to be cuddling.

But four didn’t make up for the soldier she had lost. If things went right, they could definitely cure him again. His loss was and always would be on her conscience, and everyone who doubted her leadership was going to hold it against her until she could fix it.

Schauffer sighed and laid back in her seat, giving herself only a second of rest before preparing the helicopter for take off.

“Oh Kelly. You’re in so much trouble once you’re cured.”