Book: Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Previous: V Plates
Next: Plan B

An Otherworld Universe Story

Daniel Boyd had overcome many obstacles in his life, and mortality was simply the latest challenge. He’d been born into an illustrious family of sorcerers, owners of a multinational corporation. Money and magical powers. The proverbial silver spoon . . . or it would be, if your father hadn’t screwed the company over and gotten himself—and his sons—disinherited. But Daniel had surmounted that barrier, and so he would with this one.

“We’re heading down to the laboratory,” Shana said, her voice coming through his computer speaker. “It’s underground, so let’s hope we don’t lose the connection.”

They’d better not, considering how much Daniel had paid for the equipment. He leaned back and watched the screen bob as Shana descended the steps, the camera affixed to her hand.

The doctor had given him the death sentence two weeks ago. Inoperable cancer. Six months to live. Daniel didn’t accept it. He had money, he had power, he had connections; he would find a way to commute this sentence. So he’d begun his search, delving in the black market of the supernatural world.

Shana finally reached the underground Peruvian laboratory. As much as Daniel wanted this cure, he wasn’t flitting across the world to get it. There was no need to when he had Shana.

She was, as he’d always said, the perfect assistant. Loyal enough to follow orders without question. Astute enough to anticipate his every need. Attractive enough to make everyone presume he was bedding her, and smart enough never to correct that presumption.

She’d been with him for six years, and he didn’t know what he’d do without her. Luckily, he didn’t need to worry about that.

“Still there, sir?” Shana asked.

“I am. Audio and visual working fine.”

A man’s face filled the screen, coffee-stained teeth flashing. “Hola, Mr. Boyd! I’m delighted that you’ve taken an interest in my studies. May I be the first to welcome you to—”

“I have a meeting in twenty minutes.”

“Of course. You’re a busy man. I mustn’t keep you—”

“No, you mustn’t,” Shana said. “Now, this is the lab, I take it?”

The camera panned a gleaming, high-tech laboratory. Dr. Gonzales was funded by a European Cabal that wouldn’t appreciate him double-dipping with a Boyd for a client, but he’d been unable to resist Daniel’s offer.

Gonzales walked to a table full of beakers and tubes and started explaining how he’d distilled the genetic component.

“Not interested,” Daniel said. “I only care about the end result.”

“You can fax the results to me,” Shana said. “So our scientists can check your procedures.”

“Yes, of course. Well, then, on to the subjects.”

The screen dimmed as they returned to the hallway. Daniel answered three e-mails while they walked and talked about the cure. It wasn’t a cure for cancer; Daniel had realized early that was a band-aid solution to avoid tackling the underlying problem of mortality.

Vampirism seemed the best solution. Semi-immortality plus invulnerability. But as it turned out, the process of becoming one was far more convoluted than he’d expected, and promised only a twenty-percent chance of success . . . and an eighty-percent risk of complete annihilation of life and soul.

Most vampires, though, were hereditary, and therein, he believed, lay the answer. After some digging, he finally found a lead on Gonzales, a shaman who claimed to have isolated and distilled the genetic component that would make anyone a vampire, for the right price.

“Sir?” Shana murmured.

He glanced at the screen to see what looked like a hospital ward. He counted eight subjects, varying ages, all on their backs, unconscious, hooked up to banks of monitors.

“We began clinical trials five years ago, starting with rhesus monkeys—”

“Could you tell us about these subjects, please,” Shana cut in. “Have they completed the trial? How much attrition did you experience? Have you managed to induce invulnerability as well as semi-immortality?”

“They’ve all completed the procedure. We had two subjects whose bodies rejected the infusion. One survived. One did not. As for invulnerability, naturally, that is part of the package—”

Gonzales stopped as Shana stepped up to a sleeping subject and slid a knife from her pocket.

“—though it hasn’t been perfected yet,” he hurried on. “It will be, though.”

Shana wrote something on her tablet notebook. Sweat trickled down Gonzales’s cheek.

“Why are they unconscious?” she asked, still writing.

“We had some difficulty finding willing subjects, and while I’m sure they’ll be pleased with the results, we thought it best to . . .”

“Ease them into the reality of their new life.”

His head bobbed. “Yes. Exactly. Thank you.”

“Wake one up.”

Gonzales stared at her. Then he looked into the camera.

“When Ms. Bergin speaks, she is speaking for me,” Daniel said.

Gonzales blathered on about the danger of reversing an induced coma. Shana set the camera down, so he could speak directly to Daniel, then walked away, as if giving them privacy. She walked behind Gonzales, quietly opening a medical cabinet, taking out a syringe and scanning the bottles before choosing one. Daniel smiled. The perfect assistant. Always resourceful. Always anticipating his needs.

As Gonzales continued, Shana filled the syringe, stepped up to the nearest subject and plunged it in.

The man bolted upright, gasping and wild-eyed. Not unexpected, under the circumstances. The screams were. Unearthly shrieks filled the lab as the man grabbed at his skin, fingers and nails digging in, ripping, blood splattering the white bed, the white walls, Gonzales radioing for help as he ran to the medicine cabinet.

Shana walked over to the camera, then glanced back at the subject, still screaming and rending his flesh as if acid flowed through his veins.

“Well, now we know why they were sedated,” she said, and turned off the camera.

You didn’t reach Daniel’s position in life by giving up easily. Yet neither did you get there by clinging to hope past all reasonable bounds. He spent another month researching promises of vampire life, before giving up on that particular cure.

“They’ve been making huge strides in zombification lately,” Wendell said, between bites of his burger. Wendell was Daniel’s second cousin, a VP in the family Cabal. Relations with his family had greatly improved a decade ago, coinciding with his own company’s appearance on the NYSE. An independently successful Boyd could be useful to the Cabal, and Daniel felt the same about them.

Wendell swiped the linen napkin across his mouth. “Did you hear what I said?”

“I heard. I’m ignoring it, having no overwhelming desire to spend my eternity in a state of decomposition.”

“Oh, you don’t rot forever. Eventually the flesh is gone and you’re a walking skeleton.” He leaned over to thump Daniel’s shoulder. “I’m kidding. Well, not about the rotting part, but scientists have been working to overcome that little drawback. We had our own R&D department on it for a while before we decided it was simpler to monitor the independent guys, wait until they’re done and then buy the research.”

“For zombies?” Daniel’s lip curled with distaste. The server—thinking he didn’t like his meal—rushed over, but he waved her away.

“Sure. Think of the applications. We’ve got a lawyer on his deathbed right now. Guy’s been with us almost fifty years. A wealth of information is about to disappear. We could change that.”

“Huh.” Daniel tore off a chunk of bread and chewed it slowly. “You have any names?”

“Not on hand. I can get them, though. If this works, though?” Wendell smiled. “Biggest favor ever.”

Biggest favor ever was right. Savvy businessman that he was, Wendell had known exactly how much his information was worth. If it worked, he wanted a new job—with Daniel’s corporation. That was fine. Wendell would make a good addition to the firm. Besides, if he had a stake in Daniel’s continued survival, he’d make damned sure he gave him every contact the Boyd Cabal had. Plus, if it worked, he’d be able to swoop in and snatch up the research from under the Cabal’s nose, in which case Wendell wouldn’t have a job anyway . . . and might be in need of the immortality solution himself.

Wendell got Daniel the names, and Shana started making the appointments. The first was with a whiz-kid half-demon who’d recently parted ways with a renowned researcher and had accidentally walked out with the man’s work, which he’d refined and was now prepared to sell.

Daniel sat in the boardroom as the kid gave his spiel, Shana hurrying him along with reminders that Mr. Boyd was a very busy man.

“Your time is valuable,” the kid said. “Especially now, huh?”

He grinned. Daniel and Shana remained stone-faced.

“I believe you brought a test subject?” Shana said. “One you have successfully transformed into a zombie.”

“Right. Yes. He’s in the . . . Just hold on.”

The kid hurried from the room and returned with another college-age kid. He walked a little slow and his face was paler than Daniel liked, but at this point, he wasn’t being fussy.

“How long has it been since you turned him?” Shana asked.

“Three months.”

“Any side effects?”

“His reflexes are a little slow, but we’re working on that.”

Shana motioned for the subject to turn. He did a one-eighty.

“He’s breathing,” she said.

The whiz kid smiled. “Yep. Breathing, got a pulse, eats, drinks, just like a living person.”

“Impressive.”

“Does he talk?” Daniel asked.

“Sure,” the zombie said. “What do you want me to say?”

“Recite the multiplication tables, starting at six.”

As the zombie performed, Shana eased behind them and removed a gun from her purse. She hesitated, just a second, but at a look from Daniel she nodded and shot the zombie in the back. He fell, gasping and clutching his chest. The whiz kid stared, then dropped to his knees beside his subject, who was bleeding out on the floor, eyes glazing over.

“Not a zombie,” Daniel said. “Next time, Shana?”

“I’ll ask for a demonstration of resurrection.”

“Thank you.”

“Is the lighting adequate, sir?” Shana asked.

She swept the camera around the dark cemetery. The image jittered as she shivered. November really wasn’t the best time for such things, but she hadn’t complained, of course.

“Dr. Albright is—” she began.

The shower turned on in his hotel suite’s adjoining bathroom, drowning her out. Daniel glowered, then scooped up the portable screen and moved into the sitting room. The girl in the bathroom called out, asking if he wanted to join her. He closed the door and settled onto the sofa, then asked Shana to repeat herself.

“Dr. Albright is setting up at the gravesite. I’m heading there now.”

A yelp, as she tripped over a half-buried gravestone.

“Careful, Shana. That equipment is very expensive.”

“Y-yes, sir,” she said through chattering teeth.

“Get yourself a stiff drink when you finish,” he said. “That’ll warm you up. Bill the company.”

“Thank you, sir.”

He smiled. Little things, but crucial in employee relations. Even watching the screen made him chilly. He reached over and jacked up the heat on the gas fireplace, then poured himself a brandy.

He turned up the sound as the girl in the bathroom yelled for the shampoo. He supposed she had a name, but he couldn’t remember it. Just another young woman in a bar who’d assessed the cut of his suit and spread her legs, a Pavlovian response to the smell of money.

Shana finally found Albright. Along with two assistants, he’d begun digging up a recent grave. It was long, cold work, and partway through, Daniel had to turn off the screen and bid farewell to the girl. Apparently, she’d expected to stay the night and complained bitterly about being sent out with wet hair, so he’d handed her the suite’s blow-dryer and hurried her out the door with couple hundred bucks “for the taxi.”

By then they’d dug down to the casket and were waiting for him, all shivering now, breath steaming in the air.

“I’ve resurrected the corpse inside,” Albright announced, talking loudly to be heard over the muffled bangs and cries.

“Mr. Boyd can hear that,” Shana said. “Now, the ritual you used is supposed to return the body to its original form, free of any after effects of death, correct?”

“Absolutely, as you will see in a moment.”

The assistants opened the casket. The man inside jerked, all limbs flailing, then sat up, gulping breaths of air before frowning, as if only just realizing he didn’t need those breaths. He squinted up at the people surrounding his casket.

“Wh-what’s going on?” he asked.

“You’ve been resurrected, Mr. Lang. Congratulations.”

The man’s frown deepened as he seemed to consider this. Then he nodded and tried to stand. Shana motioned to Albright, who stopped him. Shana ran her tests, confirming he did, indeed, appear to be dead. Or undead, as it were.

She took out a folder and consulted a list.

“And you are James Lang, who died in an automobile accident on February 20?”

He nodded.

“You’re sure?”

“Course I’m sure.”

She plucked out a sheet of paper and showed it to him. “Because you don’t look like Mr. Lang. And I noticed, Dr. Albright, that you began digging before I arrived, contrary to our agreement.”

“I knew it would take a while and it’s a cold night—”

“I appreciate your consideration. I do not appreciate your duplicity. You started because you wanted to disguise any indication of recent digging; perhaps to lay a fresh zombie in Mr. Lang’s grave.”

“I didn’t—”

“Then you won’t mind me returning Mr. Lang to our offices, where he can be monitored for signs of decomposition.” She turned to the zombie. “Don’t worry. Having skipped the embalming phase, it shouldn’t take long.”

As expected, the zombie rotted and, in the meantime, Daniel knocked three more names off the list Wendell had provided, grumbling each time he did so, well aware that his cousin seemed to be getting the best of this deal. If Daniel succeeded, Wendell got a cushy new job. If he failed, Wendell could go to the Cabal board of directors and tell them he’d used Daniel to cull their list of zombification experts.

Of the five rejected so far, only the whiz kid seemed to be a career conman. The rest were serious researchers, seriously researching the subject, but years from selling a perfected cure. Typical underfunded scientists—desperate for that big windfall that would let them continue their work—they tried to trick him into funding their work. He understood, though that didn’t mean they hadn’t paid dearly for the mistake.

Two more researchers came and went, and Daniel was nearing the end of the list when one at the bottom, perhaps hearing rumors, took it upon himself to make the initial contact. He came; he requested an audience; he was refused; he stayed. When Daniel left work, the man was still there. When he returned the next morning, he was still there. Daniel decided he could find a few minutes to hear the man out. And a few minutes was all it took because the man followed Shana into Daniel’s office and announced, “I don’t have the cure you’re looking for.”

Shana sighed and started ushering him out, murmuring apologies to Daniel, but the man stood his ground and said, “I don’t have it, but I can get it. I’m just missing one crucial ingredient.”

“Money,” Daniel said, leaning back. “Lots and lots of money.”

The man gave a strange little smile, almost patronizing. “No, Mr. Boyd. I have many investors. What I lack are test subjects. Seems there aren’t a lot of people willing to die at the risk of being reborn in a rotting corpse.”

When Daniel didn’t respond, the man took that as encouragement and stepped forward, opening his briefcase on Daniel’s desk. He took out a folder the size of War and Peace.

“I’m asking you to take this and have your scientists go through it. My work, I believe, will speak for itself. All I need is someone to provide me with an unlimited supply of test subjects.”

“Unlimited?” Shana said.

“My projections suggest I need between ten and fifty, depending on the number of stages required to perfect the serum. That is, however, an estimate at this point. More may be needed.”

“More than fifty?” Shana caught Daniel’s look and dropped her gaze, an apology on her lips. She stepped back.

Daniel took the file. He leafed through it. For show, of course—in high school, he’d blackmailed a fellow student to get him passing grades in science.

“Leave your card with Ms. Bergin. I’ll get back to you.”

Two days later, Daniel had Shana call and tell the man—Dr. Boros—that he’d get his test subjects, with a cap of fifty. Not that Daniel really intended to cut him off at fifty, but one had to set limits. And it placated Shana, which was, admittedly, important. He couldn’t afford to lose her now.

Within a week, Boros had the first subjects ready for Daniel’s inspection.

“They aren’t nearly at the stage you need,” Boros said into the camera. “But I want complete transparency, Mr. Boyd. You can see how far I’ve progressed and how far I need to go. No charlatans’ tricks. I believe you’ve had enough of those?”

“I have.”

Boros clearly wasn’t putting his money into his laboratory—a shabby set of basement rooms. It was clean and the equipment was top-notch, but hardly the high-tech, gleaming lab such experiments should have.

Boros also lacked assistants. Again, not for want of funds, but in this case, apparently, understandable paranoia. He trusted only one young man, a fellow scientist and fellow necromancer. Daniel understood the sentiment—he felt the same about Shana. But more staff would mean faster results, and at this stage, with only three months to go, Daniel desperately needed fast.

Boros’s assistant brought in the first subject . . . strapped down on a gurney. Shana’s sigh whispered across the audio connection.

“At least he’s conscious,” she murmured to Daniel.

“This subject has been zombified for a week, and if Ms. Bergin would care to examine him, she’ll see no signs of decomposition. However, we have another problem.”

Shana waved at the restraints. “He’s unstable?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

The assistant undid the restraints. The man lay there, blinking at the ceiling.

“Rise,” Boros said.

The man didn’t move. He should have—zombies had to obey the necromancer who resurrected them.

“Well, you’ve cured the control aspect,” Daniel said. “Thankfully.”

“Actually, I haven’t. On examining his brain activity, it seems he would respond, if he could. In attempting to remove the necromancer’s control, it seems he has lost all control.”

As if in response, a wet spot spread across the subject’s pants.

“That’s a problem,” Daniel said.

A small smile. “I suspected you’d say that.” Boros waved, and his assistant brought in the second subject. To Daniel’s relief, this one was walking. He was also leaving a trail of decomposing flesh, falling like dandruff in his wake.

“That, too, is a problem,” Daniel said.

“Agreed.”

Boros turned to the subject. “Clap three times.”

The man only looked at him.

“Touch your toes.”

“Why?” the man asked.

Boros stepped between the two subjects. “In one, I’ve stopped decomposition at the expense of bodily control. In the other, I’ve freed him of the necromancer’s control while accelerating decomp. Which problem would you like me to solve first? I know you’d like me to work on both, but my resources here—”

“You’re not working there anymore. Your study is coming here. I’m clearing my laboratory and putting my specialists under your control.”

“I’d really rather not—”

“You will. Or you don’t have a client. Now, if you’ll excuse me—”

“Sir?” Shana cut in. “The . . .” She paused and motioned for the assistant to remove the test subjects. When they were gone, she turned to Boros. “Can they be saved?”

Boros shook his head. “One will remain in a permanent state of paralysis. The other will continue to rapidly decompose.”

“So they’ll be terminated? Humanely?”

“Not so fast,” Daniel said. “If there’s still something to be learned from them, keep them.”

“But—” Shana began.

“Bring them to the lab. There’s a storage room we can use. We’ll keep them there.”

He flicked off the screen.

Within two months, Boros was getting so close to a cure that Daniel started postponing his visits to the doctor. His symptoms all but disappeared, as if driven away by the knowledge that cancer wasn’t going to be a death sentence, not for him. Even if it ravaged his body tomorrow, Boros was far enough along that Daniel could take the temporary cure, then wait out the final one.

He didn’t know how many subjects they’d gone through. Shana kept him updated every week, when Boros put in his requisition, but he paid no attention. It was during one of those weekly updates that she said, “We can’t keep this up, sir. He’s demanding ten more in the next week. There’s a limit to how many transients can disappear from a city before someone starts investigating—”

“Then send the team to another city.”

“We’re doing that. But it’s a slow process. He needs healthy, clean subjects. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find them among that population? We test them, but he still rejects a third of the ones—”

“Then we need to come up with an alternative.”

A soft sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir. Now, I’ve done the calculations, and if you were to take his cure in its present form, we could slow the testing, meaning we could cut back the number of subjects significantly and—”

“I’m not taking a substandard cure unless it’s an absolute last resort.”

“I understand, sir, but we are reaching that stage—”

“No, we aren’t. I want you to comb through the employee files. Find anyone with a terminal illness. Offer two year’s salary to their families in return for their participation. Emphasize the benefits of the procedure and minimize the side effects.”

When she didn’t answer, he looked up from his computer golf game. She was staring at him.

“Employees, sir?”

“That’s what I said. If we don’t have enough with a terminal illness, make it a general offer and increase it to triple salary.”

She continued to stare.

“How’s Lindsey, Shana?”

She blanched. When Shana came into his employ, her eleven-year-old daughter had been suffering from a rare liver disease, on a transplant list and failing fast. As her signing bonus, Shana got that liver for her daughter, and all the care she’d needed to make a full recovery. And Daniel got the perfect assistant—one indebted to him for life.

“I-I think we can fill this latest requisition with transients,” she said. “I’ll split the team and send them farther afield.”

He smiled. “Thank you, Shana.”

She started to leave. He called her back and handed her a check for ten thousand dollars.

“A bonus. Buy something special for yourself and Lindsey.”

She stared at it and, for just a second, he thought she was going to hand it back. After only that brief hesitation, though, she murmured, “Thank you, sir,” pocketed it and left.

Finally, the day came. And not a moment too soon, as Daniel struggled to get into work every day, ignoring his wife’s nervous clucking, ignoring the little voice inside himself that said, “Take the cure as it is, before it’s too late.” Boros was close, though, and Daniel willed himself to hang on. The pain and exhaustion were simply more obstacles to overcome.

And then, it was ready.

Daniel made Boros go through the final stage twice—two batches with four subjects each time. When he was assured of the results, he ordered six of those subjects killed, the other two left alive and stored for long-term monitoring and potential future tests. He wasn’t sure what Shana objected to more—killing successful subjects or holding the other two captive. He had assured her, though, that once he’d been treated, all the failures could be terminated and sent on to their afterlives. That satisfied her.

Killing the successful subjects and keeping two for testing was but one of the precautions he took. He knew he was heading into the most dangerous phase of the testing. He was about to die and put his rebirth in the hands of others. It would be the final test of loyalty for his assistant, and while he trusted her more than anyone in his life, he took precautions with that, too, guaranteeing she wouldn’t decide at the last moment that he could stay dead.

Then he let Boros kill him by lethal injection. Not pleasant but, according to his research, the quickest and most reliable method. The next thing he saw was Shana’s face, floating above his, her pretty features drawn with concern, worrying that the cure might have failed. While he’d like to think she was worried for his sake, he knew better.

“Sir?” she said when he opened his eyes.

He blinked hard. “Yes?” He had to say it twice. When he spoke, the relief on her face . . . there was a moment there when he wished it was for him.

He tried to sit up. She helped him. She gave him a glass of water. She wiped his face, made him feel more himself, and he was grateful.

Daniel had undergone surgery a couple of times in his youth, and this reminded him of that, coming out of the anesthetic, slow and groggy. Boros bustled around, administering tests, checking his reflexes and responses to visual and audio stimuli. Shana kept him comfortable.

At last, Boros declared the conversion a success. He had Daniel get up and move around, doing a few tasks on his laptop, making sure his physical and mental capacities were normal.

“All right, then,” Boros said. “Go back to bed.”

Daniel didn’t want to go back to bed—he felt fine and he needed to relocate to the safe room in the basement, where he’d remain for a few days, presumably “on vacation” until he was fully recovered.

When he tried opening his mouth to refuse, though, he couldn’t. Instead, he found himself walking back to the bed. And, as he lay down, he realized with no small amount of horror that he’d been tricked.

Boros walked over. “Did you really think I’d give up the chance to have a man like yourself as my personal puppet?”

Daniel started to sit up.

“Lie down.”

He did.

Boros smiled. “Yes, I know, you checked and rechecked, making sure I gave you the right formulation. And I did. You can ask Ms. Bergin. Unfortunately, it appears there is no way to remove the control a necromancer has over his zombies.”

“But—”

“I know, I demonstrated it to you. With subjects raised by my assistant, meaning they would have no reason to obey me.”

Daniel tried to look at Shana, but she’d disappeared behind Boros.

“Don’t bother appealing to her. She’s been paid well for her cooperation. Yes, you’re holding a chit on her, but considering that you’re under my control, that’s a problem easily remedied. So let’s start there. Please release—”

The muffled hiss of a silenced gunshot cut him short. Boros slumped forward, a small-caliber bullet through the back of his head, Shana behind him with a gun. As Boros lay on the floor, blood oozing down his balding scalp, Daniel sat up, slowly, eyes on the barrel. She lowered it to her side.

“I trust you’ll make that call now, sir?” she said.

He did, having her daughter released, then giving the phone to Shana. Out of Daniel’s earshot she spoke to her daughter.

“You’ll be well compensated—” he began when she returned, and for the first time since they’d met, she interrupted him.

“I know. I’ll be very well compensated. And, as soon as I’ve set you up in the safe room, my employment is at an end.”

He understood and said as much. She called a pair of guards to come for Boros’s body and detain his assistant, then called in two shamans who’d been part of the research team and, as such, knew Daniel’s secret and would be tending to him during his recovery. The four of them set off for the room that would be his temporary home.

“There’s one last thing I’ll ask,” Shana said as they took the elevator to the basement. “You promised to release the other subjects—”

“Excluding the two successes. I may still need them.”

She nodded. “The others, though . . .”

“Can have their souls released immediately. And there won’t be any more. I presume that’s why you killed Boros.”

She nodded and he felt a small prickle of disappointment. Had he really thought she’d done it to protect him?

She handed him a form authorizing the subjects’ release. He arched his brows, surprised at the formality, but she met his gaze with a level stare. She didn’t trust him, and he’d earned that mistrust, so there was nothing to do now but make a clean break of it. When they reached the basement lab, she faxed the signed forms to the records department.

Outside the safe room, Shana slid her card through the reader, coupled with a retinal scan. The electronic door whooshed open. Daniel walked in and looked around. He hadn’t seen the work they’d done to prepare it. He hadn’t even told Shana what he’d wanted. But it was exactly as he’d expected—a storage room converted into a luxury hotel suite.

The shamans hurried in to help him sit, then retreated behind Shana. She hadn’t said a word since the elevator. He supposed he couldn’t expect more, under the circumstances, so he made a call, wiring a million dollars into her account, and she waited in silence until she received confirmation on her cell phone. Then, with the shamans flanking her, she closed the door.

Daniel was just settling onto the bed when the speaker overhead clicked on. It was Shana.

“The records department has received the fax on releasing the zombies. I’m going to do it now, before I go.”

Daniel smiled. There was no need to tell him that, but it was obvious she couldn’t bring herself to walk away. As angry as she was, she had a good job, and she’d hoped—expected—he’d try to convince her to stay.

“How much, Shana?” he asked.

“Sir?”

“To stay. What do you want? More money? A bigger office?” He chuckled. “An assistant of your own?”

“No, sir. I was simply calling to confirm that it’s all right for me to release the zombies.”

He sighed. She was going to be difficult. “Yes, yes. Release them. Now about—”

A whoosh cut him short. He glanced at the door. It was still shut.

“You!” snarled a voice behind him.

He wheeled to see a section of the wall had opened. One of the zombie subjects stood in the opening, squinting at him with its good eye, the other shriveled.

“You did this to me,” the zombie said, struggling to speak through rotting lips.

“No,” Daniel said slowly, carefully. “A scientist—”

“You don’t even remember me, do you? But I remember you. Sitting there, barely paying attention, busy talking on your cell phone as you sentenced me to this.” He waved at his rotting body.

Daniel looked up at the speaker. “If this is your idea of a lesson, Shana—”

“No sir,” her voice crackled. “This is my idea of a lesson.”

Another zombie appeared behind the first. Then a third, crawling on stubs of arms. A fourth slithered past him. They crowded into the doorway, grumbling and grunting, all glowering at Daniel. Then the first stepped aside and they rushed forward, zombie after zombie, running, lurching, dragging themselves toward him.

Daniel ran to the door. Pounded on it. Screamed.

“Don’t worry, sir,” Shana said. “Your procedure was a success. No matter what they do, you can’t die.”

A click, and the speaker went silent as the zombies swarmed over him.

Previous: V Plates
Next: Plan B