Author’s Note: Happy Independence Day! This is it, folks. Last chapter was twice as long as a regular one. This one is about four times the usual length. I could have split it into two or three chapters easily, and I probably will do that for the paperback version, but I figured since I told you guys I’d be wrapping things up today, I’d go ahead and serve up the whole enchilada.Enjoy, and then have a safe and happy weekend.
At The End Of The Tunnel
Darkness and a loud ringing in my ear.
And a throbbing pain in my shoulder.
I rolled to my left and scrambled to stand.
The doctor was shouting something. I couldn’t quite tell what it was â€“ the ringing was still too loud.
I stumbled over the doctor’s thrashing leg and fell sideways into the desk. It hurt, but it kept me from falling all the way to the floor.
The doctor kept up his frenzied shouting.
I couldn’t be positive, but I think he was saying, “Get away from my door!”
Of course, that made finding the door sound like a really good idea. I groped out in the darkness until I found a wall. I followed the wall until I was touching the metal door.
The doctor’s yelling intensified.
I spun around and squinted into the blackness.
Another bang and a flash illuminated the room for a split second.
My stomach dropped.
In that split second of illumination, I saw a face in a doorway.
And not the face that belonged to the doctor.
This one was a horrible, empty eyed prune of a face.
We weren’t alone.
When fear sets in, all logic flies out the window. The doctor fired his gun again.
My hands shot up to cover my ears. I couldn’t even tell if the doctor was shooting at me or the zombie.
Another shot fired, and with it another flash.
Part of the zombie’s shoulder was missing, and it wasn’t facing me.
Fear grabbed hold of my mind and my body. I froze in place.
A tiny light flickered across the room.
The doctor has found his lighter. His eyes widened when he saw what he had been shooting at.
The zombie was withered, wrinkled and dry. It was dressed in an orange jumpsuit. The wound in its shoulder oozed a thick, blackish blood.
I imagined that I would hear it’s body creaking with each slow, methodical step, that is, if the ringing would stop.
The doctor turned his gaze and gun back on me. “Get away from the door!”
The little lighter in the doctor’s hand brought only the tiniest amount of comfort. Just enough to regain control over my shivering body. I raised my hands and took a step to the side. At least I can see what I’m up against.
The zombie shuffled.
The doctor stepped forward. “I brought you here! You can’t have the credit!”
“They wouldn’t believe you anyway!”
The zombie turned with the doctor’s movement. Only a few feet and a desk between them now.
I spied the rifle on the ground just to the doctor’s right.
The doctor’s eyes were wild. “I’ll kill you. Then it’s just a walk down the tunnel and I’ll be the hero.”
Down the hallway where we had entered, a green light bouncing back and forth caught my eye.
Without thinking, I pointed. “What’s that?”
The light was getting closer, and fast.
What can possibly be happening now?
“You think I’m some sort of idiot? Just move clear of the door and let me through.”
The zombie crouched.
The green light passed the doorway.
The doctor extended his arm and grimaced.
Somehow, attached through shadow to the green light was a baseball bat whizzing through the air.
A new voice screeched above the ringing in my ears. “Come on, Carlton!”
The zombie leaped.
Th bat crunched into the doctor’s head.
The gun fired again.
I gasped and winced, but didn’t feel an impact.
The lighter went out.
I dove for the rifle.
The voice cried out. “Let’s get out of here!”
My fingers wrapped around the muzzle and I scrambled back to my feet.
My savior was now behind me, pulling at my shirt. “Come on!”
The green light was dim, but it was enough to see the limp body of the doctor strewn across the desk.
The withered zombie bent over him. Its hands clenched his crushed head, and it appeared to be biting into his jaw.
I was disgusted, but I couldn’t look away.
Something glimmered in the green light.
It was pinned to the doctor’s lab coat. An ID badge.
I watched my hand dart out and snatch the badge.
I shoved the badge into my empty pocket and reached around to the hand holding my shirt. I still couldn’t tear my eyes off the zombie.
I pulled the soft hand free. “Not that way.”
I didn’t know why I should go through the metal door. I just knew the conniving doctor had seen it as an escape, and that was good enough for me.
I tore my eyes off the grisly scene on the desk and headed for the door.
The bullet had torn clean through the bolt, and a twist of the handle opened the door.
Light burst through the doorway. I squinted my eyes and entered.
My rescuer followed close behind and slammed the door shut.
I spun around to see who had come to my aid.
As my eyes adjusted to the light, a crop of curly brown hair pulled back in a ponytail came into view.
I staggered back. “Beth?”
Around her neck were three glow sticks on a string. She took a deep breath, gave a weak smile, then dove in for a hug. “Miss me?”
The rifle clattered to the ground and I wrapped my shaking arms around her.
After a few moments, I looked around. We weren’t done yet. “We have to go.”
We were standing in a large cave of a room. Light poured in through an immense, pyramid shaped skylight. The floor was paved like a street. Opposite the metal door was a tunnel about eight feet tall and twelve feet wide. It appeared to be lit by similar skylights.
Over to one side were parked several golf carts.
“They’re worth a shot.”
Beth gave me a look. “Where have you been the past week? Nothing in Oasis works anymore.”
I picked up Samson’s rifle and walked over to the nearest cart.
“And where are we going anyway?”
I shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure, but I think this tunnel might take us to a military installation of some sort.”
“How far is it? What makes you think…”
Something pounded on the metal door.
My heart rate picked back up.
The zombie had finished with the doctor.
I tossed the rifle in the back and hopped in the driver’s seat.
There was a key in the ignition. I turned it and the little engine bubbled to life.
Maybe it was under enough sand and cement to protect it. Maybe it was close enough to the edge of the city that whatever took out everything else didn’t reach it. Doesn’t matter, as long as it works.
I flipped the little switch marked “reverse” and backed up to Beth.
More pounding on the door echoed around us.
She held on to her bat and climbed in next to me.
I unflipped the “reverse” switch and hit the gas.
The little cart sped off into the tunnel.
“How did you find me?”
“I noticed you weren’t with the group, so I went back. I saw that creepy short doctor leading you away and I followed.”
“You sure you followed the right guy?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because when you ran in the room back there, you yelled out ‘Come on Carlton!'”
“Oh, that.” She put on an impish grin. “Carlton’s the name of my bat, see?”
She thrust the the handle near my face.
Sure enough, it said “Carlton” in magic marker.
Her grin broadened. “I named it after a boyfriend in high school.” She laughed.
“I’m glad you think you’re funny. How long have you been waiting to tell me your little joke?”
“Why we going this way, anyway? We could have climbed back up that shaft and caught up…”
The smile dropped off my face. “Because they’ll die if we don’t. The military thinks they’re infected.”
The color flushed from her pretty face. “And how do you know this tunnel will…”
“I don’t, but its the best chance we have.”
We drove the rest of the way in silence.
After about twenty minutes, we pulled into a room similar to the one where we had started. The words “Main Entrance B” were painted over the metal door.
I parked and strapped the rifle across my back.
Beth looked at me. “How do we do this?”
“Knock, I guess.”
We walked over to the door and stared at it a moment.
I raised a hand to knock, then stopped. “Beth, before we do this, I’d like to say thanks.”
She reached over and gave me a peck on the cheek. “You can thank me later.”
I rapped the door to the rhythm of “shave and a hair cut, two bits.”
Beth and I took a step backwards.
After about fifteen seconds, a skinny guy with a bad toupee opened the metal door.
Within seconds we were surrounded by four or five soldiers in full combat gear. They relieved me of my rifle and Beth of “Carlton”, then marched us inside into what looked like the lobby of a small hotel.
Fake potted plants sat in the corners, a desk lined the wall to our right, and two large sliding glass doors marked the exit to the rest of the facility.
They marched us through the glass doors into an enormous open space.
The cavern was a cement-filled cylinder, extending up and up to the point that the ceiling was hidden in the shadows. I hadn’t noticed while driving, but our trip from Oasis must have been steadily sloped, as the walls seemed to climb for at least five stories.
This must have been a missile silo back when Oasis was a military base.
The guards prodded us across the space, down a hallway and into an office.
The office was comfortably decorated and hardly seemed to fit in the austere cement structure.
A guard told us to sit, and then all but two of the guards left.
Ever in the back of my mind was the thought that if I failed now, then my friends would die in the desert. I forced myself to keep my composure.
“I need to speak with your commanding officer.”
The guards just glared at me.
“Its a matter of life and death.”
Beth breathed in like she wanted to say something, but couldn’t seem to get it out.
“Look, the group that just left Oasis doesn’t have to die. Even if someone in it has been bitten, we have a cure. All I need to do is talk to your commanding officer.”
I folded my arms and sat back.
The room was uncomfortably silent. If there had been a clock on the wall, I was certain I could have heard it ticking.
The doors opened and and a well-built middle aged man in a lab coat swept in.
He looked at the soldiers and motioned with his thumb to the door, “You two wait outside for a minute. I’ll take responsibility for these.”
The soldiers saluted and left.
The man sauntered to the far side of the desk. “My name is Major Jamal Glover. I’m the head of research at this facility. I have a few questions. First, how the hell did you get in here?”
My mind raced. I needed to get him to listen, and fast. I pulled the large canister from my pocket. I leaned over and dug out the ID badge.
“I was helping a doctor in Oasis that had worked in annex number two, and apparently here at this facility, as well. When it became apparent he wouldn’t be able to make it here, he sent the ID with me to help convince you to listen.”
I flung the ID on the desk.
Major Glover picked up the tag and examined it.
“Ike.” He shook his head. “What happened to him?”
I held up the canister. “We have the cure.”
“Several days ago, I received an injection of this material.” I shook the container. “A day or two or go, I was bitten, and as you can see, I’m not a zombie.”
Major Glover stared straight ahead for a moment, then jumped to his feet and swung around his desk. “The bacteria’s in there?”
He snatched the canister from my hand and unscrewed the top.
Beth fidgeted and finally spoke up. “So, about the others?”
Major Glover put the lid back on and looked up. “Unfortunately, that’s not my call. I direct the research, but General Hayseed runs the show. He should be here any second.”
“But is there anything…”
He raised a hand to cut off Beth, then looked at me. “So, before he gets here, I’m going to give you one more chance to tell the truth. What happened to the man you stole this from?”
He reached back and picked up the ID.
How does he know I didn’t come clean? I took a deep breath and weighed my options.
“I know Dr. Ikerson, and Ike would never have given this to you or sent the cure with anyone else.”
Beth was shaking, “I…”
I put a hand on her arm. “He persuaded me a gun point to be a human shield from the hospital to that warehouse. Once we reached the tunnel entrance, one of his or your experiments showed up. The doctor went nuts and put the gun on me. Beth showed up, and distracted him for a moment, and the zombie got a hold of him. I grabbed the ID tag and we took off.”
The major looked from me to Beth and back again.
I got the feeling he was putting the pieces together.
After a few moments, he turned to Beth. “So you killed him?”
She started to stand. “It was self-defense! He was going…”
The Major raised his hand again. “It doesn’t matter. When the General gets here, let me do the talking.”
I reached out and grabbed Beth’s hand.
Each second stretched out and felt like forever. I knew time was running out for my friends in the desert. They might already be dead.
The door burst open again and a stocky bald man stormed in, followed by the two guards who had left a minute before.
There was a large vain throbbing on the bald man’s head. He spun and put his face about six inches from mine. “How the hell did you get in here?”
His tone of voice and bad breath made me instantly angry. I balled up a fist.
Before I could do anything rash, the major responded for me. “General, these two are here because Dr. Ikerson entrusted them to transport a cure he had finished cultivating during the blackout.”
The general spun about. “Cure? Like one that works?”
Major Glover pointed at me. “This man is proof.”
“Ikerson, the short civilian egomaniac? Why didn’t he bring it here himself? I’d have thought he wanted all credit.”
“The bombing, sir.”
“Just like the little turd to hold out on us.”
“However, sir, this change of events might call for a change in strategy in dealing with the group that just left the city.”
“The survivors, sir. Even if they’re infected, we can deal with it now. They no longer pose a threat.”
The light seemed to come on in the general’s head.
“Damn it, you’re right.” He grabbed the phone on the desk and dialed a number.
“Sergeant? This is General Hayseed. Abort the chopper’s mission. Authorize bravo one seven tango seven nine foxtrot.”
He slammed the receiver down and faced the major. “You OK with these two?”
The general waved for the two guards to follow him, and then looked at me. “Thank you, boy. You’ve saved lives today.”
With that, the general whisked out of the room.
Major Glover sat back at the desk. He stared at the wall between Beth and me for a full minute, then nodded his head. “So what do you know?”
I looked at Beth and we both shrugged.
“About what has happened in Oasis. What do you know?”
My heart pounded. What’s his game? I decided I was done trying to second guess everybody and I was done fighting. I leaned forward in my chair.
“The virus was designed by the military, with help from the research group at Oasis Medical Center. It somehow got in the hands of those terrorists who let it free. After that, the power went out and we were quarantined. Things just kept getting worse from there until we ended up in your office.”
The major nodded again. “I’m going to tell you two some things. It is all classified, but, I think you deserve to know why you’ve been in hell for almost two weeks. And once I’ve told you, then I have a favor to ask. OK?”
Beth and I nodded.
“Right. This virus has been in development for several years. As you know, it is the most devastating biological agent ever seen. I have always been told it was to be used as a weapon if any foreign power made a successful attack on U.S. Soil. It had been tested on convicts, but a larger scale test was needed. The pentagon decided it would be a good idea to test it on a known enemy, as a trap.”
He paused for a moment. “We had a CIA officer pose as an employee and establish a dialog with a terrorist organization in the middle east. The plan was for him to give them a booby trapped box that would infect their little cadre as they transported it to their base in Afghanistan or wherever. We underestimated their resourcefulness and speed. Their plan all along was to test it first on Oasis. When they tried to open the box, part of the trap was sprung and four of them were injured. The other two did what they did and got away.”
I almost smiled to think of what had happened that first night in the trailer. “Actually, only one of them could have gotten away.”
The major raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“I happen to know that one of them had an accidental needle poke while they were in the trailer.”
“How do you know that?”
“I did the poking.”
The major thought about that a moment and the hint of a smile appeared on his lips. “That will make the favor I ask later a little easier.”
He readjusted in his seat and continued his story. “Things got worse. The media was there and news of our viral weapon was about to be made public in the worst possible way. The Pentagon sent orders, and some of General Hayseed’s men set off an EMP in the center of town, knocking out all electronics within it’s range. The public has been told what they saw were people infected with anthrax, and that a terrorist army, numbering at least one hundred had seized control of Oasis and were holding it for ransom.”
Beth shook her head. “Who would buy that, it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever…”
“The people of this nation did buy it. We faked a few videos and leaked them. People will believe anything that is on the news. As the days went on, I learned there was another problem. We knew Dr. Ikerson was close to a cure, and in fact had engineered many bacteria that just needed to be cultured and tested. A time line was given for recovery of these samples. If we didn’t find the possible cures by the appointed hour, we were ordered to destroy all physical evidence of the virus, including possible carriers. Six hours before the marked time, orders came down from the White House to start early.”
My guts were twisted up inside. The story he had just told was a pretty big pill to swallow. The president had ordered the murder of innocents. And for what? Media shelter?
I looked the major straight in the eye. “What was the other problem?”
The major scratched his head. “Even with what you’ve just heard, I doubt you’ll believe it.”
Beth and I looked at each other and spoke at the same time. “Why not?”
The major breathed out and rapped his fingers on the desk. “Well, you’ll believe me in a week anyway.”
I looked back at him. “Why a week?”
“The day after we blacked out Oasis, I was ordered to send a vial of virus cells in solution to another research base. The director of research at that facility told me they would be using it on an animal, and the next day I was told that the experiment was a success. I was shocked, because the virus was specifically designed to work only on human nerve cells. It shouldn’t work an anything else. Later that same day the infected animal was shipped here in a bio-safe crate.”
I half raised a hand. “How could you get it here with Oasis shut off like it is?”
“We have a second tunnel, a much longer one.”
Beth scooted to the edge of her seat. “So what was in the crate?”
“It was the reason we had to hide Oasis from the world.”
I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
“It was an extra terrestrial life form. Extremely humanoid in nature. Enough so that the virus had worked on it, including the control of the central nervous system.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t expect us to…”
The major pulled out a key and opened one of his desk drawers. “I’ve been briefed on the whole story, and I assure you this is no joke. Two years ago a small extra terrestrial craft landed in China. Its occupants were captured. Our government made some sort of deal to receive one of the aliens, the one that eventually arrived here in a crate. The night the crisis started in Oasis, a much larger craft set down in a remote area in the forests of Washington State. There have been no open hostilities, but we have good reason to believe they may turn aggressive. That is why the virus was tested on the alien, and that is why the virus had to be hidden. If they find out we have this…”
The major frowned.
I still didn’t quite believe it. “So what happens now?”
He dug through one of the drawers and pulled out a photograph, then put it face down on his desk.
“One week from today, the President plans to announce their arrival. Chaos will ensue. The government will be too weak and slow to deal with the enormous problems that will explode among the populace.”
Beth put her hands on her temples. “I still don’t believe what you’re…”
“Maybe this will help.” The major pushed the photograph across the desk at her.
She picked it up and flipped it over. Her eyes went big and her hand shook.
“And that brings us to the favor I mentioned earlier.”
Beth looked away and handed over the photo.
I was blown away by what I saw.
* * *
Fifty four hours later I found my self in a beat up old Jeep with clean clothes (at last) on my back, fourteen hundred dollars in my pocket, and no idea how to accomplish the favor I had promised to perform.
But that’s a story for another day…
All right folks that’s it! Oasis is over! Liked it? loved it? Hated it? Let me know what you think. I’m a whore for feedback.
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