As Derek left, I brought the box inside. It was pretty big, about the size of a suitcase, and made of some solid material I couldn’t identify. As Butler had promised, there was a simple number lock on the front. Before closing my door, I glanced across the way at room 0910. Their door was closed; the girls were probably going to take showers soon as well.
But seriously…what was up with Akane and Derek? He said they were just friends, but something didn’t add up.
I shook my head. It wasn’t important. Instead of thinking about it, I shut the door behind me and put the box on the bed.
It opened at the code—14113—with ease, and I heard a few extra locks click open on the inside. I lifted the top to see four guns nestled in foam packaging and tied down with velcro straps on both the top and bottom of the case: A pistol, a shotgun, some sort of submachine gun, and a rifle.
I pulled out the pistol and quickly saw a folded piece of white paper underneath it. My first thought was that it was some sort of coded message from one of the gang lord’s harassed lackeys, but it proved to be a simple instruction manual. It was a Telum brand Sica model, whatever that meant, with a twelve round magazine. 4.5 caliber—in millimeters, of course. It was simple, black, and modern; clearly a no-nonsense weapon, if a little small.
The rest was mostly simple step-by-step diagrams on reloading and proper safety. Derek and Laura had already shown me most of that earlier. They claimed to be not very good with guns, but they knew the basics well enough. I put the pistol back carefully.
The others were about the same; the rifle was an Olympian mark 3 Athena 5.56 long with a moderate scope. It didn’t bother with a fancy wood stock or anything like that; it was all just composite, with a nice big rubber shock absorber where it rested against my shoulder.
The shotgun was impressive, even to someone like me who knew nothing about guns; a massive St. George 6-gauge will make anyone take notice. I thought higher numbers were bigger, but apparently it’s the other way around for shotguns. The instructions went into more detail about how that all worked, but I skipped that to read the part about loading the thing.
I really didn’t know what make of the submachine gun. It was a Telum Caedes 4.5 mm fully automatic with a clip about a foot long. I couldn’t really see myself needing that much firepower, but at least it shared ammo with the Sica.
Speaking of which, there didn’t seem to be any ammo included. I guess that was to make sure if the case was stolen there wouldn’t be a janitor running around shooting people. Fair enough. I flipped open my phone and hit the MC button.
“Yes, Mister Anders?” the program answered smoothly. “What may I help you with?”
“I need ammo for the guns Butler sent me,” I said without preamble. “How do I get some?”
“I will inform Mister Butler of your situation. Can you tell me exactly what you need? I will then pass it along to Mister Butler, and he can decide whether he can help you.”
“Uh…” a couple hours using the tour program, and I was already used to MC’s programs being infallibly helpful. “He sent me the guns, so I’d assume he’d be fine with sending me the bullets.”
“I’m sorry,” the program said with generic sweetness. “This program is not as widely used as most others, so it does not receive as much feedback, and is not as intelligent. Would you like me to transfer you to the real MC?”
“No…no that’s not necessary. Just pass along the message to Butler that I need ammo for the guns he sent me—that’s enough for a 4.5 pistol, 5.56 rifle, 6-gauge shotgun, and 4.5 SMG. Got that?”
“Yes, and I will give you Mister Butler’s reply as soon as possible. Will that be all?”
“Yes. Thank you.” I hung up without another word, and sighed.
This was a weird city. But, it was my home now, and what’s more I was apparently in charge of protecting it. For some reason, whenever my thoughts strayed in that direction, rather than feeling apprehensive or proud, I just remembered shooting the screamer in the chest. It had felt…
I needed air. I scribbled a note on the whiteboard on our door—every dorm room had one—telling Derek I was out, locked the door behind me, and headed downstairs. I took the actual stairs. If I was going to be fighting super-powered zombies, I needed to do at least a little exercise.
The RA…Emily, right? Was still asleep on the couch. I walked past her without pause, into the cold night.
And it was cold. I had a long-sleeved shirt on, but I was still a bit chilly. I just grimaced. I’d deal with it. Instead of standing there shivering, I headed to one of the nearby cafes MC had mentioned on her tour. It was only a little ways outside of campus. As expected, there were just as many people on the street this late at night, if not more. I suppose when you can buy nightvision, that happens.
The cafe itself was an excellent example; the outdoor area was separated by a wall of black cloth, anchored to the ground and reaching up about twenty feet. On one side, it was completely dark, but still filled with customers. On the other side (the one closer to the dorms), there were lights on each table for those without the ability to see in the dark. I took a seat at one of the empty tables; MC had explained to me during the tour that a waitress would be by shortly.
“Oh—Adam? Is that you?”
I wasn’t expecting to see her again, but there she was, dressed in a waitress smock and holding a pad, likely for taking orders. She looked cute as a button, though I was still having trouble getting used to the toys. Her eyes were glowing a very soft red, and her tail was thrashing about dangerously. I’m sure it indicated her mood, but hell if I knew what it meant.
“It’s great to see you again!” She seemed genuinely happy, but it was hard to tell. “I thought I scared you away earlier.”
I smiled. “Well, a little, I’ll admit. What are you doing here?”
She waved her hand airily. “Oh, you know, just more work. But I’d love to hang out with you a little. I’ll be off in about ten minutes—can you wait that long?”
I smiled. “Yeah, of course, I’ll be right here.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“Ah…just a coffee, black.” She tapped it into her pad and spun away.
By the time I finished my drink and paid, Lily’s shift was over. She walked up just as I was leaving the register, her smock under her right arm, and slipped her left arm into the crook of my elbow. “C’mon, walk with me.”
We headed away from the dorms, deeper into the night. She let the silence hang for a few minutes as she leaned against my shoulder. It was a nice feeling. Up until now, my interactions with women had been pretty much limited to my mother, my aunt, my little cousin, and the chief of security. This was something new.
Eventually, once we were out of sight of the cafe, she did speak. “Have you been settling in all right?”
“Ah…” what was I supposed to say? That I was now involved in fighting super-powered zombies? I had a feeling that even for this city, that would be a bit out there. “I guess I’m fitting in. Derek’s helping with that.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s a great guy. Just be careful around the girls.”
“Any girls. Haven’t you noticed? They’re all in love with him.”
“I…” I hadn’t really noticed.
She sighed. “He has this hero complex. I find it annoying, but that’s because I can take care of myself. He seriously rescues like, three people a day. Plus he’s kinda hot. Throw those two together and you see where it leads.”
“Yeah, he saved me from a truck earlier today.”
I think she rolled her eyes, but it was hard to tell in the dark. “See what I mean? I love him for that kind of thing, I really do, but I just find the fact that he treats everyone like that annoying.”
I thought for a moment. “Is that what happened with Akane? She seems…”
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something happened when she first moved to the district, something involving a girl’s bathroom. I dunno, I wasn’t there. But she’s followed him around like a puppy ever since. Poor girl.”
“So I guess they’re dating. If you can call an unbalanced relationship dating.”
“No, its not that. They’re not dating, they’re…complicated. And its not my place to say; ask Derek about that. But their actual relationship is weirdly balanced.” She waved her hand again. “You’ll understand once you ask him. But no, I mean how she’s totally in love with him and he never notices.”
“Really? I mean, even I kinda saw that, and I saw them together for like, two hours.”
“Yeah, he’s a moron. He’s completely in love with this other girl, Elizabeth Greene. Completely blind to all else. Don’t know what he sees in her.”
“Elizabeth…Lizzy? Laura’s roommate?”
“Hm? Oh, I didn’t know they were rooming together. But that makes sense, the three of them were childhood friends before Laura moved away.”
“Derek said she’s sweet, but he didn’t mention—”
I felt Lily shrug again. “He keeps things close to the vest. And she is sweet, and cute, but he has his pick of the crop. I just don’t understand why he chose her.”
“So they’re dating.”
“No. I think she might be as oblivious as he is. And I’m not ruling out the possibility that she’s gay.”
“I can imagine.”
“But most of the girls get over him pretty quickly, and just ogle him from a distance.” She shook her head sadly. “Not Akane.”
“Hm. And the sword is…normal?”
“Well, she’s in kendo, if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, most kendo doesn’t let you use real swords.”
Lily shrugged again. “Domina is different. There’s a half-decent chance we’ll be attacked by a crazed ghoul right now. Pretty much everyone is armed.”
I…couldn’t really refute the logic of that. I kinda wished I had brought a gun, for intimidation if nothing else. “Are you? Armed, that is?”
“No.” She didn’t elaborate.
I stayed silent for a few minutes longer. We passed through a colony of vampires who all nodded at us as we passed. I don’t know if they were just being polite or if they knew Lily.
After we got through without incident, she guided me over to a shop that sold TV’s.
“What’s over here?” I asked.
“I want to check the news real quick. My sister texted me before I got off work, said something’s up.”
As expected, there were a number of televisions on and tuned to the news. Oddly, though the shop had two sets of windows, the TV’s on the right were off. Actually, at second glance, they were on—I could hear sound coming from them.
“Is something wrong with those?”
Lily glanced where I was looking. “Oh, no, those are the vamp’s TV’s. Their eyes work on different wavelengths, so they can see it. Normal ones will blind them at night. Now shush. I think this is it.”
The TV switched to some news station. The anchorwoman—who didn’t have any obvious cosmos—began to speak. “Welcome everyone, for this special report. I’m Eliza Cassan, and with me is Artemis Butler.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the gang lord I had met with not four hours ago, sitting comfortably in a leather chair, ready to be interviewed. From the way the others were talking, I had assumed the entire city knew he was the Big Boss of the Necessarians.
He wasn’t as impressive on TV, I noted. His gravitas and force of presence didn’t translate well onto the screen. Instead of looking like an unmovable mountain, he just looked like a fat albino. But he was clearly aware of this; he held himself straighter, sitting more like a politician than a gang lord. In person, he knew his willpower would be apparent. On TV, he had to cheat.
The newscaster smiled at Butler warmly. “Sir, you requested to make this announcement personally. What, exactly, is wrong?”
He frowned, clearly considering his words carefully. “We have an interesting situation, Miss Cassan, one that I truly believe we can handle, but not one the public should be kept in the dark about.
“This morning, a peacekeeper patrol heard a man screaming in an alley. They went to investigate, and found the man violent and aggressive. He did not respond to any attempts to communicate, but showed some animalistic cunning.
“When Officer Red Matthews tried to approach the man, he was immediately attacked and bitten on the neck. The man then abandoned Matthews and attacked the rest of the patrol with what they described as ‘bolts of lightning emitted from the palm of his hands.’”
“Wait one second,” the anchorwoman interrupted. “This…creature had superpowers?”
“Yes,” Butler said gravely. “It has been confirmed from multiple sources. But please, be patient. There is more.
“The creature was shot in the chest, and died shortly later. However, Officer Matthews succumbed to a viral infection within moments, devolving into a similar state as the creature that bit him. He immediately tried to attack his patrol with the same lightning, but Officer John Romero shot him at close range, killing him. Unfortunately, some of Matthews’ blood splashed on him, turning him as well. The rest of the patrol were able to deal with him without further casualties.
“We were hoping these screamers—as we’ve taken to calling them—were an isolated case, but that quickly turned out to be overly optimistic. Less than four hours ago, another screamer was discovered. This one had fire powers, which leads us to believe it is another strain. It was dispatched quickly, however, which leads me to the good news.
“These screamers are not the only ones with powers. We have managed to recruit a small number of people who manifested similar abilities, and have employed them to hunt down these screamers. MC has dubbed these people ‘Paladins,’ which I think sums them up rather well. I am keeping their names off the air, at their request.”
Well, I don’t think we actually specifically requested that, but it was nice of him to make the effort.
“Now, as I said before, these creatures turn their victims very quickly, so we do not have to worry about an epidemic as long as everyone remains calm and in control. On that note, I do not believe I stressed enough the source of their name. These creatures are compelled to scream, an unearthly, emotionless sound that is impossible to describe. I mean it when I say you will know it when you hear it. If you hear this and cannot locate the source, call MC, and we will have either the Paladins or a peacekeeper patrol at your location quickly. If you can locate the source, back away from the screamer very carefully, and do not call MC until you are out of sight. These things are in many ways animals, and we hope we may be able to cure them.”
The anchorwoman was nearly dumbfounded. Of course, you don’t get a job like that by becoming tongue-tied. “That…is quite a lot to take in, Mister Butler.”
“I am well aware of that,” he replied sincerely. “And I sincerly hope that this all turns out to be an elaborate hoax that everyone can laugh about in a few days. But I do not think so. If you have any other questions…”
“Just one: Are you going to release any photographic or video proof of these creatures?”
He nodded. “Yes, but only that which does not contain the Paladins. Again, I would like to keep their identifies private. That media should be uploaded to the main Necessarius site shortly, along with a copy of this announcement.”
“And thank you very much indeed for that announcement, Mister Butler.” As Butler rose to leave—very slowly, I noted, with heavy support form his cane—the anchorwoman turned to the camera again. “That was Artemis Butler, head of Necessarius, giving us a much-needed public service announcement. We will shortly transfer to a panel of disease experts, who will be theorizing on how this pathogen could be combated. But first, I would like to reiterate one of Butler’s first points: Do not panic. Everything is under control.”
As promised, the show switched to a number of older men and women sitting around a table, who quickly started talking about disease vectors and so on. Oddly, many of these did have cosmos.
“Dear lord,” Lily muttered under her breath. “A real zombie apocalypse. With superpowers.” She shook her head. “I’m not sure the ‘sarians can handle this one alone.” She led us away from the storefront.
“Lily,” I asked slowly, “what do you make of all this?”
She was quiet for a moment before speaking. “Butler knows what he’s doing. Appearing personally makes it clear that this isn’t a hoax—or at least if it is, he’s being fooled too. He also did a wonderful job of reassuring the populace. Giving concrete details like that lets people know how much they need to panic. Hopefully, very little.”
“So you trust these Necessarians.”
“Only as far as I can throw them,” she replied with a laugh. “But let’s get off this depressing topic. I want to talk about you more.”
“Well…” now that I was used to her fangs, they were quite cute. It was hard to resist that smile. “What do you want to know?”
“Where’d you grow up? What’s your family like? Your girlfriend? Just whatever you like, I want to hear about.”
I knew where this was heading, and I smiled. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”
She smiled back, even more broadly than before. “See? I’ve already learned something good.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 10)
Yes, most of those guns are made up. But I researched this; they’re all well within the realm of possibility. No twelve-inch shotgun shells. Domina uses the metric system for a lot of things, but I understand in the real world we’re still on inches. So the 4.5 is a .177 caliber and the 5.56 is a .22 caliber.
Oh, and for people who care, Akane’s colt is a Colt Paterson 1990, a remake of the original Colt Paterson. No, it doesn’t exist in the real world.