Infected: Revolution, Part 3

3 – Dead City

The fact that there was no immediate response was either a good sign or an incredibly bad one. Roan knew he’d have to investigate further to figure out which one.

He’d dislocated his jaw roaring, which he hadn’t realized until he was preparing to talk. He had to grab his lower jaw and forcefully snap it back into place, which hurt like fuck. No matter that he had done it about a hundred times before, he never seemed to get used to it. Roan wondered why he hadn’t by now, and then wondered if he should worry if he ever did.

He walked up to the closed front door and knocked on it. “Anyone inside? I’m with the police department.” Absolutely true – he didn’t identify himself as a police officer, he just said he worked for the department. Roan could smell blood through the door, and knew he had no choice but to force his way in. With the pain from his relocated jaw and still cracked rib reverberating through him, he took the door down with a single kick, shattering part of the jamb and sending it leaning drunkenly at an angle, held up by a single hinge. Where the jamb broke, it suggested the deadbolt had still been engaged. You’d think locked from the inside was good, but since he smelled blood, it wasn’t, and he could feel a puff of outside air billowing through the house. The cat got in or out some way.

Roan found the first victim in the kitchen, where arterial blood was splashed across the white walls and pooled on the tile floor beneath a woman whose head was attached to her shoulders by the merest strands of sinew and bone. The kitchen door was smashed open. So that was how the cat got out of the house … meaning it was in the house, then escaped. How the fuck had that happened?

Roan sniffed the air, trying to parse scents, and did his best to ignore the children’s toys scattered around the living room. He found the next body, a man, in the hallway, his face and chest torn to a hamburger like consistency. His right arm was nearly severed at the elbow.

Roan didn’t find any children until he got to the bedrooms, and then he found a young teenage boy, face down on the carpet in a dark pool of blood. He never bothered to check for a pulse, because there was no point. These people reeked of death.

But something was gnawing at him, and it took him a moment to realize what it was. The hairs were standing up on the back of his neck, and he caught himself making a low growl, but it wasn’t the angry kind – it was the hungry kind. Someone was alive in this house, and he wasn’t sure how he knew that. It was the smell, of course. Yes, the air was full of fear, but some of it tasted different, and he realized that was because it was fresher, coming from a source that was still living. The lion/his subconscious picked it up before he ever did. Now that kind of bothered him.

He followed the scent of fresh fear to a corner bedroom, which probably belonged to a girl, judging by the amount of pink frills and unicorns, as well as a poster of a female soccer player. (Although it was possible it was a boy, if his parents were open minded.) There were claw marks in the carpet and the closet door, as if the cat had spent some time digging there. Why? Well, the answer was obvious.

It was an act of will to get him to stop growling, and remember how to speak. But eventually he did. “I’m Roan McKichan, I work with the police department. The cat is gone, you’re safe.”

After a moment, there was a rustling in the closet, and the door edged open, as if it was difficult for the person inside to open it. Roan went over to help, and found out that the closet door had been knocked off track. It was possible that was why the cat couldn’t get in, and it had probably done it to begin with. That was either irony or a warning about impatience, depending on your point of view.

Roan picked up the closet door and set it aside, and discovered an eight year old girl in what looked to be Spongebob Squarepants pajamas, her brown hair a tangled mess, sitting on the floor. She looked up at him with the thousand yard stare of shock he knew all too well. “He killed them all, didn’t he?” the girl asked. Her face dirty with tear tracks.

There was no lying to her, not when she probably heard it all. “It looks that way. How many people were in the house?”

She wiped away the tears with her arm before she replied. “I dunno. My parents, my brother. And Brian too.”

Just the fact that she separated him out meant he was different. “Who’s Brian?”

“My other brother.”

“He’s infected?” There were few other reasons why she would have separated him from the family list.

She shrugged and shook her head at the same time. “I dunno. Mom said he was sick, but she didn’t say what he had.”

So something had gone wrong. Maybe he changed ahead of schedule … but still, that took hours. How would they not know something was wrong? It was a puzzle, but not one he had time to work out now. At least there was the small blessing of the day care part of the house not being open today.

Roan helped her stand, as she seemed shaky on her feet. “I thought I heard a roar not too long ago.”

“A sound I play to attract loose cats to me.”

“Didn’t sound like a recording.”

Damn, she was good. But she was also tired and scared, so she didn’t offer any resistance when he picked her up. This was two fold – to keep her from walking in the blood, and to try to shield her from seeing her dead family as much as humanly possible. “What’s your name?”

“Kara.”

“Okay, Kara, I need you to do something for me, okay? I need you to close your eyes and keep them closed until we’re outside. Can you do that?”

It seemed to take a moment for her to understand, and even then Roan thought she might protest or ask why, but the moment seemed to pass, and she just nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck. As soon as he was sure she had her eyes closed, he walked out into the hall. In a futile attempt to cover up the squelching of his boots on the blood soaked carpet, he asked her, “You, your mom and dad and two brothers were the only people in the house, right?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Okay, good. That simplifies things.” It also lowered the body count, but again, that was something she didn’t need to know.

“Are you gonna kill him?” she asked, just as Roan reached the front door.

The question surprised him a little, but not much, as she seemed surprisingly on the ball for a trauma victim. It probably hadn’t truly sunk in yet. “Brian? No, not if I can help it. I’m going to try and capture him. You can open your eyes now.”

She sniffed and rubbed her eyes, looking around the front yard like it was an alien landscape. Up the street, Roan thought he spied an elderly man lurking in the shadows of his porch. There were probably more people watching behind the safety of closed windows and locked doors; he could feel their eyes like needles sliding under his skin.

A small blue Nissan came speeding down the cul de sac, pulling to a sudden stop at the curb in front of the house. Roan was afraid it was a distraught relative, or worse yet, press, when a surprising figure scrambled out of the driver’s seat, shrugging on a claw resistant vest and shouldering a drug gun. It was Gareth, the British cat squad cop – or, as Holden called him, Crumpet. Which was maddening, as now that was the first thing Roan thought of when he saw him. It was an effort of will to call him Gareth and not Crumpet. It wasn’t right at all, and damn Holden for telling him that. “Since when are you solo?” Roan asked.

“I live on Howerdale Road,” he replied. That was a street only two miles down from Roan’s house. “It’s technically my day off, but my commander called and told me what was going on. He thought I could get here quicker.”

“Good thought,” he said, as he put Kara down. “Kara, this is Officer Gareth Tomlinson, he’s with the cat squad. Gareth, can you look after her? The cat’s taken off, and I want to track it down before any more damage is done.”

Roan would have sworn his expression fell, but he was fast to assume a poker face. “You’ll need back up.”

“No I won’t. It’s a panther by the smell. The day I can’t handle a panther with one hand tied behind my back is the day I give up my king of the jungle status.”

Gareth grimaced, but he couldn’t think of any logical counter to his argument. After all, he’d been there when Roan fought the tiger. As a sop to him, Roan added, “When the rest of the crew shows up, you can track me if I’m not back yet, okay?”

“Sure,” he replied, pretending he wasn’t secretly relieved. But he hadn’t quite mastered a poker face just yet. Roan badly wanted to ask him why the man crush, but truth be told, he didn’t care why. It was mostly flattering, except when it was annoying, like now. Still, if it kept him here, looking after Kara, he was good with it.

Roan headed for the fence, and opened the gate into the back yard. It had a few scattered toys and a small, rusting swingset, but not much else. The cat had cut itself smashing through the glass, so he picked up the scent of its blood right away, and followed it over the fence, and into the scrub woods.

There were discarded malt liquor bottles, cigarette butts, and condoms, suggesting the semi-suburban teenagers had found themselves a make out spot. Despite this, he could find the thread of blood quite easily, and raced off through the trees, his mind slowly submerging beneath muscle memory, the lion starting to rear its head.

The woods dwindled to a few pathetic trees, and then to nothingness in a construction site, where the skeletal outline of a prefab house sat nestled between finished models.

Blood suddenly hit his nose, thick and sharp and acrid with chemicals, and Roan knew what had happened before he heard the wet noises and the crunch of bone between teeth. The snarl deep in his throat just happened, he hadn’t realized it was coming out until it did, and he heard a responding territorial growl before he came around the shell of the building and saw the small panther chowing down on a man’s torso, right next to a fallen tangle of stripped wire.

A tweaker had picked the absolute wrong time and wrong place to try and steal some copper from the construction site. He was so fucked up – judging from the chemical fire that was his bloodstream – he probably didn’t even notice the cat until it was on him.

The panther growled at him, and Roan roared, holding back the surging lion with an extreme effort of will. The panther looked confused, his ears plastering down to his skull, and it actually did something smart: it started to run.

But the lion wasn’t as submerged as he’d hoped, because before Roan had realized what he’d done, he’d jumped on top of the fleeing panther and held it up by its throat, its claws desperately flailing in the air, trying to reach him. Roan felt the urge to sink his teeth into its neck, fill his mouth with blood, but he had enough presence of mind still to fling the cat away.

Most cats landed on their feet, but Roan had thrown the panther with more force than either of them anticipated, and it hit and went through an unfinished wall. Roan found himself gritting his teeth against the urge to jump after the cat and finish it off, but he hoped he didn’t run, because then it might be impossible to hold the lion back.

But it didn’t run. It couldn’t, as it was unconscious and bleeding from the nose. At least he was still alive, although for a moment, Roan wondered if he should spare him the pain that was to come by just ending him. It wouldn’t take anything to break his neck, especially now, and it would save him from the media circus and familial pain inflicted on everyone in Grant Kim’s orbit. And this would be ugly. For a single moment, he felt psychic, because he could envision the shitstorm to come. It was probably starting now, and would blossom to consume so many things.

Hadn’t he promised Kara to bring him back alive? But who cared really? It was a promise to a child, one he knew he might break while making it. If she had any concept of what Brian was in for, she might wish him dead.

Ultimately, the lion made up his mind for him. The lion wanted to sink its teeth in, rip out his jugular, end it in a few brutal seconds, and Roan decided he couldn’t give in to his baser impulses, even if it might turn out to be the kinder thing. Did he know for sure it was? Brian deserved to have some choice in the matter.

He picked him up and threw him over his shoulder, as a deep pain started radiating from his jaw. It felt like someone had slammed red hot spikes in his bone marrow, and now it was spreading throughout his body. Right now it was concentrated in his head but now it was trickling down to his torso, and settling in his thighs. It wasn’t a coincidence; when he didn’t let the lion out, he hurt more. The lion had learned to hurt him from within somehow. The fucking bastard.

But Roan was prepared. Now, in case of genuine emergencies, he carried a hypodermic needle full of quality grade Fentanyl. Some people carried epipens for their allergies, and this was his version. His antidote for the lion. Oh, if only.

He didn’t even need to find a vein, because the lion was so close to the surface, and his arms were twitching with muscles waiting to change, waiting to break his bones and snap into a more natural configuration. He stuck the needle into a swollen, corded vein, and waited for the lion’s rage to hit like a two four between the eyes.

It did, as it always did, but he was already moving, using activity to distract from it all, and he spit the sour taste of his own blood from his mouth as he disappeared into the scrub of trees. There was no need to call a meat wagon for the tweaker, he’d just tell the guys gathered at the day care. It wasn’t that long a journey from there to here.

The painkiller kicked in slow, but he felt it coming on, a warm wave that was almost orgasmic, and seemed to separate him from his body sinew by sinew. He was really good with that.

Roan was in sight of the day care’s fence when Crumpet came up to him, his gun hefted over his shoulder. “I was just coming for you,” he said needlessly, but his accent made it charming. “I see you got him.”

“Yeah, no problem. But you might want to go inform the medicos we have a body at a construction site just a stone’s throw from here.”

Crumpet looked as stricken as Roan expected him to, and Roan noticed he had a thin filament of black surrounding Gareth’s iris. The drugs were kicking in big time, and save for a few needles in his bloodstream, he felt fucking fantastic. “Bloody hell. It just doesn’t stop, does it?”

“It never stops. This will go on until the heat death of the universe. Until there’s nothing left to kill.”

Now Crumpet frowned and seemed to scrutinize his face, as if aware that was a fucking weird response from anybody, even him. “Are you all right?” he finally asked.

Roan snorted a laugh. “I’m fan-fucking-tastic. Just cynical as all fuck.”

“Are you sure that’s all?”

Before Roan could even think up a response, he heard Seb yell, from behind the fence, “You got him, or do we need to put out an APB on the cat?”

“I got him,” Roan shouted back. He started trudging towards the fence, and Crumpet followed. Roan did find himself wondering what he would have said to Gareth, if Seb hadn’t interrupted. Because when he felt this good, he did have a tendency to blather, to say things without ever intending to say them.

He was going to have to thanks Seb later, buy him a beer. Because some things were just better left unsaid.

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