Infected: Revolution, part 10
10 –The Temptation of Saint Anthony
“The guy with the pickled brain?” Roan repeated, just in case Holden forgot what he’d told him previously. “The guy whose mind goes in and out like a shitty cell phone? That guy?”
“I know,” Holden admitted. They were sitting at one of the outside tables at Hey Cupcake, taking advantage of a slightly overcast but not rainy day. No one else was currently at the other outside tables, meaning they had much more privacy than they would have inside the bakery. “I’m not claiming this doesn’t come without risk. But Newt could get in easily, and ferret out what we need to know pretty quickly, simply because most people assume he’s a burn out lucky to remember the year without having to think about it. He’s the perfect plant.”
“And that’s also why he’s such a mistake,” Roan insisted, unable to believe they were even having this conversation. Holden had called him last night to pitch this dubious idea, but since his phone was off – a concession to Dylan, since they had guests over – and he didn’t bother to check his messages before going to bed, Roan only discovered it this morning. That’s why he arranged to meet Holden here, because he couldn’t quite believe he was sober or serious when he left the message. Maybe the whole episode with Scott drove him straight into a gin bottle.
But no. He didn’t seem hung over this morning, and was continuing with this preposterous idea. Roan had woken up was this ghostly headache, something that ached dully as he woke up, then disappeared once he was on his feet, only to come back in fits and spurts, fading in and out of existence like a half remembered tune. He really didn’t like it, because while Roan had been subjected to many kinds of headaches over his life, this type was new. And Rosenberg had told him new head pains were never good, although he really didn’t need to be told such a thing. “This is an apocalypse cult, Holden. We can’t send a guy with no experience into such a deadly situation. If he fucks up, he’s as good as dead. We’ll be unable to save him in time.”
“He knows that,” Holden replied, pausing only to sip at his cinnamon flecked coffee. “He’s a street kid from way back. Yeah, he’s waked and baked his brain into a mush like consistency, but he’s not all gone. The boy can survive, almost as well as I can. He can do this, and more than that, he wants to do this. He’s volunteered.”
Since Holden – Fox – was a born survivor, that was high praise indeed. In a zombie apocalypse, Holden was pretty much Daryl, the guy who needed the zombie plague to find his calling. He’d thrive when everything else went to hell. “For his blog? That speaks to brain damage more than anything else.”
Holden sighed and set down his coffee cup. “I know. But I trust him to do this, Roan. I wouldn’t be pushing for him if I didn’t think so. Besides, do you think the FBI could get a plant in there at such short notice?”
A fair point. “No. But I don’t think they wanted to risk any of their men on such an operation. Otherwise, why come to me?”
Holden scoffed. “Why? ‘Cause you’re Batman, dude. Why would anyone go for a normal person when there was a possibility they could have you? That’s like turning down steak when you have nothing but boiled haggis. I mean, fuck you. Who wouldn’t trade up?”
Roan shook his head, taking a sip of his mocha. He was hoping the one-two punch of sugar and caffeine would make his phantom headache fade out for good, but so far no go. And the bitterness was seeping through the sugar, leaving behind a sensation like his tongue was coated in aluminum. That was new. Maybe the lion didn’t like caffeine? Then again, why would it like chocolate? It probably hated everything about this. In fact, it wasn’t the only one. “I hated everything about that. In fact, our entire conversation today has left me in a bad mood.”
“Are you sure it isn’t the headache?”
He studied him through narrowed eyes. “How do you know I have a headache?”
Holden smirked. “You think you’re the only observant one? You get these little pain creases in the corners of your eyes. Also, you’re occasionally rubbing your forehead, but you’re probably so used to doing it you weren’t aware of it.”
He was right about that. He hadn’t realized he was doing that. Oh well, why not? Roan did many things without realizing them. Growling, sniffing the air, scoping out an area, instantly finding exits in case of trouble. There was something in his make up that shoved important things into autonomic categories, so his mind could become preoccupied with more pressing concerns, such as where his pain pills were, and if the place had tea. Roan rubbed his eyes, aware he was doing it, and said, “See, I told you you were a natural detective.”
“I had a persistent, annoying teacher.” Holden flashed him a small, pained smile, on the off chance he missed the meaning.
“But right. Annoying but right.”
“At least you cop to annoying.”
“Have to. Too many boyfriends have told me I am. Repeatedly.”
“And friends and co-workers and distant acquaintances …”
“You can stop enjoying this so much.”
“Oh hell no. Entertainment wakes me up better than caffeine.” Holden gave him one of his insufferable grins, but Roan was immune to it by now. Oh, sure, it bugged him a little, but he knew that was the response Holden wanted, so he tried not to give it to him.
“You’re okay with a civilian going in to this? He could die.”
Holden shook his head. “Newt hardly counts as a civie, and this isn’t the way he dies. It’ll be a drug overdose or a hail of bullets. Maybe choking on someone else’s vomit.”
Roan sat back and fixed Holden with a stern glare. “Trying to sneak a Spinal Tap reference past me, really?”
“Hey, you reference shit I don’t get half the time. Let me get one from time to time.”
Roan knew exactly what to say to shut down Holden’s sordid glee. “So, your thing with Scott …”
He chuckled and sat back, shaking his head. “Nope. My private life is just that. Not bringing you into it.”
“I’m already in it. Scott asked me for advice about you.”
Holden didn’t like to be surprised, and you knew he was when his poker face just slammed down like an iron curtain. “He what?”
“He doesn’t get you. He was hoping I could give him some insight. He had no idea I was just as puzzled by you as everyone else on the planet.”
“That stupid little Canuck. What the hell does he think he’s playing at?”
“Well, not hockey. He wouldn’t come to me for that.”
Holden made a sour face at him, like his coffee had suddenly gone rancid. “I refuse to be part of your joke machine. And just forget Scott, okay? He and I are just … we’re probably done anyway.”
“Why? Just ‘cause you’re scared?”
The look Holden gave him was pure evil. If he had the power to go Scanners, Roan’s head would have popped like an overfilled balloon. “Don’t try this shit on me. I told you, I’m not –“
Whatever Holden said next was lost in a series of rapid pops from several blocks over, followed by screams. You could mistake it for a string of fireworks going off, unless you’d heard it before and knew exactly what it was. Both he and Holden did, as they both instinctively cringed while also searching for the source of the noise.
Roan knew it was nowhere near them, but he could smell the hint of gunpowder on the breeze. And blood. His inner lion really perked up at the scent of blood. “Shit. Stay here.” Roan said, taking off up the street, knowing damn well Holden wouldn’t listen.
“Like I’m staying,” Holden replied, but that’s all Roan heard, as he’d cut down an alley blockaded by a plywood reinforced chain link fence. The lion was itching to get out, so it was no big feat for him to scramble up to the top of the fence and jump down the other side.
There was no alley on the neighboring street, but he was able to jump and climb up onto the roof of a one story building and traveled above the street for as long as he could, jumping from roof to roof in a way that was truly stupid, or at least with the benefit of emotional distance seemed so. But the lion was having none of it. The lion liked running towards the noise and the blood, towards that sweet metallic tang of fear, and seemed to know instinctively how to reach certain areas with an appropriate kick off the wall . Adrenaline made the lion surge, getting closer to the skin, and while the pain in his head grew, the simple irritation of it was still feeding the lion. Roan wished he knew how, but right now he didn’t much care, because the shooting and screaming was continuing.
Eventually he hit the end of the line, as there were no more roofs he could use, thanks to a huge gap in buildings that was impossible for him to jump, so he dropped down to the street instead, distantly aware of the shock of it reverberating up his legs. But he ignored it easily and was already running across the street towards the no longer distant violence. He had vague glimpses of cars, felt the metal of a car beneath him, heard the blare of a horn or two, but he never stopped moving. There were people running away, trailing the intoxicating scent of fear, but he was after blood. And the lion could taste it in the air, along with the sour tang of gunpowder.
Then he was there on the street, the acrid scent burning his sinuses, and the clatter of gunfire stinging his ears. The gunman was just a man, firing an automatic weapon at people and storefronts in equal measure, occasionally grazing a car as well. He had a bag over his shoulder, apparently full of clips, as he dropped empty ones, grabbed a new one from the bag, and slammed it in before opening fire again. Roan almost recognized the gun, but couldn’t hold the thought. In fact, he was sure someone shouted something at him, but it was gibberish, noise without meaning. He knew he was too far gone when he stopped understanding English, but he couldn’t find a way to rein in the lion.
Did he want to? It was still charging towards the gunman, who had his back to him as he walked down the street, spraying bullets and dropping spent clips. There were bodies and broken glass in his wake, shell casings scattered about like metal confetti, and he was leaving wet red footprints, as he’d stepped in a puddle of blood.
The lion knew it was heard, as the gunman started to turn as he swapped out a new clip, so it jumped up on cars parked beside the street, running along their bodies, and that noise caused the gunman to swing around, firing the whole time. The lion decided to pounce, even as he entered the gunman’s sights.
Roan felt the sting of bullets, heard the wasp like buzzing as they zipped past, but time had slowed as he closed in on the gunman. He could see the horror bloom in his eyes as he realized Roan wasn’t stopping, and that his clip had just run dry. Yes, autos could spit lots of bullets at a frightening rate, but, despite what action movies would indicate, that meant they ran out of bullets at a similarly fast rate. He wouldn’t have time to reload before the lion was upon him.
Still, he was reaching for a clip when Roan slammed feet first into his chest, throwing him violently to the pavement and snapping the barrel of his gun. Although he at least had broken ribs, his hand scrabbled to his waist, and both Roan and the lion knew that he was going for another weapon – he reeked of gun oil and gunpowder, like some hideous beast made of the stuff – so Roan grabbed his wrist. The man screamed, as his bones broke like pretzel sticks beneath his fingers, and Roan heard the crinkling cellophane noise of bones breaking and shifting in his own jaw.
The lion really wanted to bite his face off. It was anticipating the crunch of ripping off his nose and crushing it in his teeth, but Roan was doing his best to fight off the impulse. The man tried to buck him off, but Roan dug his knees hard into the man’s broken ribs, and had one hand wrapped around his throat, pinning him down and trying very hard not to punch his thumb straight through his larynx. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have claws; he had so much strength coiled in his hands, cramping the muscles and breaking the bones, he was sure he could rip into this man as if he were made of fresh bread.
He roared down at the man, who was making animal noises of pain, and his fear spiked, a smell like piss and hot metal. Roan saw blood dribbling down, and not just from his breaking jaw, but adrenaline and the beast were keeping the pain at bay. Except for the pain in his head, which was like a clear, high noise that was drilling into his grey matter, lighting up pain sensors somehow beyond the adrenaline high. He knew there were no nerves in the brain itself, but sometimes Roan wondered if this was another specific mutation of his, nerves deep in his brain that allowed him to feel every migraine like a full body blow, something crushing him from the inside out, hollowing out his head until it was a flattened, oozing mess.
The worsening head pain, that clear note of agony, was starting to shove the lion out. The funny thing was, Roan didn’t feel like he had much control in the absence of the beast. The pain in his head was all consuming, tearing down adrenaline numbness and rage. Something was really wrong, and he took little comfort in the fact that it was different than usual.
Suddenly gibberish gave way to English, and he realized the man under him was howling hysterically. “Get him offa me! Get him off!”
That wasn’t all either. Roan heard a familiar voice saying, “Roan, buddy, you don’t want us to taser you, do ya? C’mon, the cat squad’s ten minutes out.”
Roan looked around, and saw Detective Kwan standing in front of about a half dozen cops with weapons drawn, and it wasn’t immediately clear if they were aimed at the gunmen or him. Well, duh, the gunman was helpless and gibbering in terror, his right arm totally useless. The guns were for him. Roan opened his mouth to say something, and then realized he couldn’t talk yet. He needed a minute.
Holden was behind the cordon of cops, being held back, but not too strictly, as he was bent over with his hands on his knees, panting for breath, his face strangely reddish. Oh, right, he couldn’t take to the roofs, and the streets here were all uphill. See, if he had Scott’s training regimen, he’d probably barely be breathing fast. “He’s back,” Holden said, between gasps. “If he wasn’t, he’d have looked at you like food.”
How often had Holden seen him this way to know that? Too goddamn many was the only reasonable answer to that.
Kwan studied Roan warily. “You really you?”
Roan nodded. His voice still wasn’t back yet. And his head just kept hurting. That high, agonizing noise was just getting louder and louder, and he was pretty sure his head was gong to pop like a balloon any second now.
Kwan looked down at the screaming gunman. “You’re gonna hafta get offa him so we can arrest him, you know.”
Roan found it difficult to move, but still he managed to move off the guy, scooting back to the nearest wall, ignoring the shattered glass, blood, and bullet casings. He was ready to move in case the guy tried something, but he was in no position physically or mentally to do anything.
There was a smattering of applause from the small gathering of onlookers, and a guy with a stereotypical stoner voice exclaimed, “You fuckin’ rock, Catman!” Wow, talk about the worst kept secret in the world. Did it even qualify as a secret anymore? Just because it wasn’t on the front page of the Times didn’t mean everyone didn’t know about it.
Sitting back against the nearest wall, Roan finally noticed the ambulances on either side of the street, and saw one of the EMTs making their way to him as the cops swarmed the gunman, who continued howling in a mixture of pain and fear. Roan had no idea why it took him so long to identify Shep, but this pain in his head was making it hard to focus. It was like a drawn out scream turned dental drill being jammed into his gray matter.
Shep knelt down before him, resting his kit on the asphalt. “How ya doin’ Roan?”
Could he talk yet? He tried, and found he could, kind of. “Not so good,” he said, his voice raspy and rusty. If an antique chest could talk, it would sound a lot like him right now.
Shep already had his gloves on, so he opened his kit before leaning in towards Roan. “How many times were you shot?”
“I was shot?” In retrospect, yeah, he must have been. He could recall the sting of bullets, and he knew logically that he must have taken a couple, as there was no way even the lion was fast enough to avoid them all. But they weren’t hurting, not like his head, which felt like it was going to collapse inward under the strain at any second.
“You in a lot of pain, or are you in shock?”
“In a lot of pain, but it’s my head. My head is fucking killing me.”
Shep quickly scanned him, even as he continued wadding up gauze to shove in the more actively bleeding holes. And Roan knew there must have been a decent amount of them, as he could smell a lot of his blood. “You didn’t take a head shot, did ya?”
“Not to my knowledge. It feels like a migraine, but the worst one I’ve ever had. Fuck, it hurts.”
Shep leaned in, staring directly into his eyes. His eyes scudded off to the side for a second, and then he turned back to his kit. “Okay. I’m gonna give you something, and it’ll leave you a bit woozy, but it’s the best I can do for the moment.”
Roan realized he could feel something crawling down his neck, and there was a sense of wetness in his ear. He reached up to touch it, and found his fingertips were red with blood. He hadn’t been shot in the head, that he was sure about. But the way Shep had looked off just to the side … “Am I bleeding from the ears?”
Shep nodded, filling a hypodermic needle with something. “Looks that way to me.”
Roan hissed as the needle went into his arm, but he didn’t actually feel it. It was a reaction to the molten pain still roiling in his head. “Oh fuck. An aneurysm can’t do that, can it?”
Shep deliberated before answering, and frankly that was an answer in itself. Roan let out a weary, pained groan, waiting eagerly for unconsciousness to take him. It was bad enough he was shot. If he had another aneurysm, Dylan was going to kill him.