The stand I’d pulled the goggles from was in fact Fritz’ stiff, lifeless body. Slumped over his desk, surrounded by empty morphine syringes. All told, a fairly pleasant way to go. Probably the best of a lot of bad options. If he’d left enough for me, that might’ve been the end of it. Selfish bastard. Instead, figuring he had no more need of this chamber of horrors, I fished a hammer out of the first toolbox I found and began correcting his little mistakes.
How they screamed as I crushed them. Halfway human, but with a chittering screech mixed in. Even after I reduced the first one to quivering mush, the remains continued to twitch and writhe about. I was afraid of that. “And yet it moves” I muttered. “And yet it moves”. One by one I moved among the incubators, raising my tool of correction and bringing it down over and over.
“AND YET IT MOVES!” I shouted in a murderous fit, sticky black blood splattering my face and arms as I went about my vital work, no longer concerned with appearances. Far too late for that. Surely, far too late. “AND YET IT MOVES!” I brought the hammer down again and again. “And yet…it moves.”
I don’t know what I hoped to accomplish. The sticky black remains only continued to bubble and twitch. I suppose I was after absolution. For the doctor. For myself. For the rapidly dwindling remainder of living, breathing humanity packed together in our final, now-crumbling bastion. Reasoning that if nothing else, we might reclaim some small shred of dignity before the end.
I wiped the noxious crud from my face as best I could, then set off in search of a gun. That’d be a trick. Everybody in any condition to shoot would’ve already claimed one from the armory, and would now be cleaning, loading and otherwise preparing it for use. The impacts were now so regular that there were no intervening periods of quietude. Just constant pounding from above, light fixtures swaying about violently, many having already gone dark.
On my way to the central chamber, I stopped by the broadcast studio. Gertrude was nowhere to be seen, but there was Betty, having locked herself into the recording booth from the inside. When she noticed me, she weakly smiled and cracked the door. I told her I was searching for weapons and asked if she wanted to accompany me. I was rebuffed.
“No darlin’, this is where I’m staying. The boys gotta keep hearin’ my voice to the very end. I’ve been with ’em for so long, how could I abandon ’em now? I can still hardly believe it. How can they get Betty? That’s what the boys must be thinkin’ still.
That the voice on their radios could never die. That whatever else gets swallowed up, they’ll never lose good ‘ol Bombardier Betty. How could they? That’s the magic of radio. Your voice goin’ out loud and clear to the hopeful multitudes, you seem to them like something more’n human. Somethin’ that’ll still be floatin’ around even when everything else burns away.
I’m no less naive. This whole time…I dunno. I couldn’t take it seriously. That it would really turn out like this. I kept thinking it would stop just short. That God, or nature, or history somehow wouldn’t allow this outcome. That someone, or something, would arrive just in time to save us. But it never did.”
A single tear snaked down her cherubic face, forming a wet spot on her blouse where it fell. Her voice drained of all life, such that I could be certain she’d resigned herself to what would happen. I asked what had become of Gertrude. All Betty would tell me is that she’d gone to be with Fritz. On the off chance that she’d used a gun to do it, I doubled back towards the lab.
As I passed through the control center, I noticed every monitor now displayed only static. The chairs, occupied until recently by teletank pilots, sat empty. The lone red bulb on the map board flickering with each successive tremor, final candle in the darkness on the verge of being forever extinguished. Most of the refugees lining the edge of the room were no longer breathing now, perished for lack of manpower and facilities to treat them.
A sudden earth-shattering explosion threw me to the ground. All of the remaining lights finally gave out, plunging the facility into darkness. The impacts slowed to a halt. For the first time in as many days, there was total silence. I pulled the headgear on, toggled the switch in the back and waited.
There were a few initial crowds of panicked nurses, engineers and so on flocking across the room from one corridor to the next. The first time I nearly joined them until I saw them gunned down. It proved to be a pattern. The invaders clearly expected us to run and were laying in wait, so instead I hunkered down among the gurneys and continued to watch.
Dust now filled the air. Still swirling about from those last few impacts, and from the blast. Clinging to every surface. To every fallen body. Into the hazy stillness emerged a team of three coldblood medics carrying queer rifles. They paused at each body, checking for a pulse. Then locating a major artery in the thigh and jabbing the rifle’s bayonet into it.
The bayonet consisted of two large diameter needles. From one trailed a long coiled transparent hose carrying the black stuff. From the other, a hose which was empty at first, but then filled with red as the rifle’s integrated pump went about exsanguinating the body. Replacing the vacuumed out blood with the foul, oily syrup I’d become uncomfortably familiar with the scent, texture and flavor of in the past hour.
The displaced blood simply blasted out the back of the rifle’s stock, spraying uselessly against the wall behind the medic. Dripping down it and pooling at the floor, steaming, still warm. When at last the blood was exhausted and some amount of the black stuff sprayed out the back instead, the pump was shut off.
Then the same bayonet was plunged instead into the corpse’s heart. One needle positively charged, the other negatively, fed current by red and black cables from a set of cylindrical lead acid voltaic cells dangling from his belt. Loud crackling commenced, and as I looked on, the body spasmed violently. Even for some time after the crackling stopped.
The medic, shiny black goggles catching residual light from the still-lit red bulb on the map board, continued around the room. One by one, reviving the dead refugees. The ones not yet dead were exsanguinated anyway, allowed to perish, then revived after that. In a staggered fashion, the bodies he’d processed some minutes ago began sitting up.
So it went, gurney by gurney, each of the medics leaving behind them a trail of freshly risen corpses. For their part, some weeped. Others stood up and began to wander. Soon enough, one of the medics arrived at the gurney I was hiding under. From this distance I could clearly hear the whirr of the pump. The slurping, churning sound of blood being suctioned from the body. The raucous splatter of it against the cold concrete floor.
Then the loud crackling. The whole gurney shook, even as I held tightly to the frame, struggling to make no sound. It took what seemed like an eternity for the medics to finish their work and leave the chamber. Above me, I heard and felt a body stirring. Two pale legs swung over the side, feet flattening as they met the floor, then the gurney lurched somewhat as the corpse’s weight shifted from it.
It took some time to re-learn how to walk. Like a newborn deer. Dead brain sending signals down a dead spine, cold clammy limbs responding like so much puppetry. Stumbling along, movements growing more precise as the creature who’d once been a man adjusted to its new existence. Raised from the dead, recruited to fight. Converted to the new flesh.
Stay Tuned for Part 11!