Fantasy & Sci-Fi

The Undead Kid – Part 4

By Richard Lovig a.k.a. Jack

The sun was setting when we reached the Gate Complex. It lit the hundred meter tall Gate Containment Ring from behind, throwing a long, stark shadow across the overgrown ruins of the Complex.

"Looks pretty bad," I commented. "You sure it's still working?"

"Definitely," The Demon said. "An artificial wormhole, even when contracted, creates both gravitational and electromagnetic anomalies which I can detect. The Gate is there."

"So how do we open it?"

There was a pause, then the Demon said, "I have located the main control bunker, and contacted the complex's controlling computer."

"And?"

"It states that dilation of the Gate requires a human presence within the control center. I would recommend caution however, since--"

"Hear that Kid?" Kistan said, interrupting the Demon. "We're almost out of here. Demon, set us down by the entrance."

The Demon sighed. "All right. Landing."

I scanned the ruins for zombies as I stepped out of the Demon, but I didn't see any. Apparently the sun was still too high for them.

Kistan and I made our way through knee deep brush until we reached the entrance to the control center. Thick metal doors slid open at our approach, admitting us into a long, descending passageway, then closed behind us.

"Isn't this great Kid?" Kistan bubbled. "Another few minutes, and we'll be out of here. Where do you think we should go? Venusburg? Barsoom? New Lauderdale?"

"The Alternity Bar and Grill," I said decisively. "I'm going to find Phil and make him regret the day he decided to cross the Analog Kid."

"I don't know Kid, that sounds like a lot of work. Couldn't we just go to New Lauderdale instead? You know, 'Living well is the best revenge,' and all that stuff?"

"No, we can't." I said irritably. "We've got a reputation to uphold. Do you want people to think we've gone soft?"

"Well no, not really. Not exactly soft as such. Still..."

"Save it," I said. "This looks like the place."

We had reached the end of the passageway, which terminated in a second set of doors as massive as the ones outside. The doors opened to admit us to the control center, then they too closed behind us.

The control center was a large circular chamber, illuminated by large holographic data displays floating near the walls. Most of them showed moving graphs and lines of incomprehensible data that I assumed had to do with the operation of the Gate. The main display at the front of the room however showed what appeared to be a real time image of the Gate, with the sun setting behind it. Sitting off to one side was the Demon, waiting for us with her doors sealed.

"Hey! Anybody home?" I called out.

A voice spoke. "Welcome to the Cophetti Gate Control Center. I am the Cophetti Gate complex's controlling computer. Please make yourselves comfortable." A pair of chairs rose from the floor and Kistan and I seated ourselves as the voice continued.

"If there is anything I can do to make your stay here more pleasant, please don't hesitate to ask."

"Actually, we hadn't planned on hanging around here all that long," I informed the voice. "We just came down to ask you to open the Gate."

"The Gate will open soon. Security forces are already arriving at the Vista IV Gate Complex. When they are ready, the Gate will open, and a security contingent will be sent through to escort you to the Vista IV quarantine facility."

"Oh, hey, don't bother. We're not going to be stopping on Vista IV. We just want to fly our car through. So, if you could just open the Gate..."

"I'm afraid that that won't be possible. All persons leaving Cophetti must be quarantined."

"Yeah? For how long?" I had a mental image of us spending the next few weeks in some dingy medical quarantine facility, and I found myself wondering if we'd have been better off staying at the cottage.

"Until we can determine whether or not you are infected with the defective medical nanite responsible for the plague."

"Uh-huh. And how long does that take?"

"Approximately seventy years, depending upon the state of your health. If you fail to return to life after dying of natural causes, it can be assumed that you are not infected."

"What! We can't wait--"

Kistan cut me off. "Well, that seems reasonable," he said.

I shot him an inquiring look, but he ignored me.

"Thank you, your cooperative attitude is appreciated."

Kistan shrugged. "Well, policy is policy."

"True."

"Anyhow," Kistan continued in a relaxed, casual tone, "You say that these guys are going to be along in a little bit to escort us to quarantine?"

"Yes. In a few minutes, the security forces on Vista IV should be in place. When I receive notice of that event, I will open the Gate."

"I see, I see." He stood up and, still speaking very casually, said, "Well, since you seem to have things under control here, I guess the Kid and I aren't needed. So, if it's all right with you, we'll just go out and wait in our car until it's time to go." He started heading toward the door. "Just send someone to knock on the window when you need us."

I stood and was about to follow Kistan when the computer spoke again.

"I'm sorry, but you are not allowed to leave this room."

"Ah," Kistan said, and sat back down.

"Nice try," I whispered.

"Thanks."

"However," the computer continued, "If there is anything I can do to make your stay here more comfortable, please don't hesitate to ask. I am now opening the Gate."

I watched the main display with interest as a glowing, blue-white point of light appeared within the center of the containment ring, and expanded until it filled ring. When the glow faded, we could see through the Gate, to the Vista IV Gate Complex on the other side. It was still early in the day there and the sun was shining brightly, making it easy to see the long line of troops dressed in isolation gear as they began marching through the Gate to Cophetti.

I leaned over and whispered to Kistan, "Well, so much for your way. Now we try my way. Got any grenades?"

As Kistan handed me a pair of grenades, I heard the Demon speak through my interface card. "That would probably be a bad idea," she said.

"Why?" I asked, hefting the grenades. "Afraid they'll bill us for damages?"

"That is likely in any event. However, I am more concerned about your own well being. The chamber you are in is constructed of durloy, and so shaped that shockwaves from any internal blast would be reflected and concentrated. This could prove hazardous."

"Ah, I see," I looked down at the pair of grenades in my hand for a moment, then put them away. To my interface card I said, "Well, then, it looks as if you're just--"

"--going to have to blast you out?"

"Uh...yeah. There a problem with that too?"

"Possibly. I have been scanning the equipment controlling the Gate since it's activation, and have discovered that crucial elements of that equipment are located quite close to the inner doors. Blasting through them from here could damage that equipment and destabilize the Gate. There could be a significant energy release."

"Maybe," I said, looking at the troops pouring through the Gate, "On the other hand, it might beat being locked up in a quarantine camp for the rest of our natural lives."

"That is your decision to make. However, If you wish, I can go to New Paris, inform the girls of your capture, and have them mount a rescue."

Yeah, right, I thought. Be just like the girls to leave us sit in quarantine for a year or three to teach us a lesson. Aloud I said, "Give us a minute." I turned to Kistan, "How about you, any bright ideas?"

Kistan looked at the door for a moment, then said, "Maybe. Demon, what about the outer doors? Could you take those out safely?"

"That should pose no problem."

"What about the troops out there?"

"Again, no problem. Do you have a plan?"

"Maybe. Just be ready to take out those doors when we give the word." He raised his voice and spoke to the computer again. "So, how long is this perimeter thing going to take?"

"Incursions by the undead after dark can be quite severe, and pose a significant risk to personnel. It will take at least another hour to establish an adequate perimeter."

"An hour, huh? Kind of a long wait." Before the computer had a chance to respond, he continued. "Do you suppose we could get some refreshments in the meantime?"

"Of course. What would you like?"

"Oh, I don't know. How about some popcorn?"

"Of course." A table rose out of the floor, bearing a bowl of popcorn.

"Hey, that's great," Kistan said, "But we could really use a lot more popcorn than that. Just keep it coming. And do you think that we could get a couch to sit on instead of these chairs? It'd be a lot more comfortable."

"Of course." A large, comfortable looking couch rose out of the floor behind our chairs, while a hatch on the table opened up and began disgorging popcorn.

"Uh, Kistan..."

"Later," he whispered, then addressed the computer again. "And how about some drinks? Just keep those coming too."

"Of course. Will there be anything else?"

"A pair of shovels?"

"Kistan! What the...mmmph!" Kistan stuffed a handful of popcorn into my mouth. I spat it out, then used one of the drinks to rinse out my mouth. I hate popcorn.

"Hey, Kid," Kistan said casually. "Why don't you take this shovel and start piling popcorn behind the couch. That way, we can just reach behind the couch for a handful when we want it." He began shoveling popcorn from the drift around the table and pitching it behind the couch. I took the shovel and started helping. I figured Kistan had a plan. Or at least, I hoped that he did. You can never be totally sure about Kistan.

As I shoveled, I kept an eye on the screen, where a long line of hovertanks were emerging from the Gate. It made me wonder just how bad the zombies got at night.

The drift of popcorn behind the couch was quite large when Kistan spoke again.

"Computer? Do you have automatic fire sprinklers in here?"

"Yes."

"Good, good." He took out his blaster, adjusted it for a wide angle, low intensity beam, and opened fire on the popcorn. Under the heat of the beam the popcorn quickly caught fire, which in turn triggered the sprinklers. In short order the flames were out, and we were ankle deep in water and soggy popcorn.

"Well," Kistan said, "That ought to give it some resilience. Use the grenades on the doors now."

"Check." I ran to the doors, (managing to keep my footing despite the soggy popcorn,) set the grenades in place, then dove for cover behind the couch.

Five seconds later, the grenades went off and sent a wave of soggy popcorn rolling over us.

Since we were still alive, I assumed that the combination of the couch and the wet popcorn had been sufficient to damp the shock wave. I stood up, shedding a mass of popcorn as I did so, and peered over the couch.

The doors were bent, smoking, and open just far enough for us to squeeze through. I brought out my interface card.

"Demon, take out the outer doors now, then stand ready. We'll be out in a minute."

"Very well," the Demon said. A moment later, there was a loud explosion as the Demon blasted the outer doors. Before the echoes had died away, Kistan and I were up and running for the exit.

As we reached the top of the passageway, I heard gunfire and explosions. However, I didn't see any shots actually hitting near the Demon, so I made a run for it, with Kistan following closely behind me. A moment later we were safely in the Demon, and heading for the Gate.

"Did you notice that?" I asked Kistan.

"Notice what?"

"They didn't try to shoot us as we came out of the Control Center. People usually shoot at us after we blow stuff up."

"I wouldn't take it personally," the Demon advised me as we passed through the Gate and into Vista IV daylight. "They were kind of busy. The undead started attacking at about the same time as I blasted the outer doors."

"Oh. Good."

"Very. By the way, I am now free of the requirement to jump to New Paris. Where do you two want to go?"

"The Alternity Bar and Grill," I said. "We've got a phony real estate agent to find."

The inside of the Alternity Bar and Grill is something that must be experienced to be believed. It consists mainly of a large number of randomly scattered tables and an old fashioned, ornate wooden bar, surrounded by a low brick wall. Above the brick wall, held back by an unseen barrier, is an expanse of thick, swirling mist. If you look straight up, you can see how the drifting smoke of the room gradually thickens and merges with the mist, forming what passes for a ceiling at the Alternity. If you're a heavy drinker, the effect can be disconcerting. I recommend dark glasses.

Kistan and I already had our dark glasses on when we walked in. I was looking around for an empty table when Kistan put his hand on my shoulder and pointed.

"What?" I lowered my sunglasses slightly and looked at where he was pointing. "Hey! That's Phil!" I put a hand on my blaster.

"Yeah, that's Phil all right, but look at who he's with."

"Hey! That's Patty and Erica!" I looked more closely, saw what was going on at the table, and said, "Hey! I think he's selling them something. Shouldn't we stop him?"

"Maybe. Then again, maybe not. After all, if the girls are buying themselves a bargain..."

"...far be it for us to stop them. Yeah. You have a point. What do you say we get out of here?"

"My thoughts exactly."

A few minutes later, we were back in the Demon, debating where to go. I had about decided to give in to Kistan's suggestion of New Lauderdale when the Demon interrupted us.

"Sorry to break in on your oh so exciting discussion, but perhaps you might allow me to suggest a destination?"

"You?" I thought about it, then said, "Sure, why not? We haven't had much luck so far. What did you have in mind?"

"Proxima Station."

"The medical facility? Why?"

"Your current medical problem far surpass my own ability to deal with, therefore, Proxima Station is the logical place to seek treatment."

I frowned. "What do you mean medical treatment? For what? We're both fine."

"Yes, so long as you're alive. As soon as you die however, the nanite you picked up on Cophetti will start to work, and before long you'll be lurching around looking for brains."

"What!"

"Don't worry. I've taken the liberty of contacting Proxima Station and getting a price estimate on a full course of treatment for your condition."

"And?"

"A hundred thousand credits should cover it."

"Uh..."

"That's per person of course."

"Uh, yeah."

"Two-hundred thousand credits!" Kistan raged. "Where are we supposed to get two-hundred thousand credits?"

I shrugged. "Who cares?"

"But..."

"Look, it only affects you after you're dead. Right Demon?"

"Correct."

"So, we'll specify cremation in our wills. And warn them to nail down the coffin lids for the funeral."

"But..."

"Hey, don't worry about it Kistan," I said soothingly. "We'll think of something. We always do."