Karen’s hair had been brushed and she had some color to her face that was not blue, which was a good thing.
“How long has she been like that?” Julia asked.
“For about half an hour,” Alice said. “She just got up and walked down here.”
Julia walked over and stroked the girl’s hair. “Hello Karen.”
Adam shuffled nervously. “I think I need to sit down,” he said.
Carson chuckled. “Boner?”
Adam nodded. “No metal forged by man has ever…”
“It happens to everyone,” Carson assured him.
“Her heart is racing,” Julia said. “Alice, she’s at about 130. Let’s get her back upstairs.”
“She wants to stay here,” Alice said.
“Does she, now?” Julia looked back at the girl, whose eyes were locked on Alice’s. “Did she say why?”
Alice shook her head.
Karen Sorrows opened her mouth wide. She pulled her arm away from Julia and grabbed a pillow from the couch.
“OK,” said Julia. “OK, I guess you’re staying here.”
“What’s going on?” Adam asked.
“Rocky,” Julia called out, “can you please take Mr. LaPorte somewhere please? Carson, would you go keep an eye on something?”
“Let’s go sit by the pool,” Rocky suggested.
“I forgot my trunks,” said Carson.
“Me too,” said Adam, “but I’m a nudist.”
“We need to sedate her,” Alice suggested when the men had left.
Julia nodded. “Pulse is at 160. Maybe too much stress, too many new people. Let’s start with ten milligrams of tea.”
“What?” Alice asked.
“Ten milligrams of diazepam.”
“You said tea.”
“I said diazepam. Prep it now.”
“You said tea.” Alice filled the syringe. “We should start with five milligrams. If she goes back to her resting rate, we’ll need to put her back on the ventilator.”
“Ten,” Julia said. “Our first worry is keeping her heart from blowing up.”
“Ten is a lot,” said Alice but she held up the needle.
Julia gave Karen the shot, and watched as Karen’s muscles slowly relaxed. Her body slumped back into the sofa.
“Who is this guy you brought?” Alice asked tiredly.
“I’m not really sure.” She told her about Adam. “He might be able to add something.”
“So you’ll just about bring anyone home now?”
“Listen, I have slept maybe four hours out of the last 72. I would have brought home the garbage man if he asked me to. Stay here with her, OK? I want to talk with Mr. Adam LaPorte. Maybe find out if he knows anything about tea.”
“One thing though,” Alice said. “One thing. She looks different, doesn’t she? Healthier?”
“What’s more, she looks attractive. Seductive even?”
“She’s fourteen and dying.” Julia frowned.
Rocky intercepted her in the hall and pulled her into the kitchen. “You haven’t slept in almost two days.”
Julia rested her head on his shoulders. “I’m scared. I don’t know how to help this girl. I think maybe this new guy can help.”
Rocky steered her to the counter, sat her down, and began opening a bottle of wine.
“I can’t,” she said. “And besides, we have guests.”
“They can wait.” He pulled two glasses from the rack. “Your new friend, Mr. LaPorte is currently drinking beer by the pool. Carson is begging him to make him some kind of cologne. I’m not sure what that’s about.”
Julia nodded. “Does he check out OK?”
“Yes. He does, yes. He’s got some minor traffic in his past, but he’s clean.”
“He was some kind of cook at a meth lab, Rocky. He was something big in that business but I’m not afraid of him. I think he might have put it behind him.”
Rocky shook his head. “Why do you want him?”
“I’m not sure I do.” She told him about the zombie mice.
“Zombie mice,” Rocky repeated. “Interesting. Did you see the news bulletin on the CNN page about this guy who almost got buried alive?”
Julia looked up. “No, when was this?”
“Yesterday, I think. The guy was literally in the morgue freezer when he woke up. He scared the shit out of the staff.”
“Can you print this for me, please? This could be really important.”
“I will,” he promised. “But first we’re going to talk about when you are going to sleep. You’re about to drop, and Alice is in no better shape than you.”
“Karen needs constant monitoring.”
“I know. If you tell me what to watch out for, I can keep an eye on her and think of very fat old women and try not to be aroused.”
“You’re the greatest,” she said. “I might call my mom and see if she can help. I don’t think we can do this much longer, Rocky.”
“Me neither. If you don’t go lie down within the next half hour, I’m going to give you a sedative whether you like it or not.”
“OK. I’ll ask Carson to watch her. Maybe I can give this Mr. LaPorte a rain check, maybe ask if he can shut up and come back tomorrow.”
“You think you can trust him?”
Julia looked up.
“Because if not, he can be made very comfortable here as well, whether he likes it or not.”
“I’ll go talk to him,” she said. “If you go print that article, I’ll go talk to him. Will that work?”
They drove in Carson’s van. Julia sat quietly in the passenger seat, staring blankly out the window.
“How do you market an illegal drug to women?” Carson asked.
“It’s all about branding,” Adam said. “The vial has a little candlestick on it.”
“No, I mean how can you be sure that only women use it. Wouldn’t tweaker guys be just as happy using it?”
“Are you kidding? You ever smoke cigarettes?”
“Ever smoke Virginia Slims?”
Carson shrugged. “They’re for chicks.”
“That’s right. A guy will need a cigarette bad enough to make him want to die, but he won’t touch a Virginia Slims because it’s a women’s cigarette. This is the same sort of thing.”
“So that’s why there is only one zombie,” Carson realized. “Because most of the users are female.”
Carson gave him a quick background on Karen Sorrows. “Born in 1990 to Muriel Sorrows and Dobs Dewey, both deceased. Karen had a twin brother, Kevin, also deceased. They were raised by her maternal grandmother, Millicent, who is now about 170 years old. We met her last week; she looks good. Karen shares half her DNA.”
“Interesting.” Adam leaned forward in the back seat. “Girls with no fathers.”
“Girls with no fathers,” Adam repeated. “So Karen had two parents but her mother was more or less a clone of the grandmother.”
Julia turned around and stared. “You nailed that pretty quick.”
“Yeah, my girlfriend’s kid is a clone.”
Julia turned around. “Excuse me?”
Carson pulled the van over to the side of the road. “OK, none of this so far has anything to do with cloning. How did we get from crack zombies to clones?”
“Meth zombies,” Adam said, “and I’m fairly certain that neither my girlfriend nor her seven year old daughter are regular Candlestick tweakers.”
“So what makes you think the girl is a clone?” Julia asked.
I can’t put my finger on it,” Adam said, “but they look alike and they smell the same.”
“They smell the same,” Carson repeated.
“I’m going with my gut here. But I’m pretty sure if you do one of your DNA things, it will turn up that way. I think it’s something they do in Haiti.”
“Millicent Sorrows isn’t from Haiti,” said Carson said.
“And Ruth Black isn’t…,” Julia paused. “Well maybe she could be Haitian. It’s hard to tell.”
“Can we meet your girlfriend?” Carson asked.
“Yeah, but later. OK?”
“And she’s really hot, right?”
Adam leaned forward. “She’s got these long legs…”
“Guys,” Julia interrupted. “Can we move along?”
Carson pulled the van back on to the road. “Karen and Kevin both turned up in the hospital with advanced liver cancer at age eleven, but were whisked away to this little demonic health spa. The boy died, but Karen turned up again at the hospital a few weeks ago pregnant. Has an abortion, fetus is a clone, goes back to the demonic health spa but this time gets sicker.”
“So whatever medications they are using to treat her have stopped working.”
“Yeah,” said Carson, “but it gets better. They get Julia in to help, but the girl is already dead only still alive.”
“Like my mouse.” Adam nodded.
“Yeah, only a little bit more alive. They tried to keep Julia there to help the girl but Julia panicked and Rocky came to save her and they took the girl.”
“I did not panic,” Julia interjected.
“You said you hit your panic button.”
“I did because I needed assistance and the cell lines were shut off.”
“I would panic too in that situation,” Carson said.
“I would have wet my pants,” Adam added.
“I did not panic,” Julia continued. “If I had a sub-panic button on the phone, I would have pressed that instead.”
“Fine,” Carson continued. “Julia did not panic, but instead made a rational decision to remove the girl from a substandard medical facility and transfer her to her spare bedroom.”
Adam undid the top button on his pants sighed with relief as his stomach expanded. “So she’s alive?”
“Yes,” said Julia. “She is alive. She has a pulse and a heartbeat but she’s comatose. You understand that this is highly illegal, right?”
“I’m sensing that,” Adam said. “Why not just take her to the hospital?”
“We decided…,” Carson began, but Julia cut him off.
“We decided to wait,” she said.
Julia reached for her cellphone as they turned off the freeway. She called Rocky. “Hi baby, Carson and I are on our way home. We’re bringing a guest, so I thought you might want to meet him and learn a little about him.” She listened for a few moments, then held the phone out to Adam. “Say your name into the mouthpiece.”
“Thanks. OK, we’ll be home in about ten minutes. Love you, baby.”
“Who was that?” Adam asked.
“He’s your husband?”
“Yes he is.”
“Is he a doctor too?”
“No,” Julia said grinning. “No, far from it. But he is very supportive of our work.”
“What does he do?”
“You’ll meet him,” she said. “You can ask him yourself.”
“Do me a favor,” Julia said when they pulled up to the driveway. “Will you get out and open the gates?”
“Holy shit,” said Adam, inhaling to fix the top button on his pants. “Is this your house? This is like two million. How are the schools?”
“The gate please,” Julia repeated. “Just touch the gold plate.”
Adam frowned. “All this security and you don’t have a little remote control thing?”
“I do,” she said, “but it’s in my car.”
Adam hopped out, pressed the gold plate and opened the gate. Carson drove through, picked him up, and drove to the house.
Inside the den, Rocky Shannon drank a beer and watched as Adam’s fingerprint, transmitted from the gate plate, appeared on his screen. Rocky entered his password and formatted one of the fingerprints. He hit the SEARCH command, sending the digital information packet to a private contractor who had a use-license for the Federal Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
It took about three minutes for the system to find a match.
“Bastard has a file,” Rocky said softly as the front door opened.
“Honey,” Julia called out. “I’m home.”
“Adam LaPorte,” Rocky read. “Arrested in Bakersville, California in 1991 for possession of marijuana, served forty hours in jail. Arrested in Doha, Qatar, United Arab Emirates in 2004 for indecent exposure, remanded to the American consul and repatriated.”
There was very little else of interest. Rocky Adam’s name and social security number into a proprietary database maintained by the Nevada Gaming Commission. He fed the voiceprint from the cellphone as well. “Quickly,” he said under his breath.
He printed the file as soon as it came up. “So you’re not a gambler, Mr. LaPorte,” Rocky whispered. “One on-line account at a casino in Aruba, but no activity for more than a year. No outstanding warrants. Six major credit cards with a total outstanding balance of $273. Magazine subscriptions to Atlantic Monthly, Cat Fancy, and Hot AsianTeens. Good God,” Rocky said aloud. “Who subscribes to Cat Fancy?”
One prescription for Xanax , and you are a regular dues-paying member of two high-end, high-resolution pornography websites. And now I know your user-name.”
Rocky shut down the program and walked down the hall to find Julia and the guests standing quietly in the living room. “So what do you think?” he asked.
Julia was speechless. She stared at the sofa by the fireplace, where Karen Sorrows sat, eyes open, eating Chicken Noodle Soup.
They sat at the large work table in the lab so that Carson could continue the testing array. Adam LaPorte repeated his story for Julia while absentmindedly twirling the dead mouse’s tail between his fingers.
“That’s quite a tale,” Julia said. “What makes you think our ‘zombie’ is in some way connected to your mice?”
“I have some knowledge of methamphetamine production and distribution.” Adam told then about the chemicals that he had isolated and given to the mice.
“You’re a user?”
“I’m not,” he said. “But much of the crystal methamphetamine in this country is produced in small labs or kitchens in Arizona and Central California. Probably half of it is cooked within a two hour drive from here, but there are a few superlabs. And one of them, near Seattle, is responsible for about five percent of the entire domestic inventory. It is from this lab that my tainted sample came, and I believe your zombie’s too.”
“This is interesting,” Julia told him. “You’re suggesting that someone is plotting to turn our nation’s crack addicts into zombies.”
“Meth addicts,” Adam said. “And yes. I don’t know who or why, but yes that is what I think I’m saying.”
“And why did you come to me?”
“I came here because this is where the zombie was. Then I checked out the Medical Center on the internet and learned about your project. I thought you could shed some light on what’s going on with my mice.”
Julia scanned Adam’s paperwork. ”It says you tested three females and twenty males.”
“Right. All the females lived, except for this one.” He pointed to the mouse on the table, “who’s death, as we’ve established, is due to human error. None of the males lived.”
Julia nodded. “Who designed the test protocol?”
“What do you mean?”
“Who decided it should be three females and twenty males?”
“And how did you arrive at that particular configuration?”
Adam leaned back. “It was something my girlfriend said.”
“What could she have said that would lead you to undertake an undesigned, unauthorized, and illegal live test protocol? That really must have been some conversation.”
Adam listened as Prometheus hummed through the test array, the robot arm whipping from one side of the test parameter to another. “I was going to preface this by warning you that it would sound strange, but I don’t think that’s necessary.”
Julia shook her head. “Nor do I.”
“She’s Haitian. My girlfriend is,” Adam continued.
Carson grinned. “Is she hot?”
“Live molten lava. She said they do this to people back in Haiti. Not so much anymore, but that women come back to life easier than men. She said that very few men survive and they don’t quite act right afterwards.”
Carson stared. “You’re talking about Haitian zombies. That has been scientifically documented. Zombification was used as a means of social control, the ultimate punishment for transgression.”
“Except they’re not really dead,” Julia said. “The drugs just suppress bodily functions so that they appear to be dead.”
“And that’s clearly not what’s going on with Karen,” Carson said.
Julia raised her eyebrows.
“Who is Karen?” Adam asked.
“Just a friend,” said Carson.
“You have a live one, don’t you?” Adam said. “And she’s come back. Let me work with you. I can be of great help.”
“How is that?”
“I know a lot about chemical reactions and how they are dispersed and perceived.”
“What about pheromones?” Carson asked. “Do you know anything about that?”
“Stop it,” Julia scolded him.
“Of course I do,” Adam said. “I told you I work in flavoring. Most of what you think you taste is actually due to smell. Try eating while holding your nose and you won’t taste a thing.”
“Yes, but is it possible for humans to communicate pheromonally?” Carson asked.
“Do you like McDonalds?”
“Walk by the restaurant and you’ll want to go in. That’s the french fries having a conversation with your limbic system.”
“Yeah, but would it be possible for one human brain to communicate with another through smell alone?”
“Yes,” said Adam. “It happens all the time in dogs and cats. Male dogs know when female dogs are going into season. Most mammals can communicate anger or fear pheromonally. Our bodies still communicate with one another all the time.”
Julia shook her head. “Not significantly, no.”
“Oh no? You want a little test?”
“What kind of test?”
Adam opened his briefcase and took out a small vial. “This is my special cologne.” He pulled out the little plastic cork. “I use it when I’m feeling especially lonely. Care for a little test sniff?”
Julia didn’t move. “Really?”
“You won’t have any more doubts,” he said. “I guarantee.”
She rose hesitantly and leaned forward. “This isn’t dangerous right?”
Adam shook his head, and Julia leaned forward, closed her eyes, and inhaled.
“I call it ‘Obsession for Me,’” Adam said.
Instantly, she felt her nipples tighten, and the moistness between her legs. She slapped Adam hard across the face.
“What just happened?” Carson asked.
“Nothing,” she said angrily.
“You wouldn’t have believed me otherwise,” Adam said.
“Thanks for coming in,” she responded. “But I think we are dealing with two different things here. I’m fairly certain that Karen is not a regular methamphetamine user. And your theory is bullshit. There must be a quarter of a million methamphetamine users in California. If five percent of all the drugs are poisoned, we should be seeing zombies all over the place, something like a hundred and twenty thousand.”
“Twelve thousand five hundred,” Carson and Adam simultaneously corrected her.
“Fine, that’s still a far cry from one. And we’ve only had one. How can you explain that, chemical man?”
Adam smiled. “First, only a small percentage of the product has been encumbered. Second, remember that it might not even be noticeable in women. They go through this “transition” shall we say, in their sleep. For men it would be a different story. Most of them would die, and those who did not would be a little sluggish afterwards. If they were a little sluggish, maybe their friends don’t notice because they’re tweakers as well. Or some medical examiner covers it up because they think they made a mistake.”
“There should still be more than just one,” Julia noted.
“No, there would be very few men,” Adam corrected her.
“Why is that?”
“I used to be the chief chemist at the Seattle superlab that produces this particular variety of the drug. It’s called Candlestick.”
“You just get more interesting by the minute,” Julia told him.
“Candlestick meth,” Carson said. “I’ve heard about that. Never tried any; never tried anything to be honest.”
“It’s not for you,” Adam said. “It’s sort of a boutique drug.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means it’s not for everyone.”
“Who is it for? Why can’t I have some?”
“It’s only for women.”
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Carson spent about an hour and a half prepping Prometheus for the new test procedures. Acadia Genomics, a contractor working with the National Science Foundation had shipped the first sixteen mylar sheets of genetic material sequenced from the X chromosome. Over the next four weeks, the remaining 972 sheets would arrive. Each sheet had 144 dimples in which a small pool of segmented DNA awaited testing.
Carson worked the math in his head. The initial tests were run, introducing the four different hormone complexes that Julia had identified as the most promising into each sample. 988 sheets x 144 samples x four tests made for 569,088 discrete procedures.
The first tray fixed on the platform, Carson cracked his knuckles, and hit the Return key. Prometheus came to life. Carson followed on the monitor as the robotic arm ran a test perimeter of the sample tray, calibrated the distance to the sterile meter-square nylon film, and retracted to its ready position. Carson typed in ‘Execute’ just as the fat man entered the room.
“Be with you in a moment,” he said, as the robot arm sped from the sample tray to the nylon film, depositing droplets of genetic material from each dimple onto four sections of the nylon film.”
“A robot. Cool. It’s like the Terminator, isn’t it?” the man asked. “Does the governor know about this?”
Carson ignored him.
“What’s it doing?
Carson stared transfixed as Prometheus worked. “It’s setting up a test film,” he said. “See that sheet that looks like plastic?”
“It’s divided into four sections. The robot takes bits of DNA from each sample and puts one droplet in each of the four sections. So this sheet will have 576 droplets on it when it’s done in about eleven minutes. Then each section will get sprayed with sort of a hormone soup. Then we’ll switch out the appendage and put a sensor at the end of the robot arm and search for reactions. If we get a reaction, we figure we have genetic material that activates with one of the hormones. Then we can try to isolate both the hormone and the genes involved.”
“And if you find it, we can live forever?” the man asked.
“Has it ever worked?”
“Not yet.” Carson turned to face him, “And I don’t know who you are. What’s more, you don’t have an ID badge, so you need to leave.”
You must be Carson or Alice or Kathryn,” the man said. “You don’t look like a Kathryn.”
“I’m Alice. Who are you? You can tell me on your way out.” He picked up the phone.
“My name is Adam LaPorte. I wanted to ask your advice about something, but I don’t any more.”
Carson frowned. “You wanted to ask my advice but now you don’t?”
“Right. I’m more interested in what you were saying.”
Carson put the phone down. “Here’s the premise: we start with the notion that fetal development is an ordered sequence of irreversible steps.”
“That might mean something.”
“It does. Up until the eighth week of gestation, an embryo has no distinct gender. So the resting state of a human is female. In the absence of a Y chromosome, an embryo will develop into a girl. Mom provides an X and depending on whether dad gets a bull’s-eye with a girl sperm or a boy sperm, he delivers an X or a Y. Two X’s and you have a girl, an X and a Y and you get a boy. High school biology.”
Adam shook his head. “Are you telling me I started out as a girl?”
“Could that be why I’m more comfortable peeing while sitting down, or why I cry sometimes during movies?”
Carson shook his head. “I can’t answer that. But what this means is that an embryo is always female unless it is altered by a gene on the Y chromosome. And it’s a tiny gene; 240 triplets long. It’s the same gene that codes for maleness in all mammals.”
“Even a bear?”
“Even a bear. So I’m suggesting that the X chromosome is responsible for fetal development. And if development is indeed an ordered sequence of irreversible steps, I’m taking the leap of faith that the rest of development is coded on the X as well, including aging and death.”
Adam sat heavily. “That’s deep.”
“It is.” Carson reached for the phone again. “But as I mentioned, you’re not supposed to be here, so I need to have to leave.”
“Look at something first and give me an expert opinion?”
Carson hesitated, liking the sound of that. “Look at what?”
Adam opened his briefcase and pulled out a dead mouse. “A methamphetamine junkie overdosed and died in your hospital. Afterwards, he had a reaction of a sort. You are familiar with the incident I’m referring to.”
Carson put the phone down slowly.
“Good. I got a sample of the meth, and I gave some to this mouse and a small group of its friends.”
“Where did you get the sample?”
“I’ll get to that when I talk with your boss. All the mice died. This one then undied via some process I’m not entirely familiar with. An associate of mine suggested that there was a genetic marker that might have interacted with the substance. I don’t know what that means. That’s the sort of work you do, right?”
“Something like that.” Carson nodded. “You said the mouse ‘undied’?”
“Yes. It took several hours. No pulse, no heartbeat, no respiration. Dead, paws in the air. Then it came back.”
Carson wheeled over and picked up the mouse. “It came back, huh.”
“Yeah. You ever see anything like that?”
“No. You do know that this mouse is dead, right?”
“I know,” Adam said. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have kept it in a briefcase for two hours. But I have others back at the lab if you want to see? All of the males stayed dead but all the females came back.”
Carson blinked. “Is that right?”
“Yes. Why is this interesting?”
“It suggests an underlying genetic trigger,” Carson told him. “It’s what we were just talking about.”
“See I still don’t understand that part.”
“Where did you say you worked?”
“I work at a flavoring company.”
“Mice need flavor?”
Adam shook his head. “Let’s cut through this, OK?”
“What kind of things do you flavor?”
“Yeah? Do you make those cupcakes with the cream inside and the white icing squiggles?”
“I like those.”
“So do I. I need to talk with Dr. Julia Beltran. Would she take a call from you?”
“She would,” said Carson, picking up the phone. “But she has a few other things on the burner right now.” He dialed.
“This is not the best time,” Julia told him.
“I know,” Carson said, “but I think we need to have a chat with this guy.”
“Well he can’t come here.”
“I know. Come here.”
Billy St. Clair turned the knob that lit the gas fire in the study while Rocky clipped the edge off an Upman Petit.
Julia frowned. “You haven’t even touched the cigars I got you for our anniversary.”
Rocky lit up. He drew the smoke into his lungs and held it a moment to clear his head. “Those are for special occasions.”
She told them what she knew, and she piled blankets on the sofa where Karen Sorros rested, a new IV in her arm.
“I lit up the fence just in case.” Billy sat in front of the security monitor where he had keyed in the codes to turn on the electric fence. “We’re safe here. Timmy is in the basement checking on the guns. They’re going to come after her, you know.”
“What if they call the police?” Julia asked.
“They won’t,” both men answered at once.
“This isn’t the sort of situation that calls for police,” Rocky said. “But they will come for her. So let’s review, why is it we’ve kidnapped her again?”
Julia sighed. “I couldn’t leave her there.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think she would have been safe.”
“Why?” Rocky asked again. “They’ve been protecting her. Why would they hurt her now?”
“I don’t think they would try to hurt her.” Julia paced nervously around the room.
“Pickup truck just passed by,” Billy said, staring at the monitor. “Second truck in about five minutes. Could be I’m paranoid.”
“I don’t think they would hurt her,” Julia continued, “but I think if she got sick enough, they might let her die before they would go for help.”
“I thought you said she was already dead,” Rocky told her.
“I don’t know what she is. I have to figure that out. Maybe it was also for selfish reasons. This girl could have all the answers to everything. I can’t walk away from her, and now I’ve put us all in danger.”
Billy reached into the humidor for a cigar without taking eyes from the monitor. “We’re actually pretty safe here unless they have tanks. The perimeter fence could stop a Humvee.”
“They could have a helicopter,” Julia suggested.
“How about you figure out the girl,” Rocky said. “And let us sit here and plot.”
By early evening, Alice Yee had transformed one of the guest bedrooms into a functional intensive care ward. Most of the equipment came from Carson’s apartment. The heart monitor and crash cart from when he was younger and sicker had been summoned from his basement storage locker. The ventilator, the IV supplies, and the computer were Rocky’s, brought up from the emergency shelter behind the wall. And they had Carson’s portable dialysis machine
At the far end of the room, away from the windows, Karen Sorrows looked tiny on the Queensize bed under two comforters and a Charlie Brown electric blanket that Carson found in his closet.
“How is she?” Julia asked.
Alice looked up from the monitor. “This is the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Do you smell something?”
“Like what?” Julia leaned in and inhaled. “Like cinnamon.”
“I was thinking cloves.”
“Some spice. Maybe they rubbed her down with something.”
Alice stared. “She’s warming up. A minute ago she hit ninety-seven degrees. She’s breathing without a ventilator. Heartbeat is good. Pulse is 54; she could eat nothing but Big Macs until the day she died again and not have to worry about high blood pressure.”
“That was pretty funny,” said Julia.
“The part where I said, ‘until they day she died again?’”
“Yeah, that part.” Julia inspected the tubes that ran into each arm. Saline drip and plasma in one, dialysis tubes in the other. “She’s a mess.”
“She’s a mess,” Alice agreed. “This is one for the textbooks. Hey, you don’t have an MRI lying around here do you?”
“I wish.” Julia opened the girl’s eyes. Her irises were fully dilated but constricted instantly when turned on her penlight. She flicked the light to the right and Karen’s pupils followed. “That’s a good sign.”
“Not that good. You can be brain dead and your eyes will still dart to follow stimuli. It’s your cerebellum peeking around for possible food sources. She could be brain dead, Julia.”
“No. She said something when we were back there at the compound. She said I should help her.”
Alice looked up at her. “All you said was that she gasped.”
Julia frowned. “Yes, she just gasped. That’s all, yet I have this vague memory that something was communicated.”
“Why not? Once you start believing in zombies, it’s really not that much of a stretch. The neurons in your brain communicate with each other. What’s wrong with them communicating with someone else’s neurons?”
Julia held Karen’s hand, surprised again at how cold and light it was. “You’re going to be OK, sweetheart.” She stared at the heart monitor which registered a tight strong heartbeat. “Neurons communicate by firing electrochemical charges over minute distances. They can’t reach outside to other brains.”
“What about pheromones?”
“Not in primates. Our sense of smell has atrophied too much over the last sixty-five million years.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Alice. “I read the same books you do.”
“I know. I assigned them to you.”
“What I mean is that we need to start expanding our thinking a little bit. What are we going to do with this girl if she doesn’t get better soon.”
“She’s getting better.”
“She’ll need to go back,” Alice said. “She said she needs to drink the tea to get better. It’s some special tea that they brew there.”
Julia turned slowly. “What did you say?”
“The tea.” Alice froze. “Oh my God. She’s communicating with us, isn’t she?”
Julia felt the adrenaline spike through her system. She hadn’t been this afraid in hours. “I don’t know.”
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