National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2017 is under way. Today is day 5, and as of this writing I am 9,509 words toward the target of 50,000.
Here’s a taste of Feral (warning: SPOILERS for Books 2 through 5 😏):
Panic. Sam felt it coming on, and knew it for what it was.
Yesterday morning, the only thing he was worried about was keeping his little brothers in line while Dad ushered and Mom sat in the choir.
Then – boom. General Thaxton (one of the biggest men on the security council) had appeared, muttered some things to Dad, and whisked Sam away before his mother could know what was going on.
“99. Pay attention.”
Sam blinked and scribbled the temperature in the notebook, swallowing hard against the panic. Now he was holed up in the New Republic (his homeland’s biggest enemy) with 20 doses of z-killer (25 to 30 if he stretched them) and 50 to 60 z-germ patients ready to devolve into blood-lusting attack-beasts within the week.
He closed his eyes, as though that would turn back time. As though just slipping back 24 hours (to when his biggest fear was that TC would kick Mr. Mortimer in the pew ahead of them) would change everything and make him not responsible for averting a zombie apocalypse.
Dr. Radcliff had trusted him. Dr. Radcliff (inventor of z-germ-killer, respected research doctor of White Mesa, Sam’s own mentor in medic training) had trusted him with White Mesa’s entire supply of z-killer.
“I’ll tackle things here, but I need someone who knows what they’re doing on that end,” he had said, adding with a naughty spark in his eye, “So, not Gen. Thaxton.”
General Thaxton. Upon arriving in the New Republic (like Gen. Patton marching into Berlin, thank you very much), the general had cornered their leader (Sheriff Brown) and taken what Dad called “a strong line”. It had worked (after a fashion): the Sheriff had released Mrs. Thaxton (missing/presumed-dead for ten years, and responsible for the New Republic’s z-germ medicine – Sam wasn’t even trying to puzzle through that whole thing) and had agreed to let the White Mesa team treat their collection of zombie slaves, since their own medicine had been completely destroyed by a certain Ricco Dobson.
“104, and bloodshot eyes. Wake up, Sam.”
Sam sighed, and followed Dr. Mrs. Thaxton’s instructions, noting the symptoms in the notebook while she examined the Afflicted patient with rubber gloves.
Triage. Some of the patients had stronger immune systems, or had been in the zombie program for a shorter time, and so would take longer to go full feral. Others…Well, temperature 104. He was practically gone already.
“I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Thaxton sighed, glancing at Sam’s documentation and picking up the hypodermic of z-killer. “All this time, I was chasing a cure like a squirrel after my own tail, and John Radcliff had a miracle drug of his own.”
She pulled the Afflicted patient – an emaciated man somewhere in middle age – into a chair and sterilized his arm for an injection.
“Mrs.…Ma’am,” said Sam as she picked up the hypo. “I’ve been doing the math. We don’t have enough for everybody.”
“You said John was making more back home, right? Yes, Clarisse, this one is a red level –” she turned to talk to the New Republic assistant who had been color-coding the patients with arm-bands “– but he won’t be once I give him the cure, so –”
“Mrs. General, ma’am,” said Sam. “It takes at least six months to make up a batch.”
Dr. Thaxton froze with the hypodermic poised above the man’s arm. The patient smiled blankly, his eyes traveling the room — Tommy had warned Sam about the brain-dead amiability of the New Republic’s “drones”.
The doctor drew a breath. “Are you sure?”
Sam straightened. “We produced two gallons last winter, ma’am. I remember the process pretty well, and it takes no less than six months to finish curing.”
Dr. Mrs. Thaxton sighed and shook her head. “Well, there’s no point saving this until it doesn’t do anybody any good,” she murmured, and sent the needle home. “We’ll do what we can, and leave the rest to God.”
Sam looked away from the needle, his stomach doing the spinning games it always did when he saw – or performed – an injection. He’d gotten pretty good about it lately (Dr. Radcliff had even let him give a baby their newborn inoculations), and so long as he didn’t look right at it, and focused his mind on something else, he was able to control his body.
Every once in a while, he’d get a twinge, and his vision would go hazy for a moment, but he hadn’t fainted since this summer, when he rescued Ricco from a New Republic mugger. Not even when he’d seen what the New Republic’s “interrogation” had done to Ricco had he actually passed out.
What was it with Ricco and getting beat up in the city? Maybe by now Ricco would have gotten some sense, and would stay in White Mesa, where at least no one would conk him on the head.
“98. Beautiful. Green level, Clarisse.”
Sam stirred himself and scribbled a few notes to get his documentation up-to-date. Green. Temperature of 98 (that was as precise as this thermometer went). Dr. Thaxton had given him a brief history of her experiments with treating z-germ in the New Republic, and her medicine had been effective at the beginning. Then the New Republic decided the docility of the incubation-stage drones was a useful resource, and started spreading the disease to create a labor force.
But was that the only reason she had stopped getting successes? Sam watched Clarisse, a stocky young lady who wore her ecru lab coat with obvious pride, wrap a yellow strip of cloth around the arm of a patient. Dr. Radcliff had studied a sample of the New Republic’s medicine, and insisted the z-germ they were fighting was no different from what White Mesa was familiar with. But…
But Sam got a funny feeling in his stomach when he looked at the data. Heavy use of medicines against the z-germ parasite. Life-cycles of parasites changing in response to the agent. A drop in recoveries. Patients previously thought recovered (and now immune) manifesting symptoms upon a previous exposure.
“Sam, do you need to clear your head? I can get someone else to do this for me.”
Of course. Any New Republic lackey with basic numeral skills could do his job.
“I’m fine,” said Sam. “I’m just worried…”
“Of course. So am I.” The doctor heaved a sigh and smiled at him — not like any smile his mom gave him, but like a smile Tommy Thaxton might give him…a smile of understanding, companionship.
Dare he bare his soul to this practical stranger? Sam swallowed, managing to note down the numbers she had given him, and cleared his throat.
“All right, Clarisse. Tell the captain we’re ready for the next group.”
Sam suppressed a groan. “Mrs.…Dr. Thaxton?” he began.
“Dr. Jo. Yes?”
“Um…Have you thought about whether the parasite might have mutated?” Great; did that sound too much like the little medic questioning the big doctor about elementary things?
“I did worry about that – for years, in fact,” Dr. Thaxton answered, watching the blue-uniformed Security of the New Republic herd a new line of Afflicted drones into the room. “But it never added up. And now that I know what the assistants were doing – what the Sheriff was doing –” She broke off to suck in a breath through clenched teeth. “Allowing live culture to remain in the medicine would produce similar results to a mutated parasite. And if you say Dr. Radcliff isn’t afraid of a mutant…” She gave an unsteady chuckle. “Well, he’s done much better than I have with this field. Perhaps there is something in studying dogs, not mice.”
Sam watched as she stuck the thermometer under the chin of the next patient. He was not relieved. The panic would not go away.