It was day four without rest. Their joints started to grind. They needed to at least sit down, get off their feet, stretch their arms. But they kept walking, dragging the snarling and thrashing human that was 3 months past their expiration date.

One hand on the undead’s ankle, the other close to the big iron their hip, they kept pushing, eyes scanning past the trees, trying to find the spiritual brethren of their “prisoner” before the undead spotted them. They were mostly unbothered, the yelling and grunting of the dragged wandering soul a good “smokescreen” to let the “living” pass by with little disruption. It was only a problem when there were eight or more in a given area.

They had reached a clearing, the hand of a middle-aged woman waving over a map before forcibly pushing her dirty index finger onto the city of Briston, the name hastily written in pen over a large area of farmland.

“We need to get here. It will take us about a month on foot at the rate we have to go. If it were you, however, it’d be half that,” she said, her deep brown eyes greying over with glaucoma looked up from the map to her assumingly younger friend. The one who would be dragging her body through mud, puddles, and snow in the next few weeks.

“Do you know what to do?” the woman asked, pushing the map towards her companion. The companion looked at her then looked down at the map, eyes moving over the paper quickly, retaining as much of the picture as they could.

Yes,” was their response.

The woman nodded, taking the map and folding it, tucking it into the duffle bag their companion carried. She stared at them for a moment, a small smile playing at her lips before she clapped her hands together.

“Let’s get moving before we lose more daylight.”

Her companion stood at the edge of a forest atop a hill, eyes darting from one group of wandering souls to the next at the base of the hill.

Briston. A military-science facility that shouldn’t exist turned into a quickly assembled “safe haven”. The city was large, for the time. A “large” city of 500 living and wonderful people, now shambling husks that moved about the facility. The companion dropped their snarling friend’s ankle and their own duffle bag, grabbing bungee cord and tying their friend to a tree.

I know you are dead and I understand that and I should not feel “comfort” in talking to you, but I really do miss you, Brenda,” the companion said, pulling the rope cord a bit tight around their old friend. “I have to keep you here for two days at the most if my math is correct. I will move down so that my shooting does not draw more of your friends to you. I will return soon.” They nodded to the now quiet living corpse, who watched them walk off after grabbing their bag to start a task that would need at least three other people.

The companion tossed their bag down onto the ground once more, pulling out parts to a gun that seemed too big and heavy for the average person who was used to sniping. As they finished setting up, balancing the giant gun’s bipod on a block of wood, they pulled an external cable from a port in the back of their neck, inserting the end into the stock. As they put their eye against the scope, the computer in the gun and in their head synced, sending data back and forth between each machine. As the companion swept the perimeter with the gun, the gun would tag the undead that roamed so that the companion get their biometrics.

“The goal is to find the doctors and tell them that their findings were wrong,” Brenda managed to say, the grey in her eyes now spreading like an incoming thunderstorm covering a red sky of irritation. Her companion held her overheating body close, gently running a hand through her hair, pulling back small tuffs of kinky, coily salt and pepper tresses with every stroke.

“Tell them that…”

The companion waited for her to catch her breath, pouring a bit of water onto her peeling lips, down her dry throat.

“…Please upload my file when you get there…” were Brenda’s last words.

Her companion stared at her face for a moment, as a human would, but no tears ran down their face. They stared and watched Brenda disappear from whatever this was. In the five minutes of what felt like forever, the companion didn’t move, holding the only person they’ve ever known for the past 10 years of wandering the land of living dead people. They blinked, dragging the body to a tree and tying Brend to a tree before staring at her again, waiting. Brenda’s head dangled above her chest, a stream of blood started to pour from her mouth and nose. The air was too still, the park they hid in was too quiet. For a human. The companion was watching, timing, taking in as much information as they could as Brenda took her first breath after–

“–22 minutes and 45 seconds, the subject seems to have regained some lung functionality, but brain waves are low to virtually non-existent,” the companion said, watching Brenda’s breathing speed up, a loud rattling sound of mucus, blood, and infection heard with each breath. The companion kept talking to theirself, logging notes about Brenda’s new condition before ending their note-taking after an hour Brenda came back to “life”.

As the companion looked down the scope, the computers made the companion aware of a wandering soul that was close to Brenda and was marked as an important task that needed to be handled. The companion fired off a round into a nearby wanderer, the shot explosive, taking out a handful of wanderers with one shot. This “clean-up” went on for 40 minutes, as the companion had to double back the other way and clear the other side before going back towards Brenda.

With humans, that step would have taken two teams to actually go and physically take them out, but the companion was no human. The companion stared at Brenda, eyes shifting from Brenda to the area behind her before looking back at the facility. The companion placed a hand on their hip, the one with the big iron. Their hand was only atoms away from the grip, their arm one motion away from showing Brenda mercy. The companion was… hesitating.

The companion made their way down the hill, the duffle bag still on their person, a pistol in their hands, big iron still at their hip. They moved quickly and silently, their first stop being the body they tagged earlier as being of importance. It still wandered and stumbled, the rattling of sickness coming from their chest just like Brenda’s. The companion watched it from behind a dumpster, looking back at their own tracks to make sure they weren’t followed before rushing up to the wandering soul and putting a bullet into its skull. Visera sprayed the companion in the face, but they didn’t flinch. As the wanderer fell, the companion started to pat it down, going through its moldy and disintegrating clothes. The companion snapped the hands off the wanderer and shoved them into the duffle bag. They also found a keycard and a USB before making their way to the main hall where security was located. This area was empty and for once the companion felt afraid of what was to come next. Questions started to come through that they had no answer to.

Where were the rest of the people?
Are they underground?
If they’re underground, are they all infected?
Are there any survivors?

Brenda had been infected 5 years after the initial outbreak. She did it voluntarily to be a trial for a vaccine. All it did was slow the spread of the infection by astronomical numbers. When it started to show up, at least in Brenda’s case, it came on as if it were menopause so she thought nothing of it. Then the “glaucoma” symptoms came and that’s when she started to worry. The fevers worsened, her body ached more, and got tired faster. She was always thirsty but never hungry. Her skin started to develop boils and peel. If the companion could sleep, they would hear the noise that Brenda’s chest would make with every exhale in their dreams along with their waking moments. The companion pressed the keycard against the security door, stepping inside as it slide open. The only power that seemed to be running was the emergency power. The companion stood still for a moment, calculating what to do before pulling the external cable out and sticking it into one of the computers. The companion gave off enough juice to power it on, digging through files and video, trying to find out what happened. It was the same as anyplace; they were overrun from the inside. The companion pulled files and notes that had the same name from the wanderer that the companion dismembered earlier. After finding the maps for each floor of the facility, the companion’s hands felt clammy. There were 3 floors; the main floor on the ground, the basement, and a sublevel where the hundreds of wandering souls were herded in to stop the spread of infection.

The companion decided to take the stairs down, not wanting to bother with finding out if the elevator was out or not. No wanderers roamed the staircase but with each step, the rattling of hundreds of pus-filled chests grew louder and louder. They stopped at the basement, slowly opening the door. They blinked, the room going from pitch black to night vision. No one or nothing seemed to move in here as they stepped inside. Rotted food leaked from boxes, expired medicines sat in refrigerators, a few unchanged bodies laid strewn about, having died from starvation before the infection managed to get to them. The companion scanned their bodies, noting they were “perfect specimens” to keep the human race going, had they lived. They scanned the medicine, finding hefty rations of albuterol, insulin, and various fertility medications.

This facility should not have failed if conditions were perfect,” the companion said. They left the basement before heading down to the sublevel. The breathing was harsher now. The companion wondered if they were sweating. They stared at the door to the sublevel. Two heavy bunker doors stared back, giant dents protruding from them in odd places. Dried blood and gore had leaked from the bottom of the door. The companion wondered what it felt like to vomit.

The door was locked by a fingerprint mechanism that only the lead scientists, and later community leaders, could open. The companion opened up their duffle bag and pulled out one of the hands from the wanderer topside. They pulled out another hand that looked nothing like the other, staring at it for a second before finishing their task. They placed one hand on the sensor.

“Acknowledged, Briston, Kevin.”

They placed the other hand on the sensor.

Acknowledged, Briston, Brenda.”

The door hissed and groaned as the locks started to shift and move. Little by little, the door opened, bits of old, rotten flesh and bone falling through the widening gap. The companion actually froze with a newfound fear. They squeezed the grip of their pistol, their night vision eyes focusing on the horror that lumbered in the dark.

It seems to have gone months without being “feed”,” the companion whispered to no one. They noticed how the room looked and wondered if they could vomit again.

It seemed like an arena, with enough seats to entertain a handful of disgusting people. There was a main office that seemed to also be the box sitting for whatever “entertainment” was happening in the pit below.

How did this happen?
How did this start?

Who is Kevin in relation to Brenda?
Did Brenda know about this?

These were more questions the companion wasn’t going to get an answer to.

The horror let out a sad whimper.

Bones and flesh were all over the ground, most of the bones chewed on until only small shards existed.

The horror was a ball of discarded human remains from the unwilling test subjects that were infected with an accelerated sickness and placed into this same pit and to watch how they interacted with each other. In the early stages of the infection, the sickness caused raged and would start fights between two subjects. The winner would end up cannibalizing the other and sometimes would stick the dismembered parts onto their own body. The body would fuse with the dismembered part and created a giant monster that the community leaders would use as a punishment and later on entertainment.

The horror whined, dragging itself along.

It is dying.”

The companion made sweep after sweep of the room before slowly stepping inside. The horror moved its head toward the companion and tried to run but tripped over its many feet. The companion put a bullet into its head with no hesitation. They watched the horror take its last breath, the rattling slowing and stopping. There was a ringing in their ears to replace it now.

They looked around again, noticing a barbed-wire fence along the far wall with some stairs behind it. The gate that was the only entrance to the stairs was locked. The companion dug through their bag for a moment, pulling out a pair of wire cutters, spending 10 minutes cutting open a hole big enough for them. They started to think about Brenda.

As they made their way up the stairs, they started going through the notes in their computer, pulling up anything about this from Kevin. There was nothing out of the ordinary at first glance, but the dates from his notes and video logs from the outbreak had a difference in 2 years.

Last recording for Kevin Briston, Aug 28.

Ever since Brenda left all those years ago, people have been … losing their sense of humanity. I… She was right and it took me 8 years to figure it out. I will never be able to ask her for forgiveness as my way of punishing people with not only the virus but also using their sick as a sport. There is no spot in Hell that would even let me in for the crimes against humanity I have caused. If these times were different, I would have the luxury of dying in my own home, but I am about to… endure the… I will die by my own bullshit. Brenda called it.

The companion stared down at the hands of the Bristons that sat in their bag. The logs still didn’t say anything of their relations. They could have just shared the last name. They entered the office, looking at the papers and trinkets on the desk. Nothing of importance. Once more, they plugged theirself into the computer, going through the files and looking for anything tying Brenda and Kevin together but nothing came up.

Last recording for Barbara-Lynn Williams, Aug 3

I remember Kevin screaming as they injected him with… that shit and he said this would happen. So many people died to keep that… thing back… so many children… I… Many of us are infected because of this. Some left the compound completely because they couldn’t deal with the shame of saying we got infe–… We aren’t going to make it…

The companion frowned. They noticed that this facility was part of a network that still had power. The companion stood there, calculating. They started to upload Brenda’s file to the network.

This is Brenda “Briston”.
The “Briston” strain is a failure, I repeat, the “Briston” strain is a failure. The vaccine’s delay is not ideal. Boosters should be given out every 3 years to avoid milder symptoms that lead to harsher ones. I am test subject Brenda from the Briston facility and if you are viewing this file, I have succumbed to the virus. Please stay away from the Briston facility, it is not safe and you WILL get infected. I repeat, STAY AWAY FROM THE BRISTION FACILITY.

The companion unplugged from the computer, not wanting to see if the file was opened or not. They had walked all over the country with Brenda in the 10 years they were together and people just didn’t seem to exist. The companion wanted to do right by Brenda.

They left the facility and walked back up the hill. They sat next to Brenda’s corpse, untied but with a hole in her skull. They sat quietly together, the earth overtaking both of them as the seasons changed. It was several seasons before Brenda and her companion were discovered by living people.

They weren’t human, however.

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