15: A Living Zombie
The medical clinic erupted in frantic motion as various warriors brought their weapons to bear. The medics stood in dazed surprise, blocking their view, and the others hovered in opened-mouthed wonder.
“You’re alive?” Helen exclaimed.
“You’re speaking intelligently,” Fredrick marveled.
Leza glanced at him, only opening one eye as if the light hurt. “I won’t be for long unless you ... zap my damn heart!” She leaned up, looking at them expectantly. He ran for the device, which Helen held ready. “Zombies have slower heartbeats. You need to boost my heartbeat back to a normal rate; otherwise I’ll suffer the same brain damage they experience.”
“Are you sure she’s alright?” Taylor asked as Phillip and Anderson kept her in their sights.
“Would she be talking like that if she wasn’t?”
“She’s never responded as expected,” Phillip said. “What makes you think she’d start behaving normally just because she died?”
Fredrick approached with the portable defibrillator. Powering it up, he held the device in place. Clear!”
Leza’s body jumped and she winced.
“Damn, that stings. Not as much as getting shot or dying, but still.” She coughed several times, bringing up more blood, which she wiped on her dress. “Speaking is ... still difficult.”
“That’s what happens when you get shot in the chest.” Fredrick said, checking her heartbeat. “How are you doing? Any unexpected symptoms we should be aware of?”
“Aside from rising from the dead, I hurt like hell, but not as much as before. That indicates most of my nerves cells are still functioning correctly.”
Cynthia, passively observing the events unfolding, approached, reaching out a hand to touch her. Leza glanced up and frowned.
“Oh, poor girl. I’m sorry I’m responsible for this.”
“It’s like she recognizes a kindred spirit and is seeking her own,” Helen observed.
“She didn’t react like most humans do when they turn,” Taylor reflected, stepping up and grasping her arm—which she didn’t respond to. “She’s been passive the entire time. I’ve been singing to her to keep her calm, but she hasn’t caused any trouble.”
“I’m guessing there’s enough juice in your blood to ameliorate the effects of the zombie infection,” Fredrick summarized. “She took a long time to turn, much longer than normal.”
“Well, that’s encouraging, but I hate seeing such talent wasted. The undead can be productive, but it’s not the same.”
“I’m guessing she suffered less brain damage than the undead typically do,” Fredrick guessed. “She’s clearly not her old self, yet she seems healthier than most of your zombies.”
Leza sang quietly and Cynthia responded in kind. It was apparent her vocal range was greater than the other undead, and she didn’t react negatively to the harsher consonants or louder noises in the indoor facilities. As they conversed, Fredrick ran through a variety of tests, evaluating Leza’s health.
“You’re still hampered by your wounds, but your responses are within the normal range. Your eyes are clear and focused, though I’ll need to give you a vision test to be sure. Your body temperature is low, but is returning to normal now that we’ve got your heart beating regularly again. In short, it seems you’re back among the living, unlike Cynthia, who’s doing better than expected. This is clearly astonishing.”
“If you worry warts would lower your guns, neither of us are likely to attack anyone. That’s partially why I wanted women to handle the zombies in the future. I only got you men involved to convince the skeptics, but women are more suited to this type of caretaking.”
Blushing, Phillip and Anderson lowered their weapons. “So you’re really okay?”
“I’d hardly describe being shot, dying and returning to life as just being ‘okay’, but yeah. I’m not ready to dance the jig, but my body handles pain more efficiently than it did before I died.”
“We still need to announce what happened,” Phillip said. “Her people are antsy and might respond badly if kept in the dark.”
“It’s better if they see her,” Taylor suggested.
“No can do,” Fredrick declared. “She’s in no condition to walk around.”
“If she was a zombie, she’d be healthy enough to attack people by now,” Taylor reminded them.
“Maybe, but I’d be in desperate need of new blood. It’s a strange mix of needs and capabilities which results in overly aggressive behavior. By the way, I wouldn’t take a chance on waiting until Cynthia gets into trouble. You should give her some fresh blood if you’re going to keep her in mixed company like this.”
“I’ll do so, but I suspect she’s our best choice to allay fears about your condition,” Taylor said.
“It’s best to keep them informed,” Leza said. “They may be undead, but they still respond to honesty better than manipulation. They may not follow logical arguments, but they know when they’re being lied to.”
“I’ll do it,” Helen volunteered. “That will allow Fredrick to continue treating you.”
“We’ll accompany you,” Taylor announced. “We should be monitoring the situation outside anyway. We can be more productive out there than gawking in here.”
“Talk to Goldie,” Leza instructed. “She’s been with me the longest and the others trust her. “She’s an older woman who’s always near me. She took me under her wing, so she’s become a quasi-mother to me. If you call to her, she should come to you. Be careful with her, but if you guide her in and she sees me, she’ll convince everyone else I’m okay.”
“You’d be mad going down there,” Red objected. “Make a declaration from the top of the gate. They can’t reach you from there.”
“No, this is something we need to do.” Taylor observed Cynthia, who dabbed her lips with a cloth, cleaning off the fresh chicken blood. It did make her skin less pale. Despite not responding to his suggestions for how to handle things, she waited patiently. Taylor wasn’t sure how capable she was, but since the other zombies communicated with Leza and each other in her presence, he assumed she could deal with it. “We’ve treated these people as the enemy for too long. It’s our fault they’re upset. As far as they’re concerned, there’s little difference between the Pump Brigade and the Collective. Treating them as dangerous animals sends the wrong message.” He hesitated with his hand on the latch a moment. “That said, if this doesn’t go well, try to get Goldie to come in, however you can.”
Taking a deep breath, Taylor opened the door, holding it open for Cynthia. The murmuring halted. Leza’s undead were amassed before the Collective’s gate, packed as tightly as they always were. As Cynthia exited, he noticed they were fidgety; shifting back and forth and glancing at the slightest disturbance. As no one advanced, Taylor followed her out, the gate’s guards closing and locking the door behind him.