Monday, September 10, 2012


By Mandy Ward

The Helicopter dips as you momentarily lose control from shock. How could it get this bad? What on earth is causing this?
As usual, Milo reads your mind.
Milo shudders. “What the hell is causing this, man? We did all those tests and there were no malfunctions or side effects from the prototypes. Shit, we even had a whole fricken town testing them for a whole year!”
“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to get close to an Environaut recently, so how the fuck would I know?” you point out irritably as you wrestle the ‘copter back into stable flight.
“So what’s the plan?” Milo is jiggling his right foot and tapping his left hand on his left knee.
You ignore the annoying movement and concentrate on flying. “Not sure at the moment. I know that I’m not going to run away from this until I’ve had a damn good look at what’s causing it.”
Milo laughs. “Man, you’ve got so much money stashed all over the place that you could just go to ground. Why not let the Government sort it out?”
Glancing at him, you realise that his eyes have glazed slightly and his skin is looking far too yellow, even for an Asian.
You frown. “Did you use the john this morning before I woke up?”
“Yeah.” Milo’s voice is starting to sound slurred. “Man, I don’t feel so good.”
“Shit! Shit…just…shit!” you give yourself over to a bout of swearing as you swing the ‘copter around in the direction of the Iscariot Hospital. “Hang in there, buddy, I’ll get you to my sister at Iscariot.”
“Thanks.” Milo wipes a dribble of brown away from the corner of his mouth. “You got anything to drink in this thing? I’m parched.”
“Sorry, Milo. I don’t allow food or drink in here.” Risking a glance at your friend’s face, you increase your airspeed. I have got to get him well; I can’t fix the Environaut without him. Using the auto pilot for a moment, you text your sister about Milo. Her answer is predictable:

He’s a shit anyway; it’s just like finding like. Bring him in. We need a guinea pig that isn’t too far along for the treatments we’re developing.

Smiling, you put your phone away and take control of the ‘copter back from the auto pilot. “Madge says they’re developing a treatment. Trust her to be on the ball!”
“Yeesssrrrgh” Milo gurgles. Brown liquid is dribbling from the corners of his eyes.
“I just hope I can get you there before you try to attack me.”

Dropping the helicopter cleanly onto the helipad at the hospital, you scramble out as the rotors slow.
A group of ER nurses rush out with an odd looking trolley. It’s one of those metal cages that the hospital uses to transport boxes and bags around the place, but it’s been covered in acrylic sheets and reinforced with metal. There’s a soft looking waterproof mattress on the base of the cage, and a bottle of some kind of gas attached to the side.
All the nurses are wearing hazmat suits, and they bundle Milo out of the helicopter and into the cage before he has a chance to complain. The door is bolted and one of the nurses turns the tap on the gas canister.
A loud hissing fills the air and Milo’s eyes droop before he collapses to rest on the mattress.
“Anaesthetic?” you ask anxiously.
One of the nurses turns towards you. “We’ll keep him sedated. It seems to slow down the rate of decay and hopefully it will give us time to administer the treatments."
You blink. It isn’t a nurse, it’s your sister. “Madge? Why are you in one of those?”
“Why do you think I am? It’s an airborne contagion, you idiot!” she marches towards you. “You had to go and invent something that turns people into Golgothans, didn’t you? Why couldn’t you just have gone and been an astronaut or a surgeon?” Madge looks upset.
“What’s happened?” you ask, moving closer.
The rest of the nurses wheel Milo away. Madge links her arm through yours and pulls you along behind them.
“Have you used a toilet this morning?” she asks.
“Not yet.”
“Have you been in close contact with any of the affected people?” Madge is strangely insistent.
“Did you not see the news this morning, Sis? They invaded my house and flung poop at us.” You snap back. “What’s with the twenty questions?”
“I’ve been dealing with the results of your little invention. Did you realise that three quarters of the patients I’ve had in the last two weeks have had a significant level of mercury in their systems?” she blinks. “Mum was one of them.”
“Oh.” You can’t think of anything else to say. You might have been estranged from your parents since going to college, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t care about them.
”She died.” It wasn’t a question and you blink back the tears. “Time enough to grieve later, little bro.” Madge pats your shoulder. “Did you ingest any of the feces thrown at you?”
You gag a little at that thought. “I don’t think so. I hope not.”
“We’ll run some tests on you and put you through decontamination.” She eyes the suit you’re wearing. “A pity we’ll have to dissolve the suit in acid, but it’s the safest way to do it; burning just puts the infection vector back into the air.”

Two hours later you are pronounced safe from infection and, dressed in a set of scrubs and a hazmat suit, you are allowed to visit Milo with your sister.
“Hey man!” you wave at him inside his plastic encased cage.
He raises his head and you stumble back at the rage in his eyes and the brown, foul smelling sludge dribbling from his eyes, nose and mouth. He’s wearing nothing but a hospital gown, and there is brown gunk everywhere around him.
“He’s been through decon and had the treatment.” She gestures at a second gas canister. “It’s just a case of waiting now.”
“How many people have you cured?” You ask, feeling guilty.
She looks sad. “No one yet.”
Ushering her out and down the corridor to her office, you fire questions at her. “Do you know exactly what is causing this? Why do they start spitting up brown slush? What is it that the Environaut has done to cause this? Am I liable for any of this? Is Dad all right? What about animals? How widespread is it?”
She shuts the office door behind you and pushes you down into a seat. You unzip your hazmat suit and push it down to your waist in relief. Phew these things are hot.
Madge just unzips the hood.
“You’re a stupid excuse for an intelligent man,” she snaps. “The mercury in the Environaut’s coolant system is causing the zombie state. It’s affecting the brain in a completely new way, and there’s not much we can do to counteract it. The treatment we’ve come up with works about fifty percent of the time.”
You remember what Milo was swearing about. “Shit. The mother fucking board interfered with the design specs! They must have used the older design internally and the new design externally.” You collapse back against the chair. “What about the sludge?”
“That’s the remains of their internal organs; they go into rapid decay for some reason. While our treatment has been successful against the zombification, humans can’t live when they don’t have a heart, lungs or nervous system.” She raises an eyebrow as you dive for the waste paper bin and throw up in it.
Wiping your mouth on your sleeve, you turn back to her. “Why is that happening?”
“We don’t know. And the only way we’re going to be able to find out is to take samples from a working Environaut.”
“Aren’t there any in the hospital?”
She snorts. “You have got to be kidding. The hospital board vetoed acquiring Environauts when you refused to discount the price per unit.”
But that wasn’t me! That was the board; I remember fighting them on it six months ago. You swear in fluent Russian.
“Enough of that.” Madge aims a slap at the back of your head and you duck. “To answer the rest of your questions, if it was an internal fault that caused this then yes, you are liable. Dad is fine; he’s on his yacht in the Pacific. Animals don’t seem to be susceptible and it’s happening everywhere that your invention has penetrated.” She folds her arms. “So what are you going to do about it?”

You walk over to her office window. Outside the hospital, the numbers of shit covered zombies are growing, hunting down anyone still capable of movement. You remember Hal at EcoGen. “How are you keeping them out?”
Madge joins you at the window. “All the doors from the ground are locked. We have a thousand or so patients in here that we can’t risk. That’s why we’re keeping those brought in by helicopter up here in isolation.”
“How do you get supplies?”
“The Army airlifts them in.”
“What the hell can I do about this?” you wail. “Milo is the engineering genius. I’d need all the plans and a lab, not to mention…” you trail off and stare at your sister. “Will he survive?”
There’s a knock at the door and a nurse in a hazmat suit hurries in. “Sorry to interrupt, Dr. Tebid–Fewmet, but the patient is asking for your sibling.”
The two of you suit up.
“I don’t know why you haven’t gone back to your maiden name, that bastard is long gone,” you say, zipping Madge’s hood up for her. “Besides, his name is almost as ugly as his face.”
She shrugs and stalks away down the corridor after the nurse.

Milo is sitting cross legged on the mattress. Brown slush has dried in long streaks down his body and, looking at the state of the cage, you’re glad for the canned air in your suit. That place must reek.
“What’s up, buddy?”
“You have to fix the damn machine. I know what’s wrong, but I don’t think I have enough time left to help you.” Milo coughs and a deluge of brown gunge splashes over his legs.
He ignores it. “First you have to get everyone to cut the power to the machines; that will stop anyone else being affected. Then you have to destroy the main processing plant. The fuckers on the board must have used mercury in there as well; the presence of mercury in the individual units would just cause toxification, not all this as well.” He waves a hand at the slurry around him.
You blink. “Did you understand that, Madge?”
She nods. “I can call the President to order a shutdown of the power plants. That’s the fastest way to kill the power to the machines.”
“Milo, how do we fix the Environaut?” you ask your oldest friend.
“My notes…” he coughs, “…at the lab… change the… coolant and…” a veritable flood of decayed internal organs emerges from his mouth. He slumps to the floor of the cage and the light goes from his eyes.
You find yourself crying. Poor bugger. What a horrible way to go.
Madge steers you back to her office. “Let’s get this sorted out.
So what do I do first? You think, sitting down while Madge makes her phone call. Destroy the main processing plant or pick up Milo’s notes? Or shall I just call it a day and do a Dad?
What's next?

A. Do you head to the marina for your yacht and join your dad in the pacific until it all blows over?
B. Do you try to retrieve Milo's notes from the lab in the hope that they hold the key to saving your hide?
C. Do you assemble a team to destroy the Main Processing Plant?