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By Darren Shan
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Humanity's control of the world ended one blood-soaked day when the dead came back to life and ran wild across the globe. Society collapsed in the space of a few short, shocking hours, and nothing would ever be the same again.
Becky Smith was one of the casualties. Even though her heart was ripped from her chest, she'd been infected by one of the undead, so became a brain-munching zombie. Months later she recovered her senses and took her first tentative steps as a monster with a conscience.
B learned, as time went on, that a war was being fought to determine the fate of the planet. Two powerful forces were pitted against one another on the streets of London. An insane clown, Mr. Dowling, stood on one side with an army of mutants and savage babies. The kindly Dr. Oystein stood on the other, with his team of compassionate, revitalized, zombie Angels.
Dr. Oystein told B that two viruses existed. One, Clements-13, would wipe out every zombie in existence within a couple of weeks if it was released. The other, Schlesinger-10, would kill off all of the surviving humans just as swiftly. The doctor possessed a sample of the crimson, zombie-destroying Clements-13, but Mr. Dowling had gotten his hands on a vial of the milky-white, human-annihilating Schlesinger-10, forcing a standoff.
Having suffered more than most of her wretched kind, B eventually wound up in the clutches of the murderous clown, held captive in his underground lair. He professed his love for her, and she eventually agreed to marry him in exchange for his vow to stop killing. On their wedding night, reacting to some hidden command buried deep inside her head, she mentally ripped the location of his vial of Schlesinger-10 from his thoughts. Mr. Dowling attacked her and they fought like tigers. B managed to escape with the aid of a cloned baby whom she had nicknamed Holy Moly.
Storing the vial in the cavity of her stomach (which had been carved open and largely emptied of intestines and internal organs), B headed for the surface, desperate to pass it on to Dr. Oystein, so that he could deploy his mixture of Clements-13 without fear of retaliation.
While waiting for the doctor in an old brewery, B found evidence that she had been played for a sap. She was horrified to discover that it was Dr. Oystein who had masterminded the release of the zombie virus that had brought the world crashing to its knees. Shocked and furious, she struck out at the man she had grown to love and respect, then fled, terrified of what he would do if he had both vials in his possession.
All seemed lost when some of B's fellow Angels trapped her, but she was rescued by an ex-soldier, Barnes. He took her to a safe house and the pair planned their departure from London. But, late that night, a familiar foe of B's appeared—Owl Man, so called because of his massive eyes. Owl Man had a sinister psychic hold over B, and to her horror he ordered her to kill Barnes. A slave to his whims, she automatically obeyed.
As B stared sickly at her dead comrade, Owl Man pointed to the doorway and Dr. Oystein calmly entered the old pub where she and Barnes had based themselves. Taking a seat, the doctor told B that Owl Man was his nephew, and that he and she needed to have a little talk…
Dr. Oystein stares at me solemnly as I glare at him and try to break the spell that I'm under. But, as much as I strain and twitch, my limbs won't do what I want. Owl Man is in command of my body and I can't move until he frees me.
"There is such ferocity in her expression," Owl Man murmurs, running his fingers over his bulging stomach and pursing his lips. "I think she would rip your head off if I released her."
"No," Dr. Oystein says softly. "She could have killed me in the brewery if she wished to end my life. I was at her mercy but she spared me."
"That was a mistake," I snarl, hating myself for what I've done to Barnes, hating Dr. Oystein and Owl Man for making me do it. "If the chance comes my way again…"
Dr. Oystein sighs. He studies me sadly for a few seconds, then stands and fetches another seat. He positions it behind me and nods at Owl Man.
"You may sit, Becky," Owl Man says, and I slide backwards onto the chair.
Dr. Oystein sits opposite me, hands resting on his knees. He looks tired, bloody and bruised from our fight earlier. Owl Man stands just behind him. Sakarias pads across, lies by its master's feet and closes its eyes. It looks like an ordinary sheepdog now, no sign of mutant claws or fangs.
There's movement behind me. Rage enters by the back door, grinning wickedly. He must have rowed ashore and tied Barnes's boat back up at the pier. He spots the corpse and laughs harshly.
"I bet Owl Man made you kill him," Rage chuckles.
"You'll be next," I promise.
"Not as long as I'm a loyal servant," he says, taking his place by Owl Man's side, every bit as faithful as the snoozing dog on the floor.
"Let me at him," I plead.
"No," Owl Man says. "Besides, in your current condition, it would not be a fair contest."
"That is why she asked you to let her fight," Dr. Oystein says. "She wants him to destroy her brain, so that she can escape. I do not blame her. After all that she has suffered, she deserves the relief of true death."
"Fine words," I sneer. "Back them up with action if you mean them."
"I will," he says to my surprise. "When we are done here, if you wish for me to execute you, I'll do that great and terrible thing. You have served my cause in ways no one else ever has, and I know you have paid a dreadful price. If oblivion is the reward you crave, I'll grant it.
"Release her, Zachary," Dr. Oystein says, calling Owl Man by his preferred title, even though the creep's real name is Tom White.
Owl Man looks uncertain. "Are you sure that's wise?"
"I think that she is ready to listen to us now," Dr. Oystein says. "If not, you can always reassert your authority over her."
"Very well." Owl Man waves a hand at me. "You're free," he says, and I feel myself relaxing back to normal. As soon as my limbs are my own, I hurl myself at Dr. Oystein, fingers clawing for his eyes.
"Stop!" Owl Man barks, and I freeze. "Sit," he says, and I return to my chair.
"It seems that you were right and I was wrong, Zachary," the doc notes glumly.
"Sorry," I mutter. "It was a knee-jerk reaction. Let me go. I won't do it again. I promise."
Owl Man cocks an eyebrow at Dr. Oystein. The doc doesn't hesitate, nodding immediately. "Very well," Owl Man says. "You're free again, Becky."
I'm out of my chair even before he's finished saying my name, and this time I almost get my hands on an unflinching Dr. Oystein before Owl Man exerts his control over me and once more sends me back to the chair.
"It's hopeless, Oystein," he says. "The girl is beyond reason."
"So it seems," the doc murmurs. "Yet I would try with her, Zachary, again and again. She is worth so much more than you or I, and I hate what we have done to her." He grimaces. "But we don't have all night. I will leave her a prisoner of your wishes for the time being."
"Ever the gent," I sneer, then glare at Owl Man. I hate this tall man in the striped suit, with his potbelly and abnormally large eyes, but I'm impressed at the same time. "How the hell do you do this anyway? The doc said you hypnotized me when I was a kid. Is that true?"
"I certainly hypnotized you," Owl Man purrs, "but more recently than that. I did it when you returned from your first encounter with one of Albrecht's babies, after it had killed your artist friend."
I think back. "You mean when I was in the Groove Tube?" That was a long time ago. I was in bad shape then–though nowhere near as bad as I am now–and had to spend a few weeks immersed in the restorative liquid, in a blissed-out, unconscious state.
"I couldn't hypnotize you while you were in a state of suspension," Owl Man says, "but I did it not long afterwards. When you were fished out and told Dr. Oystein what had happened with the baby, he could see that you were a crucial player in his war with Mr. Dowling. He asked me if I would establish a control mechanism, so that we could steady you if we thought that you were going astray. He led you out of County Hall and brought you to me, so that I could work my charms on you. At the end of our many sessions together, I told you to wipe the memory of our encounter from your thoughts. That is why you have no recollection of it."
"So you were in league with Owl Man even then," I spit at the doc.
"Of course," he says glumly. "As I told you, Zachary is my nephew. We have had our differences over the years, and it was important that certain individuals believed we were still on confrontational terms, but we have been cooperating closely for a long time now, as you will have seen in the records that you found in the brewery."
"They made for cheery reading, didn't they?" Rage snorts.
"You read them too?" I frown.
"Sure," he says. "I went there the night that we got back from New Kirkham, while the rest of you were guarding Dan-Dan in the suburbs. I had a feeling there was more to what happened with your old teacher, Billy Burke, than met the eye."
I remember that night, Rage sneaking out, looking ashen when he returned, sitting apart from the rest of us, brooding. A conversation we had in Battersea comes back to me. He told me to make for Brick Lane to look for answers. I'd forgotten all about that, at least on a conscious level.
"That's when I decided to switch sides," Rage goes on. "The doc had tricked me, made me think there might be truly decent people out there, that they had a chance of changing the world for the better. I started to think that I could be a hero. But then I saw he was a liar. To be honest, I was relieved when I found out that the doc was as twisted as the rest of us. It freed me to go back to the way I was."
Dr. Oystein says nothing to defend himself while Rage is criticizing him. I find myself getting hot under the collar. I want to tell Rage to shut up, that he's got no right to criticize a man of Dr. Oystein's caliber. Then I think about what I learned earlier tonight. I remind myself that, even though I don't want to believe it, and as much as it pains me to admit it, my beloved mentor is a villain beyond compare. And I keep my mouth closed.
"We have so much to discuss," the doc says. "This is a night for revelations. I have told you many lies in the past, or subtly distorted things that were true. No more. I will be honest with you in this final stretch. All that I can share, I will. But first I must know about the vial. Zachary?" He glances back at Owl Man. "It is vital that she answers honestly."
"Becky," Owl Man says. "Tell us the truth."
I feel my jaw tighten, my tongue no longer quite my own.
Dr. Oystein leans forward tensely. "Did you discover where Mr. Dowling was storing his vial of Schlesinger-10?"
I want to lie, to prevent him from finding out what has happened to the virus that could wipe out the whole of humanity if released, but I can't. "Yes," I groan.
"Did you go in pursuit of it?" Dr. Oystein presses.
Again I'm forced to answer truthfully. "Yes."
"And did you take it?" he hisses.
"Yes," I grunt. "I wedged it into my stomach and fled with it inside me."
The doc's eyes sparkle as brightly as the undead's ever can. He lurches forward as if to rip through the bandages that Barnes wrapped round me. Then he stops himself and sits back, smiling warmly.
"No. That can wait. We are relatively safe here. We have some time to play with. Let us talk first. Then we will attend to other matters."
The doc licks his lips, looks at the bandages again, then strokes his chin and casts his thoughts back.
"Where to begin?" he muses aloud. "We cannot go down every trail–my full story would require weeks to tell–but I will try to cover the key points as swiftly as I can. I suppose I should commence with a tale that I partly shared with you before, about when I was a prisoner of the Nazis…"
The doc had told me a while back that he and his brother had been forced by the Nazis to try to create zombies. They'd been imprisoned with a team of other brilliant scientists and told to find a way for their captors to cheat death.
"I neglected to tell you that my brother, Albrecht, would later become Mr. Dowling," Dr. Oystein says, "but most of the rest was true. The pair of us cracked the zombie gene and created the first reviveds. Then, when we learned that our families were no longer being safeguarded, we tried to escape. We were caught and, as punishment, infected with the deadly seed of our creation."
What the doc didn't tell me then, but admits now, was that he and his brother had also secretly come up with the formula for the revitalizing vaccine that could bring some brain-munchers back to their senses.
"We knew we could never give that to the Nazis," he says hollowly. "With that power, the war and the world would have been theirs. The Nazis were creatures of pure malevolence, and we refused to subject humanity to their horrific rule. Even under torture we gave nothing away."
The brothers had feared capture, and had guessed that they might be injected with the undead gene if caught. In a bid to counter that, each injected himself with a sample of the revitalizing vaccine before they made their break for freedom.
"So you were telling porkies about God restoring your mind," Rage sniggers.
"No," Dr. Oystein says stiffly. "God did intercede. The odds against anyone revitalizing are astronomical. For both of us to recover… it had to be a miracle."
Miracle, my arse! The doc might still see the hand of God in all this, but I know better. It was just a fluke, one of those random twists of fate that the universe throws up every now and then. But I don't bother arguing the point. It would be a waste of time. You can't reason with a madman.
The doc tells me that Albrecht recovered first, but waited for Oystein, acting for several weeks as if he was still one of the mindless reviveds. When his brother revitalized, the pair freed the other zombies from their cages, unleashed them on the Nazis, then destroyed all the records that they could find, before terminating the undead and burning their corpses, leaving no trace of their operation behind.
That should have been the start of a bright new chapter for the victorious brothers, but the doc just couldn't let the dead lie. In his unhinged state, he was convinced that God had tasked him with starting a zombie plague. As far as he was concerned, mankind had sinned gravely and needed to be punished severely. He devoted himself to improving the virus that they'd concocted, mastering its every nuance, so that he could one day wreak havoc with it.
Albrecht wasn't aware of his brother's twisted plans. He wanted to halt the spread of the virus. They knew that samples had been sent to other scientists, and he was worried that one of them would create an undead army. He worked with Oystein to learn more about the walking dead, but he thought their goal was to use that information to help humankind.
"So Mr. Dowling was the good guy," I mutter, barely able to believe it.
"I hope that I am doing good," Dr. Oystein demurs, and I choke back a sickened snort. "But yes, Albrecht walked a less deceptive path than I did."
Dr. Oystein was keen to release the virus after the end of the war, but didn't feel ready. He longed to wipe out the living–since he thought they were mostly evil or weak–but he didn't want to immediately eliminate all conscious beings. Revitalizeds could live for a few thousand years, but then they'd die out, with no one to replace them. Craving a legacy, he continued to experiment, and then Albrecht, who had been working on creating an army of mutants–the idea being that they could act as warriors in the war with the living dead–came up with the idea for the babies.
"I knew that the babies were the future," Dr. Oystein says passionately. "Albrecht only wished to use them to battle the reviveds, but I saw that they could serve a higher purpose, and ultimately take the place of the living."
While Albrecht focused on developing different kinds of mutants, Oystein spent a lot of time trying to perfect the revitalizing vaccine, so that he could start building a team of Angels to help him reshape the future world of his dreams.
"The vaccine continued to be unstable," he says. "I managed to enhance its child-oriented properties, but that was as far as I got."
"Why focus on children?" I ask.
Praise for Darren Shan's Zom-B series:"Shan packs in the bites, and he rips out enough entrails for even the most jaded zombie fan; the cliffhanger ending....closes on just the right note to leave the audience gnawing for more...A series opener to sink your teeth into."—Kirkus Reviews
- "A raw and deeply observant tale of a morally questionable kid trying, and usually failing, to move beyond the ingrained racism instilled by B's father. It is a brave move by Shan to posit such a bigoted hooligan as our protagonist."—Booklist
- "Character development is impressive....and Shan executes the transition from normalcy to wholesale terror masterfully."—Publishers Weekly
- "Horror with a social conscience....This compelling page-turner builds steadily to the climax then throws the reader off the cliff with a twist that is impossible to see coming."—VOYA
- On Sale
- Mar 22, 2016
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers