Chapter 20: Natalia
"I don't like it," Skip said to no one in particular as he paced the floor, "I don't like it one bit. I'm hungry. I need food!" He emphasized this last statement by pounding on the conference table.
"And I need answers," Justice replied calmly, "We all do," he added quietly. I looked up from the thumb-wrestling match I'd been playing against myself, trying to distract myself from the hunger. "Do any of you know where Walker and Derek are?" None of us seemed to know until Walker himself threw open the door, trying to suppress a grin. He motioned for Justice to come with him out into the hallway and I watched as he did so reluctantly. Before Walker closed the door behind them a tired-looking Derek came in and sat down beside Liberty.
He looked up at me, "And where've you been?" he asked, obviously not in the mood to make small talk.
"I just wanted to visit my friends," I replied, "That's okay, isn't it?" Derek rolled his eyes, but didn't look like he was willing to put much effort into a fight. He sighed and held his head in his hands. "Hey," I said, "Where's your hat?" Derek looked up at me. He raised his eyebrows slightly, but left the rest of his expression blank. I turned my attention away from him and instead focused on listening in on the conversation outside the door. The voices of Walker and Justice were thoroughly muffled and it was hard to make out even the tone of the conversation. A minute later the two men re-entered the room.
As they took their seats everyone remained silent. Justice looked as if he were about to say something, but then looked over at Walker with a hesitant look. The other man just nodded his head eagerly, urging for Justice to begin. He finally opened his mouth and said, "As most of you may know," he seemed horribly unsure of himself, "People are dying," You could hear a pin drop, it was that quiet. Justice shook his head and continued a little louder, "They're dying and, sadly, they are now becoming a threat to us," I thought I saw Liberty squirm a little, but it was probably just an illusion. "Some of them have become, as some would say, 'undead'. And they're not exactly friendly," he looked around at us again, "Walker here has claimed to have captured one of these walking corpses, is that correct?"
Walker nodded, "Yes, it is," he leaned back and folded his arms across his chest, waiting for Justice to continue.
"And he has come up with the idea that," Justice faltered and the way Walker was so intently staring at him I figured he must've burned a hole through his head. "That if we strapped them to a table we could examine them, figure out what exactly was making them behave like this, extract it, and somehow use it to our advantage in our quest to save the city," As Justice's small speech came to an end, Walker cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and stood up.
"Allow me to give a clearer explanation," he glanced down at Justice, "If that's okay with you?" Justice nodded, not meeting his gaze. Walker continued, "Not only are many people dying, but many are getting critically injured as well. Most have wounds that will have removing the injured limb the smartest move to make. Painful, yes, but critical. Since the dead are out to kill us we might want to think of them as our enemies, when really, they can be our friends. They'll be our friends by helping us save the lives of so many others!" he explained, obviously excited, "And, of course, we can look into finding what is triggering their new actions," he added a little less enthusiasm. Seeing as he wasn't getting much of a reaction out of anyone, he followed up with, "As I may have mentioned earlier I have a body down in the basement strapped to an old operating table we…dug up. Along with someone who is in dire need of a new arm. The body has been identified as that of the scientist Alexa Lexington. If anyone would like to witness the first trial experiment…"
None of us volunteered, but Walker did not become discouraged, "Esma?" the arrogant woman looked up, slightly surprised, "Would you do me the honor of joining me downstairs?"
She looked as if she were about to argue with him, but then decided against it, "Sure, Walker. Witnessing this can do me no harm," Walker smiled and scanned his eyes around the room, searching for another "volunteer".
"How about you, Natalia?" My head shot up at the sound of my name and there was a brief, and terrible, second where our eyes met. It occurred to me then that I had never looked directly into Walker's eyes- they were like black holes, empty, yet sucking you in, quite like the eyes of the rakes.
"Um," I stuttered, caught off guard, "Sure, why not?" At my agreement Walker pushed his chair back and started heading toward the door. Esma and I began to follow him.
As soon as he got to the door he called over his shoulder, "Derek, you'd better come with us too," I glanced back quickly to catch sight of the blond boy shove back his chair and jog lightly to our little group before the four of us began our trip down to the basement stairs.
I quickly found myself walking beside Derek behind Walker and Esma. "I didn't know City Hall had a basement," I whispered to him, "I mean, I didn't think they'd have space for stuff that wasn't related to keeping the building running. Have you seen this operating table?" Derek looked over at me and nodded before turning his attention back to the floor. "Where did he get it?" Derek shrugged and walked a little faster so that he was no longer walking next to me. I couldn't help but feel a little hurt at his dismissive gestures but I didn't have much time to dwell on it before we got to the stairs that led down to the basement.
There were no lights on in the stairwell so the four of us had to rely on our senses to avoid falling to our potential death. When we reached the bottom I was surprised to see (or rather feel) that the rooms didn't seem to be in very good condition. I guess I had expected more, considering that the rest of the building was so nice. We quietly followed Walker through a dark, zigzagging series of halls until we stopped at a door that I had failed to notice at first. It seemed to blend right into the wall and I wouldn't be surprised if it had been intentionally made that way.
After Walker had unlocked the door and pushed it open the four of us proceeded into the room. Esma, Derek, and I walked more cautiously while our leader strode right in, not flinching in the slightest when he passed the object that had caught our attention. A few feet away from us stood a dirty, beat-up operating table, not to mention the big, bright, classic light that was attached to it and currently shining down on its occupant. The light was the only one in the room, so your attention was automatically forced to remain on whoever was under it. I couldn't help but notice that the edges of the table were slightly risen and at a bit of an angle. A shiver ran up my spine when I saw the drain at the very end of the table, leaving me to sift through a limited amount of theories about its purpose.
Taking a closer look at the figure on the table I could faintly make out a bloodied lab coat accompanied by a tangled mess of purple hair, none of which could be natural. Seeing as none of us had really stepped away from the door, Walker chuckled and said, "Come on, it's harmless," he was referring to the zombie, "It's completely strapped down. Besides, I think it knows what's going to happen to it," Taking a few more steps to the table I realized that he was right. Aside from a few fidgeting movements, the dead woman was nearly immobilized. I noticed too that there was a long piece of cloth stretched tightly around her mouth. It reached all around to the ends of the table and then vanished under, leading me to the conclusion that it was tied underneath. As I looked down at her I began to take away the bloodied clothes, yellowish skin, and crazed, bloodshot eyes until I saw a regular person underneath.
Walker was fingering his instruments on the desk behind the table as I spoke up, "Walker?" he turned around.
"I'd prefer you call me Mr. Walker," he replied, "Seeing as you're so young. But please, continue,"
"Right, sorry," I said, not apologetic at all, "Um," Now that I had his attention, I wasn't sure what I had planned to say. Looking down at the struggling body, I thought I saw a flash of panic in the lifeless ideas and a bit of pity found its way into my heart, "Do you really have to do this? I mean, if someone's in dire need of a limb, as you say, isn't there a woman who can heal people? Maybe she can grow back limbs?" Even as I said it, I knew it sounded foolish.
Walker laughed, "What, now?" he asked, "No, we won't do anything to it now. Not until we're sure we need a limb. And that's a nice little Segway into what I wanted to demonstrate next," I furrowed my brow, trying to understand what he meant by that. As if to answer my unspoken question, Walker began to walk to the other side of the room, motioning for us to follow him. He stopped at the wall and fumbled with his keys until he finally stuck them into a key hole.
What do you know? Another hidden door, Kia commented sarcastically. I'm sure it wasn't hidden, I replied, There's just bad lighting in here, that's all I could practically feel the other girl inside me roll her eyes. I entered the next room expecting a similar design to the bunker we had just come out of but was instead faced with a relatively large room. The light was still bad, but there was definitely more of it. There were shelves upon shelves of things that I couldn't make out stacked in one end of the room.
"I normally wouldn't bring people down here," Walker said, "But I think this is an equally important part of the limb-transferring process," He glanced back at us, "Wait here," We did as he said while he ran to the other side of the room, banged on yet another door and shouted something in a language we couldn't understand. A few seconds later a pair of men I didn't recognize kicked open the door and entered the room, each of them holding onto the shoulders and arms of a fat, black haired man in white tattered clothing.
"Let me go!" The captive said, his lips quivering. "What do you want with me? Have I done something wrong?" He had an Italian accent that I couldn't place, but apparently Derek could.
"Do you know who that is?" Derek whispered to me frantically. I shook my head, "That's Chef Gino Deliciouso! He makes the greatest pizza in the world, but his restaurant was destroyed. He's never hurt anybody,"
"I've lost everything!" The once jovial chief cried out again, his knees quivering. A tear slid down his cheek and disappeared into his black mustache. Walker walked over to him, shaking his head in mock sadness.
"But you're infected," Walked said in a sickeningly sweet voice. "Only in your arm, though, don't worry. We're going to get you a new one," he nodded to the two men holding Gino. They dragged him back to the end of the room, still holding onto his arms. Walker stood a few yards in front of him. He reached into his inside coat pocket and brought out a shiny, black hand gun.
"Please!" Gino cried out as Walker calmly pointed the gun at the top of his victim's left arm. "I can help you! I can prepare food that will seem to last a life time!" For a second it seemed as if Walker didn't care, but then a look of interest crossed his face. He lowered his gun and walked over to Gino.
"If we provide you with ingredients, can you make me a meal worth dying for?" he asked, making sure they were face to face. Gino nodded frantically, his ragged breathing starting to slow down. Walker stood where he was for a moment, straightened, then nodded. "We'll keep you around for a while," he concluded, "But the experiment must go on. Aitor, Luken," he nodded at Gino's holders and jerked his head toward the room they had emerged from. I watched in shock as they dragged the chef back into the room and came out with another man.
Walker can't promise this man food, I thought with cold dread, There isn't any we can give! "No, please!" The cries of the second man brought me back to reality.
"Sorry," Walker said as he pointed the gun at the man's shoulder, "You have nothing to give," I flinched at the sounded of the gun firing, bullet shooting dead center into the man's shoulder. I was thankful my ears were ringing from the initial shot; it covered most of the agonizing scream that came from the living sacrifice. Turning back to us he said, "We'll just let him get used to this pain before we remove his arm," I stared at him in horror, "In the mean time I'll go remove the once useless arm of the zombie in there. You don't have to watch, if you don't want to. I know this can be a lot to take in," he walked away and Esma followed him. After a moment's hesitation Derek disappeared into the next room as well. I was left alone with the innocent man who was bleeding on the floor, moaning in pain. The man who must've been Aitor had left the room but Luken remained. He was leaning against the wall, ignoring his former captive and instead staring directly at me. As unsettling as his gaze was it was much more welcome than the sounds that were coming from the room next to us. I closed my eyes as the sound of a chain saw sliced through the air, followed by a scream that came from the very pits of hell itself.