CHEMO: The Town Of Golden Woods by J.M. Perkins
I looked and saw the beasts of the field: the submen and overmen, the monsters and parasites. I watched them growing, breeding undying like a thousand cancers over the body of mankind. And I cried out, who who can kill these cancers before the body dies?
Book of CHEMO: ch: 29 v: 14
I sat listening to the whirl of the airplane turbine. I tried not to eye Burke, who was busy pretending not to know me. He sat in the aisle across from me, idly flipping through some men’s magazine. I tried hard not to think about how many ways this could go wrong. Because if it went wrong, Burke was going to kill me. I sighed. Sometimes I missed the straightforwardness of zombies.
Of course, if I screwed up clearing an infestation of the undead, Burke would kill me just the same. But when dropping in on a mindless horde you know what to expect. When sent in blind, you were either bored half to death, or showed a dozen new ways you could die or worse.
I hate blind drops.
“We lost contact with an agent. He was on leave in his home town, a place called Golden Woods. By all accounts, it’s a nice enough suburb.” There was a ring of three of us sitting around my old trainer, Instructor Jones.
“Why’re we having a meeting?” said Burke. “Who is it that went soft AWOL?”
“No one any of you know, an Agent Goldstein. But it’s more who we sent after Goldstein. We sent Mathew Rydon.”
Burke swore. He was the only person I’ve ever known who could drop an f-bomb with complete monotone.
“Who the hell is Rydon?” I whispered at Julia. She had started a year earlier, so she was more than willing to fill me in on all CHEMO history that nobody else thought to mention.
“Supreme badass. Kinda like Burke. They usually send him to collect anyone who has gone wayward.”
I blanched. “That’s seriously messed up, if you try to leave they dispatch agents after you?”
Julia shook her head. “It isn’t like that. If you burn out Rydon just talks to you. That’s all. If you say no, they let you go on your way but everybody gets a talking to before they go. Rydon’s good at the talking is all.”
I realized that the room was silent, and all eyes had turned to us. Jones cleared his throat, making me feel three foot tall again and caught passing notes about Mrs. Hernandez’s third grade.
“Moving along,” continued the instructor, still eying us with a malevolent teacher’s gleam. “We have since made contact with Agent Goldstein. He says he’s happy where he is. He claims to have talked to Agent Rydon, but that Rydon left. We’re tracking Rydon’s GPS node moving steadily west, already hundreds of miles from town. But that was the locater he knew about. The one he didn’t know about has stayed inside the township proper.”
We shifted in our seats, uncomfortable. All of us except Burke, who just shook his head. On the one hand, an agent was in danger. On the other hand, we had just been let in on yet another troubling secret of CHEMO. I was worried that these kind of revelations would just keep coming, the next drop of information not arriving till we were thrust into even greater danger.
“Oh please, don’t all look like you’re suffering whiny existential dilemmas people. An agent is in trouble. Are you in?”
We mumbled something affirmative. Burke nodded.
“Alright, be careful. We’re sending you in as blind as you can get. We’ve already dispatched another three. You’re going separately, arriving on your own. Burke’s in charge. Julia and Joseph, you’re both selected for this because you’re new enough that Rydon and Goldstein won’t recognize you. I don’t know what’s going on in Golden Woods, but don’t take any chances. No offense Burke, but if they took out Rydon they can take you out. All your standard authorizations remain in place; assume Goldstein has gone native helping his home town develop counter measures. Julia, you’re leaving in about five hours. Burke and Joseph have the same flight in seven hours.”
Our plane landed without incident. From here, we were supposed to rent separate cars and arrive within an hour or two. Julia was already in town. The other three -they hadn’t bothered to tell us who they were yet- had been in town for over a day, preparing. We were going to subtly take over this town, quietly enough that the locals wouldn’t even know it. Unless Goldstein tipped them off. Unless Goldstein was better then us.
I checked into my hotel under my assumed name. Across town at the bed and breakfast I knew Burke was doing the same. I giggled at an image of him, hemmed in by antiques and a nosy, doting old couple. I put the card key into the door and unlocked my room.
Julia was already inside.
“How did you…”
I noticed that there were three more people in the room, the other agents I presumed. They were all ringed around a cell phone. Low voices came out of the of the tiny speaker.
Julia mouthed/whispered. “It’s Burke. Rydon and Goldstein were waiting for him.”
I reached into my jacket to touch one of my guns for reassurance. Bad habit. One of the agents made the finger talk ‘peace.’
Julia mouthed/whispered some more. “Relax. They’re just talking. I don’t think they know he called me, phone’s in his pocket.”
I squatted next to the ad-hoc piece of surveillance tech. A man’s voice was barely audible.
“…slow in your old age burke, goldstein spotted you almost before i did. but we knew you’d come. chemo would never just accept that we are happy here, that we’re tired of all the killing and the dying. we just want to be people again. you know how many agents I’ve talked out of retiring?”
“47,” came Burke’s flat middle tone, much louder than the voice I assumed belonged to Rydon.
“yeah. but even with all the talk about contamination, those Nietzsche quotes endlessly recycling, they don’t buy that i was affected. I’ve been affected. goldstein convinced me. have you even looked around? i know you’ve identified all the threats for fifty miles but have you seen? this is a nice town, burke. i may not stay here, but this is as good a place as any to start my retirement.”
“I understand. Despite my reputation, I know how the job wears down on us. It wears down on me too. I’m gonna to stick around, actually finish my stay here. But I believe you Rydon. And in the end, Chemo will let you go. They just don’t like to be lied to…”
“i know. but i didn’t think they’d just let me go. i still don’t know. we’ll see, i guess, won’t we Burke?”
There were shuffling, scuffing movements.
“oh and Burke? tell the others, all the agentlings clustered about the speakerphone in the hander’s hotel to relax. these are good people. we don’t want any trouble.”
I didn’t know what to think about Goldstein, but Rydon was good. Very good. Better than us, maybe better than Burke.
“So, what did we learn?” Burke asked.
After the conversation had ended, Burke had instructed us all to meet at the local chain coffee shop. We did our best to look inconspicuous as the employees tidied the place for closing.
“We’ve been marked.” Said one of the other three, an agent Howard.
Burke snorted. “Although I should reprimand you for meeting in one room, I can’t. This town is just too small. Even though Goldstein and Rydon didn’t know any of you, they just had to watch for any stranger coming in. We didn’t have the cover of a big city, so all the cloak and dagger bullshit. But what else have we learned?”
Nobody offered a response. I knew by his tone that there was something I’d missed, and it embarrassed me. I fumbled for something, anything to say…
“It’s actually… a kinda nice town?”
Burke cocked his head, like the RCA phonograph dog. Everyone else looked at me like I was ‘special.’
“You know… it is.” Burke said, taking a long drink of his coffee derived beverage.
“Alright, let’s go take a walk.”
The five of us followed Burke, who tossed his cup in a trash can. Zigging and zagging, we found ourselves in an alley dead ending in some light commercial buildings. Burke gave the sign for lookout. I strained my senses, trying to catch sound or whiff or sight of any watchers; of any monitoring gear. Burke pulled out a small device that blasted the surrounding area with electromagnetic pulse, frying any gear that could be watching us now. Unfortunately, since he hadn’t given us any warning it also fried our little scraps of tech. I was grateful I had a backup phone in the hotel.
“Talk fast. Talk low. They might already be onto us.” Said Burke.
“What, who?” Asked Julia.
“Them, everyone. I noticed it with Goldstein and Rydon. They were the same, they were in sync. It was their heartbeats. But I didn’t really notice until the blinking struck me. They blink in unison. It’s unsettling.”
“Ok, but that could be a fluke. Some side effect of paradigm training maybe, like they’re stuck in calm. Or maybe something they were exposed to on a mission?” offered Howard.
Burke shook his head. “That’s the thing. It’s not just them, it’s everyone. The old couple at my inn, the gas station attendant and even that barista back there; same slow steady heart rate. The same utter lack of stress. And that doesn’t just happen naturally. Something is going on here. Something not normal.”
I bit my lip.
“I’ve already messaged the higher ups. They’re supposed to set up a precautionary quarantine within a few days. Either we figure out just what is going on, or we get out quick. This is something new.”
“But, how do we know it’s bad? How do we know this qualifies as a cancer of the body?” asked Julia. “I mean, it just seems like everyone is more relaxed, so what?”
Burke sighed. “I know what you’re feeling, agent Julia. I knew Rydon before all this, he was always stressed. I’ve never seen him so…happy. And I wish it were real, that this town simply was that good. But something is up. Body snatchers, mind control, who knows. We have to assume the worst so we won’t get caught off guard.”
Burke sucked in a deep breath before continuing. “OK, here’s how we’re going to work this. I need you all to take on investigatory and cautious paradigms as strongly as you can manage, now. Nobody seems up this late so we’ll split into pairs and fan out first thing tomorrow.”
I focused on the internalized rituals. I mentally spun the symbols and emotionally charged songs that would shift my consciousness, focus me on the outlook and personality traits I would need to be the best investigator, the most cautious person I could possibly be. A question from one of the others derailed me.
“What are we looking for?” asked agent Howard.
“Anything we can find.” said Burke. He pulled out his Glock, readied a round.
Of all the paradigms I’ve been taught so far, of all the ways that I stretched and tried to mold my personality into useful shapes, ‘cautious’ was my least favorite. This is because ‘cautious’ was a misnomer. Batshit paranoid is closer to how I was taught to manifest ‘cautious.’ I was barely able to sleep my allotted two hours that next day. And as bad as the hotel room to which we all retreated was, trying to explore the town on ‘cautious’ was even worse.
I focused on sifting through all my sensory input. Before CHEMO, before training; I had no idea how much information we took in, all the time. Most humans for most of their lives choose to focus on one tiny square of the vision. You can see a wide expanse…but you consciously lower the volume of your awareness to stave off the overwhelming crush of your senses. Usually. But when you’re starving looking for food, you notice everything. When you’re terrified, you can hear every creak and squeak. Being in the ‘cautious’ aspect is like that. But worse.
Julia and I explored. Every engine noise, every flip of the hair threatened to send me reeling. The fear, the desperate urge to get to a quiet, safe place where I could watch the only entrance/exit was almost more then I could bare. But my ‘cautious’ aspect was tempered by the opposing ‘investigate’ paradigm. I couldn’t help but try to make patterns, find anomalies and manufacture answers and explanations. I’ve heard that others talk about how experienced agents can hold paradigms for days on end, or how they can cycle from aspect to aspect without resetting to ‘baseline.’ I had recently developed the focus needed to manage two simultaneous aspects at the same time, but anything longer then seven hours made me feel as though my brain were fracturing under the weight. I was on hour ten of holding ‘investigate’ and ‘cautious.’
We found nothing. Even with my hopped up sight, even under the constant grip of my paranoia I still couldn’t get a sense of what was going on. Everyone seemed to be cheerfully doing their jobs. I had a moment where the color red seemed to be marking something, but it was nonsense.
“You getting anything?” I asked, trying to keep all volume out of my voice.
“Nothing,” replied Julia.
I was about ready to press the button on the side of my ear piece, call Burke and tell him we hadn’t found anything. We turned down a residential street, pleasant sidewalks and ringing columns of trees…
“Wait,” said Julia. I smashed the brake, stopping the car.
“Something is wrong with the school.” She said.
“I’m not sure. Just… wait.” We sat in the rental sedan watching what seemed like a calm normal school. The longer I looked at the place the more it seemed… off. Then it struck me.
“Where are the kids?”
I parked as fast as the little car allowed. We jumped from the vehicle, allowing our ‘investigative’ aspect to overwhelm all the ‘caution’ signals our fear subroutines were throwing at us. We ran through the campus, opening doors and rushing down halls. Nothing and no one.
I heard panting behind us, heavy breathing coming from around the corner. Julia took cover and readied herself for a fight. I resisted the urge to draw my own weapon. Instead I fixated on the need to diffuse the situation and try to extract more information.
A chubby security guard came into sight. He raised a hand as if to stop us.
“Folks, you gotta get out of here. This is private property.”
“Where is everybody? I was supposed to see the principal about a job…”
“Harrmph.” The rent-a-cop snorted. “We both know that’s a lie.” He smiled, and his heart rate began to fall after his brief span of exertion.
“Where is everybody?” I repeated myself.
“We can’t help you, sir. Do you need to be escorted out?”
“Ok.” I began to walk back towards the exit. But I went to ask a third time, twisting the inflection just so to try to compel an answer. “Where are all the kids?”
The security guard said nothing for a while, hung his head and looked at the ground. I made the hand signal for Julia to come out of hiding. The interloper didn’t seem to notice as she emerged, and finally the fat man spoke.
“The kids. There was a gas leak. School’s closed down until we fix it.”
“Uh huh.” I said, trying to figure the best way to proceed. I was cut off by Burke’s voice in my ear.
“Meet me back in my room at the bednbreakfast, quick as you can. Can’t talk this way.”
“It’s all hollow,” said Burke. I tried not to think about chocolate Easter bunnies.
Julia spoke for us. “Yeah, we found a school. Completely deserted.”
“It was the same with us,” Burke nodded at agent Howard to keep speaking. “We went into the office district. All the fast food places were fully manned. Even had customers. But it was all for show. When we barged into buildings at random, they were empty.”
“Nobody was eating the food. Just sitting in the places they thought we might go, going through the motions.” added Burke.
“So it’s all a prop, a stage…” I said, trailing off when I heard two men in the hallway.
I hadn’t finished purging the scraps of ‘cautious,’ so I stilled the brewing panic attack. As usual, when in doubt I watched Burke. I figured if I just acted like him everything would probably be OK. Burke sat, unmoving. My hand inched toward the shoulder holster all the same… I would need the head start if I were to draw as fast as he could.
The door opened. I relaxed. The two agents whose names I had forgotten entered the crowded room. They walked over, sat on the over-soft bed. Burke was up, his gun drawn. I pulled mine as quick as I could. Yup, when in doubt do as Burke does.
“Whoa whoa whoa, wait just a minute…” Julia said.
“Get the zip ties and bind them.” Burke responded.
“Not until you explain just what the hell is going on here!” Julia said.
Silence fell on the room. The men seemed unperturbed, calm.
“Dammit.” I cursed. It was the same low steady dadump, dadump Burke had heard last night, the same heartbeat we’d been hearing all day. And the agents, or whatever they were now, just sat there smiling.
“We are fucked, we are fucked, we are so so fucked. It’s in the air, it’s in us already oh fuck fuck…” said agent Howard. I felt about the same, but decided it was better to stay quiet.
“It’s not in the air. Sensors didn’t pick up anything.” said Julia, trying to be reasonable.
Burke just stared at the two agents, studying them. They still looked like the agents anyway. But who knew what they were, now.
I spoke up. “If it were in the air, we’d already have gotten it. I dunno, this is some mind jack bullshit, or some parasite. Man this is fucked.”
“Please, allow us to explain.” both agents suddenly said as one.
“You have to understand, it has been difficult for us to put on the show for you these past few days. Difficult to produce the illusion that there is not the unity.”
“What are you?” asked Burke.
“We are unity. We are all as one. We are every brain and body in this town united, sharing our thoughts, our emotions, our all. Please, you must understand. We need your help. Please.”
“What have you done with my friends?” said Burke, for the first time letting some anger seep into his voice.
“Please, we sent these bodies because you knew them. We stripped the weapons so you would not identify them as threats. Please, you must understand. You must help us.”
“Help you? Help you?!? I repeat again, what the hell have you done with my friends?” Burke screamed. It was the first time I had heard him raise his voice.
The two – whatever – blinked. I almost got a sense that voices, many many voices were conferring.
“Every man, every woman has structures built into themselves to keep their sense of self separate. In our town, we discovered the words, the programming to route around those controls.”
“You’re not answering my questions!” Burke flicked opened his switch blade. It glittered in the sunlight from the window for a moment, before Burke stabbed it through one the agent’s hands into the wooden arm rest of the chair. The agents screamed, both of them. We didn’t know if they could really share their ‘all’ but it was simple enough to tell that they acted as though they both had been stabbed.
“Why… why did you do that?” The former agents said, tears streaming down their faces.
“You weren’t answering my questions. Now, tell me exactly what you did to our agents.” Burke pulled back the blade, wiping it off. The former agents winced.
“We exposed them to the words, and to the symbols. They listened, they saw and understood, while we mirrored their posture, their rhythm and then they were in, they were with us. They were part of us.”
“You stole these men, you took their minds.” Burke said, disgust curling his lips.
“These bodies. We had to take them. We had to talk with you, had to try to make you understand. But the first one and the one who followed him, they joined the unity of their own accord. Please believe us. Nothing will be lost in the unity, nothing. These men have only gained as you will gain. Now, we have little time and that is why we didn’t wait to convince these bodies. You must call off CHEMO, you must tell them that everything is alright.”
Burke said nothing.
The men were silent for a while and once again I got the impression of many voices conferring.
“But you won’t. Now that we are here, we see that. How could a monster, a killer understand? You must become part of all in one. We haven’t much time. We will not allow your organization to kill us. We will not lose what humanity has struggled so long to achieve.”
Julia interrupted. “Uh guys? We’re kinda surrounded.”
She opened the curtains just a bit, but we could see that the parking lot was full of men and women and children. A few carried weapons, the majority was unarmed. When the agents spoke, every mouth surrounding the hotel mouthed the same words in whispers.
“You will come with us, to the keepers of the book.”
“Joseph and Julia, cover their eyes, gag them, and throw them into the bathroom.” We moved without thought to comply with Burke’s orders.
“Agent Howard, I need you to shift to ‘Berserker’ aspect.”
Howard let out a long and loud stream of fluent cursing. But he closed his eyes and began all the same. Depending on how adept Howard was, and I am sure Burke had an accurate estimate down to the minute, we had maybe three minutes or so before Howard would need to be unleashed against something.
The eyes and ears of all in one secured, we squatted with Burke to hash out a quick plan.
“Howard is going to cut a path for us.” The agent began convulsing, frothy saliva beginning to leak from his mouth. “We are going to follow close. We need to get to a vehicle. If we get separated we’ll meet at the prearranged rendezvous zulu5golf.”
“Understood.” said Julie and I.
“Howard, do you understand?”
The agent continued to seize there on the floor of the bed and breakfast.
Burke raised his voice, yelling. “HOWARD, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
The agent growled a little, but raised his hand in a thumbs up.
We grabbed as many guns out of Burke’s cases as we could run with, sprinted out of the room. We rushed down two flights of stairs, paused at the back door.
“You ready, Howard?”
The agent turned and looked squarely at Burke. Madness and bloodlust only barely contained gleamed in his eye. He nodded.
Burke opened the door. Howard leapt out, satisfied. The ‘berserk’ he had called out, the ‘berserk’ he had had to contain until the time was right, could finally be let loose. Howard screamed to the heavens there, in the bed and breakfast parking lot. The ringing waves of bodies were taken aback. And in their brief minute of confusion and incomprehension, it began.
There is a dirty little secret about going ‘berserk’, something that I’ve never heard any other agent confess. It’s fun. There’s a deep personal and professional satisfaction that comes from kicking ass, but shifting to ‘berserk’ isn’t like that at all. When you go ‘berserk’, you just want something to bleed. Like the ‘cautious’ paradigm, you identify everything as a threat. But unlike the ‘cautious’ aspect we had all used earlier that day, this threat identification strokes a different emotional trigger. You want to kill each and every last stinking one of them. (Who ‘they’ are is subject to change.) And you really, truly feel like you can accomplish that all by yourself. It’s troubling that half the time you’re right. It’s even more troubling that no matter what you do when you’re in the rage aspect – if you kill kids, pregnant ladies or the angels themselves – you’ll never regret it. You remember how much you enjoyed the feel of flesh rending beneath your fingers, of blood squirting into your mouth; of bodies and lives giving way and falling before you. But there is no guilt, no remorse… only the memory of ‘fun.’ The fact that it isn’t troubling is the most troubling thing of all.
“WITH TOOTH AND NAIL, WITH GUN AND BLADE I’VE COME!” screamed Howard, reciting the opening lines of one of CHEMO’s battle hymns. He began firing with the butt of his assault rifle shoved into his shoulder. Every shell found its home, buried in one of the bodies. We gave him space and time to move forward, since we sure as hell didn’t want to be confused with the enemy. He fought on, and we targeted the scattering armed individuals or anyone who got too close to Agent Howard.
I’ve been in fights before, fights where one side – the other side – is obliterated. This was the most one sided. Because every time we shot one of them, the others would feel it. At first, whenever one of them got tagged the others would spasm… sometimes fall over. If I had allowed it to be, it would have been heartbreaking. But they got over it. There must have been too much pain, it stopped affecting them so much. But they still flinched with every bullet.
So we kept firing and they kept dying by the dozen.
They would have lost. They weren’t skilled, and feeling one another’s pain was a severe disadvantage. But there were just so many of them, hundreds if not thousands. It seemed as though the entire town were converging on this parking lot. Howard had already emptied both his rifle and side arm. He had wrenched a kitchen knife away from some old woman and was stabbing and biting his way onward.
“I’m empty.” shouted Julia.
“So am I.” yelled Burke, his switch blade dancing awake.
I heard my last shell explode outward.
“I’m…” I was cut off by a bullet.
“Yarrgggg,” howled Burke. He fell, a round bursting through and buckling his leg.
Agent Howard went down kicking and clawing. I saw him crushed beneath the press of bodies, heard his frenzied cursing quiet. I turned and saw who’d shot Burke. Goldstein and Rydon were above us, on the roof and brandishing a pair of CHEMO issued sniper rifles. Two red dots floated steady on Julia and I. Burke rolled in pain on the ground.
“Surrender,” said every last man, woman and child there on the asphalt. Even though they didn’t raise their individual voices, the flawless chorus was deafening. A shudder went through me as I realized the full scale of the whole.
Rydon and Goldstein forced us to walk down the street, while they followed several paces behind us. We carried Burke between our shoulders. Agent Howard was dead. We had no doubt that they would shoot us if we twitched wrong, probably in the leg like they had done to neutralize Burke. We could have fought, but we knew enough to conserve our strength. Not that it would do any good.
“We apologize. We never wanted this. But you will understand soon. Nothing will be lost, but if we are to survive and carry on we need you with us. We need to spread. We need to leave.” said Rydon and Goldstein together.
“Fuck off.” said Burke. With his hands he sent a different message to us in finger talk.
‘trust follow i have plan’
I was very relieved by this. We turned a corner, and saw the same school Julia and I had explored earlier. But now it was bustling; a hub of activity. Thousands had gathered, watching our approach in utter silence.
I really fucking hate blind drops.
They lashed us to chairs with the same type of plastic zip ties we had used to secure the other agents. Goldstein and Rydon talked as they worked. “It was a student who showed us the way. The empathy, the capacity to be together was with us all the time. We just needed the words, we just needed the symbols. We just needed the book to be written. But the word doesn’t work on its own. We needed the sync.”
Masses sat on the grass, watching. Hundreds more worked around the periphery, fashioning weapons, writing in notebooks and distributing food. They all smiled. They were all smiling at us. I don’t think they ever stopped smiling.
“You will be first Burke. We need you and what is in your mind the most.”
Burke shuddered. I had never seen him afraid before. His hands bound, he was forced to speak aloud, “When they begin, look away.”
They taped Burke’s eyes open. Another seat was placed in the grass courtyard we were all in, and a man sat across from Burke. The townsperson sped his breathing to match Burke. The man rubbed his leg as though he were in pain.
A child, maybe second grade age, brought out a book. He began to read, and as he read he showed Burke the pages.
“Makes us sad, to be lonely alone.” The child said, flipping open the page for Burke to read. The entire assembled mass spoke with him, as though at a sacred church rite.
“LOOK AWAY!” screamed Burke, as he struggled and thrashed about in his bonds. I shut my eyes tight, and began to loop a Beach Boys song in my head. Getting a song stuck in your head, especially if you do it consciously, is one of a handful of ways to effectively block the world out.
I only caught snippets of what happened next.
‘I’m picking up good vibrations’
“So we can be together” spoke the child’s voice, backed by thousands more.
‘She’s giving me good excitations’ I sang out loud, trying not to hear. Trying not to be contaminated by what was happening to Burke.
“You just have to learn to hear the others, you can hear them any time… wahh RARRRGGGGG.”
Screams and howls, as though demons had been loosed, echoed upon the school from all sides. Gunshots rang out, and countless voices sang with rage and pain and fear. I wanted to look, to see. But I sat, bound in my chair squeezing my eyes shut as tight as I could.
“Good, good, good, good vibrations” I sang, trying to not listen to the world breaking.
“We were saved by agents in Hazmat suits, I was quarantined for two weeks and now I’m sitting here talking to you.” I said to my debriefer, having just recounted the whole sorry sordid tale. I had been scrubbed down, poked and prodded and tested for weeks. And now I was here, trying to explain it all.
“So you have no idea what happened? What Burke did?”
I had an idea, but I had always found it useful to play dumber than I was in interviews. I shook my head.
“When the residents of Golden Woods attempted to incorporate Burke into their so called ‘all as one’ he was cycling to ‘berserk’ aspect.”
I nodded. That had been my guess.
“The blood madness spread, they felt as he felt. And they tore themselves apart because of it.”
“Yeah, I saw the bodies…” There had been many bodies.
“There were only a few survivors, but most of them are either raving insane or catatonic. Makes sense I suppose, considering what they did; what they felt. Most of the ones left truncated themselves from the unity, to become separate and safe.”
“What are we going to do with them?”
“The survivors are under heavy guard, and we’ll be observing them for now. If the long term trauma is within tolerable levels, we’ll probably train some as agents.”
I nodded again. All standard procedure. The interviewing agent closed his book.
“You did good, Agent Joseph. And you check out fine. We’re going to grant you twice standard post-mission leave to relax.”
“Can I see Julia and Burke?”
The interviewer took a deep breath.
“Yes, well, Julia has already left, but you can certainly see her when she gets back. As for Burke…”
“Burke was actually brought into the all as one. He told us that he understood it, that he understood himself and his fellow man at that moment. And then he felt the rage leak from him, felt himself tearing apart the most beautiful thing he’d ever been a part of. He watched it all die, didn’t have any choice.”
I looked down at the table between us.
“Suffice to say, we don’t know what the effects will be. We know he did the right thing, but whenever we discuss it with him he calmly tells us that he destroyed humanity’s great hope.”
I didn’t know what else to say, so I got up to leave.
“Maybe some time soon, you can talk to Burke yourself. But for now, it’s… we’ll have to wait and see.”
I walked out of the small office, out of the nondescript building that housed one thin tendril of CHEMO. I walked out into a sunlit world that didn’t know who we were or what we did or why.
I knew they would be watching my every move.
I had no idea what I would do when I saw Julia again. I missed Burke, I missed the feeling of being with someone knew what they were doing.
I ambled towards the airport, resolved to take the first flight to anywhere. As I walked, I sang to myself.
“Gotta keep those lovin good vibrations.”