Scott Atkinson pulled into his new parking spot at precisely 6:45 AM.
Morning sun bled through the tall pines at the far end of the lot. Birds sang. The asphalt was still damp from last night's rain.
He grinned. Looking in the mirror, he congratulated himself. Lead security officer. Who would have guessed?
Seventeen years after the zombie uprising, it was hard to believe the world was almost back to normal.
Scott was one of the lucky ones. Fresh out of high school and unable to land a job, he had chosen to cool his heels in the Arizona National Guard, to see the world, maybe even bag a few terrorists if he got lucky.
Life had other plans.
When the zombie plague exploded out of Honduras, his unit was activated and his tour ballooned to an open-ended commitment. Humanity was fighting for its very survival.
Crisscrossing the Southwest, he hunted ghouls door to door, putting a bullet into the head of each zombie he encountered, and dragging their stinking corpses to the giant funeral pyres dotting the countryside.
The sickly-sweet smell of roasting meat was forever seared into his brain. He didn't think he'd ever eat barbecue again.
He checked his teeth, straightened his tie. Good enough.
Today was his first day at MedCorp Biotech and he wanted to make a good impression.
Two hours later, he sat at his new desk, flipping through the glossy welcome package.
Startled, he reached for the ringing phone.
"Can you swing over to my office for a few minutes?" It was his new boss, Mitch Peterson, Executive Security Officer.
"Sure. I'll be right over."
"Close the door," Mitch said as Scott entered. He motioned towards the armchair opposite him.
"How are you settling in?"
Scott shifted in his seat. "Just fine, Thanks. It's a pleasure to be here."
Mitch waved him off. "We were lucky to find you. You're the right man for the job."
Scott suppressed a grin, kept a neutral business-like smile on his face. "Thanks."
Mitch leaned forward. "Before you get started though, there's one additional item we need to address." He extracted a folded piece of paper and a gold pen from the breast pocket of his jacket, sliding them across the table.
Scott picked up the document, unfolded it, and scanned the top. It was the densest text with the smallest print he had ever seen; he didn't know it was possible to get so many words onto one page.
"I don't understand—" His brows furrowed.
"It's a supplemental non-disclosure. As you know, we rely on some pretty advanced technology here at MedCorp..."
Scott chewed his lip as he read. "What's the difference between this document and the one I signed earlier?" he asked, referring to the non-disclosure contained in his welcome packet.
"The last paragraph."
Scott skipped ahead and his eyes grew wide. "Is this for real?"
The paragraph in question stated the company reserved legal authority to detain employees for undetermined duration at its sole discretion.
Scott took a deep breath, his mind struggling with the implications. "Is this legal? It seems open ended…"
"Don't worry about it. This is standard lawyer-talk. Follow the rules and you'll be fine.
Scott considered Mitch's reassurances for a long moment, and then, with a quick flourish, he signed the document and pushed it back across the table.
Screw it. I need the job.
Mitch gave him a tight smile and tucked the paper into his breast pocket.
"Now that that's out of the way, we can get down to business. I've got something to show you—something that will blow your mind."
They left Mitch's office and crossed the lobby, proceeding to a bank of elevators. Mitch pressed the down button.
Once the doors closed, Mitch put his palm against a discreet frosted glass panel and gave Scott a mischievous grin. The panel pulsed amber, then went dark.
They descended, the small LCD screen above the elevator buttons marking their progress:
The elevator continued to drop.
At minus three, the elevator came to a gentle stop.
The doors slid open, revealing a well-lit hallway. The walls and ceiling were brushed stainless steel, the floors polished concrete. The construction looked recent.
A pair of men dressed in light gray jumpsuits and ceramic body armor stood on either side of the elevator. They carried M-19 Assault Rifles.
"What's this?" Scott asked, a bad feeling percolating in his gut.
Mitch didn't answer, instead exiting the elevator and striding away from Scott at a brisk pace.
He hurried to catch up, almost colliding with Mitch as he came to an abrupt stop before a large window.
The first thing he noticed was the glass. It was at least an inch thick. Deep within, he caught the telltale glint of high-tensile security mesh; almost invisible.
"Watch this," Mitch said as he pressed his palm against another frosted glass panel.
Scott sensed a faint vibration through his feet as heavy machinery rumbled to life.
A room became visible as a translucent barrier sank into the floor. A bank of overhead fluorescents flickered to life.
It was a charnel house. Bones littered the floor. Chunks of meat -entrails, bloody scraps of flesh, other bits and pieces he couldn't identify.
Scott recognized the signs. Zombies.
He opened his mouth to protest, but before he could get the words out, there was an enormous CRASH on the other side of the glass.
He leaped back; reaching for the weapon he didn't have. The hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up, old instincts jangling like an out-of-control fire alarm.
Mitch laughed. "Don't worry. We're perfectly safe."
Scott stole a glance at the guards. They were stone.
It had been years since he had seen a zombie in the flesh. They were extinct—or at least they were supposed to be—the last one-destroyed somewhere in Africa two years ago.
He took a step forward, a morbid curiosity propelling him to the window.
The creature gnashed its teeth against the tattered remains of its tongue. A pair of long-fossilized breast implants told him it was a woman.
One eye was missing. The other dangled from a wisp of desiccated optic nerve.
The zombie took a step back, cocked its head as if studying him, and charged the window.
He forced himself to meet Mitch's eyes. "I don't understand…"
"You will. This is why we hired you."
Scott was speechless. He watched the zombie out of the corner of his eye as it pressed its face against the glass, its tattered tongue skittering across the surface as it searched for food it could see but not touch.
The creature opened its mouth, tilted its head back.
He sensed, but could not hear the building moan.
It's calling. He shivered at the thought of the sound, a low, guttural roar that, from a distance, sounded like a far off train. Up close—well—it was usually the last thing you heard.
"It's simple," Mitch said, ignoring the creature." These subjects are critical to the future of the company. We've been studying them for five years and we've barely scratched the surface. One thing is for certain though—the company that can harness them is going to make more money than God.
Scott closed his eyes, shook his head, desperate to believe this was a bad dream.
"No buts. You're on the inside now. We've got a pipeline full of product and a market clamoring for our solutions."
A second zombie - a man, joined the assault, battering the partition, working itself into a feeding frenzy like a shark in chum-filled water.
Mitch's face became hard. He pulled the document from his pocket and began to read.
"According to paragraph 31c - here on the back, MedCorp assumes exclusive rights to bodily remains of all employees in the event of a work-related fatality."
He locked eyes with Scott.
"It’s your choice, of course. They're hungry buggers and we never seem to have enough food on hand. Well, almost never."