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4.250 by Emil Lewis



“It's now been 25 days since the sombs have attacked. Most of us don't even bother counting, as each day is a struggle in itself. Our group, our little family is stronger than ever despite losing many along the way. Just the other day we lost Isabel, making the loss of Felton feel like it was eons ago. I try to stay sane by helping Doctor Ellis. The food leaves something to be desired and the living conditions change with the landscape. There seems to be no ending or hope in sight. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I hadn’t insisted on going on this nature tour….”


“Janice!” Sandra yelled with unrestrained animosity. "Put that damn thing away! Nobody wants to see your entry about how you got Isabel killed!”

Janice looked up from the old brown diary. She was seated cross-legged against a large oak tree. Without the slightest reaction, she slowly closed the diary and stuffed it into her old, dingy grey backpack. Sandra simply stood there, glaring at her, as if attempting to transmit her hatred to her. When Janice finally matched her gaze, Sandra promptly spun around and stomped off, kicking up bits of dirt in the process.

She noticed Brandon and the unbelievably clingy Mallory standing over in the clearing, watching the encounter from a distance. Brandon looked at least slightly sympathetic, while Mallory on the other hand, seemed to almost enjoy Janice's misery. Her mouth was neutral, yet her large blue eyes betrayed her thoughts. Despite going days without a shower, Brandon looked as handsome as ever, the sunlight illuminating his light brown hair. His chiseled jaw was clenched slightly—whether it was due to Sandra's hostility towards her was unclear.

On the spur of the moment, Janice decided to go on a hike. She briskly began to walk towards a dense group of trees, her worn, blue tennis shoes trampling the growth beneath them.

“Chang!” a deep voice yelled from behind her. It was Dr. Ellis. He was even further back than Brandon and Mallory. His red checkered shirt accentuated his dark brown skin. His expression was one of concern, his thick black eyebrows were furrowed. She stopped abruptly, not bothering to look behind her.

“Didn't we discuss this before? No solo trips unless it's an emergency. We can't afford to lose you, sweetheart,” he said in his rich, Southern accent. She stood there for a moment, contemplating if she should leave—even if it almost guaranteed her death. Perhaps it was Ellis's genuine concern, maybe it was the remote possibility of Brandon's affections—she turned around from the trees and returned to the group. As she walked past the couple, she looked past Mallory's intense, wide-eyed stare to see Brandon steal a glance at her before looking down at the forest floor. She continued walking until she stood in front of Ellis.

He had been the one person she could trust over the last week and a half. They had found him in a small cabin in a private moment of complete despair. When they had finally gotten him to speak, he had spoken in a hushed yet emotional voice—speaking of happier times with his wife and children, until that fateful day, when the sombs had viciously taken them away from him... forever.

Seeing him like that, in that fragile state, had caused her to feel a deep sense of pity. Without thought, she had approached him, ignoring Brandon's attempt to stop her. It was then she had noticed the Glock in his hand, but despite it, she had felt safe. She placed her hand on his broad shoulder. He looked up at her for a moment, gazing into her almond-shaped, brown eyes and then began sobbing deeply. Now, that same man placed his hand on her shoulder. He was silent, his soulful eyes speaking for him. She nodded subtly—she already had begun to calm down. Ellis paused for a moment, and then his grimace grew into a slight smile.

“We don't give up here. Especially you. You've done so much for us...”

“They blame me for everything!” she said in a hushed, yet despondent tone.

Ellis simply rubbed her shoulder as tears began to stream from her face. "No, they don't," he said, looking back at the others. “They are just grieving in their own way...give it some time.”

“You know, I cared about Isabel too.” At this, Janice began to tear up again, using her graying t-shirt to wipe her face.

“Stop that, you bitch,” Sandra said from afar. Her hands were balled into tight fists, pushing up against her blue summer dress. Ellis raised up his hand, lightly shaking his head 'no'.

“Oh hell no, I know you ain't sticking up for that skinny-ass girl. Stop trying to act like she isn't the reason Isabel got bit up yesterday! She needs to just keep walking!”

Ellis tilted his head, intently gazing at her through his glasses. An unspoken expression of disapproval. Sandra yelled something unintelligible towards them, a tear streaming down her face. She then stormed off again, walking behind a particularly large, dark brown tree. Ellis put his hands on his hips, speechless. He looked over to Janice, but her eyes were wide with fright, causing him to gasp and spin around towards the trees. A scream.

Sandra suddenly burst from behind the wall of trees, something strange but familiar chasing close behind.

“Oh mercy!” she yelled, a pale, human-like figure in close pursuit.

“What on God’s green Earth?” Ellis managed to whisper. Sandra slammed into his arms, causing the thing to sprint in his direction. Before it could come any closer, it exploded in a cloud of red, collapsing to the ground. The somb writhed for a moment, its dark eyes fixed on Ellis before it let out its final breath, muscles growing slack. The rest of the group came over, forming a circle around it.

"How is this possible?” Brandon asked as he put down his rifle and knelt to get a closer look. The somb—it was the doppelgänger of Mallory.

“It’s not possible,” Mallory said, staring down at it in disgust. It was like seeing her own death. The thing still stared in Ellis’s direction, mouth agape. Its long blonde hair spread over its nude body.

Brandon slowly stood up, trembling. He paused for a moment; his lips drawn tight. He turned to Mallory, gripping her tight. “I never want to see you like that.”

Mallory stared at the abomination from the safety of his embrace then responded, “Look, Brandon. It has something in its head… a piece of metal or something.”

“What are you talking about, Mal?”

“No really, look at it!”

At this, the others all knelt to see what she meant. The horror of the gruesome sight seemed to be overridden by curiosity. They looked over the somb’s blown-out head as if putting together a puzzle. Then Ellis, to everyone’s surprise (and disgust) reached into the head cavity, his hand gently tugging and emerging with a blood-stained rectangular object.

“This looks familiar,” he said, turning it in his bloody hand.

Janice snatched it out of his palm excitedly. “It’s a freaking integrated circuit… with 5G wireless capability!”

Sandra scoffed. “That’s gotta be the wildest thing you’ve said since…”

“No, Sandra. Don’t you get it?” Brandon said, breathing heavily as he eyed the group. “This isn't some zombie apocalypse…this is manmade!”

The others were silent, confused at his rant.

“It, this - it’s like a 7th generation fighter jet.”

Brandon's eyes widened for a moment. He took a deep breath, collecting himself and his thoughts. He pointed to Mallory’s bandages.

“Remember when the Felton somb bit Mal and then killed Isabel? Now, we have a somb that looks just like Mallory? That was simply a system error. These sombs, they aren't human... never were. Think about what we saw a little while ago. These things are biting to collect DNA, and then some sort of machine 3D prints a meat-bag replica. It’s AI. In fact, they're probably all connected in some sort of network...”

Ellis exhaled loudly. “I think I see it now. It's just a new type of weapon...”

“...That’s probably a big secret in the government,” Sandra said, finishing his sentence. “Which means, those clowns ain't coming to get us. They gotta keep this thing on the down low. Shit!”

Janice looked closely at the board. It had tiny white letters etched on top of it. “Nope. This isn’t the government. This is a company, my company…well, at least until I got fired.”

At this, Sandra’s expression grew hostile. She began to approach Janice, her hands once again balled into fists. Janice put up her hand. “Sandra, I said I was fired. But I think I can end this.”


#


“Are you sure it’s going to work?” Dr. Ellis asked skeptically, standing behind Janice as she typed rapidly on the laptop, pausing from time to time to use the touchpad.

“As long as that somb's login was the generic company password,” she said, continuing to type. Next to the laptop, the black integrated circuit’s light flashed rapidly.

“I’m in,” she said, with a slight smile. Brandon placed his hand on her back, drawing an angry stare from Mallory. He quickly removed it.

“Crap,” Janice said, eyes narrowing, looking at the screen. “What the hell do I do now?”

Brandon’s eyebrows furrowed. “Can’t you just disconnect it or something?”

Janice thought for a moment, brushing her thick black hair to the side. “I got fired for running the wrong firmware update. Had to re-image several computers. Maybe that’ll do it. Sounds dumb but…”

“Yeah, it sounds dumb. Dumb as hell,” Sandra said side-eyeing her.

“Alright,” Janice said clicking. She was immediately presented with a list of possible downloads. Brandon suddenly grew excited, hopping up and down.

“Ooh! Try version 4.250, that’s the one everyone complains about!”

Janice clicked on the icon and then clicked on ‘Update’. At first, nothing happened, but suddenly, after everyone had become quiet, the screen went black, with a series of unintelligible text at the top. Everyone cheered. Ellis looked at the screen, dumbfounded.

“Is it that easy?”

“Yep, if you don’t password protect your crap,” Janice said, sitting back.

“Pretty sure they didn’t win the contract,” Dr. Ellis replied, smiling.

Watching the system crash, Janice also managed to smile. She looked out at the forest. The world once again felt right. She sighed heavily in relief, gazing quietly at perfect clouds that labored slowly across the sky.

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