“Yeah, it’s me, bro.”
“Where the hell are you? Christ, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Jack. I’m on my way to the Seal Beach Base.”
“The base? Joey, are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure. I don’t know what else to do, big bro. I’m not all the way better. You don’t know what it’s like.”
As he drove, Joey heard Anna in the background, asking to talk with him.
“Put Anna on. Please, Jack.”
There was a pause, and Joey knew his brother was debating the request. A moment later, he heard: “Uncle Joey?”
“Hey, sweetie. How’s my girl? I’m sorry I scared you.”
“It’s okay, Uncle Joey! You’re turning yourself in?”
“Yeah. I figure it’s the best thing to do.”
“Can we come see you?”
“I don’t know, honey. Maybe not for a while.” Maybe never, he thought.
“I love you,” she choked. “Here, my dad wants to talk to you.”
Jack came on. “Is Mike with you?”
“No. he’s on his own.”
“Well, where the hell is he?”
“I don’t know where he went. But he promised to leave you alone.”
Joey knew his brother was pissed, but Park Ranger Jack got it together. “You’re really turning yourself in?”
There was a pause. It was a very heavy, pregnant pause. Joey knew the implications, and so did his brother: There was a very good chance they might never see each other again.
“Be careful, Joey.”
“Love you, man.”
“Love you, too.”
Joey didn’t blame his brother for being mad. Yes, it had been a bad idea to just let Mike go. Then again, it had been a very bad idea to check out the space rock.
Bad idea after bad idea, he thought, and drove on, the hunger within him growing stronger and stronger with each passing mile.
Very, very strong.
* * *
David Stetson wrapped his jacket around his hand and broke the little glass pane. He looked around again. The neighborhood was quiet. He reached inside and unlocked the back door.
“Come on,” he said softly to the Agent in Black.
Agent Cole followed him inside. Stetson guided him to the oversized couch. “Lay down.”
Cole complied. The Agent’s symptoms were progressing, but he was still aware—aware that Stetson had tried to kill him, but now he was trying to save Cole’s life. Why?
The curtains were drawn in the little cottage in Sunset Beach. Now, more than a few hundred yards away, they could hear the waves rushing. Tranquil, peaceful. Then why did the sound of it make Cole, somehow, even sicker? Although thirsty as hell, the thought of any water made him feel sick. Cole wondered why.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“This is a friend’s place. She’s out of town. No one will find us here.”
“You sure about that?”
“She’s...a girlfriend. No one knows of our relationship. Not the Navy, not my wife. No one. Yes, we’re safe here.”
“Look, you’re going to get worse,” Stetson said. “A lot worse. But then you’ll get better.”
Cole thought about that, then asked, “Why did you bring me with you?”
Stetson checked the kitchen for food. Cole wouldn’t feel the ravenous hunger for another day, but Stetson was starving. He tried convincing himself that his craving for flesh—human flesh—would go away. Except the problem was, he almost wished the craving wouldn’t go away. Not until he tried some. Or tried a lot.
Insane, he thought, going through the cupboards. I’m going insane.
He said to Cole, “I brought you with me because you’re like me now.”
“You tried to kill me.”
He was scanning the meat compartment in his girlfriend’s refrigerator. Jesus, what was her name? Stetson couldn’t remember. He said, “Yeah, sorry about that. I wasn’t thinking straight. Now, I’m making up for it. I feel a lot better.”
“What do you mean?”
He irritably slammed the empty meat tray. Upon further scavenging, he came across a can of chili. Meat. Not a lot of it, granted, but it had some.
Better than nothing, he thought, and fetched a can opener.
A few minutes later, Stetson was sitting across from Cole, the open can of chili before him. The former Agent in Black showed no signs of hunger, although the scientist knew that would change soon enough. Soon, the hunger would be nearly overwhelming, followed by a period of near madness, and then...calm.
Stetson grinned and ate. Yes, he felt great. He almost felt normal, if not for the fact that he felt so goddamn strong.
As he ate, Stetson considered the Agent in Black before him. Soon his old boss would be in that horrible state of hunger and madness. Temporary madness, as Stetson had discovered. Now, the scientist wondered how he was going to contain the man. Well, he would worry about it later. For now, he was hungry as hell.
He said, “I mean I feel great. But I can’t get enough to eat. I’m strong, though. Stronger than before.”
“But your eyes...”
“Yeah, I know. Maybe that will go away, too.”
Cole leaned back into the pillow. “Maybe.”
“I’m thinking we need more information,” said Stetson.
“Well, that’s what we were doing,” Cole grumbled, “when you decided to take a bite out of me.”
Stetson shrugged. Truth was, that was the best bite of anything he’d had in some time.
Yeah, I’m a monster, he thought, and nearly grinned.
Cole was thinking about what he was about to become—what he would inevitably become. So little was known. It had happened so quickly. The best scientists were on it, but now he and Stetson were not privy to the latest findings. Yes, they needed more information—and fast.
Mostly, Cole was thinking about how Stetson had attacked him. God, the man had been so strong. The Agent in Black hoped that that stage of illness and infection would be temporary for him as well.
“Knowledge is power,” Stetson added.
Cole nodded. “Well, knock yourself out.” He closed his reddening eyes.
“I have an idea,” said Stetson after a moment.
Cole waited, eyes still closed. His mind fuzzy, thoughts chaotic. God help me.
Stetson continued, “What about the ones that got away?”