Scientist David Stetson let Joe Carter into the small beachfront cottage. Joe saw the filet mignons scattered on the kitchen counter and wolfed down three of them before he did anything else. It wasn’t quite what he was craving, but it was good enough for now.

Stetson smiled as he watched Joe tear into the raw meat. Joe felt good knowing he wasn’t alone in this. Somewhere in his mind, he knew that normal people didn’t devour raw meat, but he was beyond those people now. He was strong, and he was smart.

Stetson waited for Joe to finish. Joe licked his lips to get most of the juicy leftovers, then Stetson led Joe into the living room where Agent Cole lay.

Cole was now bound hand and foot with strong cords and duct tape. His mouth was taped. He wouldn’t want to eat or drink anything through this phase of the “transformation” as Stetson now called it. It would only be about twenty-four hours more, and then Cole would be like himself and Joe.

Joe took a seat across from Agent Cole. Joe smiled, nodded. “This son of a bitch is one of us now,” he commented heartily.

“Yes,” Stetson answered, noticing Joe’s energy and the red streaks in his eyes. “It’s only a matter of time now.”

Cole stopped struggling for a moment and cocked his head toward the two men seated across from him. Suddenly, a low, guttural sound came from his taped mouth and he tried to break free from his bonds. He wanted them.

Joe just grinned at him. “I wonder which is worse, being handcuffed in a cellar or being tied up like him?”

“Is that what happened to you?” asked Stetson.

“Yeah. My brother did it. Until I got better. Then I escaped.” He explained how he and Mike had been locked up while they were going through what Agent Cole was currently experiencing. He also explained how, when he and Mendoza were given a chance to clean up, he’d swiped a bobby pin from the bathroom and later used it to unlock the handcuffs and escape.

“Where’s your friend now? Mendoza?”

Joe shrugged. “Don’t know. I was going to turn myself in. Anyhow, I’m glad you called. So, are you going to tell me your plan?”

Stetson jerked his head toward Agent Cole. “We wait until he’s better, then he’ll bring us back.”

Joe blinked. “Back? Back to the base?”

“Yes.”

“Are you crazy?”

“No. Listen to me.” Stetson leaned forward. Excitement shone in his eyes. “Our Agent in Black here is, or was, one of the most powerful men on the planet. When he gets better, he’ll want to take command again. I think he can pull it off. And then...”

Suddenly, Joe’s cell phone rang.

“Speak of the devil,” Joe said. “It’s Mike Mendoza.”

“Answer it.”

Joe did.

Chapter Five

When Mike hung up from his call with Joe, he caught Carla up to date on Dr. David Stetson’s “plan.” Carla immediately said, “We can’t let this happen.”

“No,” Mike said. “We can’t.”

“They really want to take over the Seal Beach Base?”

“That’s the idea.”

“Jesus.”

Mike was certain that Joe believed he, Mike, was still transformed into a monster. Mike had said all the right words, pretending agreement and excitement with the idea of taking over the base in Seal Beach.

“I’m fairly certain I can handle Joe,” said Mike. “Try out the cure on him.”

“Maybe,” replied Carla. “If you plan carefully. Remember, he will be a lot stronger than you.”

“Yes, Joe still trusts me. I have to use that trust to my advantage.”

Except Joe wasn’t alone, as Carla well knew. “But taking on two of these monsters, Mike?”

The lieutenant commander shrugged. “What can I say? I have to do this.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Carla tried to be brave, but Mike shook his head.

“You know you have to stay here. Anna’s upstairs, going crazy with worry over her dad. And then there’s Jack.”

Carla knew he spoke the truth. God knows, it might be only a matter of time before someone comes: the police, the military, the Agents in Black. Or, even worse, more of the infected. She wasn’t much by herself, but she could sure as hell shoot a gun and keep Anna and the others safe.

For now.

Mike suddenly stood; the resolve in his eyes was obvious, “I have to go now. You take care.”

“You’ll call? I have to know what’s going on.”

“It only takes an hour to get there, but I have to think about how to do this...this thing. I’ll call you within a few hours, or when I can.”

Mike knew Carla was Jack’s girl, but he gave her a big hug, anyway. He didn’t know who needed it more: him or her.

Chapter Six

I heard the front door close and looked up, listening for other movements. I was barely conscious of anything at all and I was far past caring. I was sicker than I had ever been in my life—except I didn’t even give a damn about how miserable I felt.

Someone was in the kitchen. I could smell her. I licked my dry lips. At once, a tremendous rage filled me and an unstoppable urge to feed encompassed me. I plunged for the cellar stairs, only to be yanked back. I fell to the floor with a thump.

What the hell? I looked stupidly at the handcuffs, as if I had forgotten about them. In fact, I had forgotten them.

Jesus.

I heard a sound in the kitchen. It was her. I could smell her. Enraged, I jumped up and lurched for the cellar stairs, only to be yanked back and I fell to the floor. What the fuck? I looked stupidly at the handcuffs. I had a strange sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t quite remember why.

Maybe I could bite this off, I thought.

Then I heard noises coming from above, and the instinct to eat flesh overcame me, followed by uncontrollable anger.

I pitched toward the stairs, only to be yanked back.

I looked at my handcuffs in surprise.

I was a prisoner?

Chapter Seven

“I feel so hopeless!”

Anna paced back and forth in her bedroom, tears streaming down her face. Occasionally, she blew her nose. She plopped down on her bed next to Jared. He tried to put an arm around her but before he could, she was up and pacing again.

“Anna...” Jared started, but she interrupted him.

“I swear to God, Jared, if you tell me to calm down one more time, I’m going to clock you!”

“I wasn’t going to.” Jared was hurt. Or maybe just frustrated. All he knew was that for the first time since they’d met, he couldn’t calm her. He always could before this, but he was at a loss for what to do now.

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