Authors: Jeff Olah
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
The Last Outbreak
Copyright © 2016 by Jeff Olah
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, locations and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, events, or locales is merely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover design by Rebecca Frank (http://rebeccafrank.design)
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Twelve Months before the Outbreak...
She was going to be fired and thrown out of the building at some point today, of this she was almost certain.
Staring back at the video she’d watched more than a dozen times, Shannon Briggs had a decision to make. She had two options; however, she already knew how the next hour was going to play out. And the scorching pain in the pit of her stomach told her that what she was about to do was unquestionably the right thing.
Out of the corner of her eye, Shannon watched as the last few seconds ticked away. Reaching for her phone, she turned down the reminder, switched it to vibrate, and slipped it into her coat pocket. Before standing, she moved back to her desktop, saved her work, and waited as the flash drive recorded her last session.
With the video paused in the upper right corner of her monitor, Shannon rolled it back to the twenty second mark and made a mental note of each of the four men occupying the screen. The small man running in from the left, the overweight gentleman in the lab coat, the third man gripping the pistol, and the body beginning to rise from the floor.
Taking a screen capture, Shannon dragged the image to the printer icon and stared back at the screen as the vivid colors poured out onto the stock white eight and a half by eleven. While the printer finished its task, she closed the video playback program and powered off her machine.
“Okay, I guess it’s now or never.”
Peering through the doorway and out into the hall, her hand shook as she reached into the top drawer of her desk and removed her keys. One of only two personal items remaining at the office after taking her external hard drive home the night before. Shannon slid them into her coat pocket and started for the elevator.
Out into the connecting hall, she paused before entering the elevator bay. Intently focused on the men’s faces adorning the graphic image, she missed the doors opening and closing two separate times. As the bell signaling her third opportunity sounded, the doors parted only seconds before his voice poured out. “Ms. Briggs, you joining us this morning?”
Starting toward the elevator car ten feet away, she slipped the photo into her bag and looked up. “Mr. Goodwin, I… I was just finishing up with—”
“Don’t do that, don’t ever do that.”
Marcus Goodwin. Deep set blue eyes. Clean shaven. Chiseled jawline. Six feet tall and one hundred eighty pounds of pure intimidation. He wore the exact same black power suit and navy blue tie every single day, today it was pin striped. Black imported Italian leather loafers and charcoal grey embroidered socks completed his persona. He hated small talk and despised incompetence.
Stepping into the glass-lined car, Shannon didn’t make eye contact, although it wouldn’t have mattered. The man standing only inches away peered down at his phone and quickly scrolled through a wall of text as he continued. “Don’t explain yourself. Don’t try to be what I want you to be. Just do your job.”
“Yes, I understand—”
“Good, because you’re going to get the opportunity to prove it. Our guests arrived thirty minutes early and I’ve had them taken to the Nevada conference room. I’ve been monitoring them from my office and have a good idea that this may not go well. Mr. Daniels isn’t going to want to hear what I have to tell him, and may look to you for confirmation.”
“I’m aware of why they’re here.”
“Ms. Briggs, do you know why I brought you here over seven years ago? I hired you specifically for this project and for your special talent. I expect that you will see to it that everyone in that room walks away with an absolute sense of confidence in what BXF Technologies is doing, as well as a big fat smile.”
She didn’t answer. Shannon simply nodded and in looking back upon her own reflection, straightened her coat. As Marcus Goodwin turned back to his phone and with a slight grin beginning to form at the corner of his mouth, she took a slow breath in through her nose and dropped her hands to her side.
The bell rang signaling they’d reached the first floor and as the doors began to part, Shannon instinctively leaned forward. However, before she raised her right foot from the Italian marble, Goodwin cut his eyes at her. Without turning his head, he paused for a moment, waited for her to straighten up, and then started out into the hall ahead of her. He stepped hard. Each footfall pounding like an exclamation point.
Waiting for him to move out of sight, Shannon stared at the floor and shook her head. Speaking only to only herself as new passengers paused at the door, she said, “What a gentleman.”
Out into the hall, she strode quickly to match Goodwin’s pace. And by the time they reached the intersecting corridor, she was on his heels. Turning into the lobby, he marched to the front counter and approached the four receptionists behind the mahogany and glass enclosure. To the thin, dark-haired woman still on a call, he leaned over the counter and motioned toward the opposite end of the room. “Our guests… do they have everything I requested?”
Ripping off her headset, her hand shook as she placed the call on hold. “Yes, Mr. Goodwin, everything was in place before they entered the conference room, but…”
“But what—is there a problem?”
“No, it’s just that Mr. Daniels has come out here quite a few times. He wanted to know what was taking—”
“He seemed impatient,” Goodwin said, his tone coming off more like a statement than a question.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told that you were extremely busy and would arrive at the scheduled meeting time.”
“This made him angry?”
“I think so. He didn’t say anything. He just turned and walked back into the room.”
“Good.” Peering down at her name plate, he smiled. “Dolores Marquez, you did very well.”
“Thank you, Mr. Goodwin, I appreciate—”
Turning away and looking around the open space, Goodwin interrupted. “Dolores, where is Michael from the IT group? He was supposed to be here five minutes ago.”
She smiled. “He’s already in the room. He said he wanted to get everything ready for you and Ms. Briggs.”
As Goodwin slammed his fist onto the counter, Dolores rocked back in her chair. “I’m sorry, Mr. Goodwin. I didn’t know that—”
“He’s in the room now?”
The small woman appeared to fold into herself. “Yes, he hasn’t come out since—”
Goodwin turned and started across the expansive lobby. Passing the gargantuan double doors that framed the entrance to the building, he briefly glanced back as Shannon struggled to keep pace. “Once we’re finished here today, I’ll need you to remind me to fire Michael.”
She didn’t meet his eyes and as he turned away, she quickly reached back into her coat. Pulling out her phone, Shannon powered it off and let it slide back in. She moved alongside Goodwin and couldn’t look away as the back of his ears turned a raucous shade of red. She couldn’t help but imagine a thick layer of steam would soon follow.
His speed increased with each new step and as they moved by the black leather sofas at the center of the lobby, Shannon looked toward the east wall. Just over seven years earlier, she’d walked through the doors at her back and sat nearly in this same location. And she waited exactly twenty-eight minutes for the privilege to be interviewed by Marcus Goodwin himself.
She remembered staring back at the same colossal water treatment covering the sixty foot wall she was now rushing toward, and the calm it brought. Spreading itself from the bank of elevators to the building’s entrance, the deluge was surprisingly quiet. This morning, watching the backlit water slowly make its way down the uneven rock face, she begged for that calm to return.
The warm glow of orange and the underplayed yellows near the top of the stone wall bled into the soft, inviting blue mist near the black stone pool bordering its foundation. Breathing in through her nose brought the relaxing scent of chamomile and lavender. She assumed Goodwin intended this, even though she’d never asked. There wasn’t anything placed inside this building without reason. He had a plan for every inch of the massive concrete and steel structure.
Within ten feet of the room, the combative voices had already begun to pour out into the hall. One in particular roared above the others and called for the man she now walked beside. Through the distorted mess of fluctuating voices, the only words she was able to make out were
Reaching the conference room doors, Shannon assumed Goodwin had also heard the comments and as he stopped before the threshold, she turned and looked into his eyes. Expecting a reaction just short of apocalyptic, she only smiled and waited for him to respond.
“Ms. Briggs,” a half smile resembling hers slid across his face. “Walk in first, sit down at the back of the room, and wait for me to give you the floor. If any of the men in this room ask you a question, comment on the weather, or even compliment your dress, you are to ignore them. I want you to act as if you and I are alone in that room.”
He paused; however, she didn’t respond and knew that if she waited, he’d continue.
And he did. “When I am done with Daniels, I will ask for your assessment. He will also want to hear what it is you have to say and will be looking for confirmation. At that point, you will address the room and when you are finished, I will have them escorted out of the building. I don’t want this small bump in the road to turn into a three-ring circus. Let’s tell them only what they need to hear and send them home.”
She’d either have to stand with the man who was about to alter the course of human history or lie to their visitors. Neither of these options made her feel any better about walking into that room on the other side of the door. She could do the right thing and take whatever demented punishment Goodwin decided to hand down. And currently her need for self-preservation, as well as a steady paycheck, was winning the battle with her inner voice of reason.
“Let’s go,” he said holding the door open.
Shannon stepped to the left, waited as Goodwin pushed the door all the way open, and as the conversation inside dropped off, walked to the rear of the room. She moved to the last seat at the rear of the table and sat down. She didn’t make eye contact with their guests and instead, stared straight into the sixty-inch screen at the opposite end of the massive conference table.
The three men occupying the room turned quickly toward the doorway. Marcus Goodwin stepped through and moved without hesitation to the man nearest the screen and extended his right arm. “Daniels, to what do we owe this surprise visit? I was under the assumption that you had your hands full at my facility in the mountains. This time of year it had to be quite a trek?”
As the men shook hands, Shannon marveled at their similarities. They wore roughly the same suit and striped blue ties, although neither seemed to notice. She knew Goodwin had just turned fifty-five, although the man he offered his hand to looked to be ten years his senior. Same dashing good looks, the kind you’d envy gracing the cover of a magazine, but with a softer edge. They were also nearly the same height and looked to be within ten pounds of one another. The two could have easily passed for siblings.
She was first introduced to Major Richard Daniels two years before and had been in his company more than a dozen times since then. On each occasion, she found him warm and inviting. She had yet to figure out if that was his way, or if he felt the same sense of mediocrity in Goodwin’s presence. From where she currently stood, it looked like the former.
“Marcus, I didn’t come all the way just for the pleasure of your company and you know that.” He shook Goodwin’s hand and moved to the far side of the screen. “You need to understand something.” He grabbed the remote from the conference room table, gazed at it for a second, and then handed it to the young man to his left. “Michael—can you rewind this thing? Back to the beginning, where the soldier goes to the ground?”
Goodwin leaned in and grabbed the remote before his young technician had the chance. “Michael doesn’t work for you. He works for me—well he used to.” Moving to the high back chair that sat across the table from a yet unidentified man taking notes, he continued. “Michael, I need you to go back to your department, drop off your badge, and then find your way to Human Resources. I will have someone meet you there in twenty minutes. Do not be late, I don’t want to have to send someone out to look for you.”
Confusion peppered the young man’s face. “Mr. Goodwin?”
“Just go. I can handle anything these men need.”
The young man with a flawless set of pearly whites, neatly trimmed jet-black hair, and unblemished olive-colored skin, hung his head. “I’m sorry.” The corners of his mouth downturned, it was apparent that he had no idea why he was apologizing. He turned to the guests, grabbed his cell phone, and then walked out of the room.
Major Richard Daniels shook his head as he turned his attention away from the young man exiting the room and focused once again on Goodwin. “You’ve got to be the most narcissistic man on the entire planet. You have no regard—”
“Yes, yes I know. I’ve heard that from you one too many times. Now let’s get to the point of this little meeting.”
“That’s part of why we’re here. Your ego is going to kill this project and by association, my men.”