This is the final chapter of Mutation! The epic conclusion!
The large group moved into one of the hangars after Jan and Francis so kindly persuaded Luke to relieve the lab of some of its stronger medicine and better bandages, the reluctant soldier pointing across the room at the heavy, armored truck he was holding the keys for.
"There's enough room in there for all of you and they're not terribly hard to drive. Unless of course, you're going to continue holding me hostage?" He said dryly, Jan flashing him a smile.
"You're going with us, Luke," Bill said sternly from behind him, the younger soldier turning to face the Green Beret. "This is no place for you, and you'll thank us in the end. Unless of course, you're one of the front runners of this whole messy business. In that case, we'll take you outside and shoot you."
"I didn't have anything to do with Steve." Luke's heated tone made Bill's eyebrow twitch. "I wasn't in on any of that. I was part of the team trying to get Ishmael out of here so that we could see if he really WAS the key to the cure. Then when Steve got thrown into the mix, things got messy."
"You felt forced to choose sides?" Bill asked, Luke frowning and shaking his head.
"There were no sides to choose. The lab was right all along, there's more to that Hunter than there seems to be at first glance. And… and spending a little more time with all of you and seeing the destruction that we, the humans, have caused in our attempt to harness the power of the infected, cure it all except for the bits that might be useful for us? It's opened my eyes. I still don't see how anyone could POSSIBLY fall in love with something like Ishmael Parker, but I'm at least willing to give that notion a chance if it means finding another way to do things."
"And you'd still shoot him if you had to, wouldn't you?" Jan remarked, Luke glancing at her and offering a short nod.
"No matter what or who he is, Ishmael Parker is still infected. And you can't just quit that," he said carefully.
"Get in the truck, pretty boy," Francis growled, jabbing him with the shotgun. "If it ain't hard to drive them, lemme do it. You can ride shotgun." Another jab with the gun, and Luke glared up at him without amusement.
Once they had piled into the truck, Luke relieved of all his weapons, Francis started it up and eased it out of the hangar, reaching up to touch the headset he was wearing.
"Yo, can you hear me, old man?"
"Loud and clear and unfortunately, Francis," Bill replied, making Francis chuckle.
"How're things back there?"
"Louis and Selene are comfortable, Jan's treatin' them now. See if you can keep from running anyone over, alright? This rig is bigger than those bikes you're used to driving."
"Sure thing," Francis grunted, looking over at Luke and grinning. "Fun, ain't it?"
"Yes, loads." Luke's face was a bit pale, his gaze flickering between the scene out the front window and the shotgun that Francis held across his lap.
"We're gonna see about getting' our friends first before we get out of here. Then we're gonna bust through the gates if they don't open 'em for us and get the hell out of here." Francis shifted as he guided the truck out of the hangar completely and began rolling across the packed dirt outside. Rain was beginning to fall… "I'd much rather party with the zombies than stay here, after all."
Zoey could feel her heart breaking, threatening to stop in her chest as she stood some distance from Ishmael and stared at him. Her stomach still churned despite her having emptied it already… watching Ishmael utterly destroy Steve, mutilating him worse than she had EVER seen a Hunter do before was hard and a little more than she had been able to handle.
At least she wasn't the only one. Several of the other people who had gathered, the people who had been working to help save her had also done the same thing. She didn't think any of them blamed each other for it, either.
Now Ishmael was covered in gore, staring at them while standing in a defensive position, growling in warning. His dark eyes flitted over the group, coming at last to rest on her as she held her hand out towards him.
"Ishmael… it's me. It's Zoey," she said clearly, hoping her voice wasn't shaking quite as much as she thought it was.
"Zoey, he's gone," someone in the group said, her blue eyes filling with tears and her look so fierce, he shut his mouth with an audible click.
"He's not. I can still save him. I'm his female; he didn't choose me for no reason," she retorted, crouching down slowly so he could have the higher ground.
Zoey truly hoped this was the last time she would ever have to save Ishmael like this. She hoped she would never have to see him in this sorry state again.
Ishmael had begun quivering, his adrenaline rush finally beginning to wear off and the extent of his numerous wounds catching up with him, but Zoey wouldn't relent.
She moved a touch closer, Ishmael letting out another growl of warning, the girl offering the Hunter a brave smile.
"C'mon, Ishmael, snap out of it. I'm here," she said, Ishmael tilting his head to the side as he tried to understand. Looking at the others, Zoey dropped her voice. "Hey, any of you have cookies?"
"I've got some," one of the men replied, looking amused when Zoey took them after he removed them from his pocket. "Ish likes cookies?"
"They're his favorite," Zoey murmured in return, holding one of the cookies out towards the Hunter. Ishmael stared, incredibly still, making no move towards the cookie Zoey held in her outstretched hand. Zoey chanced moving closer, Ishmael continuing to hold his ground, no growl escaping him as Zoey held the cookie out once more.
After a few agonizing minutes, Ishmael stretched his neck out, sniffing in the direction of the cookie, his eyes not leaving Zoey's face. He crept a tiny bit closer, reaching one clawed hand out to try and take the cookie, but Zoey shook her head, prompting a growl. A little closer still, then Ishmael took Zoey's fist in both hands, attempting to bite the cookie, the girl's smile becoming a little more genuine.
When this tactic didn't work, Ishmael began attempting to pry her fingers apart, eventually biting her quite hard with a growl in an attempt to make her relinquish her grip.
Zoey refused, not so much as a grimace crossing her face, the Hunter paused after licking her hand a few times.
"That's right, you remember," Zoey whispered, opening her hand. Ishmael took the cookie in his mouth and backed up a step, catching her arm in one hand when she tried to retract it and holding her in place while he ate the offered treat. Zoey waited patiently, heart thundering in her ears, hoping she was finally breaking through to him.
When Ishmael was finished eating, he crept forward again, pulling her arm firmly so she had no choice but to lean into him. Zoey took a deep breath, hoping this wasn't about to lead to a rather uncomfortable situation. Ishmael was inhaling her scent deeply, licking the side of her neck as a rumble of contentment escaped his throat.
"Zoey," he growled, very clearly, the girl letting out a breathless laugh.
"That's right," she replied.
"That's you, you're Ishmael."
"Shan say… kill." Zoey blinked at the Hunter, shocked. "Iissshhmael kill. Kill ffforrr… Shan. Forrr… Zoey."
Ishmael was speaking… he was speaking in some semblance of sentences!
"Hhhnn… hhhel…p. Hhhelllp Zoey." The Hunter pressed a bloody claw into her shoulder, Zoey nodding.
"Yeah, you helped me. You saved me. You're a hero, Ishmael."
As she spoke, there was a great rumble, a huge truck pulling up nearby and scattering the crowd that had gathered. Zoey straightened, Ishmael right next to her, the two of them watching in wonder as the door of the truck opened.
Francis stood up, staring at Zoey in relief before waving his shotgun at both of them. The other door opened to reveal Luke, who tossed some sort of mechanical thing on the ground and nodded in their direction.
"Saddle up, sweetheart," Francis growled. "We're getting out of here."
Zoey kept her grip on Ishmael tight as she moved around to the back of the truck, watching the door open briefly before turning her eyes to the rest of the people around them. Ishmael was the first on the truck, Zoey taking a moment before moving to join him, raising her hand in farewell.
"If you're all smart… you'll follow our lead. Being in this place is no better than being held hostage, there are other places we can go, I'm sure… Never stop fighting, the world we're looking for is still out there," she called, the door of the truck beginning to close.
The people of the encampment, even some of the soldiers exchanged glances with one another.
All of them knew Zoey was right… And all of them hoped that Zoey and Ishmael would find that world of their own with their friends along for the ride.
So, there we have it! I know, I know, not much of a conclusion… but this isn't quite the end! Did you think I would leave you hanging there?!
Coming soon, holiday specials! Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc, smaller side stories explaining life after Mutation…
And a third story in the series! Keep watching and waiting folks, I promise not to disappoint you!