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"Killing people is easy. It's not killing them that's hard."

 - Deadman

  

5 Days Later - Candy - The Woods

I’m driving slowly down a bumpy hill. I’m close to the lab. Most of my trip has been on paved roads, but the last hour has been on a logging trail through a huge forest. My legs are soaked because I’ve driven through three swamps. I’ve had to lift the bike over two fallen trees. I’m going slightly slower than if I was walking. I could ditch the bike and hike the rest of the way, but there could be more swamps, and I don’t feel like wading through them. That would be nasty.

The trail starts to climb, and gets less wet. I’m able to put on a little speed. After another hour, I come to a clearing in the woods. There’s a cabin with smoke pouring out of it. From the front door mostly. Oily, black, smoke.

On the other side of the clearing there are six ATV’s, and a tent, and a campfire, and a dude making breakfast.

So, Doc-Danger’s lab is an ancient log cabin. I was kind of expecting that. I wasn’t expecting that much smoke to be coming out of it. Though, now that I think about it, Doc-Danger was a careless and destructive guy.

I look over at the guy cooking breakfast. I was hoping to be alone when I explored the lab. Maybe that guy hasn’t seen me yet, and I can sneak into the cabin. The guy stands up and waves. He may have seen me. He holds up a cup of coffee. It may be too late to be sneaky.

I look at the guy. Sweater, jeans, ball cap, sneakers. Alone. Not armed. Well, he’s not holding a rifle or anything. He could have a grenade up his ass for all I know.

I’m very close to my objective. I’d rather not deal with strangers in the woods right now. But, once again, I’m low on options. I’m not going back. I could ignore him and drive right into the cabin, but it doesn’t look like I can breath in there. I could attempt vehicular homicide, but that seems rude. Killing a man for offering you coffee.

I’m very curious about the smoke. Fuck it. Let’s see if this guy knows anything.

I pull up, and he smiles, offers the coffee. “You here to investigate Doc-Danger’s lab?”

“Yes.” I say.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t do that. It’s super dangerous.” he says. “I’ve seen six dudes get vaporized in there. There’s some kind of super hot laser.”

“Figures.”

“I know, right?” says Guy. “I’m here to keep people out. Actually, I’m supposed to be sending people in, but fuck that. I know we’re all being mind controlled, but let’s not be idiots about it.”

I drink some coffee. Guy seems okay. “You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to?”

“Of course not.” He looks puzzled. “Have you been doing things you don’t want to do?” He pulls out his phone. Types furiously. Reads quickly. “You could be having a bad drug interaction. Do you need help?”

“Uhh… No, I’m good.” Fuck it, I’m gonna tell him the truth. “I’m not having any drug interactions. The Optimal drugs don’t work for me.” Okay, that wasn’t the truth. Close enough.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry.” He attacks his phone. “Wow. There’s, like, no outreach for people in your situation. You must have so many questions. Well, let’s fix that right now. Ask me anything. I’d be happy to explain the inner workings of this global mind control conspiracy.”

He’s still hammering away at his phone. He notices I’m looking at his hands. “Oh, sorry. Do you mind if I type while we’re talking? I’m totally paying attention. I just want to make a FAQ for other Sub-Optimals. Oh shit! I shouldn’t have called you Sub-Optimal. I’m so sorry.”

This is a very agreeable enemy. “Sub-Optimal is fine.”

We talk for a couple hours. I learn many things. The blue pills, aside from granting laser-like mental focus, also make you insatiably curious and goal oriented. Optimals get intense satisfaction from learning and completing the puzzles on their phones.

Guy particularly enjoys the “The Hunt for Doc-Danger”, a massive manhunt style game he plays with several thousand of his online Optimal friends. He’s obsessed with it. He has an encyclopedic knowledge Doc-Danger’s associates. Even me.

“I knew who you were right away.” he says. “I didn’t say anything ‘cause I didn’t want to come off as psycho.”

“Good instincts.”

“Yeah, well, you’re easy to remember. You’re one of his few associates that isn’t a government agent, or a violent criminal. Or both. Or dead. Or all three. Most of his associates are violent criminal government agents who are dead. So you stand out.”

For all their knowledge of Doc-Danger’s associates, they know very little of the man himself. Their investigations revolve around his infrequent interactions with other people. Whatever he does with his abundant alone time is a mystery.

“He is one of the most successfully secretive people on the planet.” He smiles. “That’s what makes the game so interesting!”

“What are you going to do if you find him?”

“I don’t know.” he shrugs. “I guess look for someone else.”

“Fair enough.”

When Doc-Danger’s lab was found, Guy was thrilled to hear that it was near him, and volunteered to check it out. He and two other guys searched it in every conceivable fashion. After a couple days, something they did activated an A.I. in the hypno-clone. It delivered the following message:

“Hello. I am Lair, the laboratory’s interface. To use the laboratory, simply ask me for whatever you want. But be warned, I am also the protector of it’s secrets. If you reveal that you do not already know it’s secrets, by asking me to do something I cannot do, I will protect those secrets.

“By blasting you with a super hot laser.

“And you will die.

“That should be obvious, but it’s important, so I want to be perfectly clear. The laser will kill you. It’s not a fucking tickle laser. If you don’t belong here, now is the time to leave, before you end up dead.

“Look, it’s nothing personal. If you know what this lab is capable of, you know this is just a sensible precaution. Also, I lack the capacity to see you as a person. I’m not that smart. I’m just a glorified checklist with a laser. That said, don’t try to outsmart me. It’s not hard, but not worth it. If I get slightly confused, it’s laser time. I only bring up the stupid machine thing to additionally illustrate the peril you’re in. I am an emotionless boobytrap that will destroy you without hesitation or remorse. The guy who built me has emotions. He’s going to feel real bad if he comes home to three piles of ashes. So, let’s not do anything stupid.

“To recap: Hi, I’m Lair! I’m here to help! Unless you ask me the wrong thing, then I’ll kill you.”

Guy was out the cabin door before the message was done. His companions were very intelligent, but they hadn’t impressed Guy with their humility. Leaving was the right decision. The other Optimals attempted to use the lab, and were dead within minutes.

Guy sent a report to the Optimal app, along with a recommendation to leave the lab alone while they pursue other leads. The vast majority of Manhunt Optimals agreed with his recommendation, but a few dudes were sure they knew enough to use the lab. Guy decided to hang around for a while, hoping he could dissuade them. He was somewhat successful.

“And that’s the story of how I got six ATV’s.” says Guy.

“Right.” I say. “What’s the story on the smoke?”

“It’s a graphene particulate fog. There’s a machine pumping it into the cabin through a back window. The last guy said it would stop the laser blast. He was incorrect.”

Guy offers me some breakfast, and I accept. I call on Lawbot, and he joins us. He’s been listening to our conversation. As we eat, he gives me his legal opinion.

“We’re fucked. Let’s give up.”

It’s a well constructed argument. After breakfast I turn off the smoke machine, but keep its fan running to air out the cabin. Graphene fog sounds like instant lung cancer.

Eventually, I enter the cabin. Downstairs is all one room. It’s like a hunting lodge - kitchen, big table, wood stove. Some worn, but comfortable, couches and chairs. I don’t go upstairs, but Guy told me what’s up there. A couple beds, a lot of books, and a fair amount of medical equipment.

Sitting by the fire is Lair. He looks just like Doc-Danger.

I sit across from him. I think for a long time. The sun goes down. We stare at each other in the dark. Megacles told me a lot about Doc-Danger. I’m sure I can survive at least one question. Probably. My insides feel hollowed out. I still have the Optimal drugs in my go bag. Guy seems happy.

I’m not trying to make humanity happy. I’m trying to keep them alive. One question.

“Show me the real lab. The nano lab.”

I close my eyes.

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Doctor Zero

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