Will and Donny returned to the compound a couple of hours later. As soon as they entered the gates, they laughed as they heard howling coming from the house. A moment later, Broski dashed out of the house and excitedly jumped back and forth between the two of them.

"Alright, alright, settle down, Broski." Will said.

"We got your treats." Donny added.

Broski's ears immediately perked up and he ran circles around Donny, his tail wagging like crazy.

"You two are a little late, I thought the two of you left me here to die of boredom." Grandpa Wong said the moment he saw them.

"We couldn't make it back in time, so we stayed somewhere else." Will said. "I tried to call you and we were out of range."

"I was talking to your mother but the phones stopped working yesterday a few hours after you left." Grandpa said as he examined the two conspicuously cracked windows and dented body of the car. "What happened to your car?"

"Not a big deal, we ran into a small problem, that's all." Will replied.

"You mean a big one?" Donny laughed.

"Anything happened over here?"

"No problem." Grandpa said.

After giving Broski some treats, the two washed up and got something to eat before they dropped onto their beds tired, and passed out. They woke up half a day later as it was getting dark outside, and Will pulled Donny into the gym.

"Do we still need to workout? Aren't we going to be superhumans very soon?" Donny asked.

"We're only improving the base material, we still need to forge it."

"So it's like raising the level cap but we still need to level up?"

"You could put it that way...but you're also getting a class assigned."

"If you put it that way, I could live with that. This expansion doesn't sound too bad. Well...if you discount the millions of deaths of course."

After workout and dinner, Will did another routine checkup of his other housemates. When it came to his inspection of the greenhouse, chicken coop, and Parasite farm, Will found something.

One of the insects started acting up in its tank the moment it spotted him. Will immediately isolated it to prevent any accidents and made sure it was secure and well-fed before he went off to find Donny.

"I just found our first Parasite." Will said when he found Donny trying to teach Broski how to stand up on his hind legs.

"Really? What is it?" Donny looked up.

"You'll find out after we evolve." Will said mysteriously.

"Fine, be like that. Then who's getting it? Are we playing rock paper scissors for it or do you want to do it the old way?" Donny pointed at the laptop.

"It depends on how our evolutions turn out. Even if we can't use it, if we keep it alive until everything is up and running again, we can still sell it for a couple million. This one has a pretty rare ability and usually pairs up with a very common bloodline, so there will be a very high demand for it."

Before bedtime, Will spent two hours scanning and listening to the radio again.

Early the next morning, Grandpa insisted that he had enough of being cooped up inside the house. After the two mostly covered up, at Will's insistence, they stepped outside and practiced tai chi in front of the greenhouse.

In cool summer morning air with dew still embracing the leaves, basking in the light of dawn, Will had never imagined he would be going through the movements of tai chi with his grandpa peacefully during this period of disaster and upheaval.

Like this, an entire week passed by tranquilly.

Will and Donny left the compound in the armored SUV with a cargo trailer being pulled behind. Because of the attachment making it harder for the SUV to maneuver, their trip took longer than originally planned and they had to constantly make stops to clear their path of zeroes. This also worked out in their favor since they needed to collect corpses for the Metamorphosis Pod.

"Blaghhh." Donny gagged through his mask, shutting the door of the cargo trailer after they lugged another corpse into the back. "I wish we had a game inventory or something. There's got to be an easier way of doing this."

"Trust me, there isn't. This was my job for 7 years." Will said taking off his chemical resistant gloves and storing them in a bag.

"It took you that long to get a promotion?"

"Oh I got promotions. I just changed from transporting valuable specimens by truck to airlifting even more valuable specimens by helicopter."

They returned to the car and Donny soon realized they weren't headed straight to the Metamorphosis Pod.

"What are we doing back here?" Donny asked when he saw the satellite ground station in the distance.

"We need to pick up some corpses."

"You're not going to dig up Matthew, are you?!" Donny asked in horror.

"Relax, there were three lynxes, weren't there?"

"Oh...good, I don't think I would feel too great about having to do that to Francis and the others."

They dug up three rotting lynxes, transferred them to the cargo trailer, and were on their way shortly after.

Once the two reached the forest again, they pulled out a UTV from the cargo trailer before stacking a few corpses on the back of the UTV. There was limited space on the UTV, as a result, this would take them multiple trips to transfer.

"This smell..." Donny took out a cigarette, hoping it would cover up the smell. "Can I walk? I don't think I can handle that smell the entire way."

"That was the plan in the first place." Will said, using the passenger seat to hold a cooler and a large duffle bag.

"Rude." Donny said in faux outrage.

When they reached the Metamorphosis Pod, they found that the tree had completely changed from the last week. The organic growth had completely pervaded most of the tree and the former branches had mutated into a large pod while the roots had formed a pit on the side. The vegetation in its immediate surroundings were all gone, having been sucked dry.

"It looks like some kind of alien cocoon." Donny looked at it with aversion. "Who's using it first?"

"You are."

"Me!?" Donny pointed at himself in alarm.

"You have lower immunity so you will evolve faster."

"I have lower immunity? Are you serious, bro? That can't be right." Donny asked.

"Are you serious?" Will raised his brow, looking at the cigarette currently between Donny's fingers.

"What is immunity anyway?" Donny asked, changing the subject.

"People can have anywhere from non-existent to superhuman immunity to the virus, or to make it easier to visualize, 0% to 99% immunity. But people on both end of the immunity spectrum are very rare, especially those with 99% immunity.

I've mentioned before that 1.9% of people were susceptible to the virus, those are the ones with non-existent immunity—the ones with 0%. Once the virus touches them, they don't stand a chance at all. It will start a premature evolution process that they can't handle and they end up like that."

Will gestured at the back of the UTV.

"For everyone else on the immunity spectrum, it's a gradual process where the body slowly evolves in a way that is mostly beneficial. Now, as you go further down the spectrum, the threshold for the concentration of the virus needed to force a premature evolution increases."

Will held out an arm horizontally while he had a finger move diagonally upwards, miming a graph.

"And those people will be able to take more bites or whatever dangerous encounters with the virus without worrying about becoming a mindless zomb...or a zero." Seeing that Donny was about to make a comment, Will changed the final word he was about to say.

Donny grinned and nodded in approval. "So isn't it better to have superhuman immunity? Shouldn't we have been stuffing ourselves full of vitamins and ginseng or whatever all-day, everyday?"

"That's what many governments will think, and they will create teams full of people with higher immunity to help retake control of the earth. But they'll realize that they should have gone in the other direction, because people with low immunity will evolve much faster. These are the people that will end up leading the new arms race."

"So they're the ladder climbers. The rankers on the leaderboard."

Will nodded. "And you're one of them."

"Really!?" Donny's eyes widened. "That's sick, yo! Literally. What's my immunity percentage like?"

"Around 10%." Will shock his head as Donny celebrated. "But there is one downside to having low immunity." Will said, taking the wind out of his sails. "Even after you evolve your body and it adapts to the virus, you'll still need to be careful if you run into those who are at least two Categories higher than you. Because the higher Category you advance, the higher the concentration of the virus in your body. You'll also need to watch out for the other side too, for people lower on the totem pole than you or you could be a danger to them."

"Aww...that's gonna make it a pain in the ass to date." Donny sighed. "So where are you on the immunity spectrum then?"

"About the opposite of where you are. Around 91%, which is a huge reason why I was a nobody and had to transport in the front lines in the future." Will shook his head bitterly.

But at least I'm able to face those that are three or four Categories higher than me. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to stay with Sara.

"Now strip." Will instructed.

"Alright..." Donny began the long process of taking off all his protection while Will grabbed the cooler from the UTV and prepared a blood transfusion.

"What's the blood for?" Donny asked.

"For a chance at getting an extremely rare bloodline."

"Cool, legendary powers."

When Donny had taken off all his armor, Will hooked him up and transfused Charlie Patton's blood into him. Donny happened to share the same blood type as her. After that was done, Will dumped all the corpses into the pit next to the Metamorphosis Pod.

"Get in the pod." Will said, once Donny was done taking off his clothes.

"Here we go..." He gingerly approached the mutated tree. There was an opening in the pod that he slipped into. Once inside, the Metamorphosis Pod sealed itself on its own and the flesh-like roots in the pit wrapped around the corpses.

Will grabbed a bag from the UTV and walked around the perimeter, setting up snares, bear traps, and body-grip traps all over the place. After providing Donny with some form of protection, he returned to the cargo trailer and continued to transport the corpses over to the Metamorphosis Pod and dump them into the pit—that greedily accepted all the nourishment he was feeding it and transferring half into Donny.

After about 8 hours, Donny finally emerged from the Metamorphosis Pod.

Next would be Will's turn. He couldn't wait to finally evolve. This time he would be one of the world's first evolutions.

It was his chance to become someone who fought back against the Talons.

Someone who could protect himself and those close to him against the scheming of others.

Someone who could influence the world.


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