They're over here!

“That’s crazy,” I told him. Octopus or not, he had to be wrong. “I don’t know how to do that.”

Nevertheless, it is within your capabilities.

“How do you know that? How do you know what I can do?” What was it Reverend Tommy had said, about moving freely I wondered, but Samson, Mr. Damned Soul, interrupted.

“I hear voices,” he growled. He still stunk like sulfur and corpse. “We’d better get moving. If this is Doc’s plan, then you can do it, so get to it.” He glared at me. Maybe it wasn’t glaring; maybe that was just the way eyes looked when you’d been in Hell for a long time and then came back as a stinky corpse guy.

Brigitte took my hand. “If Doc says so,” she said, and didn’t have to finish the sentence.

I thought about it. I didn’t know how to go about beginning to do it. I wondered if I should concentrate, or clap my hands, or spin, or just maybe say a magic word or something. I tried to picture Hell, and then I stopped trying because I didn’t want to go there.

“Doc, does it have to be Hell?” I asked.

“Hurry,” said Samson. There were definite noises of footsteps and horses’ hooves and people yelling about who went what way and what way others should take and how they should spread out and I heard the words shoot to kill.

It can be to any world you can travel to, said Doc.

But I didn’t know what worlds I could travel to. I guessed it had to be Hell. What other worlds were there? Just Heaven, I guessed, and I wasn’t sure I could get us all in there.

I squinched my eyes shut real tight and thought, as hard as I could, about Hell and the places I’d been and the people I’d met there… and then felt guilty about Ivanka and tried to not picture her but the best I could do was not picture her naked and then that came into my mind, too, and I was getting distracted and the voices were coming closer and there was more shouts of what to do when they found us and none of it was good and then I heard there they are and I popped open my eyes.

“I can’t do it,” I said to Doc. I looked at Brigitte and said “I’m sorry. I never went there on purpose. It just happened when I fell asleep or was knocked out that time, so I don’t know how to get there…” but I stopped because two things happened.

First, a group of people burst through the trees and said “Stop! Put your hands up!” and second, Samson said:

“It happens when you’re knocked out?” and he grabbed Brigitte and the naked girl and pushed them towards me with one hand, and shot me with the ray gun in the other and before I could even try to protest, as Brigitte and the naked girl smashed into me and I started to fall, I felt the ray gun hitting me, and it was hot and crackly all over my body, like I was wrapped in bubble wrap that was all popping only the bubbles weren’t filled with air but were filled with hot water, and then everything went black

Meanwhile, In New York:

He worked carefully and slowly throughout the night, looking frequently at the specifications. He knew he would not finish the order tonight and because of that he paced himself and worked a little more slowly than he usually would. It would not matter; he was ahead of schedule on this order, anyway, and because he had slowed his pace and had the time, the craftsmanship would be better and he could select the parts with a greater eye towards detail, towards assembling the whole.

Making zombies could be an art.

Or it could be a business.

He tried to make it an art while also having it be a business. He wanted to make money at this, why else would he do it, but he wanted his customers to appreciate the zombies he made, the creations he came up with, the eye for detail and the little touches, like the fact that most of the sewing was done inside the skin, resulting in less-visible stitching and cleaner seams.

There were plenty of people who tried to make zombies and what they made were awful patchwork corpses that were kept alive by implanted small Constant Rescusitators, corpses that required constant attention from people who were basically more plumber than creator or doctor.

There were a select few who could make actual zombies, zombies that did not require mechanical intervention to move and act lifelike in some fashion, zombies that could follow basic commands and perform rote activities, like cleaning or having sex with each other or with their master. Those zombies, though, were problematic in that they generally were dumb machines and would follow the orders of anyone who happened to command them, even other zombies (although it was rare that zombies of that order could talk.)

He was, so far as he knew, the only one who made actual zombies that could walk and talk and interact and which were hardly distinguishable from a human being, zombies that moved among the human populace and did not draw much attention, but zombies that would nonetheless do what zombies were supposed to do, which was to follow orders given them by their master.

He did not love the business, or hate it. He had taken it up because it was a way for someone who otherwise lacked much in the way of marketable skills or imagination to make money, enough money that his front, a diner, did not occupy much of his time anymore.

The diner he had inherited from his mother and father, a business they had run and which they had hoped their son would not only carry on but would expand; they envisioned a chain of diners across the country, headed by their wealthy son who would travel the country touring them in fine suits, renting three or four cars of the train or perhaps traveling in his own dirigible. But he had neither the inclination nor the business acumen to run the diner itself, let alone make it more successful than it had been, and it had fallen onto hard times and existed only as a means of testing his creations, his zombies, and to explain where he got his income, income he was careful to hide and keep quiet as best he could, he had been taught how to do that. He would not have the diner at all but he needed a testing ground and he needed some visible means of support because in this era of instant sharing and access to all information, having money and no support might attract the attention of the government, such as it was and he wanted no attention like that.

He had learned how to make zombies from an Army Lieutenant who knew how the military had done it, who knew how the military used to plan to use zombies as soldiers but had decided that they were not much better than regular men and women as soldiers; they followed orders better and were harder to stop, but were limited in their capacity to think and react without orders and required a great deal of time and energy to make.

Most military zombies, the Lieutenant had told him, were used now for suicide missions, and as pleasure companions for real soldiers, who either did not know or did not care who they were having sex with.

The Lieutenant had taught him how to make zombies, how to craft them so finely that they were almost people. The Lieutenant had been unfamiliar with chips, which were only coming into vogue those years ago, and so he had needed to figure that out for himself.

He’d also needed to figure out for himself why it was important to not leave a half-finished zombie laying around, which was why he worked slowly tonight. One couldn’t finish up too much of the zombie and then leave it sit. Either finish it all, or only get through about one-third, he’d developed as a rule of thumb.

He’d developed that rule at the same time he’d come to the realization that a torso with arms but no head or no legs, pulling itself around on the streets of New York City, was bound to raise questions.

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