She wiped the files, even though it broke her heart to flush so many years of work down the drain; she wiped the files, she wiped the back-ups, and then just to be safe she opened up each casing and pulled out every fragile data sheet, threw them to the ground and stamped on them till they broke into pieces.
When the laboratory was a flickering wreck, she took up her voice recorder and thumbed it on while she opened and closed drawers, looking for any paper files that might have been important. “This is Doctor Zoe Heriot,” she said, “senior technician aboard station seven. Making my final report.” She found someone’s notes and paused to snatch them from their file and tear them to shreds. “Experiment Zeta is a failure. Surviving crew members have already evacuated.” She stood in the middle of her lab, casting about for something else to destroy. She switched her recorder back on. “I’ve wiped all records of the formula. It’s all gone. All of it except —” The only thing left was the armoured case with the samples. There was nothing she could do with those. The way to the airlock was blocked. “If you’re listening to this, do not, repeat, do not open the specimen case. The formula — well, listen for yourself.”
She held the voice recorder out towards the door, where guttural voices groaned and wailed, fingers clawed and scraped upon the translucent material of the door. “They’re going to kill me,” she said, matter-of-factly. There was no point in not being matter-of-fact. She’d known what would happen if she stayed to clear the laboratory. They’d get in sooner or later. “If you’re listening to this, take the specimen case and throw it out the airlock. Get rid of it. It’s the only safe way.” With a sharp crack, the door began to give under the strain of all the bodies piled against it. Zoe sucked in a deep breath and concluded her report. “This concludes my report,” she said. “This is Doctor Zoe Heriot, August 3rd 2084.” She thumbed off her voice recorder and laid it down upon the bench, beside the specimen case.
Zoe found that she was filled with determination to die with some dignity, on her feet; but even so, when the translucent door split apart and the grey, shambling figures surged into the room, she closed her eyes tight and turned her face away, bracing herself for agony.
She expected to feel cold, dead fingers clawing at her. Instead, she heard gunshots. Crack, and then a dull thudding of a body hitting the floor. Crack. Crack. Crack. It was over before she could even process what was happening, let alone open her eyes.
Squinting, she looked at the door. Greying undead bodies lay upon the floor, twitching and writhing, but immobilised by the energy beams fired into their spinal cords with pinpoint accuracy. The glassy remnants of the laboratory door crunched under booted feet.
Zoe had never seen the woman who stepped into her laboratory before, but somehow she was still the last person she expected. She was dressed in greeny-grey old-style fatigues, but she didn’t look like a soldier. She looked roughly Zoe’s age, her face sweet and girlish, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was holding a clunky energy-gun that looked almost homemade. She wasn’t a member of the station security staff and her fatigues weren’t any military uniform Zoe recognised.
She was full of questions, like who are you and how did you get on board this station and did you make that energy-weapon out of scraps because if so that’s quite dangerous, but she was too flabbergasted to ask any of them, so the woman — girl, really — got in first. “Hi!” she said. “I picked up your distress signal. Thought you might need a hand.” Then she smiled, and her smile was the sunniest smile Zoe had seen since — well, she wasn’t sure since when. Something about that smile was naggingly familiar. For a dizzy half-moment she was sure she used to know someone who had a smile like that, a smile that could light up a whole room like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, like stars on a cloudless night, like — but that was nonsense. She didn’t forget things. She remembered everything.
“A hand,” Zoe echoed, still thoroughly bamboozled. Her plan of action had ended with ‘get eaten alive by accidentally unleashed hoard of undead.’ She hadn’t planned on getting rescued.
“Good thing I brought this!” said the girl, hefting her energy weapon. Whatever she or Zoe might have said next was cut short by a groan and a lurch, one of the squirming corpses on the floor making a frantic grab for Zoe’s leg. The girl aimed her weapon and fired more holes into it with a crack-crack-crack. It was still. “You can call me Jenny,” said the girl, letting her weapon dangle from its fraying strap and holding out a hand for Zoe to shake. Zoe looked at it, bemused. “Sorry — you do shake hands in this century, don’t you? I only just arrived. What’s your name?”
“I’m Zoe Heriot,” she said, finding her voice at last. She took Jenny’s hand and shook it. “Doctor Zoe Heriot,” she said, mostly out of habit. She made a point of introducing herself that way, lest people take her for a student.
“Cool!” Jenny remarked. “My dad’s a Doctor.” She was still shaking Zoe’s hand. Zoe drew her hand back. Maybe this odd girl didn’t know how long you were supposed to shake hands for. “I cleared out all of this lot that I could find,” she said, indicating the dead bodies on the floor. “What are they? Zombies?”
Zoe pursed her lips. “They’re artificially reanimated corpses,” she said, “without any higher brain functions. Driven by basic primal instincts.”
“Okay,” said Jenny. “So — zombies, essentially?”
“Artificially reanimated corpses,” Zoe insisted.
“Suit yourself,” said Jenny. “What do we do with them?”
Zoe thought quickly. The station needed to be sterilised. There was one sure-fire way to do that that she could think of. “Do you have a ship?”
“Of course I have a ship,” said Jenny, indignant. “It’s in your landing bay. You don’t seem to have any other ships. Did they all evacuate? Mine’ll be a bit tight with two people but I’m sure we can work it out.”
“Here’s what we do,” said Zoe.
For all she talked too much, Jenny proved to be an attentive listener. Just a few minutes later Zoe was puttering about the lab, collecting up anything potentially useful that had escaped her rampage. “So what are you a doctor of?” said Jenny.
“Oh, lots of things,” said Zoe. “Astrophysics, originally. Organic chemistry. Strange mathematics. What’s your dad a doctor of?” She wasn’t very good at making conversation at the best of times.
“Everything, I think,” said Jenny. “I mean, I think he’s a doctor. That might just be his name. Everyone calls him Doctor. The Doctor,” she corrected.
That gave Zoe pause, her usually steady fingers fumbling as she sorted through jars of chemicals. “I met a man called the Doctor once.”
Jenny turned to face her, smiling brightly. “Really? He wasn’t tall and skinny with spikey hair and a brown trench coat, was he?”
“No,” said Zoe, her heart, which had lifted, sinking again. “He was a little man — he had hair like this,” she drew her fingers across her forehead, tracing the line of an imaginary fringe. She’d grown hers out years ago. “Like one of those old musicians. He wore a suit that was two sizes too big for him.”
“That doesn’t sound like my dad,” said Jenny, sounding as disheartened as Zoe felt. Before she could ask how long it had been since Jenny saw her father, she realised that Jenny was toying with the specimen case.
“Don’t open that!” she said, hurrying over to close it.
“Sorry!” said Jenny. “I was just looking, and then it struck me — are there supposed to be five vials?” Zoe’s heart sank still further. “Only there’s one missing.” Jenny twisted the case, showing Zoe the neat, vial-shaped depression where something was supposed to be sitting.
Zoe stared at the space where the fifth vial should have been in disbelief. She knew what had happened. There was only one logical explanation. “Thompson,” she said, her voice half a snarl. “That — that rat.” She’d said over and over that it wasn’t worth it, that the stuff wouldn’t be worth anything once people found out what it did — but one of those vials was travelling back to earth, right now.
Jenny seemed to read her mind. “You know, my ship’s pretty fast,” she said. “If we leave straight away, we might be able to overtake them. How about it?”
Zoe had made the last year making a quite meticulous study of the best way to deal with artificially reanimated corpses — ‘Zombies, Zoe, everyone but you calls them zombies’ ‘Oh, shut up, Jenny.’ For instance, it was more about where you punched holes in them than how big. Get them at the base of the spinal cord — BLAM — and they went down like the sack of dead meat they were.
Thump. It fell and lay grey and twitching upon the ground, its shambling fingers groping towards Jenny. Zoe shot it once more, and the twitching ceased, or at least slowed. Beaming, she offered Jenny a hand up.
“I had that under control!” Jenny snapped, hauling herself upright.
“Really?” said Zoe. “I suppose all the screaming was tactical, then.”
“Of course it was,” said Jenny. “Tactical screaming. Very important. Scares them off.” She retrieved her gun — which was home made, and which had received some very useful improvements over the past year — and checked it for damage.
Zoe rolled her eyes. It was a proven fact that ARCs didn’t have a sense of hearing. She’d proven it herself. “I think we’ve cleaned this place out,” she said, indicating the wreck of the warehouse around them. “Shall we head home?”
“Please,” said Jenny. “I’m dying for a cuppa.”
Home, these days, tended to mean the military base which had kindly agreed to put them up after they’d been so helpful in providing advance warning of the first outbreak. Now Zoe had her own laboratory and Jenny had facilities to repair her spaceship.
Home tended to mean Jenny’s workshop, where she would sit for hours trying to get her temporal circuits working again. She’d burned the whole system out racing back to earth and it was mostly working now. Zoe was confident that Jenny would get it working again, especially with her to help.
“Got your tea,” said Zoe.
“Thanks,” said Jenny, hauling herself out of her mess of circuits. How she’d got so entangled in a mere twenty minutes Zoe would never understand. It was one of her many characteristics which was curiously familiar, and which Zoe delighted in.
Jenny hopped up onto the hull of her ship to drink her tea, and Zoe joined her. It was a funny looking ship, vaguely insectoid with a garish red paint job and internal circuitry that would make most twenty-first century engineers dizzy. Fortunately Zoe wasn’t most twenty-first century engineers. She’d learned her way around it in a couple of days.
“Trouble is, I think I need spare parts that haven’t been invented yet.” Jenny blew on her tea. “I can’t get them without the temporal circuits, and I can’t make the temporal circuits work without them.”
“Quite the conundrum,” said Zoe. “You might be able to get them made from scratch, once all this calms down.”
“Yes, once things calm down,” Jenny agreed. She sipped her tea, found it still too hot, and absently placed it on the hull beside her, which was only going to make it hotter. “What do you think you’ll do, once things calm down?”
Zoe had considered that. The company was basically bust at this point — zombies did not make for good PR — so once researching how best to re-kill ARCs became obsolete, what would she do?
“Mind you, I don’t suppose you’ll have trouble finding a job,” Jenny mused. “You’ll have every institution in the world grovelling at your feet.”
Zoe had considered that, too, and she said so. What she didn’t say was that she couldn’t see herself working for any of them, not any more. What she didn’t say was that there’d been an empty place inside of her for years, ever since that — that incident with the cybermen, and she’d got pretty good at ignoring it. She’d been pretty good at ignoring it, till Jenny showed up and began to fill it. Jenny, who was hauntingly familiar. There was a silly, irrational part of Zoe that was sure she’d had a friend like Jenny once, someone brilliant but flighty and absent minded, someone with a smile who could make the room light up, someone who’d just dropped out of the sky and saved her life. What she didn’t say was that familiar as Jenny was, the way Zoe felt about her was something all new.
But she didn’t say any of that, because it didn’t make any sense and even if it did, she was no good at saying that sort of thing. She began to prepare a remark about Jenny’s temporal circuits instead, a nice, safe subject.
Before she could change the subject, Jenny said, “it’s just that I was going to ask if you’d like to come with me. You know, once I get the temporal circuits working. I mean, it’s a bit of a tight squeeze in this old thing with two, but it does get awfully lonely, flying around by myself, and —”
“I’d love to,” said Zoe without thinking. But once she thought about it, she really did mean it.
Jenny smiled, that lovely smile that always reminded Zoe of the sun. And quite to Zoe’s surprise, she said, “can I kiss you?” Then, at Zoe’s shocked expression, “I’m sorry, I just thought I ought to ask, just in case — I didn’t want to just do it, in case you didn’t want to, which I suppose you don’t — I, um —”
Zoe kissed her. She was aiming for her lips, but Jenny went and turned her head, startled, so Zoe’s lips collided with the corner of her mouth, which was nice too. “Oh!” said Jenny, and titled her head to kiss properly. “Well, that’s alright, then.”