August sat with Holden in a large living room, the early afternoon sun shining through the plate glass window, marred by the bars bolted across it. Holden's few wisps of brown hair stuck out from his head at odd angles. His bushy eyebrows threatened to attack his eyes if they ever got coordinated. Holden blew his thick nose, the sound loud in the small room. He snuffled as he put the cloth handkerchief away in his back pocket, shifting his wide frame in the chair. He straightened his wire-rim glasses and looked back at August, his nose now redder than normal.
Holden took a swallow from his glass of water. "So that's what happened. All of us got sick. Of the three hundred or so people living here, a third died." He put his hand over his eyes. "Ninety-three, to be precise." A large tear formed in his eye and he fished his hankie out again, wiping the tear away with no sense of self-consciousness. "I know each of their names. Eleven were children, not even fifteen years old. Another third of us got over it. After a few hours it was like we were never sick. I'm one of those." His face hardened. "A hundred and twenty one disappeared into the forest, slavering and howling like animals. Some got sick and converted in a few hours and some took a day. They killed seven of us. We killed ten of them. Ten, August. Ten people we knew and loved converted to something I've never seen before." He sighed and shook his head, a small scratch showing above his left ear as his hair shifted. "Three people changed in a different way - like the Transformed - in just a few hours. They are faster and stronger and their senses are sharper than anything, like an animal. But they don't seem to get their youth returned. They're different, too. A little bolder." Holden chuckled. "One of them is Ambrose. He's seventy-two and looks every day of it. Now he says he feels like he's twenty, though between the two of us he's not quite that spry. He used to do research. Now he wants to run out and fight zombies."
August watched Holden gain his composure. He took a deep drink from his glass. "So, Holden, I hate to ask, but where's Hemanth?"
The dust motes quit moving in the beams of sunlight. Motion in the living room stopped. Holden quit breathing for a moment. The moment passed.
Holden let out a deep breath. "I'd like to say my little brother died from the new virus. I'd like to even say he died fighting..."
"But he's one of the, what do you call them? Converted?" asked August.
Holden shook his head, tears threatening to overwhelm his gentle eyes. "Converted, as in converted to an animal. A smart, dangerous, bloodthirsty animal that's faster than any zombie I've ever seen."
August leaned forward in his deep chair, his elbows on his knees. "Is there a cure? Anything you can do to bring them back?"
Holden shook his head. "Maybe. I have had four people working on it for the last few weeks, including three of our best biologists. It's their main focus, since we know the Converted people, August. I don't know what to call the new Transformed people, but using them as a basis, Frank thinks he made some progress on a cure for the Converted ones." He waved his hand toward the town outside the window. "And we still need to put the town back together, August. We suffered some damage, but worse than that, some of our critical skills were taken out of the community."
"So that's what happened with the radio?" asked August.
"Yeah, the radio broke about a week before we started getting sick," said Holden. "Ashley was the one who maintained it, and she died from the fever."
"You must have a dozen people here who can fix it, though. You've been out of touch for over six weeks." August sat back again. "We were getting pretty worried, and I suspect we aren't alone." August looked at Holden, great sympathy in his eyes. "There are a lot of communities that think highly of you and your people, Holden. Many of them would help if they knew what happened."
"Quite a few of us could fix it, August, but we don't have the parts. We haven't had the time or resources to scavenge anything, much less electronics." Holden shook his round head. "We're not brave people, and the converted can attack at any time. We're a bit afraid to venture out on an expedition."
"What do you need, Holden? How can I help you here?" August asked.
Holden looked at August, a smile lighting his face. "You could get the radio parts. That would be a huge help. You'll have to watch out for the Converted." Holden clapped his hands. "And if you're willing, I have a surprise for you that might help. Well, help you to help us." Holden stood up and motioned for August to follow him as he left the house.
"This is one beautiful machine, Holden. A little small maybe..."
Holden slapped August on his left shoulder. "It's perfect for you. The perfect size. The new batteries are amazing." He ran his hand along the cool metal surface of the motorcycle. "These batteries are what they were trying to develop a decade ago, but we made some great breakthroughs in the last few years here." A slight frown crossed his face. "Well, Jeannette's team did." He smiled. "I think we can duplicate the batteries, but be careful of this baby, August. Right now, it's one of a kind."
August walked around the motorcycle. "I have to say I like the silver and black motif, but what's with the pink hearts along the bottom?"
Holden laughed. "I did mention it was Jeannette's team, right? She had a thing for pink hearts and green clovers." He moved to the black seat and opened it. "Let me show you how to charge it with the solar screens. They are awesome. It takes about two hours of direct sunshine to fully charge it, which is, frankly, astounding." He tapped the windshield. "This is a polymer and a transparent solar cell. Jeannette made some amazing progress." He looked at August. "She's converted now and running around the forest. What a waste."
An hour later August was on the road on his new motorcycle, heading for Sterling. He planned to check in the smaller towns along the way for the few parts Holden needed for the radio. With some luck, it would take a day. Travel to more distant cities could take longer.
August smiled as the electric motorcycle hummed along the road, the vibration of the tires along the rough concrete the only sound as he traveled. As the wind blew through his hair, August shifted gears and deftly maneuvered around a missing chunk of road.
He laughed, chasing his shadow to the east.