Because who doesn’t like a little zombie love story on Christmas? Meet Frankie, a college student who didn’t know she had the Zeta gene until a few months before her Maturation. A sweet twist on the usual bloodthirsty theme. Rated PG13 for brief bad language and a tiny love scene.
The Zeta Gene and You!
While the Zeta history is a short one, it is filled with heroics and innovation. You will find yourself among the very forefront of genetic evolution so it is only right to take a moment and look at some highlights before moving on with your new, wonderful life!
The first documented case of Zeta Maturation took place in 1992. Edvin Asther of Astoria, New York went to sleep a normal 21-year-old on the eve of his twenty-second birthday and woke up transformed into what we now know is simply another state of being: Zeta Maturation. Unfortunately, the world did not understand this evolutionary process and he was shot multiple times in the chest and head by local law enforcement officers.
Only a few weeks later, a dozen cases of ‘zombies’ were reported in a small town north of Boston. Panic ensued as the population mistakenly believed an infestation of some kind had broken out. Eight of the young people were killed by a mob while the other four went into hiding. They became known as ‘The Dead To Rights Gang.’ Led by Molly Jamison, the four young adults bravely endured life on the run while pamphleting Boston at every turn. (Go here for .pdf of an original document)
That was just the beginning. Young people the world over were ‘turning,’ but not into the blood-thirsty monsters depicted by Hollywood. The only hint that scientists had to go on was that all had changed overnight on their twenty-second birthday. Money poured into research for a cure. Those in a Z-Status (short for Zombie, though later for Zeta) became a protected minority under law by 1998. The ‘protective custody’ camps were dismantled in 2001 after the landmark case of Maria Turner vs. The United States Government, et al.
While the ‘zombie’ stigma officially died down in the 2010’s, the phrase, ‘Z is the new Black’ took hold. Those who turned had significant difficulty in finding employment and received almost total government support. ‘Ghettos’ of Zeta populations clustered in the big cities around the world, driving out many of the ethnicities that had previously occupied the locations. Despite their proven rationality, ‘normal’ Homo Sapiens had yet to accept living alongside Zeta populations.
The biggest surprise to the world was not the Zetas lack of mindless violence, but the fact that all Zs were vegan. Those who transformed could no longer process animal flesh or products. Even the wearing of leather or fabrics made from animal hairs caused great physical reactions.
In 2017, Dr. Harry Lind of The McCall Institute for Private Research discovered the Zeta gene. While some called him ‘Mengele reborn’ for his experiments on officially willing subjects (Go here for a letter believed to be smuggled out of The McCall Institute from one of the unnamed subjects.) Dr. Lind and his team not only discovered the Zeta gene, but developed the definitive research tome used by medical professionals the world over. Once the maturation levels stabilized, Dr. Lind determined that only one person in two-hundred and eighty-seven in the population is born with the Zeta gene.
What Being Zeta Means for You!
The world is a different place today. In 2061, we know just how special those with the Zeta gene are. You will have enhanced…
Frankie looked up from the holo-tab and grimaced at the stark white walls of the clinic. There was no way she was Z, not a chance. Every kid got tested at birth so those with the gene could prepare for ‘the early change of life’ and not get sucker-punched. But it wouldn’t be an STD because she’d taken all her vaccines at the start of the semester, like everyone else.
Not that I have time to screw around, Frankie thought with a sigh. Why did I think a double major was a good idea again?
Frankie looked up at the nurse’s call and set aside the holographic-tablet she’d been given. Most of the history stuff she’d already known and the weird bio changes Zs went through weren’t something she wanted to get into. Standing, she said, “That’s me.”
“This way, please.”
Frankie walked through the laser shield and into the exam area, the familiar tingle of the bio-hazard deterrant barely registering. It was a short hall with three doors on each side and a floor-scaler at the back end.
“On the scaler, please.”
Frankie rolled her eyes, but stepped on the panel that took her height, weight, pulse, temperature, and a holographic body scan. The two minute procedure felt like the air around her had warmed a couple of degrees, but didn’t make her sweat despite her winter clothes.
When it beeped its completion, the nurse said, “This way.”
They walked into a small room and Frankie sat on the narrow exam bed. “Can you just tell me what this is about? I’ve got a serious test I need studying for.”
The nurse’s professional smile gave nothing away. “The doctor will be in to see you shortly.”
As the woman turned away, though, Frankie saw the smile slip into something softer, almost pitying. Stiffening, Frankie opened her mouth to demand answers when the door closed firmly behind the nurse.
Too agitated to sit, Frankie hopped off the bed and walked around, poking into the various drawers and reading the wall posters. ‘How to Prevent Bone Loss’ and ‘Gallstones Hurt Everyone’ didn’t really apply to most kids on campus. It made her wonder if the same firm decorated every single medical exam room on the planet regardless of specialty.
The door opened again and Frankie spun around to see an older man with graying hair and glasses.
Pretentious, she thought. No one needs glasses anymore.
His professional smile and hearty tone of voice didn’t lessen that impression. “Afternoon, there, Ms. Pierce! Can I call you Franklyn?”
Frankie scowled. “No. What’s going on?”
“Please, have a seat.”
“Not until you tell me what the problem is!”
The doctor held up both hands, placating, and said, “Now, now. No reason to get upset. It seems there was a tiny little mix-up in your birth testing that wasn’t caught until you came in last month with that bloody nose that wouldn’t stop.”
Frankie’s stomach tightened with fear and she sat. “I’m not Z?”
She’d meant to sound definitive. Firm. Strong. It came out more like a whimper.
His smile returned and said, “Why yes you are! How perceptive. But then, most Zetas are. I’m going to send you home with a bunch of reading materials and how your life will change. Superficially, of course. Zetas are just as smart as Homo Sapiens if a bit less… communicative.”
“I can’t be Z,” Frankie said. “I can’t! How could this happen? How could someone not have known?”
He patted her on the shoulder and said, “I know this is a shock, but really. Your life won’t change all that much.”
It wasn’t like Frankie meant to punch him unconscious. Just, one second his smarmy face was beaming down at her like some kind of sadistic Santa and the next, her fist throbbed and the doctor was flat on the floor.
She looked down at him and sighed. “Crap.”
* * * *
The Disciplinary Committee went pretty light on her, all things considered. Two week suspension and academic probation.
That, of course, turned into Two Weeks of Hell at Home.
The moment Frankie walked through the door with a faux-cheerful, “I’m home!” her mother walked into the living room, took one look at her, and burst into tears. Tears from her mom pretty much dominated the whole two weeks. That and the stoic, yet apologetic looks her dad kept giving her. As much as Frankie loved her parents, she couldn’t wait to leave.
The night before she was due to go back, her dad cornered her on the back porch. Snow covered their postage-stamp backyard, making disturbing shapes of her old playground. She wondered what it would look like to her in four months and three days.
The mental countdown to her twenty-second birthday had started the day of her disastrous doctor visit.
“I signed you up for a Zeta support group,” her dad said bluntly. “And you’re going to go if I have to hire someone to kidnap you to every meeting.”
Frankie’s lips pursed and she gave him a thoughtful look. “Or you could just give me the money as a bribe to make me go.”
“Where’s the fun in that?”
They shared a grin and Frankie relaxed a little. Enough so that when he draped an arm over her shoulder and kissed the top of her head, she leaned against him.
“I love you, Kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
* * * *
Frankie wasn’t surprised to find her roommate Vanessa had moved out by the time she got back to campus. She also wasn’t surprised that no one had been assigned to take her place. While officially, no one could use her new Zeta status against her, no one roomed with a Z unless they were forced to do so. She couldn’t even hold it against Vanessa; Frankie was guiltily sure that she’d have done the exact same thing.
Staring at herself in the mirror the next morning (4 mos, 2 days), Frankie saw a pretty girl with deep, coffee-colored skin, amber eyes, and a firm, fit body. She tried to imagine herself with the black veiny patterns all over like some kind of tattoo run amok and just couldn’t. She also couldn’t picture herself bald, without her perfect, short Afro.
Frankie’s hands went up to her hair and she cried.
* * * *
Zs 2 B met every other Thursday in a nondescript class room in the science building. Frankie couldn’t figure out if that was some kind of subtle threat or just bad taste, given the history of experimentation.
When she arrived, she was surprised to find almost a dozen students already there, chatting. She didn’t know any of them, but then, she didn’t have any friends on campus and didn’t belong to any groups, so that wasn’t a huge shocker. She was startled by how many there were, but the campus held almost fifteen thousand students, so maybe she shouldn’t be.
A short girl with unnaturally red hair, a bunch of piercings in what had to be painful places – Cheek bone? Really? – bounced over to Frankie. “Hi there! I’m Merri. You must be Franklyn. Jase told me you were coming. New blood bwahahaha! Just kidding. We don’t really drink blood. Or eat brains. So this is totally new for you, huh? That rots. We were just talking about how the system is probably screwing shit up all over. It’s just umph!”
One of the larger guys had walked over during Merri’s word vomit and wrapped his hand around her mouth to stop the flow. He was blond with blue eyes and a perfect Adonis in every way. Smiling, he said, “Don’t mind Merri. She’s a bit of a hover-flux. I’m Rick.”
Merri stomped on his in-step which caused Rick to gasp and hop a few steps away. She gave him a sweet smile and said, “I warned you the last time what would happen next time if you did that again.”
“Okay everyone, have a seat. Time to get started.”
Frankie looked over at the new voice and saw a man in his thirties with floppy brown hair and brown eyes, wearing jeans and a fisherman’s sweater. He seemed too casually dressed to be a professor or older student.
He smiled at her and said, “You must be Franklyn. I’m Professor Jason Trainor, but you can call me Jase. Your dad called me and told me about your situation. Can I call you Frankie?”
Uncomfortable with everyone still staring at her, Frankie nodded and sat at one of the chairs. Merri sat beside her and beamed at her like they were new best friends.
A circle had been set up and everyone took a seat. There was a single chair empty when everyone settled and Jase sighed. “Anyone seen Screw lately?”
“I think she had to work today,” one of the others said.
Another shook her head and countered, “No, she’s just not coming anymore. Only two weeks left so why bother, right?”
Merri leaned close to Frankie and said, “Sarah Crew, S. Crew. Screw. She did it to herself, believe it or not. Said she’d rather…”
“Merri. Stop with the gossip. Screw’s got a right to be called whatever she wants,” Jase interrupted. “All right. Let’s get started. Rick?”
Rick sat up a little straighter and said, “My name is Rick Schaeffer and I’ve got seven months and eight days before moving onto the next, fulfilling phase of my life.”
“My name is Merri Louis and I’m a year, three months, and four days from the next awesome phase of life!”
They went around the circle like that and then it was Frankie’s turn and she blanked. “I, I don’t. Sorry.”
Jase gave her a gentle smile. “It’s okay. This is all overwhelming for you, I’m sure. Do you know any Zetas?”
“Never been around any either, I bet.”
“So you’re probably pretty scared.”
Frankie bit back the tears that tried desperately to fall. She wasn’t that girl. She didn’t fall apart.
Jase leaned forward in his chair and said, “It’s okay to be scared, angry, or freaked the fuck out. Or all of the above. Really. This is the place to lose it, if you’re going to.”
“Not in a doctor’s office,” Merri teased.
Rick snorted. “Like none of us wanted to punch Doc Masters in the face at some point.”
Jase grinned and said, “Officially, I’m shocked to hear that. Unofficially, he really is a jackass.”
Chatter relaxed from there and the focus shifted from Frankie, letting her breathe easier. It was a little comforting to know that she wasn’t the only one with a countdown. They not only acknowledged it, but openly touted it. By the end of the hour-long session, Frankie wasn’t quite as on the ledge as when she’d entered, which was probably the reason the group existed.
Merri and Rick fell into step with her when the group broke up, one to either side. “I’m dying for a burger. I’m gonna miss burgers.”
Rick rolled his eyes and then looked at Frankie. “You want to grab lunch?”
Frankie shrugged. “Sure.”
They got tons of stares on entering the local burger joint. Frankie took a page from Rick and Merri’s book and ignored everyone. Merri talked almost nonstop, which Frankie had grown to expect in their short acquaintance, but it was fun to listen to her. And she was hilarious with all the arm gestures. Rick seemed to know exactly when to move his drink to save it from her flailing limbs. They were almost done eating when Frankie realized he was in love with Merri. It was there in his fond looks, the protective way he sat on the outside of the booth, and his extremely forbearing nature. Nothing she did phased him.
That got her to wondering, Will I ever fall in love? Do Zs even feel love like that?
Rick insisted on paying for lunch and asked, “You want a walk back to your dorm?”
Frankie blinked at him in surprise. “Because of the dangerous, sunny campus? I think I’m fine.”
“I’d carry a low-laze, just in case,” Merri said, the most serious she’d been all day. “Some of the guys like to hassle lone Zeta girls. No stepping over the line yet, not with the mega punishments, but no reason not to take steps. Zap ’em and run, that’s my motto.”
It had honestly never occurred to Frankie that her new status might put her in danger.
“Here, give me your comm.”
Frankie held out her hand and Rick’s large one cradled it from below. He typed lightly on the clear plasticene on the back of her hand, thick fingers oddly graceful.
“There you go. My info’s set so just comm me if you need help. I’ll get to you fast as I can. Although, the one punch you took Doc Masters down with tells me you can handle yourself.” Rick grinned and gently squeezed her hand before releasing it.
Merri said, “My turn!” before grabbing Frankie’s hand and doing the same. Then she gave Frankie an unexpected hug and tucked her arms around one of Rick’s. They waved goodbye and headed towards the Stouffer dorms.
Frankie walked in the opposite direction to the Battaglia dorms. She had a lot of studying to catch up on and a class in forty-five minutes. She was almost there when the hairs on the back of her neck rose in warning. Frankie turned sharply and looked around, but saw only other students wandering around. No one seemed to be paying her any attention.
She turned back around and stopped short to find a petite blonde blocking the way. She was lovely, with wide gray eyes, high cheekbones, and perfect, pale skin… except for a small black line just under her right ear. Pre-Z, Frankie realized, and the only one she hadn’t met was… “You’re Screw.”
The young woman smiled broadly and said, “I see my rep precedes me.”
“More like process of elimination,” Frankie retorted. “Can I help you?”
“Nope. Just looking out for the newb. You’re heading into a trap, btw.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Bunch of girls in your dorm rigged a bucket of spew over your door. Must’ve actually eaten a lot to get that kinda volume.”
“They wouldn’t…” Frankie’s voice trailed off as she thought about the girls she’d never really made friends with over the last three years. Vanessa had been her only really connection to that world.
Screw’s gray eyes twinkled with humor and she started walking. “C’mon, newb. Let’s have some fun.”
Frankie hurried after her and asked, “What kind of fun? I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
Looking up at her, Screw’s eyebrows rose. She stopped and said, “You are trouble. Just existing, you’re a blight on their pretty little world. Get used to it. They’re gonna haze you ’til you leave unless you make a stand right here and now. Or call it quits, go home to your parents until the change, and decide what to do with your life then.”
Frankie bit her lip. “What are you going to do? You know. After.”
Screw smirked and held out a small, delicate hand. “I’m gonna be the first Z in space. You wanna come? We’ll go together.”
Frankie’s stomach tightened as she looked into Screw’s eyes. Throwing caution to the wind for the first time in her life, she took the other woman’s hand and asked, “Can I call you Sarah?”
Screw laced their fingers together and her smile tightened, brittle. “Sure. Just don’t wear it out. Now c’mon. Let’s go dirty up some sorority girls.”
Frankie laughed for the first time in weeks and felt like maybe, just maybe, things would be okay.
* * * *
The Disciplinary Committee went fairly easy on her, all things considered. Mitigating factors like the attempt at a vomit haze helped ease the punishment for turning thirty girls in her dorm canary yellow via the showers – something supposed to be impossible since the facilities department locked down and partitioned the water systems after the Purple Paint Incident of 2047. Her academic probation took a hit which meant she was one incident away from expulsion, but no suspension.
It turned out Sarah was some kind of computer genius and could get anything connected to do whatever she wanted. Not that she took credit for the shower incident or it would’ve rendered the whole thing moot. The girls had to be afraid that Frankie would do it again, or worse, in order to leave her alone.
Frankie had two countdowns in her head: her own (3 months, 27 days), and Sarah’s (12 days). Sarah popped up when she least expected it. At the library with a hot chocolate while Frankie studied for a test (10 days). Walking to the dorm after class and giving her a wink and a fresh daisy at the door before disappearing again (8 days). Grabbing her from behind and pushing her into a copse of trees to snog the hell out of her and leave Frankie wanting more (6 days).
A horn honked from above, startling Frankie. She looked up just as a 2-person zoomer set down on the grass. She wasn’t surprised to find Sarah in the driver’s seat of the vaguely dragonfly-looking vehicle with it’s long body and bulbed front. She leaned on the dash with a broad smile. She pushed a button and the passenger’s side globe door opened. “Hey there, cutie. Want a ride?”
Frankie laughed at the absurdly lecherous wriggle of Sarah’s eyebrows. “Sure.”
Five days before Sarah’s Maturation, Frankie made love with someone for the first time. The long, drugging kisses felt heightened by the emotions already entangled with the daring woman she’d gotten to know over the last week.
When it was over, wrapped around Sarah from behind with the sweat cooling between them, Frankie nuzzled the back of her head and sighed in deep contentment. It had been so much better than just sex. She didn’t know if it was love, but it was definitely something. Not even the cheesy motel room and noisy neighbors lessened the experience.
“I was going to kill myself before I met you.” Sarah’s quiet words sent a rush of fear through Frankie and her arms tightened. Soft hands rubbed soothingly over Frankie’s arms and she said, “I’m not, now, don’t worry. Now that there’s you.”
Frankie whispered, “Why?”
Sarah turned around and buried her face against the curve of Frankie’s neck. “Because there was no one to follow and no one waiting. Most Zs have someone to go with. I don’t know if its something innate, that we find our soulmates before the change or what, but all I saw was an empty life ahead of me. Bad enough to have that when you’re human, but a Z? No. I wasn’t going to put myself through that. I bought a gun, you know, with those lead bullets? I was doing to make it a quick, one-shot thing. And then I saw you and just knew.”
Frankie hugged her tight, shaking with reaction to how close she’d come to never knowing this wonderful, capricious, somewhat bloody-minded woman.
“I’m glad I’m going first. I can show you there’s nothing to fear,” Sarah whispered.
* * * *
The black lines that Frankie had seen while making love with Sarah grew worse. Or, if worse was the wrong word, more plentiful. Raised curlicues against pale skin. Every time Frankie touched one, Sarah shivered, but couldn’t – or wouldn’t – say whether it was in pleasure or pain or something else.
And then it came. Zero night. Sarah’s birthday. The start of a new life and the ending of the old. It seemed fitting that she was a New Year’s baby.
They spent the night at a small, one-room cabin borrowed from Rick’s parents in Maine. They had to use the zoomer to get there with the roads snowed out, and didn’t talk much as they started a fire, made a final shared meal of steak and potatoes in the small oven. The food sat like a disgusting lump in Frankie’s stomach but the two glasses of wine helped settle her down.
The sleeping bags were spread out in front of the fire, though Frankie didn’t expect to get any sleep. Sarah moved more and more sluggishly throughout the day. After dinner, she stumbled to the bathroom and stayed there for a good twenty minutes under the shower. Frankie didn’t bother her, knowing how she needed space to deal with things.
It should be weirder, knowing so much about someone in such a short time. Maybe Sarah’s right. Maybe we were fated to be together, Frankie mused, waiting in front of the fire.
Sarah finally walked out of the bathroom and sank onto the sleeping bags with a groan. “I don’t feel good.”
Frankie arranged herself to sit with her back against the sofa and urged Sarah’s head onto her thighs. She rubbed her hand gently over the bald scalp; her long-blonde hair had been braided and then shaveded off two days ago. The braid was in Frankie’s dresser. A keepsake of their youth for later, maybe.
“It’s okay. Just sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
It wasn’t midnight exactly, closer to one in the morning, that Sarah stopped breathing. Even knowing what to expect now, Frankie’s own breath stopped in fear. Her hand rested over the thin tee, cradling the left breast and not feeling the heartbeat below. It was almost five minutes later when she felt the first thump of a renewed, much-slower heartbeat. Frankie let out a sob of relief and collapsed back against the sofa.
The emotional toll combined with the staggering relief and Frankie fell asleep without meaning to. She woke up to find herself alone and panicked. Staggering to her feet, Frankie rushed to the bathroom but it was empty. She ran to the front door and shouted, “Sarah! Sarah, where are you?”
The zoomer was still in place and there was a path in the snow, indicating someone had walked through its waist-deep depths. Frankie grabbed her jacket, shoved her feet in the boots, and ran back to the door just as Sarah walked slowly into sight.
The petite woman moved at a steady, unhurried pace, listing slightly to the right. Her arms hung loose at her sides and she wore nothing more than the tee and jeans from the night before. The cold didn’t affect her anymore, Frankie remembered. The black veins stood out in sharp relief against her pale face and scalp, but the pattern looked complete now. Frankie couldn’t have said how, but felt it deep in her bones.
Frankie backed up when Sarah entered the cabin. Neither spoke for a few seconds and then Sarah held out her hand and smiled. Frankie laced their fingers together.
“No worry. Is good.” The gray eyes that had captured her from the start held a milky glaze, but were undeniably Sarah.
Frankie threw her arm around Sarah’s neck, pulling her close. Sarah let go of her hand and wrapped both arms around her and they stood together until Frankie started shivered from the open door.
Sarah pulled back and grimaced, but the twinkle in her eyes remained. “Puny. Hooman. Shut door and. Eat. Oooh. Spinach?”
Frankie laughed at the delight in her lover’s eyes as she clearly just remembered the large bags of organic greens they’d brought for this day. “Yeah, okay. Let’s eat.”
Breakfast was a far cry from dinner the night before, light-hearted with lots of stop-and-go explanations from Sarah about the explosion of her senses as a Zeta. Frankie listened eagerly to make sure that Sarah really was fine. That the woman she cared about… loved… was still the same inside. The odd speech patterns, the baldness, the slow movements… none of that mattered.
Frankie would do what nature intended and mature into a Zeta no matter what. That someone she loved traveled the same path, supporting and loving her back… Human or Zeta, wasn’t that what everyone wanted in the end?