When they came to kill the Zed, it was a nice day.
It was Illinois, probably, or one of those states that start with an I. Indiana. Iowa. wIsconsin. Fields, but not the postcard kind. No picturesque barns. No aesthetically rusted farm equipment. Just stubbled field. The sky was very blue. The rubbled end-of-season wheat fields were very bright and pale. Everything was very clear. It was like an ocean vacation, without the ocean. Bisecting the landscape was a highway: very flat, very straight, gray-white with salt.
A single vehicle was visible, a semi truck with a clean red cab and a trailer that read LIVING SOLUTIONS • ATLANTA • NEW YORK • NASHVILLE. These words were accompanied by a black-and-white line drawing of an Edwardian chair, but there were no chairs inside the truck. They were inside it. The Moderators. The home team, the winning team, the ones who were working hard every day to keep the end of the world at bay. Or at least that was what the writing on the tin promised: an assemblage of reasonable adults gathered together to stop a supernatural menace most people were unaware existed—Zeds.
Zed, as in z, as in zzzzz, as in sleep, which was when Zeds became weapons. Zed, as in zero, as in how much of the world would be left if the Moderators didn’t step in.
Not many noble callings left in the world, but surely this was one.
Bellos drove the furniture truck, even though he had freshly lost his arm. Ramsay rode in the passenger seat. He was picking his nose and wiping it on the door in an aggressive way, daring Bellos to say something. Bellos did not. He had other things to think about, like missing his arm. He also thought about the creatures that had torn it off in Declan Lynch’s townhome not too long before. Those hounds! Inky black hounds with eyes and mouths of baleful fire, the stuff of myth. What had come first? Had Zeds dreamt the monsters who became the thing of legend? Or had legends inspired the Zeds to make the imaginary reality?
Somewhere, he was thinking, those monsters still existed. Solid and gas, living and deathless. They followed entirely different rules than humanity, so humanity couldn’t defeat them.
This was why the Zeds had to die. They were breaking everything.
Bellos and Ramsay were not alone on this trip. Normally they would’ve been, but everyone was spooked. They’d never had a Zed get away before. They’d never had two Zeds get away before. They’d never had six Zeds get away and not been able to figure out what the problem was. It was hard not to blame it on the first three who’d gotten away, the ones on the banks of the Potomac.
It was time for the big guns. The back of the furniture truck brimmed with more Moderators.
It really was a nice day.
Somewhere up ahead was the Zed’s trailer. A supernatural vision had established the general look of where they might find the Zed, and local law enforcement had helped them narrow it down even further. If all was going according to plan, the Airstream was a few dozen yards off the highway up ahead. If all continued going according to plan, in twenty-five minutes, any large chunks of the Airstream still remaining, plus the Zed’s body, would be loaded in the back of the furniture truck. And if the plan truly loved them in a meaningful and lasting way, their Visionary would then stop being tormented by all-consuming visions of an end of the world brought about by Zeds.
“Approaching the target,” Bellos said into his handheld radio.
From inside the back of the truck, Lock, their superior, rumbled in his deep voice, “Keep your eyes about you.”
“Copy,” said Ramsay, although he could have just said “okay.”
Lock’s voice came over the radio again. “Carmen, are you still there?”
The radio crackled, and a clear, professional voice said, “Two miles back. Would you like us closer?”
This voice belonged to Carmen Farooq-Lane, another Moderator. She sat behind the wheel of a bullet-ridden rental car, impeccably dressed in a pale linen suit, her dark hair pulled back into a soft updo, her wrists adorned with slender gold threads, her lashes long and curled. In a former life, before her brother had turned out to be both a Zed and a serial killer, Farooq-Lane had been a young executive at a financial management company. That life had been shot dead, just like her serial killer Zed brother, Nathan, but the apocalypse wasn’t going to find her looking as if she had given up.
“Just don’t go far,” Lock said. “Unless you need to.”
He didn’t mean unless you need to, though. He meant unless Liliana needs to. Liliana, like all Visionaries, became a living bomb during her visions. She also changed ages within her timeline during these visions. This latter fact was really more of a novelty item. No one died because Liliana the girl became Liliana the old woman, or vice versa. No, people died because while she was having visions, the insides of their bodies exploded. The other Visionaries had learned to turn this energy inward so they didn’t kill bystanders—albeit with the drawback that this method eventually killed the Visionaries instead.
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