THE OMEGA DOG
Six Days Ago
"KILL ME!" the Omega Dog shouted.
He lay defenseless at Ken Bishop's feet, lit by the halogen lamps of the sparring cage, just a shaggy torso with one arm and a head. The werewolf's lower intestines steamed in a pile below his gaping abdomen.
Usually the Dogs healed rapidly, but Ken knew Omega Kaiser wouldn't heal. He had witnessed firsthand what the infection had done to the Omega's nemesis, Alpha McLoughlin. The Alpha's golden-haired form now lay decapitated on the concrete behind them, one of many corpses littering the cageâ€”one of many littering the island.
Sick Dogs didn't heal.
Ken should have let the Alpha finish ripping Kaiser apart, should have let him rip the bastard's throat out. But Ken had liked Alpha McLoughlin, before the infection had taken him. So he had put the Alpha out of his misery, he had cut off his head with a sword. Mac would have wanted it that way.
"The messed up thing is," Ken said, still clenching the haft of the executioner's blade, "before this, I would have never met you. But seeing what you've done, I don't have to know you to know that you're a monster."
The Omega's shredded, exposed diaphragm clenched and shuddered at his attempts to draw breath.
"New world," Ken said. "Maybe we're all monsters now." He gripped the handle of the sword in both hands and raised it up.
But something stopped him from bringing it down. This Omega Dog, this pitiful beast before him, had destroyed everything the zombies hadn't. He had enslaved Ken's friends, had pitted them against each other in the sparring cage. He had even pitted Ken against his best friend, Jorge. And for what? For sport?
So even though it had been Alpha McLoughlin who had bitten and infected Ken's girlfriend, Kelly, even though it had been Kelly's germs that had spread across the island like locusts setting upon a cash crop, Ken blamed the Omega Dog for every-thing.
All these stilled corpses, Dog and human alike... Kaiser did not deserve to join them. He deserved to wallow in their shit and gore.
Ken lowered the sword.
"Night," he said. And then he walked out of the sparring cage and latched the gate behind him as Kaiser tried to howl, managing only a wheeze.
* * *
Omega Kaiser lay there for some time after Ken left him in the sparring cage. He stared up at the night sky beyond the halogen lights, up at the uncaring moon. He listened to Ken shouting, echoing, searching. And he felt himself slipping away into deep space.
Lights flashed behind the Omega's eyes, leaving impressions of memories, like sunspots on his retinas caused by radiation from that old Egyptian mirror, the moon.
He saw his Master, Dr. Crispin. Saw him clutching a gaping wound in his throat. Kaiser gulped, tasting the ghost of his Master's blood.
Before his very eyes, the man in the moon transformed, became the gray outlines of Alpha McLoughlin. Infected and unable to heal, the Alpha started healing anyway. Healing, as he was wolfing down chunks he had ripped from Kaiser's body. Chunks like the Omega's leg, and his entire lower half.
Kaiser forced his head up off the concrete. Past his own still chest and everything missing below it, everything spinning and wobbly like the earth, he made out the Alpha Dog's headless corpse, its gory, matted, golden fur.
So that wound hadn't healed. But everything else, thanks to fresh meat...
"Jorge!" Ken shouted, somewhere else on the island. Ears twitching, Kaiser snorted at the sound. The familiar voice helped him reorient himself. The boiling anger helped him find himself.
After all he had done and destroyed, the Omega Dog wanted only to die. But he couldn't now, not like this; he was infected. And more than that, he wanted Ken's head on a plate. Wanted to scoop the brains out with his claws and savor each slippery piece.
Should have killed me, the Omega Dog thought.
He wished there was a way he could die and get revenge simultaneously. It would be almost honorable. Atonement for contributing to the horrible downfall of the best man he had ever known, Alpha McLoughlin.
With his one arm, Kaiser pushed himself over so that he could crawl. The movement dizzied him again, and he lay there for some time, staring at the dust covering the concrete. Then he dragged himself forward, hearing his lower entrails dragging be-hind.
The first corpse Kaiser came upon reeked of something far fouler than death and voided bowels. And it very obviously had hemorrhaged from every orifice and pore.
Infected, he thought, and kept crawling, kept sniffing for something fresh. Some human who had died before being spoiled, or some savory bit tossed aside. But his sense of smell had dulled. He practically had to bury his nose in the piles of gore to make a determination.
The sixth dead man Kaiser came upon lay atop yet another dead man. He saw the blood on the topmost one and figured that he, too, had hemorrhaged. Kaiser sniffed him anyway.
He caught a whiff of something different.
Something stronger, richer.
The Omega Dog pushed the top body off and suddenly the bottom one opened its eyes. The man's pupils focused on Kaiser, and he whimpered, tried to spring up from his hiding place, tried to scream.
But the Omega Dog was faster.
He pinned the man's head to the concrete with his one black-taloned claw and shot forward, snapping his fangs shut on the survivor's throat. Hot blood pumped and pulsed as if Kaiser held a still-beating heart between his jaws.
Skin and muscle and esophagus and veins stretched and tore as the Omega Dog pulled back. And for the briefest second, the man's scream, now just air whistling out of his ruined neck, stirred the Dog's dark fur.
Kaiser gulped down the meat, mostly unchewed, and then shuddered as his body quickly processed it. Because of enzymes, because of catalysts, and because of a mutant thyroid and probiotics, the Omega Dog's metabolism worked incredibly fast.
Almost as fast was the regenerative process. The stump of Kaiser's missing arm began to grow a new length of bone almost immediately. From marrow to spongy bone to compact bone, and all the blood and lymphatic vessels running throughout, his humerus began to take shape out of nothing.
Magic, Dr. Crispin had once called it. Indistinguishable, anyway.
The Omega's sole regret was that he had been nourished by the blood of a coward.
"Jorge!" Ken yelled again, this time from a different part of the island.
Muscles, ligaments, and tendons latched on to the Dog's new growth of bone, and soon the smooth subchondral tissue of his elbow formed, and then the cartilage. Fat and skin accreted as well, but, layer by layer, the whole miracle was slowing down. And then the new growth started to stink and fill with pus.
No, no, no, Kaiser thought.
His victim had relaxed and had grown still beneath his paw. The coward's gaping windpipe had stopped its wet whis-tling.
The Omega Dog knew there was an essence to life, something fleeting. Something that stayed with a dead body only for so long before the cells powered down, leaving nothing but microorganisms and acids and decay.
He tore off another piece of the man's throat before it was too late and quickly gulped it down, shuddering again as his injured arm struggled to heal and grow around the infection.
It would work, but he still had his whole lower body to re-generate, all those complicated organs, his powerful legs. He was surprised he could digest at all, what with the lower third of his gastrointestinal tract exposed and leaking sludge.
Kaiser lifted his head, but barely registered that Ken was now calling out a different name. All he knew was he didn't have much time before Ken Bishop was sailing away from the island and out of his clutches.
He needed legs.
Kaiser found his eyes wandering back to Alpha McLoughlin's corpse. Missing head, but the rest of him...
The Omega Dog grabbed one last bite from his prey and left the rest for later, crawling toward the remains of the Dog who had once been his superior, his general, his Alpha.
The Dogs had been trained to fight as one. Kaiser decided to force the issue.