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Zom-B Mission

Darren Shan

  First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd


  Copyright © 2014 by Darren Shan

  Illustrations © Warren Pleece

  This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.

  No reproduction without permission.

  All rights reserved.

  The right of Darren Shan to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

  1st Floor

  222 Gray’s Inn Road

  London WC1X 8HB

  Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

  Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

  A CIP catalogue copy for this book is available from the British Library.

  HB ISBN: 978-0-85707-776-9

  EBOOK ISBN: 978-0-85707-779-0

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY


  the real Biddy Barry, AKA Momma Shan!

  OBE (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Nick Stearn – a designer on a mission!

  Editorial missionaries:

  Venetia Gosling

  Kate Sullivan

  plus new zombie on the block

  Elv Moody

  Mission control:

  the Christopher Little Agency.


  THEN . . .

  NOW . . .
























  THEN . . .

  Becky Smith’s father was a bully and a racist. She lived a double life under his reign. For instance her best friend, Vinyl, was black, so she could never talk about him at home. Her favourite teacher, Mr Burke, was of mixed race, so she had to pretend to dislike him.

  B never stood up to her abusive father. It was easier to play along and act as if she was racist too. She didn’t think any harm could come of it. Until the day of the zombie uprising. As she was trying to escape from her school, her dad screamed at her to throw a black boy to a pack of advancing zombies to stall them. Accustomed to doing whatever he told her, she obeyed.

  Horrified by what she had done, B at last told her father what she truly thought of him and fled. When she was turned into a zombie soon after, part of her was glad. It meant she wouldn’t have to live with her shame and guilt.

  But B had been injected with a secret vaccine when she was a child. It gave her the ability to fight the zombie gene and regain her senses. Death was not the end for Miss Smith.

  After a spell of captivity in an underground complex run by the army, B escaped and wound her way across London. She found temporary shelter with an artist who lived in an old brewery on Brick Lane. Later she crossed paths with the homicidal clown, Mr Dowling, and Owl Man, a bizarre-looking individual with the largest eyes she had ever seen.

  B was eventually offered refuge by Dr Oystein, a century-old zombie who was leading the fight to restore order to the world. He claimed to be a servant of God, given a heavenly mandate to combat the forces of darkness. He had assembled a team of conscious, revitalised zombies and christened them Angels.

  Wary of Dr Oystein and his religious beliefs, B left his base in County Hall. Returning to the studio of her artist friend, Timothy, she discovered him nursing an eerie, genderless baby with hellish eyes. She had dreamt of babies like this when she was alive. It even spoke the same way that the babies in her nightmares had.

  There was a spike through the baby’s head. When B removed it, the baby shrieked and summoned a horde of zombies from the streets. They killed Timothy and took the baby away. Before it departed, it asked B to come with them, but she wanted nothing to do with the monstrous infant.

  After she’d buried Timothy, B made her way back to County Hall and pledged herself to Dr Oystein and his cause. She was now willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt, seeing the baby from her dreams as possible evidence that this was a world of mysterious, godly influence.

  B trained hard with the other Angels. She didn’t trust them all – especially a thug called Rage, who had betrayed her in the underground complex – and spurned their offers of friendship, not wanting to get close to anyone after she had lost so many friends and relatives.

  One day, while on a scouting mission, she was kidnapped by a living hunter. He delivered her to the Board, a group of powerful tyrants who made her fight and kill other zombies. B seemed doomed until Dr Oystein and his Angels boarded the ship and set her free. When she saw how they had risked their lives to help her, she put her misgivings aside and committed herself totally to the cause. She had at last found a true home, and friends to share it with.

  NOW . . .


  I’m in Timothy’s gallery, the Old Truman Brewery, on Brick Lane. It’s quiet and cool. Daylight filters through the cracks in the boards covering the windows.

  The last thing Timothy asked, before he was killed by a mob of zombies, was that I take care of his paintings. He thought he had been given a commission by God, that it was his duty to record the downfall of London, so that future generations could study his pictures of this terrible time and learn from them.

  Timothy was mad as a hatter but he was a nice guy. I feel like I owe him, since I was the one who set free the grisly baby who called the zombies down upon him, so I’ve come here several times since he died, to dump the food he had stocked up, wash the bloodstains from the floor and generally make sure that everything is in order.

  There are hundreds of paintings stacked against the walls, spread throughout the various rooms. Some are hanging too. I rotate the pictures on display whenever I come, swapping them round, choosing new examples from the many on offer. I think Timothy would have liked that.

  I’m holding one of the paintings, studying it critically, trying to decide whether or not it deserves a spot on the wall. It’s a painting of a zombie tucking into the skull of a dead woman. It must have been dangerous for Timothy, getting that close, but he was always reckless. Anything to get a good angle.

  A wild flower sprouts from a crack in the pavement close to the dead woman’s head. It’s more brightly coloured than the corpse or the zombie, its petals painted in glorious yellows and pinks. The flower makes this painting stand out, but at the same time it makes it look a bit arty-farty. I’m sure the flower was real – Timothy only painted what he saw – but because of the way he’s highlighted it, it doesn’t look real.

  I know I’m being silly, hesitating like this. Nobody’s going to pass through here any time soon. I’m Timothy’s only audience, and probably will continue to be for many years to come. It makes no difference whether I give this pride of place on a wall or jam it behind a load of other paintings.

  Still, it matters to me. I never paid much attention to art when I was alive, but I’ve been getting into it since I settled in at County Hall. I’ve spent much of my free time scouring galleries and reading about the history of art. It’s become an interesting hob
by, a way of keeping boredom at bay when I’m not training with the other Angels.

  I’ve no artistic talent, but arranging Timothy’s paintings is a way for me to creatively express myself. So I study the painting with the flower one last time, forehead creased as if I’m attempting to crack a difficult puzzle. Finally I snort and return it to the pile, at least for the time being. I might grant it wall space in the future, but not today.

  As I’m carefully slotting the painting back into place, there’s a loud thumping sound on the staircase behind me.

  I whirl and adopt a defensive position. I flex my fingers, getting ready to slash with the bones sticking out of them if I’m attacked. I don’t have a heart, not since it was ripped from my chest, but my mind remembers what anxiety was like when I was alive, and I imagine the sound of my quickening heartbeat inside my head.

  I don’t call out. I don’t move. I just stand silently and wait.

  There’s another thumping noise, this time closer to the top of the stairs. I grit my teeth and suppress a shiver. Zombies don’t scare me. Nor do the living. But this could be Mr Dowling, Owl Man or that nightmarish baby. Maybe it sniffed me out and returned to finish the job. It let me go when it was here before. Maybe it changed its mind and came back to send me the way of poor Timothy.

  Another thump, this one almost at the very top stair. I frown. By now I should be able to see whoever is making the noise. But there’s no sign of anyone.

  The silence stretches out. Then someone moans my name.

  ‘Beckyyyyyy . . .’

  I growl softly and relax. ‘You think you’re clever, don’t you?’

  ‘I don’t think it,’ comes the cheerful response. ‘I know it!’

  Then Rage stands up from where he had been lying on the stairs and grins at me. I shoot him the finger and go back to appraising the paintings, trying to act as if the annoying hulk isn’t here, hiding my relief, not wanting him to know that he really did spook me. Admit to being scared? Not in this unlife! And definitely not to a cynical, bullying piece of trash like Rage. I’d rather claw out my own eyes than give that creep the satisfaction of knowing how close he’d come to making a dead girl shiver.


  ‘Aren’t you surprised to see me?’ Rage asks when I continue to ignore him.

  ‘Nothing about you surprises me,’ I sniff.

  ‘Don’t you want to know how I found you?’ he presses.

  ‘I’m guessing you followed me from County Hall.’

  Rage chuckles and scratches the hole in his left cheek where he was bitten by a zombie when he was turned. Wisps of green moss sprout from it, like the world’s worst designer beard.

  ‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ Rage says. ‘I wouldn’t waste my time following the likes of you.’

  ‘Yet here you are . . .’ I purr.

  ‘I’m not alone,’ he says. ‘My partner wanted to check this place out.’

  ‘What poor sap is lonely and desperate enough to hang out with you?’ I sneer as someone else comes up the stairs behind Rage. Then I spot who it is and wince. ‘Mr Burke. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to slag you off.’

  Billy Burke waves away my apology. ‘If I’d known you were here, I wouldn’t have disturbed you. But we were passing and I remembered you telling me about this place. I was keen to see the paintings. We can leave if you’d prefer to be alone.’

  ‘No, that’s OK, come in. I’ll give you the grand tour.’

  Burke used to be my biology teacher. He was the best we had in our school, one of the few teachers I respected. He also saw the real me long before I did. He told me I was heading down the same racist path as my dad, warned me that I needed to change. I ignored him. Back then I thought I knew myself better than anybody else did.

  I’ve often wondered how things might have turned out if I’d listened to him. Maybe I wouldn’t have thrown poor Tyler Bayor to the zombies. Maybe I’d have survived the zombie apocalypse. Maybe I wouldn’t be spending my nights staring at the ceiling, thinking about the blood I have on my hands, wishing I was truly dead.

  Burke hooked up with Dr Oystein after London fell and worked as a spy in the underground complex where I was being held when I recovered my senses. That’s where we met again. He convinced the soldiers to feed me brains to keep my senses intact. I’d be a mindless killer zombie if not for his help. He saw something in me worth fighting for. Even though I thought I was worthless, he didn’t agree, and he did all that he could to save me and steer me right.

  In an ideal world, if we were able to choose our parents, I’d pick Billy Burke for my father without a second’s hesitation. Not that I’ll ever tell him that, or even hint at it. I don’t want him thinking I’m a soppy git.

  I show Burke round the gallery. He’s fascinated by the paintings, though he finds some of them hard to look at—the living are far more sensitive about these things than the undead. Rage is less impressed and keeps yawning behind Burke’s back, trying to wind me up. I treat him with the contempt he deserves and don’t even reward him with another flash of my finger.

  ‘There are so many,’ Burke murmurs after a while, shaking his head at the piles of paintings resting against the walls. ‘He must have painted like a machine.’

  ‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘It was his entire life. He knew his time would probably be cut short, so he crammed in as much as he could.’

  ‘Have you looked at them all?’ Burke asks.

  ‘Most of them, though there are still a few buried away in places that I haven’t got to yet.’

  ‘And did he arrange the paintings on the walls or have you hung them?’

  I fight a proud smile. ‘He hung a lot of them, but I’ve been switching them and alternating the display.’

  ‘Are you looking to get a job as a curator?’ Rage asks sweetly.

  ‘Get stuffed,’ I snap.

  Burke makes a shushing gesture. ‘This collection is quite something, B,’ he says. ‘Thank you for sharing it with us.’

  ‘Any time,’ I tell him happily. ‘But what were you doing out this way in the first place? And with Rage, of all people.’

  ‘What’s wrong with me?’ Rage barks, taking a step towards me, his beady eyes glinting in the dim light.

  ‘Easy,’ Burke soothes him. ‘I’d have thought that the pair of you would have settled your differences by now.’

  ‘It’s hard to settle your differences with a guy who pushes you off the London Eye,’ I snarl.

  Rage cackles. ‘You’re not still sore about that, are you?’

  ‘I’ll return the favour sometime,’ I jeer. ‘See how long it takes you to forget.’

  Rage fakes a sigh and pulls a wounded expression. ‘See how she baits me, sir? Some people just can’t find forgiveness within themselves.’

  ‘Grow up, Michael,’ Burke says witheringly, using Rage’s real name to show his annoyance. Then he stares at me. ‘I thought you fell off the Eye.’

  I wince, remembering I hadn’t told anyone what really happened up there. It’s no big secret. I just didn’t want people thinking I was a grass. I can deal with my own problems.

  ‘That’s right,’ I mumble. ‘I did fall.’

  Burke frowns and starts to ask a question. Then he shakes his head. ‘Not my business,’ he says and goes back down the stairs. Rage scowls at me, then trails after Burke. I follow.

  There’s a trolley on the ground floor, stacked high with folders and files. Burke nods at them. ‘That’s why we were passing. I’ve been researching something. The records I’m interested in don’t seem to have ever been transferred to computer, so I’ve had to track down hard copies. I finally found them in a building north of here. It’s a place where a secretive branch of the army used to keep their paperwork, one of a number of hiding-holes scattered around the city. I got the addresses when I was working for Josh Massoglia and I’ve been checking them out. Most of the buildings have been gutted, but this one seems to have been overlooked. I spent a few days gathering the documents I was
after and asked Rage to help me transport them back to County Hall, so that I could go through them in my spare time.’

  ‘You should have asked me,’ I frown. ‘I’d have helped.’

  ‘I know,’ Burke smiles. ‘But the files are heavy. I needed a brute with lots of muscles.’

  ‘And they don’t come more brute than me,’ Rage says, puffing himself up.

  ‘What are you looking for?’ I ask.

  ‘Probably nothing important,’ Burke says. ‘I just have an itch I need to scratch. You know what it’s like when something bugs you and you can’t let it drop?’

  ‘Yeah. Do you want a hand going through the files?’

  ‘It’s kind of you to offer, but no, I’d rather do it myself. As I said, I doubt it’s important, so I don’t want to waste anybody’s time other than my own.’

  ‘It’ll take you months to plough through that lot,’ I note.

  ‘No,’ he says. ‘I know what I’m looking for. I’ll be able to skim through the pages pretty quickly. But maybe you can help push the trolley. Rage was starting to struggle.’

  ‘No I wasn’t,’ Rage shouts, then catches Burke’s grin and relaxes.

  Burke turns to leave, then spots a painting hanging on a nearby wall and stalls. It’s one of the most disturbing pictures in the gallery. I gave it a wall to itself, even though it’s not a large canvas.

  The crazed clown, Mr Dowling, dominates the painting. Timothy captured him in all his finery, the v-shaped gouges cut through the flesh of his face from his eyes down to his mouth, the pinstripe suit, severed faces pinned to his shoulders, lengths of gut wound round his arms, clumps of hair stapled to his skull.

  Owl Man is nearby, with his pot belly, white hair, pale skin and those incredibly large eyes. There are also several mutants, with their rotting skin and yellow eyes, wearing hoodies.

  Burke edges closer to the painting as if mesmerised. Rage stumbles after him, looking every bit as sombre. The pair stop in front of it and stare in silence.

  ‘Is that Mr Dowling?’ Rage asks.