Michael Thomas Ford
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The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.
Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.
The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.
But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.
The Third Rule of Torching: You can't bring them back.
Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there's the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .
Emily groaned. “All right, I don’t need help with my homework. ” She kicked her feet against the bed. “Come on,” Josh urged. “What’s going on? ” “Fine,” Emily said, as if he’d forced her to talk. “It’s you. You’ve been acting all weird. ” Josh felt a knot of fear form in his gut. What had Emily noticed? He’d been careful not to take Z too often at home. He’d done it a couple of times, but only when he was in his room alone. Then he’d sat up all night playing the hologame. “Yeah, well,” Josh said. “I am pretty weird.
She typed on her keypad, and one section of the brain—the largest—turned blue. “This is the neocortex,” she explained. “This part of the brain is responsible for things such as language development, abstract thought, and consciousness. ” She continued on to the second section, which was within the brain, surrounded by the neocortex. “This is the limbic system,” she explained as the area turned yellow. “It’s responsible for memory storage and emotions. ” The hologram of the brain had been transferred to Josh’s NoteTaker unit, and as Mrs.
We’re the best gamers you have. ” Clatter shrugged. “You’re good,” he said. “Really good,” Josh said. “We bring in more money than anyone else on the team. ” He didn’t know if this was entirely true, but he figured it was worth a shot. When Clatter didn’t contradict him, he assumed he had guessed correctly. “Let’s play a game,” he continued. “Me and Scrawl against your zombies. Call in your biggest wagerers. Make a big deal about it. A match to the death or whatever. ” Clatter thought for a moment. Josh held his breath, hoping his idea would work.
He and Firecracker were supposed to do a report on how Antarctica was becoming a rain forest because of global warming, then do a presentation to the class. But they’d done almost no work on it. Every time they started to, they ended up playing the game instead. “Tell you what,” Firecracker said. “If you do the written paper, I’ll do all the presentation stuff. Maps. An animated timeline. Maybe a holographic model. How’s that sound? ” “Sure,” Josh said. “You’re better at the talking part anyway. ” “And you’re the word guy,” Firecracker agreed.
He said. “It was a sucker bet,” said Charlie. “I knew you’d do it. ” Josh didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. “I can’t believe you bet on me! ” he said. “I said I knew you would do it,” Charlie reminded him. “It wasn’t much of a bet. Come on. Let’s get something to eat. ” They went down the stairs. But as they entered the second-floor workspace, Charlie suddenly stopped. A man was standing in the middle of the room, a welding torch in his hand. He turned and looked at them, and Josh saw that one half of his face was badly burned.