The rest of the day passed in training. Red wanted to head back to attack Ramey immediately and said as much to Jimbo.
“Go ahead, but what has changed? I’ve only taught you the basics. It usually doesn’t take long to do that, but this guy is tougher than you.”
“Well you’re the toughest person I’ve run into. You could have bent Nancy around your little finger if you wanted. But I can keep you out. You almost had Bobby in the barn, is the difference in power between you and Bobby the same as between you and this Ramey?”
“No.” Red assured Jimbo, “We are pretty close to equal, he has just enough of an edge that he could win. If you show me how to keep you out, that should be enough.”
“Is he alone?”
“I don’t know.”
Red shook his head, “You know I wasn’t.”
“Then use your head, he won’t be either. If one of his friends has the brains to shoot you in the head while you and Ramey are going at it in the mind’s playground, you will be just as dead as if he rips your head off himself.”
“Are you offering to come with me?”
Jimbo looked down at the table, “We talked about it. I think we have to be like Germany and stay out of it.”
“Switzerland, Jimbo. Not Germany.” Veronica corrected.
“We’ve fought enough. We’ll be here when you get back, if you get back.”
“Your confidence is underwhelming.”
“I don’t think you can do it now. I think you might keep him out of your head, but after that initial contact, he will pin you down and let his friends take you out.”
“Do you have a better idea.”
“Give me another day. Leave in the morning after I show you a few tricks and the way to keep me out of your mind.”
“Other tricks?” Red asked interested.
“Oh yeah, he has ‘em. Jimbo may look like six feet and two hundred and fifty pounds of redneck, but he has mad skills. The best analogy I can think of is that me and Bobby, well, we are like a high school band. And Jimbo? Jimbo is like the Philharmonic Orchestra. There is a world of difference. I can play a nice tune and entertain my friends and family, but Jimbo, he can entertain the world.”
“Aw V, it’s like you really care or something! I would blush if I could.”
“Okay you got my attention, but can you teach me enough in a day to make a difference?”
“I think so. I think it would be the difference between winning and losing.”
So Red had stayed.
The first thing he learned was that mental pictures were only so effective at accomplishing his goals. It was easy to concentrate on not being seen, but repeating ‘You can’t see me. You can’t see me.’, had no effect on Jimbo or Veronica at all. Sneaking by one zombie was easier than sneaking by two, every mind had to be masked and Red was not up to multitasking when they started. Similarly, once he had his mind locked inside his mental version of Fort Knox, he could hold Jimbo or Veronica at bay fairly well, but if the two of them concentrated they passed through his defenses like they were made of balsa wood.
After getting the basics of what he had to do down, Red and the others moved to the barn to practice what he had learned. They started with Red versus Veronica, grappling mentally at the same time that she went after him physically. It was a far more even match than Red would have thought, given their perspective abilities outside of the mental arena. Finally an hour away from sunrise, Jimbo called Bobby into the room and showed him what could be done with the minds of those that were weaker than theirs. For this exercise Red rode piggyback in Jimbo’s mind as he went inside of Bobby’s brain. They practiced changing Bobby’s memory, the simplest thing to do was to modify the boy’s brain so he thought Red’s name was Rainbow.
“You can’t be serious, this won’t work.”
“Watch and learn.” Jimbo said, moving through the boys head at a speed that left Red gasping. Every meeting was touched upon, every encounter the boy had with Red had to be changed. Every thought the boy had about Red too. And Jimbo did it in seconds. They left the boy’s mind and then Jimbo said, “Hey Bobby, let’s take a break for a minute. Why don’t you guys go out and watch the sunrise.”
The boy shoved his chair away from the table and said, “Okay. C’mon Rainbow, we can sit in the swinging chair, it’s the best place.”
Red stopped and stared at the boy, who stammered, “What?” then looked accusingly at Jimbo, “You did something! What did you do?”
Jimbo smiled, “Nothing Bobby, don’t worry about it. Re-Rainbow, maybe you don’t want to take a break yet?”
“No. Jimbo I think we better continue.” Red said, aghast that what he has seen worked.
“Okay Bobby sit down and we’ll get through this next session then.”
“I don’t understand why you need me.” The boy complained as he dropped back into his seat.
Once they were back in Bobby’s mind Red watched as Jimbo went back and changed the boy’s memories of his name again.
“We have to change everything back. I don’t expect you are following all of this and I have to tell you it is dangerous too.”
“What do you mean?”
“What if you miss something? You might not have the control I do, just like I am not big and tough like you are. The thing is that there is no ‘restore’ button here, Red. I can’t go back in and flip Bobby back to how he was before. The memories I take out are gone forever, overwritten by what I put there. I can’t put the old ones back, I can only replace them with new ones. If I fuck that up, then Bobby here is fucked up as well. Plus we have to edit his new memories too, the ones that were made after we changed him the first time. See they are located here…” Red followed Jimbo down into a new section of Bobby’s mind.
“Wait a second Jimbo, before you do anything.” Jimbo paused in his fixing. Tentatively Red examined the memories in front of him, then compared them with the ones that had already been made. “I can tell when something’s been changed.”
“Yeah, look here. This part of his mind has been modified; I can clearly tell that something happened here. But this part, that you haven’t touched yet, is smoother. Can you see it?”
“You know, I hadn’t looked before, but I can see it now. That will help, if I have some major surgery to do on someone.”
Red continued to look around the boy’s mind. He spotted some other sections that were changed. “Jimbo. What did you do to him?”
Jimbo went on with the changes he was making to the boy’s most recent memories. “Things were complicated at the beginning of his new life, Red.”
“What things? You’ve changed entire parts of his mind!” Red was aghast at the sheer amount of what he was seeing.
“I know. I had to do my learning on the fly. I didn’t realize what I had done until later. I tried to fix things as well as I could but the way this boy was made was one major corn-hole job. I couldn’t leave that in there, it would have driven him mad.”
“I can’t tell what you erased, only where you changed things.”
“I told ya, you can’t restore memories that have been replaced, they are just gone. Look, if you can see the mess I’ve made, you can also see that I haven’t screwed with him any time before he turned too.”
Red looked around, keenly aware that Jimbo was watching him look around. Grudgingly he said, “Yeah.”
“I don’t have to justify myself to you, but I kind of like you and I don’t want you to be pissed off at me.”
“So tell me what happened? What great secret did you have to remove to keep the boy sane?”
“He killed his family, ate them and came back to what he was over their bodies.” Jimbo didn’t elaborate to Red, he didn’t say the boy had only done so because Jimbo told him to.
“Aw, shit. Well it wouldn’t be the first time though would it. Half the people running around did that.”
“And most of the zombies who remember who they used to be are batshit insane now too.”
“Some of them. Did you kill your family?”
“No. This bitch Nancy brought me back, I think I ate some of my friend. Then she killed him. The only food I got was spread out and just enough to keep me going so I could do the heavy lifting. Nancy found out that smaller people needed less food to function, so I got the scraps because I wasn’t efficient.”
“How’d you kill her?”
“I told you yesterday.”
“You told me a few things, but you only said you stomped on her head. How’d you get away that first time?”
“She was pinned down in this office by the cop and Max and their friends. This is after I let Max live in the bathroom, though that pretty much took everything I had to keep Nancy out of my head then. We didn’t know what we could do yet. I got lucky. When Nancy was held off I got away, then I ran into Fred, her ‘father’ in the parking lot and we found Bobby when I was trying to make Fred stronger to resist Nancy.”
“So you only changed what you thought was best in here?” Red asked.
“I wish I could be sure. I did what I can and I don’t plan on doing anything like this to other zombies.”
“Why not? You could train them, show them how to defend themselves and make them fanatically loyal to you. You could be an emperor.”
“I think we already have one of those, if half of what you are telling me is true. Nobody likes a dictator; especially not one this invasive. People would revolt and I would be cast down, I think I will live longer keeping a low profile.”
“You might have a point there.”
They both left Bobby’s mind and Jimbo sent him off to watch the sunset alone. Now they spoke out loud and Veronica came in from doing the chores in the barn to make coffee. Jimbo started, “You think Red, that when you take care of this Ramey fellow that the ones who sent him will leave you alone?”
“I don’t know. I might take a page out of your book and just lay low somewhere.”
“You can come back here, we’ll help with that.”
“I am not sure how much of a risk that will be, but I will think about it.”
“Okay. Well we better get you on your way.”
The coffee, while easier to swallow than the first time Red had tried it, still tasted off.