Apocalypse origins, p.5
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       Apocalypse Origins, p.5

           R.A. Neely
 

  ***

  He awoke later to someone knocking on his office door. He got up and stumbled towards the door. Opening it he saw one of Captain Jacobson's men, fist poised for another knock.

  "I'm up! You can stop with the banging."

  The soldier merely nodded, no trace of pity in his face. The jerk. No appreciation for a man with a hangover. He probably had knocked way harder than he had needed to. Henry sighed and headed towards the bathroom. He splashed some water on his face and was able to finish waking up. Next stop was the lab. He had to see what he could do to at least stop the spread of this thing. He was the only one that could.

  He made it to his lab and nodded to his assistants. He spent a few minutes letting them bring him up to date on the results of the tests that they had been running. As expected, there was no headway towards a cure. The one piece of good news was that they had been able to confirm that the infection was built using the rabies virus. That didn't necessarily make developing a solution any easier but they could at least focus their efforts on something they knew. 

  Examining the results for himself he came to believe that whoever was responsible for this had somehow managed to modify the rabies virus. Rabies was nearly always fatal if prompt treatment wasn't administered. Paralysis usually occurred and the victim would die from cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. He'd have to keep a subject isolated for longer to see if this held true with the infection they faced. 

  This confirmed his initial suspicions. The bite from an infected person spread the disease. That meant that it was the saliva that carried the infection. Could he develop something that would stop the virus from spreading? A treatment that would allow someone to survive a bite? Typical rabies treatment was extremely time sensitive. If a victim got medical treatment in time, a series of shots would prevent the virus from taking hold.

  That was a start but he'd first have to identify the foreign elements present in the virus. The incubation period was vastly accelerated. With rabies, one could usually expect an incubation period of days, weeks, or even longer. This infection took hold nearly immediately with full infection occurring within two hours. Anything he developed would have to be administered immediately. 

  This was a tall order. Typical rabies treatment took around two weeks. Could he come up with something that could beat this infection? Henry sighed and stood to stretch cramped muscles. He'd been at this for nearly three hours. Prevention remained the key, he thought. That's how regular rabies treatment worked. 

  Several days passed in this vein. The doctor would rise early and spend around twelve hours in the lab. After that he'd eat a quick dinner and retire for the night. He could've pushed himself to stay up longer but knew getting this right was so critical that he couldn't afford any mistakes due to fatigue. It was another day in the lab when the sound of someone's footsteps gained his attention.

  "Doctor," a voice called.

  Henry turned and saw Captain Jacobson standing several feet away. "Captain," he replied.

  "There's been a change in plans. We're evacuating today. Transport will be here in an hour."

  "An hour? That's hardly enough time to pack up our lab equipment," he said, frustration evident in his voice.

  "Pack up your notes. We've already sent your specs ahead so you'll have new equipment. Right now, my men are in the process of preparing some specimens for transport."

  "What's going on? Why the sudden change?"

  Jacobson sighed. "We can't hold this position. The virus is spreading and there are just too many of them. We're starting to run low on ammunition. It'd be suicide to try and maintain this position. We have to get out of the city."

  "Alright. I'll prepare my notes."

  "Any luck so far?"

  "Little," Henry replied, "it looks to be a modified version of rabies. That gives me a starting point but I have to identify the foreign elements before I can develop any sort of treatment."

  "That's some progress at least," Jacobson replied. "With a more secure location you'll be able to find what you need to do."

  Henry didn't share the captain's optimism but he nodded anyway. "Alright, captain. You said I have an hour. I've got work to do." 

  Henry looked around and hoped his new facility would actually have everything he needed. He wouldn't be able to do anything with inferior equipment. But maybe the government wouldn't skimp on expenses. Henry set to work. They did the majority of their notes electronically so he just had to make sure he had up to date files on his tablet. They also had a server where everything was backed up so that was an added layer of insurance.

  An hour later, he stood on the roof of the building surrounded by his techs and the captain's soldiers. The helicopters were landing and Henry squinted to prevent debris from getting into his eyes. Once the helicopters were down, Jacobson had everyone loaded in short order. As they lifted off, Henry saw the reason for the quick evacuation. Looking down, he saw thousands upon thousands of people swarming the area around the compound. Already, they were over the barricades the military had erected. Jacobson had been right. They would have died if they had tried to stay in the building. Henry shook his head. The rate the infection was spreading was incredible. 

  "Crazy, right?"

  Henry turned to the solider sitting next to him. "What's that?"

  "I said it's crazy," the solider replied as he nodded towards the chaos below. "It's crazy down there. More of those things every single day."

  Henry nodded. Atlanta was a large city. If just a fraction of people attacked survived they'd be looking at thousands of infected. That doesn't even include the surrounding area. Counting the suburbs, those numbers could easily be much higher. Wait. Evac? Evacuation. Had the city been evacuated?

  "You said evac," Henry began, "has the city been evacuated?"

  The solider nodded. "The captain had us spread the word. We rode up and down the streets with bullhorns. Risky business let me tell you. Got chased by infected nearly every time."

  "How many people made it out?"

  The solider shrugged. "Don't know about that. Our orders were to keep the CDC secure. That didn't quite sit right with the captain though. He had us get the word out. Not sure how many people paid attention and got going while the getting was good if you know what I mean."

  Henry shook his head. "I don't. I haven't left the facility since this all started."

  "Ah," the soldier replied. "Well, it's like this. The first day or so things were pretty quiet. There were infected running around but there weren't a lot of people about. But then, there were rumors of a message from that O'Hara newscaster lady. Apparently she got on the air and told everyone that her interview with you wasn't the whole truth. That they needed to protect themselves. Far as I can tell, people didn't take her seriously at first. Thought it had to be a mistake. But after a third day of not hearing anything people thought that maybe she was telling the truth. That's when they started leaving their homes. Hitting grocery stores and the like. That's when things got bad. With so many people around, the infected had a field day."

  Henry nodded. With that many people about, the infected would have attacked everyone in sight. Those that survived would have contracted the infection and attacked others in turn. That explained what he was seeing below. He felt a bit of relief that Shirley had gone on the air to warn the people. That helped with his guilt a little.

  "How do you know all this?" Henry asked.

  "Talked to a guy on his way out of the city. He told me about the newscast. The rest I kinda just assume but it makes sense."

  Henry nodded again. "I suppose it does."

  "That's why I said I wasn't sure how many made it out while it was clear."

  "I see," Henry replied. "Thanks for sharing."

  The soldier nodded and left Henry to his thoughts. It made sense. Those that had heeded Shirley's warning would have had a relatively easy time compared to anyone trying to make it out now. With so many infected about, it would probably
be impossible to get away without being attacked. Henry hoped lots of people paid attention to that warning. Atlanta was lost to the infected now.

   

   

   

   

  5 Greg: Willow Street, Emerald Falls

   

  The drive to James's house was uneventful. They pulled in to James's driveway and Greg led Carol to the door. He retrieved a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.

  "You have a key?" Carol asked.

  "I come here a lot," Greg said with a smile. He held up a hand for her to wait and entered the house.

  "Laura?" he called in a loud voice. "It's me, Greg." He knew Laura was proficient with firearms and didn't want to startle her. If she'd experienced anything like they had this morning, he wouldn't be surprised to see her waiting around the corner with a shotgun or something. He heard footsteps coming from below and then the sound of the basement door opening.

  "Greg?" James called. "That you, man?"

  "Yea, it's me. He turned and motioned for Carol to come inside. James came around the corner and grabbed Greg in a bear hug. 

  "I was worried about you," he said as he let him go. Seeing Carol he smiled. "Good, you got Carol here too."

  Carol smiled as she closed to door behind her. "Wouldn't have made it out of there without Greg," she said.

  James embraced Carol in a hug. "I'm glad you're here Carol. I didn't know how you guys managed at the office." He turned back to Greg.

  "Did you get my message? Phones are down so I had use the PlayStation."

  Greg nodded. "I saw it before we left the house. I was on my way here anyway once we got away from the office."

  James nodded. He knew he could count on Greg to watch out for his family if something happened to him. "Let's head downstairs. We're in the basement in case any of those things are walking around. They're drawn to noise."

  Greg and Carol followed. "They are?" Greg asked. 

  "Yea, I'll tell you all about it. Got stuck in the hospital this morning. First things first, though. You guys hungry?"

  "We ate a bit before we left my place. Won't say no to more food though."

  James chuckled. "We've got some stuff downstairs."

  Downstairs there were hugs all around as everyone expressed how happy they were to see each other. Laura looked Greg over several times despite his protestations that he was fine. After some leftover cold pasta, James and Greg took turns relating their mornings. 

  "So, it's the bite that spreads it then," Greg said. "That's good to know. O'Hara said the same thing but it's good to have some firsthand confirmation."

  James nodded. "From what I could tell, it looked to be a few hours before they get back up."

  "Things are gonna get a lot worse then," Greg said. "All those people that escaped the hospital..."

  Laura nodded. "So what do we do? I don't think it'll be safe to stay in the city for too long."

  "I agree," Carol said. "Especially with that message Shirley O'Hara sent out."

  "People are gonna be out in the streets," James said. "They'll probably go for grocery stores and such first."

  Greg nodded. "Are we agreed then? We need to get out of the city?" Greg looked around and saw nods from everyone.

  "Alright. I think we need a few things if we're going to do that."

  "We'll definitely need food," Carol said. "We've got a few days’ worth in the car but we'll need more."

  Laura nodded. "We've got a few days’ worth here also. We can stretch it a bit but we'll definitely need some more."

  "Should we hit a grocery store then?" James snorted. "I'm a cop and I'm about to advocate breaking and entering."

  Greg shook his head. "This is survival bud. I'm not sure the normal rules apply anymore. But hey, if the store's open, I've got no problem paying for what we need."

  James nodded. "You're right. It might not be bad yet, but it'll get there. I'll be fine."

  Greg nodded. He thought back to how he had felt in the office that morning. That moment when he realized he had to fight or die. Things were definitely going to get worse. If they wanted to survive, they would probably have to do lots of things they wouldn't normally do. They'd have to deal with any guilt later. 

  "I'm not sure a grocery store should be our first stop," he said.

  "Why?" Laura asked. "We're going to need food."

  "Well, I mean maybe we don't want to hit the normal places. Anyone else sitting around like us is going to be coming to the same conclusions. So maybe we want to hit the smaller stores first. Convenience stores and places like that."

  James nodded. "That makes sense." He looked around the room. "We'll also need camping gear. We can't sleep in our cars."

  Greg nodded. "You're right. Tents and stuff. Cooking gear."

  "Why don't we make a list?" Laura asked. "Then we can prioritize what we need to get first."

  Greg nodded again. "Alright. I think time is an issue so it would go faster if we split things up. Laura, you're probably best suited to take care of the foodstuffs."

  Laura snorted. "That's fine, Greg. If I left it up to you we'd probably have nothing but cans of beans."

  Greg chuckled. "There's nothing wrong with beans. Carol? Would you mind giving her a hand?" Carol nodded and moved to sit next to Laura.

  "James, let's take of camping gear and such. When we're done, we can compare lists and see if anyone missed anything." Everyone seemed to agree with this so Greg and James moved off to the side to discuss their list.

  Greg looked around. "Where are the kids?"

  "They're sleeping," James replied as he pointed to a corner in the basement. "Laura made them a pallet earlier. We've been keeping them down here all day so there's been little else for them to do."

  Greg nodded. "Alright, so let's go over this list. We definitely need camping stuff."

  James nodded. "Before we get to that, we need to discuss weapons. None of the rest matters if we can't keep ourselves safe."

  "That makes sense. I've got my machete and my two pistols. All of those replicas looked useless for any actual use."

  "Alright. I've got my asp, my service pistol, and a few things around the house." He paused to think for a moment. "We've got the shotgun and a couple more pistols. Think we've got a baseball bat or two lying around somewhere too."

  "How much ammo do you have?"

  "At least a box for each type of weapon," James replied.

  "So do we want to add hitting a gun shop to the list?"

  "Not a bad idea," James replied. "We need to think about protective gear too. Something to protect us from a bite."

  Greg nodded. "Maybe a leather jacket or something? That would take care of the arms and torso. Then maybe some thick gloves."

  James nodded. "Need something for our legs too. Don't think jeans will necessarily stop a bite."

  Greg rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What about some overalls or something? You know, like construction workers wear?"

  "That should work. We'll need boots too. Every area needs to be protected. Something for our heads too."

  "Maybe a helmet, or a hockey mask or something." 

  "That's a good idea," James said. "So we'll need to hit a sporting goods store for some of this."

  Greg nodded. "That about cover it for gear?"

  "I think so. Experience will tell us anything else we need. Hopefully we'll find out what else we need without anyone getting hurt."

  "Agreed,” Greg said. "Okay so we also need camping stuff. I'm thinking a sporting goods store will let us take care of both of those at once."

  James nodded. They spent the next half hour making a list of camping gear, trying to stick to the bare essentials as they would only have so much space in their vehicles. With that done they met with the girls to see if someone had left something critical off of their list.

  "That looks good to me," Laura said. "We haven't been camping too often but I think that covers most of what we need."

&nbs
p; "The grocery list looks good too," Greg said.

  Carol nodded. "We stuck mostly to dry goods and canned stuff. We figure we can spend a few days here and eat our frozen stuff so we don't have to go off the fresh stuff right away."

  James nodded. "That sounds good. I've got one of those electric grills. I can cook some steaks down here. Might as well eat good while we can."

  Greg smiled. "I'm not going to argue with that."

  "So how do we go about getting this stuff?" Laura asked.

  Greg thought for a moment. "I'm thinking James and I should go. I don't like the thought of one of us not being here but I don't know what we'll run into out there."

  Everyone nodded at this. "I have a request," Carol said. "I want you to teach me how to use one of those guns we have. I want to pull my own weight here."

  Everyone looked ready to protest but Carol continued, "I know there's other things I can do but I don't want to just stand by if we get attacked. I don't want to be helpless."

  James nodded. "I'll set you up with one of our pistols. We'll go over the basics before we leave." James thought for a moment. "Once we leave the city, we can do lessons."

  "Thanks," Carol said as she nodded.

  "Alright," Laura began, "it's best for you and James to go. When do you leave?"

  "I'm thinking sooner rather than later," Greg replied. "Give it a few days and we'll have to deal with desperate people, not just the infected."

  Laura nodded. "Maybe you guys should go now then. I can teach Carol the basics on the gun and we'll get dinner going why you guys are out."

  James nodded. "That makes sense. What do you think, Greg?"

  Greg nodded. "Laura's right. Time's a factor here. The longer we wait, the more chance we'll run into people. With what's happening, that could easily be a fight over resources."

  "Do you think it'll come to that?" Carol asked.

  "Definitely," James replied. "We might get another day or so of relative calm but people are gonna get desperate real quick. Just food alone will do it. Most people only have a few days’ worth of food in their house I'm thinking. I definitely think it's gonna get rough. You remember that Black Friday a few years back?"

  "I think someone got trampled," Carol replied.

  James nodded. "Exactly. Now, that was over toys and such. What are people going to do for food?"

  "That makes sense," Carol said. "Just makes me sad to think people will act like that when there are literally people running around trying to kill them."

  Greg sighed. "I don't really like to think it, but I think it's pretty much us versus the world."

  Everyone sat in silence for a few minutes as they thought about this. Greg and James stood up after a few minutes and headed upstairs. It was time to get what they could off their lists. James took a few minutes to change out of his uniform and met Greg in the garage.

  "We'll take the minivan," James said.

  "Sounds good," Greg replied.

  They headed out and made good time for the most part. There were more people about now. Some had probably seen the O'Hara newscast and were also out gathering supplies. 

  "More people about now," Greg said.

  James nodded. "Yeah, good thing we left when we did. Less chance of running into someone stupid this way."

  "True. So, how you holding up man?" he asked thinking about Jeffries.

  James snorted. "I don't need to be analyzed, Greg."

  "Not analyzing. Just friend to friend. How are you?"

  James shrugged. "I have no choice but to be okay. Now isn't the time to be sitting around crying.  My family needs me. So I'm fine. If we can be really safe at some point, maybe I'll be sad then. No time for it now."

  Greg nodded. "Well, I've got a question for you then."

  "Shoot," James replied.

  "So this morning, at the office. When I had to kill Mr. Ramsey, I felt that I should have felt bad about it. But I didn't. I wasn't sad at all. In fact, I was actually kinda satisfied."

  "Well, I don't think we can really think of these things as human first off. The way they act..." James trailed off as he thought back to his ordeal at the hospital this morning.

  "I don't really think it's something you should feel bad about. You defended yourself and Carol. She's alive because of you."

  Greg nodded. "Alright. What about other people though. We're bound to run into someone at some point. If not today, then eventually. Anyone that survives is going to be looking for stuff just like we are."

  James was silent for a few moments as he thought. "I'm a cop. Have been for what, ten years now? I've always prided myself on being careful. I never wanted to be that cop that shot someone when they were just reaching for a cell phone. But now? Unless the government miraculously shows up and takes care of this, I'm not a cop anymore. I'm just a man looking to protect his family. And that man will do whatever he needs to do."

  Greg nodded. That made sense. He would do whatever he needed to as well. James, Laura, and the kids were his family. Had been for years now since his parents had died. And well, it looks like Carol was a part of that now too. He didn't know what would happen with them as far as a relationship went, but she was definitely on his list of people to protect. He'd keep all of them safe no matter what. 

  "We're here," James said. Greg looked up and saw that they had arrived at a Rick's Sporting Goods. There were a good number of cars in the parking lot, was the place doing business as usual?

  "What do you think," Greg asked as James pulled into a spot. "Looks fairly normal here."

  James nodded. "Maybe leave the machete. Keep the pistol though. Just cover it with your shirt."

  Greg nodded. They didn't want any problems in the store if things were still running normally here. Greg took a moment to remove the machete from his belt and then made sure his shirt covered his gun. Satisfied, they headed inside. They reached the door and saw two employees standing at the door, each of them had a bat in hand.

  "You bit?" one of them asked. 

  "No, we're fine," James replied. 

  The employees opened the door and quickly ushered them inside. "We'll have to check you for bites just to be sure," one of them said.

  Greg nodded. That seemed fair. He showed his arms and lifted his shirt so they could see he was bite free. James did the same. The employees nodded that they were satisfied.

  "Alright, you look clean. The rules are business as usual. That means no pushing or fighting or any nonsense like that. No fighting over merchandise."

  "That's fair," James said, "I have to ask, you do know what's going on right?"

  One of the employees nodded. "Of course we know. Why do you think we checked you for bites?"

  "I mean you're keeping the store open like nothing's wrong," James responded.

  "We've taken precautions," the employee said indicating his bat. "Besides, the boss is confident that this will all blow over in a few days. So, he figures why not make some money."

  "Fair enough," James replied. They each grabbed a cart and headed out into the store. To their surprise, everyone seemed to be acting in an orderly manner.

  "This can't possibly last," Greg said in a low voice.

  "It won't," James responded in an equally low voice. "But, it makes our task here easier."

  Greg nodded. That was true. He supposed he should enjoy while it lasted. They'd probably be fighting through infected at some point soon enough. Their first stop was the tent section. They grabbed four tents. One for James and Laura, one for Carol and Maddy, and one for Greg and Junior. They thought it would be a good idea to have an extra tent in case something happened to the others. After the tents they went and looked for other gear such as a camp stove, lanterns, and sleeping bag. They made great progress on the list until they got to clothes. 

  "So you don't know what size Carol wears?" James asked.

  "How would I possibly know that?" 

  "Well, you've been making eyes at her for a while now."

 
; "It wasn't like that. I never tried anything because she worked for me."

  "What's your excuse now?" 

  "Wait. How do you know what size Laura wears?"

  "How would I not know? She's dragged me shopping with her enough that I caught on."

  "I think I'll just grab several sizes and hope for the best."

  James chuckled. "Sure, if you want to play safe. If you want to score some points, you should show up with the right size."

  Greg snorted. "I don't need points. I saved her life today that has to count for something."

  James chuckled. "Alright. Let's just throw an assortment of clothes in the cart. We'll need boots too. "

  Their list complete, they took their carts to the register. Greg barely blinked when the bill totaled over a thousand dollars. Normally, he would have had a huge problem with that. Dealing with people trying to kill you had a way of putting things in perspective however. They loaded their purchases into the van and headed towards their next stop. They pulled into the parking lot of a small grocery store and saw that things were a little more chaotic here. Cars were parked haphazardly and people heading into the store were shoving to be the first inside.

  "Looks like it's starting," Greg said.

  "Yeah," James said with a nod, "doesn't look too bad just yet though. Good thing we decided to do this today."

  Greg looked at all their gear in the back of the van. "Think all of this is safe? Should one of us stay back?"

  "I think we're okay," James replied. "I think people are out trying to get what they can but it hasn't quite reached the point where they're stealing from each other yet."

  Greg nodded. "Alright then. Let's get in and out."

  They left the vehicle and headed inside. They each grabbed a cart and took a portion of the shopping list. They figured it would go faster here if they split up. Greg was looking at soup when a commotion down the aisle drew his attention. Two middle aged women looked ready to come to blows over some product or other. Greg shook his head. This was just a glimpse of the days ahead. Right now, people were probably just hoarding thinking that the government would be along in a few days and everything would go back to normal. Greg wasn't so sure that was going to happen. Once other people realized that, things would start getting violent.

  Greg felt there were basically two kinds of people. Those that followed the laws for some intrinsic reason and those that followed for fear of the consequences. With the police force out of the picture, that second segment of the population would start realizing they could get away with pretty much anything now. Greg left the soup aisle and head for the next item on his list when the cart came to a sudden halt.

  Looking up he saw a man, probably in his twenties, holding tightly to the side of his cart. The man wore a ratty looking leather jacket and equally ratty jeans. His pupils were dilated and he was breathing heavily.

  "Can I help you with something," Greg asked in a calm voice.

  "Gimme your cart," the man said.

  "No," Greg said with a slight frown. He gestured back the way he had come. "There's still a few things in the store. You can get your own cart."

  The man shook his head. "I don't have no money. So I’m gonna need your cart."

  "I’m sorry," Greg said, "I’m not giving you my cart."

  The man released the cart and stepped back. "You give it to me or I'm gonna take it!" He reached into his pocket and drew out a switchblade. He flicked hit open and gave Greg a wicked smile.

  "Betcha you wanna give me that cart now, dontcha?"

  Greg sighed. He figured they'd have another day or two before something like this would happen. This guy did look like he was on something though. Plus, he mentioned he didn't have any cash so he was already desperate. Greg glanced in the cart. It was piled high with soups and other dry goods. On another day, Greg might have let this slide. It simply wasn't worth getting into a fight over something like this. Things were different now though. The shelves were nearly empty so he couldn't just hand this over and expect to get another cart load. They needed this stuff to survive. The cart literally represented life for his group. They wouldn't survive long without food to eat.

  Greg shrugged. "I'm still not giving you the cart." Before the man could respond, Greg stepped around the cart and kicked the man in the groin. As he bent over in pain, Greg grabbed his knife hand and twisted it cruelly, forcing him to drop the knife to the ground. Greg then hit him in the back of the head with his elbow and the man fell to the ground unconscious. Greg heard footsteps behind him and whirled to face the new threat. He relaxed when he saw James standing there with a grin on his face.

  "I leave you alone for five minutes...."

  "Funny," Greg said as he chuckled.

  "What happened?" James asked.

  "He wanted the cart. I disagreed."

  James nodded as if that was enough for him. "Well, I've got everything on my list. What about you?"

  "Same here. I'm ready to go."

  They headed towards the cash registers up front when they heard a number of people start screaming. They looked at each other.

  "Infected you think?" Greg asked.

  "Probably. Best to assume that I think."

  "Let's find a rear exit. They've gotta have a loading dock or something."

  James nodded and drew his pistol with one hand and pulled the cart with the other. Greg followed suit and they headed towards the rear of the store. They heard chaos all around them as people began running away from whatever was happening at the front of the store. Greg heard a growl behind him and turned to see two infected charging towards them. Two shots put both of them down.

  "Aren't you glad I dragged you to the range now?" James asked as they dragged their carts along.

  "Yeah, I guess I am."

  "Remember how much you pissed and moaned? ’I don't need to use a gun, I know krav maga.'"

  Greg chuckled. "Yeah, I remember."

  "Good. I just want to point out that in the future, when I have an idea you should do it without whining."

  Greg laughed. "Fair enough. I guess you owed me that one."

  James laughed. He quickly turned serious as a roar came from the side. He lined up his shot and put it down without slowing down. He smiled again. "I sure did. Can't wait to tell Laura when we get back."

  They reached the rear of the store and saw a set of double doors that led to the back area of the store. They pulled their carts inside and saw rows and rows of pallets filled with various goods. They walked along cautiously until they reached a large loading door. They looked around for a button and found it after a few minutes of searching, it wasn't located next to the door for some reason. Unfortunately, pushing the button didn't give them the result they wanted.

  "Is it locked?" Greg asked.

  "Must be. I have no idea how to open it."

  Greg glanced back towards the front of the store. They could still hear screams. "I guess asking an employee for help is out."

  "Probably." James pointed towards a corner. I see a red light over there. Emergency exit maybe?"

  "Let's find out," Greg replied. They took their carts and headed over and were relieved to see another set of double doors leading outside. Greg saw a sign near the door and spared a second to look it over.

  "Alarm will sound," he said.

  James nodded. "That'll probably draw the infected this way."

  "Alright, so we'll need to go out and book it to the van. Just toss everything inside. We can sort it neatly back at the house."

  James nodded. "You ready?" 

  At Greg's nod he pushed the door open with his cart and headed outside. A screeching alarm sounded and they figured they didn't have long before the infected came their way. They both took off running, pushing the carts in front of them. They rounded the corner of the building and headed back towards the parking lot. It looked even worse now. It looked like some people had managed to make their way out the front and get to their cars. Unfortunately, no one wante
d to wait for anyone else and there were several cars smashed together. 

  They reached their car and quickly started throwing everything inside. Both were breathing heavily but they weren't winded. Part of their training in krav maga involved a great deal of cardio so they were both in excellent shape. They were both grateful for that right now. Once everything was loaded they got inside and James headed for a side exit in the parking lot.

  "I'm not going near that main exit," James said.

  "Don't blame you," Greg said. A loud screech behind them got his attention and he turned around to look. It looked as if some more people had ended up in an accident.

  "Definitely a good idea," Greg said.

  "That was intense," James said. "Do we head home now or keep going?"

  "Keep going," Greg said, "it's only going to get worse right?"

  James nodded. "True. James drove along until he found a gas station that was relatively empty. He filled up the van while Greg went inside to see if they had any gas cans. Greg returned a few minutes later with three cans and used another pump to fill them.

  "Do you think the power will be affected by all this?" he asked.

  James nodded. "Indirectly at least. Don't think the grid will be damaged but the people who run the station are probably dealing with the same thing we are."

  "That makes sense," Greg replied with a nod. He finished filling his first can and started on the second.

  "What are you thinking?"

  "I don't know," Greg said," just thinking about what to do next. We said we want to leave the city but we haven't said where. After that back there, I'm wondering is anywhere safe? What if this stuff is everywhere?

  "That's true," James replied, "If there were just a few people on an airplane..."

  "It could be spreading everywhere. So where do we go? I'm also wondering about the power. Things will be that much harder if we lose that."

  "We'll figure it out, man. What matters is that we're all safe right now. Let's focus on that. We'll figure out the rest as we go along.

  Greg nodded as he started filling the third can. "Alright, do we want to hit the gas station for some food? Maybe they have power bars or something. That would be good if we don't want to take the time to make food for some reason."

  "Good idea," James replied. "I'm done here," he said as he replaced the nozzle. "I'll head inside. Maybe you should stay out here and watch the van."

  Greg nodded as he thought about the incident in the grocery store. If some people were already getting desperate, it wasn't a good idea to leave their things unattended. "Yeah, go ahead. I'll keep an eye on things."

  James headed inside and returned a few minutes later loaded down with plastics bags. He chuckled when he saw Greg's raised eyebrow.

  "Why stop at power bars? Might as well enjoy some snacks while we can. I was standing in there and I thought it would be sad that no one would be making some of that stuff anymore. So we might as well eat it now."

  "Can't argue with that," Greg said with a laugh.

  Greg finished filling the last can and they took a few moments to load everything inside the van. They were both grateful for an uneventful trip home but they did take note of some changes they saw as they arrived in their neighborhood. This morning things appeared relatively normal but now things were a bit different. Several families could be seen loading up their vehicles, they were likely intent on getting out of town as soon as possible. Some driveways had cars parked at random angles as if the driver had been in a hurry to get home.

  Greg frowned at that. Were some of those people infected? Were the cars parked randomly because they had been overcome with the infection? Greg thought it was a good idea they were staying in the basement. He did think they should rethink how long they were planning on staying though. Just in case the infection had reached this neighborhood.

  "We might want to think about getting you another vehicle," James said.

  "What's wrong with my car?"

  "Just thinking we probably want something with a little bit more space. The van's pretty much packed now with what we picked up today. How's your car looking?"

  Greg thought for a moment. "The trunk is pretty much full I think. There isn't too much space back there. We should probably handle that as soon as possible."

  James nodded. "Let's drop the van off and get a bite to eat. We can unload your car and then go get something else. You have enough to cover a new car?"

  Greg thought for a moment. "Yeah, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Couldn't get a hummer or anything, but anything lower than that should be fine."

  "That's good," James responded, “If the dealerships are open, I don't think they'll be doing any financing."

  Greg chuckled. "This is the perfect time though. They could do an end of the world special or something."

  James laughed as he pulled into his driveway. He waited for the garage door to open then quickly pulled inside. "Why don't we get some of that gear out the back, just in case?"

  Greg nodded. "The jackets and gloves for sure."

  They spent a few minutes finding the desired items and headed inside for lunch. The girls had made some chicken sandwiches and a salad. During the meal, the men explained that they needed to replace Greg's vehicle. The girls agreed it was a good idea and they sent the kids out to the garage to unload Greg's car.

  After lunch, they put on their new gear. They had another uneventful trip out. They knew this wouldn't last but were grateful for it nonetheless. They managed to find a dealership that was open and found an SUV that they felt would do the job. Greg ended paying way more than it was worth but didn't worry about it too much since they really needed it. He wondered how much longer the economy could hold up with this crisis going on. He figured pretty soon people would start looting and taking what they needed. Maybe the owner here thought he could get away some place the infection hadn't reached yet.

  The drive home was much more interesting than the ride out. Several times they had to drive along the sidewalk to avoid traffic despite the fact they were sticking to side streets. Greg was already starting to feel that the SUV was paying for itself. He realized his old car wouldn't have been any good under these conditions. He smiled to himself. That was another great idea James had had, although he wouldn't tell him that.

  Once they reached the house, they took the time to split up their supplies between both vehicles. Greg had thought it was a good idea for each vehicle to have the essentials in case they got separated somehow. They finished with the vehicles just as the girls were putting dinner together. They sat down to a meal of grilled steak, steamed vegetables, and some mashed potatoes. James smiled happily as he cut into his steak. Laura chuckled at his enthusiasm.

  "We're almost out of the freezer stuff," she said. "We've got some hamburgers left I think, and maybe a roast."

  James shrugged. "Let's cook it all. No point in letting it go to waste."

  Greg nodded. "Yeah, not sure how much longer it'll be safe to stay in the city."

  Laura nodded as she glanced at the kids. Junior at ten, was looking at the whole situation as if it were some big adventure. Maddy at twelve, was taking everything in stride as well. If she had been just a few years older they might have had an irate teenager on their hands. As it was, they seemed to be handling the whole thing better than the adults. Laura had marveled at their acceptance of the situation when she had sat them down to talk earlier. 

  "Where should we go?" she asked.

  "Not sure just yet," Greg replied. "For now though, getting away from any large cities is probably out best bet. Maybe head north or something. Less people that way, right?"

  "Less people should mean less infected then right?" Carol asked.

  "That's kind of what I'm thinking," he said.

  "How can we be sure though?" James asked. "It's not like won't have to deal with this if we go north."

  "Hey, dad," Junior said.

  "Yeah, son?"

  "Couldn't we jus
t check the radio? I still have that c.b. radio you got me last year."

  "Does it still work?" James asked. "I don't think I've seen you use it in a while."

  "It still works," Junior insisted. "It's been sitting on my closet shelf."

  "I'll go grab it," James said. He left and returned a few minutes later, c.b. radio in hand. They set it up on the table but nothing happened when he turned it on.

  "It probably needs new batteries," Junior said. "I haven't used it for a while."

  "I'll grab some," Laura said as she left the table. She returned a few minutes later and the radio crackled to life. They cycle through the stations but didn't hear anything they felt was useful. They stayed at it for fifteen minutes before giving up.

  "We can keep checking," Greg said. "It's still just the first day. Maybe no one has had a chance to organize anything yet."

  "That makes sense," James said. "We can probably check every hour or so until we hear something."

  Laura glanced at her watch. "It's after eight. Should we turn in?"

  "That sounds good to me," James said. "I'm pretty tired now that you mention it."

  Everyone else left, leaving just Greg and Carol at the table. They made small talk while Greg continued to cycle through the stations on the radio. Carol chuckled after he yawned for the fourth time.

  "Why don't you go to bed? The radio will be there in the morning."

  Greg smiled. "You're right." He stood and stretched.

  "I made a spot for you earlier. Come on, I'll show you." Carol took Greg by the hand and led him off to a corner in the basement. There was a pallet set up on the floor with room for two. A blanket hung from the ceiling and enclosed the area to give a sense of privacy.

  "What's this?" Greg asked as he turned to Carol.

  "What's it look like?"

  Greg chuckled. "I know what it looks like. I guess I just wasn't expecting this."

  "I could've died today," she said. "You kept me safe. And before you say anything, this isn't about that. I've liked you for a while now. I know you feel the same way about me."

  Greg nodded. "I do. It's just...when things were normal it didn't feel right since we worked together."

  "That's fine. But normal is gone now. We could die tomorrow." Carol placed a finger on his lips when he tried to protest. "I know you and James will do everything you can to keep us safe. I’ll learn what I need to so I can help with that too. But you don't know what will happen. Something can go wrong despite our best efforts. So, I don't want to waste any more time when we don't know what the next day will bring."

  Greg glanced around. "What about the others?"

  "I'll be quiet," Carol said with a small smile. 

  The next morning, James found Greg working with the c.b. radio. "How was your night?" he asked with a smirk on his face.

  Greg noted the smirk and chuckled. "So you know, huh?"

  "Who do you think helped Carol set everything up?"

  At Greg's look, James laughed. "Laura and I have been married thirteen years, man. No secrets there. You are well and truly caught my friend.

  Greg laughed. "Well, maybe I don't mind being caught."

  "That's the spirit." James nodded towards the radio. "Anything come through yet?"

  "Not yet."

  "So what's our plan today? I think we pretty much got what we needed yesterday."

  Greg nodded. "I'm thinking we stay here until we hear something on the radio. Might as well be in comfort before we hit the road."

  James raised his eyebrow suggestively.

  "I didn't mean that," Greg said with a chuckle. "I was just thinking that we might as well be comfortable before we start having to sleep in those tents."

  "Sure, I believe you," James said.

  Greg chuckled again. "I was also thinking we might make small trips outside. Just to keep an eye on things so we have an idea of when it's just not safe anymore and we need to get out of here."

  "That makes sense. The radio runs on batteries so we can bring it with us and check things on the road. It would be nice to have an idea of where to go when we leave though."

  The next few days passed in relative quiet. They spent time packing and repacking the vehicles. Greg and James made frequent trips outside while everyone else took turns checking the radio. Their peace came to end one day after Greg returned from a trip outside. Greg entered the basement and saw everyone sitting around at the table playing a board game.

  "What's wrong?" Carol asked when she saw the look on his face.

  "It's time for us to go," he said.

  "What happened?" James asked.

  "The city's on fire. Looters or something, I don't know. Looks like it's heading this way though."

  "Are you sure?" Laura asked.

  "It looks that way," Greg said. "Either way, it's not safe here anymore. If the fire doesn't reach here people might come this way looking for shelter."

  James nodded. "Let's go then. The cars are ready to go."

  There was little to do. They'd been ready to leave at a moment’s notice so they wouldn't have to run around looking for things when it was time to leave. The kids packed up their games while Laura and Carol packed up the day's lunch. Greg and James headed for the garage to start the cars. James took Laura and his kids in their minivan while Carol rode with Greg in the SUV. Greg took the lead and led the group away from the city. 

  Carol looked behind them at the rising flames and shook her head sadly. "Who would do this? The infected are bad enough, why set fire to everything?"

  Greg shrugged. "I don't know," he said as he rubbed her knee. "All I know is that it isn't safe here anymore."

   

   

   

   

   

  6 Shirley: Hidden Shelter, Emerald Falls

   

  Shirley sighed in frustration as she headed for the bathroom. She'd just had another heated argument with Jeremy. For the last few days she'd been trying to tell him they needed to be ready to leave in case things got bad here. He wouldn't listen to reason though. The latest argument had been the worst. She'd been trying to explain how Jackson said it wouldn't be safe here but Jeremy wouldn't listen. He started accusing her of cheating on him with Jackson. 

  She was attracted to Jackson. Maybe even more so now since he'd gotten her safely from her office. But she hadn't done anything with him. She wasn't even planning on it. That seemed to be the only thing Jeremy could focus on. He'd insisted on her moving her bunk to his area and tried to exclude Jackson from meal times. He'd even taken to having some other guys sit with them so Jackson wouldn't have space to sit at their table.

  This had been going on for two days now and she was getting sick of it. She wasn't his possession to be told whom she could or couldn't talk to. Jackson was her friend for life at minimum. You didn't just turn away from someone who had risked their life to save yours. Fortunately, Jackson was taking the whole situation in stride. In fact, he was acting as if he didn't care one way or another. That probably fueled Jeremy's jealous rage even more.

  It also didn't help that there was so much tension going around. People were really starting to complain about the lack of food. It had gotten to the point that an elderly man had been knocked unconscious when he questioned the guards about it. Those thugs had hit that poor man in the head with the butt of their rifle! Shirley couldn't wait until Jackson said it was time to get out of here.

  She exited the bathroom to find Jackson waiting for her. "Hey," he said with a smile.

  "Hey, Jackson," she replied. "You doing okay?" She hadn't talked to him for the last two days because she hadn't wanted to deal with Jeremy's irrational outbursts. 

  Jackson nodded. "Just wanted to let you know to be ready to leave. I think things will come to a head soon." He tilted his head as he looked at her. "That is, if you're still coming with me."

  Shirley nodded without hesitation. Jackson's instincts had kept them safe when this all started so she wasn't g
oing to start questioning him now. She'd hoped to bring Jeremy with them but maybe it was time to cut her losses. She didn't love him anyway. He had been a means to an end. With everything going on, maybe he wasn't so useful anymore. That sounded callous, and maybe a bit shallow but she wasn't going to risk her life because Jeremy wanted to be stupid.

  "I'm still coming," she said. "I was just trying to convince Jeremy to come with us."

  "I don't think he's gonna go for that," Jackson responded. "Pretty sure he thinks we've got something going on."

  Shirley sighed. Jackson had noticed that too? Of course, it couldn't have been hard the way Jeremy had been treating him. "Sorry about that. I don't know what has gotten into him."

  Jackson shrugged. "I couldn't care less about what your boy toy thinks. Why are you with him anyway? He's a moron."

  Shirley shrugged. "It made sense before all this started. He had connections, wealth. Figured I'd set myself up before I lost the spotlight." She looked at Jackson to see how he would take this. Would he think less of her? Most people probably would if they knew her true motivations for doing things.

  "What about now?" Jackson asked. "Doesn't seem so practical with what's happening. Can he keep you safe?"

  Shirley's pulse sped up a bit. Did he leave something off at the end? Like maybe Jeremy couldn't keep her safe like he could? Funny. Jeremy trying to control her pissed her off to no end but she had no trouble following Jackson's lead.

  "I don't know," she replied. "Haven't thought about it that much."

  "Maybe you should. Anyway, I'll let you go. I don't want to give your boyfriend more reason to whine. Don't worry though. I'm keeping an eye on you even if you don't see me. I won't leave without you."

  Shirley nodded as Jackson left. He'd given her something to think about. She'd originally gotten with Jeremy because she thought it would secure her lifestyle. But what good was his wealth now? And that jealousy. She hadn't even known about that. Suddenly, the thought of tying her life to his didn't seem all that appealing. Now Jackson on the other hand...she swiftly pushed that thought from her mind. Now probably wasn't the time to be wondering about a new relationship. 

  She sighed as she headed towards the common area. Time for their daily sandwich. She hoped today would be uneventful. Another man had been knocked unconscious by the guards. He'd been loudly complaining about the lack of food and had gathered a fair degree of support from the other survivors. Things had calmed down a bit after that, but it was quickly building up again. Putting down the ring leader might not work the second time.

  Shirley passed several families on her way to the table where Jeremy was waiting. Many of them had kids and they all looked so hungry. Her stomach rumbled at the thought of food. She was pretty hungry herself. They'd only been getting one meal a day and it was really small at that. It provided some nourishment but you were still hungry after. Jackson had been spot on about the consequences of them letting extra people in here.

  She reached the table and sat next to Jeremy. She grimaced as he took her hand in a tight grip. "Where have you been?" he whispered fiercely in her ear.

  Shirley yanked her hand from his. "The bathroom," she responded hotly, "or is that not allowed?"

  Jeremy looked unfazed by her anger. He nodded towards the other two men sharing the table with them. "They saw Jackson leaving the bathroom area. You came out soon after. Where you with him? Were you back there letting him touch you?" 

  "I imagine he has to use the bathroom just like anyone else," she replied.

  Jeremy grabbed her hand again, so tightly this time it hurt. "You listen to me. You belong to me. I don't want you anywhere near him, you understand?"

  Shirley looked in his eyes and realized in that moment Jeremy had no respect for her. He didn't see her as a person with her own dreams and aspirations, just something to be possessed. Yeah, she didn't love him, but she had figured there would at least be caring and respect between them. She'd even thought she might grow to love him over time. She didn't like what she saw in his eyes right now. She suddenly found herself feeling grateful for the infected.

  The attack had brought her and Jackson together in a way they hadn't been during the whole time they had worked together. Without that, she might never have seen Jeremy for the monster he was until it was too late. Any affection she had for him died right then. She didn't care if he died at that moment. The infected could attack right now and she wasn't sure she'd blink an eye if he was the first to fall.

  She leaned close to him and let all the emotion bleed from her save for a core of rage. "Let. Me. Go."

  He seemed taken aback by the anger in her voice but recovered quickly. He reached for her again but she quickly stood and moved out of his reach. He stopped reaching for her, probably afraid to make a scene. Shirley removed the engagement ring from her finger and tossed it onto the table. 

  "I'm not yours, Jeremy. I never was. You absolutely disgust me." She turned and walked away from him, not caring that people around them had been listening in to their conversation. 

  She saw Jackson sitting at a table and she walked over and sat next to him without hesitation. "Took you long enough," Jackson said with a small smile on his face.

  Shirley flushed. "I hate him. I can't stand to even be in the same room as him."

  Jackson nodded. "Yeah, he's a prick."

  Shirley looked at him and laughed. "You're right. He's a prick. I can tell you for a fact that he's overcompensating."

  Jackson laughed. "He looks the type." He looked up as a guard approached with meal boxes for their table. 

  They accepted their food and made quick work of the contents. Shirley groaned with frustration as her stomach continued to rumble with hunger. "This isn't nearly enough food," she whispered quietly.

  Jackson nodded and responded in an equally low voice, “I know. We'll leave soon. Tonight or tomorrow, I think."

  They spent the next half hour playing a game of checkers although neither really focused on the game. It was simply something to do to pass the time. They heard a commotion from the front of the common area and looked to see what was going on. There was a small group of people standing in front of one of the guards. Jackson stood up to go get a closer look and Shirley followed close behind.

  "I'm telling you, this just isn't enough food!" a man at the front of the group shouted. "You can't expect us to accept this. I paid good money to be here and I expect better treatment!"

  The guard shrugged. "You're welcome to leave whenever you want."

  "I'm not going out there with all those crazy people running about! What I want is some more food!"

  "Sir, you need to go have a seat. You'll receive more rations tomorrow."

  "My children are hungry right now. Stop holding back on us!" A number of people voiced their agreement with this and the group swelled as more people came to see what was going on. The guard started to look irritated and called for backup into his walkie.

  "Are you gonna shoot me?" the man asked. "Or maybe you'll knock me out like you did poor Tim the other day. Well, you can't do that to all of us. We've had enough of this!"

  The guard started to look concerned then as he realized he was maybe moments from having an angry mob of people on his hands. Roberta Lyons showed up then and tried to placate the group.

  "I hear what you're saying she said. It's just that some of you brought people we didn't account for. We're just trying to make sure everyone gets enough to eat."

  "Who are you to tell us how much we get to eat?" someone shouted.

  Jackson grabbed Shirley by the elbow and led her towards the bathroom area. "Time to go," he said.

  Shirley nodded. "It's getting ugly."

  "Yeah, if it doesn't go down now, it will tomorrow, or the next day." They stood and Jackson led the way towards the exit behind the bathroom area. They were nearly there when they heard someone behind them.

  "Where do you think you're going?"

  They turned to see Jeremy stand
ing behind them with his two lackeys. "Just like I thought all along. You're sneaking off with him, aren't you?"

  "We're leaving you idiot,” Shirley said, frustration evident in her voice.

  "Why would you leave?" Jeremy asked. "Everything we need is here. He waved in the general direction of the common area. "That'll be dealt with soon enough." Several shots rang out and the yelling they'd been hearing was replaced with people screaming.

  "See?" Jeremy asked. "They're being put in their place as we speak. No need to go running outside."

  "I don't even want to be in the same room with you Jeremy. You disgust me."

  Jeremy waved it aside. "So we had our first fight. Everybody does, right? We'll get through this, you'll see."

  Shirley shook her head in frustration. Was he just not hearing her? Or was he deluded enough to think there was still something between them? She'd thought she had made her feelings clear when she threw his ring on the table.

  "It's over, Jeremy. I don't want to marry you. I don't want to even look at you."

  Jeremy smiled. "You're upset, I get that. You need some time to cool down. Why don't you go lay down for a bit? I'm sure that'll help things."

  Jackson shook his head. "You're not listening. She's already made her feelings clear."

  "It's all your fault!" Jeremy yelled angrily. "You've been poisoning her against me. There's no way she would choose you over me. I have wealth, influence! How do you think she got in here? You think they'd let a newswoman in this place? I made that happen. She's alive because of me!"

  Shirley looked at Jeremy in surprise. She knew their relationship wasn't based on love, but did he really think so little of her? To think, she'd almost married this monster. She shivered to think what her life would have been like.

  "Jeremy," she said. She held his eyes when he looked at her. "It's over. I will never be with you, understand?"

  Jeremy just smiled at her. "It's okay, Shirley. My dad always said it was a man's duty to keep his woman in line. I've clearly been lax with you. Don't worry. We're gonna get rid of your little friend here and we'll set everything right. You just need a little discipline to see the way of things.

  Jackson shook his head. "You're wasting your breath. He genuinely thinks you just had a lovers spat." Jackson used his arm to put Shirley behind him. 

  "Alright, Jeremy," he said with an arrogant smirk, "let's get this over with so we can be on our way.

  Jeremy snarled at the look on Jackson's face. "Get over there! Wipe that smirk off his face."

  Jeremy's companions moved towards them while Jackson stood their confidently. This seemed to unnerve them a bit. Who just stood there when they were about to get the beating of their life? When they had covered about half the distance between them, Jackson suddenly sprang into action. He swiftly covered the remaining distance and gave the first man several strikes to the abdomen with the knife he had fashioned earlier.

  His friend stood in shock at the viciousness of the attack. Before he could recover, Jackson pounced on him as well. He fell to the ground, holding his stomach with blood pouring between his fingers. Jackson looked up from his handiwork and smiled at Jeremy.

  "Ready, Jeremy?" 

  Jeremy made no move to attack. He was furious. That could be seen easily enough. He was also at least slightly insane but not so far gone that he would attack Jackson after how quickly he had put down his friends.

  "What's wrong?" Jackson asked. "Where's all that bluster from a moment ago? Can't do anything without your friends? Well think about this," he said.

  "Come here, Shirley."

  Shirley frowned and moved to stand at Jackson's side. As soon as she reached him, Jackson grabbed her around the waist and kissed her fiercely on the mouth. Jackson released her and she stood next to him breathless.

  "You see that, Jer? First opportunity I get, I'm gonna take her someplace nice and quiet and well...let's just say I'm gonna run my hands all up and down that silky skin of hers."

  Shirley flushed. Why was he talking like this? Is that what he wanted? And that kiss. It had only been for a moment but she was still recovering. No man had ever kissed her like that. She pushed the thought from her mind. Now was not the time to be thinking about Jackson. 

  Jeremy's face twisted in anger at Jackson's words. With a roar, he rushed forward. Jackson moved to meet him and caught him in a hug.  Jeremy groaned in pain and looked down. Jackson had buried his make-shift knife up to the hilt in his stomach. He groaned as the strength left his body. Jackson laid him on the ground. 

  "So, you're going to die now, Jer." He twisted the knife a bit and Jeremy screamed in agony. He removed the knife and blood immediately started pooling through Jeremy's fingers as he tried to stop the flow.

  "I could've made that quick, but you're really a prick. I kinda felt you needed to suffer a bit. So as you're dying, I want you to think about how Shirley will never think about you again." Jeremy moaned again. Jackson was curious as to whether he was in more pain from the wound or the thought of Shirley being with someone else.

  Jackson stood. "Alright, we're done here."

  Shirley nodded and followed him towards the exit. They knelt behind one of the partitions fashioned for the bathrooms. The guard looked nervous, maybe he was worried about his friends in the common area. 

  "What do we do?" Shirley whispered quietly.

  "I need you to distract him," Jackson whispered back.

  "How?"

  "Doesn't matter. You can say anything. Just need you to keep him busy long enough for me to get behind him. When you talk to him, stand on either side. That way I can sneak up."

  Shirley nodded. She stood and walked towards the guard. The guard looked in her direction at the sound of her footsteps.

  "You lost, lady?"

  "No," Shirley said shaking her head, "I want to get out of here. Someone just got shot!"

  "Sorry, lady. Can't open this door. Can't risk the infected getting inside."

  "I'm supposed to stay here with people getting shot?"

  "I'm sure everything is under control b-" the guard crumpled to the ground as Jackson delivered a solid blow to his head. Jackson hit him again for good measure and the guard's eyes shut.

  "Great job," Jackson said. "Surprised you went with the truth."

  Shirley shrugged. "I was too nervous to do anything else."

  "Well, it worked. Get the door for me."

  Shirley pushed the door open and Jackson dragged the guard's body into the stairwell. He then set about to stripping him of anything useful. He took the guard's rifle and sidearm along with an extra clip of ammunition for each. The guard also had a proper combat knife which Jackson happily took. He then took off the guard's belt so he'd have a way to hold some of his new gear. The guard was also wearing a tactical vest that Jackson removed. 

  "Here," Jackson said as he handed Shirley the vest, "put this on."

  "Shouldn't you wear it?" Shirley asked.

  Jackson shook his head. "I'm too big to fit it but it should work for you. It'll be big but it'll give you some protection." Shirley nodded as she put the vest on.

  "Take this too," he said handing her the pistol. The safety's on, so you're fine. I'll show you how to use it later."

  "Where do I put it?"

  "Hold on." Jackson removed the thigh holster from the guard and help Shirley get into it. 

  "There you go. Don't go using that until I show you some things. I don't want you to shoot your foot or something."

  Shirley nodded. She'd never handled a gun before but she liked the idea of being able to protect herself. Jackson then motioned for Shirley to follow and led the way upstairs. The door to the first floor had a window cut out in it and Jackson used that to make sure the coast was clear. They were in a different part of the building than when they had first entered. Whoever had built the shelter had definitely made some modifications to the basic layout of the building. 

  Shirley felt this was a good thing. That hope
fully meant that they wouldn't run into any guards on their way out. Jackson led her to an exit and waited for her to catch up.

  "Ready?" he asked.

  Shirley nodded and Jackson opened the door and stepped outside. It was dark out so Shirley stayed close to Jackson as he led the way. He stuck to side streets and alleys for the most part. Shirley's feet quickly grew sore in her shoes, despite the fact that Jackson had broken off the heels. They walked for what seemed like hours when Jackson motioned for her to stop.

  They were near a brick wall that was about seven feet high. Shirley wondered why Jackson had stopped here. Was something wrong? She noticed Jackson staring through the wall and moved to get a closer look and saw that a gate was placed in the wall. Inside she saw a town home that had a well-kept backyard. The lights were all off but she didn't see any sign of damage. 

  "We're gonna stay here for the night," Jackson whispered.

  "Is it safe? What if someone's home?"

  "Then I'll persuade them to let us stay the night," he said. He motioned for her to follow. "Stay close. We'll check things out to make sure it's safe first." He tried the knob on the gate but it refused to open. He tried to reach through the bars to reach the lock but couldn't get his hands through.

  "See if you can reach the lock."

  Shirley nodded and replaced Jackson at the gate. It was tough, but she just managed to undo the latch. She looked to Jackson with a triumphant smile and he nodded.

  "Great work," he said. He led the way inside and motioned for her to close the gate behind them. Heading towards the house they saw a set of glass double doors. Jackson tried them and smiled when they opened at his touch.

  He waited for Shirley to enter and locked the door behind her. He fished for his cell phone and used it to light their way. "No lights," he whispered quietly. Don't want anyone to know we're here. If everything checks out, we can cover the windows or something so we don't have to sit in the dark all night."

  Shirley nodded and followed Jackson as he explored the house. They didn't see anything on the first floor and headed upstairs. They saw two bedrooms and a bathroom. A quick search showed signs of someone having left in a hurry. Both rooms had clothes strewn over the beds and the closet doors were hanging open.

  "Looks like they left in a hurry," Shirley whispered.

  "Looks that way," Jackson responded in a normal voice. 

  "What now?" Shirley asked.

  "I'm gonna make sure the front door is locked. Then we can look around for some food. Hopefully they left something."

  "Food sounds great right now."

  Jackson smiled. "Why don't you look for some sheets or something? I want to cover the windows before we turn on any lights." He handed her his cell phone and headed downstairs.

  Shirley used the light to look for a linen closet. She found what she needed in the hallway. Fortunately, the family hadn't taken everything with them. Shirley grabbed several sheets and headed downstairs. 

  Jackson met her at the stairs and they took some time to cover all the windows. A search of the kitchen turned up some duct tape and they used that to tape a sheet over the glass doors leading to the backyard. 

  "Alright," Jackson said. "Go ahead and turn on a light."

  Shirley used the phone to find the switch in the kitchen and flicked it on. Shirley sighed in relief. She was hoping they wouldn't have to spend the whole night in the dark.

  "Let's find some food," Jackson said. Shirley nodded and they looked through all of the cabinets. There wasn't a great deal left but they managed to find several cans of food. A search of the fridge turned up some frozen meat as well as some lettuce and vegetables.

  "Let's save the canned stuff," Jackson said, "we'll want that when we leave."

  "Okay," Shirley said as she nodded towards the meat Jackson had taken out of the freezer, "I hope you don't expect me to cook that."

  "You can't cook?" Jackson asked with a raised eyebrow.

  "I'm a famous anchorwoman that makes a great salary. I eat out a lot."

  Jackson chuckled. "Well famous anchorwoman, we're gonna have to change that."

  "That's a terrible idea. I burn popcorn."

  Jackson laughed. "Okay so we have a lot of work to do then."

  "A lot of work," Shirley emphasized. "You sure you want to take that on?"

  "I'm pretty sure I can handle it," Jackson said as he looked her in the eyes.

  Shirley flushed. They were still talking about food right? She walked over to the fridge to look inside. She grabbed the lettuce and vegetables and set them on the counter.

  "I can make a salad," she announced.

  "You sure?" Jackson asked smiling.

  Shirley laughed. "Yes, I’m sure. There's no cooking involved. No way for me to mess it up."

  "I suppose. Make sure you peel those cucumbers."

  "Why wouldn't I? Who eats cucumbers with the skin on?"

  "Weirdos as far as I'm concerned." 

  They laughed and spent the next few hours making small talk while Jackson cooked the meat on the stove. When it was done they brought everything into the dining room and sat at the table. The next few minutes was filled with the sounds of them eating. Days of just having a single meal had left them ravenous. Each of them had seconds while Jackson helped himself to a third plate.

  "I'm so full I'm gonna burst," Shirley said.

  "Good feeling isn't it?" Jackson asked. 

  Shirley smiled. "You're a great cook by the way. Tasted like I was eating something at a restaurant."

  "I aim to please," Jackson said with a smile.

  "Where did you learn to cook like that?"

  "I learned when I got out of prison actually. I was there for ten years you know. So, that's ten years of really crappy food. When I got out I promised myself I wouldn't eat like that if I could help it. I grabbed a cook book and started cooking."

  "Why were you at the studio? You should've been a chef or something."

  Jackson smiled. "I wanted to do that for a while actually. I actually went to school for it when I got out. No one would hire me with the record though. Not in this city. I only got the job at the studio because my mom knew someone there from her college days."

  "Sorry," Shirley said," didn't think about that."

  Jackson waved it away. "Nothing to be sorry for. Not your fault. And it's not like it was bad working at the studio. I made enough to have my own place and pay all the bills. So, not bad overall."

  "It's not what you wanted to do though."

  Jackson shook his head. "I did what I love to do. I cooked all the time. Just didn't make my living doing it."

  Shirley nodded. "That's a positive way of looking at it."

  Jackson shrugged. "Alright, your turn. What's with Jeremy? 

  Shirley shrugged. "He seemed harmless when I met him. I've never seen that side of him before. The short version is I knew that I wouldn't be famous forever. If I ever lost ratings, the station would have replaced me in a heartbeat. Jeremy was my insurance that I could keep living the way I was used to."

  Jackson nodded. "That makes sense."

  "Does that make me sound horrible? I didn't even love him."

  Jackson shrugged. "You were doing what you felt you needed to do. Why live poor if you can do something about it? That doesn't make you horrible. It just makes you someone who knew what they wanted and went for it."

  To Shirley's surprise, she felt a bit of relief at Jackson's words. It was nice that someone accepted her for who she was. With her normal circle of friends, she felt like she had to put on a high wire act every time she met with them. They were constantly judging one another, looking for any excuse to put you down. When she'd become part of high society as it were, she'd thought she'd finally made it. That she'd be able to relax and enjoy the finer things in life. Her new status had given her access to privileges the regular folk of Emerald Falls could only dream off. But the price, she could never have been herself with any of her high society friends. 


  She felt safe with Jackson. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. Jackson didn't judge her. Even after knowing why she'd done certain things. Was this what it felt like to have a real friend? She'd had friends before of course. Before she'd made it big at WKJ, she'd had her share of friends. When she entered high society though, she'd left them all behind. There hadn't been a lot, just two or three that she recalled. She'd forgotten what it was like to have someone you could talk to. A relationship that wasn't a performance filled with hidden expectations. 

  Jackson set his for aside and gave a sigh of contentment. "That hit the spot."

  Shirley chuckled. "I think we hit more than just the spot."

  "True," Jackson said as he chuckled.

  "Should we clean the dishes?"

  "No point," Jackson said as he shook his head. "We'll probably move on tomorrow. Our best bet is still to get out of the city."

  "Alright. It's really nice here though."

  Jackson nodded. "It is. But the city isn't safe. And we'd run out of food eventually."

  Shirley nodded. "What's next then?"

  "I'll take the rest of the meat out of the freezer and cook it in the morning. After that, maybe we hit a few houses nearby for supplies."

  "What about Rick's Sporting Goods. I thought we were going to go there."

  "We still can but we won't be getting first pick at this point. We were in the shelter for three days right?

  Shirley thought for a moment. "Yeah, today's Thursday and this all started on Monday. So yeah, three days."

  "Alright, we've been down there three days. Other people may have already grabbed anything worth taking."

  "Alright, that makes sense."

  Jackson nodded. "Okay, I'm thinking it's time to get some rest. I'd like to get all that done tomorrow. We also need to find a car."

  Shirley nodded as they left the table and headed upstairs. Jackson picked one of the bedrooms and headed inside. Shirley stood outside his door and thought for a moment. She wondered if she should go in there. Jackson was keeping her safe and she wanted to make sure he was motivated to keep doing that. She entered Jackson's room a few minutes later and crept towards his bed.

  "What are you doing?" he asked before she'd taken more than a few steps.

  "What's it look like I'm doing?" she asked as she struck what she thought was a seductive pose.

  Jackson sat up, there was just enough light from outside for him to see her in all her glory. "You're naked."

  "Well...yeah, that usually helps facilitate the process."

  Jackson chuckled. "Okay, true but that's not what I meant. I meant, why are you naked?"

  "Well I was planning on getting in bed with you," Shirley said suddenly uncertain. Was he not attracted to her? Had she been reading all the signs wrong? What about all the flirting? And that kiss? That couldn't have been just to piss Jeremy off could it?

  "I'm not Jeremy," Jackson said.

  "I know that," Shirley said. "Why would you even say that?"

  "Because maybe you seem to think you owe me something. You don't. I’ll keep you safe because I'm a fairly decent human being that protects the people he cares about. You don't have to do anything to earn my protection."

  "You don't want me?" she asked. "I thought...why have you been flirting with me if you don't like me? And that kiss earlier? What was that about?"

  "Yes, I want you," Jackson replied, "but not like this. Let me ask you a question. Are you in here because you want to be, or because you think this is what you need to do to keep yourself safe?"

  Shirley thought for a moment. She was attracted to Jackson. She had been for a while if she was going to be completely honest with herself. She wasn't sure if she'd have ever acted on it if this whole crisis hadn't happened. She probably would have married Jeremy and been miserable for the rest of her life. 

  "I take it from your silence, it's the second one," Jackson said.

  "Why can't it be both?" Shirley asked.

  "Because it doesn't need to be. An arrangement like that, I'd feel like I'm forcing myself on you."

  "I'm standing here because I choose too, Jackson."

  "I don't want an arrangement with you, Shirley. I don't want you to think you need to be in my bed in order for me to keep you safe. If I did that, I might as well hold a gun to your head. It's the same thing to me."

  "Okay. Thanks, I think...can I still stay with you? I won't try anything. I don't think I want to sleep alone."

  "That's fine. But I need you to put some clothes on first. I'm not gonna get any sleep if you're next to me like that."

  Shirley chuckled. "I'll be right back."

  A few minutes later she was dressed and laid down next to Jackson. "Thanks," she said quietly.

  "For what?" Jackson asked.

  "Just being you I guess. For saying no."

  "You're welcome. Night, Shirley."

  "Goodnight, Jackson."

  The next morning Shirley awoke to an empty bed. She felt around with her arm and finally opened her eyes. She was in bed alone. She got out of bed as she wondered where Jackson was. She took a moment to stretch then noticed the smell of something cooking. Was that bacon? Shirley made her way downstairs and saw Jackson in the kitchen.

  "Hey there," she said.

  "Hey," Jackson replied as he looked up from the stove.

  "You left me all alone."

  Jackson smiled. "I like the idea of spending all day in bed with you but we've got stuff to do today."

  Shirley smiled at the thoughts Jackson's words invoked. "You sure? A day of relaxing sounds pretty good right now."

  Jackson laughed. "That does sound good but I don't feel all that safe while we're still in the city." He left the stove and laid a kiss on her forehead. 

  "Tell you what, though. When we get somewhere safe, I promise you I'll keep you in bed all day."

  Shirley flushed at the thought. "Promise?"

  "Yeah. But today, we've got things to do." He headed back towards the stove. "Breakfast will be ready in a few."

  "Did I smell bacon?" Shirley asked.

  "Yeah, found some in the bottom drawer of the fridge. I'm making some eggs too."

  "That sounds fantastic." Shirley smiled as the thought of a great breakfast brought her the rest of the way into the land of the living. 

  Jackson finished with breakfast and they sat in the dining room to eat. They ate at a slower pace this time, no longer starving due to the good meal they'd had the night before. After breakfast, Jackson outlined their plans for the day.

  "I want to hit a few houses like I said last night. If we get lucky, we won't have to risk a trip to Rick's."

  "Why the change? You seemed okay with going there last night."

  "I was thinking that the more time that passes, the more dangerous the city gets. The infected have no doubt attacked a lot of people. Also, enough time has passed that we'll have to worry about other survivors."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Remember the shelter? People could easily be fighting over whatever is left. We'll hit Rick's if we have too, but we're safer if we can avoid some confrontations."

  Shirley nodded. "Alright." She pushed her empty plate aside. "Might as well start here then. I'll check upstairs for some clothes that fit." She gestured towards her business suit. "Don't think this is gonna cut it in the apocalypse."

  Jackson chuckled. "Fair enough. I'll pack us a lunch so we don't have to come back this way until we're done."

  Shirley nodded as she headed upstairs. She started with the master bedroom and searched through the clothes strewn around the room. She managed to turn up a pair of jeans and some gym shoes that might fit. A search of the other room turned up a t-shirt that would work. She changed into her new clothes and found that the jeans fit well enough although the cut wasn't to her liking. The shirt ended at her midriff but otherwise fit well enough, plus it was clean. She was glad to get out of the blouse and skirt she'd been wearing the last few days
. The shoes were a little tight but would serve. They'd definitely be better than the heels she's been running around in.

  Shirley scrounged around a bit more and found a scrunchie that she used to put her hair in a ponytail. She checked herself out in the mirror and was more or less satisfied. She couldn't be terribly picky about her clothes given the circumstances. Everything fit more or less so that would have to be good enough. She headed downstairs and blushed when she heard a whistle.

  "Nice," Jackson said with a smile. "You ready?"

  "Yeah, let's go."

  Jackson led her to the glass doors and moved the blanket aside to check the yard. Satisfied, he opened the door and stepped outside. He waited for Shirley to close the door and headed for the gate in the wall. 

  "Did you find anything in the house?" Shirley asked.

  "No," Jackson replied, "I checked the garage hoping they had a second car or something but no luck. Did find some tools though."

  "At least they left some food."

  "True." Jackson led the way down the alley to the next town home. This gate proved to be locked as well and Jackson retrieved a hammer and screwdriver from his belt. He set to work and had the gate open in short order. A search of the house turned up some clothes that Jackson could actually fit and a few more cans of food. Shirley found a bag they could store their items in. 

  The third townhouse revealed a working vehicle. After finding the keys, they loaded everything into the backseat. They were on their way back to their original town home when Jackson suddenly pulled the car to a stop.

  "What's wrong?" Shirley asked.

  "I think I see smoke," Jackson replied as he pointed in the direction of the disturbance.

  Shirley craned her neck to see. "I think you're right."

  Jackson nodded. "Change of plans then. We're leaving now. No telling how fast that'll spread without anyone to fight it."

  Shirley nodded. "Alright, where to?"

  Jackson looked at the smoke again. "That looks like the south if I'm not mistaken. We'll head north."

  Shirley nodded as Jackson put the car in gear and headed north out of the city. She looked back as he drove and wondered if she would ever see this place again. Thinking of the fire she wondered if there would be anything left if she did manage to get back here someday. She was glad to be alive but leaving your home was tough, no matter the circumstances. She figured she might have to get used to that feeling. How far would they have to go before they reached somewhere safe?

   

   

   

  7 Henry: Hidden Government Facility

   

  Henry opened his eyes and wondered what had woken him. Ah, they were descending. The change in motion must have done it. Looking out the window he saw they were arriving at some sort of fenced in facility. He could see four buildings from his vantage point and he wondered what their purpose was. He sighed as the helicopter touched down. Time to get back to work. He stretched as much as the confines allowed. He'd gotten a few hours of sleep so he should be able to start work as soon as the Captain's men got his specimens to the lab.

  He was directed to one of the large buildings and found himself in a large open space separated into sections with large white dividers. Looking closely, he saw that they appeared to be some sort of plastic in a wheeled metal frame. He pushed one slightly and nodded when it moved. If needed, he could rearrange the room. He didn't know if that would be necessary, but it was nice to have that option. He explored the various sections until he found what was meant to be his lab. He smiled as he stepped into the area.

  It looked like the military had come through. It appeared as if all the needed equipment was in place. If a treatment could be found, he could do it here. Leaving the lab, he continued to explore. He found a section that contained several cots and nodded. It was best if he and his techs could stay on site. No time would be lost traveling to and from their quarters. Exploring further he found a kitchen and even an area with some exercise equipment. It looked as if the military had spared no expense.  The final area he found contained what looked to be like several display cases. They were approximately eight feet in height and five feet in the width. 

  "I see you found our containment area," a voice said behind him.

  Henry turned and saw a man in a smart business suit. Henry wondered who he was. He obviously wasn't military. The man smiled at Henry's frown.

  "Agent Terrence Matte," he said extending his hand. 

  "Doctor Henry Pendleton," Henry said as he gripped the man's hand.

  "I know who you are doctor. Everyone knows who you are at this point. You're our only hope of stopping this mess."

  "Surely there are others working on a treatment as well."

  "No one else has your qualifications," Terrence replied. "There were some who were working on something. They either failed or their location was compromised before we could extract them."

  At Henry's frown Terrence waved a hand as if to dismiss his concern. "We're safe here for the time being."

  "The time being?"

  "Yes," Terrence said with a nod, “I’m a realist, doctor. I deal in what is, not what I hope to be and I make sure everyone around me knows that. I could stand here and tell you that we're perfectly safe but that would be a lie. When I say for the time being, I mean just that. This facility is surrounded by a high voltage electric fence. In theory, that should hold back any infected."

  "Should?"

  Terrence nodded again. "I like to prepare for various scenarios. In the event that the fence does not hold, we'll evacuate to another facility that's currently being prepared."

  "How long can we keep that up? It's a lot to set up a lab like this."

  "That's true," Terrence replied. "Let's just say it's in everyone's best interest if you solve this quickly."

  Henry nodded. "I'd better get to work then."

  Terrence nodded. "Your techs are here. I believe they were in the kitchen area when I came this way."

  "Thank you. I'll get to work right away."

  "Excellent. Do you need anything? I followed the specifications I was sent."

  "No, everything looks to be here," Henry replied. 

  Terrence nodded. "Alright then, I'll leave you to your work." He nodded towards the cages behind Henry. "The specimens should be delivered shortly. There will be a detail of soldiers here at all times to prevent any accidents."

  Henry nodded. He thought of the first tech he'd lost and wondered if he'd still be alive if they'd taken this precaution at the CDC. There had been a few soldiers around for the first incident but maybe that had worked out for the best. They'd gained valuable information and maybe having more soldiers around would have meant that they wouldn't have held out for as long as they did.

  "Thank you," Henry replied, "that gives me some peace of mind."

  Terrence nodded and left the room. Henry stopped by the kitchen for a quick bite to eat and then gathered up his techs. The first hour or so was spent configuring the equipment to their specifications. By then, the specimens had been delivered. Henry arranged for one of the specimens to be strapped to a table so he could perform some tests.

  Henry looked down at it as it growled at him. Under normal circumstances, he'd never get away with what he was about to do. He wanted to perform an autopsy. Perhaps there was a clue in the infected's brain that would give him a clue as to how he should proceed. There was only so much information you could gain from a live specimen.

  He nodded towards one of the guards. "Terminate it, if you would."

  The guard frowned. "Kill it? You sure? We've only got three of these."

  "Yes, I'm sure," Henry replied. "I need to perform an autopsy on its brain and I can't very well do that while it’s still breathing. Now, if you would. And not in the head, I need that."

  The guard nodded and stepped forward, drawing his sidearm as he moved. He glanced back toward the other guard. "Go let them know what's happening so they don't panic
."

  The guard nodded and left the room. Henry frowned, he probably should have thought of that. Oh well, he was brilliant but he couldn't think of everything. Henry jumped as a single shot rang out. The guard had delivered a perfect shot to the infected's chest.

  "Thank you," Henry said.

  The guard nodded and returned to his post near the cages. Henry directed one of his techs to grab a bone saw and set to work. The tech stepped back when he was finished, bits of bone fell to the ground from his apron. Henry directed another tech to remove the brain. 

  "Bring it to the lab when you're done," he said. He left the room and returned to the lab. He didn't know what the autopsy would reveal but he had to try something. He'd ruled out the possibility of a cure earlier so what was left? He hoped for some way to stop the infection from spreading. It wouldn't stop the infected from killing people but at least that would stop this from spreading further. 

  A few hours later he stepped away from the table in frustration. The autopsy had been a waste of time. The brain revealed that the infected had some form of rabies but he already knew that. What he really needed was to see the infection first hand, from start to finish. Maybe something in that process would reveal how he could fight it. He sighed at the thought of the opportunity he'd already missed. If only they had put that tech in observation instead of throwing it in the room with the other infected.

  He was stuck. There was no way to proceed without seeing the infection first hand and there was no way that could happen. There was no way they could purposely infect someone. Was there? A lot was on the line here. The fate of the entire country rested in his hands. If he stopped the infection from spreading it would only be a matter of time before the military regained control. These were desperate circumstances. Maybe that justified what he thought. He called one of his techs over and ordered them to go get a guard.

  Henry paced back and forth arguing with himself. The thought of this went against everything he stood for. He was supposed to help people, not hurt them. He certainly wasn't supposed to purposely infect someone with a disease that would kill them. But if he didn't? He was at an impasse. Without his treatment the infection would spread unchecked. 

  "Doctor?" 

  Henry turned and saw one of the soldiers standing in the room. "I need to speak with Terrence Matte."

  The guard nodded and spoke into his walkie. A few moments later a response assured them that Terrence was on the way. Henry thanked the guard and resumed his pacing. He couldn't believe what he was about to do but he didn't see any other way. Better that one die so that everyone else might live. Footsteps alerted him to Terrence's arrival.

  "Hello, doctor. What do you need?"

  Henry stopped pacing and looked at Terrence. "I have to ask something terrible. I can't believe I'm even asking this but I don't see another way."

  "What's the problem?" Terrence asked.

  "I can't go any further. The autopsy was useless. All I've been able to do is confirm that the infection is a modified form of the rabies virus. There are foreign elements in play that I've never seen before."

  "Where do we go from here, doctor? We're all counting on you."

  "I hate to ask it, but I need to see the infection first hand."

  "What do you mean? We've provided several samples for your use."

  Henry sighed. "I mean that I need to hook someone up to monitoring equipment and see what happens when they get infected."

  Terrence nodded. "That makes sense I suppose. I'll make it happen. What do you need to run your tests?"

  "An MRI, an ultrasound, and recording equipment." Henry spent the next few minutes detailing all the equipment he felt would be needed.

  "Alright. I'll set men on it immediately. Thank you, doctor. I know this is a hard decision for you but it's for the greater good." Terrence nodded and left the room.

  Henry sank onto a stool. He couldn't believe what he'd just asked. He'd just signed someone's death warrant. But he simply didn't see another way to stop this infection. He felt as if a weight settled onto his soul. He'd have to deal with this for the rest of his life. He only hoped it would be worth it. He didn't know how he'd live with himself if this turned out to be another dead end. Henry thought of the bottle of whiskey sitting in his bag. All he had to do was go to the sleeping area and get it. A little bit of forgetfulness would be great right now.

  He shook his head. No, not right now. He had to be at his best when Terrence returned with the...with the specimen. That helped. Not thinking of whoever came as human quieted the guilt, if only a little bit. He knew he was fooling himself but he'd do it if it got him through it. Henry sighed as he stood up. It probably made sense to get a bite to eat now, before Terrence returned.  Henry headed over to the kitchen area and made himself a sandwich. He was hungrier than he thought as he quickly ate that sandwich and was halfway through a third before he felt full. 

  Leaving the kitchen, he directed his techs to rearrange the space. They'd need an area to conduct the experiment. Yes, the experiment. It helped to think of it that way. Once the space was prepared he decided to take a nap so he could be fresh when Terrence returned. He left instructions with his tech to wake him as soon as Terrence arrived. 

  He awoke hours later to one of his techs shaking him insistently. "I'm up," he said.

  "Terrence is back, sir. They're setting up in the new space we made."

  Henry nodded and waved him off. He headed to the bathroom to splash some water on his face and made his way to the new area. He entered the room and saw ten people handcuffed and standing against the wall. Several guards with rifles kept them in line. On the far side of the area, an MRI machine sat waiting. There was also a table set up with a laptop which would be needed to observe the results of the MRI. Terrence saw him and walked over.

  "We've got what you need, doctor. How would you like to proceed?"

  Henry looked around the room in shock. "I didn't need this many. Just the one."

  Terrence looked at him patiently. "Doctor, would one subject be enough to gather the data you need?"

  "No, but this...I didn't ask for this."

  "This isn't the time for cold feet doctor. You said you needed live specimens so I've delivered. This is for the good of the country, doctor. These men and women, their sacrifice will ensure our society survives."

  Henry sighed. Of course one subject wouldn't be enough. He'd known that deep down but had hoped he'd only have to do this the one time. He put his emotions aside as best he could, he'd face his demons later. Terrence nodded as if he saw the change in the doctor's thoughts.

  "How shall we proceed, Doctor?"

  "I'd like two tables," he said. "Strap the infected on one, and the live specimen on the other. Full straps, head, arms, torso, and legs. The tables need to be close together. I'll need to administer the infection quickly. Assuming it still shares some properties with the rabies virus, it'll become dormant if it dries."

  He looked towards the people still standing against the wall. "I don't need the rest right now." The guards looked to Terrence for confirmation and then escorted the remaining people from the room.

  Terrence directed some guards to set things up according to the doctor's specifications. Henry approached the tables when it was done. The table on the left had an infected strapped to it. It growled impotently but wasn't able to move. The second table had a young woman on it in a similar position. She whimpered as Henry approached the table.

  "Please..." she begged, "why are you doing this to me? I didn't do anything. Please, let me go."

  Henry stared into her eyes as something broke inside him. He would do it. He would kill this woman. What was it that Terrence said? For the greater good. Yes, that was it. He would damn his soul for the greater good.

  "Steel yourself, Doctor," Terrence said. "You said yourself it has to be done."

  Henry nodded and selected a syringe from a nearby tray. He nodded towards two of his techs and they approached wearing thick
rubber gloves. They pried the infected's mouth open and Henry used the syringe to collect a saliva sample. He then moved over to the woman and looked for a vein on her arm. He could simply deposit the sample orally, but the bloodstream would probably allow the experiment to progress more quickly.

  "Wouldn't it be faster to just let the infected bite her?" Terrence asked.

  Henry shook his head. "We couldn't guarantee it wouldn't kill her in the process. This is more efficient."

  "What are you doing?" the woman asked. "What are you doing with that?"

  Henry smiled sadly as he found a suitable vein. "I'm sorry," he said, and plunged the needle into her arm. She whimpered as Henry depressed the plunger. 

  "What's next?" Terrence asked.

  "Now, we wait," Henry replied. "From my earlier observations, it takes approximately two hours before the infection takes over." He directed his techs to start the monitoring equipment.

  "Let's get her into the MRI. I want to see what's happening to her brain as the infection takes hold."

  Terrence nodded and directed some guards in protective gear to escort the woman to the MRI. Henry sat at the table to observe the results on the computer. There were two monitors, one to display results of the scan and another that showed a live shot of the woman's face. Henry could see that she had already lost some color.

  Terrence sat down next to Henry. "I'll observe with you if don't mind, Doctor."

  Henry shrugged.

  The next two hours passed slowly for Henry. He could have left and simply returned later for the results but that felt too much like cowardice. If he had consigned this woman to death, the least he could do was be present for it. Henry examined the computer screen as the results began to appear. He'd be busy with this for a while. He glanced at Terrence who was watching the live screen intently. Looking over, Henry saw the woman open her eyes, no trace of humanity remained. 

  An idea began to form in Henry's mind but he'd need more test subjects. He wasn't sure the ones they had would be enough. He sighed as turned to Terrence. "I have a few ideas," he said.

  Terrence nodded. "Excellent, Doctor. What do you need?"

  "More test subjects."

  "I'll see it done," Terrence said. Terrence took a few steps then turned back.

  "I have a question, Doctor."

  "Yes?"

  "I don't think it's been said out loud at this point, but this infection, there's no way this could occur in nature, right?

  Henry nodded. "It's man made. Nature would never come up with something like this."

  "Is there any way to trace who did this? 

  Henry thought for a moment. "I have one of my techs working on identifying some elements of the virus. Once that's done, you might be able to check those results against labs that were known to work with those substances."

  Terrence nodded. "Good. See that your man informs me as soon as he's done. I mean to find the bastard that did this and put a bullet between his eyes."
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