Read The Search For A Cure Online
Authors: C. Chase Harwood
Tags: #Amazing and unique zombie series.
Will said with misplaced cheer, “Good morning, Mr. Washington. Pour you a cup?”
“Thank you.” He nodded back toward the cots. “The old woman’s dead.”
“Yes, we saw that. We’ll let the others sleep as long as they can and then we’ll alert the guards. Better to let folks enjoy as much slumber as they can get.”
A man wearing blue coveralls reached out to Jon and offered his hand. “David Miller, Mr. Washington. Own the Irving Gas in town. I’m familiar with your writing. We kept several papers at my station. I thought your work was really good. Very helpful.”
Another man, Loren Haymaker, tall and skinny with a large Adam’s apple, nodded at the dead woman, “They like to burn’em quick as possible. Major’s afraid the smell, if we let ’em rot, will attract the infected.”
Jon said, “Major’s an idiot. The infected are coming, rotting bodies or not. Burning them will only send up a smoke signal.”
A bookish looking man in tweeds said, "Perhaps, but burning the bodies insures against other infections." He held out a hand. “Mr. Washington, I’m also familiar with your work. I'm Doctor Paul Smith. I’m a professor and doctor of sociology at Bowdoin.” He shook Jon’s hand. “May I say that your reporting from the front was remarkable? You offered information that the authorities seemed incapable or unwilling to provide. Your stories have, I’m quite certain, saved countless lives and gave the ones whose instinct it was to flee early a chance for survival.”
“Thanks. Nice to meet you, Professor.”
Smith continued, “I should say that I am somewhat of a reporter as well. I and several of my colleagues from Emerson Medical School in Atlanta took it upon ourselves to study the Cain’s phenomenon directly. We felt at the time that we weren’t getting all the facts. I mean, who in their right mind believed all of that hype? Cannibalism and whatnot. The hospital had several subjects from which to study. We kept our specimens in cages.” He looked at his surroundings. “And I suspect that I will ironically perish in this one… but I digress. If you don’t mind my saying, despite the precautions taken by our government and its feeble attempts to educate us, our path of action as a society to the threat of this plague has been remarkably imprudent. It is our continued ignorance that has led us to this preposterous situation, leaning back on our militaristic heels, when the solution is simple enough.”
“How is that?”
“Feed them. Feed the infected. As long as we kept them fed, the aggression that the victims showed toward my colleagues and me was reduced considerably. God forbid we do the obvious. As it is, Major Deighton’s idiocy is inconsequential. His is just the first wave in a pointless banzai charge to the death. It is a mentality that we cannot seem to outgrow as a society, and it will doom us all.”
Jon pondered this statement trying to think of a way to take the man seriously and then finally gave up. “Well, again, thank you for the kind words about my reporting.” He turned to Will, “Thanks for the coffee. I think I’ll look around and see if I can find the weaknesses in our jail.”
“But, Mr. Washington. I haven’t finished,” called Smith.
Jon waved his arm at the man while keeping his head turned away. The gesture said I hear you but don’t want to hear more. He aimed for the port-a-john, left his coffee outside and entered to take care of his morning’s full bladder. When he stepped back out, he found Nikki drinking his coffee and waiting her turn.
She handed him the cup and said, “Back out in a sec.”
A thick fog was rolling in off the lake and a light breeze blew the mist around, occasionally obscuring the power plant. Nikki stepped back out to find Jon observing the power lines that came down from their towers to the transformers inside the cage.
“How’d you sleep?” he asked.
“As well as you. I expected to be overrun by crazed killers at any moment. Didn’t help that that backhoe was running all night. Looks like they finished their trench.” Jon took that in and then let his gaze shift back to the power lines. They were an obvious way to climb out. A man could walk on one of the thick cables while holding onto another one above his head. The trouble was, if he managed to make it to the first tower, he had to continue the tightrope walk right over the power plant. If he made it that far, there was a bigger tower and then a long span out over the lake to the next one anchored on a small island. After that the towers continued north as far as the eye could see.
Nikki said, “We wouldn’t make it past the top of the cage before getting shot.”
Jon finished his coffee. “Maybe in the dark.”
“Maybe.” Nikki stomped her feet and shivered, “Damn chilly.”
Jon found himself unconsciously putting his arm around her shoulders. Nikki gently shrugged him off.
“Sorry. Just trying to get warm.”
She stomped her feet again and then leaned into him. “Just for warmth.”
She felt good under his arm and he tried to ignore it, tried to stay casual, saying, “Night or not, when they come, and it looks like they’re going to get in, we climb out of here. If we get shot, it beats the alternative.”
Will stepped over to them rubbing cramps out of his lower back. “We’ve all talked about that route. You’re probably surprised that we haven’t just climbed out of here.”
Nikki said, “We understand why.”
“They shot Bill O’Reilly. He was the first guy they stuck in here. It wasn’t but an hour after the electricity finally died before he tried to climb out. Deighton let him make it almost to the tower before he had that son-of-a-bitch sergeant of his shoot him. Quite the marksman, the Sergeant - got him through both his hands. Bill fell to his death. It was sport for Deighton. Most of the rest of us in here now? We’re the folks that protested that killing.”
Jon asked, “What did O’Reilly do to get in here?”
“He was Deighton’s commanding officer. Deighton and the few real soldiers here are mutineers. O’Reilly was trying to evacuate the town per orders. Deighton called him an unpatriotic fool and arrested him for supposed ‘dereliction of duty’. Most of the other folks who are working with the major are either local survivalist types, ultra paranoid, or they’re just scared and confused. There’s people in this town that have never been outside it. Others are just stragglers trying to stay ahead of the onslaught. They got caught up in this and don’t want to end up in the cage like us.”
“So what did you do in this town, Will?” asked Nikki.
“I'm the mayor.”
The trench was U shaped with both ends stopping at the edge of the lake so the power plant would be surrounded with water. Two temporary dams had held the water back until the trench was done. One of the soldiers who had been digging postholes the day before yelled out an all clear and then began to hit part of a dam with a sledgehammer. The water gushed in, filling the trench and making it a moat. Between the moat, the berm, the fence, the minefield and the power plant, Deighton’s people had their castle.
Two hours after that, the residents began to move in. The only way to reach the castle was from the lakeside via a few canoes and rowboats. Jon and Nikki had to admit that it was a formidable fortress. They weren’t so sure it did much to start
Taking Back America
, but it did create a sense of control in an otherwise chaotic world. Their cage was on the far side of all of this, suddenly separate and out in the open.
The detainees stood in their prison and made eye contact with the new residents as they streamed into the castle. Several people seemed to question why there were people being left outside. One woman could be heard yelling, “But that’s Will. That’s Will Parker.” Before she could say more, she was physically shoved into the windowless building.
So the people in the castle weren’t all complicit, but it was obvious that the few didn’t have the power to change the many.
Breakfast was a new novelty. Because of the moat, the guards used a cattle ramp taken from a boxcar to get to them, extending it across the water like a drawbridge. The food was more of the same, only just a little bit less. Jon worried that he and Nikki weren’t getting enough calories. A few more days on these rations and they wouldn’t have the strength to escape anyway. The guards entered and handled the dead woman like a sack of garbage. Heaving her onto the bed of their pick-up. The prisoners were shocked, but no one spoke up in the body’s defense.
Late in the day, rain came pouring down in great heavy sheets. The front of the tropical storm that had been washing away the nerve agent down at Fort Jackson now dumped its heavy burden over Northern Maine. The ground became a thin slurry of slippery mud. Then the slurry thickened up and became inches of muck as the hard ground yielded to the building storm. The prisoners huddled under the leaky sideless tent. It was meager shelter against the wind whipped rain. A pool of water gathered on the ground at the center, so everyone sat or lay down miserably with his or her knees tucked up on their cots, their thin blankets pulled around them. When the center of the storm was right on top of them thunder clapped, vibrating their organs while close hits of lighting lifted the finer hair on their heads with static electricity. As the evening progressed, the visibility was reduced to fifty feet as the rain came down even harder, testing the thin canopy’s ability to remain upright. When night finally fell, they could see no more than a couple of yards.
In the Fort Jackson bomb shelter, the scientists and Rangers had chosen one shower area to wash off any Novichok that might have touched their chem suits, then hung them to dry.
Sergeant Bullock called out, “Okay people, just like the twenty other shelters in this cluster, this place was supposedly designed to hold fifty. Find a rack, get settled and we’ll eat. Preston, your squad is on KP. Cavanaugh, you boys have topside shift at twenty-one-hundred.”
Each hallway led to a series of private quarters with beds and basic furnishings. The scientists claimed their own wing. As they each picked a room, Christy Tsue, the team’s equipment tech, asked her fellow assistant, Will Warner, “How do you suppose they keep the lights on?”
“Don’t know. Maybe a small nuclear plant. Only way to keep the lights and air filters going for the kind of extended stay needed to outlast fallout. Ironic, huh? Nuclear power to save you from nuclear power?”
Tran was still coated in his own drying, salty, sweat as he enjoyed the light feeling of walking without his Tychem suit. Having chosen to eat something first, he was the last to get to the communal bath in their wing. His colleagues were surprisingly chatty as they headed past him to go the dining area. Derrick sniffed at him. “Don’t hesitate to jump right into that shower, Dude. Endless hot water.”
The water was hot and there were full soap dispensers as well as items like deodorant, combs and razors. The place was set up for occupation at a moment’s notice: all of the comforts of home in a cave. Tran wasn’t normally a long shower taker, but the freedom from fear mixed with the easing feeling of the hot water kept him in there longer. Heck he had it to himself - might as well enjoy it.
As he hung his head and let the water roll off his shoulders, his thoughts drifted aimlessly as he added the bunker to a mundane catalogue of places he had been: work, work spaces, research, moving from Washington to Ottawa, work, research, work colleagues, and then he found himself remembering a date he’d had in DC the night that the news changed from reports of random acts of violence in Miami Dade, to urgent headlines about a massive wave of violence including acts of cannibalism. At the time, he hadn’t had a date in about a year. The girl’s name was Kimberly and she was hot. His work was so encompassing that he just didn’t think much about dating. It was Susan who had set him up. Kimberly was a grad student of hers at Georgetown, working as Susan’s teacher’s aide that semester.
He chuckled out loud as he remembered begging off - what had he been thinking? Fortunately, Susan wasn’t going to let a little thing like his shyness and an insane work ethic stop her matchmaking. He’d finally relented after she threatened to not let him come to work for a week. Ten weeks of unused vacation time from five years of working with her. “Enough was enough,” she insisted.
He had taken Susan’s suggestion and made reservations at her favorite restaurant, Citronelle, but just the Lounge - after all, it was only a first date. Kimberly chose to meet him there, he supposed so she could make a quick escape when she realized what a hopeless geek he was. Tran was second generation Vietnamese American and though most of his family’s conservative manners and traditions had been usurped by good old American everydayness, he at least got himself there first, managed to find a spot by the fireplace, and stood when the Maître d’ guided Kimberly to their table.
She was breathtaking; tall, blond, blue eyed – a Nordic goddess. At first he was certain there had been a mistake, but when the Maître d’ asked again, “You are Robert Tran?”
He couldn’t deny it. So the chair was pulled for Miss Kimberly-sadly-Tran-could-not-remember-her-last-name-Nordic Goddess, who sat with a happy sparkle in her eye.