Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00014]“Bingo!” Caleb yelled as they walked back into the warehouse. He reached into a big wooden crate that he and Santiago had pried the lid off of and pulled out an automatic rifle. Santiago took another one out and worked the action, cocking the gun. The weapon was pointing carelessly at Caleb as he did it and the click of the hammer falling as he pulled the trigger was loud.
“What the hell are you doing?” Akila exclaimed, running over and snatching the gun out of Santiago’s hands.
“Hey! What’s your problem?”
“You.” Without looking at the rifle she released the clip, which she caught and put in her pocket, then levered the action to make sure the chamber was empty. “You pointed your weapon at Caleb and pulled the trigger. Are you a complete idiot?”
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Santiago shrugged. “It was empty anyway.”
“You didn’t know that. You didn’t check. You just picked it up and started pulling the trigger. If it had been loaded, Caleb would be dead right now.” Caleb looked a little pale.
“I know how to handle a gun,” Santiago said, his face darkening.
“Clearly you don’t.” She gave him the empty gun back. “Rule number one: Don’t point that thing at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Assume it’s loaded, even if you are sure it isn’t.” She turned to Caleb and he handed her the rifle he was holding without saying anything. She pulled the clip, made sure it was empty, and handed it back to him, completely ignoring the hard look Santiago was giving her. She stepped over to the crate and looked inside. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Nate knew almost nothing about guns, but he thought he recognized the ones Santiago and Caleb were holding. They were AK-47s, a staple of Hollywood movies.
Akila was pulling out rifles and setting them aside. When she got to the bottom of the crate she said, “It looks like we have a dozen AKs.” She pulled out a few boxes from the bottom of the crate. “And five hundred rounds. That’s not a lot.”
“Maybe there’s some more in those other boxes,” Tony said.
“I hope so because five hundred rounds won’t last us very long. You guys finish going through the rest of them. I’m going up on the roof.” She gestured at the wall of the warehouse, where a built-in ladder led up to a trapdoor on the roof. “I’m going to go up and keep watch, in case they come back.” She shouldered one of the AKs, picked up a cloth bag that was lying on a stack of boxes, loaded all the ammo into the bag and started for the ladder.
“Where are you going with all the bullets?” Santiago said. “Who died and put you in charge here anyway?”
Akila stopped in mid stride. Slowly she turned around and walked up to Santiago. Fixing him with a direct look, she said, “Have you ever fired one of these?”
“I’ve gone shooting with my cousins. Lots of times.”
“I repeat: Have you ever fired one of these?”
“Not one of those, no. But I’ve used a shotgun and my uncle’s thirty-thirty.”
“This isn’t your uncle’s thirty-thirty. That’s a hunting rifle. For things that can’t shoot back.” She held up her AK. “This is a killing rifle. For things that can shoot back.”
“So you’re just going to leave us down here defenseless?”
“You’re not defenseless. I said I would be on the roof on watch. Tomorrow I will teach all of you how to use these. Until then, I don’t want you killing each other. Or me.” To Caleb she said, “I want to know at once if you find any more weapons or ammo.” Caleb nodded.
Akila had stuck both pistols in her belt. Santiago pointed at them. “At least leave us one of those.”
Akila shook her head. “Not until I’m convinced you won’t shoot someone by accident.” Then she went up on the roof and left them.
“What a bitch,” Santiago growled when she was gone.
“Well, I’m glad she’s here,” Tony said. “We should listen to her, she’s a soldier. She’s the only one who has any training in this kind of stuff.”
Santiago muttered something and went back to looking through the crates.
“I don’t feel safe in here,” Tamara said, hooking her arm through Caleb’s. “I think we should get back on the plane.”
“That’s stupid,” Santiago said, turning back to her. “That plane is our only way out of here. If those guys come back and start shooting at us and we’re in the plane it’s going to get all shot up and we’re never going to leave here.”
“He’s right,” Caleb said, earning him an unhappy look from Tamara. “Besides, look at the walls on this place. It’s not a normal warehouse. It looks like whoever set this all up expected trouble. There’s extra steel plating everywhere and the window has bars on it. With these guns, I think we can hold out pretty good in here.”
“If that puta ever gives us any bullets,” Santiago groused.
“If we’re staying in here I want my stuff from the plane,” Tamara said. “But I don’t want to go out there alone.”
“I’ll come with you,” Jordynn said. “I want to get my bag too.”
Tamara ignored her and turned to Caleb. “Won’t you come with me, Caleb?”
“You’ll be right,” he told her. “The pilots are out there. I want to see what else is in here.” He was already turning away and missed the frown she gave him. Then Tamara shrugged and she and Jordynn left. They came back a few minutes later, wheeling their carry-on bags behind them. They disappeared into the living quarters.
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
Santiago, Caleb, Tony, Maha and Nate continued searching through the crates for a while longer until Caleb finally said, “There’s too many. We’re never going to get through them all tonight. I’m going to go sit down.” The others followed him in, except for Santiago who ignored them and kept going.
When they got into the common room they saw that Jordynn had turned the TV on, but it showed only a blue screen. “It’s not working,” she said. She punched a few buttons but nothing happened.
“It’s satellite TV,” Tony said, walking over. “You have to turn the receiver on too.”
On a shelf underneath the TV was a black box. He pushed a button and the light on the front came on. A picture appeared.
It was a news broadcast, but in a foreign language. The newscaster was a middle-aged man. He was speaking rapidly and was obviously very upset. Words in a foreign language scrolled across the bottom of the screen. One by one the contestants quit what they were doing and walked over to stare at the TV.
The picture changed, showing what appeared to be a room in a hospital. The room was packed with people. Some were lying motionless on the floor. The camera zoomed in on a woman slumped on a bench. She was coughing and there was blood at the corners of her mouth. Much of her exposed skin was an angry red and she seemed to have blisters. The newscaster was speaking in hushed tones now. While they watched, Santiago came into the room.
“Is that the virus?” Nate asked.
“It couldn’t have spread that fast,” Santiago said dismissively. “Nothing spreads that fast.”
“I wish I could tell what he’s saying,” Jordynn said.
“He’s saying, ‘If only they hadn’t eaten that dead rat they found, they wouldn’t be feeling sick,’” Caleb said.
Jordynn turned a horrified look on him. “What kind of racist shit is that?”
“Easy, lass. I’m just trying to lighten the mood. It’s Africa, right? Doesn’t this kind of stuff happen all the time here?”
Jordynn muttered something under her breath.
Caleb looked around, saw others looking at him shaking their heads and held up his hands. “Okay. Sorry.  No harm.”
“Try to use your brain next time you open your mouth,” Jenna said. She walked over and sat on the couch. “Try another channel. Maybe we’ll find one in English.”
There were three other channels. Two of them were news channels. One of those showed a line of police with batons and helmets, facing off against an angry crowd. The other one was carrying what appeared to be an interview with some government official. The last channel was HBO, but the movie was dubbed into a foreign language. Jordynn turned the TV off and they all sat there in stunned silence, each trying to grapple with what they’d just seen. Tony was the first to speak.
“No fucking way,” he burst out. “You gotta be kidding me. Could this day suck any more? Seriously, is this the worst fucking day in the history of the world? We almost die in a plane crash. Assholes show up and shoot at us. And now this. What’s next? Locusts?”
“Take it easy,” Maha said.
“You take it easy,” Tony said. “For me, I’m planning on panicking and maybe later just giving the hell up.”
“I still say it’s nothing,” Santiago declared. “Just people overreacting.”
“Then you’re a dickhead,” Tony told him. He got up and stomped out of the room, going back into the warehouse.
“I’m getting all the booze off the plane, every drop,” Caleb said. “I’m getting pissed until I can’t see.” He left the room.
“What are we going to do?” Nate said to no one in particular.
“What can we do?” Jordynn replied bleakly.
“I’m tired,” Jenna said. “I’m going to get some sleep.”
Caleb came back with several bottles of liquor which he put on the table. He rummaged through the cupboards, found a glass and sat down. He poured a generous amount and drank off half of it in one gulp. Santiago got his own glass and joined him. A minute later Tamara and Jordynn did as well.
Nate left the room and went into the warehouse. He was exhausted, but he knew there was no chance of sleeping, not with all the crap running around in his head. He needed to be moving, to be doing something.
Tony was sitting on one of the crates, his head in his hands. Nate walked over to him. “How are you doing?” he asked.
Tony turned red eyes on him. “How do you think I’m doing?” he snapped.
Nate held up his hands. “I was just asking.”
Tony sighed. “I know. Sorry for being such an asshole.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“You want to hear something crazy?” Tony asked. “I’m sitting here freaking out and you know what occurred to me?” Nate shook his head. “They should have the cameras here.” He waved around the warehouse. “This would make a great reality show.” His words choked off at the end and he began rubbing his eyes.
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
Nate stood there for a minute longer, wishing there was something he could say or do but the truth was that there wasn’t. He felt just as lost and desperate as Tony. Finally he left and went on the roof.
When he opened the trapdoor and stuck his head out, he couldn’t see anything but inky blackness. From the blackness came Akila’s voice.
“Shut that thing. You’re ruining my night vision.”
He climbed out onto the roof and lowered the trap door behind him. Afraid he might fall over the edge, he just stood there. After a minute, shapes began to emerge from the darkness. Gradually he picked out Akila, standing at one end of the warehouse. A mosquito whined by his ear and he slapped at it. He walked over to her.
“If you want to go get some sleep, I can watch for a while.”
“Thanks. I could use a break.” She didn’t offer him the rifle, for which Nate was grateful. She walked a few feet away and lay down on the roof.
“Aren’t you going to go inside?”
“No offense, but it doesn’t look like you know your ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to weapons.”
“I’ve seen them in movies and on TV. They don’t seem to ever run out of bullets.”
“I’ll give you all a lesson tomorrow. Until then I’ll keep a hold of this for you. If you hear anything, just wake me up.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Now you’re getting it.” She shifted, trying to get more comfortable, then said, “Did those knuckleheads find any more ammo?”
“Good. I’m more worried about one of them shooting me by accident than one of the enemy.”
A minute or two passed in silence. “Akila?”
Sharply. “What?”
Nate told her what they’d seen on the TV. When he was done he waited for her to respond but she said nothing. “Well?” he said.
“Well, what?”
“What are we going to do?”
“The same thing we’re doing right now. Keep our heads and be ready when those assholes come back shooting.”
“Is that it?”
“We’re in enemy territory. Probably outnumbered. We’ve got no intel and no chance of reinforcement. Seems like enough to me.”
Nate felt like shaking her. “But what about the virus?” he said in exasperation.
“What about it?”
“Is that all you have to say?” He realized his voice had risen but he couldn’t seem to control it. “Our world’s falling apart and that’s all you have?”
He heard her sit up, felt her eyes on him. “Listen, Nate. I was a soldier for eight years. If I learned one thing during that time, it’s this: sleep when you can. Don’t fret about things outside your control. Focus on the enemy in front of you.”
“That’s more than one thing.”
“Damned if it isn’t. I was never much good at math.” She lay back down.
Nate started to say something else and she cut him off. “Don’t say another word. I’m trying to sleep. Get me up in two hours.”
Then Nate sat there in the darkness, listening as her breathing grew steady and slow. At first it was unbearable. He wanted to talk. He wanted to scream. He wanted to do something. But gradually her words sank in. There really wasn’t anything he or the others could do about what was happening in the outside world. All they could do was deal with what they had in front of them. That was enough.
He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew he was jolted up out of a dream by a loud roaring from the trees. He jumped to his feet.
“What was that? Was that a lion?”
Akila didn’t reply. There was another roar and after it a chorus of shrieks and cries. What the hell were those? Birds? Monkeys?
Another roar and Nate walked over to Akila and shook her. “Wake up.”
“Quit that. I’m awake.”
“There’s a lion.”
“I heard it.”
“What should we do?”
“Let me go back to sleep.”
“But what if it gets up here?”
“Then wake me up and I’ll shoot it for you. You can make a rug. Go away. Now.”
The roar was not repeated. The night got quiet once again. At one point Nate thought he heard an engine in the distance but he could not be sure and the sound quickly faded. He walked around the perimeter of the roof. There was one big tree growing right next to the building. While he was standing there looking at it he heard a limb snap and he jumped, his heart instantly racing. He froze, staring into the darkness, but the sound did not repeat.
He went back and sat down. No planes flew overhead. Were they just off the beaten path, or was everything grounded because of the virus? The night was very dark. There were no city lights on any horizon. There were no people sounds at all. He might have been the last man in the world.
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
Two hours passed and Nate woke up Akila and went back down the ladder. Tony was no longer in the warehouse. Tamara and Jordynn were sprawled out on the couch and the love seat. Tamara was snoring. Caleb and Santiago were the only ones still awake.
As Nate walked into the room, Caleb gripped Santiago’s hand fiercely. In his other hand he was holding his rifle.
“We’ll show those wankers,” he said, his words slurring. “They come again we’ll give them what for.”
Santiago banged the butt of his rifle on the table. “Gonna shoot them some new assholes.” He was slurring badly too. There were two empty bottles on the table between them and a glass that had been tipped over.
“There’s nothing…” Caleb stumbled over his words. “Nothing we can’t do, the two of us, so long’s we stick…stick together.”
“That’s it, hermano,” Santiago replied. “That’s it.” He saw Nate standing there and waved him over. “Hey, come join us. Have a drink, a drink to kicking ass.”
“I’ll pass,” Nate said. Santiago said something derisive but he ignored him and went to find a bed.
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