Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00014]
In the morning they finally found a news broadcast in English. The announcer had a strong South African accent and there was a noticeable tremor in his voice. Akila had gathered everyone in the common room, telling them they needed to have a meeting, but before the meeting could start, Jordynn had turned the TV on.
“The prime minister has put the country under martial law. Curfew is at sunset. Anyone found on the streets after that will be shot. I repeat: anyone found on the streets after sunset will be shot. Citizens are to stay in their homes unless it is absolutely necessary. All public gatherings are forbidden and will be dealt with by lethal force. This order is to remain in effect indefinitely.” He paused and gathered himself for what he had to say next. His skin looked gray.
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“Authorities confirm that the virus has broken out of the quarantined area and spread to Bloemfontein and other cities in the interior of the country. The fires in Cape Town still burn out of control. Military units in Port Elizabeth have mutinied.
“The UN security council has called another emergency meeting to deal with the pandemic. The number of cities with confirmed infections continues to climb. In the US, Miami, Detroit, Phoenix, and Boston join Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and Washington, D.C. with confirmed cases. Across Europe, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Madrid and Frankfurt have also reported cases. Tel Aviv, Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo have reported cases. All airports are closed, all borders are sealed.” As he spoke, images flashed across the screen, bodies piled in the streets in city after city, mobs of frightened people battling the police and the military.
“No progress has been reported in identifying or curing the virus. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Health Organization have isolated the virus but it is of a type they have never encountered before. Furthermore, it appears to be mutating rapidly. Some victims now die within six hours of contracting the virus.
“A source who refused to be identified has confirmed that the terrorists released the virus simultaneously in the world’s ten busiest airports. Broken vials disguised to look like cologne bottles were found in Atlanta, Beijing, Dubai, Tokyo, London Heathrow, Los Angeles International, Hong Kong, O’Hare, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Charles de Gaulle. The vials were broken in the areas where passengers lined up to pass through airport security. Infected passengers then boarded jets to nearly every corner of the world, spreading the virus to everyone they came in contact with.
“The first symptoms appear in hours and seem to be nothing more than a common flu, though with uncontrollable sneezing. The sneezing works to spread the virus further. Four hours after the first symptoms appear, the victim is wracked with crippling cramps and blistering is seen on the skin. After that comes internal bleeding and death a short while later – ”
“Oh, for god’s sake,” Tony said, grabbing the remote and turning off the TV. “How much more do we need to hear?”
The room was silent while they all grappled with what they had just seen. “What are we going to do now?” Jordynn asked in a small voice.
Akila was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest. She’d found a holster for one of the pistols and she had it on her hip. “More training with your weapons. And we’re going to set a watch rotation and stick to it. Which means that you don’t drink when you have watch. Not at all.” She looked meaningfully around the room. Santiago was sitting on the couch next to Jordynn, holding his head as if he was afraid it would explode. Caleb, sitting at the dining table, didn’t look much better. He was on his fifth cup of coffee. Tamara’s eyes were red. She’d already taken a handful of aspirin and thrown it back up.
Jordynn turned frightened eyes on Akila. “They’re…they’re all dying. Don’t you care?”
“Of course I care. I didn’t hear anything on TV about Brazil. Is my mother infected? What about my friends in Los Angeles? I care about all of them. But there’s nothing I can do to help them. The only thing I can do is survive and right now that means defending ourselves against our enemies. Do you have any other options?”
“I just…I thought…everyone’s dying and you’re talking about shooting guns.”
“Because I don’t want to join them. I’m still alive and I mean to stay that way.”
“Take it easy on her, Akila,” Tony said. “She’s just shook up. We all are.”
“I will not take it easy on her.” Akila was grim and implacable. “We don’t have that luxury anymore.”
“I agree,” Santiago said, speaking for the first time. “We can’t afford to be soft. Not now, not ever again.”
“But you said it wasn’t that bad,” Jordynn protested.
“I was wrong.” His voice was bitter. “I don’t like to say it, but Akila is right. We should listen to her. We need to be together on this or we’re going to die alone.”
Jordynn pulled back from him as if he’d struck her. “Don’t talk like that,” she said in a shaky voice.
“Why not? It’s the truth.” He looked around the room, challenging them. “I say you’re either in or you’re out. Either you fight or you give up. If you’re going to give up, just kill yourself now. Save the food for those of us who want to live.” His gaze fell on Adam, who had come into the room a few minutes earlier and was sitting alone. Adam didn’t look at him.
“Shit, Santiago,” Tony said. “Even for you, that’s cold.”
“Grow up already,” Santiago replied. “We’re out of choices.”
“It’s really happening, isn’t it?” Caleb said. “The shit’s really hit the fan, hasn’t it?”
“It looks that way,” Akila said.
“It doesn’t seem possible. This kind of shit’s not supposed to happen except in the movies. I…it doesn’t seem real somehow.”
“I know what you mean,” Jenna said. “I keep thinking this must be some kind of terrible nightmare or something. Did we crash in the plane and I’m in a coma just imagining all this? How can it be real?”
“Ask Dave if it’s real,” Kelly said bleakly.
“You haven’t said anything yet, Captain,” Santiago said to Carl. “What’s your take? Did you ever get on the jet’s radio and see what you could learn?”
“I did,” he said. His hair seemed to have a lot more gray in it and there were dark lines under his eyes. “Yesterday morning.”
“What did you find?”
“I found nothing. No chatter at all. It…there’s always chatter. But there was nothing. It was all dead.”
Caleb swore. Santiago looked vindicated somehow. He stood up. “No more fucking around,” he said. “All we’ve got is us.” He picked up his rifle and looked around. “Let’s do this.”
Nate was surprised to see Omisha get up along with the rest and head for the rifles that were leaning against the wall. She’d kept her head down while they were talking. He took her arm and pulled her aside. “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t have to do this, you know.”
She looked at him. There was fear in her eyes but underneath that was resolution. “No. I am not okay. But I cannot sit here anymore. I must do what I can.”
♦          ♦          ♦          ♦
The weapons training that day was much more serious than the day before. Everyone but Adam and Maha got involved. Adam sat in the shade and watched them with a grim look on his face. Maha stood on the roof on watch, his rifle cradled in his arms. Everyone was jumpy, scanning the trees, the road, watching, listening. Once there was a sound like a motor in the distance and everyone froze, rifles pointed at the road, but the sound disappeared and didn’t come again.
“Maybe those two guys were the only ones,” Jordynn said. “Maybe there’s no one else out there.”
“That’s the kind of wishful thinking that will get us all killed,” Santiago said, not seeing the way she flinched at his rebuke.
“A place this big, with that much dope? This is a much bigger operation than just two people.” The rifle he held looked small against Caleb’s bulk.
“But what if the others died off from the virus?” Jordynn persisted. “That could happen.”
“It could,” Akila admitted. “But we have to assume that it didn’t until we have proof otherwise. Santiago is right. If we let our guard down it will get us killed.”
“What if we used the truck and towed the plane over to block the road? Then they couldn’t just drive in and start shooting at us,” Tony said.
Akila looked at the blackened remains of the jet. They’d all avoided looking at it. When they’d first come outside, Jordynn had spoken of trying to find Dave’s remains, to give him a burial, but no one followed it up. It was a twisted mass of metal. Getting into the cockpit would be a serious ordeal. “I don’t think we can drag it over there. I think it’s too big.”
“Besides, there’s nothing to stop them from just coming at us through the jungle,” Caleb said. “I think I’d rather they come by the road.”
Santiago slung his rifle over his shoulder. He’d dug around in the clothes boxes and found a pair of fatigues that fit him and an olive green T-shirt. “We have to take the fight to them.”
“Are you crazy?” Tony asked.
“It’s the only way to be sure they’ll leave us alone. We can’t hide in the warehouse forever. If we don’t eliminate them they can just hide in the trees and pick us off one by one.”
“What, like sneak up on them and shoot them in their sleep?” Tamara asked.
“I don’t think I can kill someone in cold blood. I don’t know if I can kill someone at all,” Tony said.
“Then they’ve already won. Because they’re not going to stop. They’re going to keep coming after us until we’re dead or they’re dead.”
“It’s something to consider,” Akila said. “But we need to train a lot more first.”
“Maybe they’re after the drugs,” Jenna said. “We should put them on the road. Maybe they’ll come and take them and leave us alone. Akila already shot two of them. Maybe they’ll decide it isn’t worth the trouble.”
“That won’t stop them,” Tamara said. Nate looked at her and thought of what she’d said the night before. “We should keep the heroin, use it to bargain with. Or we could use it to trade. It’s worth a lot.”
“You can’t bargain with people like that,” Santiago said dismissively. “The only thing they understand is violence. They’ll just see it as weakness.”
“I agree with Jenna,” Caleb said. “That shit’s nothing but trouble. Let’s get rid of it.” He didn’t wait to see what the others thought, but slung his rifle over his shoulder and headed into the warehouse.
Nate didn’t miss the look of pure venom Tamara shot at Caleb, but a second later the look was gone and she went along with the rest as they followed Caleb in.
“How are you doing?” Nate asked Omisha as they walked inside. “You want me to carry that for you?” He reached for her rifle.
Omisha pulled it away from him. “I have to do my part.” She gave him a hint of a smile. “Thank you, though.”
“Shit,” Caleb said. He was looking down at the crate of heroin. The lid was off, lying on the floor.
One of the packages was missing.
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