I’m back posting at Legends Undying, at least until they can find someone interested in taking over for a few of the open writing spots.
If you are an author/writer/wannabe-scribe, you might want to click on THIS LINK, and volunteer.
This past Monday I posted the third installment of the continuing story, “SV-1″, a novel I started writing many years ago. It was never intended for publication; I just wanted to write characters I could believe in. I’s something I would want to read, about people who act like I think people should act in those circumstances. As such, it might not be for everyone . . . but maybe someone will find it to their taste.
Back in May, I had packaged a small portion of it into a self-sustained chunk (or what I hope is a self-sustained chunk), and offer it up for consumption at Legends Undying. Some people liked it, so I offered up a second, and now a third helping.
At the time, I did not post any of it here, in part because the number of people who read my fiction at this blog is . . . I think “dismal” is a good word. Plus, this is a long piece (4,500 words), and the number of readers for my long pieces are below dismal.
However, now we have the WPLongform tag, indicating that, perhaps, there are people who read long posts. Probably not my posts, but you never know.
Here are chapters 1-5. Let me know if you enjoy it, hated it, or think I should quit writing, and turn to making paper hats.
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright 2004 – 2013
To the best of what is known, it was September 22nd, seven years ago. Mercy Hospital, in Chicago, saw the first North American victim of what was to become known as SV-1. Super Virus One. The man had come back from a business trip in Malaysia, with a two days stopover in Europe. He had landed at O’Hare the day before. Earlier that day he had gone to an afternoon ball game, taking the subway to avoid traffic.
Someone at the Hospital had read the reports out of Malaysia, and must have had inklings of what was to come. They had clamped down and quarantined the whole place within hours of admitting him. It was too little, and too late.
Within six months, throughout the world a billion people had ceased to have any worries, hopes, and dreams. Some died quickly. No massive hemorrhaging, no unbearable pain. You just felt tired, and you died. Other perished as the food, water, and medicine distribution systems collapsed. One out or roughly every six . . . that sounds bad enough, but the reality was worse. Deaths were not evenly spread. Whole families, office co-workers, firemen police squads, politicians, congregations . . . if any in the group got infected they were likely to all fall victims. Once infected, the mortality rate was high – most of the group was likely to die. People started staying home. The infrastructure could not cope. Throughout the world, developed areas fared the worse. Whole towns, even some cities were wiped out. There was no way to handle the number of bodies, let alone take care of their affairs.
Civilization almost ended. In a way, it did end. In many places law and order meant small groups organizing and taking matters into their own hands. It was either that, or risked being killed as people fought to survive.
Into the seventh month, the infection rate sputtered. The virus went dormant. Some were now immune; others had just been lucky or careful. They ordeal had just begun. Small communities began to form again. By expansion or merging of existing smaller groups, their drive was to protect what little they had. Farmland, water, supply sources were all precious commodities and the fledgling communities looked for ways to protect their territories. Mercenary groups formed to fill the need, hiring themselves out as protection. Many of these groups eventually began taking over communities by force, establishing new territories, maintaining boundaries. Organized resistance groups who successfully fought back were themselves corrupted by the lure of absolute power. The Para-military ruling class was born, and the norm in most communities, with little emphasis in protecting freedom and equality.
There were exceptions, but not many.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
I sat with my chin resting on the stock of my carbine. I wished I were a little farther, and sighting through a scope instead of iron sights. No stranger to killing, I still preferred not to, but most of all I preferred not to be killed.
The group nearing our position consisted of two armed men flanking a mix of men, women, and children. I counted seventeen, likely rejects from recent raids; people with no special skills, or skills not valued by the gang running the town. The gang had quit bothering our compound, but they continued raids into the surrounding countryside. Even so, between the virus and rival gangs, it was unusual to find that many stray survivors, let alone have this many rejects.
“That’s far enough!” yelled Jim. He sat behind a tree 60 yards to my left. He was 20 yards closer to the group which had already passed what we considered our safety zone.
One of the armed men continued a few paces and said, “We have something for you.” I squeezed off two rounds in quick succession. Both passed through the speaker’s heart, and he fell. The other stopped. I’m not sure if it was from fear or disbelief.
I shifted my aim. “Look . . .” he said, but my next two shots ended his career as spokesman. No one said another word for a few minutes. I had worked out this strategy a long while ago. Kill the speakers first; they were the leaders. Yeah, yeah, you never kill the leaders because then there is no one to negotiate with. We were not looking to negotiate. I took the opportunity to pull out a fresh magazine and lay on the ground, just below the gun.
The men and women had huddled closer, and still stood where they had stopped. Jim spoke again. “No more talking. You people should head back.” A few moments passed, and then a young girl came through to the front of the group. Someone tried to hold her back, but she shrugged him off.
“We don’t have anywhere to go back to.” Her voice was calm, with a resigned tone to it. I don’t think she cared if we shot her. Damn! She did not look like a leader. She had to be all of 11 years old. Her face showed the heavy burden of those years. I came within a hair-breath of squeezing off two more shots.
“Won’t you at least talk to us?” She continued, holding her hands palm up and slightly forward as she spoke. Jim hesitated, and then yelled back, “What do you want?’
Someone else almost got the courage to come forward and speak, but stopped as the saw Jim’s rifle move to cover them. The girl looked back, and spoke to us again.
“Can one of the others speak without getting shot?” Fair question; I did not want to shoot all of them, and by speaking to the girl – and most important, letting her speak to us – we were already past the no-contact rule.
Jim looked at me. In answer, I raised the barrel of my gun to a point about 10 feet above their heads.
“Make it short,” said Jim.
After a few seconds a woman stepped forward. Like the girl, her face sported a somber look that made it difficult to determine her age – mid-thirties was my guess. There was something about her that held my attention. I liked her without knowing anything about her. I hoped I would not have to kill her. She took a long look at my rifle, and kept looking my way as she spoke in a clear voice.
“They have no use for us back in town.” She kept her eyes on me, but pointed in the direction of the town. “They would kill us if we came back alone.” She paused. Shifting her eyes to Jim she continued, “Can we stay with you?”
I let out a sigh. Nowhere to go; nothing to live for. If they moved toward us, I would have shot them in an instant, but I sympathized with them. I looked them over. Four men, nine women, and four children. We had the room, and we could use the help, but we had stayed alive because of our isolation. OK, our isolation, and because Jim and I, and the other four patrol teams, were very efficient at our jobs. We had weathered three outright attacks, and numerous smaller attempts to take over our little compound.
Because of our caution, and having lost a few along the way, our group had grown slowly. Compared to living under gang rule, ours was a nice place to be. Better than these people could imagine. We even had a doctor, and we were working on a vaccine, although we had a ways to go. Still, Dr. Carlin had seen SV-1 vary in potency and virulence, and he feared a reawakening and mutation. Hence patrols avoided getting too close to strangers, and we were strict about potential additions to our group.
Rules were in place. The final decision was based on the group’s assessment of the character of the prospects, and of their potential usefulness to our collective survival. But the patrols were the first line of defense. And with us, compassion and pity played small roles in the decision process. Errors carried a big price tag.
“These two were sent to offer us as workers in return for some of your vaccine.” The woman continued. “You can have us for nothing. We’ll work for our food and a place to sleep.”
“First of all, we are still working on a vaccine,” said Jim, “and second, we don’t know anything about you or what kind of threat you may pose. For all we know you’re infected with some new strain. I’m sorry, but the risk is too great,” concluded Jim.
The group behind the woman was shifting. Some of the men and women separated from the rest. They talked softly and one of them pointed east, and then two of the men broke off and faced us. “We’ll chance it on our own. Can we take those weapons?” one of them said while pointing at the two I’d shot. While they spoke, four women and two children gathered close to them. Apparently, not all these people knew each other. The woman and girl who had spoken were not with them.
“Carefully,” answered Jim, “and take care of where you point them.” I shifted to cover the two as they made their way to the corpses. Jim continued, “If you are heading east, follow the tree line. Stay away from the river and main roads. Do you have a place in mind?” One of the women answered, “We’re going to my bro . . .” “Louise!!” one of the men yelled interrupting her. She looked flustered, looking back and forth between us and the two men who were now standing. The one who yelled shook his head side to side.
“That’s OK, I don’t need to know,” said Jim, “but you better be sure of your destination. You won’t last long out there on your own.” The two men rejoined the women and children.
“We’ll be OK,” said the one who had yelled at Louise.
I looked at the group. I guess I would do the same. I would take my fate into my own hands as opposed to relinquish control to strangers. We watched as the headed off. The remainder looked lost and even more alone.
The woman spoke again, the young girl now next to her. “We’ll do anything you want. If you don’t take us in we’ll die.” The remaining two men, four women and the other young girl all moved closer.
All was quiet for what seemed a long time, but probably was only five seconds or so. A small signal and Jim got up. He circled around while heading toward me, all the while keeping his rifle pointed in their direction. We had not seen any weapons in the group, but they could have them hidden. That was unlikely, given the makeup of the group, but possible. When he reached me, he yelled back at them.
“We’ll need to check with the others. In the meantime you can rest under the trees. Stay in one group, and don’t wander any closer.”
The group moved but then stopped as I lowered my gun. They watched me a moment longer, and then went on to sit between two large trees. I watched the woman that had spoken. She did not glance my way. She reached a patch of grass, and sat with what seemed like resignation that her life was going to suck until she died. The girl just leaned on one of the trees, and looked up at some of the branches, also sporting the no-hope look.
Damn, and damn again. That’s why we have the no talking rule. Already those two were a little more than potential targets. If it came to it, it would be difficult killing them.
I spoke to Jim. He looked at me a second, then he got up.
“Are you sure?” I nodded. “I’ll head back to the bikes, and use the radio. Can you handle things here?” He asked. I checked my carbine, pulled one of my two handguns from its holster, and laid it in front of me.
“Go.” I spoke without taking my eyes off the small group. He headed off at a brisk pace. He came back, and nodded at me before speaking to the group.
“OK, we have one offer. We need some test subjects for our latest vaccine mix. It’s dangerous, but if you live, you can join us. Talk it over. You have five minutes to decide.”
The group looked back at Jim, then at each other. Except for the woman and the girl, the rest of the adults were all speaking at once. Their tones were low, but they seemed fairly agitated. I guess I did not blame them. It was not much of an offer.
Before the rest reached a decision, the woman who has spoken to us took the hand of the girl next to her.
She looked back at us and said, “I don’t know about the others, but we’ll do it.”
The others stopped talking for a few seconds, and then resumed. The women seemed in charge, with the two men taking the opposite view. In another minute, the decision was reached, and they moved alongside the woman and girl. I did not want to think about the desperation driving their decision.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
Embarrassed, Jim cleared his throat.
“Alright. One more thing before we head off. We need to check for weapons. Each of you will take off your clothes, one at a time. Shake each item, and then drop it to the ground. We’ll tell you when to stop.”
The younger of the two remaining men stepped forward a couple of paces, oblivious of our weapons.
“That’s my wife and daughter!” he said pointing back at the group. “I’m not going to allow that!”
Jim looked at the ground. He took a deep breath, looked at the man again, and then spoke, almost as an apology, “Look, I’m sorry, but we can’t take the chance. You either comply, or you can head back.” The man stared at Jim with balled fists. Then he looked at me; my gun was pointed at him.
The moment lasted a few seconds, and then once again the woman who had spoken took the lead. She did not say anything. She just started to unbutton her shirt. As she did, she held my gaze. Jim gave her instruction with each item, and stopped her when she reached her undergarments. She had bruises on her back and arms. Some were old, but many were recent.
My breathing slowed and deepened. When she was done, she gathered her clothes, and motioned for the girl who had first spoken to take her place. She too had bruises, although not as many. As she gathered her clothes, I became aware of how tight I was gripping the carbine. I let out a slow breath, and relaxed my grip.
They all went through the ritual. All of them had various degree of bruising. I wanted to kill whoever had done this. My anger was intensified by the knowledge that it was unlikely I would ever face the cowards. I hoped the two I killed had been involved.
The group was quiet as the last of them finished dressing. Jim was pale, but his neck had gotten red, and I could see his face muscles move as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. I got up, and Jim looked at me. He started to say something, but I shook my head ever so slightly. He just let out his breath and held my eyes. I stared back. It took him a moment to refocus, and then he stepped toward the group.
Jim cradled his rifle across his arm, but I still covered them with my carbine. He pointed and instructed them to head toward the compound. We waited for them to get about fifty feet ahead, and then followed. We had them wait again while we retrieved the bicycles and radio, and then resumed the two mile walk to the compound, skirting abandoned corn fields, and following old irrigation ditches. No one spoke.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
The compound had been a medical facility situated about eight miles from the town. It sat the intersection of two major roads, and had served a number of smaller communities, all of which no longer existed. I had joined the compound five years ago. Since then we had grown from twenty-three to eighty-two, including eleven children ranging from four to fourteen years old. Most of that growth had occurred from people seeking medical attention or sanctuary, but two of the children had been born at the compound. It amazed me that someone would bring a child in this world under these circumstances.
It had been almost nine months since we had added anyone. The only people who came by anymore were stray gang members looking for easy marks. Most of them did not survive the encounter. We believed small groups had either died off, or had been killed or captured by the larger gangs. Certain skills were at a premium, and gangs were always on the lookout for useful additions to their ranks. Sometimes they would barter people to fill needs within their ranks. Common workers were the cheapest, often traded for next to nothing, or left to starve if food got scarce.
As we approached the buffer zone – a quarter mile perimeter cleared of vegetation and possible hiding places – Jim called in. We could not make out the sharpshooters in the tower we had constructed, but knew they were there. We held the group until they cleared our approach. We made our way to the building along one of three specific paths. Other areas were mined and otherwise booby trapped. The paths were well marked, but that was ok, since the majority of our firepower was set up to converge on them. As we neared the building I could make out the steel plates over the windows. Every other one had shooting slots covered by sliding panels. No one was housed in the rooms facing outward. Those rooms had been filled with dirt to serve as buffers in case explosives were used in an attack. Those with slots had room for shooters. The building itself was brick, two stories, and square. What was not evident was the large courtyard in the middle of the building. Our solar panels were on the portion of the roof facing the courtyard, hence also hidden from view and potential shooters. A good size garden, a playground, and a common area took up the rest of the courtyard.
A side door opened as we neared, and four armed figures in isolation suits walked out and waited. We directed the group through the opening, and once they passed through the door, Jim and I headed to the main entrance. Upon entering we stored our long guns in the racks lining the short hallway. We kept our handguns. The reinforced doors swung closed behind us as we noticed Dr. Carlin heading toward us.
“He does not look happy,” said Jim.
I removed my lightweight bulletproof vest and hung it with the others.
“We can’t do that to those people. Just look at them; I won’t allow it!” His face was red, and he stood on his toes to get it close to mine.
“You know the rules,” Jim said wedging himself between us. “No exception. Ever. For no one. That was unanimously agreed to by everyone, including you.”
Dr. Carlin ignored him and continued glaring at me. Finally he broke the stare and straightened his lab coat. He took off his glasses, cleaned them, and replaced them.
“Fine,” he said looking at Jim. The he turned and walked off muttering to himself. I was pretty sure the word “bastard” played an important part of his soliloquy.
I watched him leave as Jim added, “It’s a lot easier making the rules than it is to follow them.” We headed to the holding room.
We stood behind the second floor glass, observing the proceedings. A few other people stopped by. Some wandered off after a few minutes. Others stayed, silent and thoughtful.
Cubicles with cots had been set up in the room. Four armed guards, wearing isolation suits, were on an elevated platform at each corner. Other figures, also in isolation suits, were in various stages of serving meals, helping our guest fill out questionnaires, bagging their clothes, and taking blood samples.
Two of the new arrivals were in the private showers, the rest waiting their turn, dressed in hospital scrubs. The woman and the girl were bunking together. Two of the other women also bunked together. Then there was the couple with the daughter. The two that were showering must also have been a couple because the remaining cubicle held two cots.
The woman looked up at me, followed by the girl. The person that was asking them questions followed their gaze, and then looked back at the girl. She had asked a question. The woman kept looking at me. Her face wore no expression as her eyes stared back at me unblinking. There was nothing there. No hate, no despair, no hope . . . nothing. She did not care if she lived or died. The girl looked back up at me. She had the same eyes.
Jim and I turned away and headed back to the room that served as the compound’s common office and library. The questionnaires would be making their way there soon. It was our responsibility to review them since we had brought the group in.
I poured some water, and started looking through the information. I purposely left the woman and girl for last. Perhaps I wanted to reassure myself they were no different than the others.
It was an odd lot. Two married teachers, Tom and Laurie. George, a librarian, his wife Sandra, and daughter Tess. Two single women, Diana – a legal aide, and Andrea – a receptionist. Not too bad. If they made it, they would integrate well into our group. I picked up the last folder. Toni, the woman, and Lindsey, the girl. They were sisters. Toni was younger than I had guessed. She was twenty-seven. The girl was ten.
Toni had been studying archeology when the virus hit. She went back home and found her parents dead. Her brother was killed a year later during a raid by a gang. Toni and Lindsey were captured, and eventually sold to one of the rural gangs in exchange for food. Toni worked as a cook and maid. I presumed other less pleasant duties may have been involved. These last few years she and her sister had been traded twice. At least she had been able to keep her sister alive. The involuntary thought raised my heartbeat. I could feel the pounding in my ears. It took me a minute to calm down.
I closed the folder and looked at the summary. A merger of two gangs was the reason the group had ended up here, like downsizing of redundant personnel. That could have some impact on our lives. When gangs consolidated the threat they posed increased, especially if they were inclined to beat women and children. Jim and I swapped folders a few more times as went over them again, each time adding notes on the covers of each. The group would review them later in electronic form.
~ ~ ~ o ~ ~ ~
The next morning I once again stood behind the glass, watching as Dr. Carlin and his team walked into the room. Extra guards were posted in case of trouble. The group stood near the cubicles. Dr. Carlin approached them while a female orderly wheeled a table to a stop a few feet from them. She pulled back a towel to reveal nine syringes. I switched the speaker on, so I could hear.
“ . . . about six to twelve hours before we know the results. The strain is very weak, but there is no guarantee of each person’s reaction. I estimate a thirty percent chance of survival. Any questions?” finished Dr. Carlin.
No one spoke. Dr. Carlin picked up a syringe. I could not see his face behind the mask. I maintained my neutral expression as did Jim at my side.
George stepped forward. He was crying.
“Please, just use me. You don’t need my wife and daughter for this! Please.”
Dr. Carlin put the syringe down. He looked up at me, looked at the floor, and spoke in a quiet voice.
“Each vaccine is specific to the subject. We took blood samples and analyzed them so we could mix individual formulations from a common base. More samples will give us better feedback on the effectiveness of the base formulation.”
He stopped, looked my way again, then continued, “Regardless what you have been told, you are all free to turn down the vaccine.” Dr. Carlin continued after glaring up at me, “I give you my word that you can rest here for a few days. After that, we’ll provide you with some supplies, guns, ammunition, and you can walk out that door.” He pointed to the door.
George looked back at his wife. She was hugging their daughter. “George,” she said, “we’ll never make it out there. This is our only chance. If it has to end, let it end here.”
Tess, the daughter started to sob. George looked lost. They all stood waiting for something to happen. Then Lindsey walked up to Dr. Carlin. Toni joined her, and they rolled up their sleeves. Without a word, they offered their arm. Lindsey stared at the syringes, but Toni locked her gaze on me. Same empty look . . . no, not empty. Distant. She was ready to die. I felt a stir of anger. Anger at myself, and anger at the people that had made her like this.
Dr. Carlin picked up a syringe while the orderly tied a rubber tube on Toni’s upper arm and prepped the vein. The Doctor hesitated only a second before injecting her. While he was injecting Lindsey, Sandra let go of her daughter and approached the table. She was rolling up her sleeve. Within a few minutes, they all stood holding a piece of cotton to their arm. Throughout the process, Toni’s gaze never left mine.
I heard Dr. Carlin’s sigh of relief. He put the last syringe down, took off his mask, and sat on a chair. Then he smiled.
“Congratulations, and welcome to the compound!” The other people in the room also removed their masks, and were smiling.
“What . . . I don’t understand.” Tom’s word echoed the confusion of the others. People were coming into the room, and heading toward the new arrivals.
Dr. Carlin stood and continued. “We don’t test vaccines on people. I injected you with saline solution. The blood we drew was used to check you for the virus. You are all clean.” Dr. Carlin removed and cleaned his glasses. They had fogged under the mask.
He put them back on and continued, “We devised this test after an attempt by some gang members to infiltrate our group. You passed.”
Sandra staggered, and two of the lab helpers quickly flanked her, reassuring her that everything will be fine. George just stood as people patted him on the back and spoke to him. His daughter finally walked up and hugged him. I worried his return hug would injure her, but she did not seem to mind. Toni was still looking at me.
Jim leaned over and spoke into the microphone. “Take a few hours to relax and find quarters. There will be a group meeting after lunch.” As he finished I turned and walked away. I resisted the temptation to look back.
The End (well, not really, but The End for now)
Chapters 5-8 can be found HERE.
The usual response for a piece like this is . . . silence. I don’t expect much more here, but I do hope it was an enjoyable read.
I’ll be posting the second segment in a few days.
~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~
Astute persons might have noticed these doodles, and correctly surmised they hold some significance for me, and perhaps for humanity at large.
If you click on the doodle, and nothing happens, this is the link it’s supposed to go to: https://disperser.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/palm-vx-and-i/.
Please, if you are considering bestowing me some recognition beyond commenting below, refrain from doing so. I will decline nominations whereby one blogger bestows an award onto another blogger, or group of bloggers. I appreciate the intent behind it, but I would much prefer a comment thanking me for turning you away from a life of crime, religion, or making you a better person in some other way. That would actually mean something to me.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.