VILLAINS OF THE APOCALYPSE
A Secret Apocalypse Short
By J. L. / James Harden
Copyright © 2012 by J. L. / James Harden
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events locales or organisations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author.
The goal was to save lives. Save the innocent.
For over two decades, Doctor Michael Hunter had been working on a biological weapon; a virus that would kill a human being as efficiently and as cost effectively as possible.
He had worked tirelessly with Doctor Steven West and Doctor Kumar Singh. Both brilliant men. Both smart and driven to succeed at all costs.
Over the years they had become known as the ‘Holy Trinity’.
The reason they had become known as miracle workers was because their attempts at creating a viral weapon had some surprisingly positive side-effects. For one, they were able to create viral immunizations against several types of cancer. Secondly, they had created new and improved vaccines for Ebola and other Class Four viruses. And lastly, they had made great leaps forward in the treatment of immunodeficiency disorders.
This was the positive stuff, the stuff that won them awards and recognition and approval.
The rest of their research was classified.
And for good reason.
They had created several viral strains that were deadlier than anything that had ever existed in human history. Their ultimate goal was to harness the virus and create a bio-weapon of mass destruction. One that would act quickly and efficiently, thereby saving lives and collateral damage.
Saving lives with a weapon?
It was quite a goal.
But at that moment, nearly two decades into their research, they were falling short.
Investors were becoming impatient.
Hunter knew it was time to speed things up.
Fortunately so did his superiors. Just last month the company had made the call to begin viral experiments on people.
Doctor Michael Hunter and Doctor Steven West had driven out into the middle of the Australian desert to talk things through. Doctor West wanted to be far away from prying eyes and ears. Hunter thought it was unnecessary. But West had insisted. He said he loved to get out to the desert whenever he could. He said the open space helped him think clearly.
But at that moment Hunter was of the opinion that West was not thinking clearly. He was reluctant and unwilling.
West was shaking his head. He couldn’t see the potential and the necessity and the urgency. He threw a cigarette on the ground and immediately lit another one. “No,” he said, “We can’t do it. It’s wrong and it’s dangerous.”
“We can,” Hunter replied. “We need to. It is essential.”
West took a long drag on his cigarette. “These people could die.”
“Look, the powers to be, the investors and the military, they are all getting impatient. It’s been too long. They want results. They want something they can use.”
“They can use it. They have been using it.”
“For what? Capture-kill missions?”
“Yeah. Isn’t that good enough? Combine the virus with the increased use of drone strikes and we are starting to win this war on terrorism.”
The military and other security agencies like the CIA had begun using an early and extremely lethal strain of the virus they had created. They would use it in black operations and capture-kill missions. It was a new strategy. It was proving to be highly successful. They would capture two or more targets and infect all but one with the virus. The healthy one would watch his friends die within minutes. The last surviving target is then given the virus. He is promised the anti-virus if he cooperates and talks.
They always talked.
“It’s a start,” Hunter agreed. “But it’s not good enough. It’s too small. We need to be able to use it on a bigger scale. The ultimate goal is to infect entire networks. Wipe them out. But to do that we need more testing. We need to test on humans. The virus needs a chance to adapt so it can pass on to the next host. In its present form it kills too quickly. It is too deadly. We need to test on humans. You know we do.”
“Why can’t we continue with our current methods? Our progress is slow, but it’s steady.”
“These terrorist networks, like Al Qaeda and the Taliban and whoever else, they are like a virus themselves. A genetic virus. The elders, they infect the youngest, most vulnerable members of their family, and their society. From that moment of infection they are doomed to fight in a never ending war of hate. If we fight them with an actual virus, we can wipe them out. It’s the only way.”
“You’ve been listening to Kumar, haven’t you?” West said. “Create a living, evolving weapon? Fight terror with terror and all that philosophical gibberish. No. It’s too risky.”
“We will eliminate risk. We will have the anti-virus on hand. The test subjects will be safe.”
“How many test subjects do we use?”
“As many as we need.”
“What if word gets out? What if the public finds out?”
“They won’t find out. These people are illegal immigrants and asylum seekers and people smugglers. They can’t even speak English. No one will know about this.”
“A wise man once said; a secret is not a secret if more than one person knows about it.”
“If anyone talks, they die. It’s as simple as that. We’ve got the military’s full support.”
West threw away another cigarette. He held his arms out wide and said, “There is nothing in the desert.”
“That is why this desert is the perfect location,” Hunter said. “We are isolated here. It is safe.”
“Nowhere is safe. Not with biological weapons. Not with a virus like this. Nowhere is safe. No one is safe.”
“Look, the bottom line is we need to speed up the process. We need to test on humans.”
“We should consult with Kumar,” West said.
“He would agree with me. You know he would. And besides, he’s in Afghanistan. He’s got his hands full.”
Doctor West thought it over. Hunter knew he was close. Hell, he probably already wanted to do it. He just wanted to let everyone know that he had a conscience. If this little talk made him feel better, then so be it.
“This is the start,” Hunter said. “This is the turning point. When we look back, we will say this is where it all began. This is like Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt about the atomic bomb. This is how we become heroes.”
West lit another cigarette and played with the lighter. “Fine. We test on humans. But we monitor symptoms closely. Twenty-four hour intensive care. We have the anti-virus on standby. Full quarantine measures.”
Hunter smiled. This was the beginning. He knew it.
WOOMERA IMMIGRATION CENTER.
3 YEARS SINCE HUMAN TRIALS BEGAN…
Bashir Abbas had been watching the immigration center’s medical truck for several months now, almost as long as he had been stuck in this hellhole.
A year ago he had fled his home country of Afghanistan. He was a former member of the Taliban. Not that he would ever admit to it. As far as he was concerned that part of his life was over. But if the Taliban ever found him he would be executed on the spot. And if anyone else ever found out that he used to be part of the Taliban, he knew he would be taken away, locked up. Interrogated and tortured.
So now in order to survive he had to remain hidden. He had to be invisible. Starting a new life in Australia was his best option for disappearing.
Luckily, his training within the Taliban had come in useful. In his youth he was groomed to become a sleeper agent. An infiltrator. He was trained in espionage and guerilla warfare. He was taught how to command several terrorist splinter cells at once. He was also taught to speak fluent English. Basically he was trained to infiltrate western society and then strike.
But not anymore.
Why did he get out?
He had witnessed several members of the Taliban, soldiers and warriors who he considered to be his brothers, execute a room full of young girls. The girls were learning English and western history and western religion in secret. This was forbidden. Punishable by death. This incident was the reason he got out. This incident was the reason he was now a fugitive. A man on the run from both sides.
Bashir studied the medical truck closely. People were starting to call it the truck of death. He was convinced there was more than one. The new truck would drive up in the middle of the night and the other one would drive away with the patients still inside them.
In the beginning, when the immigration center first offered the free health services, everyone wanted to receive their immunizations and medical checkups. People were lining up and volunteering. In the first few days the line up stretched out the door and around the corner.
But then word spread.
People were becoming sick.
They would disappear for days.
When they eventually returned, they were weak, they had lost an astonishing amount of weight. When they were questioned about where they had gone and what had happened the answers were always the same.
“We were given medical examinations,” they would say. “The doctors are very thorough. We were tested for small pox and other diseases. We were given vaccines and inoculations and medicines. They must be careful.”
Bashir couldn’t believe these people were so gullible.
He knew something was wrong.
Before he came to Australia, he had heard rumors about a strange sickness up in the Afghan Mountains. People were getting sick. Not just the elderly and children. Everyone. Even the men. Some of the hardest warriors in the world. They had lived their entire lives in those mountains. They were strong and resilient. And now all of a sudden they were getting sick? All of a sudden they were dying?
Something was wrong.
Bashir could see the lie.
After years of being taught how to infiltrate and keep his true identity hidden, he was now an expert in detecting deception.
As time went on, anyone who visited the medical truck began disappearing for good. They would go in, but they would not come out. They were never heard from again.
Bashir knew that people were dying. He didn’t know how they were dying, he didn’t know why they were dying but he was determined to find out.
Two days ago, a whole family had entered the medical truck. Five people.
And today, one of them was released. Just one.
He followed the man into the small room that he and his family had lived in since they had arrived in Australia.
He watched him for a long time, waited for him to fall asleep.
The man looked pale. His lips were dry, like he was dehydrated.
Bashir shook him gently. He held a knife made of corrugated metal against his neck.
When the man woke he was afraid. But he did not struggle. He was too weak.
“What do you want?” the man whispered. “I have no money. I have no possessions. I have nothing left.”
His eyes were red and swollen. He had been crying.
“What is your name?” Bashir asked.
“What happened, Farid? What happened in the medical truck? Where is your family?”
He shook his head. He did not want to talk.
Bashir lowered the knife. “I do not want to hurt you. I am looking for answers. What happened?”
“We were given our immunization shots. The doctors said we needed to be immunized and cleared to live in the general population. It means we are close to being released and assimilated back into society. They said our time in this detention facility is almost over. They needed to make sure we weren’t carrying any diseases or viruses. If we did not cooperate, we would not be released. We would be sent home.”
“Where is your family?”
“They are still in intensive care. They have become very ill.”
“They had a bad reaction to an influenza vaccine.”
“And you believe that?”
“I… I don’t know what to believe. It happened so fast. Minutes.”
“I was talking to my father. He was in the bed next to me. And then…” he trailed off.
“And then he began convulsing. They had to put him in an induced coma. They said he had an allergic reaction. He had gone into shock. He was taken away. Quarantined.”
“Farid, your father is dead.”
Farid was silent, shaking his head. “What? No. He…”
“He is dead. Your family is dead. Don’t you see? They are killing us. One by one. They are luring us in with the promise of help and freedom. It is a trap. A lie. Like a spider’s web. Once they have us, they kill us. Don’t you see?”
“Why? Why would they do that?”
Bashir stood. He gripped the knife. “I don’t know. But I am going to find out.”
“How? What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to get answers.”
“No. Please. My family, we are so close to being released. Do not do anything. I will not let you. I will tell the guards. And you know what happens to trouble makers.”
Another rumor. People suspected of breaking immigration center rules were taken away without questioning. They were never seen or heard from again. Some say they had been deported back to their country of origin. Some say they were taken out to another, hidden immigration center. A prison in the middle of the desert. Couldn’t be any worse than this place, Bashir thought.
But still, he could not afford any trouble. He needed answers. He did not want to attract any attention from the guards.
“Farid, you have determined your own fate. I will not stand by while we are killed one by one. I have come too far for that. I have been through too much pain and suffering.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your family is dead. If you try and stop me, if you tell the guards, you will join your family in the afterlife.”
“No, you can’t. Please don’t. I will not let you!”
Bashir held the knife up. “Do not make me use this.”
“I just want to see my family. We are so close to being released. Please.”
“Your family is dead. And the doctors will come back for you. They will kill you as well.”
“I am getting the guards. You will not compromise my freedom.”
“You are not free. You are dead.”
Bashir raised the knife. Farid’s eyes widened. He tried to grab onto Bashir’s arms, but he was too weak. It was a useless gesture.
Bashir pushed Farid’s arms aside. He was able to pin him down with one hand and slash his throat.
He covered Farid in a blanket and put the pillow over his head. It wouldn’t hold up under close investigation, but if anyone stuck their head in for a quick look they would not see the body.
Bashir was about to leave when suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“Immigration security. Open up!” a loud voice said through the door. “Farid Ali? Are you in there? We need to take you back into quarantine. It’s only for precautionary measures.”
Bashir paused. “He is gone,” he answered. “Farid is not here.”
Technically not a lie.
But the guards did not believe it. A split second later they smashed in the door. Bashir froze. He thought about taking them on. He could probably get one of the soldiers down. Take his weapon.
But there were at least four soldiers.
Heavily armed. Wearing full body armor.
“You speak English?” one of the guards asked.
Bashir held his hands up. “Yes. A little. I am not a threat. Farid is gone. He left several minutes ago.”
Again, technically not a lie.
The lead soldier pushed Bashir out of the way. He looked at the bed and saw the blood. He pulled back the blanket and saw the corpse of Farid. “Holy shit.”
Bashir knew it was now or never. He stepped forward and drove his elbow up into the soldier’s face, knocking him unconscious. Before the soldier fell to the floor, Bashir removed the soldier’s sidearm from his holster. He turned and faced the three other guards.
But that was as far as he got.
He was shot with a Taser gun. His muscles tensed up as fifty thousand volts of electricity shot through his body. He hit the ground, spasming and convulsing out of control.
A soldier stood over him and knocked him out with the butt of his rifle.
The last thing Bashir remembered thinking before he lost consciousness was that he was looking for answers. He had a feeling he would have them very soon.
Doctor Hunter stood in the mobile testing facility. In front of him were four dead bodies. There was supposed to be five.
Next to Hunter was one of his colleagues, a young research scientist by the name of John Nielson.
“Where is the eldest son?” Hunter asked, checking his notes. “Where is Farid Ali?”
“He was discharged,” John answered.
“He responded well to the new anti-virus. His vitals all improved. I thought that…”
“You thought what?”
“That’s the protocol. If they improve, if they’re healthy, they are released.”
“How long did you monitor his symptoms for?”
“And there was no decline?”
“No. There was nothing. He was stable.”
“But none of his family survived?”
“No. They all died within the hour.”
“And you didn’t find it suspicious that Farid was the only one who did not die?”
“We monitored him for three days. There was no change.”
“I don’t think you understand what we are dealing with here. This virus, it adapts. It changes. And it changes quickly. Faster than anything we have ever seen. Influenza will change on a yearly basis. But this thing changes every day, every week.”
“But the new anti-virus…”
“The new anti-virus isn’t working. Nothing is working anymore.”
“What? Impossible. If the new anti-virus is no longer working than what the hell are we doing here?”
“We are creating history.”
“But the test subjects are declining. They are dying. I mean, how many?”
“All of them.”
John swallowed hard. His hands began to shake. “So what now?”
“Now we conduct an autopsy. I want to know everything.”
Doctor Hunter’s phone rang and he answered. “What? They found him?” Hunter swore under his breath. “Seal off that room. No one gets in until I get there.”
He hung up.
“What is it?” John asked.
“They found Farid. He had his neck slashed. Murder.”
“Not sure. But I am going to find out. Close this facility. I want you at Outpost Six. You are going to perform an autopsy on Farid Ali. I want to know how he survived for so long. And I want you to examine the killer. Find out if the virus was transferred to him. Apparently there was a lot of blood at the scene.”
“What are you going to do?” John asked.
“I’m going to make sure Farid’s room is not contaminated.”
Bashir woke up in an unfamiliar room. He was on his back. He was on a bed. Bright fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling.
Bashir noticed other beds in the room. At least a dozen. The other beds were sectioned off with plastic sheets. On each of the sheets was a large black bio-hazard symbol.
Bashir was groggy. His head throbbed. He sat up and tried to get his bearings. His hands were handcuffed behind his back.
Someone walked into the room through a pressurized door. He was wearing a HAZMAT suit.
“Awake, are we?” the man asked. “How are you feeling?”
The man’s name tag read: John Nielson. Clinical Research Specialist.
He walked over and before Bashir could react, before he could do anything, the man jabbed him in the thigh with a needle and pushed down on the plunger. Bashir felt something warm rush up his leg and his whole body.
A few minutes later he felt feverish. His joints ached. His whole body ached.
Another person entered the room. He was also wearing a HAZMAT suit.
His name tag simply said that he was a translator. His name was Frank.
“Subject’s name?” Frank asked John.
“Not sure,” John answered. “He was arrested in the Woomera Immigration Center. They sent him here.”
“Arrested? For what?”
“Apparently, he attacked some of the guards.”
“Yeah. Pretty crazy.”
“So we don’t even know his name?” Frank asked.
“Is he dangerous?”
“I don’t think so. He’s handcuffed. He can’t do anything.”
Bashir spoke to the translator in Persian. “Leave.”
John stopped writing notes on his clipboard. “What did he say?”
“Excuse me?” Frank asked.
“Leave or die,” Bashir answered.
The translator tensed up. He spoke to the doctor in English. Bashir could understand everything. It was amazing the things people would say in front of you when they thought you did not speak their language.
“John, he is threatening violence. We need to restrain him. We need security in here, right now.”
“What for? He’s handcuffed. We’re in the middle of nowhere. He can’t do anything.”
“Still, I think it would be best if we had security in here.”
The doctor lowered his voice. “There is no security. There’s no one else here. We’ve been running with a skeleton crew for months now.”
Bashir noticed the bed he was sitting on had wheels. The wheels were not locked.
Now was his chance while these two idiots were arguing about security and the lack thereof.
He rolled off the bed backwards. He then pushed all of his weight against the bed, driving it into the translator and the doctor, knocking them both clear off their feet.
The doctor was unconscious. The translator was on his back, struggling to get to his feet. He scrambled and crawled his way towards the far wall, trying to get to an alarm.
Bashir jumped to his feet, charged for the translator, tripped him over, knocking him down again.
With his hands tied behind his back, Bashir wrapped his legs around the throat of the translator and snapped his neck.
He made his way over to the doctor and found the keys for the handcuffs. He slipped his hands over his legs and unlocked the cuffs. Bashir then placed them on the doctor and sat him down in a chair.
Bashir unzipped the doctor’s hazmat suit and removed the helmet and face mask. Bashir slapped him hard in the face. “Wake up.”
The doctor blinked his eyes open. It took him a couple of seconds to realize what had happened. When he saw the translator slumped on the floor in a heap he lunged for the alarm on the wall.
Bashir grabbed him, pulled him to the floor and placed his knee on the doctor’s neck.
“Do not struggle or I will snap you in half.”
“You… you speak English?” he choked out. “Who are you? What are you doing?”
“I want answers.”
“You want answers? I’ve been exposed. I’m a dead man!”
“What did you give us?” Bashir asked. “What did you inject me with?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
Bashir produced a syringe. He jabbed it into his bicep and drew blood. “You will talk or I will pump you full of my own blood. And then you really will be exposed.”
“What did you give us? Are those people dying?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means yes. It means we don’t know. It means we have never seen anything like this.”
“You are not making sense,” Bashir said as he held the syringe in front of the doctor’s face. “You will help me or you will die.”
“You don’t get it do you? I’m already dead. They’ll kill me for this. And you’re as good as dead too.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the people in charge. They don’t tolerate failure. They gave the green light to test on people for crying out loud.”
“What are they testing?”
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s a virus. A weapon.”
“Bio-weapons of mass destruction.”
“They want to use a virus as a weapon?”
“Yeah. They want to use it to infect entire enemy populations. Terrorist networks. Whoever they want. You feel it now, don’t you? The fever. It comes on quick. Your body will try and fight it. But it’s useless. Soon enough, your immune system will be overwhelmed. Soon, you will die. It’s only a matter of time.”
“There has got to be an anti-virus. Give it to me.”
“There is no anti-virus. Not anymore. At least, not at this facility. It stopped working months ago.”
“Do not lie to me.”
“This is just an outpost. We keep it separate to limit containment failures like this.”
“No. There has got to be an anti-virus somewhere.”
“There probably is. But I don’t have access to it.”
He shrugged his shoulders.
Bashir held onto the syringe like a knife. “I will pump you full of my blood.”
“Do it. I’ve watched so many of you people die. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like.”
“Tell me,” Bashir repeated. “Who has the anti-virus?”
“If anyone has it, it’s Doctor Hunter.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s on his way.”
“No. Not good. He’s a goddamn butcher. You’ll be sorry. He’s a crazy son of a bitch. He thinks he’ll be a hero for doing all this. This… killing. This… mass murder. Trust me, you do not want to meet him. You should pray to God that you die before he gets here.”
“I no longer believe in God.”
Bashir drove the syringe into the doctor’s chest. He pushed down on the plunger, pumping him full of a virus that was designed to be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
Doctor Hunter had arrived at Outpost Six. He was trying to contain his anger. His research assistant, John, had quarantined himself.
“It’s bad,” John said through a plastic sheet with a black bio-hazard symbol on it. “Something bad. We didn’t know. He was too fast. He was like a Special Forces soldier or something.”
“Slow down,” Doctor Hunter said. “What happened?”
“One of the test subjects, I think it was the guy who murdered Farid Ali. He attacked us. He was too quick. He killed Frank for crying out loud. Broke his goddamn neck.”
“Had the subject been administered the virus?”
Hunter kicked a nearby chair. This was the last thing they needed. “Who knows about this?”
“No one. We’ve been operating with a skeleton crew for months now.”
“Did you call Doctor West?”
“No. Last I heard he was in Sydney meeting with investors.”
“Where is the patient?”
“He’s gone. He ran off.”
Hunter knew he had run off into the desert. It was a stupid and desperate thing to do. But people were capable of stupid and desperate things when they were faced with certain death. Fortunately, this person was already dead. The virus would’ve killed him within the hour. Probably sooner.
“There’s something else,” John said. “He injected me with his own blood. He infected me. I’ve given myself a double dose of the new anti-virus. But I’m scared. What if it doesn’t work? I mean, it hasn’t been effective since…”
“Do not worry, John. We have been manufacturing an extra-strong version of the anti-virus. You will be fine.”
“I’ve been here all night. I’m too scared to leave. What do we do about the patient?”
“I will deal with him later. Remember, we will be looking for a corpse. Provided the wild dogs haven’t gotten to him first.”
“Thanks, Michael. This means a lot to me. I’m so damn scared. I can’t believe what happened. I can’t believe Frank is dead. What do we tell his family?”
“Do not worry. I will deal with this. It will all be over very soon.”
Yes, it would be over soon, Hunter thought. There was no anti-virus. John was right. It had stopped working. Over the past few months it had slowly become less and less effective. And right now? Right now it was as good as useless. Hunter had told an outright lie about manufacturing a new batch. There was none. Nothing was working. The virus was one hundred percent lethal. Once infected, you die. It was only a matter of time.
The good thing was the alarm had not been raised. And John had not told anyone else about this incident.
As far as everyone outside of this room knew, it was business as usual. Hunter was determined to keep it that way.
The last thing he needed was for his superiors to get wind of this. He did not want any more setbacks.
They were close to perfecting this virus.
Doctor Hunter made sure John was handcuffed to the bed. He would let the virus kill him. And then he would study the effects of the virus on his body and his vital organs.
Doctor Hunter was about to board a chopper so he could search the surrounding area. The pilot gave him the thumbs up, indicating they were ready to go.
Hunter’s phone rang. It was Kumar Singh.
“I checked the footage at the outpost,” Kumar said.
“You have access to the security cameras?”
“So you are aware of the current situation?”
“Yes. I am aware. I see you are going above and beyond the call of duty on this incident. You should really call this one in. Let the professionals track him down.”
“No. I will clean this up. There will be no more setbacks.”
“Fine. If you insist. You should know that the target is close. He stole one of the Humvees. I have tracked him using the GPS locator in the vehicle.”
“He’s still alive?”
“Yes. He is still alive.”
“How do you know?”
“I am monitoring the situation via satellite surveillance.”
Hunter knew Kumar had an extremely high IQ. But he never knew he was this smart and he never knew he had this kind of technical ability. There were a boat load of rumors about Kumar. The rumors began mainly because he had worked with the Indian military as a field surgeon for so many years. Working in the hot zones. Because of his time there, some say that he had once worked for the Mumbai mafia. Others insisted that he was Indian royalty. The most outrageous rumor was that he was a field surgeon to the Mujahedeen fighters of Afghanistan, and that he had once removed shrapnel from Osama Bin Laden himself.
Regardless of these whispered rumors, the company had decided to hire his services. They were convinced his brilliance was worth the price and would overshadow any unsubstantiated stories.
And they were right.
Hunter didn’t want to admit it, and he never would to anyone else, but Kumar Singh was a thousand times more intelligent and a million times more capable than both he and Doctor West put together.
Plus, he had a tough side that can only be earned by serving in the line of fire and on the battlefield and in the unpredictable and dangerous third world. At that moment, Hunter was extremely glad that Kumar was working with him.
“I should warn you,” Kumar continued. “This individual, Bashir Abbas, he is a former member of the Taliban. He has spent most of his life fighting a war. He is a very tough human being. Proceed with caution.”
“He will be dead by the time I find him,” Hunter said.
“I would not be so sure about that. The virus is changing. Just as we predicted. It is taking longer and longer to kill. This is good. This is what we want. A chance to spread. Infect. We are close, Michael.”
Kumar sent Hunter the coordinates.
Apparently Bashir had stopped in the middle of nowhere. He was still inside the Humvee.
Hunter suspected he was dead or close to it. He told the helicopter pilot that he would not require his services. Bashir was only a short drive away.
Bashir woke from a strange dream. He was feeling worse. He was burning up. His muscles and his joints and his bones ached.
But he wasn’t dead yet.
Initially his plan was to hide in amongst the dead test subjects at the research facility. He could’ve stayed hidden under one of the bodies, waited for Doctor Hunter to get close. He could’ve surprised him and taken him down.
But for some reason Bashir had given up on that idea. His body ached. He was feverish. It was weird, but he simply felt too hot to stay indoors. He felt claustrophobic, like he was suffocating. He needed to get out and away.
He stole a military Humvee that was parked at the facility. And then he just drove. He had no idea where he was driving to. Then he saw the river bed. And the very idea of walking through a river bed, even a dry one, was soothing and calming.
He checked the shotgun to make sure it was loaded. He grabbed the machete and was about to leave the car and start walking.
Up ahead he could see the dry river bed. He knew he would be able to follow it and stay hidden. He might even find water.
He began walking, but then he stopped. He saw a dust trail off in the distance.
It was a car. It was coming closer.
The car was a Range Rover. A civilian model. Not a military Humvee.
Maybe he’d be able to ask this person for help. Or water. Maybe they even had pain killers.
The Range Rover drove up.
Bashir waved his arms.
Doctor Hunter could not believe his eyes. Bashir was still alive.
According to his soon to be dead or probably even already dead research assistant, Bashir had been exposed to the virus well over ten hours ago.
Maybe Kumar was right. Maybe the virus really was beginning to slow down.
Doctor Hunter drove up next to the stolen Humvee. He wondered why Bashir was waving his arms, wondered why he had parked the car and why he wasn’t running away.
Something didn’t feel right. Hunter remembered Kumar’s warning about this guy being a battle hardened soldier. He reached into the glove box and retrieved his handgun, a military standard issue Beretta. He remembered when they were first advised by the military to carry a gun. He was completely against the idea. But now he was extremely grateful for the advice. He also, put on a pair of latex gloves, just in case.
He stashed the gun down the waist of his pants and exited the Range Rover. His number one goal was to get Bashir back to the research facility. Alive and in one piece. Or as close to alive as possible.
He waved a friendly wave and smiled a friendly smile to Bashir. “Good afternoon, sir. Are you all right? Need some fuel?”
Bashir was slumped forward, sweat poured off his face. His eyes were bloodshot. “Do you have any water?”
“I believe I do. You don’t look so good, if you don’t mind me saying. Do you need a ride into town? Maybe to a hospital?”
“No. I just need water.”
Hunter retrieved a small canteen of fresh water from the car and offered it to Bashir. He drank it quickly, spilling most of it down his chin. He then poured the rest over his head.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Hunter asked. “What are you even doing out here?”
Bashir looked around. He seemed to be confused. “I came out here to get away.”
“Get away? From who? From what?”
“From it all. Just had to get away from it all. And relax.”
“I see. You know, it’s dangerous to come out here by yourself.”
“Yes. Why are you alone?”
“I’m a local. Where did you say you were from? I’m guessing your accent is Middle Eastern?”
“I came here years ago.”
Hunter saw the shotgun sitting on the driver’s seat of the Humvee. “And why do you have a shotgun?”
“For shooting kangaroos. I’ve always wanted to try the meat.”
Bashir began to sway. His eyes were barely open.
Hunter realized he was not a threat at that point in time. His fever was too high. Hunter stepped forward and pushed Bashir over. He was right. Bashir was too weak to fight back.
The fugitive was sprawled on the ground, moaning in pain and mumbling something incoherent. Maybe he was speaking in his native language, Hunter thought.
“You are coming with me, Bashir.”
“Who… who are you?” he whispered. “How do you know my name?”
“I am Doctor Michael Hunter. And you are going to be part of history.”
Bashir knew he was hallucinating. He knew he was delirious from the fever but there was nothing he could do. He saw multiple moving rainbows in the desert ground, moving like snakes. He saw bright colors on the horizon. At one point he saw the doctor as a robot.
And now Bashir could no longer stand up. He couldn’t even talk. He couldn’t even keep his eyes open.
Maybe this was for the best, he thought. He was obviously dying. Whatever he had been infected with was killing him.
He felt like his bones were on fire, like his eyeballs were boiling.
He lay on the ground, staring up at the sky. The sky was lava.
Doctor Hunter had walked over to the rear of his Range Rover. He had changed into a HAZMAT suit. He then began dragging Bashir by the ankles. Gravel rubbed against his skin.
But then something clicked inside Bashir’s mind. He wasn’t exactly sure what.
Rage? A survival instinct? Fight or flight?
He had no idea what came over him. He didn’t want to fight because he was too weak. But he couldn’t help it.
It was almost like a weird primal urge to fight and live and survive took over his whole body. Bashir kicked out and knocked Doctor Hunter onto his back. He jumped up, suddenly full of energy and strength. He grabbed the shotgun off the front seat.
But before he could turn and shoot, he felt something in the back of his leg. Pressure. His leg buckled momentarily. When he looked down he saw that he had been shot.
But there was no pain.
He felt nothing.
Bashir turned and unloaded with the shotgun.
Doctor Hunter dived behind the Range Rover and returned fire in a panic.
The doctor was not used to combat of any sort. Bashir on the other hand felt right at home. His muscle memory was kicking in.
He took cover behind the Humvee. He waited. Aimed. Fired.
The shotgun shells sprayed into the side of the Range Rover but Doctor Hunter kept moving.
Suddenly Bashir lost his grip on the shotgun. His fingers seized up in pain. He dropped to his knees and grabbed it by the barrel.
Doctor Hunter had used this time to grab the machete out of the Humvee. He brought it down on Bashir’s forearm. The blade sliced through easily. Dark blood oozed out onto the desert ground.
Using the shotgun as a baseball bat, Bashir clobbered the doctor, knocking him unconscious.
He could’ve killed him with the machete. He could’ve cut him into tiny pieces. But again, weakness and fever took over. He couldn’t think straight.
Delirium. He was hallucinating.
He saw wolves. And wild dogs. Everywhere.
They would eat the doctor, he thought. Being eaten alive is a worse fate.
Bashir turned and limped off into the desert.
Doctor Hunter woke up in a panic.
His phone was ringing. He was still in the desert. He was on his back next to the Humvee and the Range Rover.
Bashir was gone.
Hunter answered his phone.
“What are you doing?” Kumar asked.
“Do I need to send someone after you?”
“How do you… How?”
“I told you. Satellite surveillance. I am tracking you because at the moment I do not trust you.”
Hunter sat up. He rubbed his head. “We have a problem. We have a containment failure. Bashir is gone. He has been infected.”
“There is no problem. Let him go. You had severed his arm. He will bleed to death before he reaches another living soul. The desert will take care of the rest. He is in the middle of nowhere. His body will never be found. This changes nothing.”
Hunter stood and moved over to the Range Rover. He sat in the driver’s seat and slumped against the steering wheel. “So what now?”
“We continue with our research. We are getting close. And you should tell Doctor West about this. We do not want to start lying to each other. We do not want to keep secrets from each other. Trust me, you do not want to start down that path. Not now. Not when we are so close.”
Kumar hung up.
Hunter was alone in the desert.
Saving lives, he thought. That was the goal.
Create a weapon that will save the innocent. End wars.
It had been done before.
Einstein had the foresight. He was a visionary. A true savior.
Now they would follow in his footsteps.
Kumar was right. They were so close.
This is where it begins, Doctor Hunter thought. This is how they become heroes.
The Secret Apocalypse
Book 1 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Book 2 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Where The Dead Men Lie
Book 3 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Book 4 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Book 5 in The Secret Apocalypse series
A World on Fire
Book 6 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Land of Dust and Bones
Book 7 in The Secret Apocalypse series
The Lost Journal
(A Secret Apocalypse Story)
The Lost Journal Part 2
Secret Apocalypse book 8
Also by J. L. / James Harden
Ninja Vs Samurai
For more info visit jamesharden.blogspot.au
Or Tweet me @james.harden07 or whatever.
Or email me at [email protected]
I don’t have Instagram yet. But maybe soon? Why not, right? Could be nice.
The following is an excerpt from THE SECRET APOCALYPSE
The Beginning of The End
I’m sitting in the penthouse suite of a hotel in Los Angeles with a TV camera pointed at my face. Sitting next to me is a journalist from a well known news program, although I can’t remember which news program they said. Was it Fox News or something on CNN? Maybe it was 60 minutes? For the life of me I can’t remember. After everything I’ve been through, little details like which global TV network I’m appearing on are starting to slip my mind.
The journalist also has a camera pointed at his face but I don’t think the cameras are on yet. At least I hope they’re not on yet. I look like crap. The makeup department is going to have their work cut out for them when they get here. I’ve just been through hell and as a result I look like hell. What’s that saying again? A face for radio?
The room is full of people working frantically to get everything ready in time. There’s the camera man and a sound guy. There’s a guy holding up a big white reflective thing and an important looking woman who could be a producer or something of that nature.
The important looking woman walks over to me with a clipboard in hand and asks me if I’m feeling all right. “Are you feeling all right?” She checks her clipboard. “Have you taken your medication?”
I haven’t been able to sleep since I made it back. They gave me some pills to help with the insomnia but they’re not working. I don’t want to tell her this. So I nod my head and smile.
The producer kneels down in front of me. “Rebecca, we did a brief background check on you and we just need you to verify some of our facts.”
I nod my head again. They need to put a human face to all of this and at the moment I’m the only human face they’ve got.
She runs a French manicured finger nail down the clip board and asks me a whole bunch of boring stuff like how I grew up in Brooklyn and then moved to Sydney. How I’m only sixteen years old and how I don’t even have a driver’s license yet.
“Is that even important?” I ask about the driver’s license.
“We can use it to highlight how young you are.”
Then she asks about the stuff I don’t want people to know about. She asks me about my father. “OK, according to this, your father was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan when you were thirteen?”
“They never confirmed he had been killed,” I say. “They never found his body.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that our records indicate…”
She makes a note on her clipboard. “Missing in action. Got it. I’m sorry, to push these issues, Rebecca. But we need to be sure of everything. If at any stage you feel uncomfortable during the interview we can stop and take a break. The interview will be a delayed telecast of about thirty minutes so we’ve got plenty of time.”
“You’re not going to ask me about all of that are you?”
“No. Not all of it. We just need to use some of that background information to introduce you to the public. Once they know your story, they’ll have a better understanding of everything that’s going on. You have a big responsibility. You’re the only survivor. People have a right to know what happened down there. And since the military aren’t talking, we’re all counting on you.”
It’s weird how they keep saying I’m the only survivor, like the others are already dead. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around just how many people died. I think I’m still in denial.
The producer introduces me to the journalist. “Rebecca, this is Steve Munroe. He’s one of our most senior reporters here.”
His face looks familiar but I was never really one for watching hardcore news programs.
He extends his hand to shake mine. “Hi, Rebecca. I just want to say I admire your courage and determination. You’re a brave girl for doing this.”
I shake his hand.
The producer’s phone rings and she walks away to answer it.
“Now Rebecca,” says Steve, the journalist. “Before we start recording, I just want to run you through some of the questions I’ll be asking you.”
“If there’s anything you don’t want to talk about you just let me know.”
He tells me people will want to know four things. “So basically, with a big story like this, people always want to know four things. They want to know the who, the what, the why and the how.”
I nod my head.
“The who is easy. That’s you. You are the sole survivor. People will want to know all about you. They’ll want to know what makes you special, what makes you tick. Once people know who you are, they’ll want to know what happened down there and why it happened. But they won’t want to hear it from just anyone; they’ll want to hear it from you, straight from your mouth, straight from the source.”
I wonder if anyone will even believe me when I tell them what is happening down there.
“But a big part of this interview will deal with the how of it. How did you do it? How did you survive when so many people didn’t make it? When so many people died?”
That’s a good question. I’ve been trying to figure this one out ever since I made it back. But I can’t. All I can think about are the people who matter most to me. Forget about the millions of other people. I know it sounds selfish but that’s the way it is. I can’t stop thinking about my mother. I can’t stop thinking about my friends. Maria and Kenji. Jack and Kim. We survived so much. We survived together. Yet somehow I’m the only one who made it out. Somehow, I’m the only one giving this interview.
“I mean, the entire Australian population is gone,” says Steve. “Over twenty million people wiped out in a matter of weeks. People will want to know, people will need to know how you escaped, how you stayed alive.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And the more I think about it, the more I realize my friends were the reason I survived. If I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be here. No freakin way.
The producer walks back over to us as she hangs up her phone. “Rebecca sweetie, just answer the questions like no one else is in the room, OK? Take all the time you need. I understand if everything might be a little hazy.”
I tell her I’ll try real hard to remember even though everything is crystal clear, ultra real, like I’m watching my memories on a high definition, flat screen television.
The producer looks at her watch. “We haven’t got long. We’re going live in one hour. Steve, can I talk to you in private for a second?”
“Live?” I ask.
“Yeah. There’s been a slight change of plan.”
The two of them exchange a look and I get the feeling that something is wrong.
“Please excuse me for just one minute,” says the journalist. “Oh, and while I’m gone try and think about the turning point for you. The moment when you realized something bad was about to happen.”
They both walk off to the master bedroom. They start talking. The producer then turns around and closes the door behind her.
Great. This is going to be worse than I thought. I’m starting to regret my decision to give this interview. I know people have a right to hear the truth but do they really need to hear it from me? I was never a good public speaker, never good at verbalizing what I wanted to say.
Maybe I should just run away. No one is really paying attention. Not the sound guy, not even the camera man. I could totally do it. I could walk out of the room, take the elevator down to the lobby, hail a taxi. Seems like a good option, an easier option. But then I see Steve left his pen and notepad on his chair. The producer mentioned something about everyone counting on me to find out what happened especially since the military aren’t answering questions. The media have called it ‘The Secret Apocalypse’, a full on extinction level event that was covered up and kept hidden from the world. It’s hard to believe in this age of information no one really knows what’s going on.
It’s hard to believe no one knows the truth. No one but me.
I remind myself that I do have a duty of sorts. Not just to answer everyone’s questions, but to my friends, to let people know what they did, how awesome and heroic they were right to the very end. So I pick up the pen and the notepad and head for the bathroom. I lock the door and sit down on the cool marble floor.
People need the truth and this is the best way. I used to write a lot, especially after my father disappeared. So I force myself to concentrate. It takes a few minutes but then my brain kicks into gear and starts working overtime. The pen begins to move almost of its own accord. My writing is messy but legible. Everything is being replayed in my mind’s eye at high speed. Important events are being freeze framed, rewound, watched over and over. I scribble down the main points that people need to know about.
The Oz Virus.
My friends. Maria. Jack. Kim.
The massive cover up by the government and the military.
Twenty-two million people dead.
The Secret Apocalypse.
The following is an excerpt from The Lost Journal of Private Kenji Yoshida…
Classification: Above Top Secret
The following is a partial transcript of a journal belonging to Private Kenji Yoshida of the U.S. Marine Corps. It was originally recovered from the south-eastern section of Sydney. Advanced Recon Team Alpha located the journal whilst tracking and monitoring several nano-virus anomalies within this area of the city.
Unfortunately a copy of the journal was then leaked to Steven Munroe, a journalist with CNN.
Munroe attempted to publish the journal online. It was intercepted and recovered during the uploading process.
Steven Munroe has been charged with treason and detained indefinitely.
The following is classified above Top Secret.
This is the journal of Private Kenji Yoshida of the U.S. Marine Corps. It details his experiences in the field with the Oz virus and in particular the initial outbreak at the small outback town of Woomera – the beginnings of what is now known as the Secret Apocalypse.
It also details his relationship with Rebecca Robinson, the only known survivor of the Oz virus, the only person to have escaped from Australia after a nationwide quarantine was put in place.
At the point of publication both Kenji and Rebecca are missing. It is more than likely they are both dead. Rebecca has been missing since the U.S. military’s press conference last month. Her whereabouts are completely unknown. She has vanished without a trace.
The journal came across my desk from an anonymous source. It came with a brief letter of warning. The letter stated the journal had been stolen, its contents – Top Secret.
I debated for a long time whether or not to publish the journal. In the end I realized that once it becomes public, it will be owned by the public.
I believe whole heartedly that the world has a right to know as much as possible about what has happened in Australia. Across history the suppression of information has never been a good thing. Governments lying to their people has never been a good thing.
Before I interviewed Rebecca Robinson last month she told me one of the main reasons for agreeing to do the globally televised interview was because she believed the people of the world have a right to know the truth.
If I have betrayed Kenji Yoshida’s trust for publishing his journal, then I sincerely apologize. I hope he understands that his words, his story needed to be told.
It is a story of survival, sacrifice and discovery. It is a story of a boy in love with a girl.
It is the story of a man’s journey into hell.
January 11th – The Afghan Mountains are cold and this is NOT a diary…
OK, technically it is a diary.
Nah. I’m not going to do that. I just can’t bring myself to write those words. Even though I just sort of did write those words.
But anyways… Yes, Kenji. This is a diary. But I think I’m going to call it a journal. Sounds less girly, I guess.
So why am I writing a journal? Good question.
I’m not proud to admit it, but over the last two years I’ve made a lot of stupid decisions.
And these stupid decisions just so happened to be life changing.
Let me explain…
Stupid life changing decision number 1:
I left home for military school without telling Rebecca.
I don’t know why I didn’t say goodbye. Maybe it was because I was scared. Maybe it’s because I’m a coward.
In the end there was a part of me that thought she was too fragile to hear what I had to say. I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t want to see her cry.
It seems so stupid now. Of course I should’ve said goodbye.
And I should’ve told her how I felt.
I think about her every day. And every day I rehearse in my head what I’m going to say to her, if I ever see her again.
My apology speech.
It goes a little something like this…
Dear Rebecca. I’m sorry I left. I was an idiot. I should’ve told you. I miss you. Please forgive me. Do you want to get some pizza?
OK, so I haven’t really worked out what I’m going to say. It’s still all mumbled up in my head.
I don’t know why it’s so hard. It should be easy. Telling the person you love that you love them should be the easiest thing in the world, right?
But it’s not. It’s hard. It’s scary.
I wrote a letter to Rebecca on the day I left home. I figured if I was too much of a chicken to tell her face to face, then a letter, a hand written letter would be the next best thing.
But guess what? Yeah, I couldn’t even give the letter to her.
My plan was to sneak over to her house. Leave it under her pillow or something. I don’t know.
But again, I chickened out.
I’m shaking my head as I write this.
My only hope is that one day I’ll get a chance to see her again, to say I’m sorry and give her the letter I wrote for her. Even if she slaps me in the face or spits in my face, even if she screams at me and tells me to go away and that she never wants to see me again; it’ll totally be worth it. And if all else fails, I can at least give her the letter. Hopefully she won’t tear it up.
I’ve thought about posting it to her. I’ve thought about that a lot. But I don’t want to risk sending it off. So I keep it with me in my top pocket, right next to my heart.
I’m not superstitious but I think it’s brought me good luck.
Stupid Life Decision part 2:
Ran away from military school and joined the U.S. Marines.
Again, I’m not even sure why I did this.
Was I punishing myself? Was I so angry that I would risk my life in the armed forces?
At that point in time I hated my parents for sending me away. I hated them more than I thought it was possible to hate anyone. How could they send me off without even consulting with me first? What were they thinking? How did they expect me to react?
I was furious and for a while I didn’t want anything to do with my parents. So I didn’t tell them that I was enlisting. I guess maybe it was a rebellious thing. An act of total defiance.
But there was part of me that really wanted to go. There was part of me that wanted to push myself, find out if I was strong enough to be a soldier.
But of course, my father found out. I knew he would. He has his ways.
He called me up. I thought he was going to yell at me and rip into me for being stupid and careless. I was expecting him to pull some strings and get me discharged for being a minor. I knew if the military looked into it, my fake birth certificate wouldn’t hold up under close investigation.
But he didn’t rat me out. Instead he quoted something from ‘The Art of War’.
He said the warrior’s path is his own. It is lonely.
“The first rule of war.”
“Yeah, I know.” I said cutting him off. “Know your enemy.”
“No. Remember. Think back. Focus. The first rule of war is, know yourself. You must know yourself; know your strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and limitations before you know anything else. Go. Find yourself. Know yourself.”
I’m glad we were talking over the phone. I think I started to cry a little bit. And I did not want my father to see me crying.
But that phone call helped me get through the first few months of training. And For a while my mind was clear. But then we got the call up. We were being deployed in the Middle East and all the fear and uncertainty I had felt before was back, stronger than ever.
Was I too young for this? Was I brave enough? Did I have the courage to put my life on the line?
My father has always told me that our family comes from a long line of Samurai. Our ancestors were the personal guard to all fifteen Tokugawa Shoguns.
Do I have that warrior’s soul?
I had no idea. And really, I still have no idea. But when we got our orders I had no choice but to find out. The answer would be life or death. Sink or swim. Live or die.
No pressure right?
So yeah, I’ll admit it. I haven’t always done the smart thing or the right thing. But to my credit I’ve stuck by my decisions and I’ve lived with the consequences.
Unfortunately, I think the only way that I’ve been able to survive and cope and keep going is to compartmentalize everything, to bottle everything up.
I didn’t notice it at first, but keeping these thoughts and feelings bottled up and buried deep inside were slowly taking their toll on me.
Yesterday I saw something that pushed me over the edge. When we got back to the base, I felt numb and sick. I felt dizzy. I couldn’t breathe.
I made an appointment to see the psychologist on base. I needed to do it. I was completely freaking out and I wasn’t even sure why.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor kid.
So I went and saw the counselor. She assured me that after everything I’d been through, a reaction like this was perfectly normal. She was actually surprised it hadn’t happened earlier.
She advised me to start keeping a journal. She said I needed to verbalize and articulate and materialize these feelings. Get them out of my head, out of my heart. She said keeping them inside and bottled up will destroy me, tear me apart. She said they would infect my insides. Kill me from the inside out, like a virus.
Yeah, that’s it; she said it would be like a virus. It would spread through me, overwhelm me and destroy me.
I do not want that to happen.
So here I go. Let’s get this stuff out of my head before it kills me.
The following is an excerpt from Wasteland Wonderland Part 1 – The Fall of Hector Ramirez
I’m somewhere in the Buried City.
Somewhere below the Wasteland.
I’m in a bar, drinking what passes for beer these days. I’m in a bar because humans are fucking weird and even though it’s the literal end of the world, we still need to get a buzz on.
I’ve had ten beers.
But the beers are just chasers.
Because what I’m really drinking is something stronger. A fortified brew that tastes like gasoline. But it does the trick. Dulling the senses and memories, making me forget where I am and who I am and what I’ve done.
The beers are just for chasing away the taste. And to chase away a feeling I’m getting in my stomach. To chase away my nerves, to calm my nerves.
Because I just met a girl. An angel. An angel who has no business being in a place like this. She came up to me not even ten minutes ago. It was like she was looking for me.
She knew my name.
She was friendly.
And I didn’t ask questions. She told me her room number. She told me the door wasn’t locked.
Maybe I should’ve asked questions. Maybe I should’ve told her to get lost, to find some other mark. But like I said, this is the end of the world and I’m a lonely son of a bitch.
She left, begging me with her eyes to follow. I turned back to the bar and finished my drink.
And downed the chaser.
And now a tap on my shoulder. A guy. Tall and thin. He has a scar over his left eye and an expression on his face that says he’s all business. That he’s a consummate professional. He’s wearing a poncho, and I can’t be certain, but I think underneath the poncho he’s wearing a thermo suit. I’m thinking he must be a Merc from the nicer part of town, but I can’t be certain because this guy is dressed like he’s hiding something and I’m pretty damn drunk.
My vision is blurry.
I can’t be certain.
This guy has a beer in his hand but he’s not drinking it. Not like you’re supposed to drink a beer. He shows me a picture of a girl. He asks me if I’ve seen her and even though I can’t get her out of my mind… I lie.
I lie and I say, “I’ve never seen her before.”
And then I tell the truth. I tell the truth and I say, “I’ve never seen anyone like her before.”
The man leaves and he leaves his beer on the bar and I’m too drunk and careless and arrogant to even think this could be a problem.
I make my way to the room upstairs. She’s there. Waiting. And I’m suddenly aware of the heat.
It’s hot. Because it’s always hot.
Sweat covers our bodies.
I ask her what her name is, trying to make small talk because even though I’m drunk and my guard is lowered and my inhibitions are gone, I’m nervous.
She can tell.
And she says, “My name doesn’t matter…”
“It matters to me.”
She has her arms around me. She wears nothing but a smile. Except it’s not really a smile. It’s not real. It’s a mask.
She thinks for a second, too long. She whispers, “Ruby.”
“Like the jewel…”
“Yeah,” she says quicker. More eagerly. “Just like the jewel.”
Her skin is soft. Too soft.
Everything is soft.
She might be an angel. I might be dreaming.
She inhales sharply as I put my hands on her hips and pull her close.
I ask her where she’s from.
And she says, “Wonderland.”
I guess she’s running from an abusive husband. Maybe he’s a Wasteland Raider. Those guys are nuts. People think I’m crazy. People think me and my brother are insane. But we’ve got nothing on those guys. Raiders constantly venture above ground, out into the Wasteland, out into the scorching, deadly heat. People say the Red Giant cooks their brains. I’d have to agree with those people.
So yeah, maybe she’s running from an abusive husband or boyfriend. Or girlfriend. Then again, maybe she just wants some excitement in her life. A fling.
Maybe she just wants to know that men still find her attractive.
I can vouch for that.
And now she knows it, if she ever doubted it.
I kiss her and she shivers.
In the heat.
In this goddamn, unrelenting heat.
I ask her, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m scared,” she answers, her mask slipping away for the briefest of moments.
“Because I know secrets. I know things I’m not supposed to know.”
“What do you know?”
She places her hand at the back of my head. She grabs a fistful of my hair. She kisses me and whispers… “I know everything.”
She fell asleep in my arms, covered in sweat, cold to the touch.
Even in this heat.
I didn’t think about it. Didn’t think.
Because I wasn’t thinking.
Can you blame me?
She was a goddess and I was in heaven. Drunk and in heaven.
She was shivering. She was cold. Covered in sweat. No one is cold in this place.
Not in the Buried City.
Not in the Wasteland.
Not on Earth.
I’m still holding her in my arms and I don’t know when to let go. I don’t know how to deal with this. I don’t know how to deal with this because I don’t want to acknowledge exactly what went down.
Ruby… if that was even her real name, she was poisoned. I don’t think she knew she’d been poisoned. Not until it was too late.
I place her gently on the bed and cover her with the sheet. I stand over her with my head lowered. I don’t say a prayer because I don’t really know any. And I’m not the world’s biggest fan of religion.
So I just stand over the bed, beside the bed, standing over Ruby, as a mark of respect.
She said she was from Wonderland.
She said she knew secrets.
Maybe she was telling the truth.
And maybe this is why she’s dead.
Her skin, her hands, they were so soft. Softer than any I’ve ever felt. And now my instincts are kicking in, survival instincts I was born with and spent a lifetime honing by necessity. To survive in the Buried City, to survive in the Wasteland, hell, to survive on Earth, you need to be stronger than the next person in the food chain. And the next.
Ruby was not strong.
She was soft and smooth and pale.
Her skin had never been kissed by the Red Giant.
And she was scared. She was downright terrified.
Of who? Of what?
There’s no way she was from the Buried City. She was too clean and too nice.
Maybe she was from the Deep Canyon. I shake my head. No. There’s no way. So maybe she really was from Wonderland. But if she was, then what the hell was she doing here? Why the hell would anyone leave Wonderland?
Old timers, they talk about nights of passion. They can’t help themselves. Whenever they get together, whenever they get a sympathetic ear, they end up talking about a night, one night, during the last of the Great Wars, before the Truce, before the Arks were built. The old men talk about when they were just boys, child soldiers ordered into battle, into fierce urban warfare in ruined cities.
They didn’t think they’d survive the night. Or the next day.
The fear of dying alone is a terrifying one. So they’d share the night with a stranger, and if they were lucky enough to survive the killing, they’d never forget.
I wonder… was this the same for Ruby? Did she know she was going to die? Maybe she just didn’t want to die alone.
Then again, maybe she sought me out for protection. She knew my name. She knew where I’d be.
She found me.
It’s my damn reputation. A consequence of my actions in a past life, a consequence of my various professions, of years of being me. But if that’s the reason, if she really did seek me out for protection, then I failed her. I failed her miserably.
Before I can even think about feeling angry and sorry for myself, there’s a knock at the door.
A loud knock.
A forceful knock.
Whoever is on the other side is not going away.
I’m expecting the door to come flying off its hinges any second now. But it doesn’t. They actually give me a warning. How nice of them.
“Open up. This is Immigration and Wonderland Border Control. We know you’re in there.”
And I’m wondering how… how do they know? And I’m wondering what the hell they’re doing here at the crack of dawn.
In this part of town.
In this part of the Buried City.
Wonderland Enforcers never leave the confines of Wonderland. Not unless something big is going down.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my eyes go wide. My heart races and a jolt of adrenalin shocks me wide awake. I’m not a morning person. Never have been. Never will be. But right now, I am awake. My eyes are open. And despite the large amount of alcohol I have recently consumed, my head is clear.
These guys are up to no good.
And I’ll be damned if I’m going to be framed for Ruby’s death.
These guys want to play dirty?
Then it’s time to get dirty.
It’s time to welcome them to the Buried City.
Copyright © 2012 by James Harden
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events locales or organisations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author.