Read Scavengers Online

Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes

Scavengers (5 page)

Dejah tried to scream, but the breath only heaved in her lungs.

The little girl watched her vacantly as she scrambled back into the car.

Dejah slammed the door.  Her pulse surged. Her hands shook so much she could barely put the Pathfinder in drive.

Carrie was just beginning to walk toward Dejah’s car as she pulled quickly from the curb. Carrie’s blood-smeared face, receding in the rearview, watched her drive away. 

My God,
she thought.
She was eating her father. Eating him – Brian Revis!

Dejah caught her breath, eyes glued to the terrible scene in the mirror. Her eyes went back to the road in front of her in time to spot a stalled car diagonal across the street. She yanked the steering wheel and barely averted a collision. The front left wheel of the Pathfinder bounced onto the curb, smashing against a mailbox.  Dejah wrestled with the wheel to get the vehicle back onto the street.

As she reached the intersection of Copperfield and Sublett, she took a deep breath and thought she’d never felt the terrible thrill of so much adrenalin-fueled fear in her veins. She realized she’d begin crying but she choked it off, resolving herself to the task at hand. Her mission.
There isn’t time for this
, she told herself.
Selah needs me.

It had been too long. She should’ve left earlier. She should’ve ignored Thomas’s bullshit and got in her car right then and there and drove to goddamn Greenville. Damn it!

She turned out of the neighborhood, down the tree-lined street which snaked over a hill and around a corner to the intersection of Cooper Road. She dodged several abandoned cars on the way, paid little attention to the people she saw, wandering, vacant.

Just make it to the interstate, and then figure out what happens from there. Greenville is the goal. I’ve got to get there before—

Her breathing shallow, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She looked hollow already. A twinge of fear struck her — she realized she could have the sickness, too. The epidemic had obviously reached their neighborhood.
But what kind of epidemic makes little girls eat their fathers?

Whatever kind of curse this was had worked its evil on lots of people everywhere. She pressed onward toward her destination, a sick feeling in her stomach.

Cooper Street was a traffic nightmare. As she drove north, she wove around stalled cars, wrecks, groups of people trying to push vehicles out of the way, teaming up to make a path to their destinations. As she made it past the Walmart Supercenter parking lot there was a vehicle overflow blocking the on-ramp to Interstate 20. She heard gunshots and screaming from the Wal-Mart parking lot. People looted the store. She ducked and had to drive up onto the sidewalk and grassy mounds to make it the final distance to the on-ramp leading to the interstate.

As Dejah drove down the hill to I-20 she found herself in a snare of more vehicles, people, and emergency vehicles. Stretching as far as she could see in both directions, the intestate was a mass of cars, roaming people, and sirens.

Her heart sank. She wasn’t going anywhere fast.

CHAPTER 8

 

The phone rang. Robbins hit the snooze on the alarm out of habit. The phone rang again. The webs of sleep slowly parted to allow Robbins’s brain to realize it was the phone and not the alarm clock ringing near his head. Groggily, he felt around on the bedside table for his cell phone.

Jabbing at the keypad he managed to hit the correct button. “Robbins,” he muttered. It seemed like he just lay on the bed only minutes ago.

“Matty?” A man’s voice, vaguely familiar.

“Yeah, yeah, this is Matt. Who’s this?”

“Grant.”

Robbins sat up in bed. “No shit. Where the hell are you?” He and Colonel Grant Weir went back nearly thirty years. Grant wasn’t a Colonel back then, however. Often involved in covert operations, Robbins never knew when to expect contact from his old Air Force buddy.

“I’m in Greenville. Over at H-Systems.”

“What? How long have you been here?” Robbins propped his pillow behind his back and leaned against the headboard. 

“Unfortunately, since before the quarantine.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” Robbins asked.

There was a pause on Grant’s end.

“I don’t suppose,” Robbins said, rubbing his eyes, “that it has anything to do with the General Langford plane bombing. Or, since you’ve been here since last week, that the government knew that Langford’s plane might be a target.”

“Bit more complicated than that, I’m afraid.”

Robbins scowled. “I’ve been at the ER non-stop for days, Grant. People are pouring in with symptoms of some form of virus I’ve never seen before. Not in any textbooks, not in any case studies. This is some spooky shit. Saying it’s ‘virulent’ doesn’t begin to cover it. I think those terrorist bastards released some sort of biological agent into the air when they downed that plane.” More silence on Grant’s end of the phone. “Would I be even remotely in the right neighborhood on that?”

“That’s classified, Matty.”

“Goddamn it, Grant. Cut the bullshit. I’ve got people dying here. Children.  Elderly.  I need to know what the hell’s going on. I need to know what I’m up against. I’ve got people with gray fucking skin practically withering before my eyes, falling into comas, and then, yesterday — get this — I had three of the fuckers wake up rabid like wild animals.  They bit a couple of my nurses and one of their roommates.  In the case of the roommate attack, we didn’t get there in time, and that one — she didn’t just bite her roommate, Grant, she ate her flesh. 
Ate her flesh off the bone
.”

Robbins felt heat rise in his cheeks.  He ground his teeth.  He wanted a cigarette. He had to remind himself this was his friend he was talking to.  But damn it, he
knew
something.  He could help.  If only….

“You still at the same address?” Grant asked.

Robbins ran a hand through his tussled hair. “Yeah.”

“Can I come over?”

Robbins got out of bed. “I’ll put on some coffee.”

“Be there in a few.” The phone went quiet.

Robbins threw on a t-shirt and slipped his cell phone into the front pocket. Sliding his feet into his slippers, glanced sideways at his deplorable image in the mirror, and then padded into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee.

By the time the coffee pot was full, Robbins was seated at the table eating a warmed up sweet roll.  The doorbell rang. It was Grant.

He opened the door and bear-hugged his old friend.

Grant held him at arm’s length to get a look at him. “You look like shit.”

“Yeah, well I feel even worse.”

“You aren’t sick, are you?” Grant’s voice edged up a notch.

“No, not yet anyway. We’ve been sucking down blasts of Relenza at the end of every day, hoping that’s enough to keep the staff on its feet.  But at the rate we’ve been going, it may not be the virus that gets us.” Robbins walked into the kitchen with Grant close behind. “Coffee?”

“Please.”

Taking two mugs from the cupboard, Robbins watched Grant’s movements for any signs that he knew something. He poured coffee into the mugs. “Still take it black?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, sit down. I need to tell this to someone who won’t think I’ve gone nuts, and since you obviously know more than you’re saying, at this point you’re that lucky someone.”

“Because I already know you’re nuts?”

Robbins laughed and took a drink of coffee. “Well, if I wasn’t before, after this fiasco is all said and done, I sure the hell will be.”

Grant frowned. “That bad?”

“This isn’t bad, it’s downright evil, Grant.” Robbins took a sip of the piping hot coffee then looked soberly across the table at his old friend. “One of our blood techs got sick. We had to strap him to the bed after he woke up from a six-hour coma-state. One of the nurses was bending over to adjust his pillow and he lunged forward and bit a chunk out of her fucking neck the size of an apple. Didn’t think she’d make it, but we managed to save her.”

“So what do you know about the illness so far?” Grant said.

“Friday night Greenville Christian Academy played a football game against Millward Christian High School. Now ordinarily, the private and church schools around these parts don’t get much publicity. What makes this team special?”

“I don’t know, but I think you’re going to tell me,” Grant said.

“As the Millward team was leaving Hunt County, General Langford’s plane was bombed only about a mile from where their bus must have been. The military swarmed this place like ants on a picnic chicken leg — but, what they didn’t know was that those Millward boys were already halfway through Rockwall County by the time Hunt County was locked down.”

“Taking the biological infection with them—”

Robbins nodded, letting his friend’s comment sink in.  Confirmation.  “That’s right.  Through Rockwall County and into Dallas County. Now, right now, Hunt and Rockwall are quarantined. Are you going to quarantine Dallas County, too?” A hint of anger crept into Robbins’s voice. “Those terrorists finally hit us with a doozy of an airborne virus. That’s what it has to be. It’s the only explanation for what’s happening.”

“It wasn’t the terrorists,” Grant said.

“Come again?”

“Naturally, you can’t repeat a goddamn word of what I’m about to say to you.”

“Naturally.”

“I’m only telling you so maybe it can help you…help the people you’re treating.”

“Okay. So it wasn’t terrorists.”

Grant cleared his throat. “It was us. Sort of.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“I was here, up at H-Systems, waiting to receive a sample of virus Toxin RE68. The shit was aboard Langford’s plane. Military scientists have been working on a classified experimental program to develop virally encoded toxins to be used as weapons of mass destruction. I was scheduled to deliver RE68 to Fort Hood.”

Robbins sat his coffee mug on the table, a look of shock registering on his face.

“The terrorists didn’t have any idea that Toxin RE68 was on Langford’s plane. They just wanted to kill Langford. Unfortunately, when the plane was hit, the virus went straight into the air. The terrorists got more bang for their buck than they could ever imagine.”

“Shit.”

“We’ve learned that a terrorist cell infiltrated the U.S. via Mexico and shot down Langford’s plane with weapons they acquired here in Texas.” Grant tapped on the side of the coffee mug with his thumbnail.

“Thank you, border patrol.”

“Well, to be fair, border patrol is doing all they can with what they’ve got, which isn’t enough. But yeah, Homeland Security is catching all kinds of shit.” Grant turned the mug around in his hands absently.

“Did you know about the football team?”

“Naw. We knew the virus had to have been transported via a group of infected people to get out that quickly though. You found the missing link.” Grant sighed.

“The illness mimics the flu at first. Then, after a high fever, most of the infected fall into a coma. The duration of the coma state is different for everyone, but when they wake up, they’re frothing at the mouth, mostly incoherent, delirious. Speech continues but at a diminished level. A few people retain the ability to talk, but pathogens overcome the body’s defenses as the disease worsens and the body begins to decay, apparently from the toxin secretion – it’s almost like the person is dead. Or has been dead for quite awhile. And there’s the hunger I mentioned.”

“I know,” Grant said.

“You’ve tested this on people, haven’t you?” Robbins got up to refill his mug.

“Yeah. Army volunteers. We jokingly refer to them as our Zombie Squad.”

“Funny.” Robbins held up the coffee pot.

Grant held his cup forward. “Thanks.”

“Now what?”

“I don’t know.”

Robbins looked incredulous. “What do you mean, you don’t know? There’s a toxin-antidote, isn’t there?”

Grant cleared his throat again. “No. Not yet. That’s what I was taking the sample to Fort Hood for. They were going to develop the antidote there.”

“They can’t develop an antidote without the toxin sample?”

“No. We not only lost the RE68 canisters, we also lost blood samples from our test subjects in the plane explosion. On top of that, we haven’t been able to make contact with anyone at the base for over six hours.” Grant leaned back in his chair.  He suddenly looked as tired as Robins felt.

“It’s spread.”

“Looks like it,” Grant said. “Dallas County is heavily infected. Tarrant County is infected. And in chaos, I might add.” Grant reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a USB drive. He placed it on the table.

“What’s that?”

“The information used to develop the virus toxin. All of the research, development, and experimental data we have in digital format, including the viral genome model. I’m giving it to you.”

Robbins took the drive. “You’re giving it to
me
?”

“It’s the only one. The scientist that developed RE68 was on board Langford’s plane too. He had one flash drive and I had the other. Mine’s the back-up.”

Robbins looked at the sliver of black and silver plastic in his hand. “And, just what do you think I’m going to do with it?”

“You’ve got to save the world, Matty.”

“You’re fucking hilarious.”

Grant’s face was stoic. “You can do it. If it weren’t for the
accident
all those years ago, it might very well have been you developing this toxin, and the antidote to counter it.”

“Accident?  Is
that
what it’s referred to as now?” Robbins laughed bitterly. Carrying your dead buddy’s body for five days on your back because you can’t risk detection by the enemy on an operation that wasn’t officially happening because some jackass in DC decided to play nice with scumbags…carrying your dead buddy’s body for five days on your back in freezing fucking weather because the ground was too goddamn frozen to bury a body, a body so broken that he felt like a skin-suit full of Lincoln Logs because some cherry MF packed the chutes incorrectly—

“We know you didn’t mean to shoot anybody, Matty. You just cracked, that’s all.”

“Well, thank God all of that is top secret, huh? No one would hire a doctor known for murderous rampages, now would they?”

“That was a long time ago, and
it never happened
.”

Robbins rubbed his face with his palms as Grant shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“I’m sorry, Matty.”

Robbins waved the comment away. “It’s okay. I haven’t slept much, nerves are shot.”

“I understand,” Grant gave him a pained smile. “Shit, do I understand. If I’m lucky enough to live through this, my head will probably be on the block.”

“Do you have any symptoms?”

“I don’t think so. I’m a little run down, but aside from that, I feel normal. It seems some people and animals, like you and me apparently, have a natural immunity to the virus. But immunities don’t seem genetically inherited. From what I know, a body’s ability to fight off the disease is as random as the viral mutation.”

Robbins exhaled deeply and then was quiet for a moment, head sifting through the new information, eager to get at the answers on the flash drive, hoping he could actually do something with it. He looked down at the USB drive in his palm, then he regarded Grant as the man finished his coffee.

“So, where are you staying?” Robbins asked.

“In a storage room at H-systems.” Grant smiled grimly.

“You’re welcome to stay here. Kammie lives in Commerce in her own apartment these days. I’ve got plenty of room.”

“Thanks, Matty. I might take you up on that.” Grant stood to go.

Robbins knew Grant wouldn’t be back.

“Heading out?”

“Yeah. There’s a lot to be done. Lots of sick folks out at the facilities, too.” Grant put his hand on the door. “I mean it about you finding the antidote.”

“We’ll see. It’ll be damned difficult, if not impossible, without direct access to a research lab.”

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