Archive for Jun, 2017


Posted: 11/06/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing
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Such an innocuous little piece of hardware, it doesn’t look like it should burn her fingers, but it does. About  three inches long, just under an inch wide, and coated in black plastic, it could be any generic USB stick.  It is new, the lid is still firmly attached and the plastic surface is still glossy and unscratched. Rosie Franklin, PhD ScD, stares at it, turning it over in her hands, sitting alone at the table of a roadside diner somewhere in Indiana.  She can’t look up at  the people around her as they chatter and eat, unaware of what she is holding in her hands.   

“Rosie, we need to hustle,”

“Is it them?” she asks, looking up at him standing hesitantly by the table. He nods, eyes darting toward the door. The last 12 hours have dug deep crags about his eyes,  diminished his broad shoulders into a tense hunch and made him twitch with restlessness.  

“What do we do?” Rosie asks.  

“Switch cars again, take a hostage this time,” he replies, voice low.  She takes a shuddering breath, closes her eyes and squeezes the stick tightly in her hand. A small child squeals, adults laugh at a nearby table and the waitress behind the bar starts singing along to an old rock tune on the radio.  Fragile, simple life is all around her.  Fragile life teetering on the brink of oblivion. She looks at Sam, feeling her blood thrumming.

“Let’s do it,”

Out in the carpark, evening gloom is descending and rain is falling steadily.  The air is crackling with the white noise of the Interstate, accompanied by a steady wail of sirens in the city somewhere nearby. Rosie hides behind a wall, watching Sam crouch beside a black saloon car, waiting for the young man who is ambling towards it with his cellphone to his ear.  He’s wearing a slightly shabby italian suit and a five o’clock shadow.  

The shock on the young man’s face when Sam suddenly rises up to attack him stabs at Rosie’s conscience.  Sam administers a solid punch to his temple, and he crumples.  Rosie cradles her stomach, swallowing the guilt.  Getting  to Atlanta is all that really matters. Before it’s too late.  

Sam moves quickly now, while Rosie keeps watch.  He frisks the young man for his keys, then bundles him into the back seat of the saloon car.  Sam beckons to her, so she darts toward the car. She’s already checked her purse for the stowed stick five times but her fingers are seeking it out again as she soon as she gets in the car.  Without it, everything they have done has been for nothing.  

The car is sleek and roomy inside, but it stinks of greasy food and stale sweat.  Sam has laid its owner across the back seat on top of a pile of coats, papers and junk food trash.  Sam has the engine running, so once Rosie is in he hits reverse at full speed.  Fumbling for her seat belt, Rosie spots a black SUV looming large in the wing mirror.

“There they are!” She hisses, and Sam immediately eases off the gas.  His eyes dart to the rear view mirror.

“I see them.  Better pray they don’t recognise us,”  

Rosie says nothing, but her hand is in her purse again, fingers grasping tightly to the stick.  They draw level with the SUV. Rosie flattens herself back in her seat. The two vehicles pass each other and then diverge.

A while later, some miles down the Interstate, Rosie feels like she can breathe again.  She checks on their unwilling passenger.  He is still out, but his phone is buzzing inside his jacket.  Twisting in her seat she reaches out to silence it.  His wallet is in the same pocket, so she pulls it out to look.

“Who is he?” Sam asks while she’s riffling through it.

“Adam Byron, systems analyst from Seattle, ” she says, tossing the wallet into the glove compartment in front of her.

“And he’s still out?” Sam double checks.

“Yeah, he’s still out,” Rosie points out, adding, ”I hope he doesn’t freak when he comes to,”

“I cuffed him.  He won’t cause any trouble,” Sam tries to reassure her, but she rolls her eyes.

“Ah, great.  Waking up cuffed is never freaky,” she mutters darkly.  A bark of laughter escapes Sam, making her glare at him.

“I’ll put the radio on,” she says flatly, reaching forward to jab at the buttons on the car stereo.  Music blares for a second, making her glance at Adam, but he doesn’t stir. She starts flicking through the stations until she finds the news.

-More on our breaking story now.  New Era Biolabs have released a statement about the situation at their Wisconsin Facility.  The identities of two employees who have been reported missing from the facility have been released to federal authorities.  It is suspected that the two employees might have been involved in industrial espionage- She turns the dial again abruptly.  Sam says nothing.  In the silence between them a talk radio host utters meaningless platitudes.

Rosie jerks awake, the inane noise of the radio has faded into the background.  Rain drums on the roof of the car and makes a blur of the interstate.  Car headlights are jagged lines through the sheeting water on the windscreen.  A sound registers in her brain, one that sneaks in stealthily on the edge of her drowsy senses but rises to a pitch that makes her start with alarm.  

“Wha -what the fuck? You’re stealing my fucking car!”

“Ok, take it easy there fella! This is not what it looks like!” Sam cuts in brusquely.  In the back, Adam starts trying to squirm himself upright.

“Take it fucking easy? “ He spits, obviously more outraged than afraid, “You fucking hit me! You cuffed me!”

“I’m sorry, sir. There’s an outbreak-” Sam begins, but Adam is ranting furiously over the top of him, too enraged to hear. Rosie turns her head to see his reflection in the wing mirror. She can see the sheen of his sweat and the bloodshot whites of his eyes.  The familiar sound of a news jingle catches her ear so she turns the radio up loud.

The latest on the Great Lakes outbreak crisis.  New Era Labs in Wisconsin evacuated after major Quarantine breach.  Great Lakes area said to be at high risk of contaminated water.  The White House has mobilised the National Guard.  Unconfirmed reports of rioting across much of the region.  All Flights grounded until further notice- Rosie watches Adam fall silent and then go pale.  She turns the radio down.

“I have to get to Atlanta.  Something got out, and I have the cure,” Rosie explains.  He looks at her, expression wild  He seems about to ask something, but the radio interrupts

-crazed mobs on the streets of New York. We are hearing reports that they are attacking people in large numbers.  One witness claimed to have seen someone torn apart- Rosie gasps and  covers her ears with her hands. Sam quickly switches the stereo off.  

“What the fuck? Is it rabies or something?” Adam says. Rosie flinches.

“Shut up!” Sam snaps at him and reaches out a hand to comfort Rosie.  She shakes her head and backs away, trembling.

“It’s everywhere already!  We can’t stop it now!” her voice is small and faltering.

“C’mon girl, you’re on this! You’ve got the cure! We’re on the road!” Sam tries to placate her.

“But it’s my fault, don’t you see? This is happening because I stole it,” Rosie whispers.

“New Era wanted this, Rosie.  You took the only chance of stopping them,” Sam says firmly, catching her eye.  Rosie is still shaking, but she knows she needs to believe him. The car suddenly seems too hot.  

“I need air, I’m going to go walk and think,” she decides between empty breaths.

“Sure, we’re not going anywhere,” Sam points out with a shrug, indicating the long line of nose-to-tail traffic through the rain smeared windscreen.  Rosie pulls the stick out of her purse and passes it hesitantly to Sam.  He throws her a quizzical look.

“He must have a laptop.  Show him,” she says, pointing at Adam, then she climbs out of the car. After watching Rosie’s retreating back along the line of cars ahead for a few silent moments,  Sam turns a querying look on Adam.  

“It’s here, but I can’t use it with these cuffs on,” Adam indicates the seat beside him with his chin.  Sam reaches for the device and deposits it on Adam’s lap. He pokes the stick into the USB port awkwardly with his too big fingers, then jabs a few keys.  

“There, read it,”

Adam starts scanning rapidly down the glowing screen, his face stark with its light.

“Fuck,” he murmurs softly after a few seconds, then louder a little further down the page.  He looks up at Sam, horrified realisation dawning on his face.

“Have you read this?”

“Yep,” Sam confirms simply, preferring not to talk about it much.  

“We could be infected already!” Adam exclaims.  The car door opens again and Rosie slips back inside, clothes soaked and breathing heavy.

“You’re not infected,” she states unflinchingly, having heard him, “You would already be showing symptoms.  They made it fast to spread quickly,” She starts fiddling with the radio again, “There’s a fire up ahead on the highway.  I can’t see any fire trucks there though,”

traffic backed up to the Manchester Interchange on Highway 41 because of a multi-vehicle pile up.  Emergency services unable to attend because of rioting in the local town centre.  People advised to stay in their cars

“Those rioters are probably infected. We have to keep moving!” Rosie declares while both men curse.  Sam looks out through the window, brow creased as if weighing up their odds.  He reaches into his pocket and tosses a key to Rosie.

“Get him out of those cuffs and then buckle up,” he tells her, not looking her way.  

“We can’t go back, they are probably behind us.  They know where we are headed,”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  We’re sitting ducks here,” Sam retorts, before leaning on the car horn and starting to rev the engine. Seeing it useless to argue further, Rosie unlocks Adam before getting braced in her seat.  A couple of vehicles in front are beginning to move, pulling onto the hard shoulder to make enough space for Sam to squeeze Adam’s car through.

“Oh shit,” Adam gasps as Sam guns the engine again, aiming for the crash barrier.  Rosie curls into a ball in her seat, shielding her head. Adam hugs the laptop to himself as the car lurches forward.  

Crossing to the other side of the Interstate is like entering a nightmare.  As the headlights burn through the darkness, they pick out a silent sea of faces, appearing from nowhere.  Glazed eyes blaze ferally red, while bodies move disjointedly.  They don’t even seem to notice the car hurtling towards them.  It spins out, brakes screeching, bodies bouncing off the boot.  The rear windscreen breaks, arms thrust through it making Adam wail.  The car engine screams as the tires spin on something slick.  Released suddenly, the car shoots forward, skidding.  Swearing, Sam fights to control it, but instead it careers tail first through the mesh fence at the side of the Interstate.  The silence that follows seems complete.

“Adam, wake up! You’ve got to wake up,” Rosie shakes him furiously. He moans and struggles to open his eyes.

“I’m awake.  I’m awake,” he manages.  He tries to sit up straight but he is clutching the laptop tightly still, making him move awkwardly. As she watches, he fumbles through his clothes then breathes an audible sigh of relief, “I still have it!” he tells her.

“Climb out the back window, get the stick out of here! Get it to Atlanta,” she commands, pushing him towards the gaping window.  

“You aren’t coming?” he asks, sounding confused.  A sudden burst of gunfire from outside makes him jump. Rosie throws an urgent look out of the window behind her.

“The New Era people found us.  They were stuck in the same traffic. Sam’s trying to hold them off now. Get out of the window, get moving,” She pushes him again, harder.  

“How do I get to Atlanta?” He asks, much more alert now.  Still he’s hesitating and Rosie is running out of time.

“I don’t know, but you have to.  Go, now!” Rosie yells at him, and he’s finally moving, pushing himself out through the window.  

With a deep breath, she gets out of the car herself.  Raising her hands high above her head, she walks towards where Sam is slumped on the highway.  There’s another burst of gunfire, so loud she almost misses the bursting pain in her chest.  But then that becomes everything as she falls forward, the tarmac racing towards her as her vision fades.