River Of Night – Snippet 29
Risky knew that as their world fell ever deeper under the assault of the virus Tom would continue to honor his word. He would put his promise to his former employer foremost, even if there was no more bank left to rescue. Risky knew, knew deep inside, that saving something that didn’t really exist any longer wasn’t the answer.
Maybe there was an alternative, something that else that Smith could consider worthy of his oath. Maybe.
Outside, the ruined countryside flowed past, a repeating loop of fire blackened buildings, tangles of ruined vehicles and the occasional infected lurching into view before disappearing into the distance, behind them.
And now she knew that there were even worse monsters just out of sight, for now.
Though it cost her any chance to reach him, she knew that she could never, would never leave a child to the beast that they had slain in the first exchange of fire. A world where that transaction was satisfactory wasn’t any world that Risky wanted to live in.
The dying light that filtered through the pines flickered on the inside of her window. She looked ahead, at the reflection of Tom in the driver side window. The mirror image of his face rapidly alternated between shadow and light.
The depleted two vehicle convoy pressed on for a few hours, passengers and drivers alike anxiously scanning for signs of pursuit. As the shadows lengthened over the road, she watched Tom reach for the handheld radio to warn Kaplan that they were going to pull over for a map check, make repairs and prepare for the next leg of driving.
They found a truckers’ rest area that was sparsely populated by a few burned out vehicles, including the skeleton of one that had been driven into the restroom building, burning it too. The driver was still in his seat, but no one commented on it, or seemed particularly disturbed.
While Smith awaited full dark, the group set security, quietly ate and replaced damaged tires. Risky watched Tom and Kaplan don peculiar cranials that vaguely resembled bicycle helmets. Once they snapped the night vision devices onto a clip, each swung the electronic devices upwards and Tom circled the group up for a quick brief.
“There isn’t any point in waiting here for that group to pursue.” Smith announced. “The risk of driving at night is outweighed by our need to completely break contact. Once we pass a few more major interchanges any pursuer will have difficulty guessing at our direction of travel.”
“How far to the next place we can stop?” asked Dina petulantly.
“Pre-Fall, I woulda said that it’s an hour, maybe two till we reach the next SAFE,” Smith said patiently. “Now? A day? Day and a half?”
“This is such bullshit,” the school teacher said, folding her arms across her chest.
“You want to stay here?” Emily offered. “The men we fought were collecting camp followers, like an old fashioned army. Despite your age, you might qualify.”
“Savage!” chirped the short soldier, holding a fist bump out Emily, who stared at it, nonplussed.
“Oh, you bitch!” said Dina Bua, her hands balling into fists. “You did not just–“
“Aaaand you two are riding in separate cars from now on,” sighed Smith. “Astroga, you got Bua. Emily, you and the kids are the back of my vehicle. We’re going to be really squeezed together for the next day or so, so we’ll have to work at getting along.”
Smith eyeballed Bua meaningfully and then consulted his watch. “We’re going to leave after full dark, call it thirty minutes or so. Be ready and loaded in twenty-five.”
“Okay, sweetheart.” Astroga said, grabbing Bua’s elbow. “There is a bush over here with our names on it.”
Risky watched Bua try to jerk away from the shorter soldier, only to be surprised when Astroga yanked back, twice as hard. The Specialist easily persuaded the former schoolteacher to keep the peace and the rest of the group dispersed.
Risky waited a few moments and then walked up to Smith. Risky looked at him closely. Despite the fatigue that she knew he must be feeling, he seemed alert and focused. His eyes swiveled as he watched her approach.
“Miss Khabayeva?” he asked professionally.
“Busy now, I understand,” she said carefully. “But I want to tell you that I want to talk to you, really talk, when we reach the next place where we have room and space to breathe. Yes?”
He looked at her carefully, his face still.
“Of course,” Smith replied finally. “When we have room and space.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Smith?” Emily said, approaching within a few steps. “I think that you need to take a look at this.”
Katrin was supporting Eric, who was clutched his stomach.
“Hello folks,” Tom asked, looking at the pair with raised eyebrows. “What the problem?”
“My stomach hurts and…” Eric began, but subsided, his face red.
“He had an accident in the car,” explained Katrin. “He’s vomiting and he has cramps real bad and he’s been going to the bathroom since we stopped.”
Tom looked at the two, nonplussed, then frowned.
“Eric, have you been only drinking the water that we give you and washing your hands every couple hours?” he asked.
“I, I think so.” the miserable boy said, then clutched his stomach even tighter. “I got to go!”
He ran behind some bushes while his classmates looked on helplessly.
“E. Coli., I think,” Emily stated flatly. “Maybe something worse. No way to be certain.”
“I want you to wash your hands right now,” Emily said, turning to the remaining teens. “Use the wet wipes that smell funny,” she added, referring to the ammonia towelettes. “Stay out of the car till I clean it.”
Tom waited until the kids walked over to the back of the truck.
“If we’re lucky, it’s only food poisoning,” he said in a low voice. “With all the decomposition and the poor field sanitation, it could be dysentery, hell, it could even be cholera. Either way, keep him hydrated. We’ve got to keep moving, so the truck is going to get bad. Can you help him?”
“Yes,” Emily said, nodding firmly. Retching sounds sounded behind the bushes. “Looks like I’m on.”
“Is Bua going to be any help?” Tom replied, jutting his chin towards the latrine area, where the second school teacher was hastily emerging.
Emily looked over and shook her head.
“I can’t see how.” She said.
“Tell me about it.” Tom said, under his breath.
Joanna Kohn was quite satisfied with her agenda for the meeting so far. Very little material progress had been made, but the framework for success was in place, and that was what mattered.
The first crisis to confront the newly arrived survivors at Site Blue had been the unexpected departure of the helicopter which originally fetched them. Although the oh-so smart Smith had thought ahead to providing for the pilots’ families, the end game chaos had prevented the neat pairing of routes and aircrew to the refuges where their dependents were already sheltering. The last Joanna, or anyone else for that matter, saw of their sole aviation asset was the pilot in their helicopter fluttering north to Pennsylvania and Site Bugle.
That unpleasant surprise had spawned the very first structured camp meeting. Initially, Joanna had permitted to Rune run the semi-organized chaos that the previously transported bank staff had perpetuated. Thus were born the daily, weekly and monthly meetings necessary to coordinate the survival activities of the camp.
Joanna had watched Rune flounder, administratively out of his depth. He had deferred, eventually, to her guidance. Joanna had refined the meetings, spawning a feeling of normalcy. It was almost like the apocalypse hadn’t yet occurred. She chaired the renamed weekly Executive Coordination Committee as the Acting Administrator. Symbols mattered, and she’d briskly moved to legitimize her eventual, permanent status. One such sitting at the head of a green baize covered table while receiving reports and recommendations and dispensing direction and resources. That process was now underway for today’s meeting, and she’d allowed Rune to have the floor.
“There was limited infected presence in the school,” the former banker said, continuing his report. “We found a small amount of analgesics and other first aid level materials. The shop was intact and well stocked. Most of the equipment operates on two hundred twenty volts, and we aren’t well provisioned for that, yet.”