River Of Night – Snippet 42
It was time for a shower and some sleep.
Paul stepped into his CHU. The heavy blackout drapes which he had improvised in order to make easier to sleep during daylight hours were drawn shut. He quickly closed the door in order to preserve the cooler interior temperature and began to step across to the window to get some more light.
“Uunnh!” Paul grunted as he doubled over, absorbing a powerful blow across his abdomen.
He collapsed to one knee, but drove upwards into the direction of the attack, only to absorb another blow, from the rear this time, to his kidney. Excruciating pain momentarily prevented coherent thought.
Someone swept his legs from beneath him and he sprawled on his back. Heavy, painful weights pinned his wrists and shins. Dry fabric was shoved into his mouth, immediately starting a king-sized case of cotton mouth.
The drapes were swept open and he saw two “walk-ins”, both burly farmer types. One kneeled across both of Paul’s wrists, painfully mashing the small bones together. The second kneeled astride his ankles. Schweizer also stared at him, one booted foot braced against Paul’s hip.
“Shoulda taken the deal, Rune,” he said with a grim smile. “I don’t have to like this, but it is necessary. Sorry.”
Schweizer leaned down and delivered a short, chopping right to Paul’s temple. Amidst a shooting burst of pain and sparks, the world went grey for a moment. Distantly Paul felt some kind of restraints being applied to his wrists. As his vision sharpened, he watched Schweizer withdraw a flat, black plastic case from his jacket. He opened it to reveal a serried row of syringes. He withdrew one that was loaded with what looked like water.
Paul struggled mightily as he felt the sting of the needle.
A rush of heat flooded across his skin and his heart began to pound. He tried to turn his head towards Schweizer but his muscles stopped obeying–
“Okay guys, I got to go,” Kendra said as she pushed back her chair as her table companions made the usual farewells. Paul’s CHU was only a short walk away. Everyone had heard how the salvage team had returned, savaged from their last mission. She’d seen Paul, still in his blood- spattered equipment, go to meet Joanna. By now he would be finished.
He might appreciate it if she just stopped by to say hi. A friendly face. Nothing more.
Smiling, she left the dining facility and turned down the path towards his room.
Ahead, the door to the CHU exploded open, banging against the railing like a gunshot.
“Hold onto his feet, dammit!”
She could make out several men trying to control the spastic kicking and bucking of… Paul?
“What the fuck are you doing!” she yelled as she charged forward, just as Scott Schweizer blocked her way.
“He’s infected, Kendra! Stay back!”
She tried to dance around the outstretched arms of the taller man. She could see that Paul was gagged and his arms were tied but he was screaming into a gag and fighting his bonds. His skin was flushed, his eyes were hugely bloodshot and the St. Joshua’s medal that she’d returned to him danced on its chain as the group struggled to manage him.
“He’s vaccinated!” she protested, trying to side step around him. “He can’t be infected!”
“Kendra!” Joanna said, materializing beside her. “Let them take him to the clinic. He needs help right now!’
“How did this happen!” Kendra yelled again, but then allowed Joanna to ease her aside as the team of men maneuvered Paul towards the clinic. He fought and kicked, but without any perceptible control or skill. As his gag slipped, he began trying to bite the men holding his arms, causing a brief panic till another man could get the familiar stiff fabric of a kevlar snake bag over his head. Growls and yells emanated from the off-white sack as the group renewed their progress towards the medical office.
“Paul felt very guilty about the loss of the people on the vaccine supply run,” Joanna said as she slipped an arm around Kendra’s shoulders and steered her in the wake of the lurching group. “He knew how badly we needed vaccine for the recent arrivals. We had some vaccine of unknown quality that he had recovered earlier. On his own cognizance he elected to try it.”
“That doesn’t make sense!” Kendra said, watching the procession fight to get Paul into the double CHU that was the new dispensary. “He was already vaccinated. How would a new vaccination be judged good or not?”
“I told Paul that I did not agree, that we needed him more than ever,” explained Joanna. “He felt that it was safe enough since he was vaccinated. He expected the bona-fides of the recovered medicine would be apparent either way. No reaction would mean that the vaccine was either counterfeit or denatured from improper temperature storage. A very slight allergic reaction would mean that that the vaccine was attenuated but sufficient to provoke the immune system.”
“So how is he sick?” Kendra almost yelled. “You saw that! It wasn’t either of those things!”
“Either what he injected himself with was a new strain of the virus or…” Joanna paused, appearing to consider a new, unpalatable possibility.
“Or what, damn it!”
“Or the vaccine that the bank made wasn’t that effective after all,” concluded Joanna.
“No physical evidence, understood ma’am,” Schweizer said. He didn’t click his heels, but the rigidity of his frame would have done credit to any Wehrmacht sergeant.
The figure at the desk sat in shadow. Methodically, she rapped a knuckle against the blotter.
Tap. Pause. Tap.
“Once you have disposed of the body, the displaced persons who aided you in Rune’s quarters will be assigned to high risk duties, yes?”
“I’m running the security since Rune became ill, ma’am,” Schweizer said as he assured Kohn. “It will be arranged.”
“Very good, Scott.” Tap, tap. “That is all.”
“Well, don’t that beat all?” said Eva. “Not exactly subtle, are they.”
There was a tangle of tree trunks dropped across the road. The green foliage and white heartwood visible betrayed the newness of the obstacle, which was layered over an old three-car wreck. The Gleaner convoy had stopped short of the crossroads that lay ahead. A few others stood behind her while the rest stayed mounted up.
“There’s a bit of a gap between the wrecks and that gas station,” said Jason as he scanned in turn. “We could squeeze the wrecker through that, and the rest can make it no problem.”
“Almost like they left that hole for us to use,” Eva said flatly, as she scanned ahead and then squinted at the sky. “The last two times they carefully hid explosives. Now they are practically waving a big sign that says ‘Easy place to drive through!’ That’s a hard pass, thank you.”
“So, what are we gonna do then, Miss Eva?” asked Short Round respectfully. “We could push right through that roadblock, if you want!”
“We’re gonna camp,” Eva said firmly. “Let’s go back a bit. We’ll stop just outside long rifle shot and build some fires. Finally eat some hot food. Let them see us relax. Then some time after midnight, we are gonna set some of our folks in the vehicles while rest go with me for a little walk.”
“In the dark?” asked a voice from the rear of the group. “Who’s crazy enough to go walking in the dark with zombies?”
“Exactly my point.” Eva said with a toothy grin. “I’m betting that our friends that prepared that innocent looking roadblock are going to wait to see what we are going to do in the morning.”
“Yeah, they aren’t moving,” said Junior. “Trucks are pulled up in a circle and looks like they are planning to settle in. Told you that we could have hit them at that last bridge. These trees are way too obvious.”
He handed the binoculars he was using to another rancher.
“I keep telling you Junior, the plan is to delay them for now,” Pascoe said wearily. “We’re buying time. If they want to camp, great. After we hold them for a night, we can scamper another five miles down the road and blow the bridge. By the time they detour around that, we should be at the bank’s camp.”
He looked over back downhill, but their vehicle was out of sight. Smith was fiddling with their radio since the distance to Site Blue was short enough that a transmission might get through.
“Now go let Smith know what they are doing. We’re gonna have to keep an eye on them overnight.”
Jason had never spent any time in the military. Despite that lack, he was reasonably confident that their group would wake up everything within a hundred yards of the path. If their opponents had been made of dry sticks, the Gleaners would already rule the world, considering their unerring ability to loudly snap every single one in the state.
Thankfully, there was almost no talking. Or cigarette smoking. Eva had promised a painful death to any that fucked up and lived through the aftermath. Between that and the desire of their merry band of cutthroats to close with the little party which had been harrying the Gleaners for four days, the mood was upbeat and the noise discipline as good as it was going to get.
Everyone was ready to get stuck in. Even Eva finally seemed optimistic.
Her instructions had been basic.
“No point in a fancy plan. We stay together so that we don’t end up ambushing ourselves or getting lost. Just have the guys walk up on the side where we think that those assholes are sleeping. As soon as we find them, we get in a long line and push forward, shooting. If they start shooting at us first, we just have everyone rush in and we use our numbers to roll over them. Meanwhile, the trucks push up the road. Keep the guys in the back from shooting the rest of us up front. Make them spread to the sides when the time comes, understand?”
She had also set Jason at the rear in order to ensure that no one strayed, either accidentally or deliberately, He couldn’t fault any of her logic.
Logic or no, it took a surprisingly long time to walk the half mile. The heavy cloud cover made for a dark night, so when the line jerked to a halt he naturally bumped into the man ahead of him.
Then he heard some loud shouts from the front of the column.