Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53) (8 page)

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



"Looks kinda small from up here, doesn't it?" Toad says, glancing over his shoulder as we make our way along the dirt path that winds up through the forest.

Turning, I look back at the farmhouse, and he's right: it looks tiny and completely insignificant, and vulnerable too. It's hard to believe that we spent so long there, and I can't help thinking that if any more of those creatures had shown up, we'd have never been able to defend ourselves. We thought we were sitting tight and staying safe, when in fact we were just waiting to die.

In my arms, Rachel lets out another faint gurgle.

That's good.

That's normal.

She's a normal, healthy baby who just happens to have been through some bad experiences.

Everything's going to be okay.

"It'll be another couple of hours before we reach the site," Toad continues. "It's a good spot, though. We'll be on high ground, away from the risk of flooding, and we'll have a good view of the area. I know the land, and I should be able to tell if it's been disturbed. Those creatures aren't exactly subtle. We'll take it in turns to keep watch, though, just in case. Two hours on and then two hours off"

"Keep watch for what?" I ask.

"The creatures."

"Do you really think they're still out here?"

"Probably not, but it'd be an expensive mistake if I was wrong. There's no way I'm willing to just go to sleep and hope for the best. There are other predators to consider, too. Wolves could be a problem. If you see or hear anything unusual, let me know immediately. I know how to deal with these things."

Glancing at the forest, I can't help but wonder if he's right. Sure, the creatures haven't been around for weeks now, but that doesn't mean they're not still out there somewhere. I guess I've allowed myself to become complacent, when the truth is, there could be millions of the damn things still on the loose. There are so many uncertainties in the world right now, it's impossible to think about every eventuality. No-one can make plans when the world is in such a mess, and when there could be any kind of horror around the next curve in the road.

"Do you see that?" Toad asks after a moment.

Staring at the horizon for a moment, I realize that I can see a very faint black smudge. If Toad hadn't pointed it out, I probably wouldn't even have noticed it, but now I can tell that it's something large and artificial.

"It's a military base," he continues. "They used to fly training programs, mainly, although there were always a few crackpot conspiracy theorists who insisted there was other stuff going on there. You know the kind of thing. Strange flights at night, loud booms... There was a guy who used to camp out near the main gate and try to get photos. He was completely crazy, but for a while he'd come to my home and try to talk to me about it all. Eventually he drifted away. I tried to ignore it for the most part, but if there was any chance of an organized response to what's happened, I'm pretty sure it'd start in a place like that. Not that anything like that is going to happen, though. It'll just be a bunch of abandoned buildings by now."

"Why didn't you mention it before?" I ask.

"I've been keeping an eye on it. Watching for signs of life. So far, there's nothing. I didn't want to tell you about it, in case it seemed like a false hope. Anyway, I figured you'd probably come up with some dumb idea about heading that way."

"We should go and see if anything's happening there."

He shakes his head.

"It might be our best chance! If the government's organizing things, they'll have to start with the military!"

"There'll be no-one there. Anyway, even if there is, they're the last people we want to get involved with. I wouldn't trust them, not even for a second."

"So what are we gonna do?" I ask. "Go around it and make sure they don't see us?"

"Sounds like a plan to me."

"Are you serious?"

"I've had dealings with the military before," he replies. "It was a long time ago, but I doubt much has changed. If there's anyone there, they'd just assess our usefulness and then put us to work in whatever capacity suited them."

We walk on a little further, but I can't help wondering what's really going on in Toad's head. Even though I've been living alone with him for a month, I still don't know him very well, and every so often he displays a hint of stubbornness that makes me wonder about his earlier life. He's never really talked about himself very much, and although I used to assume that he was just the kind of guy who keeps himself to himself, now I'm starting to wonder if maybe there's something he wants to keep hidden.

"You don't like authority figures, do you?" I ask eventually, hoping to learn at least a little more about him.

"Does anyone?"

"No, but you seem a little more worried than most people."

"What tipped you off? The house in the middle of nowhere? The attempt to prepare for a world-ending catastrophe?"

"So what did you do before you came out here?"

He doesn't reply.

"You must have done something," I continue. "You must have had a life."

"It doesn't matter."

"Can't you tell me anyway?"

"The past is the past," he says firmly, glancing at me. "Old lives don't mean anything, not now. Any of us could have been anything, but it's not going to help. Everything's been washed away and we have to focus on the future. If we spend too much time thinking about the old days, we might as well just sit down and wait to die."

"But -"

"If you want to go to that base," he continues, interrupting me, "then no-one's going to stop you. You can take Rachel, and you can even take a share of the food and water we brought, but you'll be on your own. There's no way I'm going near that place."

"Because you're scared?"

"Because it'd be a waste of time. Because there's probably no-one there, and if there is, then I sure as hell don't want anything to do with them, not anymore. There's no power, there's no way for anyone to put things right. We need to get over the idea that someone's gonna come riding to the rescue."

"But -"

"Talking wastes energy," he adds. "Let's just focus on the journey."

Although I want to ask him more questions, I figure I should stay quiet for now. After all, he's clearly not in the mood for a conversation, and my attempts to dig into his past seem to be riling him up. Still, I can't help but notice that he seems to have some kind of history with authority figures, maybe even with the military. He's a loner at heart, and although he opens up to me a little from time to time, he slams back shut as soon as I mention the past. As we continue on our journey along the path, I glance over at the smudge on the horizon. Toad's probably right. There's probably nothing over there that can help us. I just wish there was some way to know for sure, though. If there's even a slight chance that we're bypassing someplace that might be useful, I don't see why we couldn't at least give it a try.

I can't strike out on my own, though. For better or for worse, I need to stay with Toad, at least until we meet some other people. When that happens, however, I think I need to consider other options.



"There's no point trying to get free," the man says, watching me from the other side of the room. "We're not in the habit of letting murderers walk away."

Ignoring him, I continue to tug on the chain that's been used to secure me to the wall. Having spent all night trying to find a way to get loose, I'm already feeling exhausted, but as the first light of morning shows through the window, I'm starting to panic even more. I knew it was a bad idea to come into the city; I thought we were in danger from those creatures, but now it turns out that
humans might be even more of a threat.

"Give it a rest," George says, sitting nearby on the floor. Like me, he's been chained up; unlike me, however, he seems to have accepted his fate with weary resignation. "You're not gonna get out of those damn things, so you might as well conserve your energy. Wait for a more important fight."

"The old man's right," the guard adds. "You should listen to him."

Frustrated, I try yet again to slip my wrists free. All I manage, however, is to cut a little more flesh away. I've been working on this all night, trying hundreds of different ideas, and my wrists are now bloodied and sore. Still, I sure as hell don't like the feeling of being chained up, and all I know for certain is that I have to find a way out of here.

"You haven't even asked her name," the guard says.

I turn to him.

"The girl you murdered. You haven't even bothered to ask her name, or anything about her."

"I didn't murder anyone!" I spit at him.


I shake my head.

"I was there," he continues. "You drove right over her. You turned and looked back, so you must have seen her, and then you put that truck in reverse and went straight for her. Crushed her. You won't even going very fast, so I doubt it was quick. She probably suffered."

"She was attacking us!" I shout.

"She was curious. We were coming to help you. That's what people do when they see other people in need. They go to help them."

"She was infected!"

"No-one's infected round here. That's all over now."

I turn to George, and I can see the concerned look in his eyes. He knows we're in trouble here.

"I didn't murder anyone!" I say again, hoping against hope that he'll back me up. "Come on, you were there! Tell him!"

"I warned you not to go crazy," he replies quietly. "You were panicking. I told you to stay calm, but you wouldn't listen."

"But you saw them!" I continue. "They were coming at us! They were like... They looked like those things!"

"No," George says, "they didn't, and I told you as much. They looked... normal. I saw that girl's eyes right before she was killed, and she didn't look like she was infected, not at all. She looked scared, and tired, and hungry, but not dangerous. She was -"

"Alice," the guard says.

George sighs. "She was -"

"Alice," the guard says again, before walking over to George and kicking him hard in the ribs. "You should have the decency to at least use the name of the girl you killed. Her name was Alice, she was eighteen years old, and as far as I know she never did anything wrong to anyone. She was quiet, kinda reserved and shy, like she preferred keeping herself to herself. She survived all the crap that happened over the past month, and then you two turned up and smeared her across the sidewalk."

"I wasn't driving!" George gasps as he edges away from the man. Turning to me, he seems desperate. "Tell him! Tell him you were the one who was driving! It wasn't anything to do with me!"

I stare at him, disgusted by his attempt to push all the blame onto me. The truth, though, is that he's right. I can't stop reliving the moment when I put the truck in reverse and went straight over that girl. At the time, I was disgusted when I saw her battered body on the sidewalk, but I told myself it was just another of those infected creatures. Now that I know she just a normal person, I can feel a huge, crushing weight of guilt on my shoulders, even if I'm not quite ready to accept what really happened. I
kill that girl, but it was an accident and it sure as hell wasn't murder. I'd do anything to go back and change what happened, but I can't. Someone has to understand.

"The tribunal's gonna get together soon," the guard says. "It's for them to decide what happens to you. Shouldn't be much longer now, just a few hours. Fortunately for you, justice moves pretty quickly around here. It's not like the old days."

"Tribunal?" I ask, turning to him. "Like a court?"

"We're not savages," he continues, staring at me with a look of utter contempt in his eyes. "You should be grateful. If we
, we'd probably have just finished you off there and then. Instead, we're going to let you have your say." He turns to George. "You too. None of us here has any idea about either of you, and we've got a rule about not letting strangers just wander into our midst. If we don't have certain standards, we're not much better than dogs. Even murderers get to have their say."

"I didn't murder anyone," I say firmly.

"Whatever. She's dead. Someone still had to gather up her body. Someone who knew her, too."

"But I didn't
her," I tell him. "It was an accident."

"So what happens if we're found guilty?" George asks, with a hint of cynicism in his voice. "I mean, I have no doubt that this tribunal system is extremely fair and balanced, and driven by respect for the law rather than some kind of blood-lust. But if common sense doesn't prevail, and if we're deemed to be cold-blooded murderers, what's our fate going to be?" He pauses. "Let me guess. You'll put us to death somehow."

"I have no idea," the guard replies calmly. "We've never actually had to hold a tribunal before, so it's new territory. But what would you do with a pair of murderers? Just let them stay? Let them walk off into the sunset like nothing happened? A life was lost yesterday and someone has to pay. There were rules before and there are rules now. She'll make the right choice."

"She?" George asks.

"We're lucky. We have a very wise leader in charge around here, someone who's very keen to ensure that justice has a place, even as the world crumbles around us. We always knew that one day someone would arrive and threaten us, but we have a system to deal with these things. There have been doubters, of course, but now the system can be put to the test. You should be proud. You're pioneers, and you're going to get a fair hearing before your fates are decided."

"Great," George says, turning to me. "Did you hear that, Thomas? We're gonna be guinea pigs for a brand new tyrant -"

Before he can finish, he's kicked in the gut again, this time with such force that he lets out a gasp of pain. Clutching his side, he seems to be having trouble breathing for a moment. When he finally looks over at me, I can see the fear in his eyes.

"Save your words for later," the guard says with a smile. "You'll be given a chance to explain yourselves, so you should take a little time to work out what you're going to say. It might be the most important little speech either of you ever give in your miserable lives. If I was the one in charge, I'd already have decided what to do with you before the sun came up this morning."

As he makes his way back over to the other side of the room, I turn to George and see that he's clearly still in pain.

"I think he cracked a few ribs," he grunts.

"I didn't murder that girl," I reply, my mind almost frozen blank with terror. "You were there, you saw what happened! I swear -"

"I know you didn't," he replies, "but you killed her, and that might be enough for these bastards. I don't know what kind of set-up they've got going here, but whatever it is, we're gonna be used to make a point, and I doubt they're aiming to show how lenient they can be. This is why I always preferred living well away from other people. The human herd instinct is strong, and it's so easy for them to fall in line behind anyone with an ounce of personality. Whatever the hell's going on around here, we're on the wrong side of the law. They're gonna want to show force, and then they're -"

"They'll have to listen to me," I say firmly, interrupting him. "There were people there, witnesses... No-one's seriously going to think that I killed that girl on purpose!"

"They're gonna think what they want to think," he replies, "and whatever makes them feel safer. No, scratch that... They're gonna think whatever they're told to think." He pauses, wincing at the pain in his side. "If that means executing us, then I think we might need to come up with an escape plan." As he lifts the side of his shirt, I see that there's a dark patch under his skin, right in the spot where he was kicked. "Got any ideas?" he asks finally.

BOOK: Mass Extinction Event: The Complete Third Series (Days 46 to 53)
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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