Read Orbital Decay Online

Authors: A. G. Claymore

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Genetic Engineering, #Hard Science Fiction, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages), #Post-Apocalyptic, #Science Fiction

Orbital Decay (6 page)

BOOK: Orbital Decay
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Chicago

Thorn Creek

 

L
eaves fell all around them as they paddled, forming a mottled skin on the slow-moving surface. Ben looked down at the G-19 leaning against the stern thwart. When he’d done his basic training in the Army, he had used the latest descendent of the M-16.

This weapon was completely different. For starters, it had no brass cartridges. The rounds weren’t even round anymore. The magazines, one along the top of the barrel and a second below it, each held seventy rectangular, caseless cartridges half the length of the military rounds he was accustomed to.

There was no charging handle to pull on either, just a cocking knob that you turned to put a round in the chamber. After the first magazine was emptied, you simply rotated the knob the other way to load the second.

Ben thought it looked ugly as hell, but it carried more
loaded
ammunition than he used to carry in webbing pouches and he had another two hundred eighty rounds ready to go, strapped into the load-bearing vest that Abe had given him.

He was starting to like Abe.

“Patrol to port,” the pilot advised.

Not knowing which was which, Ben swiveled his head. “Just say left next time,” he growled as they doubled their efforts. They reached the three-hundred-foot-long tunnel under the I-294 and relaxed, drifting for almost half the distance before hearing the gravelly buzz of military tires through the concrete above.

“Sure doesn’t sound like they’re slowing down,” Abe mused, looking up at the heavy arches. “We’re probably in the clear for now.”

Ben squinted, staring past Abe at the far end of the passage. A lone figure stood there. Not moving – just standing. “Someone’s up there, Abe.” He felt a momentary flash of fear. Had the Army posted a man here to prevent escape? He had been counting on them to concentrate on vehicle traffic but it seemed they had anticipated his scheme. He took another quick look at the G-19 in front of him. Could he shoot an uninfected man if it meant saving his family?

“Plague monkey,” Abe said quietly, his pilot’s eyes sharper than Ben’s.

As they drew closer, the form began to shuffle down the bank and into the water. It was on an intercept course.

“Lordy,” Abe muttered. “I think rot monkey might be a better name for them.” The figure was only twenty feet away by now, and his face was hanging from his skull as though made of filthy, melting wax.

Abe was drawing back his paddle as they came even with the flailing form, but it went under just before he was about to swing. Bubbles marked where he stood. His fingers scratched along the bottom of the canoe as they passed.

Abe looked back at Ben for a few seconds before shaking his head and settling back down to paddle. “I sure as hell hope that shot doesn’t go bad on me.”

They passed out into the light and Abe stopped paddling again. “There’s a camp up there,” he said quietly.

It felt wrong immediately. It was getting cold, but no smoke drifted up through the balding branches. He had seen the homeless campsite before, canoeing with Brendan and Lise.

Maybe it was abandoned?

A low growling drifted across the water, sounding like dogs fighting over meat. Both men watched silently as they ghosted past the tents and makeshift shelters, paddles forgotten. As they reached a large, open space in the center of the site, they could see five grisly forms on their hands and knees, tearing at a small body on the ground.

“God!” Abe whispered. “I think they’re eating a dog’s corpse.”

As if on cue, five pairs of rheumy eyes turned their way. The figures got up and started moving toward the creek.

“Paddle,” Ben hissed, though the need to be quiet no longer existed. They both dug in and quickly left the disgusting scene behind as they shot past the rail bridge.

“We’re heading for the left bank,” Ben wheezed as he turned the canoe. They pulled the small craft up on somebody’s back lawn and picked up their weapons.

Ben led the way past a pool that had an expensive fence surrounding it. He shook his head. A fence to protect the owner from drowning liability.

In a yard that backed on a fast-running creek.

Somewhere nearby, a murder of crows fought over a choice find, croaks echoing loudly in the cold air.

They passed between two houses and Ben stood in the wide, semi-circular driveway of the house that had the pool. “Pretty sure that’s the street I need.” He pointed to the small green and white marker at the intersection. They set off, turning left onto what proved to be the right street, looking around at the eerily quiet, seventies-era neighborhood of bungalows. Recycling and garbage bins sat open or lay on their sides amidst several days’ accumulation of blowing leaves.

A car sat at an odd angle in the end of a driveway, its doors open and the headlights gleaming faintly. Ben looked inside and the keys were still there in the ‘on’ position. “Ran out of gas,” he said, standing back up to look at the house in front of him.

“Gahhhh!” Abe’s exclamation was followed by a crunching sound.

Ben spun around to see him backing away from a walking corpse in a charcoal grey suit with a fresh crease across it’s face. Abe brought his weapon up to his shoulder and fired a three round burst. In less than sixty milliseconds, the three rounds left the weapon and shattered what was left of the corpse’s brain, dropping him to the cold asphalt.

“Son of a bitch!” Abe panted. “Where the hell did he come from? Must have been rooting through a garbage bin.”

A loud thump came from an open garage down the street. Both men turned to search for the source.

“They were drawn to us, back at the camp when you spoke,” Ben whispered. “I think they still have enough brain power to equate noise with food.”

“Then we better get moving,” Abe finished for him.

They set off at a jog, weaving around bins and abandoned cars. More lurching bodies started to show up, coming from open vehicles, doors or back yards.

“This does
not
bode well for our return trip,” Abe panted as they picked up the pace by unspoken consent.

 When they were only a hundred yards from the house that backed onto Ben’s place, he realized that they had a problem. He looked back.
Shit!
“We can’t just run straight through or we’ll have at least thirty of the bastards trying to get in my house when I’m getting my family ready to bug out.” He pointed his rifle to the right. “We’ll cut through the church parking lot and go up the next street. Maybe we’ll lose some of them.”

They raced across the lot, rounding the corner to find at least twenty more animated corpses milling around the middle of the street in their best clothes. Ben and Abe skidded to a halt. Their pursuers were thirty, maybe forty feet behind them.

“Hey! Up here!”

Both men looked up at the roof of the large brick structure that jutted out into the parking area. A man was waving down at them and pointing to a set of doors at ground level. He looked back over his shoulder. “Open up – we got two live ones!”

The gymnasium floor was covered with blankets and sleeping bags. A serving counter on the far side held coffee urns and the smell of food hit Ben with a shock. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was. Aside from a packet of peanuts on the shuttle up to the hotel, his last meal had been sitting on the grill at Papa’s when the explosion destroyed his loft last night.

“Ben?”

He turned, his throat so tight he could hardly breathe. And there she was, standing at what must have been the entrance to the sanctuary. She had a look of utter amazement on her face. “Lise!” He ran to her and she met him in the middle of the large room, her hug so tight it hurt his neck.

Funny how a little thing like a global pandemic can change your perspective,
he thought wryly. He pulled back suddenly. “Brendan?”

She smiled. “He’s playing with the other kids in a room down the hall.”

“How did you end up here?” Ben looked back toward the kitchen again. “If we hadn’t been forced to detour, we would have missed you entirely.” He shuddered, thinking how he could have walked past this building and never found them.

She gave him that sardonic look that he used to find so annoying a year ago. Now it made him smile. She looked at the G-19 hanging from his shoulder, then back up at her husband. “You mean you haven’t been to the house yet?”

“No, we were trying to find a way there when someone on the roof called out to us.”

She nodded. “You know, a couple of days ago, I would have said I had no use for churches, but this one really came through for us. Things changed so suddenly. When I woke up this morning, we were under quarantine, and the government was on every channel, telling us to stay in our houses.”

She frowned at his shoulder as she talked. “They didn’t say how to reconcile ‘stay in your homes’ with ‘oh my God – looters are breaking down our front door!’” She shook her head.  “I couldn’t believe it – ten hours at the most and we had armed looters. I lowered Brendan over the back fence and we ran through the Guildersons’ yard.” She waved a hand around at their surroundings. “This was the first thing I saw, and the big sign out front said ‘Shelter here’.”

 She looked up at his face. “You’ve seen them, Ben? Those poor people who got hit with this plague? It’s faster than any infection anyone’s ever heard of – just hours and you start to fade.” Her eyes were moist. “We had to put a man out of here just an hour ago because he had the symptoms. His wife and children are with the pastor now…” She broke off in mid-sentence and just hugged him.

Ben wasn’t quite sure what to do. He had planned to get to the house, inoculate Lise and Brendan, and then get them out. Now he was faced with a small community; one that had taken in his family and protected them. Then he remembered Dr.’s Brown and Riggs.

And their blood type.

“Hon, do you think we have some folks here with O-negative blood?”

The question shifted her into doctor mode so seamlessly, she forgot to notice the weirdness of the question. “O neg is roughly six to seven percent of the local population and we have about sixty people here.” She furrowed her brow as she did the math. “Three, maybe four people might have it. Why?”

Ben pulled out the small packet that Dwight had given him. “This is the only known cure. It’s based on a longevity serum that mutated and started this whole mess in the first place. We think it carries a one percent chance of mutating and causing the infection rather than stopping it, but it’s the only real chance anyone has. If you’re lucky enough to be in the ninety-nine percent, you can expect to live at least a thousand years. Brendan would likely live for at least six or seven thousand since his genes haven’t aged as much as ours.”

Lise stared at her husband for a long time. “What?” She shook her head. “What the hell are you talking about? How do you happen to be standing here with ‘Humanity’s only hope’ only hours after everything fell apart?” She touched his face. “Ben, this has been rough on all of us, but we’ll get through this.”

Oh hell,
he thought.
 I should have expected this. She thinks I’ve lost it and who could blame her? How does a murder detective suddenly appear with a cure only hours after an outbreak like this?
It all made sense to Ben, but he’d been there every step, heard the explanations.
That’s it! The explanations.

“Alright,” he allowed. “That did sound a little high on the nut-o-meter, so let me explain. I was investigating the murder of a researcher from Gaia Bio Design and I snuck aboard their orbital platform to try and get some answers…”

“Yeah, that sounds a lot less crazy.” She smiled to take some of the sting from the words but she was clearly concerned.

“Yeah, but I didn’t have a lot of other options because the government was trying to kill me…”
Brilliant… You’ve just gone from ‘might be slightly disturbed’ to ‘confiscate belt and shoelaces’. Just tell her about the science stuff.

“Alright, that didn’t help much,” he said, holding up a hand to ask for one more chance. “The guys at Gaia were working on reverse engineering the longevity of the Midgaard and it went horribly wrong for them. They were using a retrovirus to prep our genomes. Once we produce the necessary proteins, the organelles from the Midgaard would be able to survive in our cells. The retrovirus went haywire and started adding the genes into the organelles instead and activated a whole lot of unfriendliness.”

Lise’s eyes narrowed. She stared for another long pause. “That was the most sense you’ve ever made, talking about biology.” She looked back down at the packet in his hand.

BOOK: Orbital Decay
13.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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