Bob wasn’t quite sure what to do with his freedom. It had taken a day and a night for him to realize his handlers weren’t coming back. He’d always wondered if he could just reach through the bars, grab the key from the hook with his special paw, put the key in the lock and turn it. It was easy. Everything seemed easier now for some reason. In fact, over the last few days he’d even been able to understand what the handlers were discussing. He knew that something was very, very wrong.
Jugger knew things were different. Before the Awakening, she understood almost nothing of what her handler said. She had three handlers actually, but was most fond of Annie, who’d been there from the beginning. Before the Awakening, she hadn’t even known Annie’s name but now everything was a lot clearer.
‘Any more planes this morning?’ asked Aunt Grace as she entered the kitchen.
Jenny was sitting at the window, an untouched mug of coffee in front of her. The ninth-floor apartment gave them a good view over San Lazaro and she had counted at least thirty different military aircraft during the previous day.
‘Not today. Quiet.’
Rose sat beside the accountant, watching as the man’s eyes scanned the rows of numbers on the screen. The secret rooms below Chen Office Supplies were large and luxurious but they had never quite managed to rid the underground chambers of a dank smell. Rose didn’t enjoy spending time here but it was a highly secure location. She felt like asking the accountant if he was close to finishing but she’d already done so twice and there was no sense hurrying the man. This had to be done right.
It was Thug’s turn for guard duty at Auto Technology Solutions. Second shift had just started, and he’d agreed to cover for Lucky, who was making a run to the homeless shelter.
The afternoon sun cast a warm glow over the city, as dirty and messed up as it was. Thug didn’t even look at the buildings. He was too busy appreciating the sky over his head; a beautiful sight he had rarely seen while behind bars. Ten whole years had gone by, and the entire city had changed.
Lance was one of the last people to leave the Blue Sky Hotel. In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak, most of the guests and staff had departed. Lance could understand the panic but he had every confidence in the authorities to get the situation under control. It soon became evident that might take some time; and by then the airport was closed.
The trucks stopped at the crossroads. Corporal Karina Ivanova - known as ‘Bolt’ on account of her love for sniper rifles – was one of the last out. It had been a bumpy ride; the truck was no military vehicle but some rusty heap ready for the scrapyard. Her unit had only been in San Lazaro for twenty-four hours and there wasn’t enough transportation to move them all.
Sergiy Vovk had been stuck in the building for a day and a night. After a fruitless search for an old friend, he’d been forced to seek refuge when he encountered the largest group of Crazies seen yet. Most of the apartments in the building had been locked but one had already been broken into and it was here he spent the night (after blocking the door with a couch and a freezer). From his vantage point at the kitchen window, he had a good view of Jackson Avenue and he hadn’t seen a Crazy for half an hour. Time to go.
The CIA team was down to two. Five of them had arrived in San Lazaro with instructions to gain all available intelligence on the state of the city. They had been dropped in by helicopter three days previously but their original mission was now long forgotten. As they had lost one member to rioters and the other two to the diseased and murderous civilians, the priority was survival.
Looking forward to the weekend, son. Love you, Mom.
Jeff ‘Rhino’ Xu wondered how many times he had read the text message. A hundred? Two hundred? Probably more. He felt embarrassed; ashamed. He was a senior figure in the Red Dragon gang, respected and feared by the criminal fraternity of San Lazaro; and yet here he was, sitting alone, reading the last message he’d received from his parents.
There hadn’t been much time to pack. Flash’s neighborhood had been evacuated by the army two weeks into the crisis and all he had with him was what he’d been able to throw into his car. He’d remembered most of the important stuff: his expensive collection of suits, his 1985 Thorens turntable, his jazz collection and his revolver. He’d also risked a drive down to Republic Square to liberate his drone, which he knew might prove crucial. Fortunately, the skeleton crew on duty had allowed him access to the tech stores. But in his haste, Flash had forgotten to take any spare batteries.
Professor Malcolm Biederman had been monitoring the news all week. First the reporters talked about the avian flu: how San Lazaro had been unusually badly affected; how various vaccines were failing to contain the spread. Then it was all about how the airports were shutting down and the military was taking control of the city.
The apartment block wasn’t far from the Aureus Gate Bridge. Gadget pulled up in front of it and jumped out of his pick-up. The Wade Warrior 5X had served him well; very low-maintenance and reliable. With his trusty Browning rifle over his shoulder, Gadget looked up at the second floor. Denny has obviously heard the engine because he appeared immediately on the balcony, first waving then pointing downward. While he waited, Gadget took his toolbox from the pick-up then looked around. The street was strewn with wrecked cars, rubble and the detritus of several battles. He was surprised that Denny had been able to survive here for so long. As far as he knew, most of this area has been stripped bare and there would inevitably be some Crazies lurking around.
Artemis moved across the rubble, eyes scanning in every direction. Her left hand gripped her recurve bow, her right held an arrow at the ready. She never liked coming this way; the remaining walls of the warehouses could provide cover for Crazies or other enemies. In fact, she would have been a lot happier with Valinda along but in order to check all the traps before sundown, they’d had to split up. With every day that passed, food was becoming harder to obtain. She was surprised that any wildlife remained but the deer seemed to enjoy the open spaces and streams of Aureus Gate Park.
The sun was close to the horizon, giving her about an hour to get in and out. With a final look back at Artemis and Gadget, she waved and continued across the Multimart parking lot. There were only a couple of cars left and both were missing tires. Seeker was observant by nature and she noticed things like this all the time; the traces and echoes of chaos and fear. She would never know the beginnings and ends of all these stories and she wasn’t sure she wanted too.
Pai knew that entering Forest Heights was a mistake. The apartment building was one of the newest and most luxurious in the city and she felt sure the security systems would still be active. She had tried to persuade Buck not to go there but he’d discovered that Forest Heights’ security team had its own armoury on the ninth floor. The possibility of weapons and ammunition had been too tempting for him to ignore. Pai had been with the others on a food run but the call had just come in. Buck was trapped.