Previous Story: 18. Republic Square Riots
Lance was one of the last people to leave the Blue Sky Hotel. In the immediate aftermath of the bird flu 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.
So, he did what he believed any good Regal Canadian Cavalryman would do: help people. That meant assisting the staff with the needy and infirm guests, giving guidance and support to the management, even providing security at night. As the crisis moved into a third week, his faith finally began to wane. With the Crazies now rampant, San Lazaro had been isolated and cut off. Returning to Canada became a long-forgotten dream; Lance just wanted to do his duty and survive.
With more and more Crazies seen on the streets every day, the few remaining staff had decided to evacuate. The last of the guests had already been transported to a safe area by a group of local volunteers, leaving Lance with Earl - an assistant manager - and Christine - a receptionist. Both were close to the former manager, who’d been killed by a Crazy two days previously. Lance had got to know the man well too, and all three wanted to keep the Blue Sky open in his honor. But for the last two nights Crazies and looters had tried to get inside the hotel. All three agreed it was time to leave.
After enjoying a last breakfast of coffee and toast, the trio said their goodbyes. Christine and Earl departed together in Earl’s car: they were going to try and reach some other staff who’d been caught in a dangerous area. Lance had decided to follow the volunteers to their base: it was quite a trip but he knew he could achieve more by coordinating with other like-minded people. It was early morning and he was glad to see no Crazies on the street as Earl’s car drove away. Lance set off in the opposite direction, his kitbag over his shoulder.
He also had his crowd-control staff with him, which had come in very useful in recent days. Lance had picked up the prototype while at a conference and he was supposed to be trying it out for the Canadian government. At each end of the staff were stun batons and Lance had also attached a red napkin to help him stand out in a crowd. This added feature had come in very handy in the first days of the crisis, while the hotel was still busy. During the previous day, several hours had been spent cleaning and pressing his uniform and polishing his boots. Even if the world had gone to hell, a Cavalryman had to keep up appearances.
Consulting the map he’d taken from the hotel reception desk, Lance navigated his way through central San Lazaro easily enough. He passed several abandoned vehicles and an apartment block from which music was blaring - but he didn’t stop. Lance had insisted that the other two take the only gun so he was armed only with the staff.
He had just passed a yellow school bus when he spied a man slumped in the doorway of a store. As he approached, Lance saw that the man had been shot in the chest. Dried blood caked his shirt and his mouth. Lying not far from his hand was a revolver. The man was about sixty, an African-American with little hair and a greying beard. He was motionless and pale so Lance was shocked when he opened his eyes.
‘I must be dreaming,’ said the man with a grin.
‘No, sir. I guess you’re not feeling too great though?’
Lance put down his bag and the staff. He squatted in front of the man and examined the wound.
‘Don’t bother, son. I’ve been here all night. I don’t have long.’
‘Perhaps I can get you to a hospital.’
‘No, no. You go on now – look after yourself.’
The sound came from the other side of the street. Lance spun around and saw a pair of rickety garage doors shaking. They were held together only with rope and shook again at another impact from inside.
‘That damned noise again,’ said the man. ‘Must be them, I guess.’
‘Is that what you call them? They’re bad enough but thieves are worse. One of the bastards tried to rob my store. Ah, at least I got a shot off.’ Though his eyes were red and half-closed, the man peered at the street. ‘Guess I didn’t kill him though. You should take that.’
The man aimed a finger at the revolver.
‘What’s your name, sir?’
‘Sergeant Felix Chevalier, Regal Canadian Cavalry.’
‘Well, well. You’re a long way from home, sarge.’
Michael began to cough up blood. Once the fit had stopped, Lance took out his handkerchief and cleaned his mouth as best he could.
Michael nodded. Lance gave him a little from his bottle but it caused another coughing fit. As Michael recovered himself, a second impact echoed across the street. Lance was worried about what might be inside that garage but he couldn’t abandon a dying man.
‘Not long now,’ said Michael. ‘I’m cold. Real cold. What was the name again?’
‘Well, what do you think, Felix? What did it? What caused all this? Some secret government weapon? Disease? Pollution? Enemy agents? Aliens? How could normal people just change like that? How?’
‘I wish I knew,’ said Lance, though he was fairly certain the American government couldn’t be responsible. They didn’t maintain the same high standards as his fellow Canadians but surely they couldn’t be to blame for the San Lazaro disaster?
Blood trickled from Michael’s mouth. ‘I met a man who said he knew. Some FBI guy. You know what he said? He said it was the up-’
Lance looked across the street again and saw the garage doors fly open, the rope now broken. From within, movement in the shadows.
‘I … I wish I …’ Michael never finished the sentence. With a final groan, his head lolled back.
Though he knew the man was gone, Lance checked his pulse. There was a faint rhythm but it quickly faded away.
‘Sorry I couldn’t do more for you,’ he whispered.
He picked up Michael’s revolver and warily crossed the street. In the darkness at the rear of the garage, something was moving: something large and powerful.
The horse trotted out into the sunlight. It was a tall, dark brown stallion. There was no saddle, just a bridle and a lead rope. Lance had been around horses all his life and he didn’t hesitate to approach it. The stallion didn’t move away even when he grabbed the rope.
‘There’s a good boy.’
Lance towed the horse back to the garage. Other than a trough of water, there was nothing else to suggest this was the animal’s home. Lance had seen so many strange occurrences in the last few weeks that not even this surprised him.
Once he had reclaimed his pack and staff, he led the stallion away along the street. ‘Well then, boy, what shall we call you?’
Next Story: 20. Let Us Not Become Weary in Doing Good…