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.
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.
Lucky stood in front of the fifth blockade he’d seen that day: high metal barriers designed to prevent people leaving San Lazaro. But now even the military who had placed them there had withdrawn. People had gone underground. There were rumors of rioting and widespread violence. Food, fuel and medicine were already becoming scarce.