Most residents of San Lazaro had no idea that the Cistern Club even existed. It was an exclusive venue which showcased cutting edge music, film, virtual reality and art. The performances and creatives on show were unusual, yet few were as unusual as the venue itself. After the Great San Lazaro Fire of 1903, huge cisterns had been created below the city to store water in the event of another conflagration. Many had since been filled in but the club was housed in an accessible example close to the surface. Converting the underground space into a luxurious club hadn’t been cheap but the owners had wanted something unique.
Karina ‘Bolt’ Ivanova walked out of the silent apartment block and sat down on a nearby bench. She was glad that Aunt Nadia had been relocated to a safe zone but disappointed that she wouldn’t get to see her. Hopefully the phone networks would be restored before too long and they could at least talk.
Jane knew she had to leave.
It wasn’t just because she felt sure her owner, Howard, wasn’t coming back; something had changed and she felt different now. Though she’d spent much of the last few weeks inside the house, she had also patrolled along the walls, watching what was going on. She had seen many of the human craft with flashing lights; and many people wearing green and black carrying weapons. She had also seen others fighting and three different groups trying to get into the house. But Howard had always been careful to keep it very safe: the walls were high and the doors were strong.
Fei had to search three cabinets before she found it. With the metal drawer open, the narrow beam of the flashlight illuminated a black, rectangular object that looked very much like a DNA drive. But Fei had memorised the images Lady Rose had sent and she knew what this was. By lifting the object and clicking a button hidden within a cavity, she activated the prototype
The animals had decided that they needed to keep watch. It made sense that Howl and Athena – with their exceptional eyesight – should guard them during the night. On this particular night, Howl took the first watch. He sat on a small hill above where the other animals slept, close to Jugger’s enclosure. Before the Awakening and all the humans had left, the hill was a place where they gathered at tables to sit and eat food. To keep himself awake, Howl would regularly lope around to get different views of the area. His eyes were so good that he could occasionally even make out the humans far beyond the zoo.
It was a shock but not a surprise.
Nikki had observed an increasing number of helicopters in the skies above San Lazaro since the crisis had started. Every day there were more of them: police and army choppers, hired transports, private birds. She reckoned it was only a matter of time before a collision occurred. When it did, it happened only a block away.
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.