October 25, 2050 – Streets of Chicago
“Is that the time?” Alex Mason shouted as he jolted from the bed.
“No, it’s a random number generator silly.” Sophie giggled.
“It’s almost fucking curfew, Soph!” Alex didn’t yell at her, but this was serious.
“Sorry babe. I always lose track of time when I’m in your arms.” She cooed, still tired.
“Shit, I have to go.”
“Can’t you stay here?”
“I need my computer and uniform for work tomorrow. I’m working at dawn.” Alex was dressing as he spoke.
“Be careful out there.” Sophie said in a completely exhausted voice that trailed off.
He kissed her and descended the fire escape to an alley behind her building.
Alex ran through the narrow alleyways as quick as possible with his head low. Curfew was in effect now, and the city guards shot people on sight. Their public rationale was they couldn’t take the risk of spreading the infection. Alex knew he should have left Sophie’s apartment earlier.
He saw Sophie’s smiling face in his mind and knew he’d never regret spending a moment with her. She seemed more broken as of late, and she needed him more than ever. Sophie was a trained general practitioner. She dedicated her life to helping people, but thanks to the new laws, she wasn’t allowed to touch a patient for eight hours after admission. During her shifts, Sophie had to listen, unable to provide succor, while men, women, and children screamed in pain. It was killing her.
Alex sighed as he looked for his next move. The alleyway he was running down ended on an open street. With the darkness descending like a sheet over the city, the guards would be hunting for infected. The darkness offered protection for the infected to scrounge for food as it hid signs of their infection.
“This is fucking Hollywood shit” he laughed to no one in particular. The sick weren’t monsters, Sophie always explained. They were in so much pain that they just lashed out.
The street that lay in front of him was a typical two-lane road, and Alex had to get across with as few steps as possible. When the plague hit his city, Alex was one of the few who chose not to flee. The US government claimed many of the uninhabited buildings and converted them into medical, industrial, and military centers within the dying city.
The city provided Alex with an easy job in the industrial sector as a welder. The job gave him a generous stipend, which he could spend freely since he lived rent free after his landlord fled. Though an evacuation was ordered, the city needed workers and gave anyone who stubbornly stayed behind work and money.
He stalked up to the edge of the building on the right of the alley, dashed into the street, and ran for the opposite alleyway. Once in the safety of its shadows, Alex gave a sigh of relief when he heard no shouts or gunshots.
He was almost home. All he had to do was take a right at the end of this alley, and he’d be home free. He kept his trot slow to avoid making too much noise. As he turned at the end of the alley, he ran straight into an artificial wall that was blocking the opening to the road.
Alex had heard of the guards using these walls to trap the infected. Sophia had said she’d heard of the Red Guard collecting fresh victims for a project. In his frustration, Alex turned towards the road he had just crossed and saw two people staggering towards him.
“Help me.” He knew the man on the left was a vagrant from his filthy appearance even with the sickness. “I am so hungry.”
“Stay right there. Are you sick?” Alex knew he was.
The homeless man looked to be in the advanced stages of the disease. His mouth hung open, sucking in as much air as possible. His eyes were completely yellow, and his teeth, what few remained, were sharp and broken from eating anything he could scavenge. As he lurched towards Alex, his exposed gum line showed decay. His skin was a strange mixture of grotesque yellow and bone-white.
The man next to him was less obvious in his infection. He wore a uniform so red it dominated all other colors into submission, though he was missing his helmet – something a healthy Red Guard officer would never allow. The guard looked to be a fresh victim of no more than eight hours. His stride was still strong, but his skin was becoming pale and his eyes were bloodshot. Alex had to be careful because, though these two were sick, they were prone to bouts of violence when confronted.
“Please. If you have anything, I’ll take it.” The homeless man was getting closer. His gait was weak and took a lot out of him. “I just want water.” The infection always caused extreme hunger and dehydration as it ravaged the body.
He knew healthy Red Guard would come if they heard his shouts, but he didn’t care. He refused to get infected. “Stay back. I don’t want to get fucking sick.”
Despite his pleas to stop, they kept walking towards him. Alex remembered Sophie mentioning that trauma killed the infected and saw a small brick a few feet away from him. Alex snatched the brick, took a few steps forward, and slammed it into the head of the guard. The guard stumbled, tried to stand, then went limp. Alex turned to grab another item, not realizing how fast the hobo had crept, and suddenly felt a burning sensation in his neck.
“You son of a bitch! No no no!” Alex screamed over and over again. He managed to grab the homeless man’s back and flipped him to the ground. Alex fell as his equilibrium shifted. He scooted back as the man dragged towards him.
“Why couldn’t you just give us some food and water?” He was screaming at Alex.
Out of nowhere, a rifle ended the man’s pleas, blowing his head apart.
Alex turned, lifted his head up and saw a man in a Red Guard uniform standing at the end of the alley with a rifle raised. The guard’s fire engine red suit had thick armor covering his joints and neck. The unusual color of the uniform was for identification purposes among other guards—red meant don’t shoot first. The soldier wore a gas-mask helmet. He removed a section of it covering his mouth to speak. Alex had heard of their brutality towards citizens breaking curfew, much less one doomed to turn into one of the creatures. He closed his eyes, breathed in deep, and waited for the gunshot, but instead, the guard walked to him and raised him to his feet.
“Well, you are infected. All I can do is put you out of your misery,” The guard smirked a bit. Alex never hated someone more than he did now. “However, there is another option.”
Alex remained quiet in response.
“If you come with us, we can use you to test our new vaccine,” the guard said with a slight British accent. “It will kill you, but your contribution to research will be invaluable.”
“What choice do I have?”
“Not much, really. You’ll die either way.”
Alex thought about what he would miss the most. Sophie was high on the list of things, as well as their new puppy. He would miss his co-workers who joked with him daily. He would also miss sunlight. Where he was going, he knew, lacked that.
“I understand.” Alex didn’t care what happened to him anymore. The guard replaced his mask and guided Alex towards the street where a large van, marked with the familiar ‘Daraby Pharmaceuticals’ logo waited. They approached the back of the vehicle, and the Brit banged hard on the door. It opened, revealing an interior that was so white it stung his retina. Each wall of the van had three seats. Two guards occupied the first and third seat on the left side, and a single guard sat next to the front of the van on the right. The guard closest to Alex on the left stood up and offered a hand. The guards hauled Alex inside and restrained him into the open seat between the two on the left.
“That’s for if you turn early.” This guard helping him seemed to know he was already infected. He remembered the searing pain in his neck and wondered how bad it looked.
The Brit closed the door and took a seat opposite Alex.
“All ready, Lisa.” The guard sitting to Alex’s left shouted. The van lurched forward, and Alex stared without much thought at the wall so white it gave him a headache.
“So, how are we dividing this?” The guard who helped him in asked as he removed the face part of his mask.
“The deal was each specimen we bring, we go 25%.” Alex pretended not to listen as disgust boiled in his gut.
“Well, gents, I believe I am owed a higher share. I did capture it.” The Brit said with enough smug to drown Alex.
“It? I am still alive, you son of a bitch.” Alex interjected.
An argument began. “I risked my life to get him out of the jaws of that other one.” The argument was soon cut off as the van stopped, jolting everyone in the back towards the front.
“Guys, can you come see this?” Lisa, Alex surmised, screamed. She sounded much older than him. All four guards crowded a small panel door to view the windshield.
“Holy shit, there must be at least 25 of them!” The guard who sat on Alex’s left shouted.
“So, here’s the game. We each get six shots. Whoever kills the most gets 50% of the reward for the live one, and the other three split the remainder.” The Brit guard said from the front by the slot.
Alex looked at the guard who helped him into the van. The guard’s focus was towards the front, but Alex noticed he had his side arm unfastened. Alex also noticed that all the rifles were on the floor. Thanks to his double-jointed shoulder, he slowly undid his restraints, being careful to not make any noise. The guards were still arguing and completely unaware he was free. He smiled as a plan began to form. He reached for the pistol and slid it from the holster without alerting the guard. Smiling, Alex waited to strike.