Author : Sam Clough, Staff Writer

Sacha slumped down in a doorway, gathering her heavy clothes tighter around her. As a prophylactic measure, the cloth and leather were almost useless: it was less about protection, more about appearances. The door behind her was like every other in this street. Rough, wooden, and with a ‘X’ splashed across it in red paint.

She stared at the bodies that littered the street. Tens of them on this street alone, thousands across the district, and hierarchy-knew how many uninfected were starving to death in their homes, afraid to unseal the windows. Some of the infected were dangerous, violent, but those in the later stages of infection just curled up and died where they fell.

Sacha was trapped, doubly so. By the quarantine around the town, and by the blockade of the ‘red’ districts. She was not infected. Unlike the citizens of the town, Sacha had an immune system she could talk to.

However resistant she was to the pathogens in the air, she was not resistant to the flamethrowers of the local army. In the style of armed forces everywhere, they had donned their rudimentary hazardous materials suits and were methodically putting the town to flame.

Someone walked past the door by which Sacha was slumped. He was wearing a neat, well-fitted uniform – that of an officer in the local army. He continued past her, down the street, then Sacha heard him stop and backtrack. He stared at her for a long moment, then spoke.

“Emdal-Abek Sacha Sousver. Medical technician, on assignment from Cluster.”

“And you are?” Mildly surprised at the use of her full name and the unimpressive description of her assignment, Sacha got to her feet and eyed the officer more closely.

“Ash-Abek Peter Carnelian. Disruptor.”

“Sent to rescue me?”

“No. Cluster is worried that this crisis will lead eventually to a military coup. I’m here to guide them down a different track.”

“Let me guess. Kill the High Command.”

“In one. Are you sure you’re medical?”

“Positive. Do you think you could get me out of here? I’m becoming immunocomprimised. I’ve done all I can to help, but I need to get into a medical lab.”

“I think I’ll be able to explain it away.”

Peter placed a hand on her shoulder, and they headed for the nearest checkpoint. A line of soldiers were carefully creating a dead zone on the infected side, setting fire to everything within ten metres of the perimeter. A milling crowd of the infected were shouting, screaming and begging just outside the reach of the flamethowers.

“Sod,” Peter murmured, “we’re going to have to get through them.”

One of the crowd spotted Peter’s uniform.

“Djah!” The cry of ‘officer’ went up, and as one mass, the infected turned and ran towards what they saw as their salvation.

“Run.” Peter hissed, and Sacha fled back the way they’d come. He drew a sidearm, and levelled it at the crowd. “Uhd. Tuz lidla. Lidla!” Some of the more risk-averse slowed, but most continued to run. He fired three times into the crowd, and ran after Sacha.

Panicking, Sacha ran headlong into a dead end. Peter was hot on her heels, having discarded his now-empty sidearm. There was a knife in his hand, and bloodstains covered his once-immaculate uniform. He threw something at her. Instinctively, she caught it: small, ovoid and metallic. A capsule key.

A rush of air almost knocked her off her feet and a door hissed open in the air beside: Peter had called his one-man capsule. He wanted her to leave.


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