“Jack,” I said knowing as the name came out I could no longer take it back. Staring at Cassie, I watched the intensity of her face melt to a smile. “His name is Jack,” I said, warming with her reassurance. “But he’s only ten, or thereabouts.” I turned back to the doctor and watched her hands slide through the mess of paper spread across the desk.
“When was he bitten?” she said as she found what she was looking for.
I looked to Cassie, turning away as she nodded.
“Two days ago, when this all started, but we only met him this morning.”
She looked up from a page of paper she’d centred on the desk in front of her as her right hand found a pencil.
“How can you be sure?”
“There’s a wound on his hand. Looks like a bite. Plus that’s what he told us.”
She continued to stare in my direction before turning down and scribbling.
“Did he say if he had any ill effects?”
“He said he slept an entire day, but he didn’t mention anything else.”
The pencil ran across the page.
“And there’s no chance he could be lying?”
“He’s a good kid. What would be the reason?” I replied.
Looking down at the page, she made more notes, before striking through part of what she’d written.
“Where is he?” she said, her pencil hovering. I looked to Cassie and saw a flash of what I thought was concern in her eyes.
“What are you going to do to him?” I said. Her smile was back and I stiffened upright in the seat until she let the facade drop.
“Blood samples, that’s all. We’re not the monsters,” she replied. “There’s a simple test. If he continues to suffer no symptoms and we find the Cordyceps fungus in his blood stream, we’ll know he’s creating the precious antibodies we need.”
“Then what?” I said, my voice more stern than I’d intended. I looked to Cassie and her eyebrows raised, urging me on.
“More tests, but it’s hard to say until we see the blood work,” she replied, her own posture stiffening. “Where is he?”
“We were holding out with our friends in a house about ten miles away. They’re waiting for us to come back with supplies.”
“Where exactly?” she said, the pencil still hovering.
“I couldn’t tell you,” I replied shaking my head and watched as she leant forward, tilting her head to the side, eyes squinting, still locked on to mine. “It’s the truth. Ever since this started we’ve been on the move.” As she shook her head and I felt rage building in my chest. “Look here,” I said, moving to stand. “What with watching our friends die, scavenging for food, hiding from those creatures, being shot at from the skies, attacked by looters and kidnapped by the military, I didn’t have a chance to consult the map I didn’t even have.” Cassie’s hand reached across from her chair and I felt myself calm with her warmth. I sat and watched the doctor take a deep breath, the wrinkles on her forehead flattened out for a moment as a scowl flashed across her face. “But we can take you there,” I said. Her head angled up and her shoulders relaxed as her hand went below the table. From her pocket she pulled a radio handset, her long wrinkled fingers tapping across the numbered buttons before she held it up to her mouth. A quiet male voice came from the speaker.
“Captain Bains, Ma’am.”
“Captain, when is the next patrol due back?” she replied with her eyes on me all the time.
“Sixteen Hundred, Ma’am.”
The doctor shook her head.
“Have you got another squad available for a retrieval?” she said with her eyes fixed on me. “About ten miles?” I nodded. “Ten miles out. Collecting a group of?” she said raising her left eyebrow.
“Seven,” I said and she repeated the number down the line, adding two passengers would accompany the patrol as she watched Cassie’s nod.
“We’ll need three vehicles, plus at least six on security,” the voice came back.
“Can you spare them?” she said down the line. There was a pause for a moment before his voice replied.
“Yes Ma’am, they can be ready in ten minutes.”
She killed the call without signing off and placed the radio on the table.
“Okay,” she nodded. “We’ll get everyone back here and take it from there.”
Moments later there was a knock at the door and we were introduced to Sergeant McCole, a tall, but stocky man, made wider with the full body armour and camouflage kit he was wearing. With weathered skin and jet black, short hair, his thick, unkempt eyebrows added to his unwelcoming expression.
“Have either of you had any military training?” were his first words as he led us down the corridor, leaving the doctor in her office. Shaking my head, I voiced the answer looking at Cassie as she did the same.
“You’ll do well to remember that. We’re the professionals and you do as we say,” he said without looking as he walked at speed down the long the corridor not checking to make sure we kept up, whilst pushing on a camouflaged green and brown helmet. I nodded at his back.
He let the double doors go as he stepped through. I caught them before they swung back, holding them open for Cassie and getting my first view of the three khaki coloured Land Rover Defenders, their engines running. Soldiers sat in the driver’s seats of each. In the front and rear vehicles another stood behind with his head out of the roof in the rear compartment, a rifle resting at chest height.
Beyond the vehicles I saw great progress had been made erecting the fence. Each metal frame panel of wire mesh stood more twice the height of the vehicles and slanted outwards a few degrees, with razor wire spiralling across the top edge. Concrete blocks and great water containers sat on angled legs to hold it firm, each delivered by a khaki green forklift truck buzzing around the site as soldiers manoeuvred the panels into place. Only the space for two panels remained and a third was being installed by five soldiers in just their green t-shirts, their armour nowhere to be seen.
Still without turning, Sergeant McCole motioned us to the back of the centre vehicle, not looking to see if we’d understood, distracted as he talked in the microphone built in to his helmet. I couldn’t hear what was being said until he turned and caught my eye.
“With all due respect.” The words stopped and his eyes turned to a squint. “Yes Ma’am,” he replied and barked in our direction. “What are you waiting for?”
Nearly running, we climbed up and into the musty rear of the middle vehicle, settling on the hard bench seats and turning to stare out of the windscreen. We watched as the pace of activity increased, an excitement in the soldier’s movement grew obvious as more joined the fencing crew. The passenger door opened and McCole climbed in, his hand pulled up the handset in the cab, but before he had a chance to speak, gunfire lit up the silence, all heads turning to the left, our view blocked by the green canvas.
“Use the rear entrance,” he said, not quite shouting. “Don’t stop for anything. That’s an order.”
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One