There was no time to think. No energy left to slow their weight from dragging me from the roof. No movie-like surge of inhuman strength came to pull them both up. My options were clear. Save myself, sending Toni to her death, or let myself get dragged down so we could be dead together.
“Let the bag go,” I shouted as it swung at her shoulder. It would make no difference and she’d have to let go of one of my hands to do so, but it was heavy and it was all I could bring myself to say, unable to decide the way forward. Her eyes just stared deep into mine.
My brain lingered longer than it should. I knew there would be no miracle. I knew the creature’s grip would hold longer than I could keep mine whilst staying anchored to the roof. It was only as a shot rang out somewhere in the long distance, did I finally realise there was someone around, some resistance, some hope, even if it was too far off to help. The joy seemed greater than it should, but the creature’s weight was no more. I looked down, watching it fall, my eyes catching on a cloud of blood drifting next to it. Toni was scrabbling over the edge of the roof before the slap of the creature’s body against the concrete.
Dragging her the last few paces from the edge, I gripped her tight, laying flat on my back, our breath heaving as she buried her head in the crook of my neck, her body on my side, much like she had as I’d woken on the couch beneath us. As our breath slowed, the low hum took over, feeling like it was the building beneath us shaking. When I couldn’t stand the noise any more I spoke, my words sharper than I’d intended.
“What’s going on?” I said. “Time for an explanation.” I let my hands drop from around her back and tried to sit, but she gripped, holding me tight.
“Stay down. That sniper might change his mind. If he figures out who I am, we might be his next target.” In the heat of the moment I hadn’t connected the distant shot and the puff of blood that saved us, but now with a pull of breath, my heart pounding again as another shot echoed through the air.
“He saved us,” I replied as my breath calmed when I didn’t hear the shot land close by.
“He might have missed,” she said with a voice devoid of emotion. I let the words sink in and repeated my question.
“What the hell is going on?” I said. She didn’t reply straight away and my ears settled back to the hundreds of low calls writhing below us.
“It’s bad,” she said looking up.
“No shit,” I said shaking my head. “Tell me everything, unless you have other things to attend to,” I added, raising my brow to the top of her head. She moved her head to the side and talked.
“Twelve months ago a group of American researchers found a new virus in the Amazon. A member of the Ophiocordyceps family,” she paused for a breath. “Hailed as a cure for Altzheimer’s, work began all over the world fast tracking the R&D to confirm the breakthrough. Within two months our government got reports the independent labs which were part of the research network, were being taken over by their country’s governments. Findings were shared only on official channels. There was a big delay before the news broke. The fungus had infected a rhinovirus strain in the American lab where the initial analysis took place. It had fused with the virus and mutated. The first known case of human infection was a research fellow who died of a heart attack, natural causes as far as we can tell. He died at his desk while carrying out tests.” She paused, titled her head up, locking eyes with mine. “He rose from the dead and attacked his colleagues.”
I realised my body was shaking as her grip tightened around me.
“When was that?”
“Six months ago.”
“Six months,” I replied raising my voice. She nodded.
“Since then we’ve been racing to find a cure. The fungus itself is what does the damage, but it’s the virus that provides such an effective delivery system.”
“Six months?” I said again.
“Aside from a few outbreaks quickly controlled, in the UK anyway, this is our first serious problem.”
“Problem?” I said and she buried her head back in the crook of my neck. She nodded, but kept quiet. “So this virus,” I said.
“Disease,” she interrupted, pushing herself closer.
“This disease,” I said. “It turns people into zombies with inhuman strength, the ability to leap into the air and chase down an Olympic sprinter.” She didn’t reply. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“No,” she replied and I tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go. “They’re a side effect.”
“A side effect?”
“Of the work we’ve been doing,” she looked up. “The work I refused administer.” It was my turn to hold by my reply.
“So they’re different?”
“The disease doesn’t effect the living,” she said, then added. “In its unadulterated form. It only takes over when the host dies. It takes control, don’t ask me how, but it does.” I held my question back again. “The disease needs protein, despite its lack of any metabolism we can find. It seeks meat and that’s all it’s concerned with.”
“And the other,” I paused. “Things?”
I shuffled out from under her when she didn’t reply, this time she let me go.
“They’re still alive,” she replied. I could fell my heart beating hard.
“But you said,” I blurted out as I raised myself to my feet.
“Get down,” she whispered, her hands reaching up. When I backed away, she sat up. “The creatures in your corridor were given different versions of the trial vaccination. It had different effects, some of which you mentioned. Those things are an amalgamation of the original disease and human physiology.”
“They’re super humans with an insatiable thirst for death,” I said staring at her stoney faced.
“If you will,” she said looking down to the roof.
“And you made them,” I said. “Like me.”
“Not by choice,” she replied, not looking up.
“But they’re all gone now,” I said. She slowly shook her head, staring down at the tarmac pitch of the roof. “But everyone I’ve seen had their brains blown out or smashed against the concrete.”
“You saw one corridor,” she said standing, pointing her finger to the long low building that housed my cell. Still holding her finger out, she turned me around and I took in the building shaped like a child would draw the sun. Where we stood was the ball in the middle, the cell blocks were the lines out from the central circle. With the ground writhing between the buildings. I stopped turning as I completed the circle, twelve cell blocks counted.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.