Chapter Ten~ Run
It doesn’t take us too long to find Brie and Mason because its lunchtime. We meet them in the cafeteria. I scoop up Baby bear from Brie. He’s putting on some weight, so he’s not as light as he was. But he’s still a comfort. I try not to let the stress of Dr. Ford’s answer session get to me.
When we have our food and find a table, I fill in the others. “I think we need to get Jack, Mariette, Becky and Nate out before it’s too late. I can get Dr. Ford to send someone out there, I’m sure.”
“I’ll call them as soon as we’re done eating.” Brie says.
Mason and Jared grunt and nod their approval as their mouths are full of food.
It doesn’t take very long at all for Jerome to find us again. In fact, it was pretty much the same allotment we had for lunch every other day. “Sorry,” He looks sheepish. “Doc needs you two again. Said it’s important.”
I shrug. Mason and I are both use to it. We get up and follow him with little fuss, down the now familiar hallways to the lab. Dr. Ford rushes us in. Unlike usual, he quickly shuts and locks the door behind us. Upon closer inspection, I notice he looks frazzled.
“What’s up, doc?” Mason smiles, trying to lighten his mood.
“Kat, I am so sorry.” Dr. Ford says.
Fear spreads through me like a slow burn. I can’t think to speak before Mason does. “What’s going on?” He demands more than asks.
“General Carch is what’s going on. One of the meanest old birds you’ll ever meet. Unfortunately for us, she’s also in charge here.” He looks at me grimly. “She doesn’t think we should wait to try to replicate your organic energy. She’s putting together an engineering team as we speak to create something to drain your energy constantly and use it to charge weapons for our soldiers. You’re not safe here anymore, Kat.”
It’s my guinea pig fear come to life. I stand frozen.
It’s Mason who jumps into action for both of us. “What can we do?”
“I’ve had Jerome set your Jeep with extra supplies and a cell phone with a charger. I’m the only one with the number. I can’t tell you where it will be safe to go, but I’ll check in daily with any updates I have. I can figure this out; I just need more time. You’ll do well to stay away from the cops and army, if you can help it. Whatever you do, don’t use your real names.”
Mason nods. “Jared and Brie?”
“Will probably be safer with you. I wouldn’t put it past that mean old cow to throw them in the brig once she discovers you’re gone.” Dr. Ford says.
Mason nods. “How long do we have?”
“An hour maybe, but the less time the better.”
“Understood.” Mason pulls on my arm. “C’mon, Kat. We’ve got to go, babe.”
Suddenly, I remember something important. I walk to one of the maps on the wall. I find the location I’m looking for and stick a tack into it. “We have friends here, doc.” I tell him. “A mom, a kid, and an older couple. Please get them out before it’s too late. We’ll tell them to expect you and be ready.”
“I promise.” Dr. Ford says, as Mason pulls me towards the door. “Be safe, guys.”
“Thanks, doc. You, too.” I answer as Mason and I take off down the hallway.
Jerome must have already told Brie and Jared because they are waiting for us with Baby bear and their bags packed. It takes Mason and I maybe five minutes to gather our things. Then we all follow Jerome to our Jeep. He explains about extra gas, a filled fuel tank, extra maps, the cell phone, water and MRE’s. The last one baffles me until Mason explains it’s army food.
Mason lets Jared drive the first shift. Mason uses his body and Baby bear’s to try and hide my presence in the Jeep as we exit the gate.
When the gated, fenced building shrinks behind us, Mason backs off but grabs my hand and squeezes tight.
I feel horrible. Because of me, everyone has to leave the safest place we’ve been since this whole thing started. Hopefully, the doctor keeps his promise and gets Jack and the rest of our group there for me. At least they’ll be safe.
“Where do you want to go?” Jared asks—not to anyone particular, more all of us as a whole.
“I have no idea.” Brie says, turning in her seat to face me.
I look dumbly at Mason. I really need to snap out of it, but my mind is too consumed by guilt.
“Maybe we should try south for now?” Mason suggests. “They’ll probably expect us to go west.”
“If they don’t have us lo-jacked already.” Jared points out. We all look at each other and Jared pulls over.
The guys get out of the car, and it doesn’t take long for them to find what they’re looking for. Mason holds up a small piece of something I don’t recognize and sticks it on a parked car one space up.
We try again: this time adjusting our route to the south. With my free hand, I gently stroke Baby bear’s soft fur and force myself to think. How on earth did this happen? How did we basically become fugitives? And what’s more, if Dr. Ford can’t replicate my energy, what will I do? Let the world end? I sigh, and Mason squeezes my hand.
“You alright?” He asks.
“Not really.” I answer truthfully. “But I don’t see any way to get around it right now.”
He gives me a quick kiss on my cheek and begins staring out of his window. I guess he doesn’t see any way around it right now, either.
We travel south for a few hours before we stop to stretch our legs. Jared and Mason switch drivers. I have no idea where we are, but I assume somewhere in the Midwest Farmland and all we’ve seen is empty fields for a while. The sky is overcast and the day dreary. This is fine with me because it matches my mood.
We continue on for a while. Since we have no real destination in mind, we toy with the option of stopping for the night. Ultimately, it’s Mason who convinces us to wait until tomorrow night. He wants to put more space between us and Columbus before we attempt a campout. Nobody argues, but I can’t help the involuntary shudder that runs through me.
Eventually the sun breaks across the horizon to our left. It feels like we drive forever. Only when the sky is high above us does Mason stop.
“Time to switch?” Jared asks.
“Well yes, but that’s not why I stopped. Look.” He points southeast. “I don’t think we want to get too close to that.”
I follow his finger and see the metallic fog. I get out of the car. My hands already in front of me and creating an energy sphere. I can’t afford to hold back. Finally, the numbness I’ve been feeling since we left Columbus is waning. In its place is fury. I’m super pissed, and I’m going to unleash my rage on these freaking nanobots.
I only make it a few steps before I throw the sphere as hard as I can towards the fog. The ground trembles on impact, and the aftershock slams me forcibly back into the Jeep. I’ve never thrown one like that. Not even the first few, which I didn’t know how to control. I expect to feel drained after, but I don’t. Not like before, anyway. I really wish Dr. Ford was around to give me some more answers.
“Kat, are you alright?” Mason jumps out of the Jeep and crouches next to me. I now sit on the ground with my back leaning up against the Jeep’s large tire.
“Yeah,” I stand up to prove it and brush the dust off my jeans. “I’m good.”
“Dang, girl,” Jared says.
“Yeah kick that nanobot ass, Kat!” Brie adds.
“Think that’ll hold them back?” I ask.
“Babe, I think they felt that in Mexico.” Mason laughs.
He’s right. The fog is already visibly drawing back. Soon, it’s just a memory. “It must have just made it this far.” I speculate.
“According to the maps before we left, it hadn’t made it further west than the Ohio River. I guess it’s advancing.” Brie tells me.
Wait a minute. “We may have a chance to solve a mystery here.”
“What do you mean?” Mason asks.
“Remember how confused Dr. Ford was that they can’t seem to locate any survivors?” I tell them.
“Yeah, so?” Jared questions.
“Well, here we are in a place I just zapped where the infection just occurred. Aren’t you guys just the teensy bit curious as to what happens to all the people?” Like my mom. And Mason’s family. And Brie’s mom. What could be the fate of the world if Dr. Ford fails?
“It could be dangerous.” Jared says.
I roll my eyes. “What isn’t, anymore?”
“Point taken.” Jared smiles a bit.
“It’s up to you guys. Who knows what we’ll find.” I look at each of them. I don’t want them feeling forced into going.
“But if we found out, I mean, it would help, right?” Brie asks.
“I don’t know if we want to know, though.” Mason adds.
Jared looks hard at Brie, then turns back to me and Mason. “I say we do it. If it can help, then it’s worth a shot.”
“Okay, I guess. A hunting we will go.” Mason finally succumbs.
So far, all we’ve found is empty house after empty house. As it begins to get dark, we eventually stop at one of them to spend the night. Jared and Mason secure the downstairs, while Brie and I make a picnic of sorts on the floor of the master bedroom.
It’s a nice house: all big windows and wood floors with way nicer furniture than my house or Brie’s. Hopefully tonight, it will be our sanctuary.
We eat our MRE’s. They’re not very good, but they fill our stomachs. Part of me wishes that we could try cooking something in the nice kitchen we saw downstairs, but Mason wants to play it safe. We only leave one small light on as we eat.
Baby bear makes himself comfortable on the bed. Again, I notice he’s getting bigger. He’s going to have to get used to walking on his own if he keeps going at this rate.
I’m happy we stop in a house that still has electricity. Not all of them did, and recharging is done to my heart’s content. Once completed, we call it a night. Brie and Jared drag in a mattress from the other room and we push a dresser in front of the door. Since no one’s around, I’m not sure why but it seems to make everyone feel better.
The morning comes too quickly. It sure beats sleeping in the Jeep. We pack up and move on, pushing east. I throw more energy spheres, just to be safe.
We search for people and still find none. After I’ve thrown another sphere, we stop and have lunch. Spotting a farm house off in the distance, I nearly drop my food when I shoot up. People. I see people.
“Hey, do we still have those binoculars?” I ask Mason.
“Look!” I point towards the house. Everybody squint at once.
“I’ll go grab them.” Jared runs to the back of the Jeep.
“What should we do?” Brie asks.
“Nothing until we get a good look at them.” I say, with a bad feeling in my gut.
Jared walks back slowly. With his eyes in the binoculars, he points them towards the house and the people. When he lowers them, his face confirms my bad gut feeling. “I don’t think we should go over there.” He tells us, handing me the binoculars.
He’s right. These people are obviously infected. Their skin holds a metallic sheen, so dense in places it appears to be actual metal. There are more of them than I thought. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was a convoy of sorts. I pass the binoculars to Mason, who looks quietly before passing them to Brie.
“Well, I guess now we know.” She says softly.
“But where are they going?” Jared asks the question we’re all thinking.
Mason shocks me by saying, “There’s only one way to find out.”
“I’d at least like to get a picture for Dr. Ford.” I murmur.
“Then it’s settled,” Brie begins packing up her food. “Let’s do this.”
They all turn, but something in me is screaming ‘No!’
“Wait.” I say quietly. “This is different. I know that this is dangerous. I can feel it.” They all start arguing with me. “Hey, let me finish!” They settle down. “We should follow them from a very, very safe distance. Once we find out where they’re going, we turn back. But I also think that we should get a picture for the scientists to study. And only one of us is completely safe from the infection.”
They all stare at me, wide-eyed. “No way.” Mason says.
“Absolutely not.” Brie follows.
“It’s the only thing I can think of.” I say, staring at my Converse.
“I think we should stay together.” Jared surprises me. “No matter what.” Brie and Mason nod in agreement.
“Oh, give me the cell phone.” I say to Brie. “Maybe I can get a picture from here.”
When riding in a Jeep and trying to stay unseen, the problem with following a bunch of people walking is timing. We have to be careful not to lose them, while at the same time staying far enough away not to be noticed. Brie suggests leaving the Jeep and following them on foot, but I don’t want to take any chances losing our fast getaway in case we need it.
So we continue with our deranged game of hide and go seek with the metallic humanoid monsters. Jared drives, while Brie keeps an eye on the metal heads with the binoculars. Mason keeps checking behind us, and I find myself intermittently checking both sides of us. We’re all on high alert.
As night falls we decide to slow it down. Jared doesn’t want to attract attention to us by using the headlights. This makes driving much harder than it would’ve been otherwise. Let me tell you: navigating off-road in the dark is not for the faint of heart.
It’s easy to tell when we’re venturing too close to the metal heads because Baby bear begins to get very restless, something that’s not normal for him.
What makes me restless is the metallic fog that seems to be looming around every turn. I keep throwing energy at it and watching the metal heads reaction. (They seem to notice it, but not where it’s coming from.) I try my best to keep the fog at bay while not depleting my energy too much.
After a few hours, we have no choice but to stop and refuel. We stop at a gas station at the side of the road. Just as we suspect, it’s empty. Mercifully the electricity is on, so I charge up while the guys refuel the Jeep and containers we’ve been traveling with. Brie takes Baby bear to go stock up on our food supplies (those MRE’s are really not the tastiest things).
I meet everyone back at the Jeep and we’re off again. We catch back up to the metal heads and refrain as they appear to have slowed into a mass congregation.
“What do you think they’re doing?” Brie asks, peering out the window into the darkness. The metal heads glimmer softly in the moonlight.
“I have no idea.” I say.
“Well if we’re stopping, I’m stretching my legs a bit.” Jared pops open the back door. I watch in horror as Baby bear bolts out, restless from the close proximity of the metal heads.
I dare not yell and draw the metal head’s attention to us, but take off after him into the night. I run through a recently harvested field, stumbling every few steps over invisible mounds of dirt. Baby bear disappears into a small copse of trees before I slow down to catch my breath. Hopefully he’ll feel safe there and not go back out into the open field.
It’s just now that I notice the rain. It makes me wonder if that’s why the metal heads stopped. A huge clap of thunder and the slight drizzle gives way to a downpour. Great—just great! I pick up my pace, sure that Baby bear will be just as scared of the thunder as he is of the metal heads.
A flash of lightning and a nearby sizzle causes me to jump. That’s disturbingly close. I suddenly realize that my being in a field during a thunderstorm is probably not the best thing in the world. In between the rumbles, I can hear Mason, Brie and Jared calling for me.
I can’t respond because the grove of trees is now too close for comfort to the metal heads. They have shifted their positions in the rain. The next flash of lightning shows me why. The metal heads see me and they’re getting closer by the second. They’re not as fast as they’ve been, but still too fast for me.
A hand on my shoulder causes me to scream. I turn to see Mason. “Kat c’mon, we have to get back to the Jeep!” He shouts over the storm.
“You have to go get Baby bear, and get back to the Jeep. I’ll meet you after I take care of them.” I thumb towards the metal heads.
Mason sees the resolution in my face as another lightning bolt strikes less than twenty feet away from me. “Where’d he go?”
I point to the small grove of trees. “He’s in there. Go! It’s not safe for you to be by me with all of this lightning.”
Understanding passes through his gaze before he takes off towards the trees. This is the first thunderstorm I’m encountering since the accident. I’m not sure what will happen to me if I get struck by lightning…although I’ll probably fair better than Mason or the others.
Mason emerges with a wet fur ball in his arms and I breathe a sigh of relief. I wait until he’s almost back to the safety of the Jeep and turn to the metal heads. Even with the rain pouring rivulets of water down my face and across my eyes, I can still see the glare off of them. With every flash of lightning, it sends a shiver down my spine. It makes me realize how cold it is; I’m going to get sick for sure.
If I make it out of here. I take a few steps towards the metal heads. Their progress is becoming incredibly inadequate and I just want to get this over with. Although slowly, they’re succeeding in surrounding me. Panicking, I turn towards the Jeep and am happy to see it’s being ignored. Their attention is focused solely on me.
Running out of options, I turn my face up towards the rain. Palms facing the other, I raise my hands in front of me. An energy sphere is forming when I feel, rather than see the flash of lightning engulf me. It’s not a single lightning strike—more like all of the energy from the storm centralizes into me. It flows through me, morphing the energy sphere in my hand into a beacon of raw energy. My palms are force apart and outward. It’s all I can do to aim my hands, palm out at the metal heads, and away from the Jeep.
My feet lift off the ground, the energy propelling me up a few feet in the air. Then, just as suddenly as it begins, the rain lessens, the rumbling lowers, and I fall in a heap back to the ground.
Holy crap. I stand and look around me at the carnage of what just occurred. The smell of burning metal and flesh causes me to dry heave. I pull it together before I actually throw-up. Then pull the collar of my shirt over my nose.
Honestly I shouldn’t look. This sight will probably haunt me forever, but I can’t tear my eyes away. Even if I didn’t mean to cause such carnage, it’s too late to change it.
Dazed, I look past the eviscerated remains of the metal heads. I try to find the Jeep amidst the smoke and steam permeating from the battle scene. Once spotted, I stumble towards it. Mason jumps out and runs to me.
“Kat, that was insane! Are you alright?”
I give a quick appraisal. Physically I feel fine—kind of numb and perhaps in shock, but not hurting. I’m mentally a hot mess. I doubt that’s what he means as he runs his hands over me to check for injuries.
“I’m f-f-fine.” I manage to get out through my chattering teeth.
Mason wraps an arm around my shoulder. “You’re freezing. Let’s get back to the others.”
I nod, but don’t move yet. “Hold on.”
I take off my now soaking wet, charred hoodie and walk to the nearest chunk of a metal head. Being careful not to touch it, I wrap it in my hoodie before turning to Mason.” “Okay, let’s go.”
He looks hesitant. “Are you sure that’s safe?”
I open the hoodie, again being careful not to make direct contact with it. The metallic glare is gone, replaced with a tarnished looking metal. I don’t feel any energy coming from it like I do from the fog or the live metal heads. “I’m pretty sure it’s dead. I want to send it to the doc. We should turn back, and start heading west.”
“If you’re sure it’s safe, then that’s good enough for me.” We make our way back to the Jeep through the now squishy field picking our way over the charred metallic remains.
We drive in silence for a while. Nobody wants to discuss the giant pink elephant in the Jeep with us. The stress of everything begins to weigh down. The reality of everything’s sinking for all of us, at different rates of absorption.
I refuse to try and decipher what the hell happened back there with the lightning. That’s just in a compartment of the recesses of my brain for now. Thinking about all of those people…infected or not, that was too many lives I lay to waste.
Jared pulls the Jeep over, so we can stretch and eat something. It’s a relief to stop; it feels like we’ve been driving for so long now. There’s a small creek or river not too far from where we stop. Mason and I pull out some food for all of us. Brie follows Baby bear to a nearby bush so he can relieve himself.
It’s rather warm out. It makes me think we may have traveled further south in our pursuit of the metal heads than we first assumed. I peel the hair off the back of my neck and wipe the sweat away. It’s been a long time since any of us has had the luxury of a shower. I look longingly at the stream.
I notice Brie following my gaze. Her eyes are hopeful and light up. “Do you think it’s safe?” She asks as she approaches me.
“Is what safe?” Jared asks, right behind her.
“The water,” I explain.
“It does look nice.” Mason says.
“Doesn’t it?” Brie hints, waggling her eyebrows at me.
Despite everything, I burst out laughing. “It does look nice,” I tell them. “But we know the water could be infected. I don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”
Brie actually begins to pout. Even the guys look defeated…their shoulders fall in unison.
Mason pipes up, “Can’t you just zap it, babe? Then we can all go for a swim?”
Oh, the temptation. I cave. “I guess I could try, but I have no idea what will happen.”
Brie nudges me forward, eager to get clean and refreshed. “Go,” she orders me, “zap away!”
Moving towards the water, I shake my head gently but there’s a wry smile on my face. Guess I’m out-voted, admittedly I’m not that upset about it. The water looks so nice and cool.
I do my energy sphere thing. As soon as I’m done, the others move towards me. Jared hops on one foot and attempts to take his sneakers off as he walks. Brie and Mason take the more direct approach. They stop beside me before losing any articles of clothing they don’t want to get wet. Well, when in Rome, right? I begin taking off my own sneakers.
“Hey! Where’s the phone?” I ask Mason, right before he jumps. We haven’t heard from Dr. Ford yet, but I don’t want to destroy the only means of communication that we have.
Splash! “Relax, it’s in the Jeep. Now get over here!” He calls back to me.
Jared and Brie soon jump beside Mason. Baby bear even plays in the shallow water by the shoreline. Satisfied that there is no eminent threat, I jump in and join them.
The water is crisp and cool. It’s perfectly refreshing and exactly what we all needed. I watch curiously as Brie runs back to the Jeep, but when she returns with bottles of shampoo and conditioner I grin. Good thinking, Brie!
She squirts some shampoo in her hand and tosses me the bottle. I follow suit and we all pass the bottles around until we are clean.
We probably spend more time in the water than we should. Even I don’t want to say it’s time to go. Not that we really have any place to be, but it seems like a good idea to keep moving. I figure we can enjoy the water for just a little bit longer. We can all use the boost in morale.
Brie and I lay floating in the water with our faces towards the sky. Meanwhile Mason and Jared have some sort of testosterone filled water fight. I roll my eyes at Brie. Boys.
I check on Baby bear—now taking a nap under the shade of a tree near the water. Satisfied, I let my eyes drift shut. This is the most relaxed I’ve been in a while.
That’s my mistake, of course: letting my guard down and relaxing. The first sign of trouble is the noise I hear above me. I stand up while shielding my eyes from the sun. An army helicopter whizzes past us, followed quickly by two more. I look to the others, and their expressions match mine. It’s time to go.
As the last helicopter fades along with its accompanying noise, the real threat reveals itself. The sound of the helicopter masks the whines Baby bear emits as he paces back and forth nervously at the edge of the water. I look at the direction the helicopters flew in, downstream from where we all swim in the water. The metallic fog moves towards us at an alarming rate. Of course, it must mutate more quickly in the fluidity of the water. The others focus on getting to the bank much too slowly. They don’t know about the danger until they hear me scream. “Run!”
They begin to move much more quickly. I stand, but fear paralyzes me. I can’t zap the water while the others are in it. Snapping back into action, I follow their path to the shore. They’re almost there when I see Brie stumble. Mason and Jared try to grab her, but she slips just out of their reach. By the time she surfaces, she’s closer to me than them. I grab her hand and wave them on. We’re so close to the shore now, but not close enough it seems.
Looking at my best friend, I know she sees the terror in my face. Her eyes show acceptance of the situation. I shake my head at her. “No,” I whisper.
“Do it Kat, before it’s too late,” Tears well in her eyes.
I drag her to shore, but we don’t make it before the fog hits us. Brie and I keep our clasped hands held tightly. I keep waiting for pain—anything to indicate my life is over, but there’s nothing.
It’s hard to see through the fog, but I manage to drag Brie all the way onto the shore. As soon as she’s out of the water I turn around and let the energy pour out of me. The lightning strike affects me more than I thought, because now the stream of energy takes the place of the sphere as I unleash it into the water.
The fog disintegrates but my adrenaline is still pumping. Brie lies with her eyes closed on the shore bank. Jared holds Baby bear. Mason stands a little ways away by the Jeep. They look as horrified as I feel. Jared hands Baby bear to Mason, and begins running towards us. I hold up my hand and tell him silently to stay back.
Tears are streaming down my face. My vision is blurry when I reach Brie’s side. I can still see the metallic sheen that appears to be working its way over her body. I try to calm down. I’ve done this once before. I can do it again.
I start as I did before, with the least charged sphere. I touch it to Brie. Her body convulses a little but the metallic sheen remains. The process repeats an my tears are thicker every time her body lurches. Finally, with the highest charge I’m willing to try, her body jumps off the ground and the metallic sheen fades out.
I wave the guys over. Mason puts Baby bear in the Jeep, but Jared is by my side instantly. “I think she’ll be okay when she wakes up.” I manage to say, my voice thick from the tears.
He doesn’t say anything but picks Brie up, cradling her in his arms. Mason wraps an arm around me as we make our way back towards the Jeep.
Jared secures Brie in the back of the Jeep, and then climbs in after her. Baby bear appears confused as he nuzzles her hand. He’s not scared of her, so that helps to make me think I got the infection before it took her over.
Mason grabs the last of our things from beside the water. He turns back to me when I see him freeze. As I look at what stopped him, numbness takes over beginning at the base of my neck and traveling down my spine. You’ve got to be freaking kidding me!
In all of the excitement, I missed them…the bigger threat: the Army now surrounding us.