Serum (Part 1)

The plane touched down at dusk. Pinpoints of light came from various points in the city, almost enough to make one forget that it was abandoned. The clouds above us melded into a monotone gray, hiding the stars even as they reflected the sun’s dying moments.

“Ready?”

I nodded. My bag was at my feet, and I swiped it in a single motion as I opened the door and let myself out. The tarmac was solid under my feet, a surprise after the floor panels of the small plane.

Gray followed me. She had half as much stuff to carry as I did. It wasn’t an accident–the courier always had the lighter load. That way you don’t lose the serum if you get separated.

“How far to the outpost?”

“Six miles.”

“And they’re having us do the trip at night?”

“Yeah. It isn’t just the crawlies; we’ve got bandits around here as well.”

“Lovely.”

“You didn’t pay attention to the briefing?”

“Figured you would. I caught some sleep.”

I wasn’t going to argue over sleep. I should have gotten more myself. I reached to my belt, made sure my trusty nine was still there. It wasn’t fancy like the new models–the ones built to take out the crawlies–but it was cheap and reliable.

Reliable’s the difference between living and becoming food.

The waterfront was just off the airstrip. I figured it would be the wise way to go. Fewer tall buildings, harder to set up an ambush. The crawlies ain’t much for saltwater either.

“You ever swim?”

“Not since all this happened.”

“If the crawlies come–”

“Go out to drown at sea?”

“Yeah, I guess. Stupid idea.”

“We could just use the serum.”

Now that we were alone, the words hit differently than they did near the plane.

“Not so loud.” A chill stood up every hair on my body. I dropped to a crouch.

We had NVGs, sure. But we weren’t supposed to use them until it was pitch black. Batteries were hard to come by back then.

I broke the rules. Gray did too.

It wasn’t all that far down the beach. Before all the mess, it would have been easy to say it was just a beach bum, sleeping off one beer too many. But through the goggles I could see‌ clearly: a guy, belly up, in the sand. He had a backpack beside him.

“Gray, we’ve got contact.”

She pulled down her goggles, let herself get a good view.

“Just a guy.”

“Might have something buried in the sand or in that pack.”

“Think he’s a bandit?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then what do you want me to do about it?”

“I don’t know.”

She reached for her carbine. It was one of the newer models–not new, precisely. Just modified so ‌you could disrupt the action and fire a shot without cycling.

“Gray, that’s–”

“We have a job, deliver the serum.”

“Yeah, but how can we know he’s–”

The gunshot was more than a whisper, but only barely.

I had nothing to say.

“Let’s get going.”

I should have checked the sand. Maybe he was a bandit, maybe he had a gun. I’d sleep better if I had. But even if he had a gun, that doesn’t matter. He’d taken a nap and never woke up. Could’ve been just another survivor looking for shelter. We could have helped him. And if he hadn’t even been armed–somehow–it would just cement the image of a dead man’s face in my mind forever.

Gray led me along. The sand turned to rocks, and we got off the beach. Once we were on the streets, we’d have to keep an eye out for the crawlies. I still welcomed the distance.

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