“She isn’t as lucid as you might hope, Ms. Chase. You may want to come back.”
Her long fingers dipped one at a time into the paints, the brushes disregarded, each fingertip bearing a new but muddied color. I smiled without realizing it, watching the same meticulous and graceful movements she had displayed since she was six. Even without lucidity she was still Caroline. Still my baby sister. Her hair, dark red like mine, was cut short and choppy around her porcelain ears, not long enough to touch the sky colored hospital gown she wore, or layered enough to frame the thin face that looked hauntingly like our mother’s. A spritely apparition, humming to herself songs I sang to her when our Mother was too high to put her to bed, or away again servicing others to put meals on the table.
“No, it’s fine.” I turned to the orderly, my smile remaining, “I want to see her, lucid or not.”
“She can get violent, Ms. Chase.” He pressed, “Perhaps you’d,”
“Its fine, Jake.” I interrupted, squeezing his wrist almost affectionately, “Is Dr. Forester allowing her to have visitors?”
“He is.” Jake answered hesitantly, his eyes drifting to the floor, “But we have orders from her caretaker not to allow…”
I let loose his wrist and crossed my arms over my chest. “I see. Can I stay here a little longer? I won’t bother her.”
“Of course.” He said, pity audible in his tone. It made me angry.
Her index finger, still slightly twisted from its break when she was nine, slid a long cyan line down the canvas. “It’s lovely, Caroline.” She said to herself, ignoring the fact that the room was empty, “It’s a masterpiece in the making. Perhaps one day,” Her accent moved from her simple west coast to a fine British, as though the young lady had stepped out of a Jane Austin novel, “Perhaps one day you will use your gifts to break out of this and make something of yourself.” She pressed her other fingers hard over the first mark, their tips nearly piercing the surface of the canvas as the cruelty of her own thoughts manifested. “No.” She answered her own question, “No, I think not.”
I frowned my brow, “Does she know it’s her birthday?” I asked.
Jake shrugged. “I doubt it, but the orderlies have a cake prepared for her and the other patients to celebrate.”
We jumped as the glass rattled in its frame, the furious pounding of Caroline’s fists trying to crack the unbreakable glass. “Clara!” She wept, each blow leaving a smear of color behind. “Clara, why wont they let me leave? Help me, please, I want to go home.”
Two orderlies rushed in, grabbing the 14 year old by the shoulders. She cried out in fear, her lovely features twisted into madness. I moved toward the door, shouting after them. It was locked, its thick hinges and metal body more than I could force my way through.
“Please Jake.” I begged, furious sobs choked back as I fought to get to her. “Please, please. Just let me,”
“Clara!” Caroline called out again, her screams growing faint as she disappeared down the hallway, still fighting against her attackers. The heavy door shut behind her, and her cries were silenced.
“What do I have to give you?” I growled, the tears streaming now despite my best effort to stop them, “What do you I have to do to see her? To actually get close enough to help her?”
“I think it’s time for you to leave. She’s fine, really. She won’t even remember that you were here. Just go.” Jake urged. I cursed, wiping my face with both hands. I glanced into the room again, to her knocked down painting, the glass smeared with a rainbow of paint, pounded into place by panicked attacks. I would kill them all for this. I would make Jay pay.
The glass of the heavy hospital doors smeared red, grasping broken hands pounding against them. I tried to ignore them as I pulled my keys from my pocket, sliding to a stop at my driver’s side door. I glanced up again as the first pane shattered. “Fuck!” I pulled open the door and tossed the AR onto the passenger seat, locking the door behind me. They were pouring from the hospital now. Too many of them.
My hands were slick against the steering wheel, it slid in my grip, jerking the wheels as I plowed through the first of the wave. The jeep rocked as I bounced over broken bodies, my knuckles white as I fought to keep control. I was through them soon enough, the back road out of the hospital nearly clear, none but emergency vehicles accustomed to using it. I was alone again.
“Holy fuck.” I said, urging the adrenaline in my system to lessen. I dug into the door storage and produced the small tub of anti-bacterial wipes. I scrubbed my hands, my neck, my face; tossing the bloodied wipes one after the other onto the passenger floorboard until myself and my immediate surroundings were free of the last remnants of the dead officer’s blood.
“David 36, come in.” Dispatch urged as if it had not been the first time. Was my radio malfunctioning or did I just miss it?
“David 36. The hospital is overrun, dispatch, officers and civilians down.” I couldn’t hear fear in my voice, but I could feel it pounding on my skull.
“Detective Chase, go car to car.” The Captain interrupted. I frowned my brow. “Affirm.” I answered, before clicking to the unregistered channel officers used to relay information outside of usual traffic.
“You there Detective?” He asked, his voice utterly without confidence, a tone so foreign to this particular commander it was easier to believe I had mistaken from whom the command came.
“The hospital is lost, Detective. Get the hell out of there and head east. We are trying to get the military in but, its escalating all over.”
I paused, letting the words sink in. Caroline. I needed to get to Caroline. I pulled out of the lot and started east, but not because of his orders. Caroline was east. “Is it the Zeke’s, sir?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know. As far as we can tell it’s primarily isolated at the cities center. The more people, the worse the issues. The sub stations are on lockdown around the city, and are handling evacuating the suburbs to the stadium...” He trailed a moment, “Clara, I have a favor to ask.”
He had never used my first name before, and this man had been my mentor since I graduated from the academy. Hearing it now was jarring. “We need you to oversee part of the evacuation plan. Head to the Substation on Miller and 8th, and connect with Lieutenant Cage. You need to brief them and get geared up.”
I liked the sound of ‘Geared up’, and briefing the troops wouldn’t take long. It was a good tactical move, for both myself and Caroline. “Yes, Sir.”
“That’s not the favor. My Daughter, Amy, is working security at the big mall on highland. Between the hospital and the station. She said it’s locked down, only a few people inside. Will you go and get her? Take her to the substation where I know she’ll be safe. I know it’s a risk but,”
“Fuck.” I cursed under my breath, shaking my head as he continued to explain. She was trained he assured. She as smart. I could find her and get out quickly.
“I’ll get her, Captain.” I cursed again, careful not to let the anger flavor my tone, “Do you have contact?” I hated my ever present guilt more than ever, but my mind was made up. I cared about the Captain and his icy professionalism. I had even met Amy, and with as much as I had betrayed him over the years, I couldn’t let his daughter die. Hell, with the world as it was and Caroline right down the road, maybe now was my shot. Get out from under Jay’s thumb and get to end the string of lies, false reports and missing evidence. Today would be my day to be a big fucking hero.
“Not for a few minutes, but she should be right out front the northern most entrance. She’s looks a bit like you, Dark hair, 25 years old, just under 5 foot 5.”
“I remember Amy, Sir.” I answered, “I’ll find her and we’ll call you. Stay safe, Sir.”
“You too Detective. Thank you.”
I clicked back to the primary channel and the chaos continued.
I pulled in and was halted by the rush of fleeing vehicles. I laid on the horn and the sea parted, the lights in the grill spurring on a hint of civility from the panicked masses. The Northern doors were locked down, alright. A gigantic armored car with the talon logo parked along the entire length of them, its hulking steel body blocking any and all view I would have inside. I parked the jeep behind it and stepped out, slinging the AR over my shoulder and carefully studying any person that dared to move in my direction. I slid between the doors and the rig, watching its assumed sole occupant in his side mirror. He was dark haired and nearly 30, his Talon uniform buttoned to his collar and his radio held to his mouth. His eyes scanned the inside of the mall with such intensity, he didn’t notice me until I tapped my badge against the window. He jumped and swung around in his seat, studying me for a long moment through the window before deciding to open the door.
“I’m Detective Clara Chase. What’s going on,” I glanced at his lapel, the name ‘Sperazzo’ embroidered in bold white lettering.
“Mitch.” He offered before I finished, “My guys went in 30 minutes ago with a security guard and I can’t get them on the radio. Pulled up to keep things blocked and get a better look. These guys are on time, Detective, they should be back. I need to get in there.”
“Security guard?” I asked, fearing the response. “What did they look like?”
“You miss the part about my guys being gone?” He asked sarcastically before mumbling an apology, “She’s about your age, little shorter than you, dark hair, authoritative.”
“Fuck.” I stepped to the glass door, peering into the empty mall. “How many rounds do you have Mitch?” I asked.
“The glock holds 17, so that plus an extra magazine.” He answered.
“Alright, let’s go get your friends.”
He locked the truck, and with the steely resolve of a man on a mission, he lead the way to the door through which Amy and the guards had passed. “Stay on my side,” I began, rolling my shoulders to release the building tension, “and if you see someone with blood around their mouth, don’t hesitate to shoot.”
He stopped and turned, his eyes wide. “What?”
“The Zekes, er biters, whatever you want to call them. They are dangerous. Keep an eye out and if they advance on you at all, shoot them. Conserve your ammo and make your shots count.”
“Uh, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck.
“You up for this, Mitch?” I asked, softening my tone, “You don’t need to come, but I’d appreciate the cover.”
His resolve strengthened, as most men’s did when a woman offered to carry the burden of a task as dangerous as this one. “I’m not leaving Jack and Terry to die. No fucking way. Let’s go.”
I nodded, pressing my shoulder into the doorway and proceeding into the open entryway. He did as he was instructed, demonstrating Talon’s effective training in his familiarity with the movement. I could breathe a little easier.
We moved slowly and silently toward the back office, guns scanning gracefully as we searched. Gunshots rang off the walls and we hurried our pace. With each step the sound of the Zekes grew louder, my conscious mind stifling any overwhelming fear in favor of the sharpened autopilot I had perfected over the years. I paused, the adrenaline still alive in my veins, and searched for a way out of the main hall.
Crack. A person, or what had once been a person, landed on the ground a hundred yards up, splattering onto the tile. We could see the shape of a man, tall and broad, on the third level, a wave of Zekes closing in. The terror I had felt at the hospital crept up again, but the training was enough to stifle my immediate urge to run.
“Jack!” Mitch whispered, pointing furiously to his friend. “We gotta get up there.”
‘No’ I wanted to argue, gesturing toward the mass of enemies closing in, but where there was Jack there would likely be Amy, and that in itself made the choice for me. The stairs to our left were empty, and with a slight hesitation being my only protest, I followed Mitch up them two at a time. We watched the metal grate slide into its locked position over the electronics’ shop doors, the gurgled screeching of the mass of monsters escalating as they slammed in vain against the new obstacle. I grabbed Mitch by the arm and slid into the store beside us, locking the door.
“What are you doing?” He asked, his expression seemingly torn between anger and panic.
“The stores are connected through the back doors on the upper levels.” I answered, pausing only long enough to know he was keeping his head before sliding through the employee doors and into an unoccupied hallway. A few doors down and we would be behind that steel gate and alongside Jack.
A quick kick and the electronics shop employee door was no longer locked. I slipped in first, scanning the small break room situated at the back of the shop. “Jack!” I whispered. Nothing.
“Cover the door,” I ordered, “I’ll get him.”
I moved slowly into the storefront as the gate began to split, the long reaching arms of the horde grasping. I watched the black uniform sleeve raise a pistol, bypassing the group to settle against his head.
“Jack!” I hollered, popping a few rounds into the mass of Zeke’s and sliding into a sitting position beside him. “Knock that shit off, we’re leaving.”
The pistol dropped to his side, the brim of a talon hat preceding the wide eyed glance from the guard. Without a moment of hesitation, Jack found his feet and helped me to mine, his pistol slipping into his holster again. Keeping to my shoulder with the same military training Mitch had displayed, we quickly made our way back to the break room, the employee door locking between us and the horde.
With the sight of his friend still guarding the back door, Jack broke away from his place beside me to lay a hand on his buddy’s shoulder. “Man I am glad to see you.”
Mitch glanced over and grinned, “Me too, brother. Where’s Terry?”
Jack’s expression darkened. “Dead.”
“And Amy?” I followed up. Jack knit his brow, more out of confusion than pity. “The security guard.” I clarified.
Now the expression was pity, “You didn’t see her?” He asked.
I paused, my stomach tightening in anticipation of the inevitable blow. “Where?”
“In the group.” He pointed to the door that concealed the Zekes. “She…..turned. I’m sorry.”
I balled my fists a moment, before taking in a deliberate breath. “Then let’s go.”