Diseased

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Maya Fredrickson's mother is dying. The MRA is hoarding all the medicine. It's not stealing if it belongs to you.

Submitted: March 11, 2017

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Submitted: March 11, 2017

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When I was younger, my father told me stories of a time when there were medicines that could cure diseases as bad as meningitis, to the common cold. In this day and age, if you get a cold you could die. Even as soon as a day. We don’t really worry about catching a cold much though. Our real concern is with zerdren, a disease that attacks the vital organs and red blood cells. It spreads through touch and exposure; you hold someone’s hand, then wipe your nose, it’s already in your system. Someone sneezes on you, you might as well give up now.

My mother was helping the Nelsons, that’s how she got infected. My mother knew how to make herbal medicines, so she was kind of like the doctor where we lived. Their daughter Hannah was at the fourth stage. After they started bleeding, her organs stopped working one by one; that’s stage three, internal bleeding. There’s usually a lot of pain involved with that one. My mother was trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Death is inevitable when it comes zerdren. Sorry . . . that sounds really morbid. But I’m not one to sugarcoat anything, so I guess you’ll have to get used to the way I tell things.

My mother was over there almost 24/7. She’d come home exhausted, looking like a wilted flower. There was one day in particular where she looked especially drained. I went to give her a hug and she yelled at me. “Don’t come near me!” she yelled.

I asked her what was wrong. There was this look of despair on her face. “Maya . . . could you please tell your father and brother to come in here please.”

I was confused, but did as she asked. My father and brother, Peyton, were working in the garage on an old car they had found on the outskirts of the city. It didn’t have an engine, and it was rusted in many places, but they were determined to fix it up. On our side of town, the Calha, which means gutter, if you had a vehicle, you were considered rich.

She told us to sit down, then positioned a chair so that she was several feet away. She leaned forward and rested her chin in her hand. Taking a deep breath, she said the words that would change our family forever. “Something’s happened,” she said. She was shaking and she looked scared. “I was caring for the Nelson girl and . . .” she trailed off.

“Mom what’s going on?” Peyton asked. I glanced over at him, and beneath the calm I could see that he was starting to get scared.

My mother looked at him and I could tell she was trying not to cry. She took a shaky breath. “I don’t know what caused it. I think blood must’ve started to leak into her lungs. When I tried to give her water she’d just cough it right back up.” She stopped, as if the next thing she was about to say was painful for her. “I went to give her more water. If they don’t drink the fever drains their bodies of water and they die of dehydration.” The way she was talking it was as if she was speaking to herself. She wasn’t looking at us anymore; her eyes were focused on a spot on the wall. “She coughed it up like always. Only this time it didn’t stop. She just kept coughing and coughing. She was making this gurgling sound, like her lungs were filling up with water. I didn’t know what to do; this had never happened before. I got a towel and was going to wipe her mouth when . . .”

This time I asked. “What happened mama?”

She leaned back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling. Her voice was quiet so we barely heard her. But the words rang loud and clear. “Blood went everywhere. It spewed out of her mouth. It got on the bedspread and the wall.” She shook her head, the tears finally coming. “It went all over my face. I don’t even think she realized she had done it. She got quiet after that. I wiped my face, then cleaned it off the wall and bedspread. I covered her up, made sure she was breathing okay, and then I left. I didn’t feel any different than when I arrived, but I suppose your body can’t tell when you’re going to die.”

My father had his head in his hands. Peyton pressed his fist to his mouth in an effort not to cry. Sometimes I wonder if his reaction was his way of being strong. Because my brother never cried. When our dog Charlie got run over, he didn’t shed a tear. When he fell fifteen feet out of a tree and cracked three ribs, he acted like it was nothing. To me he was this big knight who was never scared.

I stood, and for the first time in my seventeen years, fainted.

For the first week, she didn’t show any symptoms. But by then we already had a plan. We told her boss at the office where she worked that she wouldn’t be coming in. Indefinitely. He didn’t ask any questions; he’d gotten that letter before. We fixed up the master bedroom as a hospital room. Peyton and I were only allowed in if we were covered from head to toe and had our masks on.

We were preparing ourselves for the outcome.

 

When I was fourteen, I started working at the factory that processed the fuore, the power source for the cupo, a motorized creature with the shape of a wolf and a griffin, minus the wings. Only the vagcus could own them since they were the elite combat force. They were the ones who kept things in order. There was a draft every three months, where they would examine all eligible males over the age of sixteen. If they passed they were taken to a training camp that specialized in weapon based and non-weapon based martial arts. They were injected with synthamil, a steroid that increased their muscular capacity. Two months of training and injections and they were a deadly weapon. They never returned to their families. They were always sent somewhere else where they were needed.

Back to my job. I worked on the conveyer belt, making sure the fuore weren’t defected; I made sure they weren’t dented or missing a part. I worked alongside my friend Max. We were about the same age and had known each other since we were children. I wasn’t very good at making friends, but Max was able to get past my layers and see inside.

I worked from six in the morning, to six in the evening, every day. I was bone tired every night, and usually didn’t have time for anything but sleep. I still managed to cook dinner for me, my father, and Peyton every evening no matter how tired I was; my mother couldn’t eat anything except broth so I didn’t bother trying to get her to eat. It was usually some sort of stew, because since we lived in Calha, we were existentially poor. You could tell where someone lived by their clothes. Calha was deep browns, sturdy material for working long hours in the factories. Merköp, where a lot of the merchants lived, wore mostly dark reds, normally tunics and knee high boots. Botemae was a lot of builders and architects that helped to try and restore the city; they wore varying shades of gray, didn’t wear anything but cotton. Vikrage housed the white collar citizens, the scientists and government officials. They wore white, expensive material, fancy wears. We were separated, and we wore our labels with pride. Most of the time.

Since there weren’t any medicines left—they had all been destroyed in the war—a lot of people were dying. The government was in disarray and people were in a panic. One man rose up from the ashes and took charge over everything. Jedidiah Buboe. We were in such need for a leader that anyone would have been good. He looked for the smartest minds he could find and set them to work to reviving the medicines that were lost. And thus the Medicine Revival Association came to be. They had already revived over fifty different medicines. The only problem was that one pill costed half a year’s salary, so the rest of us were left out to dry. The rest of us were forced to build an immune system capable of fighting off the diseases that plagued the city. We built a higher tolerance for the flu, and earaches, and chickenpox, and diseases as bad as tuberculosis.

The one thing we couldn’t fight against was killing thousands.

 

No matter where you live there are always rules that are to be followed. They’re usually easy to remember, so you don’t do anything stupid. The rules of the city were everywhere, on electronic billboards near the factory where I worked, hung on the windows of small restaurants, plastered in every school classroom.

  1. Curfew is ten o’clock; any citizen caught outside their home after curfew shall be released from the city

  2. All power is to be shut off by six p.m. to conserve electricity

  3. All citizens are expected to donate a pint of blood every month to the MRA in contribution to the medical revitalization

  4. All citizens shall work seven days every week

  5. Teens are expected to start working at the age of fourteen unless the family is able to claim tax exemption

  6. No citizen shall exit the city for any reason

  7. All infected must be quarantined upon signs of symptoms

 

There was a hologrammed woman in the city square that sold the rules like they were candy. Remember, curfew is ten o’clock; don’t forget to make your monthly blood donation; working means that you’re free. Max made it a point to walk straight through her every time we passed through the square.

The thing about Max was, he didn’t know how to keep quiet about his opinions. About the government mostly. He really didn’t like how Jedidiah ran things. He hated that he was poor and had to work in a factory. He hated that each family only got a certain amount of rations by the number of members. He hated how so many of us were dying from a disease that the MRA should’ve had a cure for by now. And he voiced it many times. Most of the time it was when he and I were alone and out of public eye. But there were times when he couldn’t help himself and voiced it to a merchant or a restaurant owner, or even an MRA scientist. He had almost gotten himself arrested many times.

The day I met Max was not one a pleasant one. I was about nine years old, and I unfortunately didn’t understand why I was never full after meals. That night there hadn’t been enough food for a dinner so my mother hadn’t even bothered to fix anything. I was too upset to stay in the house so I decided to take a walk. My growling stomach took me by a nearby bakery with its cakes and pastries sitting in the windows. I had a hairpin that I always carried around in my pocket. I pulled it out, and started working the door knob. I was so hungry and it all looked so good sitting in the window that I would’ve stayed there all night if it meant I got to eat some cake.

I don’t how long he stood there and watched me. I was so focused on the task at hand that I didn’t notice him.

“You’re doing it wrong.”

I jumped and whipped around. He was leaning casually against the wall, like we weren’t doing anything illegal being out that late. “Says who?” I asked snippily.

“Says everyone.” From his coat pocket he pulled an elaborate tool equipped with blades and screwdrivers and all sorts of hidden secrets. He nudged me aside, and picked up where I left off. It took him all of thirty seconds to get it unlocked. The smell hit me in the face with the rush of air. Involuntarily my stomach growled and my feet stepped forward of their own accord.

That night we stuffed our faces full of pastries, and pies, and cakes until we were bloated and felt like we were going to throw up. After that Max and I were best friends and spent our time breaking into places. We became very skilled at it, not to brag.

 

As far as the infection went, my mother was surprisingly strong compared to others. The process was very slow, and sometimes there were days where it was like she wasn’t even sick. But then all of a sudden everything hit the fan and the haze lifted. She hit stage three; her screams of pain filled our house so that none of us could sleep. The first two stages were almost pleasant. First there was the fever that was so high we had to keep ice in the room to cover her with. Next she developed these blotches on her skin that itched like crazy. They were the result of the disease attacking her red blood cells. By the time she hit stage three she had stopped trying to make the best of things. I tried everything I could to alleviate her pain, but there really was nothing that would help. I cried a lot when I was with Max, and he always listened carefully. He always gave me a shoulder to lean on.

When he planted the idea in my head I laughed at the absurdity of it. But then I realized that it wasn’t as stupid as I’d thought. It was a way for my mother to suffer less. He got right down to it. There was no introduction or thesis, he just came right out and said it.

“What do you think the odds are of us being able to break into an MRA research facility?” he asked thoughtfully.

We were sitting by the small stream we’d found a few years back, nibbling on slices of banana bread. It was our little place of solitude, the place where we could say what we wanted without worrying about being arrested. “I don’t know,” I said between bites. “The likelihood of us getting past the guards and the security systems is slim to none and even then, we could still be caught. Why do you ask?”

At first he didn’t answer. I glanced over at him and he looked thoughtful, like he was planning something he shouldn’t. “Max?”

He grinned maniacally. “I was just thinking we could pay the o’l scientists a visit.”

It took a second for my mind to fully comprehend what he said. Then I exploded. “Are you crazy? We’d be arrested. No scratch that; they’d kill us. Are you seriously that stupid?”

“Your mom is stage three,” he said, like that answered everything.

I swallowed. “What has that got to do with anything?” I asked quietly.

He looked out at the surrounding woods. “Way I figure it, there’s gotta be something in there that can help her. Some pain pills. Heck. Maybe they’ve even got a cure stashed up in there.” He sighed. “That’d be the day.”

I still couldn’t believe he was actually saying this. It was absolutely ludicrous, and yet in the back of my mind I thought, What if?

“Who knows,” Max said evenly. “Maybe we won’t find anything and they’ll shoot us dead. One less person to get infected.”

I recoiled. He’d never talked like that before. So flippantly about the possibility of death. “Max are you serious about this?”

He fixed bright green eyes on me. “As a heart attack.”

I let out a breath, rested my chin in my hand. I watched the steady flow of the stream, how the water seemed to glisten like a bright star. This little bit of beauty in an otherwise hostile world. I closed my eyes and imagined my mother, healthy, alive, cooking dinner in our small kitchen, loose pieces of hair falling out of her braid. And my choice was made. “Alright.” My words were muffled by my hand.

“What?”

I opened my eyes. A smile spread across my face. “Let’s do it.”

 

There were two guards stationed at the door, the huge rifles in their hands making it glaringly obvious they wouldn’t just let us waltz in. Max and I were crouched behind a dumpster a few yards away. “So what’s your plan?” I asked. I was trying to keep my breathing under control but there was so much adrenaline pumping through me that it sounded like someone was punching the inside of my lungs.

Max looked as excited as I felt. “Once we get through this door we’ll have to maneuver through several hallways till we reach the pharmaceutical containment room. That’s where they keep all the medicines. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of obstacles on the way, but nothing we can’t handle.” The map he held just looked like a bunch of lines and scribbles to me.

“Sounds simple enough,” I said. “How do we get in?”

He turned to me with a grin. “How good are you at being infected?”

 

I took a deep breath, then glanced at Max. He gave me the signal to start walking. I tried to be as casual as possible as I walked toward the guards. Max made the sign for coughing. I started coughing into my fist, and it sounded like I was hacking up a lung. As I got closer to the guards I whimpered, “Can you help me?”

They looked alarmed, which felt satisfying. They started walking toward me. The small packet Max had given me was clutched in my fist. All you have to do is squeeze really hard, he’d said. Once it comes in contact with your saliva it expands and all you have to do is spit it out. I crushed it in my hands at the same time I raised it to my mouth. The powder went into my mouth and immediately turned to liquid, and boy did it taste terrible. My gag reflex kicked in and the stuff was sent flying out of my mouth onto the ground.

They jumped back. “Holy-,” one of the guards said. “Infected.” He raised his gun, but by then I was close enough to him. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Max go for the other guy. I smiled and it momentarily threw the guard off. I rammed my knee into his groin and wrenched the gun out of his hands. “Surprise,” I said. And I knocked him in the head with the butt of the gun.

Max stood from his crouched position over his guard and smiled. “Nice work.”

We dragged each guard to the little corner by the door. It kept them hidden well enough in the dark. Max plucked a card from one of the guard’s belts. “Thank you,” he said, his voice vaguely chipper.

He swiped the card through the security scanner and the door popped open with a clang. “See?” he said, looking at me. “Piece of cake.” He stepped through first. I looked behind us to make sure no one was watching, then stepped in after him.

It was surprisingly dark for something meant for science. And it didn’t smell as sterile as I’d thought. It smelled more like an old library than anything else. And it was quiet too, but it was an eerie kind of quiet; it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Right as I stepped through the door I met the hard muscles of Max’s back. “Max?” I whispered. “What are you doing?”

I stepped around him and saw what had made him stop. Red lights stretched across the expanse of the hall, going in all directions so that even if we could step through without alerting the security system, it would be very difficult. At the end there was a switch, which probably turned them off. The MRA sure was thorough when it came to security. “What do we do?”

“I’m working on it,” he said. Patience was never my virtue, but I resisted the urge to ask again. “Alright, I’m gonna maneuver through this. Just follow my lead and try not to touch the lights.”

“No I figured I’d take a swipe at ‘em just to see if anything happened,” I said sarcastically.

“Now is not the time for sarcastic answers.” Max slipped the strap of the gun over his head, tightening it on his back. I did the same, then he took a step forward.

For the first few steps we were doing pretty well. But then I lost my balance and almost fell, nearly touching a light in the process. Max steadied me; we waited a few heartbeats before continuing. It was meticulous work, and I was so worried about touching a light that by the time we were done I was sweating bullets. I leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. Max flipped the switch and the lights went dead. “You good?” Max asked.

I nodded.

We continued on, Max leading the way. I mentally prepared myself for the next obstacle, hoping that it wasn’t more stupid lights.

It was more stupid lights, only more elaborate and closer together. I mentally groaned, then followed Max as he maneuvered through the new set of lights. I was even more nervous the second time around, because no matter where I moved I was one inch away from touching a light. It took even longer than the first, and by the time we were done I was letting loose every curse word I knew, quietly of course; wouldn’t want to alert anyone of our existence. Max flipped the switch and the lights went dead like before. I stretched my limbs, which had been bent at awkward positions for who knows how long, and wiped a hand across my forehead. I was burning up and was dying for some water. But I knew we had to keep moving if we had any chance of reaching our goal. Those pain pills had better be worth it.

The gun was heavy on my back, but I knew that if I loosened it the least little bit it would end up hitting something or triggering an alarm, so I begrudgingly kept it strapped tight.

We didn’t see any more lights, so that was a good sign. I was prepared to just walk right through, but then I noticed a shimmer out of the corner of my eye. If you looked at it directly you didn’t notice anything. I placed a hand on Max’s arm to get him to stop.

“What?” he whispered.

I held up a finger, then pulled the extra packet of powder out of my pocket. I tossed it gingerly to where the shimmer was. It landed on the floor and was electrocuted to a pile of ashes. Max gulped. I exhaled through my nose.

Frowning, I moved a few paces left. The shimmer connected to another shimmer, which connected to another, and another, all the way down the hall. There were some on the floor as well, to make it even more difficult.  At the end there was a switch like the other halls. All I had to do was get down there.

At second glance I noticed there were holes every few feet, where the shimmers didn’t connect. That just might be my way across, I thought to myself. They were specifically placed, so each step and movement would have to be just right. Without a backward glance I launched myself into the danger.

When you’re a thief, you learn how to maneuver the dirty streets of the city. You become limber, and flexible, and are able to escape easily. I’d never had to use all my resources before, so it was a workout getting across to the other side. I knew that if I stopped it would be the end for me, so I kept pushing forward, nimbly maneuvering through the death trap. I was sweating and breathing hard as I jumped through the last hole. With a triumphant smile I flipped the switch and Max came walking through unharmed.

“That was awesome,” he whispered, giving me a high five.

Then we continued on our way. I was exhausted, and I could tell Max was starting to wilt as well. But when you live in Calha, you learn to ignore the way your muscles ache and the sound of your stomach growling. You push through to the other side.

For a few minutes there was nothing but hall in front of us. We turned corner after corner and nothing. I became more relaxed, thinking the worst of it was behind us. I started thinking of how my mother would feel when she got the pain pills in her system. How she would be able to sleep for the first time in weeks. I was so lost in thought that I almost walked right into the line of sight of a guard. Max jerked me back and we pressed up against a wall. Max looked around the corner. I could hear him swearing under his breath.

“Alright, there’s about four guards,” he whispered. “If we time it right we can take them all out without being seen.”

It was way harder than he put it. We were able to strangle one guard to where he passed out before the others noticed. Then it turned into mortal combat. I punched one guard in the nose and heard the satisfying crack of bone. He went down clutching his nose, and passed out a few seconds later. Then one grabbed me from behind and started choking the life out of me.

I didn't know where Max was but it sounded like someone was getting kicked to death. I couldn’t tell who. I was starting to see spots and my mind was going fuzzy. The guard’s grip was tight and no matter how much I clawed at him it didn’t loosen. I was starting to realize that he was going to kill me and my life flashed before my eyes. I imagined how my father and Peyton would start looking for me, only they would never find me. I would never get to see my mother die. I’d never get to say goodbye.

The guard’s arms loosened and I fell to the floor. I started coughing and gasping for breath. My throat burned with such intensity that I started tearing up. Max wrapped his arms around me and I cried into his chest. He rocked me back and forth. “You’re okay,” he whispered. “You’re okay.” We stayed like that for five minutes, Max rocking me, me crying like a baby. I was too scared to be embarrassed.

Once I calmed down Max helped me stand. I wiped my eyes and gave a small smile.

“You okay?” he asked.

I nodded and we started walking.

Max kept glancing over at me every few minutes, this concerned look on his face. After the tenth time I said, “Max, I’m fine. Quit worrying.”

“It’s my job to worry.”

I looked at him with a frown. He stared straight ahead, not looking my way. I wondered what made him say that. Maybe it was just his way of saying he had my back. Yeah, that was it. He definitely saved me from dying; a friend would do that. A friend would worry.

I started to relax as we continued walking. We didn’t see any more guards, which was a huge relief. I refused to get choked again by some loser guard.

 

We reached the containment room after a half hour of walking. Max used the card on the lock. The door opened with a click, and cold air rushed out of the room. We stepped through and the sight of what was inside took my breath away. Bottles upon bottles of medicines in containment freezers stared back at us. For a moment I was too dumbstruck to move. Max smiled, like the cat who ate the canary. “Bingo.”

He started opening the freezer doors. Out of his coat he pulled a pillow case. He grabbed a bottle. “Oh, look, Tylenol.” He threw it into the open pillowcase and grabbed another bottle. “Ativan.” Another bottle. “Lexapro, Amoxicillin, Codeine, Adderall–”

“Max,” I interrupted. Even after almost getting killed my conscience was still in operation.  

He looked over at me. “What?”

I swallowed and let out a breath. “This is stealing.”

He scoffed, frowning. “We’ve stolen things thousands of times.”

“Petty things,” I said. “We haven’t stolen from the MRA.”

His face was blank. “Watch closely.” He grabbed another bottle. “You take the bottle from the freezer,” he dropped it in the pillowcase, “And you put it in the bag. Doesn’t get any simpler than that.

I bit my lip and looked at the rows of medicines.

“Maya,” Max said. His voice forced me to look at him. “This is going to help her.”

I took another glance at the freezers. Then I stepped forward, grabbed a bottle, and dropped it into the pillowcase. He smiled. “Atta girl.”

Five minutes later we had cleared everything out. We turned around to leave and a man in a white lab coat was blocking the door. He didn’t look mad. In fact, he didn’t seem surprised to see us. “Well,” he said. “Always thought it would happen one day.”

I was frozen. “We can put it back.”

Max looked over at me sharply.

“No, no. It’s alright,” he said. “It’s supposed to be yours anyway.” He had a strange smile on his face. “I’ve been telling them that the people weren’t going to take it anymore. I told them to give it to them. People aren’t immune to disease, after all.”

I looked from Max to the man. He was just rambling on. It was as if we weren’t even there.

“They never listen to me. When I suggested lowering the price for medicines, they wouldn’t do it. I even tried giving it to people for free but they nipped that in the bud real quick.” He sighed. “I’ve never felt comfortable with what I do. Reviving lost medicines and just hoarding them. Never giving them to those who need it. People are dying and we’re just keeping it for ourselves.”

He was starting to make me nervous the way he was talking. I would’ve just walked right out the door if he hadn’t been effectively blocking it. “But now,” he looked at us, “I can set things right.”

I was shaking. He sounded like he had more than a few screws loose.

Muffled words came from the earpiece in his ear. “What?”

“Citizens are in front of the building! They’re throwing things! Look on your communicator!”

The man pulled a small rectangular item out of his pocket and connected it to the monitor in the room. On the screen people were throwing food and who knows what else at the building. They kept screaming, “We need medicine!” over and over. The man turned to us. “Hurry. You must get out of here.”

“Wait, you’re not going to turn us in?” I asked.

Instead of answering me the man walked over to a portion of empty wall and pressed his hand up against it. The wall gave way and opened to reveal another hidden freezer. He reached inside and pulled out a small object that had the shape of a gun but much smaller. Max and I exchanged a glance. The man opened the door and looked out in the hall. “Alright, it’s clear. You won’t be able to get out the way you came. Take a left once you reach the end of this hall and keep going until you reach double doors with the words revival processing. That’ll be your way out.”

He ushered us out, but stopped me at the door. He looked from me to the screen where people were still throwing things. Then he pressed the end of the “gun” against my arm, and a sharp pain ran down the length of it at the same time that a pop rang out in the air. I clutched my arm and looked at him in shock. He shoved me into the hall and slammed the door shut. And all I could do was run.

 

Max took a sharp turn right.

I was still clutching my arm. “Max, he said left!”

“You think I’m gonna listen to that wackjob? He’s probably sending us to our deaths.”

He did make a valid point. And my arm hurt too much for me to argue. So I just followed him to wherever he was running to.

At first the sound of gunfire confused me. It was a strange sound, one that didn’t belong in the air. We crouched behind a reception desk and Max pulled the gun off his back. He raised it up and sent shots flying out to wherever the other people with guns were. I stared at him with wide eyes before doing the same. Glass was shattering and there were a few groans from guards where bullets had met their target. It was so loud, but I couldn’t hear anything except the sound of the blood rushing in my ears. After what seemed like ages we finally ran out of bullets. We threw them to the side and crouched under the desk. The guards were still shooting at us. The desk wasn’t going to protect us forever. We needed to get out of there and quick.

The next few minutes were a blur. We were running, to where I didn’t know. We ended up outside, but I didn’t remember getting there. I noticed that the bag of medicines was nowhere in sight. Great, just great. All that trouble for nothing.

I recognized the sleek shape of a cupo. Max jumped onto the seat and revved it up. “Get on Maya!” I listened, sliding behind him. Both my arms were throbbing like crazy so it was difficult to hold onto him. We were going a thousand miles an hour which made it even more difficult. I could see why they didn’t give the cupo to just anybody. You could never catch them as long as they were moving.

We rode for a while, passing Vikrage, and Botemae, and Merköp, and even Calha, till we were on the outskirts of populated houses. “We shouldn’t be this far out!” I yelled above the noise of the cupo.

“I know a place where we can hide!”

Five minutes later Max slowed down in front of a worn building that looked like it was about to tumble to the ground. He cut the power and slid off the cupo. I followed suit, my arms burning with a vengeance. He walked around to the side where there was a small door. Using his body weight, he rammed against the door till it opened, sending dust flying. It was dark inside and it smelled mildewy. I coughed and the sound echoed in the room. Max lit a candle, then another, till there was enough light to see. Strange contraptions sat on the floor, dust gathering on the metal. Work tables and shelves lined the wall; a cupo sat in the corner, or at least what was left of one since much of it had been taken apart.

It looked like a workshop of sorts. “How did you know about this place?” I asked.

“A friend of mine, Bill, used to bring me here. He taught me how to fix stuff.”

Both my arms were throbbing. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been here for a while,” I observed.

Max chuckled. “Yeah. Bill kinda checked out.”

I didn’t ask what that meant. I sucked a breath in through my teeth. “My arm is on fire.”

Max came over to where I was standing. “Which one?”

I showed him my left, the one that was hurting the most. He took it in his hands and I hissed. He gentled his touch. The sharp intake of breath had me alarmed.

“What is it?”

He exhaled. “Oh, good. It just grazed you.”

I took a glance at my arm. “I was shot,” I said dumbly.

He laughed lightly. “Just a little bit.”

He made me sit down, then started rummaging for something. He came up with two bottles of amber liquid. He knelt down in front of me and offered one of the bottles to me. “Here, drink this. It’ll help numb the pain.”

It smelled terrible but I did as he said. It burned as it went down my throat and I started coughing. I took another sip at Max’s insistence and it was easier going down than before.

Max pulled a rag out of his pocket, dabbed a few drops of the liquid onto it and said, “Now this is gonna sting. Bite down on your shirtsleeve.” He pressed it to my arm and I let out a scream before I remembered to bite down on my sleeve. I squeezed my eyes shut and focused on my breathing. At the sound of fabric ripping I opened them. Max had torn a strip of his shirt off. “I have to stop the blood flow. It’ll have to be pretty tight.”

And tight it was. “There,” he said. “I think that should be good for now.”

I closed my eyes and took slow measured breaths. “Max, I gotta tell you something.”

“What?”

“The man–the scientist; he injected me with something. I don’t know what, but it . . .”

Max was quiet. I opened my eyes and looked at him. He gave me a smile, but it looked pained. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” he said quietly.

I bit my lip to keep from crying. “Am I gonna die?”

“No,” he said firmly. “I won’t let that happen.” I swallowed, and gave him a small smile. He sat down beside me and put an arm around me, resting his chin on my head. “We’ll be okay,” he whispered.

I felt comforted by his touch, but also a little uncomfortable. Max wasn’t much on affection, not even with his family, so it was a rare thing for him to hug anyone. He must have been pretty upset. As we sat there, a memory came to my mind, one that had been buried for a while.

Shortly after I started working at the factory, one of the engineers who worked to keep the machines running took an interest in me. I wouldn’t have been bothered by it, if he wasn’t twenty years older than me. That, paired with the fact that his breath always smelled like beer and potatoes, was enough to make me more than a little creeped out. For a while, all he did was stare at me; he wasn’t subtle about it whatsoever. My skin always felt like it was crawling with ants and the hairs on the back of my neck would stand on end when he was near. I didn’t say anything to Max, because I knew that he’d overreact and get himself in trouble. I was dumb enough to think that nothing would come of it.

He was smarter than he looked. He chose his opportunity to strike while I was in the bathroom, alone. He nearly gave me a heartattack when I saw him standing behind me in the mirror. He had this creepy smile on his face, and before I could blink he had me pinned against the wall, and was shoving his tongue down my throat. He tasted as bad as he smelled. His beard stubble was scratching my face and he was making me gag. I was frozen to the spot; my arms wouldn’t move, they wouldn’t push him away. Then he was suddenly pulled back and I fell to the floor and watched as Max pounded his face in. Even after he was unconscious he continued to punch him. When I came to my senses I pulled him off him and we fled from the bathroom. He was still lying there unconscious.

It was like Max knew that something wasn’t right and had come looking for me. Maybe it was because we were so close. My mother used to say we could read each other's minds. We were always in tune with each other, always knew what was going on in each other's heads. Maybe that’s what made us such a good team.

 

I downed the fourth bottle with one last gulp and let it fall from my fingers. I giggled. “Why haven’t I tried this before?”

Max was at the work table, tinkering on something. “Because this is the result.”

I giggled again. “Well I don’t feel a thing.”

He smiled. “Guess that’s the good thing then.”

I opened another bottle and took a sip. I barely noticed the burning now.

“Hey, Maya?”

“Hm?” I tittered.

“I probably wouldn’t say this if you were sober. And maybe that makes me a dickhead.  But um . . . I like you. More than that. I’ve loved you since the day I met you. And almost getting killed made me realize that I should have told you sooner than now.”

Despite the haziness, I heard his words loud and clear. I couldn’t respond. Max continued talking. “I feel so stupid. Putting you in danger like this. I could’ve gone by myself and you wouldn’t be shot and injected with some weird science mojo. I don’t know. It’s all so strange.”

I took a giant gulp from the bottle. There was no way I was hearing what I was hearing. It was just the shock talking. Being shot and injected with some unknown medicine could send a person into shock. Max certainly wasn’t confessing his undying love for me while I was incapacitated. No, that would never happen. And it certainly wasn’t happening now.

 

They were shooting at the building. I could tell by the way the bullets lodged in the wood and the way my ears were ringing. I was slowly starting to wake up. Then the reality of what was happening hit me in the face and I started to panic.

I screamed, even though it hurt my head. Bullets flew all around us. I continued to scream as Max pulled me along with him, out of the building and through the alley behind it. We ran like our lives depended on it; and it kind of did. Shots continued to fire, charging the air with a certain electricity. My breathing was labored but I continued to run, determined to escape. My lungs burned, and my legs burned, and my arms burned, and pretty much every other appendage and organ burned. I’d never had to run like this before and it was definitely starting to show.

We ran until we couldn’t put one foot in front of the other. We stood in front of a large building; it looked simple enough, but it seemed to hold many secrets. There weren’t any immediate entry points. No doors. But there were windows; they just were really high up. The lowest was about twenty feet off the ground. “Do you think you could lift me up that high?” I asked.

Max surveyed the distance. “Only one way to find out.” He stood directly under the window and cupped his hands. I placed my foot as lightly as I could, and he pushed me up. My fingers skimmed the edge. “A little more.” Even though he had long arms Max could only stretch so far. I pulled myself up, ignoring the pain in my arm and yanked the window up. It wasn’t locked, which was a relief. “I’m gonna look for some rope to pull you up.”

I climbed through, and right in front of me on one of those tall metal shelves was a pile of rope. “What do you know, guess there is such thing as luck.”

Minutes later we were both standing on the metal shelf. The room was huge, and was strategically messy to make it seem like no one had been in it for a while. There were machines along the wall, definitely not MRA built by the looks of them. They looked old, maybe even before the war.

Max jumped down first. I guess he triggered some sort of booby trap because as soon as his feet touched the floor he was flipped and dragged, a rope attached to one of his feet. He hung upside down in the middle of the room, swinging back and forth. “Max!” I jumped down and quickly ran to where he was hanging. “Hold on, I’ll try to cut you loose.”

“Don’t mind me, I’m just hanging upside down.”

I searched for something sharp, but there wasn’t anything that would come close to being able to cut the rope. We couldn’t catch a break.

It was so silent that at first I didn’t notice the dart lodged in my leg; I hadn’t even heard it. I wobbled on my feet. It felt like there was cement attached to my whole body. I could hear Max saying my name, but his voice sounded far away.

With a thud I fell to the ground, unable to stay on my feet any longer. The darkness came seconds later, and my mind drifted into nothingness.

 

The smell of food woke me. At first I thought I was at home and had taken a nap before dinner like I sometimes did, because it smelled like my mother’s beef stew. When I opened my eyes it wasn’t my mother at the stove, but a man that I’d never seen before. He looked rugged, like a woodsman. His face was stern, and had this don’t-mess-with-me look about him. He kind of looked like the eccentric uncle that always wreaked havoc at the family reunion.

It took me a second to realize I was tied to a chair and my mouth was taped shut. Max sat beside me, out cold. The fight or flight instinct kicked in and I had to struggle to keep quiet. Sensing that I was awake, the man turned away from the stove. “Mornin’ sunshine.” His voice was gruff, like I’d suspected. He pulled up a chair and sat directly in front of me. “Here’s how this is gonna go. I ask the questions, you answer the questions. No long speeches, just get to the point. Understand?”

I nodded.

He removed the tape. “Who are you?”

“Does it matter?” Okay, maybe that wasn’t such a smart thing to say.

“What part of I ask the questions you answer the questions did you not get?” he said. “I’ll ask again. Who are you?”

I gritted my teeth. “Maya.”

“Maya what?”

“Maya Fredrickson,” I ground out.

He seemed unfazed by my lacking cooperation. “Alright, Maya Fredrickson, why were you breaking into my home?”

“This piece of crap is your home? And I thought I had it rough.” I just couldn’t seem to help myself.

He grabbed my chin roughly. “Rule number one, don’t test me.” He let go and leaned back.

I swallowed.

A few feet away Max stirred. His eyes widened when he saw the man. The man stood up, walked over to where Max sat, and ripped the tape off his mouth. Max let out a yelp as his mouth was freed. “Who are you? What’s going on?”

“I’m being interrogated,” I said lightly, even though I wanted to punch the crap out of our captor.

The man went back to the stove and stirred the boiling pot of what must have been stew.

“Who’s Bob the woodsman over there?” Max whispered.

I shrugged, but my shoulders only lifted about an inch because I was tied so tight. And I was tense, so that made the ropes even tighter. My stomach growled as I watched the man ladle some stew into a bowl and sat down in the chair in front of me. It smelled amazing, but I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of groveling, so I just stared him down and acted like the tough survivor I wasn’t. He began eating, and we just sort of sat there in silence for a while until he said, “Your faces are all over the city.”

I shared a glance with Max. My heartbeat started racing.

“There’s a big prize on your heads. A thousand dollars,” he said, impressed. “You guys musta done something pretty big to get that much attention.”

I remained silent.

The man chuckled, and pulled out a small rectangular device. My eyes widened. He stood up, walked over to Max, and pressed the device to his neck. “You better not be injecting me with something,” Max warned. The device dinged and the man walked back over to me. He did the same thing, then sat back down in the chair and continued eating. “Should only take a few minutes. Can’t be too careful these days. What with the infection spreading like it is.”

“How did you get an MRA infection scanner?” I asked.

“This is my own design,” he said. “Like to keep one handy when I move around the city.” He slurped the spoon.

What did that mean?

“Who are you?”

He looked up from his bowl. He seemed to be contemplating whether or not to answer. “Webster. Webster Frank.”

“Why did you booby trap your home?”

He laughed, like the idea of setting traps for people was funny. “I don’t take chances, especially when MRA isn’t a big fan of mine. I’m not really a big fan of theirs to tell you the truth.”

I frowned. “So . . . does that mean you won’t turn us in?”

He shook his head, a small smile on his face. “Nah. I figured if you’re wanted by the MRA, you’re not exactly their best friend. Why are they lookin’ for you anyway?” The device dinged again.

“We kind of broke into a research facility and stole a bunch of pills.” I tried to make it sound not so bad, even though it was pretty bad.

“That’s not all you stole,” he breathed. He looked up from the device. “I think we found us a cure.”

 

I looked at the blood samples under the microscope. I’d never seen red blood cells before, but I was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to look like what was under the microscope.

“So what exactly does the Troebev do?” Behind me, Webster and Max were doing a bit of trivia. Mostly it was Max asking a bunch of questions and Webster answering them as best he could.

“They’re a rebel resistance that has worked for years to revive the medicines of the world. Basically they’re the MRA, but without all the corruptness. They give the medicines out to the populace at no price.” The idea sounded like a good one, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. I wondered how long they had been in existence, how long they had been working against the MRA. The way Webster put it, it sounded like they’d been doing it for a while.

“And where are you in all this?”

“I’m the guy that steals the research from the MRA so they can make the medicines,” Webster said. “I’m the burglar.”

“Oh, we’re in league with a fellow thief,” Max said. “Did’ja hear that Maya? How do you get in? Do you have one of those fancy lock picks?”

“Hello,” I interrupted. “We have more important things to talk about than lock picks.”

Max huffed, but I ignored him. “What does this mean for me?” I asked.

“Well,” Webster said. “In the morning, I’ll take the both of you to the Troebev headquarters. They’ll know what to do with all this. Until then, I guess you should just make yourself comfortable.”

My arm had started throbbing with a vengeance. “Before we, uh, get comfy, is there any chance you know how to clean bullet wounds?”

Max practically jumped to where I was standing. He grabbed my arm gingerly. “I almost forgot. How bad does it hurt?”

I pulled my arm free. “I’m fine Max. I just don’t want to get an infection.”

“I think I’ve got some alcohol that should help with that,” Webster said. “Follow me. While I’m doing that why don’t you get some sleep?” I could tell Max wanted to argue, but he kept quiet. Webster pointed him in the direction of the extra bedroom. With one last look in my direction, Max walked in the direction Webster had pointed to.

“You’re friend there sure is a little . . .”

“Paranoid?” I finished.

“Yeah.” He chuckled. “Come on. This way.”

 

The stuff he was using to clean my arm didn’t hurt as much as what Max had used. It stung a little, but it was bearable, and I was able to breathe normally. “So,” I said. “What made you become a rebel?” The question was meant to be funny, but the look on his face was sad instead of amused.

He smiled, but it was sad too. “Uh, well . . . lots of people were getting infected, and I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t even know about the Troebev until a friend of mine let it slip. He kinda had to recruit me after that. I’ve been in it for about eight years now.”

It sounded rehearsed. I could tell because I did that all the time when someone asked how my mom was doing. She’s doing okay. Her temperature went down a little. She was able to eat some soup. We’re all doing fine. “Who were they?” I asked softly.

He smiled, exhaling through his nose. “You don’t miss nothin’ huh?”

I smiled and shook my head.

He sighed. Whatever the answer was must have been something he wanted to forget. “My daughter got infected,” he said.

I swallowed. I felt for him, because I was in the same boat.

“My wife had died of the same thing; that’s how it spread to her.” He chuckled darkly. “Seemed like it took forever for her to die. Five months. That’s unheard of in people infected with zerdren. She laid there and suffered for five months while the MRA had a cure. If I get the chance I’ll blow up every research facility in the city. They don’t deserve to live when my family isn’t.”

I regretted even asking. He was starting to get worked up and was gripping my injured arm to the point that it started going numb. “We’ll make up for all the deaths that have happened. I’m sure the Troebev will be able to replicate the cure and give it to people.”

He chuckled silently. “Yeah. I’m sure they will too.”

 

A bed had never looked so good before in my life. Just one problem; there was only one and Max was already sleeping in it. I debated sleeping on the floor, but then I realized I’d need all the rest I could get, so I wised up, and crawled in beside Max. I tried to keep as much distance between us possible without falling out of the bed, which was the size of a plank. Before, I would have been fine with sharing a bed with Max, since he was my best friend. But now that he’d ‘confessed’ I wasn’t as fine with it. I was as stiff as a board, and couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position. Max stirred and turned over, wrapping his arms around me. There was no way I was sleeping now. He had me trapped in his grip, and I knew that if I tried to get free he would wake up and it would turn awkward, because he’d be embarrassed, and I’d be embarrassed, and neither of us would get any sleep because we’d be too busy trying not to touch each other. So I didn’t move; I just listened to the sound of his breathing, slow and steady, the sign of deep sleep. Max was never one to get a good night sleep. Even with the hours he worked he just was never able to fall asleep quickly. It had to be dead quiet, which was an impossibility, because in Calha, there was always noise. And everyone else in the room had to be asleep before him. The poor guy always looked like a zombie, but he tried to act like it didn’t bother him. That was Max; he tried to act like nothing bothered him.

I wondered what the world had been like before the war. When there were medicines; when people weren’t dying left and right. It must have been amazing, never having to worry if tomorrow you’ll get infected and have to suffer for months just to die. I thought about that a lot to tell you the truth. When you’re poor, and living in a city that’s plagued by a deadly disease, you think about things like that.

Peyton wasn’t as cynical as I was. He always tried to find something good in a bad situation. We’d play this game where I’d give him a situation and he’d describe something good about. The sun beating down on your head, you get a nice tan. Being hungry all the time, you won’t get fat. All the medicines being destroyed . . . that one always stumped him. But he was pretty good at it nevertheless. Only, when our mom got sick, he couldn’t find anything good in that. It made me sad, because he basically turned into me, only worse. We didn’t play that game anymore. He stopped helping dad fix up the car. He became reclusive, shutting himself off from everyone else. He barely went into the room where our mother was dying. He turned into this walking zombie that found the worst in everything.

 

I was getting used to the sound of gunfire. Max didn’t even have to wake me up this time. Webster came running into the room. “We have to go. Now!”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. I jumped from the bed, following him. Max wasn’t far behind. He led us into another part of the building, the garage maybe. There were a lot of metal scraps lying around.

With a great pull Webster uncovered the biggest car I’d ever seen. It was equipped with all kinds of gadgets and looked like it could flatten an entire building. We got inside, Webster at the wheel, me in the front, and Max in the back. Webster cranked the ignition and the car came to life. He hit the gas and we went roaring out of the house, smashing the wall to bits as we drove through it. Bullets ricocheted off the side of the vehicle but none penetrated. My heart pumped furiously as he continued to drive, faster and faster than any speed I’d ever seen. It was starting to make me sick.

“You alright?” Webster asked.

“First time riding in a car,” I answered.

“You’ll get used to it.”

He continued to drive, past building after building, to the outskirts of the city and beyond that. The earth was cracked and dry and there were no plants in sight. Results of the war. They hadn’t been able to revive everything unfortunately. It made me sad, so I decided not to look at it and instead focused on breathing and trying not to freak out.

“Will they be able to follow us?” Max asked after a while.

“Hard to say,” Webster answered. “The cupo can only go so far on its energy source.”

“But they could still find us?”

“If they tried to.”

“Well that’s comforting.”

Webster only chuckled.

The rest of the drive was quiet, the sound of the engine filling my brain so no thoughts passed through. And I was grateful, because at the moment, I didn’t want to think about anything. How my mother was dying from a disease that the MRA had a cure for. How I was being shot at continuously because that cure was now in my bloodstream. How Max, the boy who I had known for years now had feelings for me that went beyond friendship. I didn’t want to think about any of that, so I thought about nothing instead.

“Can I ask you somethin’?” Webster suddenly asked.

Max was asleep in the back and I was close to falling asleep myself. I sat up. “Sure,” I said.

“Why exactly were you breaking into an MRA research facility?”

I sighed. “My mom. She’s infected. Stage three. We, uh, were trying to find some pain pills to make everything easier.”

“If everything goes as I think it will, things will be easier for everyone.”

I nodded. If luck was on our side, Max and I would never have to break into any research facility ever again. If luck was on our side.

Max sat up and stretched. “Morning.”

“Morning.”

 

When we arrived at the headquarters, it was dark. There were no outside lights on and it looked eerily abandoned.

“Is anyone even here?” Max asked.

“They like to keep it dark. It’s a little less conspicuous.”

We got out of the car and were greeted by a bright light in our faces. The guns in their hands were huge and they were trained on us. “Who goes there?”

“We’re friendly,” Webster said. When they heard him they seemed to relax a little.

They led us into the headquarters, through sets of elaborately locked doors. They were dressed in military like clothes and looked pretty scary, especially with their guns that looked like they could pulverize anything they struck. A woman who looked leaderly led a group of her own toward us, so that we met in the middle of the hall. “Webster, I got your message. So this is her?”

She looked to me.

“If by her you mean humanity’s last hope then yes, I am her,” I said.

They all laughed politely.

“I am Johanna Pierce, leader of the Troebev. Welcome.”

“Maya Fredrickson, factory worker. Glad to be here.”

She smiled. “I was hoping we could talk. But first why don’t you eat something and rest for a little bit. We’ll talk later.”

 

It was like I had never tasted food before. The roast beef was nice and juicy, the grapes were ripe, the carrots had a nice crunch, and the drink they gave me was tangy and sweet all at the same time. It was as if I’d died and gone to heaven. Of course, I couldn’t die quite yet. Humanity kind of needed me, so heaven would have to wait. Though, if the food was any indication, I wouldn’t mind visiting for dinner every now and then. Max had that same look of ecstasy as I did. In his family, he was one of the last to eat since he was an older child. His younger siblings ate before he did, and by the time it got to him there usually wasn’t a lot left. If we were successful, I’d put an end to that as soon as I could. Because along with medicines, food was expensive as well. You kind of just had to work with what you were given, because the government wasn’t going to just hand anything to you for free. That’s why Max hated Jedidiah so much. He let his people starve and die of disease while he sat in his comfy house and got fat.

After we finished eating they led us to a room where we could rest. Luckily there were two beds so I wouldn’t have to endure the awkwardness from before. They were covered in white sheets and white fluffy pillows. They were as comfortable as they looked; soft like lamb’s wool and warm, like they’d been basking in the sun. “Wouldn’t mind sleeping here every night,” I said.

My eyes were closed so I didn’t notice until he was lying beside me that Max had decided he didn’t want a bed of his own. I chose to keep quiet and just let him lie beside me. I mean, it was only sleep, nothing wrong with that. I was close to falling asleep when Max said, “What do you think will happen when we get home?”

I didn’t answer at first. “I dunno,” I said quietly. “Hard to say.”

He turned over so that he was facing me. “Can I ask you something?”

I swallowed. “Sure.”

“How come you’ve never had a boyfriend?”

Well that wasn’t what I was expecting. It threw me for a second. He’d never asked me that before. I’d never asked him that before either, but it wasn’t something that I just had to know. “What kind of question is that?”

“A legitimate one.”

I sighed. I missed the comfortable feeling I’d always had with him. Now it was just awkward and tense. Neither of us had addressed what he’d confessed. It was creating a wedge between us, and I didn’t like it. “Why have you never had a girlfriend?” I countered.

“Because I’ve never looked at anyone else.” Then he grabbed my face and planted one right on me and all the synapses in my brain short circuited. My mind was reeling but I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak.

Thanks a lot Max, I thought to myself.

Well that certainly complicated things.

 

“Just take a seat on the table.” It was a hospital table, the kind doctors used to operate. I jumped up and sat sideways, facing Johanna. “So, what can I do for you?”

“Well, as you know, you have the cure for zerdren inside you.”

“I did catch that at some point yes.” I was swinging my legs like a toddler.

“What we’re hoping to do is to replicate it so that we can distribute it to the infected populace. To do that we would have to draw large amounts of blood. With your permission.”

Max jumped in. “When you say large amounts of blood, you don’t mean a few vials do you?”

“No young man, I don’t,” Johanna said. “To really have a fighting chance of replicating it we’ll need enough blood so that if we fail we can try again.”

“Will it kill her?”

The bluntness of his question surprised her. “We won’t bleed her dry, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Well that’s not what I’m asking is it?” Max asked, his voice taking on a sharp tone. “Will drawing large amounts of blood from her body kill her?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly.

“Then you’re not going anywhere near her.”

“Max-,” I started.

“Young man do you realize how vital your friend is? A cure for zerdren is the greatest medical discovery of this time.”

“I don’t give a crap. You’re not doing anything that will hurt Maya.”

“Well, that is for her to decide.”

They all turned to me. I looked at Max; he was determined to not let me be hurt. But not doing this would mean destroying our chance of saving my mom. “Take as much as you need,” I said quietly.

 

They nearly did bleed me dry. When I said take as much as you need I certainly didn’t think they would take every last drop. I was so woozy that Max had to carry me out. We went back to the same room. He laid me in the bed and sat down beside me. “That was really stupid.”

“I know.”

There really wasn’t anything else to say.

Suddenly there was a commotion outside the door. “What’s going on?”

The answer to my question came bursting through the door. “We’re being attacked. The building’s gonna self-destruct in eight minutes. You gotta get out of here.”

Max picked me up and followed the guy out of the room. People were frantic, running in all directions. We reached part of the hall that was more empty of people and the guy leading us went down, blood pooling under his body. Max picked up his gun and continued to carry me. Shots rang out in the air. We crouched behind a generator, checking to see if the enemy was coming. Max pulled a vial out of his pocket.

“Where did you get that?”

“It doesn’t matter. The building is gonna self-destruct in three minutes. You have to get this medicine out of here.”

have to get this medicine out of here.”

He shook his head. “I have to make sure nobody shoots you. That tends to happen.” He smiled, then took my face in his hands and kissed me on the lips, hard. When he pulled back he said, “You live. For me.” Then he stood up and ran to the end of the hall, guns blazing. I yelled after him, but he didn’t come back. Tears streaming down my face, I stood, and ran.

 

I don’t know how I got out of the building, but I did.

It felt like cement was attached to my legs.

I was crying so hard I could barely see.

Then the building exploded in a burst of flames and I let out an agonizing cry of pain and fell to my knees. I knew I had to move but I couldn’t. I was frozen, and I didn’t care anymore. Then I heard Max’s words in my head. You live. For me.

I wiped my eyes, stood up, cast one last longing look at the flames, and then started walking. “I love you too Max,” I whispered.

 

There were a lot of people in my house, which was surprising. Usually when someone’s infected people stay away. But my mother was a special person, so I suppose it wasn’t that unusual. People parted as I stepped through the house. I made my way to her room. My father and Peyton were there. My mother looked close to death. There was blood all over the blankets. She coughed and blood ran out of her mouth.

I stood beside the bed. I must’ve looked a sight, covered in dirt, sunburned, grief-stricken.

I pulled the vial out of my pocket. You live. For me.

“I’m back mama,” I whispered.



 


© Copyright 2017 Eden Rain. All rights reserved.

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