Dead Ahead – Chapter One
Before the Green Flu Outbreak
I sighed and held out my arm. I was never one to wince at the sight of a syringe; probably because I'd been seeing my parents use all sorts of medical tools all my life. Mom was a celebrated brain surgeon, while Dad is one of the country's top virologists. Now he was using me as some sort of vessel for a new strain he had created after one of the neighborhood's dogs had bit me on my way home from work.
The dog had rabies, and I had to spend two weeks in the local hospital while my dad frantically tried to find a way to stop my condition from worsening. Even now I could still see the eyebags around his eyes that told me that he had spent many sleepless nights since that day.
I could understand his worry – after all, it was just him and me now. Mom suffered a stroke a few years ago, and it was "just him and me against the world," as Dad liked to put it. Admittedly I was scared as hell back then, not just for me but for my dad. He was still reeling from Mom's death, and I could tell he wasn't ready for me to go yet.
I guess that's why he tried everything he could, including tampering with the rabies virus in the hopes of finding a cure.
Dad uncapped the syringe, tapped it and released the air bubbles inside the small plastic tube, and quickly sank the needle deep into my skin. I didn't flinch; rather, I looked bored. Dad caught my expression and chuckled.
"Don't worry Jenny, hopefully this strain will work," he reassured me. "I got it from some of the remaining rabies strands in your body mixed with some of your chromosomes. I -"
"Look Dad, I know. It'll make me feel better," I said, cutting him off. I held his wrist and squeezed it reassuringly. "I've been feeling fine for weeks. You don't have to worry."
Dad smiled thinly as I stood up and plopped on the couch beside Bill, our Golden Retriever. Bill gave me a wide doggy grin and his tail swooshed slightly as I scratched behind his ear. When I heard Dad go back to his study, I studied the small puncture wound on my arm.
I didn't know if it was just my imagination, but the surrounding veins looked a little….bruised. I stared at the wound for a few more moments, shrugged, and continued scratching the dog's ears. I then felt for the remote, found it behind a throw pillow, and switched the television on.
Nothing special was on, although I lingered on the history channel for a few minutes before finally flipping it to an action movie. Dad soon joined me, and half an hour later I went to the kitchen to make a bowl of buttered popcorn.
The phone rang as I was on my way back, and I picked it up. "Hello?"
"Jennifer!" Doctor Aidan Frost's voice broke through the earpiece. "Is your dad there?"
"Yeah, hang on," I told him, handing my dad the cordless phone. "It's Frost."
Dad snagged a fistful of popcorn before holding the phone to his ear. I automatically drowned out the sounds of Dad's conversation with Doctor Frost as I focused my attention on the movie. Dad reached over every now and then to grab a piece or two of popcorn, but otherwise we hardly moved.
After the movie ended Dad was still talking to Doctor Frost, so I kissed him good night and went to my room. As I changed into my pajamas and climbed into bed (Bill followed me in and slept on the rug beside my bed), I glanced at the wound again.
It still stung slightly, and the skin looked slightly pinkish under the light. I shrugged again and turned off the light, finally sinking into a deep sleep.
Two weeks after the bombing of the Veteran's Memorial Bridge
Nick needed a drink. He had gone for weeks without downing a shot and he felt like a monk. As he made his way to the makeshift recreation area, he noted that people seemed to be pairing up. It made him feel sullen; the moment Rochelle had heard that Francis' group of Survivors were also on board she had made a beeline for the greasy monkey.
They were now virtually attached to the hip; Nick couldn't even utter a single sentence without having Francis glowering at him from behind Rochelle.
Ellis and Zoey were in that disgusting 'getting-to-know-each-other' phase, with the former making sick puppy eyes whenever he spied Zoey in the dining area (or any place on the military ship, really). Coach and Louis formed their own "brotherhood," leaving Nick as the lone wolf.
He had thought getting away from New Orleans would make him feel better, but now he hated it. He hated how the people he had come to consider as buddies suddenly forgot that he was there – it was as if they didn't need him anymore.
"So you don't need me anymore, is that it?"
Nick looked up and saw a girl with long black hair standing a few feet away from him. Her back was turned, but he could see she was holding a small walkie talkie, the same one the guards used. Nick noticed that there were two guards sitting about seven tables away, drinking coffee, but they were looking at the girl apprehensively.
One of them noticed Nick staring at him, and the guard quickly looked away.
The walkie talkie crackled, and Nick heard a man's voice. His speech was garbled, which seemed to agitate the girl even more. "Dad, you're not making any sense. What is it?"
The girl's shouts seemed to alert the nearby guards, for they stood up and walked towards her.
"You stay away from me, Tweedledum and Tweedledee," the girl snapped, her grip tightening on the walkie talkie.
"It's time," one of the guards said, reaching for the device.
The girl looked mutinous, but she thrust the walkie talkie to the guard who spoke. "There. Your walkie talkie's useless anyway. It cut my Dad off."
The guard looked like he was about to say something, but thought better of it. The two turned on their backs and left the girl alone, returning to their cups of coffee. Nick studied the girl for another moment, and then headed towards the bar.
"Gin please," he told the bartender. The man asked for Nick's name, which the latter gave, and then slid a tall glass of gin across the counter.
No money was exchanged; whenever someone on the military ship needed something, the person in charge wrote down the "buyer's" name. That person had to spend one hour doing a certain chore or activity, like scrubbing toilets or patrolling the ship at night.
Nick decided to risk another cleaning trip to the bathroom and gulped down the gin, relishing the feel as the liquid slid down his throat.
"Hey Jenny," the bartender suddenly said to someone.
Nick turned to his left just in time to see the girl hop onto the stool beside him.
"What'll you be having?" Tom asked, while wiping a glass clean.
"If I asked you for an entire bottle of tequila, what would that earn me?" Jenny asked somberly.
"Nothing," Tom replied, grinning. "You know you're allergic to alcohol."
"Ugh. I'd rather erupt in hives than to endure another hour in that room," Jenny grimaced. "Just give me a glass of Coke, please." Jenny turned towards Nick. "And if anyone asks, tell them it's rum and Coke."
"No problem," Nick replied, downing the gin.
"Thanks." Jenny took the Coke Tom handed to her and drank deep. When she was finished, she slammed the glass on the counter, gave a loud, satisfied sigh, and grinned. "Well that was good, now I'm off to scrub something that someone's probably puked on."
Jenny gave Nick and Tom a small salute, and walked off.
Nick gave a soft chuckle and slid his now empty glass towards Tom. "Thanks."
Tom nodded and scooped up the two glasses. Nick slid off the stool, smoothened his suit (which was now thankfully back to its original pearly white color), and headed back to the room he shared with Louis, Francis, Coach, and Ellis. Nick would have preferred a room for himself, but the ship had limited space.
When Nick pushed open the door to the cabin, he heard the unmistakable sound of Ellis telling another one of his long-winded stories.
Ah great, him and his love affair with his buddy Keith, Nick thought darkly.
"-and then me and my buddy Keith decided to do it anyway," Ellis said, apparently finishing a story that had Louis and Coach relieved to hear the end of it. "Hey Nick!"
"Ellis," Nick greeted shortly, closing the door behind him. "Seen Ro lately?"
"She's with Francis," Coach said, tearing open a chocolate bar. "I think they were going to the deck."
"Great," Nick said sarcastically. "How come you and Zoey aren't with them, Ellis?"
"Aw, I wanted to ask her, but she looked really busy." Ellis looked like someone just told him that Santa Claus didn't exist. Nick would have laughed if he wasn't feeling annoyed already.
"Define 'busy,'" Nick urged, taking off his suit jacket and flinging it over the chair close to his bed.
"She just looked preoccupied," Ellis replied. "Didn't want to bother her no more."
Nick sighed and lay down. "Ellis, if I were you, I would have asked her anyway. She was probably waiting for you to say something."
"Nah, didn't look like it," Ellis countered.
Nick rolled his eyes. If the kid didn't want to listen, then it was his loss. Nick knew Zoey was most likely playing hard-to-get; most women did.
Nick was about to doze off when Francis burst into the cabin, looking agitated. "Guys, get your asses moving! We're under attack!"
"What?" Nick sat up so fast his vision swirled. "Under attack? Here? Be realis-"
Just then a series of alarms sounded, drowning their voices out. Without further ado Nick got to his feet and shrugged into his suit jacket. He didn't like the sound of "under attack" – it felt grim and foreboding. A series of tremors suddenly shook the ship, and Nick heard the unmistakable growl of a Tank.
"Ah shit," Nick muttered.