At first, Shay was horrified to find her father pointing a gun in her face. The small black mouth of the nine millimeter pistol was spaces away from the tip of her nose, striking terror deeper into her heart. She could feel his eyes on her, but her eyes were on the gun. Would he do it?
No, she realized. Her own father wouldn't shoot her. For the man standing beside him, bearing identical tactical officer gear, she could not be sure. A look of confusion settled onto his face, so much like his daughter's, as recognition sank in. Seconds later, Patrick Claire lowered his gun.
"Shay?" He said, eyes sweeping over her. She nodded meekly. Her heart sank as she looked past the two officers to see red and blue flash. Police vehicles now barricaded the only way she knew out of the city. "What's going on? Do you know where the sick people are? Did they hurt you?" Her father did not sound worried, instead threatening, nearly angry, as if he believed someone had endangered the safety of his eldest daughter. The drive of duty was present in his eyes. He wasn't here to make sure Shay was safe, he was probably unaware she was even at the CDC today. He was here to track down those 'sick people', unaware his daughter was one of which they spoke.
"No Dad, they didn't do anything to us." She spoke the truth, simply because they hadn't hurt themselves. Not yet.
"Good. Have you seen them?" She shook her head. It was painful to lie to her father, but, in all truth, a dark voice in the back of her mind was snarling there was a small chance he'd shoot her. He was a dedicated officer, and orders were orders. Beginning to part her lips to reply, the girl was silenced by a new male voice, sounding from behind her. Craning her neck slightly, Shay could make out the outline of a tall figure behind Cassie, the edges of his brown hair all she could see of his head. The speaker was unrecognizable, but clearly a student. She did not peg him as a threat.
"Cassie, what's going on?" Her boyfriend, Noah, said. Cassie looked scared, sending Noah grabbing for her hand, but she kept pulling away. The Blue Plague is transferred by touch and bodily fluids. She could only imagine what mental damage would be inflicted if the golden-haired girl infected her boyfriend.
"Who are you?" Her father's comrade barked. He was younger, and of a smaller build. The officer aimed his gun towards the tall boy, whose eyes instantly widened in terror. Noah took a few cautious steps back, never peeling his gaze from the threat.
"Brian, this really is not necessary, he's just a kid!" Her father said sternly.
"He might be one of the sick ones!"
"He does not look sick!" Patrick Claire argued, taking a warning step towards the other man. The officer, Brian, switched his gaze to his comrade for a moment, but did not rally. Thank you, Dad, she said silently. Don't let him hurt us, please.
Brian took a few steps closer to Noah and Cassie. Carson put his arm in front of Shay in a protective manner, both of them anxiously watching the scene unfolding before their eyes. Her heart was thudding beneath her ribcage, the tension of the moment nearly unbearable. The ugly truth was going to come out soon. It was a miracle neither of the men had noticed their haunting, unnatural eyes yet.
Out of the corner of her vision she noticed her father raising his gun again, only he was aiming it towards the advancing officer. He's actually going to defend us. Then again, he has no idea we're the people he's after. That could change everything. He's trained to follow orders, and I've never seen him do any differently.
Noah whispered something into Cassie's ears, never daring to remove his eyes from the hostile officer.
"Speak up son!" He barked. Noah turned around to face him, towering over his elder. Her father's comrade leaned onto his heels, giving their bodies a little more space. His straight, rigid posture was the stance of a threatened man.
"I don't have to." He replied gallantly.
"You should know better than to backtalk a cop," the officer spat as he lunged towards Noah and Cassie. Noah backed away, wiser than to strike a police officer. Her father's partner, however, did not stop and surged forwards, grabbing the boy's wrist, and he tried to free himself but ended up slamming his elbow into the man's nose. Brian stumbled backwards, a sneer curling the corners of his mouth.
"You little shit," he spat, wiping a trickle of blood away from his nose. Noah stood, confused, his hands before him in a defensive manner.
"It was an accident!" The officer paid no heed to Noah's plea, for he lunged again. The two locked in a tangle of arms and legs, one moving defensively, another offensively. It struck fear into her heart to watch. Would he be arrested, or even worse, beaten until he could not fight back? You should run. Forget about him. This is a distraction.
Shay then noticed Brian's finger inching ever so close to the trigger on his handgun. He wouldn't hesitate to shoot Noah, it was apparent, and he would do it right before Cassie's eyes. The girl had already been through too much today- killing her boyfriend right in front of her would be the cherry to top the 'worst day ever' sundae. It would be cruel to leave, she realized. Cassie wouldn't follow, and she'd be left for dead. Just one of the sick ones, they'd say.
"Dad, do something!" She shouted, aware the others were powerless to end the scuffle. Any one of them laid a finger on Noah or the officer and they were dead. It was not a weight she wished upon her own, or anyone else's, shoulders.
Unfortunatley, her father didn't have time to break up the fight, for Cassie had propelled herself into the fray. Somehow the small, meek girl had managed to pry the two apart. She pushed Noah back from Brian, whom were both panting and bore bloodied noses. Brian's jawbone was swollen, but not quite as swollen as the fury in his eyes. He kept his weapon trained on Noah's chest.
It was then the doctor's words resurged within her mind. The infected can spread the disease, but they often die too quickly. The Blue Plague is transferred by touch and bodily fluids. Her eyes widened when it hit her, a stark chill suddenly bathing her bones.
"Let him go!" She screeched suddenly, despite knowing it was too late. Cassie's new blue-gray eyes widened as she released her taller boyfriend, looking directly at Shay as she did.
"What, why?" She stammered.
"It's transferred by touch!"
"Shay, what's transferred by touch?" Her father asked, but she ignored him.
"Cassie, why does my throat hurt so-" the severe bought of coughing began, causing Shay to cringe. The memories of her own pain stirred in her head and she shuddered, knowing the boy's suffrage. Meanwhile, Brian began to back away, his eyes round. His hands were trembling around his weapon.
"He's sick! Patrick, he's sick!" he shouted. The name of her father brought her looking to him. He appeared confused and nervous, gun no longer on his fellow officer but Noah. Cassie wailed at the sight, covering her eyes with her hands. Katrina rushed to her friend's side, amber eyes wide with fright as Noah's back slammed against the wall, coughing violently. There was an earsplitting noise and the boy's coughing was instantly silenced, for Brian had put a bullet in his chest.
Cassie screamed and tried to rush for his body but Shay leapt forwards, blocking her path. Katrina restrained Cassie by her waist and Marena seized her arms. The reek of Noah's blood was filling the air and she almost gagged, sneaking one peek at his body. He had slipped down to the floor, leaving a smear of crimson on the wall, all the way down to the floor. A hole grinned up from the center of his chest, dark and bloody. A pool of red was rapidly growing beneath him. He lay perfectly still, blue eyes wide open, but devoid of life.
"Shay, put your arms back! That girl is sick, don't you touch her!" Her father ordered. She gulped, not ready to give him the truth. His eyes were rapidly flickering from Noah's body back to his daughter, as if he could not make a decision. Why is he not acknowledging his partner just shot a young boy?
"Wait, the blonde one's your daughter?" Brian asked, turning away from the dead teenager to her father. Patrick nodded his head.
"We're sick! Everyone here, we're the sick ones!" She blurted, instantly regretting her words the moment she said them. Biting her lip, she shut her eyes, expecting when she opened them to see a gun in her face. She'd meet an end similar to Noah. I should have just kept my mouth shut.
"Wh…What?" Her father stammered. She opened her eyes to find the gun still slack at his side. The man's face was blank, his mouth parted slightly, gaze locked directly on his daughter. As it had with her, the information seemed to be taking several moments to finally sink and settle in the man's mind.
"It's true! We're the ones you guys have been given clearance to kill!"
Her father looked to his partner, who was staring at the teenagers with an empty expression. He took one look at the body at his feet. Did he feel no remorse? Brian then returned his gaze to them, settling on Shay. She observed him, swallowing hard as she noticed the slight, threatening narrow of his eyes. However, standing at the head of the crowd, the girl did not waver.
"Well, you heard her. We have clearance to kill them," her father began. She released a strangled squeak, feeling as if she'd just been punched in the stomach. Her own father. No, Dad, no, please, come on! I need you! Please don't do this!
"Dad!" She cried, the panic blooming in her head muting any further speech. He turned to face her, and for a moment, their eyes met, and all the air was sucked from her being. He seemed to understand, for he turned, and in a split second slammed into Brian, careening him into the wall. The smaller man's body jolted as a thud echoed through the hallway. Patrick Claire's shoulder was digging deeply into the center of his chest, using his superior size and strength to pin him. He then turned to face his daughter, lightly tossing her his weapon. Shay caught is with quaky hands, oogling at the gun, then her father. It was tough to pinpoint, but fear was present in his eyes.
"Take it and go! The main route to the bridge is blocked- go down the street to the left then turn- it's clear, I promise. Don't be afraid to use it, they won't hesitate to kill you. You may recognize some of them as my friends. That will not change anything," he told her through gritted teeth. She remained frozen, still as a statue, unnerved by the weapon in her hands. "Goddamit Shay, run!"
It hurt to leave her father behind. For all she knew, this would be their final time in their home, and she was the only one who had the chance to say goodbye. It would not be a proper goodbye, there was simply no time.
"I love you, Dad. Tell Mom and Graceyn I love them, too." Her voice was broken. Shay then took a deep breath and bolted.
She ran full speed into the glass doors, opening them with the force of the collision. In just a few seconds her entire body was bathed with hot, humid air. Immediately outside she slammed to a halt, the others nearly running into her back. She had expected a threat upon exiting, but the impenetrable line of police troopers as just a little bit more than daunting. Bracing herself had been futile- the sight struck pure terror into her heart.
"Do not move! Stay where you are while we come to arrest you," a voice blared into a bullhorn.
"Sounds like someone forgot they were supposed to kill us," Carson muttered. Shocked, she elbowed him in the ribs.
"Don't jinx it!" Marena hissed.
"Do not move, or we will not hesitate to shoot."
"Sounds like they remembered to me," Shay said. "Alright, when I count to five, we all just run. Okay? If we all run chances are they won't hit us." Her plan was fragile at best, but it was all she her eyes over everyone, terror lurked in the expressions of all but one. Cassie remained empty, eyes staring off into space. She's broken, she realized, and her jaw tightened.
She wasn't so positive her plan would work- odds were one of them would still get gunned down. The circumstances required her to think fast and she would do no less than that, as standing there would most certainly get all of them killed.
"One," she choked, her voice breaking on the word. She dreaded saying two. A few cops were coming their way now, approaching with guns drawn. We'll have the advantage of surprise on our side. Carson and Marena will almost surely be fine, they're fast as hell. The others better be praying they find their sprinting legs.
"Two." Marena inhaled sharply beside her. She shifted her eyes towards her best friend to see her tense, muscles poised and ready to surge into action. The warrior stance did little to veil the fright.
"Three." Time slowed down now. She was more terrified for her life than she had been at two. The thought that there was a very high chance a bullet would end her did not supply the girl with any sort of comfort. In fact, it almost halted her count. Suck it up. Fight or flight, Shay, fight or flight. You know which one will get you killed.
"Four." Her breath hitched in her throat. It almost felt like her heart had quit working. Choking on the word, she said it.
Shay was pretty sure Carson started sprinting when she said four, for he was already a good stride ahead of everyone else, although Marena was quickly gaining. She shot off quickly, willing her feet to go as fast as they could. She had runner's genes, not that she'd ever utilized them, but she sure as hell was now. Once she could get behind the protection of a skyscraper, she'd be out of the line of fire. All I have to do is run. Don't look back.
The first gunshot startled her. She screamed, clamping her hands down over her ears, terrified. She felt no bullet tearing through flesh, which was a good sign, but she was oblivious to the whereabouts of anyone else. A friend could be lying on the ground somewhere behind her, lifeblood spilling out onto the asphalt. Don't let it be Marena or Carson.
The building was growing closer, but she knew she couldn't stop sprinting until she was safely out of the line of fire. Hearing 2 more shots, these sounding much closer than their predecessor, she took a deep breath and dove. The skin on her elbows, arms, knees, and legs was torn away by the friction. For a few seconds, all she could feel were flashes of heat and a stinging, white-hot pain as live, pink layers of her skin were exposed. The girl cried out as her legs flipped over her head, tumbling the last few feet to safety. Carson and Marena were already there.
Cassie came sprinting in next, pursued closely by Katina and Kyleigh. Jaycee was soon after, followed by Laylia. Relief quickly washed over her as she confirmed none of them were injured, and all were alive. She exhaled slowly, feeling the pressure shift from her shoulders.
Marena gasped beside her. At first, she expected it to be due to injury, but the girl appeared to be unharmed. She followed her gaze, finding something that crushed all remaining hope out of her. The only alternate route she knew out of the city was blocked by another impenetrable line.
"Shit." Shay said, jaw open and limp.
"Which has fewer cars?" Marena asked her suddenly, voice strained with panic.
"Which road has fewer cars?" Marena shouted, the fear in her voice nearly drowning out the panic. She whipped her head around the concrete wall to examine the line, counting ten with haste. Turning her head to the other side she quickly counted fourteen.
"The one we just came off of. It's a four car difference!" she responded. Marena nodded, but did not speak, as she was already up and sprinting around the corner. Carson followed quickly. Nobody asked questions, instead following Marena with rushed strides. Cassie tried to run past but Shay snatched her arm, yanking her backwards.
She rose from her crouch, now taller than the girl by a few inches, and dropped her chin to hold eye contact. "Cassie, don't do anything stupid out there. I know you just witnessed a terrible, terrible thing, but run with us. Don't throw your life away."
"What life? I'm going to die, I don't know when, but I'm dying. I infected my boyfriend, and some cop put a bullet in his chest. Someone has to die in order for the rest to escape, and I want it to be me."
"Cassie, don't you dare think like that-"
"I know I sound suicidal, but I don't want to suffer through whatever this thing will do to me. I'd rather get it over quickly. I don't want to slowly have my body eaten away by a virus. I'd hardly feel a bullet to the head. One life for eight."
"Why, in all of hell, would you want us to live?" Shay spat, gripping the smaller girl's shoulders and shaking her hard. "Letting us survive will start something you and I don't want!"
"Shay, please just trust me. This needs to happen. Would you rather have a portion die or have the entire world die because we failed to fix the problems?" Her grip loosened, stunned by her words. Logically, and she was a logical thinker indeed, it made sense. But morally, was it right?
"But why the hell do I have to do it? If you think this is so great, why don't you stick around and not go jumping in front of a bullet? The guy said you can spread it too!" She shouted, suddenly finding herself infuriated. Why was she acting as if this was the right thing to do? The urge was almost irresistible to slap Cassie across her face, knocking the foolishness she was blabbering right out of her.
"Just trust me, Shay."
"Don't you dare die on me Cassie."
A bullet pinged off the wall scarcely above their heads. She whipped around, saw the advancing officers and was up on her feet instantly, sprinting around the corner with Cassie hot on her heels.