Chapter Thirteen—On your knees and pray!

"For me, it has to be the AK-47," Stephen said, stoking the barrel of the gun in question. I cocked an eyebrow in curiosity, as did everyone else who was listening. The young cop grinned at our expressions.

"It has many advantages over the M-16. The solid barrel allows for a bayonet to be attached, opposed to the M-16's fragile plastic one. That allows for a secondary weapon if one is needed. Then you got a tertiary weapon if you need it. Just swing it around, grab it by the barrel, and the solid wood stock, back by steel, becomes a bat to batter your opponent with."

He grinned at us, as if it were obvious. I suppose it was if you thought about it. We were sitting on a couch in the sitting room of the cabin while Anne and her family slept. They wouldn't allow talk about the wall, escape or the zombies while they were in the room, and I desperately wanted to know what was happening, so I decided to forgo sleep for a little while longer, though my body protested.

"So what can you tell us about the wall? We heard it stretched the entire length of the country," I said.

"It does. Well, a large part of the original thirteen colonies anyway. And it's not all a concrete wall. More like four fences of chain links and razor wire. The foundations for them, for the steel rods used to support the fence, would take only a few hours to lay down. A block of concrete, under several feet of earth? Might hold up for a while. That's where we got out supplies, form the abandoned worksite," Richard said.

"But, we heard reports..." I began.

"Of a thirty foot high, steel clad concrete wall?" Richard smiled. "I will admit that certain areas are made of concrete, but they are specialised buildings. From what we gathered, these special buildings were built to be used after the winter, for those refugees who didn't make it out in the first wave. They would be funnelled in to what are being called 'Quarantine Centres,' screened; they assigned jobs once they are declared healthy. There are other ones though, other centres, baiting centres, used to draw the infected in and dispose of them. I suppose it was easier to buy some land, declare it Department of Defence and build these bases than to build a steel and concrete wall the length of the country. I mean, do you think the government could keep THAT secret?"

It seemed reasonable, I suppose. Thinking about it, I felt a little stupid. There was no way the government could hide the fact that they were building a concrete wall the length of the country.

"So, the raid on the wall?" I asked.

"A ruse," Stephen told us.

"We want the government to think we don't know what's going on. It seems suspicious that they even had the quarantine centres and baiting centres ready at all. We think that the government knew, or at least suspected, that something like this might happen. They were too well prepared for it. The evacuation, troop movements, the centres, the rate at which the fence went up, it all happened way to fast. I mean, look at DC. There was no way the President's motorcade could have made it to the airfield in that mob. The Speaker of the House didn't make it. But next thing we heard, the President was alive and well and directing government policy from the new capital."

Stephen took a shaky breath, as I glance nervously at the people in my group. It was the same as when we told them that Maria was pregnant. They just nodded. I grabbed my backpack and slid a few files out.

"We think we might know something," I said uncertainly.

I still didn't know enough about this group to fully trust them, but they had given us a lot of information about what was happening—more information than we had been able to gather in the last few months. I slid the files across the coffee table, and Richard and Stephen skimmed through the files and my notes. Their faces didn't betray what they were thinking. Finally, Richard looked up at me and whistled.

"Finally, it makes sense," he said.

"Makes sense?" Maria asked, looking as confused as I felt.

Suddenly, Richard sprang to his feet, pacing with some sort of manic energy. He ran his hand through his bushy beard.

"Remember what I said about troop movements? Well, not all the troops moved behind the wall. About three weeks after this whole thing began, I ran into a group of men and woman, civilian clothes, dirty et al. But their weapons were too high grade for the civilian market and these guys defiantly didn't look like they had missed a meal in the three weeks the epidemic had been going on. Their questions were a little too probing, and now I think I understand why," Richard informed us.

He didn't speak again, just paced around, stroking his beard, deep in thought.

"Mind enlightening us?" Carlos piped up.

"They said they were looking for a friend of theirs that had gone missing. A Charles Donnelly. They said he was a virologist. They said that he had a hunting lodging in Braxton County and that he may have gone there," Richard said.

"Charles Donnelly? Isn't that the guy...?" Daffy started.

"Yeah," I said.

Richard was too pent up to take note of what we said, but Stephen heard us. I mouthed that I would tell him later, as Richard continued on.

"The soldiers were wondering did I know the way to Braxton, did I have a vehicle that worked, did I meet any survivors named Charles. After they moved out, I followed them. About twenty minutes, they came across a clearing where military equipment had been dropped. From what I could make out, there were at least three other teams there. One team was motioning down the hill towards the road, and I swore I saw hummers there."

I scratched my head, and some things that had been confusing me finally made sense.

"Daffy, remember when we meet, you told me that all the soldiers had moved out beyond the wall?"

Daffy nodded as I spread out a map I grabbed from the shelf. I circled where we were, our former base and a section of road outside Becket Cove. I looked at Richard and Stephen.

"We know what happened to Charles Donnelly. He killed himself. These soldiers were looking for him because these filed mention a top secret government research project. When Maria and I were on our way to Beckett Cove, we found a military hummer and the remains of army uniforms. Now, we know that the road to Braxton was blocked by cars, but the road between Braxton and Beckett Cove is clear, and I am assuming the road between here and Beckett Cove is clear," I stated.

"So, someone in the government is ordering special forces into the infected zone in order to cover their tracks?" Richard asked.

"Seems possible. I mean, what government wants to admit that there is a chance they are responsible for the largest epidemic in American history?" Daffy asked.

No one answered.

000

I was having such a nice dream—Maria and I on a beach in Hawaii, drinking coke, soaking up the sun. Maria was looking great in a two piece bikini. I could make out Carlos in the distance and Daffy at a barbeque. My family was there. Everything was great. Until I woke up. The sitting room was pitch black. Everything seemed fine. Maria's back was pressed firmly into my chest, my hand on the swell of her stomach and a certain, ahem, well, reaction to the dream was present. I could hear Daffy snoring in a corner. Something was off. I frowned, trying to figure out what was wrong and what had woken me up. It was when I heard the door closing softly and realised that I couldn't hear Carlos talking in his sleep that I knew something was up. I slipped out of bed. Maria muttered something about a missing pole. I ignored it and slipped on my shoes, exciting the building.

(Carlos' POV)

Adam was busy showing me the "sights." There wasn't much to see in the dark. The garden, the guard tower, the well, the toilet. Finally, we made it to the wood shed.

"And here is our exercise room, where you can build your biceps by chopping wood," he grinned, and I smiled a little. From behind a log, he produced a box of cigarettes; taking out a half smoked one.

"You want some?" he asked.

"Nah, I'm good," I said, sitting on a rough hewed bench.

Adam took a quick drag, made a face, and then blew the smoke out his nose. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I knew Adam had a reason for dragging me out here by myself, especially at this time of night. Finally, Adam sat down beside me, a little closer than would normally be considered polite. He looked at my hand wistfully, like he wanted to hold it, but he made no move to. I reached over and grabbed his. He smiled and pulled a little closer, and I did the same. We eyed each other for a few moments, before I leaned in and kissed him. I tried not to gag at the smell of smoke. When I pulled back, Adams eyes were slightly glazed.

We grinned at each other, and I leaned in for another kiss. We spent the next few minutes like this, and Adam ended up in my lap. I wrapped my arms around him, like I had seen Brandon doing to Maria a hundred times. Adam leaned into me.

"So, um, your family...?" I started, and his shoulders slumped.

"Yeah, my family," he said in a miserable tone. I swore I saw tears in the corners of his eyes. "They despise me for being gay. I have one brother in the army, over the wall. I had another brother, but he died. They say it's my fault my brother died. He came to get me at the cinema and was taken down by a mob of the infected. My gran said it was a shame that a real man had to die saving a little pansy."

Adam was all out crying now, and I tightened my arms around him. I held him until he stopped crying. After a few minutes of silence, I realised that Adam was asleep. I gulped. How would I get him inside? And how boring must I have been to make him go asleep. It was then that Bran showed up. He didn't say much, just scoop Adam up in his arms.

"You heard everything?" I asked.

"Yeah, I did," Bran said. He tried for a smile. "Adam must like you. He is comfortable with you, he must be, to confide in you."

We were silent for a moment.

"Come on", Bran said, "time for bed."

000

(Brandon's POV)

I got a great night's sleep after the little incident with Adam and Carlos. I was even able to put up with Adam's grandmother giving us a lecture on our "sinful and immoral lives." She, her son and her daughter in law, while polite, seemed to be convinced that once spring came properly, they would be able to make it on their own. They would pray for us, but they believed that staying with sinful people would bring down God's wrath on them. I felt like telling them that God's wrath was already here, and that we had to pull together, but I had a feeling it wouldn't work. Over in the corner. Stephen cheered.

"I got the television working guys," he called over his shoulder. No one had to speak. We raced over. There was a news report on, some woman with an English accent. She was telling us to stay tuned for the "first commentary by a world leader on the crises that is engulfing our planet."

000

(American Department of Information, Honolulu, Hawaii)

Selena MacKintosh slurped the slightly cold dregs of coffee in the mug and grimaced. She had been up for nineteen hours, sifting through enquires from news media and reports from other Departments. She was exhausted. She had hardly slept in the last month, her body held together by coffee, energy bars and a quick nap on the lumpy couch in the hallway. She was just going through causality statistics relating to the sanitisation of a small town in Oregon when Eddie, her desk mate, stuck his head around the door. His brown eyes were manic, his greying hair tussled.

"Selena, you need to see this," he hissed.

"Not now. I have to finish a report on the foreign infestations. You know the government want the figures kept low. I just have to come up with a good figure. And I have to try and figure out how to spin this thing in Oregon," she snapped back.

"Oh, I don't think you will have to worry about the foreign infestation situation," Eddie said.

"Why? Who talked?" Selena asked, shooting to her feet in anger.

"Come and see," Eddie answered, ushering her into the conference room.

To Selena's amazement, it wasn't a public figure from the government, and the channel wasn't American. It was the BBC, the presenter was British. She thought it was a joke. The man on the screen was the Pope. Sitting on either side of him were what Selena assumed was a Rabbi and an Imam. She was about the tell Eddie to stop joking when she heard the announcer say: "And now, we go over to the Vatican for a statement from the Pope, in his role as Head of the Vatican City State and also the head of the Catholic Church. This will be the first time a world leader has spoken about the events around the world."

Selena didn't understand Italian, but she read the subtitles.

"My dear children. Despite the brave efforts of so many, it appears that the crisis which has affected our brothers and sisters in the United States has spread to the global stage."

There was a pause.

"I wish there was an easy answer to this crisis. I wish that the suffering felt by so many never happened. But, while the evil that is affecting us may not be God's will, he will hear our prayers and he is sending a message to those who are willing to listen."

He indicated to the men on either side of him.

"This is a time to put aside our differences, and our prejudices. We must lay aside race, religion, sexual orientation and come together. This is a time for us to unite, to put aside our differences and look at what we have in common. This is a time for us to unite and work together as God's children. This is a time for us to fight the real enemy. I wish I had an answer for what these creatures are. I have been informed that they are dead and crave the flesh of the living. I implore those who believe that they are simply the creatures of the Devil, and that merely blessing them with Holy Water and Crucifixes will cure them, to think before they try such folly. These poor, lost souls will not be laid to rest so easily. If you wish to free a soul which is trapped in an infected body, destroying the head and brain is the only thing which will work."

The Pope looked pained saying this.

"But, use the senses God gave you. You must be sure that the person you are freeing is indeed one of the infected. Do not let fear rule your hand. To many hundreds of thousands have died because of this fear, when millions more are truly infected, and these unfortunate people may have helped."

Again, he indicated the men on either side of him.

"United, we pray that we may find the strength to persevere. To work together to overcome this tragic trial that has being laid before us. May God lift up his hand and protect you."

Then the screen cut back to a woman in studio.

Selena stood frozen in spot as the news reporter finished her analysis of the Popes speech. And then, for the first time that Selena could remember, a news reporter began giving out the true percentage of infected worldwide.

Authors note: OK, some questions. Did I handle the whole Carlos/Adam thing alright? Was the last part with the Pope ok? I wanted to have some difference in here. Since Adam's parents and grandmother are turning out to be so, umm, blinkered by their faith, I wanted to show that not all people have such tunnel vision. I also wanted a way to tell what's happening outside the "infected zone," so to speak. Did I do that alright?