[[It has been five years since the infection hit the continental United States, and spread on a global scale. As many know, we have built a secure zone for ourselves. However, many believe that the time has come for us to move beyond our secure zone, in order to obtain more land and supplies. One week before the commencement of "Operation Hope," an operation the military is calling their largest undertaken since their initial stand, I have come to interview one of the youngest members involved.
At eighteen, Private Peter Rourke, with his tall, slim frame, looks ridiculously young next to some of the older members of his unit- whose ages range from twenty five to fifty three. He is confident and self assured, but never arrogant or condescending. He has every reason to be confident, given the facts of his survival.
He smiles as I enter his barracks. His ice blue eyes are clear and sharp, and his jet black hair is a little longer than regulations, but no one seems bothered. Despite his slim frame, the tightness of his t-shirt indicates Peter has well developed muscle.
We sit on his bunk, and I see burn scars on the underside of his left arm- the only physical indicators of his story of survival. When he starts to speak, his thick accent still gives him away as a New Yorker, a fact he is proud of.]]
I was in a boarding school when things got bad. We, the kids I mean, knew things were wrong for a while, despite the adult's best efforts to keep it hushed. They couldn't stop us seeing the newspaper reports about airport closures, or how certain countries had initiated quarantine. There was talk about a viral outbreak- bird flu, or SARS. Even talking to my parents on the phone, I knew something was up. Dad was getting called into more and more emergency meeting at the D.O.D., and he had already packed my mother and younger brothers off to our holiday home on the west coast.
On the day things hit off, we were on a school tour to a museum. The fire alarm went off and we scrambled to the exit. Things were chaotic when we hit the street. I never remember seeing so many cops and fire-fighters in one place. It was like every cop and fire-fighter in the city was outside the museum, racing towards a hospital several hundred feet up the street.
[[That would be The George Washington Memorial Hospital, the site of the New York outbreak?]]
Yeah, but we didn't know that at the time. Our teachers got us back onto the bus, probably hoping to get back to the school quickly. It took us several hours to make it to the school parking lot. We just managed to mount the steps of the school before the soldiers showed up. I couldn't make out everything they were shouting at the principle, I only knew we were ushered inside and the doors and windows were blockaded by the teachers and older students. I didn't know what was happening, even at that stage, even with the frantic news reporter on the TV behind me babbling about a new viral epidemic.
I saw my first one that night. I was up on the roof, waiting for, well, someone...
[[Peter looks away, a sad look on his face. I don't press the issue.]]
Let's just say this other person and I had a thing. They weren't at my school, but they could make it up the fire escape to the roof. Anyway, I was on the roof, waiting for this person, when I saw one staggering down the street. I realise now that he must have been in the middle of his autopsy, due to the Y shaped incision in his chest, but back then, I didn't know what it was. It was a man, mid twenties, butt bare, with his chest peeled back from his ribcage and blood coating his lips and chin. He was shambling along, reaching for this dog that must have been twenty yards ahead of him. The dog was barking his head off and backing up. I was fascinated. People were coming to their windows to look out. Then a shot rang out. There was a cop on our side of the street. I hadn't seen or heard the patrol car pull up, but the older cop was shouting at the younger one who had fired his gun. Something about "attracting more of them."
[[Peter gets a faraway look on his face, as if lost in memory.]]
Thirteen year old Peter Rourke lay flat on his stomach, looking over the parapet at the two cops on the street below. Both of them had their weapons drawn, and were advancing slowly towards the body on the ground. There was utter silence on the street. One of the cops grabbed his radio when he was sure the body wasn't going to move. A few people had gotten the courage to come out of their apartments. One young man, with ebony skin and a corn row hair cut began shouting at the cops for "killing a brother." He made as if he were going to hit the young cop, but he didn't get far. A military truck rolled up, and a voice blared from the loudspeaker mounted on the roof.
"This area is now under quarantine and a state of martial law has been implemented. A curfew is in effect. Any civilian on the streets will be shot. The use of live ammunition has been authorised."
Peter felt his eyes go wide, and he gulped as a few youths on the street began arguing with the authorities. Someone was arguing about how "this is New York, not Bagdad." The first guy, the guy who had tried to hit the cop, started advancing on a soldier with a knife. The soldier raised his rifle and fired point blank into the kids face, sending the other fleeing into the apartment block. Peter watched in terrified fascination as blood began to pool under the body.
When he overcame his shock, what caught Peter's attention was the fact that the gun made very little noise, as if it were silenced. He continued to watch in fascination as the soldiers loaded the two bodies into the back of the truck. They were talking to the cops, but in hushed tones, and their movements were careful, as if they were trying to make as little noise as possible. When the truck took off, several soldiers stayed behind.
Peter watched them for several minutes, until he felt someone lie down beside him. He glanced over to see his best friend, Ricky, beside him, his normally tanned face pale and his eyes wide. His mouth moved, but it took him several seconds to form words.
"Everyone saw what happened. The principle is calling an assemble."
"Then we better get going," Peter said, springing to his feet. "Maybe we'll get answers."
Ricky was slower getting to his feet, and Peter noticed he was shaking, unshed tears in his eyes. He slung his arm around Ricky's waist.
"I can't get hold of my parents. I was talking to my mum earlier. Things are meant to be really bad in Boston, but they were getting ready to leave the city. She was just telling me they were coming to get me when the line went dead."
Ricky hiccupped a little as he finished the story. Peter didn't know what to say.
"Let's get to the assemble. We'll talk later, ok dude?" he finally managed.
Ricky sniffled a little as he nodded. Both boys jogged down the stairs. They didn't notice how the soldiers had fanned out, or how one fired his weapon, taking down two more people who were shuffling down an alley.
The main assembly hall of The Preston Boys Boarding School was crowded. Peter and Rick found a seat in the front row, wedged in between a brooding quarterback named Martin, and an anxious looking kid named Joe, who was texting furiously on his phone. It was well known that Joe was a bit of a ladies' man, and it was rumoured that he had more than one kid in the apartments across the road. Maybe that's what had him nervous? Peter didn't really care; he was too busy trying not to be squashed by Martin, whose tall, broad, muscled frame was overflowing his chair by a large amount. Finally, Martin, growling in frustration at Peters constant attempts to get comfortable, picked him up with one massive hand and plopped Peter on his knee. No one bathed an eyelid at this—it was a common occurrence.
It was another five minutes before the Principle appeared on stage. He looked ill, with bags under his eyes and sweat trickling down his neck. To Peter, he looked paler than Rick had done when he had come up to the roof.
"Ahem," he began. "As many of you know, there is a new illness doing the rounds. Effective immediately, and by Presidential Order, New York City had been quarantined. Until further notice, we are to remain within the confines of our school. Further information will be forthcoming."
[[Peter is interrupted by mail delivery. Peter receives one letter, postmarked Honolulu. He shoves it under his pillow. He smiles sheepishly and shrugs.]]
Now, where were we?
[[I try not to make it obvious, but he notices as my eyes flick towards the pillow]]
Oh, it's just a letter from my brother Paul.
[[He smiles, and continues his story. I have the impression that there is more to this.]]
Even after seven days, we still had no idea what was going on, but we knew things were bad. The military and the police managed to keep the infected off our street. But, as I found out much later, they were overwhelmed. Talk about the news media been lax in its reporting. To go by them, everything was under control.
A week later, and things were falling apart. Even though it was policy that they were meant to stay secure within the school, a lot of people had fled. It had started with a member of the catering staff who had snuck out during the night. Then some teachers walked out, stating that they wanted "to be with our families." The following morning, they woke up to find that some students, several members of the house keeping team and the rest of the catering staff had left. Mr. Stafford, the Principle, called them foolish and short-sighted.
Personally, Peter thought it was short sighted to stay here. Even with all the people who had left, there were still six hundred people to feed at the school. Their food supplies would be gone soon, and those people still in the apartments across from the school were bound to notice that the students were better fed then they should be, now that those in the apartments had run out of food. How long would it be before they came over the fence?
Peter was staring out between the boards over the windows, trying to catch sight of someone- anyone. He hadn't seen the military or cops since last night. For most of the last week, they had been shooting people, loaded them on a truck that came around on a daily basis, and then went around patrolling the streets. Then, they weren't there anymore.
Peter watched as a figure shambled onto the street from an alley. Its clothes were torn, splattered in mud and blood, there was a bite mark on his left forearm and there were deep gashes on its bare feet. Despite the blood on the figures clothes, the cuts on his feet weren't bleeding- they were just dry gashes. Another figure staggered out from the alley. It was a soldier, his neck mauled. Peter began to shake in fear, and he yelped in terror when a massive hand grabbed him by his shirt collar and picked him up.
Peter found himself looking into a pair of dark brown eyes which were nearly hidden by the golden brown hair of the fringe.
"Best not to look," Martin rumbled, setting Peter down. Peter blushed with embarrassment at how easily scared he had been, but not one had seen or heard except Martin. Peter hadn't heard the others leave the study room. Peter glance up at him. Martin was looking at him with sympathy.
"No need to be embarrassed, we are all scared," he said, in a surprisingly soft voice. It didn't match his large frame.
"Easy for you to say," Peter said, waving a hand at Martin's massive bicep. "It won't be long until we have to leave and you will do better than a skinny little runt like me."
Martin laughed and ruffled Peter's hair. Peter was speechless. It was the first time in a week that he had heard someone laugh.
"You think brute strength is the only thing a person needs in this?" he asked, sliding to the floor and patting a space beside him. Peter sat down reluctantly.
"I've seen you on the sports field and in the gym. You are fast, faster than anyone else at the school. And you are flexible. I've seen you practise with the gymnastics team. Those things could come in handy, if it ever comes to escaping," Martin said.
"Your right you know, what you said to your friend Ricky yesterday. We will have to get out of here soon. Our supplies are running out faster than the Principle thought. Everyone who leaves takes a lot of food with them."
"You have a plan?" Peter asked.
[[We are interrupted by a sharp bell, and everyone in the barracks begins to file out. Peter gets up to leave.]]
You feel like breakfast? We can finish this later.