The mid-summer heat was beating down on the shanty town in the industrial district. Hundreds of people had been forced out of their homes in the infected suburbs out of safety concerns and packed in like sardines into shacks made of metal and wood. Sanitation was less than ideal and thus the whole place smelled terribly.
But that was minor with the soldiers walking around. Covered from head to toe in dark red armor and armed with automatic rifles with air and fuel tanks on their backs. These soldiers were members of AXIS and were tasked with law and order in place of local authorities.
Too bad they didn't take that job with any sense of dedication in mind.
Three soldiers walked into the shanty town section and were not in a good mood.
"Why does Command always send up out on patrol? I'm sick of this shit."
The middle one, the sergeant named Miller, held a flamethrower in his hands. The safety for that weapon was off as per protocol. "Because Starnes you're green to this operation. Command wants you to learn how to defend yourself before going into the hotter areas."
"I know sarge but I still want to kill shit, not be here where it's too quiet."
The third soldier sighed loudly. "If we didn't go through with this we'd end up as red stains on the asphalt. There are monsters downtown that would make you shit yourself Starnes."
"Really Riley? I want to see them for myself now."
"Shut it. Time for standard ops for the day. See those civvies? Take care of them."
He pointed over to a cluster of civilians gathered around a rundown shack. All of them were wearing face masks to protect them from the heavy stench in the air. The stench of death and fire was all around and rampant.
The soldiers raised their guns but it was the sarge who gave the orders as usual. "Okay, hands on your heads and don't fucking try anything, otherwise we'll shoot."
It wasn't a mere threat. AXIS soldiers more often than not used force for the littlest reasons, as undisciplined as they tended to be they were efficient. The people got in line rather lazily, and one person was hunched on the ground like he had major abominable problems.
Starnes 'lightly' kicked the down man to try and make him move, "Sarge said get up, man, now move!"
The downed civilian groaned in pain before looking up at Starnes. The soldier gasped at what he saw. The man had a heavily swollen face and grotesque features. His hands had morphed from five fingers to three stubby digits, but the most insightful were the swollen blisters that covered his chest and face, filled to bursting with green puss.
Though his mask hid his expression Starnes was scared. "S-Sarge! We have an infected!"
The more experienced soldier grabbed Starnes by the shoulder and pulled him back. Just in time as the now fully infected man launched himself at the other civilians who were not infected.
It killed two other men before the sarge used his flamethrower. The spray of five hundred degree flames covered the infected and the two newly dead civilians. The other civilians tried to flee but more soldiers from a nearby checkpoint began to close down the area.
As soon as the three corpses had proved to be nothing but that the sarge called into command through his radio. "Command this is Cobra Patrol Delta. Sector 4 has signs of infection. Request orders."
He asked out of respect for command. He knew what the answer would be.
"THIS IS COMMAND, PERMISSION TO ERADICATE SECTOR 4 HAS BEEN GRANTED. PROCEED WITH CLEANSING. OVER."
The sarge seemed happy to hear that. "Seems you'll get your wish today Starnes."
The three soldiers raised their weapons at the civilians and opened fire without a second thought.
From the darkened end of an alley nearby a single person watched from the safety of the dark. No one had noticed him, at least not yet. A Caucasian man wearing a biohazard jacket and tattered blue jeans covered in minor scorch marks. Wearing a tatter dark yellow jacket it shouldn't have been difficult to spot him, but one would suppose luck was on his side. Short raven hair, the man was in his mid-twenties and yet were one to look past his green eyes they would find little in terms of a past. That's because other than his own name, Xander Kane knew nothing about his past.
He shirked back into the alley, his mind already made up. 'I better hit the road before this place goes up in smoke...'
He moved down to the far end of the alley, intending to go south towards the industrial district. Sunnyvale had been a popular coal town in the early 20th century and though that industry was in decline the refineries were still up. Due to the situation in the city the buildings had been forced to shut down operations and were initially closed up. However when the situation in the suburbs deteriorated much faster than AXIS had thought possible they had been turned into makeshift shelters for the homeless. They were safe for some, but they weren't clean.
All he had to do was cross the bridge a few blocks up and Xander would be safe, for the time being at least.
"Hey you, get back here!"
Xander didn't need to know what that voice belonged to. An AXIS soldier had probably spotted him earlier and followed him. Most likely under orders to see if he was infected or not.
Too bad the man in yellow wasn't going to give him the opportunity to find out. He took off running down the street.
That was a bad idea, evidence given as he ran right into a squad of soldiers, all armed and pointing their weapons right at him.
"Hold it right there!"
Xander didn't know which one had shouted at him but he kept right on running at the group. The soldiers took too long to fire and Xander ran through them like a bowling ball. They were violently knocked to the ground as Xander went on his way, picking up speed like a cheetah. A level of speed a human should not be able to reach in under three seconds...
The man kept running, hoping to not run into anymore soldiers. 'Don't want this to escalate...'
Another shanty town was up ahead, though he knew the soldiers were sure to call in for back up now that they had seen a suspicious bogie running around. Still, Xander would keep on running until he couldn't anymore.
Doctor Franklin Trent sighed in frustration. Though it was only noon he had decided to put in his project log at his lab near St. Mary's General Hospital. He had been excited after retrieving a sample that morning from the Red Zone. His latest model had projections that had guaranteed success with his latest experiments. However, once he had used the infected tissue on a specimen, an obese middle aged man, the result was less than promising. He typed the failed result of his experiment.
'The specimen displayed no symptoms for the first hour before suddenly convulsing in pain. Sedatives were used but proved to be useless. The specimen was detained after attacking and eating another doctor. Two hours later the subject was euthanized per project protocol via the torch chamber.'
And that was that. Another failed experiment, but the amount of work that needed to be done was nowhere near close to being done. That fact alone brought the excitement back to the young doctor. 'The city is nothing but a giant petri dish. I'll have plenty of time and specimens to choose from.'
Finishing up his report the doctor shut down the computer before going outside his tent.
While the main lab had been established in the church next door, all scientists and military personnel of AXIS were ordered to make their living quarters in tents in the large parking lot outside the building. The 'tents' were in fact metal structures that had no air conditioning or electricity to begin with, and with it being in the midst of summer the temperature and humidity were unbearable. Added that all AXIS scientists were to wear red hazmat suits that covered their entire bodies from head to toe didn't make the situation any better.
Trent had grown used to it though. He could put aside such minor inconveniences for the sake of his research. He had always been driven by a thirst for knowledge and nothing was going to change that.
The two soldiers that guarded the door into the tent turned to the doctor but didn't say a word. They weren't paid to ask how he was doing or if he needed a cup of coffee. They had assistants for that, all female to help make the drudgery a bit more bearable.
However, one of the soldiers had something to say. "Dr. Trent, the trucks for the next batch of specimens are ready for deployment."
'Finally,' the doctor thought with a small amount of glee. "Glad to hear it. Go out and get a wide variety of people. Wide as range in terms of body type and ethnicities as possible but please avoid any obese ones. They've proven useless in my studies."
The soldier responded with a yes sir before he and the other left to go about their business. The soldiers had been going about in armored trucks taking people off the street for use in the experiments. That was authorized by management per Dr. Trent's recommendations, long as the results were mostly successful.
While he was happy with the opportunity to see what the virus could do to living humans the fact that he hadn't had much luck in diversity put a strain on his patience.
He had to find other more viable specimens.
Two soldiers near a truck ready to go finished briefing their comrades before they climbed into the truck and driving off. Two other soldiers remained.
"You two," said the doctor as he approached them.
"Sir?" said the first soldier.
Obedient at least. "I want you to look around at the refugees around the church and help me look for new specimens."
They didn't ask why they should take orders from a lab rat. All AXIS soldiers were subject to orders from a scientist were the need to arise without question.
"Sure sir. Anyone specific?"
Trent knew what he wanted for his next batch of experiments. "Females of varying age and body types. But avoid any fatties, they waste my time and energy."
The soldiers saluted and went about their orders.
Trent couldn't wait for the results. He proceeded to head inside the church.
A hospital near the river had been turned into a base of operations for local AXIS forces, and with it came all new problems. The virus caused by the events of three weeks ago meant containment was top priority. The hospital had been closed off to all none-authorized personnel and that left the countless civilians suffering from the effects of the virus as well as other ailments to fend for themselves. That usually meant they died without a second thought.
Nurses and doctors who worked in the place tried to lobby for treatment but were denied or even ignored by upper ranks.
Yet there were people who still wanted to help. In the parking lot outside the emergency entrance was a series of makeshift tents where the sick were resting, most awaiting the inevitable death to claim them. Most people avoided these areas for fear of infection save for doctors who genuinely wanted to help and the scientists who wanted to inspect the infected for their own purposes.
There was one such person that preferred the former to the latter.
A young Caucasian woman who could have been more than twenty years old. She wasn't a nurse, as her blue and black waitress uniform which was slightly worn gave evidence to but she had been helping the doctors out with their patients for the last few days. Tall with a voluptuous body Odette was more like a model than a waitress studying to be a nurse. This was also not the way she had thought she'd be learning medical practices. 'Though if father were to hear of this he would no doubt say his little lamb has grown up…' she thought with a smile. That same smile helped a teenager through the morphine shot she had given him earlier, said it eased the pain. She felt flattered at the time and remained so, even after the young man had left. Though she had helped a dozen people already the number never seemed to get smaller. Now she was standing over a cot where a woman was curled up into a ball in pain.
"Ma'am, please let me see where you're hurt. I might be able to help…" she tried to speak in English, but as it wasn't her first language she could just barely make words out without stumbling over herself.
Though her message was received, the woman continued to groan in pain, unable to unwind her body. The pain was too much. It had been that way for the last few hours. Most of the time that was a clear sign of infection and thus not a sign to be hopeful for.
Yet Odette wasn't going to give up on this woman.
"S'il vous plait madame, I am going to get some food for you, maybe some medicine as well. I'll be back."
The French born woman got up and left the tent. She walked barefoot across the parking lot and to the provisions tent. Though the quarantine had lasted a few months food was still in high demand, reserved mostly for the AXIS soldiers and scientist while heavily rationed to the rest of the civilian population. The hospital was running low on food itself, and though they had called on AXIS for assistance they had been largely ignored. Odette herself had eaten little in the last few days. That and the lack of sleep was beginning to wear her down physically, leaving her hands shaky whenever she applied bandages to the wounded. She had only eaten enough to keep herself from falling over.
She believed she could handle it however. 'Most people around here look more emancipated than me. They need the food more than me.'
Bread with cheese and water was all that could be salvaged from their remaining stores and Odette felt depressed at that detail. Still a plate of scraps was better than nothing in her mind and she tried to figure out how she was going to give this to the woman when she saw someone enter her peripheral vision. A bright yellow tattered coat.
She knew who it was and wore a weak smile. "Monsieur Thorn, good to see you again..."
Xander looked as if he was going to stop to speak to the young woman, maybe even ask if she was alright. However he just walked past her and into the tent. He was hungry and nothing was going to prevent him from some grub.
Yet when he got inside all he got was scrap and that didn't set well with him. He received his plate and walked outside and expelled his grief. "This won't last me even half a day...the fuck is it with the lack of food?"
"Emergency rations were supposed to be given yesterday but soldiers came and-"
Before Odette had finished explaining Xander finished his 'meal' and threw the plate the ground irritated as hell. "Same old shit, the soldiers come and screw up everything." His anger was unfiltered and it frightened Odette.
"Calm down, Xander."
"Calm down? I've been all over the fucking neighborhood looking for supplies. People are either being dicks and hoarding for themselves or AXIS is killing them and taking it. I'll calm down once I find something better than what I just had."
Odette had only known Xander for a couple weeks and yet she knew his temper was beyond terrible. Saying he had a short fuse was a severe understatement. The last time he had been pushed beyond his limit he beat a soldier so bad he put him into a coma. Though he hadn't threatened her with force before Odette was still on edge whenever he was angry, with a high level of uncertainty and fear on if he would ever actually hurt her.
"Then next time give that so called grub to someone who appreciates it instead of complaining."
With heavy steps Xander got closer to her, appearing to size the woman up. "Don't fucking talk to me like that."
The difference in height between them was only a couple inches. Still, she treated the situation as if she were a cornered animal. While she was only slightly shorter than him Odette gave him a glare that spoke volumes about what she thought of his attitude. There was something about the normally compassionate Odette when she was serious that made people turn their heads. Merciful as an angel but a genuine hellcat when pushed far enough.
Whatever it was, whether it was her eyes telling him to or something else, the man backed up a couple steps, albeit small ones. She had repelled him.
"...better than nothing I guess..." he begrudgingly uttered before putting his hands in his jacket pockets.
Odette took the moment to wipe the sweat off her forehead. The heat of the summer was making her miserable and Xander's attitude didn't help the situation.
"I guess supplies would be hard to find when these fascist fuckers are running around stealing shit," said Xander, turning away from her.
"...they came by the hospital again late last night," said Odette.
Xander kept his thoughts to himself this time. 'No surprise. They seem to be locking down the area tighter each day.' He put the hood of his jacket up over his head, "Not my problem what they do."
Odette couldn't understand how he could be that way. "How can you say that? People are suffering because of them and you could care less."
"Because when it comes down to it, survival is all that matters. You can help as many people as you want, but your own life should take priority. If it came down to me or the person next to me, I'd go with saving my own ass each time."
"No, that's how you survive. Take notes, your life will depend on it."
Shaking her head slowly, Odette refused to accept that logic. Yes, it made sense, but that didn't mean it set well with her. Call her naive but she believed that her life shouldn't take precedence over others. "Toute vie est précieuse..."
All life is precious.
Xander hadn't heard her, not that he would have reacted had he been able to.
"...so what will you do next?"
Crossing his arms over his chest Xander looked around. Seeing people suffering around him left little impact on his psyche. All he thought about was what was sure to come next. "Most likely move to a different neighborhood. AXIS seems to be more thorough with its cleansing of the virus. No doubt they will move onto this area before long." He sighed, "I know you won't listen but I am saying this now: forget these people and leave before you become barbeque."
He didn't want to wait for her response, but he knew her enough to expect what she would say, and he took off walking towards the street.
'Some day, Xander, you might find yourself in enough trouble that someone could risk their life for yours.' Odette didn't speak aloud, as she knew him well enough to know he wouldn't listen. Instead she returned to the tent, where she felt more at home helping others, and so she wouldn't feel as depressed otherwise. She brought her plate to the woman she had been talking to earlier.