Lindsay lit the chemical light, closed the steel door, and sealed the lab. She stood in the hallway, at the center of a pale green circle of light, and felt utterly alone. Leah Collins was dead. Holden was dead. All those men and women were dead. Everyone was dead or dying.
But maybe not Katie.
She placed her hand over the pocket where the vials were stored. They felt heavy, so heavy that she wanted to take them out and give them to someone else to carry. They were too important for her, it needed to be someone else, anyone else.
I have a decision to make.
She took a step and then another. The hallway opened before her. She saw it now, the chaos and disarray. The Infected lay where they’d fallen, some fresh, some old and rotting. The smell no longer bothered her and neither did the sight of them. Death seemed like a natural thing here, down in the dark.
Something moved ahead of her. Startled, she slipped the chemical light into a pocket, leaving a portion exposed while taking up her rifle. The light wasn’t as good but she needed both hands. It would be enough.
The hallway was tight, maybe six feet across and the light illuminated almost twenty feet. She saw cavernous, open doorways on the right, their contents still shrouded in darkness until she passed them. She checked each room, looking for whatever had caught her eye. Some contained unmoving bodies and for those she took a few extra moments to watching and listen. Nothing tried to kill her.
The movement came again, something out of the corner of her eye. She brought her rifle up to her shoulder, attempting to still the fear that threatened to overtake her mind. Moving slowly, one step after another, she went forward, keeping her eyes sweeping side to side.
She spun as something flashed at the corner of her vision. Nothing but empty corridors lay behind her. Her lungs were burning and she took a deep breath, not realizing she’d been holding it. She looked around again and again but saw nothing.
She heard it instead, clicking like the sound of high-heeled shoes on tile. It was ahead of her, growing fainter. She moved slowly forward, being as quiet as possible. Maybe it was an Infected, or maybe the pilot had come to look for her? No, no he wore boots. Boots wouldn’t make that sound.
She passed more empty rooms and dark corridors. Each time she checked them, that clicking sound came from up ahead. Lindsay wasn’t sure why she chased it, she knew she had to get to the helicopter soon, very soon.
She thought about her, about the vials in her jacket. Would they save her? Would it cure her? The doctor said it might, if she was young and strong. Lindsay didn’t know anyone stronger that Katie was.
“You have a decision to make,” a voice echoed ahead of her. Lindsay froze, her eyes widening. Had she heard that right? Did someone just say those words? The doctor was dead… or sealed away at least. Who would have… who could have…
And then, she knew.
Her mother stepped out of the darkness and into her circle of light. She wore her Sunday dress, the one with the flowers and her black pumps. Her hair was up in a bun with a single pin stuck through it. Lindsay nearly ran to her, dropping her weapon and leaping into her mother’s arms. Then she looked at her face.
It was gaunt and gray and streaked through with veins of dark blood. Her eyes, once bright and green, were black and glossy. When she held out a hand to Lindsay, the nails were long and cracked, the skin of her hand full of open lesions. Dried blood caked her wrist and forearm. There was a chunk of flesh missing near the elbow, the skin around the wound ragged and torn.
“Mom?” she said again, unable to bring her rifle up to her shoulder. Her mother was dead. The click of her heels had an added scraping sound as she dragged one foot behind her, the ankle broken in half.
“Lindsay… Lindsay… my dear little girl…”
“Stay back,” Lindsay said, stumbling backwards and nearly falling. She brought the rifle up again, slid her finger across the trigger and pulled the sight up to point at her mother’s forehead. She needed to shoot, but she couldn’t. Her hands froze there, the trigger barely moved from its starting position.
“Lindsay, you have a decision to make… before someone makes it for you…”
“H—How are you… how are you here, mom?”
How are you even speaking?
Her mother stopped at the edge the light. Lindsay didn’t know if she’d moved away or her mother was moving that slowly, but she was half encased in shadow. It seemed like a dream.
“You could save us, sweetheart.”
That made Lindsay pause, her rifle lowering. She didn’t understand what was happening. How was her mother here? In this place? How was she speaking to her? Was she dead? Merely sick?
Her mother stepped slightly closer, but the darkness seemed to follow her. Lindsay felt dizzy, the image before her growing hazy. She swallowed, blinked her eyes, resettled her grip on the rifle, and looked again.
“You have a cure, dear. A cure next to your heart.”
Lindsay slid her hand off the rifle and reached up, touching where the vials were stored. They felt heavier, like bricks in her pocket. Her mother was barely visible, as if the darkness was swallowing her.
“Mom? Mom where are you going? Mom!”
“You could save everyone,” her mother said, a hand reaching out for her. For a moment, it was healthy. It was her mother’s hand. She could feel it, stroking her hair, soothing her. Then it was gone.
Lindsay opened her eyes and realized she was on her knees. Tears clouded her eyes and she wiped them away. Looking around, she didn’t see her mother anywhere. She didn’t hear her footsteps either. She was gone, as if she’d never been there at all.
“Mom!” she called out but there was no answer. Had she dreamed the whole thing? Was she sick? Had she cracked?
Reaching up, she touched her pocket again. The vials were still there. Is that the decision the doctor meant? She could save her mother or she could save Katie? No… no, she could save everyone.
Everyone… or Katie.
Lindsay stood, slowly. Every joint, every muscle, felt strained and tired. It was like the collective exhaustion of weeks was finally falling upon her. She could fall asleep right where she stood, but she had a job to do.
Stumbling through the building, she encountered no more Infected. Either they’d been killed or were somewhere else. When she climbed the stairs to the roof, she was half-afraid the helicopter would be gone. It wasn’t. It sat there, blades turning, a panicked pilot waving her over.
She slid into the seat in the back as the rotors spun up. The pilot made a signal for the headphones and she put them on.
“Where is everyone?”
It took Lindsay a moment to find her voice.
“They… they’re dead.”
“Fuck!” the pilot said and looked out the door, towards the roof entrance. “Are you sure? The doctor?”
Lindsay nodded but realized he couldn’t see her. So she told him again that they were dead. She didn’t say how.
“The General’s going to kill me! Did you get the serum?”
The vials grew even heavier in her pocket. She had to resist an urge to touch them. What could she say? What dare she say? He might know she’s lying… but they hadn’t found the serum. They’d found something else.
“No… they never completed it,” she said and thought of Leah Collins, laying with her dying father. It made the tears come again and she began to sob. It was too much. Now, suddenly, with that single image, she felt like she’d seen too much.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her mother sitting there. She was giving her a look that Lindsay knew well. An expectant look, a glare that said she better do what she was told or her father would hear of it. Shaking her head, her mother vanished.
She had a choice. A choice to save everyone or to save Katie… everyone or Katie. Everyone… her mother included. The world. The world or her friend.
The helicopter lifted off the roof with the pilot cursing once again. Once they were in the air, Lindsay huddled back into her seat and drew her knees to her chest as best she could with the restraints.
She didn’t know what she was going to do. They would search her, likely interrogate her about what happened. How could she hide the vials? Should she? What would they do to her when they found out?
They were nearly to the base when the pilot spoke again. His voice sounded as tired as she felt.
“Hey. I’ve been wondering. How did you get out when they didn’t? You’re just a kid and… well Holden’s a trained soldier.”
She didn’t look up, her mind racing. What could she say? Lying was never her strong suit. So she told the truth… or at least as much as she dared.
“Holden was bitten… the others, they were all infected or something. He put them down. Like… like… it was horrible,” she said. It was horrible. She could see them lying there, shocked expressions on their faces. They died with their leader betraying them.
“Why weren’t you bitten?”
“He… Holden said I was important and kept them away.”
“And the doctor?”
Lindsay froze. There was no half truth here. Holden shot her. He was angry and shot her because she had a cure, a cure Lindsay now carried.
“Kid, what happened to Collins? Was she there?”
“Yeah but… Holden… he was infected and he… he shot her.”
“How did Holden die, kid? Did Collins do it? You gotta give me something.”
Lindsay’s silence stretched for too long and the seemed to know something was wrong. She saw him pull the strap for his pistol and she tightened her grip on her rifle.
Lindsay, you have a decision to make… before someone makes it for you… Her mother’s words were there, ringing inside of her head. She watched the pilot’s hand on his gun. Outside the rush of trees below were like a gray-green blur. She had nowhere to go.
“I killed him,” she said and tightened the grip on her rifle.