Survival Fiction: The Last Emergency, Part 1

A cacophony of animal noises nearly drowned out the departure of the delivery van. Macaws, parrots, and rhesus and spider monkeys clicked, howled, and hooted as the small man in the lab coat walked past them. Even they seemed to sense that something was wrong.

Abi turned off the Christmas music on the radio and smiled as he placed the package on the table. Even though he knew he was alone in the testing facility, he glanced around out of habit. It was perfectly ordinary, a lonely grad student acting as the sole keeper of the university lab animals over the “holiday season.” His university bosses were bellying up to a table heavily laden with food, but Abi had only a bowl of Ramen noodles. A pile of crossword puzzles and a Quran occupied space on the table alongside his laptop.

He sat down in front of the computer and logged in to the VPN. The virtual private network was a secure encryption “tunnel” through the Internet, and virtually impregnable to codebreaking attempts, or so Abi had been told. The program created a hidden connection to other users of that program on the internet and purportedly allowed total privacy, even on unsecured networks. The NSA could snoop for weeks on any captured data and never crack the code, his trainers had explained. The software was so simple a child could use it and it was free, one of many open-source programs posted on the web by idealistic programmers who sought for everyone to benefit from the power of the computer. So na├»ve, he thought.

Once logged into the VPN, he sent an e-mail to his brother warriors around the world. The e-mail itself was also encrypted with another free software program; double encryption was standard procedure, and much more rigorous than what even the American special forces used in their hunt for the Sheikh.

His e-mail was brief, as he had been trained, simply confirming the package’s arrival. The e-mail response came back swiftly, ordering him to begin his witness, his shahada. At other points all over the United States and around the world other witnesses were performing the same operation, the opening phase of a war that they all hoped would rid the world of the Great Satan and cripple the West.

The package which sat before him was covered in bright stickers, warning of a "biohazard" inside. He peeled back the brown paper to reveal a cardboard box, and inside it, a gleaming aluminum case. Within it he found the delivery he had long expected, and then he rolled up his shirt sleeve.

He plucked the metal syringe from the case. It was cool to the touch. He removed the cap and then pushed in the plunger, watching as a tiny drop of the contents emerged from the needle, and without hesitation, jammed it into his arm. It was his duty, his shahida.


* * *

Detective Inspector Martin Rowley sat tensely in the back of the unmarked silver Metropolitan Police BMW as it careened along the London streets, its warbling klaxon echoing through the morning rain. He coughed into his hand and then looked out the window as the driver deftly guided the vehicle down the narrow lanes of the tightly packed streets of Tower Hamlet.

The rain-slicked roads reflected a leaden sky. It was a gray rainy morning in a colorless slum, and to Rowley even the people shuffling along the sidewalks lacked any semblance of life or vigor. The whole world seemed to be living in black and white, save for the occasional splash of color from graffiti or the occasional lighted sign.

He had left the station in a hurry, briefcase and umbrella in hand. The call to which he was responding was to investigate a flat with “unusual equipment” inside. He supposed it was a drug lab of some sort, but as an Intelligence detective in the Met’s Counter Terror Command, it was his job to “liaise” with the constable on the street. Methamphetamine labs were was making inroads in the poorer sections of England just like everywhere else, and the Met’s street officers were notoriously skittish of drug-related crime.

Still, he resisted the temptation to engage in too much speculation. He picked a bit of lint off his coat. It was better to let the mind remain placid and simply take in all that he saw and heard. Preconceptions could cloud the mind and inhibit rational, and careful, observations.

In a few minutes the car lurched to a stop. A Police Community Support Officer stood in the street, flagging down the car. The PCSO were volunteers, essentially untrained observers, and universally derided among the rank and file of the Met. Martin instantly bridled his temper. If the call was from these enthusiastic but utterly incompetent wretches headquarters was going to hear about it, Martin thought. It was enough to deal with honest but overly imaginative bobbies, but the PCSO were the dregs.

Martin smoothly stepped half out of the car, revealing something of the lithe athlete he was beneath a conservative suit A proper bobby in a yellow rain slicker quickly approached him, not a PCSO, and said, “Good morning, sir. Detective Rowley, I presume?”

Martin nodded curtly and retrieved his briefcase and umbrella from the car. The bobby said “If you will follow me,” and motioned toward a decaying multi-level public housing building, its shabby concrete stained with rust and marked with graffiti, its lights smashed, and windows cracked.

Martin followed the bobby up three flights of stairs. The building was hardly habitable: raw sewage flowed down the walls, rain pooled on the floor, and paint peeled from the walls. It smelled as bad as it looked. He would have condemned it immediately, had he the authority.

At the top of the stairs they entered a dimly lit hallway and walked past an upturned rubbish bin and toward a flat midway down the hall marked with blue and white crime scene tape. Two bobbies stood in the hall sipping coffee from foam cups. They nodded as he approached but they said nothing.

When he passed them he noticed that a woman was standing by the door. She’d been blocked from view by the bulk of the two constables in their rain gear. She was an attractive brunette in a classy skirt suit, looking incongruously clean and professional in such a sodden and dimly lit building. Headquarters had told him to expect a subject matter expert from “up the chain,” but did not mention who it might be. She spoke first.

“So glad to meet you, detective. I’m Dr. Eva Warren, National Health Service,” she said with a cheery smile. She struck him at first as being very polished, but perhaps a bit of managerial type.

“Martin Rowley, Counter Terror.”

She extended her hand and Rowley noted, approvingly, that she had a firm grip. He began to look her over more closely. She was clutching a bulky aluminum medical chart book, with several pages folded back in disarray. He could see notes scribbled in red ink. He then noticed the pencil stuck behind her ear, a wisp of hair out of place. Her lipstick was not freshened, and her eyes were slightly red; she’d been up for some time. He glanced down and saw that her shoes were clean, but slightly scuffed. Judging from appearances – something which he was quite skilled at doing – she was no PR consultant or foppish manager. She was probably quite competent.

“Dr. Warren, may I ask why you’re here?“ he said, donning latex gloves.

She nodded as if she expected the question and then cleared her throat. “Well as you know, detective, all crime scenes related to possible epidemiological threats are seconded to our office.”

Rowley frowned. “Reports indicated the victim was struck by an automobile. Forgive me, but I expected a forensic specialist, not NHS.”

Warren smiled again. “Mr. Muhammad died of trauma, that’s true. But he was infected with a peculiar virus. We’re working it up now. Of course, then, the victim's residence is of great interest to us.”

He gave her a curious look and she smiled and nodded slightly in the direction of the officers standing at the end of the hall. “They haven’t let me in yet, detective . . . but I did chat them up a bit. It seems your boys found laboratory equipment of some sort.”

“It seems so, but my suspicion is its drug or bomb making kit.” Martin reached down and lifted two bags from a large yellow plastic box by the door. He handed one to her, then opened his and removed the contents. He slipped white disposable booties over his shoes and then stepped into a “clean suit,” a thin, white coverall with a hood.

He offered her a face mask and goggles, donned his, and then said with a gesture toward the door, “Shall we?”


* * *

Liz sat at the kitchen table listening intently to the announcer on the radio. He spoke with the cracker country accent of the Ozarks, but hammed up a notch or two – corny and commercial, rather than as an authentic country boy. He announced the school closings quickly, and when she heard Davy Crockett Junior High, she slumped back in her seat in disappointment. That was the third day in a row. She had not seen or heard from her friends in as many days; the power and phone lines worked intermittently, as did the internet service. Their computer had a virus, her father had said. He had been called in at the dam thirty miles away for extra shifts. He said he’d fix it over the weekend.

“I’m sorry honey,” her mother said without turning from the sink where she was washing the breakfast skillet. The kitchen still smelled of coffee and bacon. “It’s just this flu has been so bad this last couple of weeks. It’ll take some time for things to get back to normal.”

Liz thought otherwise. Flu was common enough, but this was different, and the TV news had repeatedly said it was nearing “pandemic proportions” over the last few days. Schools everywhere were shut down, some for only a day or two, some for much longer. Davy Crockett Junior High was hit particularly hard. She’d heard the principal say to one mother last Friday that because of the large number of families who had truck driving parents those folks, he guessed, were bringing in the flu from every part of the country. Liz knew her mother was smart enough to have figured all this out, and guessed she was just trying to sound reassuring.

She thanked her mom for breakfast and tugged on her rubber boots and walked out to the barn behind the house. Winkie, her frisky black Labrador, came out from under the porch and she knelt down and slipped him a piece of bacon. “Good morning, Wink. Hope you slept well. It was cold last night.”

He nuzzled her hand and wagged his tail as he walked along beside her through the frosty grass to the barn. Once inside, she was confronted by the familiar smells of dust, moldy hay, and horse manure. Before she could flip on the lights, however, the low rumble of Daisy’s eager nicker came from the back of the barn, and Liz could see the horse poking her nose over the top of the stall door. The other horses also beginning to nicker and neigh in expectation of their morning feeding.

“Well good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” she said, taking a half bow. “I’ll be your stewardess today, serving whole oats.”

Liz pushed the feed cart out of the tack room and began shoveling scoopfuls of oats between the wrought iron bars of the stall fronts into the feed buckets inside their stalls. She spoke to each of the five horses in turn, praising them by name with a low, soothing voice, and scratching their heads and ears.

There was Old George, the retired New York City police horse, a big bay with a regal bearing. And her favorite, little Daisy, the petite pinto filly who had such a sweet disposition. Then there was Archie, or Arch as her dad called him, a big buckskin horse that had been a state champ in barrel racing back in his youth. Her mother’s horse was Lucy, a lazy old palomino brood mare. And finally there was Dave, the two-year-old stud colt. He was nervous and full of boundless energy, and known to nip at careless fingers. She watched him closely. Sometimes he stood at the back of his stall, ears pinned back and neck bowed like a cobra ready to strike. He took most of his frustration out on her dad, though he had bitten – or at least threatened to bite – everyone in the family.

She bid them all good morning in turn and then retrieved the hammer, which she used to punch through the thick layer of ice on their water buckets. She then uncoiled the stiff hose and filled the buckets, the ice crackling as it was hit by the slightly warmer water from the well. This was her “before school” chores, a task which she repeated every evening as well.

Her friends in town had fewer chores, and seemed excited to help when they came to visit, but were quick to suggest that someone else do them when they proved inconvenient. After school band practice often became a chance to hang out at the Dairy Queen, but Liz could not hang out long – if at all – because she had to get home. Her friends would often protest, and brag about how they had gotten out of their chores by pawning them off on a sibling or parent. Liz never complained much about her job. The horses were friends, too, and she liked to take care of them. It had become second nature to her, and she enjoyed the early morning with her horses, even on cold frosty days like this one.

She finished her work in the barn and then headed back to the house, clowning and playing around with Winkie. She stuck her hands in her pockets and stood still, her head tucked under the hood of her barn coat. Winkie sniffed at her, whined, and then barked, as if to say “Play with me!” Liz leapt out at him, her hands held up like claws, and growled. Winkie jumped back and barked enthusiastically, then bobbed from side to side as she growled and chased after him. After a few minutes she sat down on the porch. He rested his head on her lap and seemed content for her to rub his head. His short play time was over.


Go to Part 2 here.


Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @liamkfisher. Please leave comments below and tell me what you think. I'd love to hear from you!

28 comments:

  1. good writing. I'm hopeing for more

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  2. Hey Liam, a good beginning. Best of luck with the writing!

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    1. Thanks, Ruby. We are still slugging away.

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  3. Hi Liam,

    You're off to a good start! There's a good hook, interesting technical details (because I always like to learn something or spur my thinking, even when I read fiction), and some initial character development. It leaves me ready to read more. And I will! :-) Good job, and thanks for posting it.

    -Andrew

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  4. Looks good! Love the Ozarks reference (Missouri boy)

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  5. Liam,
    It looks like an awesome read. Looking forward to more.

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  6. Liam,

    Thank you for sharing your writing with me. I so enjoyed it. Also thanks for following me on twitter. What a talent! I look forward to reading more. OhSuzyQz

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  7. Very good writing, Liam. You keep the reader hooked.
    Anneli
    http://wordsfromanneli.wordpress.com

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  8. Enjoyable with a sense of impending doom amidst the normal.

    (I did find one typo at the end "She finished her work in the barn and then he headed back to the house" I know you meant "she" headed back.)

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  9. Congratulations Liam, your writing has a very unique way of expressing all the fine details, "like the double email encryption" explanation.
    Looking forward for more of your work.

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  10. It is a good read thanks. I love the premise and the promise. The writing itself is skilful and I want to commend you on your use of detail. It adds to the story without weighting it down. Good luck!

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  11. Enjoyed part !, will definitely be reading more. Thanks.

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  12. Very well done, Liam! Solid writing, Intrigueing plot lines sparking interest as to how it all comes together. Interesting and relevant subject matter. You quickly introduced interesting characters but with enough information to give them individuality and relatability. I'm looking forward to more!

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  13. Very well written, Liam. I just wish there was more to read!

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  14. Have you considered PDF'ing this and making it available for Readers (I have a Sony E-Reader)? I'd purchase it! :-) Looking forward to more!

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  15. Wow, very impressive story indeed. I'm very impressed and I have told our membership base to take a look at this! I will be glad to read more and let them know about it when more becomes available. The members at our prepper community (http://www.PreppersConnect.com) will appreciate your writing sir.

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  16. Well done....good luck with it!

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  17. Very interesting read so far, looking forward to Part 2!

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  18. Just finished part 1. I really enjoyed it. It's engaging from the very beginning and I love how it tells the story from different perspectives. Thanks for posting it.!

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  19. The suspense builds as a lot of detail unfolds. A page-turner-scroller. Keep it up, Liam.

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  20. A good start. Off to the next part.

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  21. Yes. Keep going. Getting interesting.

    JT

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  22. This looks very interesting! Can I purchase your book(s) and download them to my iPad or Galaxy from Amazon?

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  23. Great read Liam! You might want to look at this link:
    http://download.cnet.com/PDF-to-EPUB/3000-2125_4-75325664.html
    The above is a PDF to EPUB software - FREE! It works great. When you
    finish your works they can be converted and uploaded to the Kindle store
    at Amazon. Check out John Locke (First author to sell a million kindle books at 99 cents each). He did it through social media. You are as good a writer as he is. Go for it!

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  24. What's the name of the town Liz is in? Is she in a rural area outside of London (North of the London suburbs?) which will have a connection with the police officer later?

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