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Emma Mitchell looked at her watch. Two o’clock. Was that two in the afternoon or morning? She thought morning, but she wasn’t sure. In the permanent darkness of the base it was impossible to tell the difference between day and night anymore. There were always people sleeping, and always people awake. There were always people gathered in groups and huddles talking in secret whispers about nothing of any importance, and there were always people crying, moaning, and arguing. There were always soldiers moving through the decontamination chambers or coming out into the hangar to check, double-check, and triple-check their stockpiled equipment.
Two in the morning or two in the afternoon, Emma couldn’t sleep. She lay in bed next to Michael Collins and stared into his face. They’d made love a while back, and she felt ridiculously guilty. It had been the fourth time they’d had sex in the three weeks they’d been underground, and each time he’d fallen asleep as soon as they were finished and she’d been left alone feeling like this. When she’d asked him, he’d said that being with her made him feel complete, that their intimacy made him feel like he used to before the rest of the world had died. Although Emma felt that way too, sex reminded her of everything she’d lost and made her wonder what would happen if she lost Michael. She didn’t know whether she slept with him because she loved him, or if it was because they just happened to be there for each other. One thing of which she was certain was that there was no room in her world for romance and other long-forgotten feelings anymore. He had no trouble, but she couldn’t imagine ever being relaxed or aroused enough to have another orgasm. There was no longer any seduction or foreplay. All she wanted was to feel Michael inside her. He was the only positive thing remaining in her world. Everything was cold apart from his touch.
In the final days before finding this bunker, Emma had grown to hate the cramped motor home that she and Michael shared. Now she never wanted to leave it. It was a small, private space where the two of them could shut themselves away from everyone else and she appreciated it. The others had no choice but to spend all day, every day together, and Emma didn’t know how they coped. She needed this space to be able to cut herself off from what was happening elsewhere. Yesterday she’d overheard two soldiers talking about the air getting thinner on the lower levels of the base, that the sheer weight of the bodies aboveground was beginning to cause problems and block vents and exhaust shafts. She’d spoken to Cooper about it and he hadn’t seemed surprised. The thought of what it must be like aboveground now made her want to lock the motor home doors and never open them again.
Emma heard a noise outside. She sat up and wiped the nearest window clear of condensation, the heat from her and Michael’s bodies contrasting with the cold air in the vast hangar. Supplies were being delivered. Two suited soldiers emerged from the decontamination chambers to begrudgingly deliver rations to the civilian survivors. Emma was surprised they were given anything at all. She often tried to imagine what life must be like for the soldiers. Were they just going through the motions, waiting to die? How long would the contagion outside last? Was the air clear now, or would it stay contaminated for another month, year, or decade? How would they know? Would any of the soldiers ever be brave or stupid enough to risk going aboveground and breathing in? Donna Yorke had suggested that was why the military had been so acommodating toward them. She said she could see a time when they might want to use the immune survivors to either try and find a cure or, once the bodies had rotted down to nothing, just to scour the surface for food, water, and supplies.
Emma put on Michael’s thick winter coat and stood up and moved to another window. It was hard to make out what was happening outside—the hangar lights were almost always turned down to their lowest setting to conserve power, only getting any brighter when the military was heading outside, and that hadn’t happened for more than two weeks. Two days after the civilians had first arrived, the army had opened the doors and made a futile attempt to clear the mess they’d made getting in. They’d been beaten back by the number of bodies outside. The first few hundred had been obliterated with flamethrowers but there were thousands more behind. Distracted thinking about the carnage that day, she watched Cooper checking over one of the vehicles he and the others had arrived here in. It was obvious from his manner, attitude, and priorities that he was military—or was he now ex-military? Regimented and confident, she’d often seen him exercising or demonstrating to small groups of people how to use the military equipment which surrounded them. She knew it was important to keep themselves and their vehicles in good order. She was under no illusions. Today, tomorrow, or in six months’ time, they’d have to leave the bunker eventually.
Emma turned around and saw that Michael was sitting up in bed. His dark eyes looked tired and confused.
“Nothing. Couldn’t sleep, that’s all.”
He yawned and beckoned her over. She climbed back into bed and he grabbed hold of her tightly as if they’d been apart for years.
“How you doing?” he asked quietly, his face close to hers.
“Anything happening out there?”
“Not really, just a delivery of supplies, that’s all. Does anything ever happen around here?”
“Give it time,” he mumbled sadly, kissing the side of her face. “Give it time.”
Copyright © 2011 by David Moody