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By David Moody
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 David Moody
All rights reserved.
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.
"Something wrong?" 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."CHAPTER 2
"Morning, you two," Bernard Heath said in his loud, educated voice as Michael and Emma walked together into the largest of the few rooms that the survivors were permitted access to.
"Morning, Bernard," Emma replied. "Bloody cold, isn't it?"
"Isn't it always? Get yourselves something to eat, they left us quite a lot last night."
Holding onto Michael's hand, Emma followed him as he weaved through the crowded room. About six meters square, it was used by the survivors as a dormitory, a meeting place, a kitchen and a mess hall. In fact, it was used for just about everything. As bleak, grim and imposing as its gray, featureless walls were, the fact that the room was always filled with people made it just about the best place for any of them to spend their time. At least here they weren't always looking over their shoulders or sitting in silence, not daring to speak. At least here they could, for the time being at least, try to relax, recuperate, and heal.
A basic shift pattern had been drawn up shortly after they'd first arrived at the bunker. Although there had been the few expected protests and missed shifts, most people were prepared to pull their weight and contribute by cooking or cleaning or doing whatever other menial tasks needed to be done. Rather than evade work as some of them might have done before, almost all of the survivors now willingly worked as hard as they could. How much of the work was done for the good of the group was questionable: most simply craved the responsibility because it helped reduce the monotony and boredom of the long, dark days. As many of them had already found to their cost, sitting and staring at the walls of the bunker with nothing to do invariably resulted in thinking constantly about all they had lost.
Emma and Michael collected something to eat from Sheri Newton — a quiet and diminutive middle-aged woman who always seemed to be serving food — and sat down. The faces of the people around them were reassuringly familiar. Donna Yorke was at a table nearby talking to Clare Smith, Jack Baxter, and Phil Croft. As the couple began to eat, Croft looked up and spotted them. He nodded at Michael.
"Morning," Michael said as he chewed on his first mouthful of dry, tasteless rations. "How are you doing today, Phil?"
"Good," Croft replied, wheezing. He took a long drag on a cigarette and coughed.
"You should think about giving those things up," Michael said sarcastically. "They'll be the death of you, mate!"
Croft grimaced as he coughed and then managed a fleeting smile. It was a sign of the grim hopelessness of their situation that death was just about the only thing they could find to laugh about. The group's only doctor, Croft had been seriously injured in a violent crash as they'd approached the military bunker. The dank conditions underground were not ideal and did nothing to aid his recovery. Although the only remaining visible signs of his injuries were a scar across his chest and an unsteady limp, as a trained medic, Croft knew that his body had sustained a huge amount of internal damage and that he would never be fully fit again. With his private discomfort and pain continuing, and with the military on one side and thousands of decomposing corpses on the other, the potentially harmful side effects of smoking were the very least of his concerns.
Cooper marched angrily into the room, his sudden, stormy entrance instantly silencing every conversation and causing everyone to look round. He fetched himself a drink, yanked a chair from under the table, and sat down next to Jack Baxter.
"What's the matter with you?" Jack asked.
"This place is full of fucking idiots," the ex-soldier answered. Since returning to the base he had steadily distanced himself from his military colleagues. Perhaps symbolically, he now wore only the lower half of his uniform, and he only kept the boots and trousers on because they were the most practical clothes he possessed. In fact, they were just about the only clothes he had.
"Now who's he talking about?" Croft interrupted. "Who you on about now, Cooper?"
Cooper took a swig of coffee. "Bloody jokers in charge of this place."
"What have they done?"
"Nothing, and that's the problem."
"What do you mean?" Donna asked, concerned. She knew Cooper well enough to know that there had to be a reason behind his sudden foul mood. He was usually much calmer and more controlled than this.
"They won't tell me anything anymore," he explained. "They've been ordered not to. I just can't understand their logic. What are they going to gain from keeping us in the dark? We've seen more of what's happened out there than they have."
"Sounds typical of what I've seen of the military so far," Jack said. "So is that all that's bothering you?"
Cooper shook his head.
"No, it's more than that. I've just been talking to an old mate of mine, Jim Franks. Jim and I go back a long way and I know I can trust him. Anyway, he's been telling me that they think they're going to start hitting real problems soon."
"Supplies?" Baxter wondered.
"No, they've got enough stuff here."
"What kind of problems, then?" Emma asked, starting to feel uneasy.
"Big fucking problems," Cooper continued. "Nothing they weren't expecting, but big fucking problems nonetheless."
"Such as ...?"
"You've got to remember that I was talking to Jim through the intercom on the front of the decontamination chamber and he was trying to keep quiet in case anyone caught him speaking to me, so I didn't get a lot of detail. It's the bodies. They've been taking readings around the base and the damn things still keep on coming. Jim told me that the air filtration system's still working at the moment but it's really starting to struggle and the problems we've heard about with ventilation are getting worse. Seems that more than half the exhaust vents are blocked or almost blocked, just like we said they would be."
"So what are they going to do about it?" Croft said, asking the question that everyone was thinking.
"There's no way of clearing the vents from down here," he replied, "so they're going to have to go aboveground again."
"But what good's that going to do?" Emma said, terrified at the prospect of the bunker doors being opened again. "Do they think they can just clear the bodies away? As soon as they move any of them hundreds more will take their place."
"I know that and you know that," Cooper said dejectedly, "but they don't understand the scale of the problem. This is why I don't understand them not talking to us. The reality is that the people making the decisions down here don't have a fucking clue how bad things are up on the surface. Until you've seen it for yourself, until you've been out there in the middle of it, you just can't imagine what it's like out there, can you?"
"So how are they planning to keep the vents clear?" asked Donna. "Like Emma says, as soon as they've cleared them more bodies will be lining up to block them again."
"Jesus, I don't know. My guess is they'll try and cover them or build something over the top. You've got to remember that this place was designed not to be noticed. You'd have to look hard just to find the bloody vents 'cause they're not obvious, but that doesn't matter anymore. I think they're planning to fight their way through to them and then just do whatever they have to to block them off. They'll try and cover the top of them or maybe leave people out there to guard them. A trench or a wall might do it ..."
"Pity the poor bastards who get sent out there to build bloody walls," Jack said. "Christ, it's hard enough just being up there, never mind having to build a bloody wall. I tell you, you wouldn't get me back outside for anything."
"You reckon? Keep things in perspective, Jack," Cooper said, looking directly at him. "We've got a massive advantage over this lot at the moment because we can survive out in the open. So who says they're not going to try and use us to do whatever it is that they're planning? Argue all you like, but if you've got a gun held at the back of your head, you'll do whatever they bloody well want you to do."
"You really think it's going to come to that?"
"Perhaps not yet, but ..."
"But they might do eventually. Put yourself in their shoes. You'd probably do the same."
The conversation stalled as each of the survivors stopped to take stock of Cooper's words. He knew how the military minds worked better than any of them. He'd never been anything other than straight and direct. There was no point trying to soften the blow.
"How long?" Donna asked.
"How long until what?"
"How long before they open the doors and go out there?"
"No idea. I don't expect they know either. We'll just have to sit and wait."
"It has to happen sooner or later, doesn't it?" Michael said, his voice filled with resignation. "It's inevitable. They used to call it Chaos Theory, didn't they? If something can go wrong, eventually it will."
"You're a happy bugger, Mike! Keep looking on the bright side, eh?" grinned Jack.
"He's right, though," Cooper agreed.
"We've all seen it happen," Michael continued. "We started off in a village hall. There were about twenty of us there. We thought we'd be okay but we had to get away. One of us went back and the place had been completely overrun. We found ourselves a house in the middle of the bloody countryside miles away from anywhere, but that wasn't safe enough either. Built a bloody fence around it but it didn't last."
"Same with us and the university," Donna said. "It seemed ideal to start with but it didn't last. Things change and we can't afford to just sit still and wait and hope and —"
"And you're right, the same thing's bound to happen here eventually," Cooper interrupted. "Something's going to give — more vents will become blocked, the disease will manage to get in somehow, or something else will happen. It'll take luck more than anything else to keep anybody safe down here."
"So what do we do about it?"
"There's not a lot we can do right now," he answered. "We just need to be ready for it when it happens, and be prepared to get out of here fast if anything goes wrong."CHAPTER 3
Three days was all it took. It was midmorning when it began.
Michael was standing in front of the motor home, talking to Cooper about the sorry state of his battered vehicle. Although it had been cleaned and overhauled to the best of their abilities with their limited resources, the machine still looked desperately dilapidated. Their conversation was interrupted abruptly when the hangar lights were switched on full, filling the cavernous space with unexpected illumination. Having been forced to live in almost complete darkness for weeks on end, both men covered their sensitive eyes and, for a fraction of a second, found themselves thinking more about the sudden pain and discomfort than the possible reasons why the lights had been turned on now.
Michael was the first to react.
"Shit," he cursed as he looked around, still shielding his eyes. "This must be it."
Excerpted from Autumn: Purification by David Moody. Copyright © 2011 David Moody. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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