Weary from her interminable journey, Aimee staggered through the fort’s cracked gate around dusk. The men inside helped her shrug off her pack and brought her a jug of well water. She drank deeply, watching them. Though few seemed in any way military, their many layers of jackets and scarves gave them a uniform, if ragtag, look. Aimee agreed to meet their Captain, shouldering her pack again against their protestations, slicing them with a look that all survivors wielded these days.
The Captain welcomed Aimee to his quarters with a hearty handshake and a warm smile behind thin lips. “I’m so glad you made it,” he said. “We’d worried the worst happened when we lost contact.”
“Got set on by some scavengers. Didn’t want to risk the radio, in case they had one, too,” Aimee said.
“Smart,” affirmed the Captain. “You didn’t lose anyone, I hope.”
“A few,” said Aimee.
“I’m sorry,” said the Captain. It seemed like he meant it. “Why didn’t the others come with you?”
“I like checking things out myself before risking everybody else.”
“You really are smart. Don’t put the best hope we have in danger. You really are all immune?”
“All twenty-eight of us,” Aimee said, shifting in her seat. That’s when she saw the slight glint of silver at the back of the Captain’s neck. Her pupils shrank, and she jumped up with her boot’s knife in her hand. “Staplers!” she hissed between gritted teeth.
“Now, calm down. We’re doing the best we can to survive this thing. We just maintained as best we could, till now. With you, we’ve got a chance at a future. A real future,” said the Captain, raising his palms. Aimee recognized now the tautness she was too tired to notice before, flesh pulled tight to keep the Slough from slipping it right off the bone.
Whatever the Captain shouted next Aimee couldn’t hear, because she was running, vaulting past men and hoping it was before they realized why. Crashing through the field outside on aching legs, her lungs burned as she screamed into the radio: “Rendezvous Point Bravo!” If anyone chased after her, she never knew, because she never looked back.