“What … uh, what did it do?”
“It just stood there. I was scared. Mr. Bear growled at him and he eventually went away.”
I had read somewhere that you could get out of handcuffs if you broke the bone at the base of your thumb. Or maybe just dislocated it? Either way I’d have to find out if my legs were strong enough to do that. The issue would then be trying to get the presumably locked door open one-handed. Maybe Anna could help.
I said, “Okay. We have to get out of this place.”
“They told us we couldn’t leave.”
“Anna, you’re going to find out soon that grown-ups aren’t always right. We … let’s just say that it’s better if we’re not here when that thing comes back. But if it does, I don’t want you to panic. I don’t think it’s here for you, I think it’s here for me.”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“He talked to you?”
She hesitated. “Sort of. I could hear him. I don’t think he had a mouth. Like Hello Kitty.”
“And … what did he say?”
“I don’t want to repeat it but I don’t think he likes you.”
I said nothing.
Anna asked, “Do you want Mr. Bear?”
“No, thank you.”
I pulled my hand as far out of the handcuff as I could, which wasn’t far. I could feel the little knob of bone stopping it, two inches down from the thumb. If I yanked it hard enough, surely it would scrape off that bone, and the blood would lubricate it. Be a matter of not passing out from the pain. And me not being too much of a pussy.
Metal scraping. I was about to ask Anna what she was doing when it registered that—
HOLY SHIT THAT’S THE DOOR THE DOOR IS OPEN
I sat up and threw aside the blanket. The room was bathed in light, a pair of powerful flashlights in the doorway, side by side like the eyes of a giant robot that had poked his head up through the floor. I was momentarily blinded by the light, but I squinted and looked to the corner, yelling, “Anna! Get—”
The words died in my mouth. The room I was in, now fully illuminated by the flashlights, contained a small bedside table, a toilet, a filthy sink, and one bed. Mine.
I was absolutely alone in the room.
On the floor was a tattered, filthy old teddy bear.
Gloved hands grabbed me, holding me to the bed. It was two dudes wearing decontamination space suits, but the suits weren’t white—they were black, and they had pads on the arms, torso and thighs like body armor. Their faceplates were tinted, so you couldn’t see the face of the wearer.
The cuff was removed from the bed rail and locked around my other wrist. Leg irons were placed around my ankles. I was dragged from the bed and marched down a long hallway lined with rusting steel doors just like the one I had been yanked through.
There were other people here, roused to life by the sound of us passing their cells. I heard an old man screaming for his wife, or daughter (“KATIE!!!! KAAAATIE! CAN YOU HEAR ME??!?”) with no response. I heard a scraping from behind one door, like somebody was clawing to get out. I heard someone beg for food, I heard someone beg for pain pills.
At the moment I passed a particular door, a male voice on the other side said, “Hey! Buddy! Hey! Open this door for me. Please. It’s my wife, my wife is in here and she’s bleeding. I’m begging you.”
“I’m here. What’s—”
The gloved hands clamped on me again to pull me along.
“Hey! Are you gonna help that guy? Hey!”
No answer from the guards. From behind me, the desperate voice begged and howled and wept.
The hallway came to a bend and continued to the right, but I was stopped in front of a TV screen that had been mounted on the wall. There was a speaker mounted below it, with a “push to talk” button. The screen blinked to life and there was a man in another decontamination suit, this one the normal, friendly white like you’d expect from a government agency. The face behind the clear Plexiglas mask was familiar to me, the neatly cropped silver hair and weathered wrinkles.
“Good morning, Mr. Wong. How are we feeling today?”
“Dr. Tennet? What the hell are you doing here?”
Am I dreaming this?
“If we just keep answering each other’s questions with questions this conversation won’t go anywhere, will it?”
“I’m feeling like shit. Why are you here?”
“You don’t remember?”
“What do you remember?”
“A bunch of guys in space suits were shooting people in BB’s parking lot. Guts sprayed all over me. Next thing I know I’m chained to a bed in this prison. And now my therapist is here for some reason.”
“Prison? Is that where you think you are?”
“There are tiny rooms with locks and handcuffs and I can’t leave. Call it whatever you want. How long have I been here?”
“You honestly don’t remember? Anything at all?”
“You’ve lost all memories from your arrival until now? Think hard for me.”
“I don’t remember anything, goddamnit.”
“I completely understand your agitation. But I’m going to have to beg for a little bit more of your patience. I’m part of the team sent to observe you and the others. We’re trying to get you well.”
He looked down and was doing something with his hands. Tapping on a laptop. Making notes. Immune to the sound of muffled suffering echoing down the hall behind me.
“Doctor, is somebody going to help those people back there?”
“That would be … ill-advised. I assure you that the patients who actually need help are receiving it. Again, this is not a prison.”
“So am I free to leave?”
“If I’m satisfied that you’ve stabilized, you’ll be free to rejoin the others in quarantine.”
“Over at the hospital grounds. The primary quarantine area.”
“But I can’t leave there?”
“I’m afraid not. The government would have some very strong words for me if I were to let any of you wander out.”
“Where am I now?”
“In the old Ffirth Asylum, the abandoned TB hospital just down the street. Temporary REPER command center and patient processing.”
I thought he said “raper” and decided then and there that I had lost my mind.
“The who command center?”
“R-E-P-E-R. Rapid Exotic Pathogen Eradication slash Research. A not widely publicized task force for situations like this.”
“What situations are ‘like this’?”
“You and I have had this conversation before, by the way. I know what you’re about to ask next.”
“Are John and Amy here?”
“And once again, I can tell you we have three Johns—Washington, Rawls and Perzynski. But no Amys.”
I had a dozen follow-up questions: Were they okay? Did they get out of town? Where were they now? But I knew this asshole wouldn’t answer them.
“Wait, did you say ‘rejoin’? So I’ve been in quarantine before?”
“We brought you over for testing, but we’re ready to transport you back.”
“Yes, we’re still trying to perfect our method of detecting the infection.”
“And this test wiped out my memory.”
“That’s merely a side effect, one I do believe is temporary.”
“How long have I been here?”
“Here, or in quarantine in general?”
“Let’s go for the second one.”
“Ever since the outbreak.”
“And how long ago was that?”
“Longer than most of us would have preferred to stay, let us just put it that way.”
Oh, fuck you.
“And you get to keep us here, forever, until you figure out how to cure the infection?”
“If you have a better idea, you be sure to let us know. Trust me, no one is enjoying this. The best thing you and everyone else can do is cooperate.”
He finished his laptop work with a flourish of key taps and looked me in the eye.
“So. In that spirit, tell me how you are feeling.”
“Why is it dark in here?”
“Electricity is out to much of the town. We have diesel generators but they are insufficient for the whole facility, so we are forced to pick and choose. Other than your missing memory, are you having any other symptoms? Dreams, hallucinations?”
“Well if I was, I wouldn’t remember them, would I? You know, because I’m missing my goddamned memory.”
“Of course. How are you feeling, physically?”
“I have a headache and my joints hurt.”
“Those are expected side effects of the tranquilizers and being bedridden, and also should pass quickly. Do you remember why you were put under tranquilizers in the first place?”
“Any question you ask me that begins with the words ‘do you remember’ is going to be answered with ‘no.’”
“Ha. Understood! Do you feel like you are up to rejoining the others?”
“The others? How many others are there? Can you tell me that?”
“In the primary quarantine area? Nearly five hundred. At one time.”
“And how many of them are people like me, who you know goddamned well aren’t infected?”
“Now David, can’t you see that I do not know that?”
“Do I fucking look infected?”
“Ah, I see. Due to being muddled by the medication, you are missing some key information about our circumstances. It turns out that appearances are not a perfect indication of infection. Not, unfortunately, until it’s too late. So hopefully you understand that we must take precautions.”