SanFran, North American Union
June 8, 2079
Brandon was slowly coming to the realization that they were starving. He watched as Jennie settled their one-month-old baby into a cradle they’d fashioned from a box. The candlelight threw grotesque, shifting shadows on the walls of the room as Jennie moved about, her nightshirt hanging off one bony shoulder. She finally came over and joined him in bed, and Brandon blew out the candle. He held her slight form close, stroking her hair in the dark. “She’s still hungry,” Jennie murmured. “I don’t think I’m making enough milk for her.” Brandon nodded against the top of her head. They had all been steadily losing weight, ever since the virus had gone global. It was called the Synthetic Hemorrhagic Airborne Virus, or SHAV. Basically, you coughed your lungs out. They said it was carried by respiratory droplets, and for a while everyone you saw was wearing one of those surgical masks. That didn’t seem to slow it down at all, though; it marched across the globe relentlessly, leaving a swath of death in its wake. Everything ground to a halt, including food deliveries. Before the virus, the city’s grocery stores had held about three days’ worth of food. Once the shelves were empty, people had begun raiding the commune’s gardens, and now they had been stripped bare. The members of the Green Resistance commune were reduced to living on their emergency stores and whatever they could scavenge. At first, Brandon had thought they would be overrun and have to leave the commune, but as deaths from the virus increased (including some of their own), the gang raids began to decrease. It was decided it would be best if they stayed where they were. The remaining Greeners, as the locals referred to them, had retreated from their converted greenhouses to the top two floors of a large commercial building across the street from their city garden. Their political philosophy didn’t keep them from buying and using firearms, and the place was fairly easy to defend. But food—that was turning into a huge problem. Every day, the rations Sean doled out seemed to be fewer.
“Yeah, something has to be done about it,” Brandon murmured. “But try not to worry about it tonight, babe. I’ll talk to Sean in the morning.”
He felt her nod against his shoulder, and she then drifted off into sleep despite her worries.
Sleep didn’t come so easily to Brandon, however. He was deeply worried about Jennie. After losing her mother—her only real family—to SHAV last month, she’d had to give birth here in somewhat primitive conditions. Thank God, the Greeners had plenty of medical supplies, and Andrea had some experience in attending births. Both baby and mother did just fine. But since giving birth, Jennie had developed deep circles under her dark, almond-shaped eyes, and her hair was dull and lank.
This was all worrisome enough, but Brandon’s biggest nightmare was seeing Jennie and the baby succumb to SHAV and die right before his eyes.
Please, God, no, he prayed, squeezing his eyes shut to ward off that dreadful image.
He had just drifted off to sleep when a sudden loud pop from outside startled him awake. The sound had come from the front of the building, toward the street. He scurried toward the window, half-crouched. There was shouting, followed by more pops of gunfire. The Greeners standing watch on the ground floor were shooting back at whoever it was—probably raiders.
Jennie hastily lifted the baby from her bed, wrapping her in her blanket.
Brandon moved to the side of the window, lifted the rough blanket nailed over it and peered out, but could see nothing in the dark except for a couple of small lights. They flashed and bounced around, moving irregularly toward the building.
Sounds of fighting drifted up the stairs, and he realized with a shock that some of the raiders were already inside. “The fire escape, quick!” he hissed at Jennie.
They fled to the back room, groping their way in the dark. A platform outside the window held a ladder that could be lowered to the ground, giving them a slim chance of escaping between the buildings. A sliver of moon emerged from behind scudding clouds, giving them a bit more light as Jennie scrambled out onto the fire escape.
Brandon had just handed the baby out to her through the window when Sean and Mike burst into the room. The two men spun around and fired out into the dark corridor leading from the stairwell. There was a burst of automatic weapon return fire, and both men fell to the floor.
Brandon looked down. Sean’s eyes were open, staring up at him sightlessly. The Green Resistance leader’s long, dust-colored hair lay in a pool of blood, blacker than ink in the dim light.
Brandon’s heart began to pound, his whole body quivering with each heavy beat. “Go down, go down!” he cried to Jennie, throwing himself in front of the window.
A masked face appeared in the doorway. Light flashed painfully in Brandon’s eyes, and he realized it was mounted on the barrel of a gun. There was a loud bang, and something slammed into him. Suddenly he was looking at the ceiling. There was no pain, but he couldn’t move. He didn’t feel a thing when they dragged Jennie and the baby from the fire escape back into the room, trampling him in the process. The room was fading away, as were the sounds of Jennie’s screams and the raiders’ rough voices as they disappeared down the stairwell.
Brandon lay drowning in helplessness and grief. He dimly heard his daughter crying, as if from a great distance, and somehow knew that she was here in the room with him, left behind. He prayed they hadn’t hurt her. He wanted to soothe her, tell her he was here with her, but nothing came out when he tried to speak. Then the sound of her crying faded away too, and he was in a place that was gray everywhere except for a faint glow of light in the distance. He began to move toward it.