The Last Bastion of the Living
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“Too busy to talk to me about a very interesting piece of information that fell into my lap by accident today?”
Dwayne set down his stylus and settled back in his chair. It creaked in protest and he made a mental note to oil its hinges later. “You’re very good at getting my attention.”
Her too-thin form folded onto a chair and she crossed her long legs. She always reminded him a bird: delicate in appearance, but acutely aware of her surrounds. Her thick hair was coiled into a tight braid down her back and not one curl dared to stray across her brow or neck. Commandant Pierce had once tried to snag Petra as her assistant, but Petra had somehow avoided the transfer. Dwayne appreciated her loyalty, but wondered sometimes what he had done to gain it.
“I assume that you have found other sources since you have not been asking me to gather information about the peculiar dealings in the SWD headquarters, or the constant chatter on the news vids about a top secret mission approved by the president.” Petra’s hawkish nose and keen eyes made her look distinctly like a predatory bird.
Dwayne slightly lifted his shoulders, his hands clasped at his waist.
A smile flitted across her lips. “I see. Well, I wonder if your other source of information knows that the SWD has initiated a full lockdown of their facility. Only the top brass is allowed to leave or enter the building. All other personnel have been detained inside.”
Dwayne’s stoic expression didn’t change, but he felt his heartbeat speed up just a bit. “Has there been a contamination event inside the facility?”
Leaning forward, Petra rested her sharp elbow against his desktop and rested her chin on her hand. “This is the interesting part of the story. It’s in response to several breaches. Apparently, the media used its sources to gain some important information about the top secret project the SWD is obviously implementing.”
“I’ve seen nothing on the feeds. Commandant Pierce hasn’t notified me of any additional security measures.”
“That’s because the journalists involved in the breaches were apprehended and are now incarcerated in the SWD facility. The official story to their news outlets and their families is that they’re now imbedded with the SWD and will not be able to release their stories until the top secret operation is over.”
Dwayne chuckled. “I just love how the top secret operation is all over the news and obviously occurring.”
“It’s marvelous, isn’t it? Of course no one knows the true nature of whatever they’re doing. There are rumors they have created a virus that will kill the Scrags, or a new weapon, or some sort of nanotechnology that will revert them to humans...in other words, everyone is guessing.”
Dwayne exhaled slowly, adding this new information to what he already knew. Maria’s silence could be a result of the lockdown and media blackout, but Lindsey had been certain her program could find its way through any security protocols. It was probably best that the SWD go on full lockdown during the mission. He hated to admit it, but he had been greatly unnerved at seeing Maria as an Inferi Boon. What had made it worse was seeing her smile on a dead face and her words tumbling from dead lips. It was difficult to reconcile that the woman he loved was now one of the creatures he had feared his entire life. In his nightmares, he saw her raging through the streets of the city infecting all who came into her path. And the dream always ended the same way. She would find him and tear into him, infecting him.
“A penny for your thoughts?” Petra narrowed her eyes.
“They want us to know that something is going on in the SWD,” Dwayne said at last. “The government is doing nothing to hide the fact that something major is going on in there. The city is abuzz with excitement. They’re building up the morale of the people and giving them hope. It’s on purpose. A ploy. But why?”
Petra sat back in her chair abruptly, her eyes downcast as she visibly pondered the question. “To keep the population from seeing the truth.”
Dwayne sighed, nodding.
“But what is the truth?”
He shrugged. “I can only speculate.”
“The energy crisis maybe?”
“That’s hard to ignore with the rolling blackouts.”
Slightly biting her lip, Petra fell into deep thought. “I suppose,” she said after a few long beats, “I could delve deeper.”
“I would rather you just concentrated on the SWD. I need to know if you hear anything else come out of the SWD facility.”
“Petra, I appreciate every little bit of information you have ever obtained for me. The commandant tends not to tell me everything I need to know to do my job effectively. You have always filled in the gaps. But these are very dangerous times. With the journalists being detained and the lockdown occurring, it’s very clear that even you may end up disappearing behind SWD walls if you’re not careful.” Dwayne hated to frighten her, but he was concerned more than ever for everyone he cared about.
“I’ll do my best.” She deliberately looked at the clock. “I suppose I should get home to the kiddies and the partner.”
Dwayne nodded. “It’s late. Tell Robert hello for me.”
“I will.” She stood and he could see that she had fully regained her composure. “Don’t forget the poker game on Saturday. Robert is planning on trouncing you.”
Dwayne forced a grin. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Petra disappeared through the doorway into the gloom of the hallway. He sighed as the office door slid shut.
It was stopped abruptly by a hand and he caught a glimpse of a familiar face. Since the building was not on lockdown, the door politely asked the person’s name, but Dwayne knew she wouldn’t want to be identified.
“Permission granted. Override protocols to identify,” Dwayne ordered.
The door complied.
Lindsey shambled into the office and the door slid shut behind her. Leaning on her cane, she walked to his desk, a pad clutched in one hand. “I was waiting for her to leave,” she said, scooting into a chair. Still in her uniform, she was as polished as Petra, but her injury was a sad reminder of all that was wrong with the city.
“What do you have for me?”
“Well, officially, I have a report on communication center equipment that you requested.”
“You did. It’s quite detailed and explained why you need to commission some new units,” Lindsey said with a grin.
Dwayne smirked. “Do we have any in storage?”
“Warehouse Forty-Seven has six units that were misplaced a few years ago, but I found through a search of the updated inventory lists from this year.”
“I’m thorough.” Lindsey grinned.
“But why are you really here?” Dwayne asked, his voice dropping as he took on a more somber tone. He knew Lindsey wouldn’t have come if not for something very important.
Lindsey took a deep breath, then dropped a small drive on his desk. “Four communiques. Both from the SWD to Commandant Pierce. Both were top priority and maximum security. Both were scrubbed within seconds of transmission from both the sender and receiver.”
“But you caught them,” Dwayne said, impressed.
“I’m thorough,” Lindsey reminded him.
“What are they about?”
“The SWD requested one medic, highly trained, doctor preferred in top physical condition that had to meet a certain biological profile. The commandant answered that she would dispatch one immediately to the SWD. And she asked why this request was not made when the other soldiers for the mission were selected.” Lindsey’s hands were visibly trembling.
“What was the answer?” Dwayne plucked the drive from the desktop and stared at it thoughtfully.
“The answer was that the medic must fit the physical profile, or there could be the possibility of the Inferi Scourge Infection.”
Dwayne looked at Lindsey quizzically.
“The fourth communique was not to the commandant, but from the SWD to the president. It was to inform him of the death of one of the soldiers in the Special Ops unit. Death by the Inferi Scourge Plague Virus.”
Her words hit like a physical blow and Dwayne flinched. “Can you find out if it’s Maria?”
“SWD implemented new security protocols today. The program I gave you can slice through it, but it’s harder for me to transverse their system. Of course, I managed to get around their little roadblocks. It wasn’t Maria. It was a SWD tech.”
Dwayne felt guilty for feeling so relieved. “Any indication as to how he was infected?”
“An adverse response to the Inferi Boon Virus they’re using. His body was destroyed and there is a cover story in place. There’s a good chance Maria doesn’t even know this guy died.” Lindsey rubbed her nose and sighed. “This operation is really messy. It reeks of desperation.”
“I have to agree.” Dwayne lapsed into silence as he considered her news.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go public with all of this?” The worry etched into Lindsey’s brow matched his own.