The Immune – Chapter 09

Svetlana looked up at Jameson, shielding her eyes from the early morning sunlight.  She lowered both feet over the edge of the hole, looked down into the darkness, then back up at Jameson.

“You know this is going to be messy, right?” she asked.  “You’ll need to burn everything you’re wearing when we’re done.”

Jameson grimaced, and nodded.  He was still wearing the clothes he’d fought in, and they were more or less doomed anyway.  After his actions during the previous night, finding someone who would donate replacements for one of his three sets of clothing would be pretty easy.  But he also had a good guess at how disgusting it would be down in that hole.  The smell alone was enough to keep the rest of the villagers at a safe distance.

She looked down again, then pushed herself off the rim and slid down into the hole.  He heard her exclaim in surprise, and leaned over the hole.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she replied, a moment later.  “I just landed on one of them, that’s all.”  After a pause, she added, “Come on down.”

He sat on the edge of the dirt hole, eased his legs down, then slid forward as he’d seen her do.  Then he took a deep breath and slid over the edge.

It was farther than he’d thought, and the hole did not go straight down.  Roots and stones protruded into the small space, where the Turned had gotten hand- and foot-holds the night before.  Many of the walking dead had come up through this hole, widening it as they climbed.  Jameson bounced off the rough sides of the slope, bruising his elbow and back, then abruptly landed on his feet, on a soft pile of disturbed earth underneath the hole.

It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, but there were many other holes around, spilling light into the small cavern he found himself in.

There were still a few dozen of the Turned there with him.  Their stench had filled the space, nearly suffocating him.  Some of the corpses stood within a meter of where he’d landed, staying out of the columns of light.  They mostly stayed still, except for those pushed aside by Svetlana as she explored the cavern.

The space wasn’t as large as he expected.  Several of the tunnels dug upward went at sharp angles; the Turned had gone in an almost-straight line from the cavern to the people above.  The walls were veined with roots of trees, left behind from when the land above was part of the forest.

Jameson looked around for a moment, then stepped between two of the corpses to move toward Svetlana.  He looked up at the cavern ceiling.  “Why aren’t they trying to dig their way upward right now?”

She paused, and looked at him, then looked up through one of the holes near her.  “What do you mean?”

“Well, the Turned that hide in the forests look for dark patches, where the sun can’t reach them, but once they find enough shade, they stay on the edge of it, ready to move closer to living people the moment the sunlight isn’t there.  They follow shadows over the course of the day.  But down here, there’s plenty of dark, and the sun wouldn’t hit them until they broke through the ground, right?”  He looked back over at her.  “So what’s stopping them from digging up, then dropping back down as the sunlight hits them?”

Svetlana shrugged, and began moving again, circling the room to get an idea of its size.  “Perhaps they’re more aware of the sun than we know.  I couldn’t tell you.”

Jameson crossed the space slowly, avoiding the upright corpses where he could, and pushing them gently aside when he had to.  It was nearly impossible to find a place to push on them without getting blood or gore on his hands.  When he was near to what he thought was the middle of the cavern, he nearly bumped into a small wooden chair.  Sitting in it, their back to him, was a dead body.  Their wrists and ankles were tied to the chair’s arms and legs, and while their long, curly hair was still mostly intact, almost all of the soft tissue had been chewed off.  Her clothes – Jameson presumed it was a woman, but couldn’t tell – were in shreds, on the cavern floor all around her.  There was a lot of blood staining the dirt, but Jameson was surprised that there wasn’t more- he’d expected the ground to be saturated with it.

“Here’s the missing girl, I think.”  He shook his head slowly.

“The tunnel out is this way,” Svetlana replied.  She was ahead of him, perhaps 5 meters away.

“They set her to face the entrance tunnel, so she could see the Turned coming,” he said, quietly.  “She must have been terrified.”

“Yes,” Svetlana replied, an edge of disgust in her voice.  “Whoever did this has a big, cold, mean streak in them.”

“Kevin Jennings would have called them ‘sadistic’,” Jameson said, circling the chair and the body to move toward Svetlana.  “Do you think she’ll Turn, and try to get out of the chair?”

“I don’t know if there’s enough of her left.  They’ll probably burn her when they drive the Turned out of here.”

She was waiting for him, past the crowd of leering corpses, looking down the tunnel ahead of them.  He looked past her, into the absolute dark.  He couldn’t even see reflections off the dead eyes ahead of him – they’d dried out soon after Turning. Then he looked at her.

“We might as well get started on that, don’t you think?”

She nodded, then moved toward the nearest hole to the surface.  She called upward, and a few moments later, a head appeared above it, looking down.

“Drop down a flame weapon!” she shouted.  Then she stood back, looking over at Jameson calmly.  “You did a lot last night,” she said.  “The people saw you and Marlena save a lot of lives.”

Jameson smiled at the praise.  “Their attitudes did change a little, didn’t they?  The three of us weren’t in immediate danger from the breach, but a lot of my friends were.  Besides, with all this talk about the Immune helping out normal people, what better time to back up words with action?”

“Quite so,” she said, still smiling.

A flame weapon and its pack dropped to the ground, landing in the soft pile of loose earth under the hole.  Svetlana shrugged the pack on smoothly, then lifted the wand of the weapon and made her way to the back of the room.  Jameson followed, then circled behind her as she lit the pilot-flame, then leveled the weapon on the center of the room.

The Turned hadn’t been moving much, and when the two Immune entered the cavern, the corpses only moved when pushed.  Three short bursts from the flame weapon changed that – the Turned shied away, bouncing off the rough dirt walls of the cavern until they had clustered near the narrow tunnel leading out.  Svetlana’s shoulders heaved in a long sigh, then she fired a long stream at the dead girl in the chair.  Soon there was a bonfire in the middle of the cavern, a funeral pyre that drove the Turned into the tunnel.

Svetlana moved around the burning chair and body, firing another short burst to drive the Turned back down the tunnel.  Jameson had been more or less flash-blinded by the bursts, and even with the victim’s bonfire, he couldn’t see very well when the flame weapon stopped firing.  He could see her silhouetted as she entered the tunnel, and followed at a safe distance as she chased the Turned along.  It was slow going, but eventually he could see light ahead of him.

She cursed under her breath, then fired a long burst, along the right side of the tunnel as if she was aiming past the Turned directly ahead of her.  A moment later she fired again on the left.

“There’s a steep slope here,” she grumbled.  “They didn’t intend the Turned to get out this way.”

“Will they climb?” Jameson asked.  “They could climb up to get food last night.”

“Yeah, they’ll climb, but we’ll have to put flame right down on them to get them to do it,” she replied.  “I’m trying to shoot past these, to get to the leaders.  Once a few are out, it’ll get easier.”  She fired another burst, then twisted to look at him.  “You’ll be able to spot the hole from up above now, especially with me firing.  Why don’t you go back and get the villagers to bring a flame team out?  They’ll have better luck than I will.”

Jameson nodded, then jogged back down the tunnel to the cavern below the village.  He looked up through the hole he’d slid down, and shouted up at the people above.  “I’m coming out!”

Finding handholds was easy – if the Turned could do it, he would have no trouble.  He could have done it blindfolded, just sliding his hands up to look for roots to grip- and he remembered that for the most part, the Turned were blind.  He pushed up above the surface, forcing his arms upward and pulling himself out of the rough hole.

Marlena and Lincoln stood nearby, looking anxious for news.  Lincoln looked shocked by the state of Jameson’s clothes.  The younger man smiled, and shrugged.

“It’s not a clean business,” he said.  Lincoln nodded, his expression clearing.

“It’s just a shame, that’s all.”

Jameson showed a bemused smile, then looked back down the hole.  “The cavern is pretty small, and there was someone tied to a chair – what was left of her, anyway.”

Bryan was approaching, and was close enough to hear Jameson’s first sentence.  His face saddened, but he took a deep breath and refocused quickly.

“Svetlana is near the other end of the tunnel, trying to chase the Turned out, but she said the slope there was steep.  She said we might have better luck trying to chase them out from above.  I was thinking,” he continued, his gaze drifting toward the Von Allen sisters, who now sat near Lincoln’s carriage, across the village square, “that perhaps the two girls would have some luck with that, with the fire-pellets they were throwing.”

Lincoln nodded.  “It couldn’t hurt to ask.”  He moved toward the carriage, and the others followed him.  Jameson waited for the gypsy to pose the question, but was surprised to see Lincoln motioning for him to speak.

“The other end of the tunnel is a steep slope,” Jameson asked.  “The flame-weapon from inside isn’t driving the Turned out of there.  Would you guys be willing to drop another fire-pellet down on them, to convince them to come out?”

The older of the two spoke first.  “Sure.  We don’t have many left, but it’ll get a few of them out.”

At Jameson’s puzzled expression, Hannah piped up.  “The capsules burn pretty hot – a few of them will just scorch where they stand.  But the rest will probably climb out.”

Janelle continued Hannah’s thought.  “It’ll use less fuel that way, anyway – and they won’t try to come back down.”

Hannah smiled, and continued, “And if they don’t run from the fire, they’ll come after the living.”  Janelle smirked, and nodded.

Jameson nodded as well.  “I hadn’t thought of using anyone alive as bait – I figured everyone had enough of that last night.”  He looked over toward the wooden cage in the center of town – it had four occupants now, four people who had been infected.  Jameson had been close to two of them, and had sensed the infection in them, even as hot flame weapon wands had been pressed on the wounds to cauterize them.

“We’ll do it,” Janelle said.  She looked at her sister, who nodded, then continued, “We used to dodge the Turned all the time back home.”

Bryan’s head cocked sideward, his eyes widening.  “You’d play games with them?” he asked, incredulously.

“Sure,” Hannah said, getting to her feet.  “If you make a game out of it when you’re a kid, then you know what to do when you get caught outside as an adult.” She spoke so off-handedly, Bryan’s shock seemed comical.

Jameson smiled.  “Makes sense to me,” he said.  Janelle stood to join her sister, and the group moved toward the nearby gate.

They passed the wooden cage, and Jameson looked in again.  The families of the four victims had been keeping a constant vigil, taking turns keeping their wounded company and bringing water and food.  The four hadn’t been alone since they’d agreed to be locked up.  Jameson slowed as he approached the cage, bothered by something there that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Marlena had noticed his gaze, and she slowed her pace to match his.  A moment later, they both stopped.  Jameson looked at her, then back at the cage.  He opened his mouth to ask if she’d noticed anything odd, but then it struck him- as if it had been as obvious as a sunrise, but he hadn’t noticed it before.

There is no trace of the Infection in those people, he thought.  He almost whispered it aloud.  There was no mistaking it – he’d have sensed it from a half-kilometer away.  His eyes widened, and he looked back at Marlena.

She nodded, slowly.  “Bryan,” she called.  The rest of the crowd had moved on without them, but now stopped and returned.  The village drill-master looked in on the cage, his expression saddening again.

“Two dead, and four…”  He stopped mid-sentence, confused by the look on the faces of the two Immune.

“They’re going to live, Bryan,” Jameson said.  He looked the fighter in the eye.  “There’s no Infection in them.

“Are you serious?”  After the previous night, he wasn’t going to argue about their senses.  He looked from one of them to the other.  “How?”

“I don’t know,” Marlena said.  “The young woman was close to me when she was hurt last night, and I sensed it then.  But it’s not there now.”

His expression brightened.  “We’ll probably keep them for another two days, just to be sure, but…” he took a deep breath, and let it out sharply.  “That’s great news!  Are you sure?  I wouldn’t want to give them false hope…”

“We’re sure,” Jameson said, smiling.  “Go ahead and tell them, even if you can’t tell them you’re sure of it.  Nothing wrong with being cautious, but they could use some good news.”

The drill-master jogged toward the cage, and put his hand on the shoulder of one of the visitors.  Jameson and Marlena continued walking, and the Von Allen sisters followed.

Marlena turned to smile at them, and was about to speak when she caught their expressions. They shared a smile, but not a compassionate-relief smile… it was something they knew, and weren’t sharing.  As the crowd began moving toward the gate again, she fell into step beside the Von Allens.  Jameson stayed just ahead of them, listening in as best he could.

“That one woman who was scratched on the leg – you got to her just after I did,” he heard Marlena say.  “What did you think?”

Janelle answered.  “I told them to put a flame weapon wand on her wound, right away,” she said.  “I’m glad they did it as quickly as they did – it doesn’t always work.”

“No, it usually doesn’t,” Marlena replied.  Jameson could hear the undercurrent in Marlena’s voice, and wondered to himself if Janelle heard it as well.

*****

Ilyana broke through the underbrush, entering the dark of the forest on the side of the road.  She had followed the open roads and crossed fields up to this point, but would return to the new home of the Order sooner if she entered the woods.  She could sense the Turned nearby her, but knew they would take no notice of her.

She paused, taking a deep breath, then began jogging again, moving around the huge tree trunks and smaller understory trees.  She passed a small group of the Turned on her right, and noticed another not too far ahead of her just on the other side of a small clearing.

She stopped in her tracks.  The Turned ahead of her was moving, approaching the same clearing.  It would be far too bright there for the Turned to break out of the shadows, but they showed no sign of stopping.

Ilyana paused at the clearing’s edge.  The ferns and wildflowers were tall enough to reach her knees here, and there was more green than she’d remembered seeing anywhere before.  The sun lanced through the branches and leaves, throwing spotlights on petals and leaves around her.

Her attention returned to the figure across the clearing.  They paused in their tracks as well, eyes focused on Ilyana.

They were huge – both tall and muscular – and they wore the tattered remains of her Order’s clothing.  The pants-legs had been torn off above the knees, and the sleeves had been removed at the shoulders, both revealing ice-white skin over impossibly-powerful muscles.  The face was half-obscured by their hood, but a few locks of white-blond hair had escaped around the leading edge.  The eyes blazed, violet and scarlet, and their expression turned from indifference to cold anger.

“Councilor Alexia!” Ilyana exclaimed, brightly.  “We all thought you had been killed!  Where have you been?” she asked, earnestly.

The councilor moved across the 10-meter space so quickly that Ilyana could barely react.  Her instincts warned her of the coming attack, and her hands moved to counter it, but it didn’t seem to slow Alexia down at all.  Ilyana found herself thrown into one of the larger tree trunks, the breath knocked from her lungs.  A moment later, the councilor was upon her again, holding both her wrists above her in one of the oversized, ice-white and ice-cold hands.  Alexia pulled up, straining Ilyana’s shoulders and straightening her against the tree.

Ilyana fought for her breath, but offered no resistance to the grip on her hands.  She didn’t think she’d be able to do much, anyway – Alexia had been Champion of the Order three times, and the Immunity had obviously added to the councilor’s physical power.

“Councilor, please,” she gasped.  Then she grunted in pain as she was lifted off the ground by her hands.  She was now eye-level with Alexia, and her feet were several centimeters off the ground.  Alexia drew close, almost nose-to-nose, and was silent for a long moment.  When she spoke, her voice was the growl of a predator.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t understand,” Ilyana said, but it was becoming clear – Alexia knew about her betrayal.  If she revealed the name of the village Dresten and the others were living in, Alexia would certainly show up to rescue Cheszalt and the others.  There’s no point in hiding my Immunity now- she must know of it.  “I got separated from Councilor Cheszalt and the others, and since I can move across the forests easier than they can, I thought to rejoin them at the new city.”

Alexia’s free hand turned into a fist, and impacted Ilyana’s solar plexus.  What breath she’d regained after the first hit left her in a rush, but Alexia held her upright.  The fist pressed in on Ilyana’s chest, the knuckles grinding on the delicate muscles around her lungs.  Breathing became harder and harder.

“I don’t mean Councilor Cheszalt- he can take care of himself,” Alexia growled.  “Where… is… he?

Ilyana’s confusion didn’t need to be faked.  “I don’t understand,” she repeated, weakly.

The fist left her abdomen, allowing her to get a half of a breath.  A moment later, the Councilor struck her directly on her sternum.  The force of the punch was unbelievable; it was only her oxygen-deprived state that numbed her enough to remain conscious.  She heard and felt her own bones crack, and could distantly tell that her lungs weren’t functioning.  When her wrists were released, she fell to the ground in a heap.  Twisted sideward, she found her limbs unresponsive, and her heartbeat seemed weak, slow, and losing strength with every pulse.  She could see the Councilor’s legs and boots as they moved away, passing through the brilliant green ferns.  She held onto that color as long as she could.

2 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 09”

  1. Opps so bad 4 Ilyana.Cudnt even offer a little resistance. Is Councilor Alexia so terribly irrestable?

    • I actually went back and forth on that one for a while – but Ilyana believes that a) councilor Alexia has no reason to suspect her, and b) she would only incriminate herself by fighting. She knew she wouldn’t last long, and more or less hoped for mercy. But she also didn’t know Alexia’s state of mind…

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