The Immune – Chapter 15

Svetlana gave two sharp whistles before climbing the ladder.  The guards over the gate saw her at one, and waved her upward.  She sprung up the rungs, skipping every other and mounting the wall in record time.  The guards smiled more this time, were more relaxed.  Their opinion of the Immune was improving, even if they didn’t come close to her.

Well, that’s as much because of the state of my clothes, she guessed.  She’d had to push through the swarm outside Silverlake, and she was in too great a rush to take the time to keep clean. Her clothes would need to sit in the sun before they could even be washed.

Odyna was also on the wall, only 20 meters away.  She smiled, jogging toward her older sister.

“Good to see you again, Svetlana,” she said.  Then she noticed her sister’s worried expression.  “What is it?”

“Are any of the others awake?”

“Yes,” Odyna replied.  “It’s still early.  Come.”  She leaped down off the rampart, landing gracefully, and moving toward the building Dresten and the others had built for themselves without looking to see if Svetlana was following.  The two approached the door, opening it silently and letting the lamp-light spill out from inside.

Dresten, Idzac and Cheszalt sat around the small table in the front room, but had stopped talking when the door opened.  They smiled upon seeing the two women enter – and Svetlana thought it strange that Cheszalt would smile at her, even if his opinions were changing.  She bowed her head to them, and they nodded in reply.

“Welcome, sister,” Dresten said.  “Please, sit with us.”

“Thank you,” Svetlana replied, pulling out a chair between him and Cheszalt.  “I bring news… for you, councilor.” She looked directly at Cheszalt.

He blinked, slowly.  “I don’t know if I still hold that title.  We’ll have to see.”

She nodded.  “Lincoln’s caravan was attacked not far from Carters Hill.  The two Immune that let the Turned into Silverlake tried to kidnap our guests, the Von Allen sisters.”

Dresten’s face showed concern.  “Tried?”

Svetlana smirked at him.  “We were able to stop them, and one of the two Immune died in the fight.  The other escaped, and I followed her… and learned something terrible.”  She looked back at Cheszalt.  “Have you heard of Symon, the elder Immune from Tarense?”

Cheszalt nodded.  “I have.”

“Before my last return to the Great Rock, I met him, and learned he was once Gabriel, the lost councilor to our Order.”

Cheszalt’s eyebrows rose.  “Interesting.  His Immunity kept him alive, all these years?”

“It must have.  I don’t even know how old his story is.”

“No one really knows for sure.”  Cheszalt shrugged.  “Well, I’ve seen what Immunity has done for Alexia.”  He paused, his eyes misting over in thought.  They cleared when he spoke.  “Gabriel.  That must be who Alexia had meant, who she was looking for.”

“I believe she found him.  I overheard him talking to the woman I was following, and he told her…” Svetlana paused, taking a deep breath before continuing.  “He’s convinced Alexia that she can share her Immunity with the rest of the Order.”

All around the table, mouths opened wide in surprise.

“Is it possible?” Idzac asked.

“I don’t believe so,” Svetlana said.  “And neither did Symon.  He told his visitor that he expected it to kill anyone who was not already Immune.  Apparently Alexia thinks if they drink her blood, instead of being bitten or scratched, the Immunity will pass along with the Infection.”

Again, everyone was silent as they absorbed the news.  Finally, Dresten spoke again.  “Did you recognize his visitor?”

Svetlana nodded.  “It was Dana Carterson.” She looked at Cheszalt.  “You’ve heard of her?”

“I have,” he replied, evenly.  The Order had little affection for the family that had once controlled Carter’s Hill, even if there had been almost no contact between the two.

Idzac spoke next.  “That is all the more disturbing.  If Symon has allied himself with someone like her, there’s no guessing his intentions.”

Svetlana nodded.  “He has never said anything about his own goals to me, but I still feel betrayed.”  She took a deep breath.  “If Alexia tries this on the Order-“

Cheszalt rose, and she stopped speaking.  “How long ago was this?”

“A day and a half,” Svetlana replied.  “I can travel fast, since I don’t have to stop at night, but neither does she.  And I don’t know when she met with Symon.”

Cheszalt sank back into his seat, as he realized he wouldn’t be able to do anything for hours.  “If she moves at your pace, she’ll be there by now.  And I can’t leave until sunrise.”  He covered his face with his hands.  “By the time I get there, she will have infected every one of them.”  His hands slid down to his chest, then fell into his lap.  He looked to Dresten, then Idzac.  “I have to return to them.  I have to try to save them.  I’ll need your help to get there.”

Dresten nodded at once.  Idzac clasped Cheszalt’s shoulder.  “Of course, brother,” he said.  “We will get you there as quickly as we can.  It was our goal, in the end, for you to return to them once we’d convinced you.”

Dresten agreed.  “Will they listen to you, when you try again to change their mission?”

“With your help, I believe so.”

Svetlana stood.  “I need to leave again.  I need to counter-track Dana, to find out what she’s been up to.  And whatever it is, I need to get ahead of her to warn Carter’s Hill.  Whatever it is that she’s doing, Carter’s Hill is her ultimate target.”

Dresten stood with her.  “You’ve got much to do, sister.  Thank you for the news.  We’ll do our best to save the rest of the Order.”  He looked down at her clothes.  “Take a change of clothing with you, for when you get clear of the swarm.”  He looked up at Odyna, who still hovered in the doorway.  She nodded, circled the table and disappeared into another room.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to take this chair outside for the sunrise,” Svetlana said.  Odyna reappeared, tossing a small backpack across the table.  Svetlana caught it, shouldering it smoothly.  She nodded her thanks to Odyna, but the clothing actually belonged to her – she kept a few sets of uniform with her friends, for situations just like this.  She lifted the chair by its back, disappearing into the night.

Cheszalt watched her go, then looked around the table.  “She still comes and goes like a scout,” he said.  “She was one of our best.”

Dresten nodded.  “She still is.”

 

*****

 

The crowd that awaited them at Carter’s Hill was huge.  At least a third of the city was watching from behind the fences, lured by rumors and gossip.  The only hard facts were that Xeren had received a strange, Immune visitor, and had immediately left to meet a gypsy caravan that was heading for the city.  These caravans were becoming more regular now, and didn’t warrant that sort of attention.  The more curious among the citizens were eager to find out who was coming.

Joshua was more curious than any of them.  He stood in the open gate, watching the carriages crest the hill.  Soon after, he could see his lover atop the carriage in the lead.

Captain Carpenter stepped up beside him.  “The famous Lincoln Graddal,” he said, with a smirk.  “With all we’ve heard about this man, I wonder if we shouldn’t ask him to park outside.”

“They may do that anyway, with all they’ve heard about us,” Joshua said, giving his guard-captain a sideward smirk.  “Our reputation is worse than his.”

“True,” the Captain replied.  “Did Xeren say what the occasion is?”

Joshua shook his head.  “Her visitor didn’t tell her much – just that they wished to help us, and we would be wise to accept.”

The Captain looked along the length of the new cement block wall, nodding slowly.  The outer fence was slowly being replaced by the wall, and over the past few weeks it had grown outward from the gate to encircle almost a third of the city.  The soil was miserably soft, the builders had said, and if they wanted the wall to stand through a winter they would have to dig a trench down below frost-depth, and build the wall up from there.  This hadn’t been difficult – finding people willing to do the hard work of improving the wall had taken a single speech from Joshua.  The trouble was that every night, when the Turned came out of the adjacent woods, they would fall into these trenches, and be unable to claw their way out when the sun rose in the morning.  The Immune had gotten the stragglers free, and the builders had decided to slope the outer face of the trench to keep it from happening again.  The narrow trench was forced to become a major excavation, and it slowed the building of the wall.  For all its hardships, once the people had seen progress, they had gained confidence in the project.  There were no more complaints, aside from aches and pains, and there were plenty of volunteers to keep the work shifts short.  Captain Carpenter winced a little bit every night, when the Turned hit the seam between the old fence and the new wall, but it had held every time.  The inner fence still stood, and the city’s fighters stood with it every night.

When the carriages had come within 30 meters of the gate, Xeren dismounted and jogged ahead.  Joshua could see that she was favoring her left arm, but couldn’t see why.  He walked forward from the gate, expecting to catch both her hands between them in what had become their surrogate for an embrace.  Instead, she clasped his left hand in her right, leaving her other arm at her side.  She smiled brightly, her red hair looking copperish in the setting sun’s light.

“Arrow wound,” she said, pulling down the collar of her shirt just far enough to reveal the bandage.  She released his hand, and touched his cheek.  “I’ll be ok – it wasn’t bad.”

“You’re sure?” he said, his brow creased.

She nodded, stepping closer, and taking his hand again.  “We have so much to talk about,” she said, her eyes sparkling.  She looked back toward the carriage, then toward the gate.  “Captain, is Jensen with you?”

“Jensen?” Joshua asked, confused.  He scanned the faces crowding the gate, finding the city’s master of animal husbandry a moment later.  “Why him?”

Xeren turned back toward the carriages.  “Girls,” she called up to the lead carriage, which was now stopped before the gate.  “This is Joshua Carterson, the man I told you about.”

Two young women climbed down the ladder built into the side of the rolling wooden box, leaping to the ground and coming near.  The family resemblance was unmistakable – especially the large, round eyes.

Xeren looked back at Joshua.  “This is Hannah and Janelle Von Allen, and they have told me the most fascinating things.  Things that we can use – some of them immediately.  Our flame weapons, for example, are going to become much better.”

Captain Carpenter approached, intrigued.  Xeren waved him closer, her smile still broad.  “Captain, you’ll be especially interested in this.”  She looked at Hannah, and nodded.

Hannah returned the nod, then took two steps toward the edge of the road.  Since they’d crested the hill, she’d been looking for a suitable target for her demonstration.  One of the low wooden barricades that protected the fields had failed, and the Turned had trampled the bean plants to death.  The young woman shifted something from her left hand to her right, then threw it side-arm into the field of dead plants.  Joshua couldn’t tell what it was, but his eyes tracked its arc as it left the road and fell –

FWOOOM! The resultant blast drew shocked cries from the watching crowd.  A column of blue-white flame leaped up from where the object hit the ground.  Joshua felt his mouth go slack.

“It works, love,” Xeren said.  “I tested it out on the Turned last night.  It doesn’t scare them off – if it hits them, it will burn them down completely.  And they can put the same fuel into our flame weapons.”

Joshua looked at Hannah.  She merely smiled back.  “You use distilled alcohol for your flame weapons, and while it burns, it’s not all that hot.  But you keep pigs, don’t you?”

Neither Joshua nor Captain Carpenter could hide their confusion.  “Yes, of course,” Joshua replied.

“They create the raw material for this.”  Hannah held up a small sphere that looked partly transparent and very shiny, no larger than the tip of Joshua’s thumb.  “While we might not be able to make the shells for these, we can make the liquid for your flame weapons.  Pig manure contains methane, and it’s a snap to isolate it.”

“Pig manure?” Joshua looked towards the animal-keeper Xeren had mentioned before.

Xeren chuckled.  “I’ll have her tell you all about it later.  But Hannah says that she could have at least a few flame weapons fueled and ready for use by tomorrow night.  And they’re eager to get started.”  She waved Jensen forward.  “Captain, would you go with them?”

“Certainly,” the Captain replied, still not sure what to make of the two girls.  He waved to the driver of the lead carriage, officially inviting him and his troupe through the gate and into the city.  Then he turned, leading Hannah into the city.  Jameson and Marlena accompanied her.  The group met with Jensen on the other side of the gate, and disappeared into the crowd.

Xeren put a hand on Joshua’s chest.  “And Janelle will come with us.  If you think that was interesting, she’s going to share something with you that will make your socks roll up and down.”

 

*****

 

“This is perfect,” Janelle said, turning in place to look around.  “It’s more or less flat ground, and can be isolated from the rest of the city if something goes wrong.”

Xeren looked askance at the young woman.  “I thought there would be no way for them to get loose.”

“There won’t be, but there’s nothing wrong with extra precautions.” Janelle turned again, looking back toward the gate that led to the rest of the city.  “Besides, when everyone finds out what’s going on in here, they’ll demand another gate between their homes and the power building.”

The three of them stood in the center of what used to be the wealthy district of Carter’s Hill.  The fences had been repaired, and the gate was guarded against the Turned at night, but during the day, the place was more or less empty.  Many of the homes had been looted and picked through once their owners had left, but there hadn’t been much to find.  And while the homes were much nicer than those throughout the rest of the city, no one had claimed them.  This section of the city was unprotected at night – if the fences failed, anyone here would be on their own.

That was about to change.

“I still find it hard to believe you used the Turned as mules,” Joshua said.

Janelle smiled at him.  “It was a poor example.  But you get the idea – and unlike mules, we didn’t even have to feed the Turned.  And they’re a lot stronger.  One building would power a large grain mill and the bellows for a forge.”

Joshua rubbed at his chin, deep in thought.  The city had a mule-powered mill, but it didn’t produce much.  Having another would help feed a lot of people, he decided.  At present, Carter’s Hill produced a lot more grain than they could use, and they often traded it for baked breads.  It would be more efficient for them to use their own grain to make their own food.  The idea of using that sort of power on a forge-bellows, however, appealed to Joshua personally.  He’d thought of trying something similar at one time, but had never gotten to it.

Xeren clasped his hand, and squeezed it gently.  “Think you can find volunteers for this sort of project?”

“Definetly,” he said.  “Once people get over the initial shock of having the Turned inside the fences.  If we can show that it will work, they’ll do it.”  He looked over to Janelle, who continued to look around as if designing things in her head.  “So why is it that you and your sister are so eager to help us out?”

Janelle shrugged.  “We’re looking for a new home,” she said.  “We don’t expect to live anywhere for free.  We’re happy to show that we’ll be worth keeping.  This is the sort of thing we did back home – our whole family did.  And the village was glad to have us.”

“I imagine so,” Joshua replied, walking toward her.  Xeren matched his pace, still holding his hand.  “The flame-weapon fuel alone will be a big help.  Where did you two learn about that?”

“Our mother,” the girl replied, a hint of sadness in her eyes.  “Our family has passed this sort of knowledge along for generations.”  He sighed, looking East.  “We can trace our family tree back to the ancients, back before the Turned appeared.  One of our ancestors worked at a place called Los Alamos, a place where they were paid to experiment with science, to find out why things worked the way they did.”

“Interesting.  So your family held on to the same sort of knowledge the ancients had?”

Janelle’s reply was cut short by a shout from the dividing gate that led back to the city.  “Carterson!” the voice called, in a mixture of anger and doubt.

Joshua grimaced.  “That didn’t take very long,” he grumbled, looking toward the gate.  Sure enough, Charles Burgell stood there, a trio of his friends behind him.  Joshua turned to Xeren, giving her hand a squeeze.  “I’ll take care of them.  Best if I do it alone.”

She nodded, then released his hand, watching him stride over toward the gate.  The two women heard him call a friendly greeting back to Burgell, but didn’t listen to the conversation that followed.  Xeren turned toward the far fence-line, and began walking toward it.  Janelle fell into step beside her.

“So when we get ready to capture the Turned, we’ll need a secondary gate.  There needs to be a good space between it and the outer gate, where we can isolate a few from the outside swarm without too much trouble.  Once we do that, we can-“

Xeren held up her right hand.  “You’re forgetting again.  Katrick and I can catch a few of the Turned a lot easier than you can.  We’ll just throw a rope over one, and have a few of our friends drag it inside.”

Janelle chuckled.  “You’re right, I do forget.” She looked up at the older woman, looking for any outward sign of the Infection, but there was none.  “How is it that you don’t show it, like Marlena and Jameson?”

Xeren shrugged.  “I don’t know.  The Immunity works differently in everyone.  Jameson, for example, doesn’t get tired from exertion.  I don’t even know if he has to sleep.  Marlena, well, I don’t know how old she is, but she’s looked exactly the same for the 15 years or so I’ve known her.  That other friend of ours, Svetlana…” she shook her head.  “I’ve seen people who can move quickly and quietly, but nothing like what she does.  And I never knew whether it was a natural gift, training while she was one of the Believers, or if it came with her Infection.  It’s different for everyone.”

Janelle nodded, not saying anything for a moment.  “I did happen to notice your affection for Joshua.  He seems like an extraordinary man.”

Xeren smiled.  “That he is.  I’ve known a lot of men in a lot of ways, but none have ever lived up to him.  He’s a real leader, and if the people around here let him, he could save this city.”

Janelle stopped walking.  “Xeren,” she said, hesitantly.  She took a deep breath, watching the other woman turn and look at her, curiously.  “You saved my life out there.  You risked yourself to do it.”

Xeren shrugged.  “So did Jameson.”

“Yes, but he didn’t take an arrow in the shoulder.”  Janelle paused again.  “I want to do something to thank you, but until now I wasn’t sure what.  I’m going to talk to my sister about it, but… I think there is a way you and Joshua could… well, could really be together.  The way you two obviously want to be.”

Xeren was completely confused at this point.  “What are you talking about?”

Janelle took another deep breath.  “What I’m about to tell you cannot be told to anyone else.  People have killed and died over this.” Xeren nodded, slowly, and Janelle continued.  “I told you about our ancestor at Los Alamos. It was a place the ancestors had build to discover things, to find out why the world works the way it does.  When the Turned appeared, the ancestors did everything they could to learn about the Infection, to discover its secrets, in the hopes that a cure could be found.”

In the short pause that followed that last sentence, Xeren felt her pulse quicken.

“Our ancestor was part of the team working on that project at Los Alamos.  And just after it was too late to really do any good, just after the Turned had spread far enough to take over the entire continent, and just after the machines they needed had stopped working… she did it.”

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2 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 15”

  1. I craaaaaaaave chapter 16!!!

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