The Immune – Chapter 17

The wall was nearly complete. Several more days of work remained, but the only part of the wall that still needed a fence was a 30-meter-long section along the south wall. Even the gate to the wealthy district had been re-built.  The inner fences remained – and would, until at least a few nights after the wall was complete – but only as a precaution.  And since there was far less fence-wire being tested by the Turned each night, there had been fewer and fewer breaches.

The mood inside the city was one of jubilation.  While Joshua refused to take credit for what everyone had pulled together to do, he was given much more assistance, and his advice was taken much more seriously.  Even Charles Burgell had quieted down, grudgingly admitting that with the new wall, the people wouldn’t be so dependent upon the Immune.  And with their increasing popularity, he couldn’t speak out against the Immune in public.

As if that weren’t enough, the new fuel for the flame weapons had worked out spectacularly.  It had been such a simple process, once the animal handlers had gotten used to the idea, and shoveling animal waste wasn’t anything new to them. It made the flame weapons smell worse, but they hadn’t been all that pleasant beforehand.

Jameson stood along the ramparts of the wall, watching the Turned trudge out from between the trees and approach the city.  He was at the edge of the completed section, only a few meters away from the seam that connected the new wall and the old fence.  It was a bit of a messy seam, but it had held up every night before.  The uncomfortable part was that the inner and outer fences had to meet at that point, as well as meeting with the new wall.  The section of cement block wall that had been constructed that day would keep its supports for a few days, but within a few weeks the wall would be as solid as carved stone. Which it almost was.

Captain Carpenter joined him just as the swarm of the Turned hit the new wall.  They bounced off it bodily at first, then raised their arms and began beating their hands against the blocks.  Only a few minutes later, the first of the walking dead hit the seam and the fence, causing the familiar rattling sound Jameson had grown up listening to.

“It still makes me cringe every time they come out,” the Captain said with a grimace.  “The fence is strong, and the wall is strong, but where they meet… “ he sighed.  “I’ll be able to sleep at night when the fence is all-the-way gone.”

Jameson nodded. “What then?  What do you train your soldiers for when there are no fences to breach?”

The captain smiled.  “There’s still plenty to do. The attacks on Silverlake, for example, scared Joshua pretty good. He and I will make sure the boys and girls stay sharp.  But the other thing to consider is this; what could these soldiers be doing if they weren’t spending all day being soldiers?”

Jameson shrugged.  “Anything they wanted, I guess.”

“Exactly.  It takes a great toll on the city, to have to support people who exist only to fight off the Turned every night.  If they only have to spend half their time training to fight, they can help out in the fields, build new homes… “ he threw Jameson a smirk.  “Maybe they could learn to maintain their own damn armor for a change.”

Jameson laughed.  He’d been surprised to learn how greatly opposed to this task the soldiers of Carter’s Hill had been.  It didn’t make sense to Jameson at all – if he were to trust his life to his armor, he’d certainly want to be the one taking care of it.  Captain Carpenter was one of the few soldiers in the city who broke that mold.

Marlena appeared between two of the nearby houses, moving swiftly toward the open space between the buildings and the inner fence.  She caught Jameson’s eye as she moved, but didn’t approach him.  When she reached the inner fence, right near the middle of the remaining fence’s length, she looked back and waved to Jameson to join her.

The Captain came with him, clapping one of the soldiers on the shoulder as he crossed the ground.  When Jameson joined his friend, he was immediately put on guard.  She was scanning the swarm, looking for something she knew was out there.

“Someone is coming,” she said.  “Someone Immune.  Want to place bets on who it is?”

Jameson shook his head, slowly.  He, too, could sense the approach of someone who was carrying the Infection, but not Turned.  He took a deep breath, then looked at the Captain.

“You don’t have any archers on duty, do you?”

“No,” the captain replied, confused.  “Why would we?”

Jameson grimaced.  He was about to explain when Marlena slapped his shoulder with one hand, pointing toward the outer fence with the other.  Jameson could see someone scaling the outer fence, quickly climbing up, then leaping down into the 10-meter space between the fences.

“That’s Dana Carterson,” the Captain said, perplexed.  “I thought she was dead.”

Marlena shook her head.  “Not by a long shot.”

She was still dressed in solid black, but her clothes and the exposed skin of her arms was covered in blood and gore from pushing through the swarm.  She stopped in the middle of the dividing space, looking right back at the trio as they watched her.  She had a pair of large canvas sacks over one shoulder.

Jameson’s surprise turned to shock a moment later.  He could sense the Infection inside the sacks, as well as inside Dana, but-

“Captain,” Marlena said, intensely, “Get your soldiers out of here, right now.”  The tone of her voice made it a command, and while she’d never been given authority to command him, he didn’t argue with her.  He relayed the command to the nearby troops, whose confusion was plain.

“And get flame weapons – right here!” he added, turning to see what their intruder was doing.

The smile on Dana Carterson’s face was pure malice. Even at that distance, her eyes spoke very clearly to the trio:

Too late.

She spun around in place, swinging one of the sacks in a wide circle, then once more.  As she completed the second circle, she tossed the sack into the air, in a perfect arc that took it over the inner fence to land on the grass.  One of the soldiers was nearby, moving away to follow his captain’s orders, but his curiosity pulled him back to the sack – and doomed him.

A moment after the sack hit the ground, a dozen tiny shapes darted out of the untied top, spreading out toward the city – and the guard near them.  He took one step back, but didn’t have time for a second.  One of the shapes rose up out of the ground and dove into the back of the guard’s knee, into the space between armor plates.  The guard screamed in surprise and pain, falling forward onto his hands and knees.

“She brought the snakes!” Jameson shouted, still unable to believe it.  A moment later, the other sack landed, 20 meters away from the first.  Another crowd of snakes slithered out of the top, heading into the city.

“Get up on the ramparts!” Marlena shouted at the Captain.  He was too stunned to do anything else.  Already, his guard was standing back up, shambling slowly toward him.

Jameson nudged him into action.  “Go! It only takes a few seconds to turn when they bite you. No one but flame teams on the ground!”

He was barely up the ladder when the snakes reached it.  They looked up at him and the other guards nearby, then slithered away, toward the nearby homes.  Two more guards were bitten in that time, falling onto their hands and knees.  It was less than a minute before they were standing back up, their faces grey, their eyes bloodshot, empty and dead.

*****

 

Xeren hadn’t felt the presence of the Immune outside the city, but had been drawn by the alarm. She arrived at the open space before the old fence just as Joshua did, from another direction.  Three groups of soldiers with flame weapons were burning the ground around them, but still took cautious steps backward. Whatever they were aiming for wasn’t responding to the flame.  Only one of the weapons was charged with the new fuel.

The two of them scanned the situation, trying to see what was happening.  Xeren felt helpless – for the first time, she couldn’t sense the Turned.  She was too used to knowing exactly what was going on.

Jameson and Marlena were already there, the two of them working together to take apart one of the guards.  Jameson hacked off both of the man’s arms, right through his armor.  Marlena tripped his legs out from under him, then held him down for Jameson to finish off.

“Why the guard?” Joshua asked her.  “Did he get bitten? Where’s the breach?”

Jameson shouted across the distance to them.  With the noise, the alarmed shouts in the rest of the city, only one word made it across the field.

Snakes.

Xeren felt the fear wash over her – not for herself, but for her lover, for their people.  A bite from one of the snakes could Turn a person in less than a minute.  And they wouldn’t sit around to eat, like a human-Turned would. They’d simply move along to the next victim.

She saw Jameson point to the wall, where a cluster of guards stood on the end of the ramparts, watching. They looked as helpless as she felt. But Jameson’s meaning was clear enough.

“The wall!” she said, turning to Joshua.  “We need to get up on the wall!”

The pair dashed across the open space, then scurried up the ladder.  One of the snakes followed them, just missing Xeren’s ankle as she climbed.

From the height of the wooden walkway inside the wall, they had a much better view.  Several more of the Immune had arrived now.  They’d met with Jameson and Marlena, and were now spreading the word throughout the city; Get indoors and stay there. But how solid were the walls? Would they keep the snakes out?

Along the length of the wall, Xeren watched Katrick approach.  He carried a flame weapon in one hand, its tank in the other.  He wouldn’t need the defense for himself.  On the rampart beside him, the two Von Allen girls were jogging to keep pace above him.

Out in the field, one of the soldiers holding a flame weapon let out a shriek.  Her weapon’s flame went out, and she fell forward.  The others on her team shrank back from her, trying desperately to keep the snakes at bay.  Within a few seconds, the one who had fallen had rolled onto her back, then sat back up.  She tried clumsily to get to her feet, but one of her team-mates bathed her in flames.  She rolled toward the fence, slowly, and didn’t get to her feet until she was out of range of the fire.

“What’s happening?” Katrick called up to the crowd.  The Von Allen girls had reached them, and the other guards were making way for them to join Xeren and Joshua.

Xeren’s face darkened.  “Infected snakes, Katrick.” The faces all around them showed disgust and fright.  “She brought them from Red Valley. If they bite a person, they’ll Turn in less than a minute.”

Jameson had jogged over to them, and stood beside Katrick.  More Immune were arriving now, drawn by the warnings that were keeping the un-infected citizens away.

“It was Dana,” he said in a growl.  “She scaled the outer fence, and tossed over two sacks filled with them.”

Another of the soldiers in the open field cried out in pain.  The others on his team didn’t react to his Turning fast enough – they couldn’t without letting the snakes closer.  So when he stood, he was able to take a bite out of a team-mate.  Marlena joined them a moment too late, twisting the Turned soldier’s arm and pushing him away.  He stumbled, moving close enough to the third team, the one with a flame weapon carrying the new fuel.  This weapon bathed him in blue-white, and he fell to the ground.

Janelle tapped Xeren’s shoulder, and held up three fingers.  The message was clear – they had three doses of the cure. After that…

“We can get all those people clear, if the flame weapon teams can give us some more time,” Captain Carpenter said, shaking his head.  “But how long will they last?”

Xeren took a deep breath, and grimaced.  Then she looked at Joshua.  “I can give you time,” she said.

Another guard screamed, and fell. Joshua looked toward the sound, then back to her.  “How?” he asked.

She looked at the guard captain.  “They’ll come after me.  They’ll bite me, but it won’t Turn me.  I know I’m Immune.”  She looked toward her lover, but immediately wished she hadn’t.

Joshua’s eyes were pleading with her to change her mind, but he wouldn’t say it.  She could save dozens of people – of his people – but he didn’t want her to go.

Janelle nodded, leaning close.  “We’ll save one for you,” she said, just loud enough to be heard.

A scream erupted from a nearby house, and a moment later, a mother ran out the front door, carrying a child in each arm.  She was soon followed by an older child, perhaps 10 years old, shambling after her.

“No, don’t.  Enough other people will need it tonight.”

Joshua took her hand, pulling her close.  “Love…”  He didn’t know what to say, it was clear on his face.  She put a hand on his cheek, then turned away, and descended the ladder.

 *****

          Once on the ground, she moved quickly toward the nearest of the flame teams.  While a few of the snakes had moved toward the houses, most of them had encircled the closest living people, waiting for their chance to get close enough to strike.  Xeren decided that if the soldiers saw her running, they wouldn’t mistake her for the Turned – the animated dead weren’t co-ordinated enough to run.  She reached Marlena first.  Her plan was clear before anything was said.

“Tell the soldiers to please NOT burn me,” she said between breaths.

Marlena nodded.  “You sure about this? It’s a lot to throw away.”

Xeren scowled at her.  “Don’t make me doubt myself now.”

Marlena increased her pace, reaching the flame team ahead of them before Xeren was 10 meters away.  And while she couldn’t sense them, she could see the reaction from the snakes immediately.  At least five of them streaked toward her, moving across the scorched grass faster than she believed possible.  One of them seemed to leap across the last half-meter, diving toward her thigh.  She stopped in place, squatting just enough to move her left forearm into the snake’s path.  It didn’t seem to care.  In what Xeren would remember in slow motion, the snake’s mouth opened, and the fangs extended.  They looked impossibly long, grayish-white, and she could see a bead of venom on one.  Fear washed over her again, replaced a moment later by white-hot pain. The fangs sank into the meat of her forearm, stinging more than she could have imagined.

A moment later, another sting hit the outside of her left thigh.  The pain made her knees buckle, and she cried out in pain. Down on one knee, she was low enough for a third to spring up and bite into her right shoulder. This one was the worst so far – she cried out again, then looked down at the creature latched onto her shoulder.  The snake had wrapped itself around her upper arm, getting a tight grip to keep itself from being dislodged.  It seemed to be looking back at her, scowling, and somehow triumphant.

But then it changed.  The expression she may have imagined vanished.  She looked back to her left arm, where the first snake was still coiled around her wrist, but it, too, seemed different.  The jaws on her arm went slack, the pressure holding the teeth in the wound relaxed.  Then its head slipped off her, dragging the rest of the body downward and unwinding it off her wrist.  The snake hit the ground in a heap, and lay still.

Another bite – this one in the small of her back.  The pain shot up her spine, the reflex making her straighten up and throw her head back.  She gritted her teeth, hard, then looked back at the one on her shoulder.

This one, as well, had let go, and was sliding off her arm and back to the ground.  Once on the ground, it didn’t move.

A fifth bite – her left calf.  This one almost brought her to the ground.  But by now, the one in her thigh was letting go, and she was beginning to realize what was happening.

The cure. It was the only explanation. The snakes were trying to spread their Infection to her, but instead, the cure was spreading to them.  The one on her back relaxed, and fell away.  She pushed herself off the ground, picking up one of the dead – really dead – snakes.  She looked toward the nearby flame team, and Marlena, and they stared back at her.  She held the serpent’s corpse out to the side, and it dangled lifelessly.

Marlena’s eyes went wide.  She jogged back toward Xeren, looking at the others, dead on the ground around them.  She knelt, picking up another of the snake corpses.  She looked toward the wall, to the crowd of people there, making sure they saw it.

Another snake hit Xeren, this time in her right leg.  Her knees buckled again.  Another in the right hand.  She cried out again, but this time the triumphant look was in her eyes.  The snakes hung on for 10 seconds or so, then slid off and lay still in the charred grass.

Xeren got back to her feet.  Marlena caught her left shoulder, helping to steady her.  “It’s ok,” Xeren said.  “Just hurts.  The bites aren’t too deep.”  She looked up at Marlena.  “I’ve been cut worse than this.  Come on.”

Marlena started her moving toward the rampart, where the cluster of guards and friends was shouting out loud with joy.  “No – this way,” Xeren said, turning her back towards the other guards.  They were still fending off a crowd of snakes.  When Xeren was within 10 meters, the snakes immediately turned toward the easier target – they thought – and attacked.  She knelt down again, holding her arms out wide as if to embrace them.  Six more bites hit her within 15 seconds, and Xeren glared at them, defiantly.

“That’s right,” she growled through the pain, “drink deep.”  One by one, they fell aside.  Xeren hung her head for a moment, then got back to her feet.  She swayed for a moment, but Marlena caught her, holding her up for a moment before the two started moving again.

*****

          The Von Allen girls were talking non-stop, but few people around them could understand the words they were using.  Joshua couldn’t look anywhere but at Xeren, watching her move between the houses and into the city, drawing the remaining snakes back out, and letting them destroy themselves by biting her.

Jameson jogged back over to them, joining Katrick at the bottom of the ladder.  The flame weapon teams were moving towards those who had been bitten by the snakes, dousing them with flames.

“How did she do that?” he asked.  His eyes were locked on the Von Allens.  He knew they had something to do with it.

“We gave her something for the Infection,” Janelle said.  “But we didn’t expect it to spread from her into the Turned that bit her.  We’ve never seen something like that happen.”

“This is incredible,” Hannah interjected.  “This means that the cure doesn’t just get rid of the Infection – it changes the body to fight off the Infection later on! We could inoculate people, instead of just curing them after they were bitten!”

“You could do what?” Joshua asked.

“Forget inoculating, sis – if we could get it into one of the Turned out there,” Janelle pointed over the wall, “the others would bite into it, just like the snakes bit Xeren. They’d spread it amongst themselves. And eventually, there wouldn’t be anymore of the Turned!

“What are you saying?!” Joshua asked, louder than before.

Jameson shouted up the ladder.  “Hey! Save the discussion for later. I’ve got to go out there and find Dana. She’ll figure out she failed eventually, and try something else. I’m going after her, and I could use as much help as I could get.  Marlena, especially, so tell her when she gets back that I need her out there.”

“I’ll get the other Immune,” Katrick said, then spun in place and dashed out into the city.  Jameson started scaling the fence, not wanting to waste time going through the gates.  Dana had been watching up until a minute earlier, but was now scaling the outer fence.  Jameson had a small advantage near the seam – he only had one fence to climb – but Dana was still ahead of him.  He crashed in among the swarm, knocking several of them down, then pushing the others out of the way as he fought through them to get clear.

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2 Responses to “The Immune – Chapter 17”

  1. Did we just discover d much awaited CURE in d most unexpected source n way?

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