By the Shores of Time
Celeste’s light footsteps echoed whilst keeping an eye on those who watched. Her loose, light blue sundress drafted along the brisk air. A hole allowed in the cold air from the outside as she shivered on her way toward the small lab Greg set up. The feeling was unlike before when there was a better sense of community. She would’ve never imagined the paranoia residing within the walls of relative safety.
Knocking once, she entered, finding Greg toward the end of the row of tables, jotting down notes. The clean room had the bare minimum from the police station’s lack of funding prior to the outbreak. He cleared his throat upon glimpsing her attire with a well-rested expression evoking a sense of grace.
“I hope I’m not bothering—” she spoke, noting his hesitation.
“N—No, of course not,” he responded. “Nobody but Victoria comes through here, so seeing anybody else is…”
“Ah yes, that’s the word. But, er—How are you feeling?”
“Much better. My body isn’t as sore and I still have a bit of a cold. How about—”
“Do you need something?”
“Well,” she was taken aback by his unintentional bluntness. “Yes, I was curious about your findings. I wanted to know what experimentation you did since—”
“Did she put you up to this?” he whispered suspiciously.
“No, I’m here on my own accord, Greg,” she responded calmly. “You’ve been looking into these things since we met.”
The tired scientist’s firm gaze didn’t last against her openness. He turned his chair, brandishing the large notebook from earlier. She sat near him as he slid it over. The first thing she noticed was his near-illegible handwriting, containing things she knew little about. From the blood samples to the water supply, there was little to suggest an unknown pathogen. The frequency experiments showed little progress since there was no grounding to it. But, it was the last page struck her the most.
“What’s this?” she asked, pointing out his finding.
“A theory I came up with,” he responded. “You’d be surprised what strange things Nathanial can come up with.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t killed each other yet.”
“We’ve all been on edge these past few weeks. But, I’m sure he recognizes reason as a firm foundation.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t believe in any of that, but I think there’s importance to both. More so as a guidance of sorts.”
“That’s quite a naïve take, don’t you think?”
She chose not to pursue the ideological debate, letting the stubborn scientist handle his explanation as he skimmed through it. His focus on the paper reminded her of Gabriel when he read. Her heart warmed a little as Greg gathered his thoughts.
“So,” he spoke, seeing her endearing eyes. “Uh, Celeste?”
“S-Sorry, I was just thinking about him,” she admitted. “Go on.”
“Right. The hypothesis is simple. This affliction is spread through emotion, specifically negative emotions. Anger, sadness, grief—These manifest into debilitating things that can alter one’s state of mind.”
“Got a minor in pseudoscience all of a sudden?”
“Gabriel—” he sighed before correcting himself. “Celeste, this is the best we have going, but there’s little evidence until it happens. But there’s no reason those seeds couldn’t have been sowed long before. Quite honestly, this was why we chose the precaution we did for those that scouted the city.”
“I don’t know,” she conceded with a drawn-out sigh. “It seems too convenient if I had to be honest.”
“Regardless of my preferences. We are a social creature and we feed off another for many things.”
“Feed off? You make us sound like parasites.”
“Am I wrong? Look at the systems in place, one thrives while another suffers. I know that simplifies things, but that’s it was before this happened.”
“Never took you for a capitalist.”
“Capitalist? No, I just call things for what they are.”
Looking away from his paper, she smirked as she made her way toward the door. As strange as the theory was, it seemed to hold promise. One mystery stood amidst the unanswered questions that proceeded the outbreak, begging the question of where the fog came from. As she reached the door, Greg stopped her.
“I’m sorry about what happened to Gabriel and the others,” he spoke with a surprising tinge of sympathy.
“Thanks,” she reluctantly accepted, although she held the belief that one of them survived.
Upon stepping into the hall, she felt a certain chill in the air, followed by a blood-curdling scream toward the other end. People looked from their rooms as they heard glass shatter and screams continue. She glimpsed the lower level, seeing people run from whatever created the disturbance.
“I said nobody move!” a familiar voice growled.
She skipped steps on the way down, glimpsing the hostile perpetrator. Her body trembled after finding Alex alive with a knife pressed against one of the nurse’s necks. Victoria stood across from him unarmed, hoping to diffuse the situation. Greg emerged behind Celeste, aghast at the sudden turn of events. Her mind raced, wondering where he’d come from. She used the woman as a human shield as he backed away like a cornered animal. Everyone kept their distance, while some looked on sympathetically as a man who went through hell.
“Alex?” she called, fearing for the nurse. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t you see what Victoria is trying to do?” he shouted, pressing the knife into the woman’s throat. “She’s trying to get us killed out there.”
“Look asshole,” Victoria responded. “I’ve lost good people out there. You think that was my plan? You’re fucking delusional. Let her go and I promise we’ll go easy on you.”
“I said don’t fucking move!” he moved at an angle while drawing his knife toward the lieutenant. “They deserve to know what’s going on here! They deserve to—”
“Alex,” Celeste spoke up. “This is enough. We can talk this over! You’ve been through enough… You can relax now.”
“You all don’t get it, do you?” he ground his teeth as the nurse wept. “We’re all going to die! Every single last one of us if we don’t get rid of the people that say they’re in charge.”
Victoria knew there was little she could do, since many still looked to Alex as a leader. Keeping a cool head was the best she could do after observing his supporters crowd around in the standoff. Elizabeth moved into position while everyone’s attention focused on the rising tension. The barrel stuck out from the railing as she waited for the right moment.
“Whatever you think you’re going to accomplish with this won’t work,” the lieutenant spoke. “We can have a drink and talk it over.”
“No, no… You forced me out against the will of the people here,” he reminded with an unsettling grimace. “There’s nothing to talk about. All I ask is for is half the precinct, along with whoever wants to come.”
“I’m sure some would feel safer—”
“We share resources, Alex,” Celeste’s voice cracked over the two dominant figures.
“Where’s Gabriel at, huh?” he asked, seeing her sudden change in expression. “Seriously? He—Didn’t make it? Well, fuck that guy anyway. Here’s the deal—”
A loud gunshot echoed throughout the precinct, followed by a chaotic panic.
* * * * *
A trail of blood led into the sickbay as the soldiers blocked off the entrances. The loud crowd gathered outside, giving little resistance. Alex had finally succumbed the anesthesia Elizabeth applied. Toward the bed nearby was his severed forearm, drenching with blood. He struggled to breathe as she tightened the wound. Elizabeth began to panic when he grew cold.
“He’s losing too much blood,” she said while Celeste passed her the bandages. “Hey, stay with me.”
His response was incoherent as he passed out, invoking a state of concern for Victoria as she avoided the uproar behind them. She brandished her pistol before firing toward the ceiling as it quickly silenced them. The nurses continued their efforts to stabilize his condition.
“Everyone!” she yelled. “Back in your rooms immediately!”
“Um, please everyone,” Elizabeth added, hoping to ease the crowd. “Victoria, put the gun away, please!”
Letting out a sigh, she holstered her weapon as she watched her men usher the onlookers away. As the voices echoed in the distance, she turned toward the nurse as she tied the wound. She stood up, revealing her jeans smothered in his blood. Her hands trembled, reaching over to check his pulse. The nurse took a deep breath, but lieutenant’s glare made it clear it was far from over. Celeste sat between them, sensing their mis mashed energy.
“Have you lost your mind, Liz?” Victoria asked, withholding her temper.
“The hell do you mean?” she responded. “He was unhinged. I wasn’t about to lose another nurse, not on my watch.”
“It’s not for you to decide. You can’t go gung-ho when you feel like it.”
“That wasn’t the point!”
“Hey,” Celeste intervened. “This is getting us nowhere. Victoria, I don’t think this came lightly for anyone. He was threatening someone’s life, and we acted accordingly.”
“We need him alive,” Victoria begrudgingly admitted. “There are more of his people alive than anyone else.”
“That’s going to be the least of your problems if the entire precinct falls under.”
“Keep this asshole alive in the meantime,” she muttered before walking away.
Once her footsteps disappeared into the silent halls. The nurse reluctantly glimpsed the tired young woman who sat across her. Celeste was surprised she managed to remain so calm, especially after the heated exchange. She felt things were slowly beginning to unwind now that Alex arrived. Elizabeth sat at the bed across from looking up Alex as the nurses came in to inject him with blood. The nurses were quick as they left them alone.
“This is bullshit,” Elizabeth sighed.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Liz,” Celeste insisted, watching her reaction closely. “He would’ve probably ended up hurting her.”
“We shoulda killed him back in D.C. I knew this fucker was going to be a problem.”
“You think I’m really going to blame you? Naw, Celly, not you. Things happen for a reason, like the stars fuckin’ align or something. We’re just regular folks getting by while trying to do the right things.”
Celeste observed the blood gently flow through the tube. Although Alex’s breathing was shallow, it seemed to normalize from the shock incurred earlier. Perhaps Elizabeth didn’t account for the bullet’s explosive qualities. She remembered the blood that sprung from his stump before he collapsed. And although she came to dislike him, he couldn’t bare to see him hurt.
“You think the others are out there?” Elizabeth asked, meeting her side glance.
“I hope so,” she nodded.
“I mean, if he made it, I’m sure the others did. We’ve been through so much together.”
“Yeah,” Celeste conceded while her eyes trailed the blood leading out the infirmary.
The lights dimmed, signifying the electrical output to maintain the perimeter. The tired nurse observed the dimming lights, wondering how much longer they had. Alex’s severed arm began to stiffen while the last of the blood dripped onto the ground. Celeste stood up, parting ways with Elizabeth. Her sleeves revealed a bit more of her skin, revealing the healed cuts. She felt her prying eyes, prompting her to cover her sleeve. Her hands rested upon the nurse’s, easing her trembling.
“If you need anyone to talk to—” Celeste reminded before being interrupted.
“I’ll be fine,” she responded. “Thanks, Celly. I’m glad you’re here.”
As the young woman left the room, she was met with the hall’s echoing silence. The dim lights buzzed under the strains of the electricity dedicated to the lights outside. Until now, she found it strange the lights drove away the infected. It was the one thing that kept them at bay as they prowled forest, waiting for a chance to pounce. As she approached the main hall, Nathanial poked his head around the corner, startling her once again.
“What is it with you and corners?” she refrained from yelling at him.
“Apologies,” he whispered, gesturing his sincerity. “How is Alex doing?”
“He’s stabilizing, but his arm—Obviously we don’t have the means to reattach it.”
“At least he’s alive.”
“Is that why you’re standing around here? To tell you how he’s doing?”
“I was praying for his recovery since I can’t be in the room with him. I imagine he’s been through quite the harrowing experience out there.”
“We all have,” she reminded, as she crossed her arms. “But you don’t see me putting a knife to someone’s throat.”
“That means you’ve remembered what you’ve seen,” she questioned as his blue eyes looked into hers.
Her eyes narrowed to the underlying tone of his question, as though he fished for something he knew was there. While her memories began piecing themselves together, there was much she was uncertain about. Being engrossed in doomsday prophecies, the once renowned community leader was reduced to a hermit and Alex’s retainer. Celeste felt he was an equal threat to the precinct’s stability, but the number of supporters rivaled theirs.
“You should get some rest, Nathanial,” she insisted while brushing past him.
“How long are you going to hide within your thoughts, Celeste?” he asked, pausing her ascension.
“There’s nothing to hide. At least, there’s no reason to.”
“All things eventually come to light.”
The young woman looked over her shoulder, finding his unsettling smile while he held his rosary beads. A strange sensation overwhelmed her, whether it be fear or danger, she couldn’t tell.
The further we go the stranger things become...
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