It’s been a while since I’ve written Game of Life. Shortly after taking refuge in an abandoned mansion, Jeff and Harriet were contacted by a Government official, who told them they’re both infected. They promised aid, in exchange for the both of them to come to the capital and secure a larger scale cure for the population.
Neither Jeff nor Harriet knows who to trust.
Part 17 — Haunted
Jeff woke to the rumbling roar of an engine. He’d fallen asleep in a lawn chair on the east balcony.
A blurry shape broke through the clouds, looming closer like a giant raven. The sunlight cast a strange glow around it, making it that much harder to identify.
Jeff tensed, gripping the armrests of his chair. His vision cleared.
“A plane?” Jeff sat up. In the worst case scenario, Blackbird lied to them and sent a bomber to kill them—but without any sprinters knocking down the gates that would have been a huge waste of government resources.
Something fell from the plane and it veered away.
It’s too far away for that to be a bombing run. Jeff knew from first-hand experience.
A propeller sprouted from the top of the falling object. The plane’s engine faded, giving way to high-pitched whine of an electric motor. It was a drone.
Jeff turned back to the balcony and shouted into the room. “Wake up. We’ve got incoming.”
Harriet sprung up half-asleep, snatching up the sniper rifle leaning against the nightstand. She shouldered the rifle and traced the drone. “It’s carrying a large box, and those things can support a couple hundred pounds. It might be a bomb. What should I do? Take it down?”
Jeff leaned back in his chair. “If they wanted to kill us, they would have sent a bomber, not Amazon.”
She eased up on the trigger. “Yeah. I guess so. So we let it land and go from there.”
The drone buzzed closer, sunlight glinted off its chrome finish.
“Sort of shiny for military equipment,” Jeff said. “It’s also coming right to the house.”
He stole a peek over at her. The contrast between a camisole and a military grade sniper rifle was overwhelming. In a few more days it would be back to jeans and dusters.
Harriet lowered her rifle, catching him admiring her. A small smile came to her lips. “We could always put off the trip a few days. I mean, mansion life ain’t so bad.”
“I’m tempted, but if she was telling the truth about us being infected… I mean… do you feel anything weird?”
She shouldered the rifle coyly. “I’m not the one we should be worrying about. I know the difference between a hallucination and reality, but yeah I’ve been seeing weird stuff too.”
Jeff’s gaze drifted to her chest. “You uh… think you could pack that outfit? I mean, it’s hard to hallucinate with you burned into my thoughts.”
“Sure thing. Every little bit helps.” She glanced over at the drone, it took a sharp turn away from their window. “The north lawn. Let’s scoop it up quick, the motor noise might have drawn visitors.”
Jeff wrapped an arm around her waist when she tried to walk past, giving a gentle squeeze to her soft body. “Thanks, Harriet. I wouldn’t have lasted half as long as I have if not for you.”
“I know.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips and slipped past him. “I’m gonna get dressed, you head down first.”
He checked his clips in his rifle and stepped out the bedroom. His footsteps echoed in the empty halls of the mansion, contrasting against the faint motor hum. A woman waited at the top of the stairs. He shouldered his rifle, but stayed calm.
There’s no way it’s real.
He recognized her. Chae stared at him with a deathly stare. Blood dribbled from a fresh bullet hole in her throat. He took a deep breath and lowered his weapon, settling in front of her.
“Sorry. All I can do is keep living.” Jeff clenched his jaw and walked through her. Her image broke apart and vanished. He didn’t look back to see if it reappeared. He hurried down the stairs and pushed through the front door. The drone circled around the lawn, close enough to give him a better look.
A camera lens mounted on a swivel focused on him, like a mechanical eye. Only then did the device lower to the lawn.
Facial recognition, huh?
The motor quieted as it descended until it petered out to silence. The rotor slowed to a stop and folded up—just as it had when the plane initially dropped it. Four doors opened on it’s side, exposing cases of ammunition, weapons and a cooler. Jeff paced around it, the placement made it easy to discern the contents.
He nudged his rifle nozzle on the split-lid of the cooler and opened it. Wisps of cool air drifted upward. Inside he found four containers of Rocky Road ice cream. The other side of the cooler had an array of vials. A hand written note sat on top.
‘A sip a day keeps the rotting away.’
Jeff let his rifle sag against his shoulder strap and took one, opened it and took a sip. The pressure on his temples faded and everything around him seemed clearer like the world went from black and white to full color.
It works? Might be nice to go a day without seeing a corpse.
He capped the vial and poked through the rest of the supplies. The rest was ammunition, dry food and some equipment—all stuff Harriet would have to figure out. One thing caught his attention, a device that looked like a RC car remote with a chip wrapped in plastic. Another hand-written note sat atop it.
‘Figured you’d put the drone to better use than us. Effective range is four miles.’
Jeff thumbed around the base of the drone, simple clips let it detach from the supply platform and one of the guns looked like it could take the place of the supply platform.
Harriet came out the front door dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. She kept her sniper rifle slung at her shoulder and a pistol at the ready.
“It’s clear.” Jeff tossed her the remote and she caught it handily. “Plus we got a new toy.”
“Aww, she shouldn’t have. Thing probably has a tracking bug on it, though. Give me a few hours and I’ll figure it out.”
Jeff held out the vial. “We got this too.”
Harriet paled. “You drank some?”
“Someone had to. If it’s any consolation, I feel great. Unless the government mastered mind-controlling nano-machinery we should be safe. But… just to be sure. Let’s wait a few hours before you take it. I have some experience with this stuff.”
Jeff sighed. “Yeah… I stole this stuff from the stores. I told you I used to drive an ambulance, right? Well there’s a reason I never got my EMT cert.”
Harriet shrugged. “Stealing drugs, huh? There was a time in my life I’d judge you for that.”
“What about now?”
“No way,” Harriet said. “You’re no junkie, so you must have just gotten stronger from it.”
“Well… only on accident. I have a high tolerance to pain killers and according to my exit exam, I’m highly resistant to stimulants and other shit. Long story short… I can’t get high. But it didn’t stop me from selling it.”
“So how is waiting for the drugs to kick in gonna help?”
“Resistant, not immune.” If this shit has side effects I’ll notice. If I hadn’t gotten ratted out, I’d have made some serious money. Not that it would have mattered. Cash is just fancy toilet paper now.”
“I’d take real toilet paper over cash.” Harriet paced over to the supplies. “A roll of the triple layered shit would be like a gold bar these days.”
“Hey, out of curiosity, did you see someone on the stairs?”
Harriet gave him a haunted look. “You too? I dunno if that’s a relief or the most terrifying thing I’ve seen all week– my damn sister. Glad it was just a figment— ”
“Wait, you saw someone in the same spot? Isn’t that weird? Like someone is fucking with us?”
“Now that you mention it… yeah. Who did you see?”
“Seriously? Were you sweet on her or something?”
“N-no. It’s just… she’s the first person I’ve felt bad about letting down. I didn’t really care about anyone—anything—until I met up with you. Then when Chae got shot, I couldn’t help but think, could I have stopped that?”
Harriet fell silent.
“Does that make me weird?”
“No, just jealous.”
“About Chae? Oh come on, you’re the only one for–”
“You have it wrong.” She fiddled with the remote as she talked. “I mean about you caring. You should care. It’d be a lot easier if I didn’t care from the start. Meeting you helped me stop caring. You being around… just lets me focus on protecting one person. The rest of the world can burn for all I care, but if you died—that’d be it. I’d just give up.”
Jeff’s chest tightened. “You can’t mean that.”
He chewed on her words and calmed. “So, I guess I better not die.”
Harriet smiled. “Yeah, or I’ll kill you.”
“I’ll take a look around the perimeter,” Jeff said, stepping away. “I’ll leave you to the toys.”
Jeff let himself get lost in his thoughts on the patrol. Before the end, he hated everyone and everything. Every person he’d met in the weeks after the outbreak disappointed him, tried to kill him, or just proved how fucked up humans could be– everyone except Harriet.
In her, he’d found the good in trusting someone and with that he found the genuine desire to trust more people. Hearing her say his presence made her trust people less, hurt.
Chae’s death was a personal failure to him, for Harriet had it been just a reason to be angry? Both possibilities terrified him.