I pounded, loud, on one of the heavy metal doors. Pounded hard enough that my fist made a sound like metal on metal. Behind me, I felt the children jump, long over pretending to be brave. Bravery equaled stupidity in days like these. There was no answer, but I knew someone had to be inside the warehouse or factory of whatever this building was. I’d been sure I’d seen steam, from the hill of the overpass, and standing outside its doors there was the smell of laundry drying. Laundry, of all things. I pounded again.
A face appeared in the narrow window pane. It was the face of a girl, still a teenager but probably only in number. The glass fogged up in front of her breath, but I saw her eyes dart behind me to Pilar and Michael, still in their school uniforms. When the face ducked down, the sound of grinding, metal on concrete, perhaps, came through the door, and then it opened.
“Do you have it?”
“No,” I said, pulling the children forward so she could check their jaws and mine, their eyes and mine. We hadn’t displayed any of the symptoms, even as far as we’d came. Not one.
“Get in.” And we did. The metal door banged shut.
The gilr-woman led us round about through a thick hallway, then offices, then into an open area, machines still present—looked like a plastics plant—but now littered also with makeshift cots and various items of the few living within its walls. Her head jerked at my shoulder, where my semi-automatic hung, making her long red hair jump with the force of her gesture.
“Not gonna happen,” I told her with my own head jerk. “You don’t get my gun. Like hell.” I sounded way more bitchy than I ever had before the drug bombs, but then, I hadn’t any reason to be bitchy back then. I’d stolen this gun fair and square, and it had helped us get all the way from Midtown to out here, where the suburbs turned back into the boondocks.
“Don’t be a bitch,” she said. “None of us are carrying. We can’t let you keep that on you. Just stash it some place; we won’t look.”
Pilar nudged me.
“I don’t want to go back out there, Auntie,” she said. “My nose hurts…and I’m tired. Real tired.”
“We both are,” mumbled Michael. I said nothing. The girl and the seven other people stared at me, inching behind the lumbering machines, as I stared at them.
“Let her keep the gun, for now,” a voice called. The man to whom it belonged stepped from a back left doorway I hadn’t yet noticed. He wore a gun too, I saw, but it was a handgun, snug against his waist. “John?” His voice was grim. Another man, presumably John, dislodged himself from behind a machine.
“Come on,” John said, a gray fringe around his head like a monk’s tonsure. “Let ol’ Doc take a look at you.”
They been kind enough to make the three of us cots, in our own corner of the factory. I sat on mine, watching the children go through their check-up some fifty feet away. Hector, the grim one, came up to me, sat Indian style on the floor to my right.
“Where you coming from?” His eyes, too, were on the children. John-the-doc flashed a flashlight into and out of Pilar’s face.
“Creekside,” he repeated, still watching the children. Then, “Creekside? Midtown! How’d you make it all the way out here? That’s some forty miles, as the aerodrug bomber flies.”
His head swiveled up to look at me as I busied myself with not answering.
“How’d you make it all the way here, and not get effected by the amphets?”
I shrugged. The amphets were what everyone still uneffected called the drug bombs contents. Nobody that I’d talked to—of course, that wasn’t many—seemed to understand exactly what drug we were being bombed with, only that city epicenters were the first targets, and that the symptoms seemed a lot like that of the amphetimines of the older decades. Only worse, of course. Much worse. Turned people into raving murderers, literally. But we’d wnted this war, we’d sought it out. And now the Redd Army found our weakness. The Redds were rumored to be semi-immune to the amphets, that something in their blood got them all hopped up and gave them mad visions, yes, but they maintained their humanity, maintained their minds, their control. I’d seen it, seen it with my own eyes. And the shitty part was, they didn’t stop killing us, mowing us down like chattel when their aerodrug bombers landed. They just didn’t tear flesh from our faces with their bare hands the way our effected did. They just pumped us full of bullets that flew so fast they hacked bodies in two like blades.