As I stood at the entrance to the lab, in awe at how much had changed, I couldn’t help but wonder if Michael made it out of the bunker. I regretted leaving him to die like that, but I had to survive. Because I was the only one who could beat this virus. I looked around at the collapsed fence and crumbled watch towers, the bones of the fallen soldiers and monsters alike. I took a deep breath and walked toward the lift.
I expected the power to be cut so I wasn’t surprised by it. I knew there was an access ladder to the side. I grabbed a heavy piece of metal from a destroyed transport vehicle and brought it hard down on the handle of the door to the ladder. The handle broke free with a metallic CLANG! and the door creaked free of its frame. I stepped inside and lifted the access hatch.
The elevator shaft was deep, about 7 stories. The ladder ran the entire length of the shaft. I positioned myself above the ladder and found the first rung with my foot. As I began lowering myself into the shaft, I stopped at the sound of rustling and footsteps outside. I must have been followed by a monster. I lowered myself quickly and pulled the heavy hatch closed above me. I began the long climb down the shaft. I moved slow, unsure if there was any way that the monsters could already be inside. I listened to my footsteps echo in the metal shaft with every step. It seemed like forever until I reached the bottom. The power to the lab was still active.
What I saw in the lab was horrific. The monsters were scary, sure, but the countless bodies of innocent people who lie within this tomb will haunt me forever. As I moved slowly toward my office, these halls told me the story of what came to pass after I fled.
The soldiers came in, their mission was to execute the remaining scientists and eliminate all remaining infected subjects within, but somewhere in the process, some of the scientists overpowered a group of the soldiers. There were bodies wearing lab coats and name tags that died with weapons in their hands. They fought hard to survive the slaughter, but I don’t know if they succeeded. There were many more of them down here than soldiers.
I reached my old office, now covered in a film of dust, all my old equipment scattered around. One light still worked, its flickering bulb casting eerie shadows all around. I glanced around and crossed to my desk. I uprighted the overturned monitor and touched the power button. There was a sound of static crackling and the screen hummed to life. The screen read: welcome M. Wedford. Please input password. I tapped the keys and a large group of organized files appeared on-screen. I searched through them one by one. All my old research was intact. After all this time, I finally have a chance to make things right…
36 HOURS EARLIER
I sat there amongst the bodies of the Brutes, trying to catch my breath. I can’t believe That SOB left me here to die. I stood slowly and headed back into the vault, looking for something I could use as a weapon. In a supply closet I found a heavy crowbar. I took it and swung it a few times, adjusting my arm to the weight. I moved to the blown hatch where the brutes came from and stepped through. I moved slowly through the darkness of the narrow hall, climbing steadily toward the surface. After a short time, I saw daylight at the end of the tunnel.
I poked my head around the corner, scanning the surface, wanting to avoid a fight with any Cursed that could be around. I stepped into the open and looked around. I didn’t see Matt anywhere. I moved slowly toward the wreckage of the warehouse, listening intently. Down the street, I heard a noise. I move quickly behind cover and watched down the street.
Matt was at the end of the road, pulling an old bicycle from a corner shop. Every bone in my body wanted to run up and bash his head in with this crowbar, but something in me told me to follow him instead. Maybe it was because he didn’t strike me as an evil person, just desperate. I wanted answers to why he left me to die. He began riding the squeaky bike down the road out-of-town. I walked into the corner shop that he came out of and saw pieces of bikes scattered around. I looked around for parts, and within a few minutes, I had reassembled a bike. Thank God they were simple. I had to pedal fast to catch back up to Matt. I followed from a long distance, barely keeping him in my sight. After several hours, we reached a military base.
I ditched the bike and ducked into the brush, moving extremely slow. Why did Matt stop here? Was he looking for supplies or was he here for something else? I was close enough now to see his face as he looked around. There were bones everywhere. Matt looked sad. After a moment, he walked toward a large lift and hit the button, but nothing happened. From my hiding spot, I watched him step out of the lift and to a door next to the lift. He smashed the door and stepped inside, out of my sight. I heard a metallic squeak from inside. I had to move closer.
I moved slowly, trying to be as quiet as possible. As I approached the door, I stopped and listened. From inside, I heard a metallic clang of a hatch slamming shut. I peaked slowly around the corner and saw a hatch on the floor. Matt must have climbed down the shaft. I sat and waited, not wanting to open the hatch until he reached the bottom. After about 15 minutes, I stepped in and opened the hatch slowly, trying to be as gentle about it as possible.
I peered down the long shaft and saw Matt standing at the bottom, looking around. Then he stepped out of sight. I began the long climb down myself. By the time I reached the bottom, Matt was nowhere to be seen. Bodies were laying all around, many of which were wearing lab coats. I moved slowly down the hall, stepping around the bodies and listening. From down the hallway I could hear the distinct clacking of a keyboard.
I looked through the small window of the door and saw Matt sitting at a desk, working on something. I pushed open the door, hard, the glass shattering as it bounced off the wall. Matt jumped up, eyes wide. He saw me and spoke.
“Oh yeah, thank God the guy you left to die came back,” I sneered.
“I can explain.”
“I’m gonna need a really good reason not to kick you a*s.”
“How about a cure? That good enough?”
” What?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Look,” he turned back to the monitor and I walked up next to him.
“Before this happened, I was working with the military in researching a vaccine against the virus. Just before the bombs fell, I had a breakthrough, but was never able to complete it. I needed something that was resistant to it, but I couldn’t find it.” Images flashed on his screen. Research notes and formulas were numerous. Matt stopped and looked at me.
” So I’m sorry I left you, but I may be the last person that can fix this,” he looked me up and down.
“You don’t have a scratch on you,” he looked astounded.
“Not anymore,” I said. Now he looked confused. So I told him.
” I didn’t escape the virus unchanged. I don’t eat, sleep, or drink. My wounds heal incredibly fast. I don’t know if I age. That is how I survived on the surface.”
He looked at me astounded, before his eyes grew wide. He grabbed my arm.
“Of course! Why didn’t I realize it before?!” he turned back to the computer, typing frantically.
“Realize what?” I asked.
“How special you are! Your resistant to the virus! Instead of turning into a ravenous beast, you became resistant to them!” he spun around, a needle in his hand. “I need your blood and a tissue sample,” he said sternly.
“What? Why?” I asked. Matt scoffed and grabbed my arm.
“You are the missing piece. Something in you is resistant to the virus, and finding out what could be the key to stopping this!” without waiting for approval, he wrapped a tourniquet around my arm and jabbed the needle in my arm.
“Ow, d**k! Is that sterile?” I asked.
“Who cares, you’re friggin invincible,” he removed the needle and put the sample into a strange chamber that examined it. He went back to the computer and started typing. The sample was scanned and he stopped.
“I’ll be damned.”
He turned slowly toward me, “60% chance of success.”
Over the next few months, Matt worked tirelessly, taking sample after sample and reworking his formula. I explored the base on my down time and found a control room/communication hub and manage to get it operational. The data on the terminals there showed the locations of dozens of civilian vaults all over the globe. Maybe humanity made it after all. I couldn’t believe it. I was too busy going through files that I didn’t hear Matt walk in.
“Michael?” he was quiet.
“Come look at this,” I said excitedly. Matt looked over my shoulder. “There are bomb shelters and bunkers all over the globe, and a complete list of inhabitants on here. Matt, There are hundreds of thousands of names here!” I could barely contain myself. Matt perked up at the sight of all the information.
“Can we communicate with any of them?” he asked.
“Most of the bases I explored had information about satellite communication between them, so potentially I think we can!”
“That’s amazing!” his face grew grim.
“But we need to talk.” I looked at him, concerned.
He continued, “I hit a dead-end. We have been stuck at 75% for a month after a steady climb. And the only thing I can think of is, well…” he stopped and looked down.
“What?” I asked. Now I was worried.
“The virus is most potent in the brain stem. And I feel like the only way to find the cure is to examine yours.”
I was shocked. But I wasn’t concerned. “OK? My brain has recovered from a bullet. I’m sure a little poking and prodding wouldn’t hurt. Hell, you could probably remove some of it and I would be fine.”
“The brain stem is a whole different ballpark. We have seen some creatures survive and recover from brain trauma, but once the epicenter of the virus was damaged or destroyed, they would die.I just need to know that, at whatever cost, you’re ready for anything. Even death,” his face grew white as he waited for my response.
I thought about my family, my daughters, “Let’s get a broadcast ready. Then we finish this.” He looked at me and nodded.
I worked for a few hours and managed to restore the wiring, and Matt restored the connection to the relay. He looked at me. I nodded.
“It’s time,” I said.
I looked in the mirror at myself. I looked older than I remember. I had a full beard, I was covered in grime, and my face was thin. Had I really aged? I guess it might not matter in a few moments. Matt was behind me with a razor, shaving the back of my head.
“Done,” he said. I stood up without a word and walked to the operating table. I lay face down and waited. Matt couldn’t put me to sleep. I couldn’t sleep. He did his best to numb me and then he spoke.
“Are you ready?” his voice was shaky. I raided my hand in a thumbs up. I felt pressure on the back of my head as he began cutting into me. I felt him poke and prod as he began extracting fluids and running his tests. I heard him curse and go back in for more, this time cutting into me further. As I lay there being sliced and diced, my mind raced, and images of my life began flashing. I saw my daughters smiles as they played in the snow on Christmas morning. I saw my wife cooking breakfast on father’s day. I smiled as I closed my eyes…
The computer screen flashed at me. 100% success rate. I looked down at Michael as he lay motionless on the table, the back of his skull and brain stem completely torn apart.
“Michael?” there was no answer. I said his name again, this time louder. Still nothing. I took a deep breath and covered him with a sheet.
“You did it, buddy,” I whispered. “You saved us,” I began synthesizing the vaccine and walked into the comms room. I pushed the button on the console to broadcast to everyone that could hear.
“If anyone is out there, my name is Matthew P. Wedford. I am a scientist working for the United states government. I have found a cure…”
Matt was rescued 2 days later. Michael’s body was left behind, but Matt would make sure that the world knew his name and sacrifice. He stare out the window of the chopper as it lifted away from the base. He watched as it disappeared in the distance. The world had ended. Over 6 billion lives were lost in the disaster. But humanity is stubborn. No matter what get thrown at them, they always seem to find a way to cling to life. In the following years, Matt Wedfords cure became household. Every surviving human was given a dose, which completely immunized them against the virus. The danger didn’t end though. Millions of cursed still roamed the earth. Many had died from starvation or from killing each other, but many more remained. Matt’s cure would come to be weaponized and used against the remaining Cursed, eradicating all traces of the virus within decades. Now, 40 years after the Great Sickness, life was returning to normal…
The man sat on the bench, rain falling softly from the sky. He watched as children were rounded up by their parents to get out of the rain. Birds chirped quietly in the rustling green trees. He leaned forward on his cane and looked at the puddle on the ground. His reflection showed a wrinkled, balding old man.
“When did that happen?” he chuckled to himself. He thought about the life he lived and how far he had come. He thought about the great sickness and what the world had faced. He thought about how these children will only know about it through history books and stories from their elders. He sat back and pulled a picture from his coat pocket. He looked at it and smiled, a single tear escaping from his eye. The wind picked up and blew the picture from his hand.
A little girl noticed the picture blowing in the wind and chased after it, her parents yelling after her. She grabbed up the picture and looked at it. It showed two girls smiling together. On the back it had writing: Claire and Lily, Christmas morning, 2011.
She walked up to the old man.
“Excuse me, mister. I think you dropped this.” He didn’t respond. his body was completely still, eyes half closed staring into the rainy sky, and a smile on his face…