Read When Night Falls Online

Authors: Airicka Phoenix

When Night Falls (10 page)

BOOK: When Night Falls
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“I promise I’ll find him.” No hesitation. No uncertainty. The truth washed off him in waves.

Shaking right down to her bones, Scarlett nodded. “Thank you.”

With a flex of his fingers around her elbow, he turned back to the door. Jack
slipped back into place behind the door, grabbed the knob with one hand, accessed the scanner with the other, and jerked the door open when the scanner beeped.

“Wait for my signal,” Rolf whispered, just before stepping through.

Scarlett fisted her hands to keep from grabbing him. She felt half-mad at the thought of him getting attacked, bitten … killed.

After what felt like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a minute, they heard a soft whistle.

“Come on!” Jack grabbed her and shoved her through the door. He surrendered his hold on her and pointed with the torch. “That way.”

Their destination turned out to be a
storage room for one of the abandoned fitness chambers. Jack swept the torch over the room, splashing everything with light. There were foam mats and neatly folded towels along the walls. Enormous exercise balls, broken trampolines, and tiny weights littered the floors and along metal racks. If the thick blanket of dust was anything to go by, this was one of the Leisure Centers that hadn’t been used since the destruction of earth.

“Oh!”
Kiera moaned, rushing past them into the room. “I miss zero gravity yoga!”

No one commented. They filed inside and shut the door behind them.

“Lance.” Rolf turned to one of the boys in the dark.

“On it!”

Scarlett heard him slouch over to Jack, who handed him the torch. Then he, and their only source of light, bobbed through the equipment and out of sight.

No one moved for several minutes. In the distance, in the direction Lance had gone, the faint sound of clangs and sizzles reached them. There was a loud zap, a sharp pop, and then all the lights in the room flared to life. A chorus of groans and grumbles chimed through the room as everyone rubbed their eyes and blinked their vision back into focus. 

There were eight people crammed inside the narrow space, not including Lance, who was still out of sight somewhere. Scarlett knew most as novice marshals—if not by name, then by sight—but there were two girls she didn’t recognize. They stood apart from the group, huddled together, visibly shaken. Sweat glistened under the filth covering them. One looked downright feverish, tinged a faint yellow around the gills. She kept shivering and seemed to be standing solely on the graces of her friend. They spotted Scarlett looking and shrank further back into the corner. The brunette with braided pigtails dropped her head and murmured something to the raven-haired one. They both peeked up to see if Scarlett was still watching.

Scarlett turned away, facing the others. “Can someone tell me what’s going on now?”

“You want to know what’s going on?” Kiera rounded on her, teeth flashing in a sneer. “We nearly died trying to save you—”


Kiera!”

She ignored Rolf, taking a step towards Scarlett, finger pointing. “I don’t know what makes you so important that we had to risk our lives, but Rolf said we had to. Okay, fine, but you have some nerve making him promise to find your stupid
boyfriend—”

Outrage prickled Scarlett’s own temper. “Hunter is not stupid
and he’s not my boyfriend!”

Kiera
’s skinny arms flew up into the air. “What. Ever! He’s probably already dead. Making Rolf stick out his neck—”


Kiera! Enough!” Rolf stepped between the girls, facing the irate blonde. “Enough!”

“Why do you always take her side?”
Kiera shrieked, stomping her dainty foot. “She’s a nobody!”

“Uh, guys, those things out there may be infected, but I really doubt they’re deaf.”

Lance strode over to them from the back of the room, tossing a slim cylinder into the air and catching it again in a meaty fist. The light caught the palm-sized pipe and glinted off the silver. Scarlett’s eyes widened. Her eyebrows shot up into her hairline.

Jackers were illegal. The Inter-Galaxy Alliance had banned them after they were used to highjack NASA’s computers, rerouting satellites
, and setting back months of research. But the Inter-Galaxy Alliance no longer existed, so was it still illegal?

Lance caught her staring. He raised a bushy, black eyebrow, daring her to say something as he slipped the jacker into his pocket. She dropped her gaze and heard him snicker.

As size went, Lance wasn’t the biggest of the group height-wise. He was large in the shoulders and upper body, but on the squat side. His head was shaved clean and his scalp glistened under the fluorescent like pools of light on melted dark chocolate. When he walked, his hands were bunched at his sides and he always wore a perpetual scowl.

“Mac. Wheat. Get some towels on those cracks. Jack, give me a hand with these shelves.”

Like a well-oiled machine, the group leapt to do as they were told. Scarlett shot back as two of the boys Rolf called Mac and Wheat snatched towels off the shelves and stuffed them along the bottom of the door. Once satisfied, Rolf and Jack pushed the metal racks holding weights up against it, barricading them inside.

“How long are we supposed to stay in here?”
Kiera demanded, folding her arms just under her breasts, pushing her voluptuous assets dangerously up against the V of her top.

“Until we have a plan,” Rolf answered. He rubbed the back of his skull. “Okay, first thing we need is food.”

“The refectory’s two levels up,” Jack said, peering over the map projected two inches over the data port screen. “We can get food from there.”

Scarlett wondered if he really needed a map to tell him that. They all knew the
refectory was on deck eleven. But, since that wasn’t being helpful or useful, she kept it to herself.

“Well, we’re going to have to make a trip.”

“Now?” Kiera cried. “We just got back from rescuing her.” She waved a hand in Scarlett’s direction, repulse curling her lips. “Why can’t we take a break? I don’t want to go out there again!”

“You’re not,” Rolf said simply. He pointed at
Kiera, Scarlett and the two girls in the corner. “You four are staying here, with…” He glanced at his group, “Wheat.”

Wheat was the runt of the group, a tall, but gangly thing. His height put a hunch in his shoulders that made his neck appear to be coming out of his chest. His shaggy mop of wheat-blond hair hung over his long, narrow face, cover
ing his downcast eyes. He would not have been Scarlett’s first choice to protect anyone. A good gust of wind could have blown him over.

“Wait. What?”

Scarlett’s protest was outmatched by Kiera’s outburst. “Why can’t you stay?”

“Because this group is my responsibility
.” Rolf turned away from the fierce girl. “The rest of us will go up, gather supplies and get back as quickly as possible.”

“We should be making
plans to get off this ship!” Kiera exploded, arms flailing over her head. “Not just sitting here like ducks.”

Rolf expelled a sigh
and pinched the bridge of his nose. “We can’t go anywhere until we know what we’re up against. We need to get supplies and formulate a plan! That is our first and main priority and since we don’t know how long we may be trapped here, we need food.”

“Jack has the data port, send him and…”
Kiera waved a hand over the other boys. “Lance. He’s strong.”

Rolf turned on her, his face a glacial mask of fury. “They are my friends, not my servants. If they go, I go!”

“Then I’m going with you!” Scarlett interjected before anything else could be said.

“No, you are not!” Rolf replied tightly, puncturing each word through his clenched teeth.

Scarlett folded her arms, jerking her chin up a notch. “The women folk are not staying behind while you big, brave men go hunting for food. Hunter is out there and I am going with you!”

With an exasperated growl, Rolf threw up his hands. “What is wrong with you girls? I’m trying to keep you safe.”

“Well, lucky for me then that I have four big, strong warriors to protect me.”

He scowled at
Scarlett’s sarcasm.

“If she goes, I’m going.”
Kiera mimicked Scarlett’s folded arms.

Rolf slapped a hand over his face and rubbed. “Fine
.” He threw his arms open wide. “Fine! But keep up.”

Chapter
Ten

 

They left Wheat with the two girls, both still crouched in the corner, whispering between themselves. Scarlett glanced at the pair as they left the room, making a mental note to bring back some painkillers or something for the sick looking one.

“Do you guys need anything?” she asked, pausing on the threshold.

The girl with the braids quickly glanced up, her face pale, but nowhere near as pasty or grey-tinged as her friends. “No, we’re fine.”

Scarlett frowned as the voice struck a familiar cord with her. She started to ask if they’d met before. It was possible. After three years on a ship that size, you got to know the people fairly well; if not by name, then by sight.

“Scarlett,” Rolf called in a low whisper.

With a last peek at the two, Scarlett ducked out of the room. She was momentarily disorientated when Wheat closed the door behind them and sealed the cracks, thrusting them into darkness.
There was the screech of metal being shoved back into place, then silence.

“Stay along the walls,” Rolf whispered. “Keep quiet and keep together.”

Simple enough rules to follow.

Carefully, they picked their way forward, one hand braced on the wall at all times. Scarlett had been down there enough time to navigate the path with closed eyes.
But they couldn’t have taken more than a handful of steps when they heard the screams.

Terror washed over the group
. Scarlett was certain no one was even breathing. They listened, every nerve on alert as the howls thundered down the passage way and slammed into them with forces that shoved them back a step.

“Wheat!” Lance growled, already tearing back towards the equipment room.

“Lance!” Rolf gave chase after telling the others to stay put.

No one listened.

Lance reached the heavily barricaded doors first and pounded his beefy fists against the metal, calling Wheat’s name. Something crashed inside. Metal against concrete muffled the chilling shrieks. Something hissed, growled. More crashes. More screams, then the sickening squish of flesh tearing, the gurgle and sputter of blood and, finally, silence. Kiera wailed a sob.

No one moved. Their combined heartbeats reverberated through the corridor, broken only by
Kiera’s wrenching moans.

“Get away from the doors,” Rolf rasped at last, hand closing around Scarlett’s elbow. “Back away. Now!”

“But Wheat—” Kiera croaked.

“There’s nothing we can do for him
.” Even in the darkness, without seeing his expression for confirmation, Scarlett could hear the agony snaking through the words. The pain was raw, bleeding with anger. “Come on.”

“But how…?”
Kiera kept whimpering as they half-walked, half-jogged away from the room.

“That girl,” Scarlett whispered, wincing at the crushing guilt settling on her shoulders. “She must have been infected. She looked sick, but I didn’t…”

“You couldn’t,” Rolf muttered. “None of us did.”

But she could have. Now, when it was too late, she knew exactly why that girl’s voice was so familiar. They were the two she’d seen at the refectory only earlier that day. She hadn’t looked at their faces, which was probably her biggest mistake. But how was she supposed to know?

They stumbled and staggered the rest of the way up two flights of stairs. No one tried to be nearly as quiet as they had been going down.

Rolf pulled himself together just enough to stop everyone on deck eleven and venture out first. When he came back, telling them it was all clear, Scarlett frowned. This didn’t seem right. There were seven thousand passengers on the ship. Two thousand of those were crew members, not including the captain and his family. Even with half of them dead, the other half was infected. So … where were they? Where were the infected? They should have been crawling all over the place. But so far, they had been up and down five levels and they hadn’t run into any.

“Wait,” she whispered before anyone could leave the shelter of the stairway. “Something isn’t right.”

“We can’t stay here!” Jack hissed.

“What do you mean?” Rolf interjected.

“Where are the infected?” she asked. “This ship should be crawling. Have any of you even seen one since all this started?”

“Aside from the one that just…”
Kiera voice hitched.

“If they broke out of isolation, they should be everywhere,” Scarlett continued.

“All the more reason to keep moving!” Jack snapped. “The faster we get ourselves armed, the safer we’ll be.”

A pause, then Rolf chimed in, “Jack’s right. We have to keep going.”

As cold as the uneasy feeling was, Scarlett couldn’t think of a reason to argue. They had to keep moving, because they certainly couldn’t go back. Forward it was.

The mere minutes it usually took to cross from the stairway to the
refectory, dragged into what felt like hours. Every rustle of movement sent a prickle of terror winding down her spine, even though she knew it was their feet. It had never been so quiet, so dark.

“Stay together,” Rolf whispered.

Something clicked and light flared in his hand. He shone the torch down at the ground as he eased the door open a crack, releasing a faint waft of copper and decay to filter through.

Scarlett gagged, slapping a hand over her nose and mouth. The others did the same. But Rolf didn’t seem to notice as he pressed his weight against the door, nudging back whatever was wedged behind it. The stench amplified the wider the gap became. 

Carefully, he swung the torch into the room, splashing yellow light over upended tables, broken chairs, blood spattered walls, and a thick carpet of leftover human remains. Scarlett was glad she had her hand over her mouth, stifling the scream bubbling up in her throat.

“Oh…!”
Kiera moaned, grabbing blindly at Scarlett. Her sharp little nails gouged into Scarlett’s upper arm. The pain was welcoming. It jolted her away from the chasm crumbling at her feet.

Rolf started forward. His
boots squished against the wet linoleum. The floor shone crimson. Jack and Lance followed. Scarlett, with a whimpering Kiera in tow, trundled after them. Mac took the end, closing the door gingerly behind them.

“Mac. Lance. Food,” Rolf pointed to the food dispenser with the torch. “Jack, find us another hideaway. You two stay here. I’m going to see if I can find
anything else we might need.”

Scarlett would much rather have stayed outside, taken her chances with whatever was out there. Being trapped in a place she used to eat her meals, knee deep in
the bodies of people she may have known…

“Don’t leave me!” With a squeak,
Kiera dislodged herself from Scarlett and latched onto Rolf.

Scarlett had never wanted the girl back more than she did at that moment. Left standing in the middle of the room with nothing to do and darkness creeping in around her as Rolf moved away with their only source of light, Scarlett didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She stood stiffly, arms enfolding herself.

In the background, she heard the food dispenser whir to life. There was some scuffling. Some hushed whispers followed by the grind of conveyer belts as food was prepared and dropped through the slot. The pale, green glow from the screen illuminated Mac and Lance’s faces as they hovered over the machine. She saw Mac amble away, melting into the darkness untouched by the faint light, then return with a white bundle in his hand. She watched as he spread out the sheet on a clean patch of floor and began piling food on top.

On the other side of the room, Rolf’s torch grazed over the litter of broken furniture. Every so often, he would pick something
up, study it, and then toss it back down. She couldn’t see, but she could hear Kiera’s sniveling at every sound.

Only a few feet from her, Jack’s head was bent over the data port in his hand. The glow highlighted the furrow concentration on his brow.

Scarlett was the only one not doing anything.

“Do you need help?” she whispered.

“No!” Jack retorted curtly.

“Look, I know you don’t think Rolf should have come after me, but I can—”

“I don’t think that.”

She was baffled by his standoffish attitude towards her. They had never actually spoken in the past, but had always shared a pleasant enough nod in passing.

“Have I done something…?”

“I need to concentrate.” With that, he turned his back on her, cutting off all further conversation. But she knew the minute he was onto something
. His head shot up. “Rolf!”

Rolf was at his side in seconds
. Kiera hot on his heels. “Find something?”

“I know where we need to go.” He pointed at something on the screen.

“Yes!” Rolf clapped him on the back. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Scarlett dared a single step forward. “What?”

Rolf faced her. “The escape pods.”

Her eyes widened. “But that’s all the way down on
deck one!”

“We can’t stay on this ship!” Jack said, turning to face her. “We need to get off.”

“And go where?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms open wide. “There is nowhere out there for us to go.”

“If we stay here, we’re going to die!” Jack turned the port off and stuffed it into his pocket. “I would rather not get eaten.”

“What about Hunter?” She fixed her gaze on Rolf. “You promised we wouldn’t leave him!”

“He’s probably already dead!”
Kiera pulled herself together long enough to say. “I want off this hell!”

“Then you guys can go
.” She folded her arms. “He would never leave me and I’m not leaving him, not until I know for sure he’s…” She couldn’t say it.

“Fine!”
Kiera decided, looping her arm through Rolf’s. “You can stay.”

“We’re not leaving anyone behind,” Rolf said. He fixed his gaze on Scarlett. “You know there’s a chance he may not have made it, don’t you? I’ll look, but I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

Scarlett nodded. “I know.”

“Rolf—”

“I promised!” he said, shaking Kiera’s hold loose. “I’ll find him.”

BOOK: When Night Falls
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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