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Authors: Airicka Phoenix

When Night Falls (8 page)

BOOK: When Night Falls
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The carpet sliced through the soft tissues of her knees as she crawled to the door. She stumbled through just as another unearthly moan pummeled the chaos drumming within the walls of her skull. She scrambled, half-turning, half-falling onto her back
, as she whipped around to see the deformed figure behind her, dressed in her grandmother’s floral nightdress.

Chapter Seven

 

A high-pitched shrill filled her ears. It seemed to echo from everywhere all at once and took her a moment to realize
the scream was coming from her.

The stooped figure standing next to the bed hissed, bearing bloodstained teeth. Bits of fabric and flesh clung to the jagged points. The image was too horrific to actually comprehend that the fabric matched
Scarlett’s shirt.

She
scuttled back, putting space between her and the monster shuffling after her. Its yellow eyes—which had once been the soft green of crisp celery—watched her pathetic attempts with a sick sort of glee warping its mouth. Little droplets oozed from the inside corners of its bloodshot eyes, crimson tears against its sallow face. Scarlett swallowed the plea on her lips, knowing it would be useless to beg for her life the moment its tongue swept over its chapped lips, collecting the blood it had already drawn from her.

Breathing hard, lungs never really getting enough, she crab-crawled several paces, trying not to notice how her blood glistened down the front of her grandmother’s dress. Her injured arm struck the corner of the end table and the world tilted, nearly dipping into black as pain crimpled her limbs.

Nausea rolled through her. Bile swelled up into her throat, hot and bitter. She tried to shake away the daze climbing over her sense, but she wasn’t quick enough. The creature lunged. Long, claw-like hands fisted around her ankle. A scream burst from her lips even as she struck out with her free leg. The crunch of bones churned her stomach as her heel caught her grandmother in the mouth. Blood gushed, a crimson fountain that burned in all the places it landed on Scarlett’s flesh.

She didn’t wait to see what would happen next. Pain momentarily forgotten, she lunged to her feet and ran from the apartment.

“Help! Help me!” Her screams shot down the empty corridors, bouncing off walls and returned to slap her in the face. Her feet thundered on linoleum, the only other sound in the penetrating silence.

She took a sharp corner at a dead run, all intentions aimed for the
transporters beyond the next bend. She threw a glance back over her shoulders, half expecting her grandmother to be there, hissing and baring stained teeth. But the hallway remained empty, and she wondered if she’d imagined it. It certainly felt like a nightmare, something too unreal to be true. So, maybe, it was.

But the burn on her shoulder, the crimson paint running down the length of her arm, they were all a sick reminder
of just how real it had been. Her grandmother had bitten her.

The memory jacked up the volu
me on the buzz between her ears, the sound becoming the shriek of a drill pushing into the cavity of her skull. The ground beneath her tipped, shoving her sideways even as she reached to steady her throbbing head. The wall cushioned her weight the way a charging bull cushioned the guy waving the red cape. She slammed into it with her good shoulder. The crash knocked her legs out from under her and she slide gracelessly to the carpet where she remained, dazed and disorientated.

That’s how the others found her.

First it was the pound of several rushing footsteps. Then, raised voices, followed by more running. Hands grabbed her, careful to avoid her injuries.

“Scarlett!”
Warm, unsteady hands pushed back her hair, tipped back her face, and touched her cheek. “Scarlett, open your eyes.”

Had she closed them? It explained why everything was so blissfully black.

“Red?” A second pair of hands shook her. “Damn it! Open your eyes!”

The world resurfaced in a murky pool of shimmering white. The corridor lights seemed to pulse and sway as she blinked away film and focused on the large, dark shapes looming over her.

“Rolf?”

“What happened?” F
ury colored his next question, “Who did this to you?”

“Christ, Gr
ay! Move!” Hunter shoved the other man aside and took his place. His hands were blocks of ice against Scarlett’s face. She would have hissed if it didn’t feel so good. “Red? Look at me! Jesus … oh God … why is there so much blood? Someone do something!”

“Stop cussing!” Scarlett hadn’t realized she’d spoken until the raspy croak reached her ears.

“I’ll curse if I damn well want to!” he snapped back, green eyes wide and wild behind his glasses. “What the hell happened? What the hell is going on?”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him, but only a single world squeaked out. “Grams…”

Then, like a giant pounding on a dam wall with a mallet, her face contorted and she couldn’t make her body small enough to squish the fit of sobs that wheezed out. Hunter swore and pulled her into his arms. His hand pushed her face into his shoulder.

He let her bleed her heart out on his shoulder, doing nothing more than strok
ing her hair and murmuring unintelligible things in her ear. When she was no more than a tear-stained, sniveling mess of hiccups, he pulled back, keeping his arms folded lightly around her.

“Let’s get you to sickbay, okay?”

“Grams…” she croaked again, her voice sounding like she’d been gargling with acid.

He used the hem of his shirt to mop up her face, boogers and all, stroked back her hair with his free hand, and said, “Let’s worry about you first.”

It wasn’t until he’d risen to his feet, offered her his hand
, and helped her up that she noticed the small cluster of people standing mere feet away. A boiling surge of embarrassment welled up beneath her skin, making her eyes burn all over again.

“What’s going on?” she whispered for Hunter’s ears only.

Hunter shrugged. “I have no idea.” He waved a hand towards Rolf, Kiera, Jack, and two other marshals that she couldn’t remember the names of. “They found me.” He took her hand. “Come on. I’m getting you to Dr. Ora.”

“You can’t go down there
.” Rolf took a step forward, hand outstretched as if to physically stop them.

Hunter, never one to be told what to do, folded his arms over his chest and glowered at the other
guy. “You keep saying that, but I have yet to hear a reason. So, unless you have a good one, I’m taking Scarlett to sickbay.”

Rolf shifted closer towards their exit, blocking their path without actually blocking it. “Look, whatever did that
.” He pointed to Scarlett’s shoulder. “It’s happening all over the ship.”

Scarlett’s fingers tightened around Hunter
’s. “What? What are you talking about?”

Rolf opened his mouth to answer, when the intercom sizzled to life.

Captain Isabella’s voice swarmed around them like an arctic blast.
“Attention all passengers. Everyone assemble in the refectory. All injuries will be tended to there. Do not go to sickbay!”

Click
.
Followed by silence.

Scarlett tilted her head back to peer up at Hunter. “Did she sound worried?”

He shook his head, still staring at the ceiling. “She sounded annoyed.”

“Rolf?” Like a mag
net being drawn to something metal, Kiera glided across the distance separating her from Rolf and latched on to his side. She batted her blue eyes up at him. “What should we do?”

Seriously?
Scarlett wanted to snap.

Rolf sighed. He ruffled a hand back through his hair, making the dark strands stand in odd angles around his head. His gaze lifted and latched onto Scarlett’s face. Then on
to her shoulder. He sighed again.

“The captain wants us in the mess hall and
… Scarlett needs to be seen.”

“Well, now that our fearless leader has spoken…”
Tossing the group a disgusted frown, Hunter pulled Scarlett towards the transporters. “Seriously? Who died and left him in charge?”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask; Hunter had always had a minor crush if not a small shred of liking for Rolf. To hear him be so curt and angry had her worried. But the steady throb on her arm had blossomed into a full on gnawing sizzle, like someone was pressing a soldering torch on the wound.

The hiss rolled over her tongue, perched on her lips, and pushed through her tightly clenched teeth in a growl. She clawed at her injuries, nails raking over sweltering flesh.

“Hey!” Hunter grabs her wrist, pulling it away.

“It burns!” she gasped, struggling to retain the use of her arm.

“Stop it!”
He shoved her against the transporter door and pinned her there with his weight as he tore the sleeve of her shirt away from the chunk of missing flesh. “Holy shit…”

Panting, sweltering with sweat and heat, Scarlett twisted her head around to see what he was seeing. Tears spilled down her face, blinding her view, but even then, the sight was impossible to miss.

The jagged and torn flesh festered around the blood bubbling over. Hunter cursed again. He clamped a hand over the opening, desperate to stifle the rapid loss of her life. But the blood gushed through, oozing from between his fingers. And the harder he pressed, the brighter the bursts of light exploded across Scarlett’s vision.

“You’re hurting me!” she
panted, dragging lumps of nail-embedded air through her nostrils and floundering to remain afloat of the darkness reaching for her. But the pressure and pain won. She screamed and pushed at him. “Hunter, you’re hurting me!”

“I have to stop the bleeding!” he roared back, using his elbow to shield his face from her attack. 

Air thickened, like breathing through a pillow. The lights swam. His voice slurred in her ears as the blackness bobbed and weaved in front of her face. She opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but the shadow leapt up and the pain stopped.

Chapter
Eight

 

Scarlett awakened to the low hum of chatter and she wondered for a moment if Hunter was watching the programs on the imaging system again as he sometimes did when nightmares kept sleep at bay. But the sound was too close. Had she fallen asleep in the sitting area again?

“Red?”

Floating on a downy bed of intensified reality, Scarlett frowned at the interruption. Everything was so much brighter and warmer where she was. She really didn’t want to leave it. But with a gasp, Scarlett came awake. Her eyes snapped open, her hand flying to her shoulder, momentarily surprised to find it wrapped in white gauze. Her torn and bloody clothes were gone. In their place she wore a clean, white hospital gown. An IV poked into the vein of her right hand, splitting off in a V. One half dripped thick, red fluid, the other clear liquid. Scarlett quickly looked away, the sight turning her stomach and found herself staring at a crowd of people. She was in the refectory lying on a hover platform, pushed up against the far corner, in a row of other hover platforms and unconscious people.

“Red
!”

Scarlett turned to
a frantic Hunter. “What’s happening?”

Hunter stood beside her,
hands lost deep in the pockets of his pants. His face was ashen and his clothes were spattered in her blood. But he seemed unharmed.

“I don’t know,” he murmured, barely a whisper,
with a tense undertone. “But it’s not good.”

Slowly, she surveyed their surroundings again, noting all the injured people. She also noticed that there weren’t as many people
there as there should have been, a little more than half. But those that stood there, were pale, shaken, and kept darting glances at the doors, which were usually left open, but were now barred closed with marshals standing guard in front of them. There were other marshals patrolling the room, surveying faces as though expecting something to happen; it was the tight grip they had on their weapons that really punctuated the severity of the situation.

“What happened?” She turned to Hunter again, a new sort of fear creeping through her.

Carefully, Hunter dragged a chair next to her platform and sat, moving himself right to the edge where he folded his arms on her bed and leaned in. He dropped his voice so only she could hear.

“Apparently there
was an unknown strand of bacteria in the samples they brought up from the planet. It caused an allergic reaction when administered,” he whispered, darting a cautious glance around them. “People have gone like … crazy, or something. Captain says not to worry because she has everything under control, but…” He picked at the cuticle of his thumb with his teeth. “A lot of people got that injection, Red. A lot!”

The steady pulse of terror in her chest sky rocketed. She grabbed at his sleeve, crusty with her blood. “Did you? You didn’t get it, did you?”

Hunter shook his head, scratching the top and messing up his hair. “I told you I didn’t. All the time slots were booked.”

A thick ball of sorrow lodged in her esophagus. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“Grandma did.”

“Hey
.” Hunter took her hand and shook it. “The captain said they’re working on a cure. They might be able to save her.”

She swiped at a stray tear. “I knew I didn’t trust that booster! I told you
they couldn’t possibly be ready that quickly.”

He nodded, eyes anxiously darting around them. “Yeah, you were right. Now, keep it down!”
He leaned in closer still, green eyes hard with tension. “Do you remember Mr. Flitcher?”

Scarlett frowned
as her mind flipped through faces. “Livestock, right?”

His head bobbed. “He said some stuff to the captain about the boosters. About how he didn’t trust them
, or her, and didn’t believe there even was a planet. You know how he was, always with the conspiracies…” He paused to pick at his cuticle again, unease wrinkling his forehead.

“What?” she prompted.

   He wiped the spittle off his thumb onto his pants, licked his lips and replied, “The captain had the marshals take him from the room.” He lowered his voice even more until she nearly couldn’t hear him at all. “He was screaming, Red, and then … he
wasn’t
.”

Scarlett jerked back. “What?”

The chair squeaked beneath him as he shifted closer. “He was screaming,” he repeated very slowly, eyes drilling into hers fiercely, willing her to put two and two together. “Then. He. Wasn’t!”

She shook her head, brain still too fuzzy from the drugs to pick up what he was trying to explain
to her. “I don’t—”

“Damn it, Red!” he hissed under his breath. “I think she killed him
… shhh!” he hissed when she gasped loudly.

She slapped her palms over her mouth.

“I can’t be sure, but there was screaming, a crack like an enforcer zap, and then a thud,” he went on, panic lacing every word.

“But
… but why would—”

“Oh you’re awake!” Dr. Ora appeared at the foot of Scarlett’s hover platform
, her usual sweet smile in place. “How are you feeling?”

So many answers jumped to mind; scared; really scared; horrified; confused. But one subtle shake from Hunter’s head and she replied, “Fine.”

Dr. Ora squeezed between Scarlett’s platform and the one on her other side to check her wrap. She lifted a corner, peeked under, clicked her tongue, punched something into her data port and wiggled out again.

“The flesh tabs seem to be holding nicely. So long as you don’t do anything too rigorous, they should heal within the next couple of
days. Are you feeling anymore pain? I can give you something if it’s bothering you.”

Scarlett shook her head, not sure she wanted to be drugged up at a time like th
is. Something told her she would need all her wits about her.

“No
, thank you.”

“Doctor,” Hunter called before Dr. Ora could hop off to the next patient. “She’s not going to get whatever is
… going around, is she?”

Dr. Ora blinked her big, blue eyes, reminding Scarlett a little too much of
Kiera. “Oh no! No, no, no! She’ll be fine.”

Scarlett exchanged a glance with Hunter, but when they looked back, Dr. Ora was gone, already several beds down.

“That was weird,” Hunter remarked, frowning.

“She’s busy,” Scarlett replied, watching the doctor. “She can’t stay and chat with us when all these people were…” She trailed off as she spotted one person, three beds down, missing an entire leg. The stump was hanging out from beneath his blankets, cupped in gauze
stained crimson. “How many people were hurt, Hunter?”

He sighed, running a hand over his face. “Just what you see here.”

Scarlett counted about twenty beds, hers included. She looked over the crowd, a sick feeling twisting the pit of her stomach. “Where…” She really didn’t want to ask.

“Most of them are infected or put into quarantine containers
in the boiler room. The other half is dead,” he waved a hand over everyone else. “This is all that remains.”

“Dead?” The word clawed out of her throat in a ball of horror wrapped in razors. A spear stabbed her through the chest. “What about Rolf? Is he…?”

He was shaking his head even before she could start praying. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “He’s here somewhere.”

Unconsciously, Scarlett exhaled, slumping back against the mound of pillows.

Hunter narrowed his eyes. “Since when did you care anyway?”

She arched a brow, ignoring the blush burning in her cheeks. “Since when did you stop?”

He looked away. “I’m going to find something to eat since we’re playing the answer-a-question-with-another-question game. I’m starving. Do you want something?”

Unsure
if she was allowed to eat anything, but unable to ignore the grumbles of her stomach any longer, Scarlett asked for an apple and some crackers.

Pushing back his chair, Hunter got to his feet and started for the food dispenser across the room. She followed his broad back until he
was swallowed by the crowd. Then she sat observing the people left, those who hadn’t had a chance to take the booster. The only ones remaining. There couldn’t have been more than a few thousand, which was a huge loss of numbers from the seven thousand that had been onboard only that morning. The majority were novices and kids with the odd adult somewhere in the midst.

She found Rolf.
He stood next to the doors, almost braced against the wall as if prepared to lunge out at a moment’s notice. He had his arms folded over his chest, head tipped back. Kiera was leaning into his side, head pillowed on his bicep. Scarlett wondered if the girl had some kind of separation anxiety. It would have driven her crazy to be plastered to another person like that, or worse, to need someone to tell her what to do every minute of the day.

The bitterness that rose up in her throat like bile made her wince. When had she become such a cold and nasty person?
Yet her fingers fisted around the blanket across her lap. She squeezed her eyes closed, wishing she could as easily erase the image of them together.

“Hey.”

Scarlett jumped. Her eyes flew open. She blinked, surprised to find Rolf standing at the foot of her bed. Her gaze shot to the spot she’d seen him only a second ago. The spot was now empty, except for a scowling Kiera shooting daggers across the room with her eyes.

She turned
back to him. “Hi.”

He curled his fingers over her footboard and leaned forward. A patch of hair tumbled into his eyes. She fisted the sheets tighter, restraining her fingers from reaching over and pushing
the strands back.

He was drenched in blood. Unlike Hunter, his entire one side was caked from shoulder to mid waist and she knew it was hers. He must have carried her. That was the second time she’d been in his arms and both times felt more like a hazy dream.

“How are you?” he asked softly, watching her face.

Forgetting, she shrugged and winced at the
sharp stab of pain. “Hurts a little.

He straightened.
“Dr. Ora said it would, but it’ll be completely healed. It wasn’t deep, so there won’t be any long term affects.”

Her fingers traced the gauze gingerly and his eyes followed her motion. “I don’t know what happened.” She took a deep breath. “Hunter says there was something wrong with the serum.”

Rolf nodded. “Whatever the strand was, we aren’t built to sustain it. They’re working to find a cure for those infected.”

Scarlett’s fingers tightened in the sheets. “They should have known that! They should have only injected one or two people, waited to see—”

“Scarlett!” The warning wasn’t just in his voice. It was in his eyes and in the way he shifted his weight as though to shield her from the rest of the room. “Careful.”

“It’s not right!” she hissed. “All those people … my grandma…” Her voice wavered as tears choked her.

“Hey.” He moved around the bed to her side. His warm fingers rested lightly over hers, nearly swallowing her entire hand. “They’re going to fix this,” he promised, curling his fingers around hers.

“Where is she now?” Scarlett asked.

“All those infected have been taken to quarantine and are awaiting the cure serum,” he said.

“She’s down there with the others? What if they hurt her, or—”

Rolf shook his head. “So far there’s no indication that they go after other infected. She’s safe there.”

She had to take a breath, several, in fact. No matter how reassuring he was trying to be, all she could see was her grandmother’s warped and demonic face, stained with blood. Her shoulder gave a twang in reminder. She opted to change the topic.

“How are you?” She looked him over. “Are you okay?”

His nostrils flared as he sucked in a sharp breath. “Yes. I was in my compartment when it started.”

“I’m glad,” she murmured.

Warm, brown eyes met hers, dark with an unspoken question Scarlett wasn’t sure she wanted to answer.

“Scarlett—”

“Best friend coming through!” Hunter pushed his way to her side, a tray
balanced between his hands.

Scarlett kept her gaze on Rolf, waiting for him to finish. Instead, she saw him draw back.

“I’ll talk to you later,” he mumbled, before turning on his heels and walking away.

Hunter snorted, placing the tray beside her on the bed. “He left in a hurry.”

Scarlett said nothing as she watched Rolf amble back to his pack, back to the pretty girl waiting for him, never once glancing back.

BOOK: When Night Falls
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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