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The room was dark, only illuminated by the blinking red lights. It consisted of four white brick walls, no windows. In the middle was a laptop, and on that laptop…
It smelled of antiseptic and dentists’ offices. My breath billowed out in front of me in small clouds as I took a step into the room. My hand brushed against the wall, searching for a light switch. I nearly yanked it back at the touch. The brick was freezing. I quickly found it, and switched the light on. The bulb granted me little light, just a dimmed yellow glow, but it was enough to see the laptop’s keys. That’s all I really needed.
A tinny noise pinged near my ear. I reached up and quickly pressed down on the earpiece, allowing it to accept the flow of information heading my way.
“Hurry up. The alarms have been going off for at least two minutes now,” came a soft, urgent voice.
“Don’t rush her. We already took out the guards,” came a reply, hinted with irritation.
“The guards aren’t the ones I’m worried about. Everyone that works here will have been notified by now. They can drive. They can-”
I cut off the voice before it could continue. “Don’t worry. I’m in the room. I’ll be done in a few.”
I shut the earpiece back off, so I didn’t have to hear more bickering. It made it harder to concentrate.
I walked towards the laptop and immediately shoved a bright orange flash drive into its side. From there, it was just a matter of waiting for the program to download into the laptop, hack through its systems, and report back the information we needed.
That’s why we were here.
It was the most important thing in the world right now. The illness started a month ago. At first, doctors passed it off as some sort of flu strain. Then, people started dying. Not just a few. A large portion of our population. So many that it became a national emergency, and everyone was advised to stay in their houses. People with the sickness were quarantined, but even that couldn’t contain it.
It was everywhere, and it was lethal. I couldn’t even explain all the gory ways the ill have died from it. It was all too horrible to think about. The only people left who could walk outside freely were the immune. How did you know if you were immune?
You took care of someone dying from it.
But we weren’t about to just sit down in the streets, letting our loved ones die just because we could live. I wasn’t about to give up the fight. There was only one thing we needed for all of this to finally be semi-okay again.
And they’d found it. They being a money-hungry corporation who, even in the face of a human crisis, could not stand giving up this one extremely expensive bartering chip. The price of the cure was so high that the only people who could afford it were the ones already far away, holed up in their private jets and luxury bomb shelters where the illness couldn’t reach them.
When something’s too expensive, but people need it, the easiest way to get it is to steal.
This was Operation Robin Hood.
We were going to free the cure and save what was left of the country.
My timer let out a shrill beeping sound, indicating that the flash drive’s work was done. I carefully unplugged it, shoved it in my pocket and turned to leave. It’d taken three minutes.
Now I just had to get out.
This would be the hardest part. Getting in had been simply a matter of gassing the guards until they were out, waiting for the gas to clear, and then slowly making our way to the center of this maze of a building. The laptop had been generally unprotected. There weren’t any fancy facial recognition locks or anything of the type outside the room’s door. In a way, it seemed careless. I knew that it wasn’t. The location of the building itself was so impossible to find that it formed an impenetrable barrier to getting the cure. The only way we found it was from someone on the inside willing to help our cause.
At this point, employees living near the building could have made it here by now. All they needed to do was stop me, and they’d be safe. All I needed to do was get outside to where a car awaited me, filled with the few others who’d joined me on this mission.
I made it halfway to the exit before trouble came to me.
I dove into the nearest alleyway just as a woman wearing what seemed to be pajamas came rushing down the hallway. It was odd – it was me up against this semi-fatigued lady who looked like a mom rushing into her daughter’s bedroom after hearing crying. The only difference between this illusion and reality was the fact that she held a gun.
I quickly pressed my finger against my earpiece. I wasn’t sure what to do. Sure, I had a gun, too, but I wasn’t excited to use it.
“There’s a woman coming my way.”
The soft voice from before was the first to respond. Her voice came out flustered. “Get as far away from her as possible. If she sees you, it’s game over.”
“Mila…,” came the other, previously irritated one.
I let out a sigh. I knew what was going on. These two people had been my main company for the past couple weeks. Despite it being a short time, I knew them like the back of my hand.
Mila hated hurting people. She only ever wanted to do what was best for everyone, even if it was impractical. When we discussed this, she was the one advocating for gassing the guards, the least permanently damaging way to incapacitate them.
Her complete opposite was Aiden. He had wanted to shoot the guards down. Mila had gone on a fit when he’d brought that up and stormed out of the room.
But that’s how we worked. The group that had planned this mission was simply a group of Immunes, people who would survive no matter what. None of us chose to be Immune, it’d been random. And therefore, we all were different.
In the end, differences didn’t matter much when the fate of the world was at stake.
Mila didn’t respond for a few seconds after Aiden’s comment. Instead, she kept on her train of thought. “Maybe you can reach a safe spot and wait her out. At some point, she’ll have to be out of your way.”
“Then you’ll just come out here and meet us in the van with the cure. Mission complete.”
“Mila, you know that’s way riskier than just-”
I felt the moment when Mila’s temper broke.
“Just what, Aiden? Shoot her down? She’s just as innocent as we are. She’s just trying to get by!”
I didn’t fully agree with that. She wasn’t innocent. Just affiliating herself with a company so greedy that it condemned millions of people to death made her guilty.
“Not necessarily shoot her. But…”
Before Mila could respond, I switched my earpiece off again. It was stressing me out to hear them arguing. I didn’t really understand why they had to do it over the earpiece anyway. I knew they were sitting right next to each other in the van that was waiting for me.
I was going to figure this out myself.
And in the end, there wasn’t much figuring out to do. I got lucky.
Rather than continuing her way down the hall, the lady seemed satisfied, and turned around to search elsewhere.
I sucked in a deep breath and let it out. One less obstacle to my escape.
Now, I was going as fast as I possibly could. I couldn’t tell how many more minutes had passed, but each one ticking by added another possible road block. More employees could come streaming through that door at any second. The woman may not have been alone. Maybe she had seen me and was already on her way back, chasing me…right behind me…
I knew it was unlikely, but I was so anxious that I couldn’t help the thoughts racing through my mind. At least they influenced me to push myself harder and harder until finally…
I ran out the door and saw the van waiting in the shadows by the building. I wondered if the woman had seen it coming in. She must not have. Maybe she’d been in too much of a rush.
The side door of the van opened, and Mila peeked her worried head out, her eyes urging me to hurry up. She was mouthing my name. Sarah, come on. Sarah, keep going.
I took long strides.
And then I was in the van.
The door shut behind me.
The tires screeched as we turned and raced back out the way we came, down the road, towards the forest.
The tires screeched again.
Coming to a halt.
My body slammed against the seat in front of me. I hadn’t been buckled in.
And then the side door was opening again. I felt my heartbeat amp up. Friend or foe?
And not just a friend.
Holding the side door of our van open was the very person in charge of our group of Immunes. The one who sent us here in the first place. I’d never really talked to him before. He led from behind closed doors. He had salt-and-pepper hair with an unshaven beard and wrinkles lining his eyes and mouth. But what scared me the most was the dark look in his eyes.
His hand was outstretched towards me.
I just blinked. I had trouble comprehending the fast chain of events that had just played right before my eyes.
I’m not sure exactly what came from my mouth, but I think it was a mix of “Huh?” and “What?”
“Give me the cure,” he said. His hand remained out, waiting for me to comply. I didn’t understand why we were doing this in the road, just outside of the place we’d stolen it from. If anyone saw us, it’d be over.
“No offense Mr. Um…,” I began, blanking on his name. “But wasn’t the plan to bring it back to the base before handing it over?”
I knew that I’d eventually be giving it to him anyway, but something felt off. None of it seemed to make sense.
“I just needed to see it for myself. And this is extremely sensitive information. We decided it’d be better to entrust me with the safe delivery of the cure.”
I grasped the orange flash drive tightly in my fist. I wasn’t comfortable with this. Mila, who was right next to me, seemed like she wanted to listen to him.
“Look, Sarah, maybe just hand it over…there’s no need for this confusion.” But even her voice was hesitant.
Behind me, I felt Aiden silently grab my arm. He didn’t even need to speak for me to know where he stood.
The man just sighed. “I don’t want this to be difficult, but if you’re going to make this difficult, then I’ll have no choice but to use force.”
Something snapped inside me at that.
“Use force? I thought we were on the same side. If we’re on the same side, then you should have no problem letting me just bring it in like previously planned…” A part of me was doubting myself about going against him. Why exactly was I fighting back? Was it because he was implying I wasn’t trustworthy? Or was there something deeper going on? I couldn’t help the next words from coming out of my mouth, even though I knew they were outrageous. “If you can’t trust me, how do I trust you?! How do I know that you won’t do exactly what this last company did, that you won’t use the cure as a bargaining tool for your own personal gain!”
I didn’t really mean it.
But the look in his eyes made my blood run cold. He wasn’t going to deny it.
Because he couldn’t. I was certain of it in that moment.
“I’m sorry for lying to you about our true plans. But you must see the logic underneath it all. Freeing the cure is an idea, yes. But we could do so much more now that we have it. Our government is horrible. We can use it to provoke a change in the government, so something like this can’t happen again…so one company can’t control the future of our nation…,” he explained. I’d stopped listening.
It didn’t matter what he wanted to do with the cure to fix the country, just the fact that he was using it was enough. The cure wasn’t a privilege. It was a necessity.
Our lives weren’t a privilege. Our right to live was something we all were born with.
“Give it to me now, before things get out of hand,” he said.
I wasn’t listening. I was thinking.
Right now, we were surrounded. There was no way to escape with the cure. But there was also no way I was going to give the power of life to a man who was just as corrupt as the large company that had created it. That kind of power should never be held in the hands of a group, much less a single person.
I refused to let him have it.
In my mind, I hoped that someday soon, this cure would be reinvented by the right people, in a safe place, where it could be distributed to everyone in need. One day, I hoped the illness would end, and our lives would go back to normal. I hoped that in the near future, the cure would free everyone from the chains of the illness, and those that governed it.
But that day would not be today.
I dropped the flash drive on the ground, and stomped the life out of it.