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The Final Trial of Emma Lee
Author's note: This was inspired like most of my writing is inspired: me, being bored and just thinking about "What would happen if..."
It all started with a sneeze.
Or more importantly, a sneeze inside a laboratory. A sneeze of a female researcher working on a virus, in a petrie dish.
The sneeze germs were harmless. So was the virus in the petrie dish. But strangely, when combined, the harmless virus mutated to become the reason the world today is on the brink of collapse. You never know who could have it.
The scientist sure didn't know. The virus looked the same as any other she had worked on, but it was slowly infecting her body as she worked feverently on the now deadly virus.
Unfortunately, the new virus was highly contagious. When she went home, she kissed each of her three children good night. And so they were infected.
At school the next day, her children passed it on to their entire kindergarden class. The illness struck almost the entire school, and the families of the children started to fall ill. Soon, it had spread out of the city, and into the other states. It flew overseas, and in a span of only seven years, it had reached every corner of the globe. No one was safe from the Cold Fire.
Cold Fire was a strange virus. Almost no symptoms were shown until it was too late. After the symptoms did show, they came in three stages. The first, included a strange skin phenomena that resembled hives. This lasted about a week, and then came stage two. This stage affected the brain, and caused strange mood swings, and in extreme cases, hallucination. After the second stage, comes the final stage before death. The most terrifying of them all.
The brain stops functioning. The person is still alive, in some strange way, but the brain is dead. Completely dead. With scientists seeing no hope of restarting the coma patients that would litter the beds in hospitals. Within three to seven days of the second stage coming to its climax, the person just drops brain-dead.
The remaining humans, mostly from Europe, have amassed in England, trying to quarantine themselves from the virus. It seems most of them are immune, but every once in a while, another case breaks out. No one knows if there is anyone left from South America, and there is only one known human left alive from the United States.
She was in the first grade when her mother began the destruction of civilization on Earth with her single sneeze.
She was six when the Cold Fire began. She is now fourteen.
Her name is Emma Lee.
Emma Lee had finally had it. She was tired of being cooped up inside the Compound. She was tired of living on corn and flat Sprite every day. She was tired of classes, she was tired of her teachers.
And frankly, she had a right to be.
Emma Lee lived in the last safe haven for humans on Earth: the Compound. The Compound was a ten square mile secure area, with a wall every ten miles surrounding it. The Cold Fire hardly ever struck inside the Compound. Living inside was safe.
However, Emma didn't care.
And so that is why she decided to sneak out, and try to escape.
Being only fourteen years old, almost fifteen, she didn't know any better. But one thing she did know. She could not stay in the Compound a minute longer.
Sneaking toward the guard tower and gate of the first wall, she stared at the unmoving door. After the Cold Fire spread around the world, any remaining humans got to work creating this final sanctuary. They built the Compound in London, and at the center was the Tower of London. The Thames had long since been diverted underground, and only about five hundred humans lived safe lives inside of the Compound.
But they weren't safe. Emma knew better.
She held her long brown hair up above her head, and wrapped it with the scrunchie that she had borrowed from Celene the night before. She smoothed out her jeans, and looked up at the first wall that surrounded her second home. Grabbing a gray brick that protruded from the wall, she began to ascend, her dark brown eyes focused on the black sky above.
A shadow crossed the sky, and tears attempted to escape her eyes, as she remembered her lost friend. Nothing would ever be the same, now that she knew the truth. She had to find the others.
Reaching the top of the wall, she jumped down the other side, and gazed out in silence at the blackened city that used to be London. Somewhere in that city lived someone who could help her.
Or infect her with the Cold Fire. She shivered in terror at what could have happened, if she was not immune. The human race had been completely changed by the virus that had destroyed her family, her mother, and her best friends. It was Emma's worst fear that she too, would become a victim of the Cold Fire.
Her white sneakers clattered in the Thames' dry riverbed, and reaching the other side, she climbed up the wall. How she, a fourteen year old, could stop the madness that had been started when she was only six, she had no idea. But she knew where to start.
The looming Tower that's name Emma remembered from History class struck twelve times. Emma smiled. Big Ben was wishing her a happy birthday. A tear managed to escape her eye and she thought of all the people she had left behind. But the thought of saving them all made her right foot move in front of her left foot, as she began her long journey to find help.
If she didn't do something about the terror that really occurred eight years ago, all could be lost.
If it wasn't already.
She sprinted across crumbling roads, into the first building she could find. It appeared to be a hospital. Forcing the doors open, she collapsed on a dust and grime covered couch, and took deep, heaving breaths. How had it come to this? How had it come to one girl against the universe? How had it came to the point that she had caused all this?
She forced herself to calm down, and she began to remember the past few weeks that had led her to this point, in a broken down Pre- Cold Fire Hospital...
The clock moved slowly. Excrutiatingly slowly. It's hands taunted her, inching past the numbers. The longer she watched it, the slower it went, but every day, without fail, Emma watched the clock. She silently willed the minute hand to move faster, hoping that one day, it would.
Tick, tock, tick tock.
She felt her mind slipping away, as it usually did, but like usual, she called it back to the present. The recent daydreams she had been having were more like daymares.
"What's happening? Why is this happening?"
"It was you! You sabotaged us!" Blurry faces haunted her dreams, some with soft, angry features, some with strangely red faces, and one that frightened her above all others. The man with no nose, and his other features contorted as she could feel herself being lifted up, up up-
She suddenly felt a sharp poke in her back. Emma jumped, and saw the teacher staring at her.
"Emma! She asked you a question!" whispered her friend Celene from behind her.
The teacher still stared at her expectantly. Emma looked away. "I... wasn't paying attention. I don't know what the question is..."
The teacher sighed, and swore in Swedish. "Do you know how important it is to learn the history of the world?" she said, and turned around to write on the scuffed blackboard.
"Yes Mrs. Blankkvic," chimed in the class, minus Emma and Celene.
Without turning around, Mrs. Blankkvic asked another question. "Celene! Why is it important?"
Celene rolled her eyes, but stood up to the side of her chipped desk. "So history will not repeat itself, Mrs. Blankkvic."
The teacher turned around, and displayed to the class what she had been writing on the board. "After the epidemic of the Cold Fire, every living human on the earth gathered in London," said Mrs. Blankkvic, "We settled in the Tower of London, and built up our defenses against the virus." Her eyes flashed, and against her will, Emma flinched.
"All of you are very lucky to be alive."
Emma sighed, and looked around the room. Almost every of the fifteen students looked different, and each was from a different corner of the earth. Celene was from what used to be Egypt, there were three students from Africa, one from Canada, and a few from Asia and South America. A good portion of the kids in the compound were British, because of the quarantines that had been set up in that country. The living humans believed everyone in Australia died.
And Emma? Emma was the last person alive that lived in the United States.
Emma jumped out of her daydream as Mrs. Blankkvic asked another question in her Swedish accent. English was the official language of the Compound. "Can Nica tell me what happened to every living person?"
Nica, the Camerooneain, stood up. "The governments tried to clean up the bodies, but the virus got out of control too fast. London was the only city that was evacuated, and that is why we can live here without seeing bodies on the streets."
The teacher nodded, and pointed to the board. "And that is why each and every one of you shall serve a purpose in the compound: to help the human race survive. You are all almost fifteen, and when you reach that age you will be expected to do your duty, and be matched up with your ideal partner to let the human race grow again."
Emma made a face, but all the other girls nodded. After the epidemic of the Cold Fire, the government implemented a law so that the human race would not die out: that every girl had to have children. She wasn't very keen on it, though. From all the romance novels she had read, girls were supposed to fall in love before they had kids. And there was something called "marriage" that usually came first, she recalled.
Emma thought she was the only one to notice that the world was slipping back into the primitive ages. Tucking her brown ringlets behind her ear, she picked up her cracked pen and began filling in answers to the worksheet that was sitting in front of her.
What was the year America wrote their Constitution?
1787, thought Emma, and she scribbled it down. As she made a loop for the eight, her pen sputtered and died. Squiggling frantically on the top of her page, she tried to get the stubborn ink to flow again. But the pen wouldn't yield, and Emma was left with a half done assignment and an entirely empty writing utensil.
She slowly made her way up toward the teacher, dreading the confrontation she was about to face. Each detail in the floor brought her closer and closer to possible detention. The plastic, run-down desks passed by too quickly for her liking, and her tennis shoes wouldn't stop moving.
She finally reached the teacher's desk, an old looking thing with a pull-out counter top. Emma cleared her throat, and Mrs. Blankkvic looked up, annoyed.
Emma took a deep breath. "My... my pen ran out of ink, ma'am."
Mrs. Blankkvic made a face, and pulled out the drawer in her desk, rummaging around. Her stubby hands fished through a colorful brochure, a red binder, and layers upon layers of sticky notes with dates written on them. Her hand felt for the cool tip or plastic edge of a pen. A few seconds later, she came out triumphant. "That's the last pen I have, don't waste it!" A death glare was the only thing Emma had to remember as she made her way back to her desk with her new pen.
Celene tapped her on the shoulder again. "You could've just asked me if you could borrow one, I get plenty off of Mr. Cameron when he isn't looking."
Emma smiled a bit, and waved her friend away. With supplies running so short, it wasn't a surprise that her friend was hoarding the thing she used the most: drawing supplies.
While rushing to finish her worksheet in time, the bell suddenly rang, and the girls filed silently out of the classroom. Emma slipped back into the stupor that was the Compound, picked up her paper, stuck her pen in her pocket, and headed out the stone archway to her next class.
She trudged through the hallways, focusing on the lit torches that lighted and lined the corridors. She passed students headed in both directions. Fraying posters for long since forgotten bands and musicians like The Beatles and Janis Joplin and Miley Cyrus lined the walls, a half baked attempt to put some more cheer into the Compound.
Emma turned down a hallway, heading toward her Science and Genetics class. No other students were in that corridor, it appeared she was the first one. Passing one of the bells that the teachers rang to signal the end of glass, Emma jumped as she thought she saw a shadow move underneath the great cavern that was the bell. Taking a deep breath, she assured herself that no one infected with the Cold Fire could be underneath the musical instrument, she peered into its depths.
Seeing nothing but blackness reflected in her eyes, she bravely stuck her hand out into the shadowy bell. Her searching appendage disappeared underneath its enormous bottom, and groped around in darkness. At first, she found nothing but dust, lint, and a pen long since run out of ink. But as she was about to ignore the bell and turn into her classroom, her hand caught on something slightly sharper.
She drew her hand back, frightened. Something cold and sharp had touched her! Emma told herself it wasn't a knife, but her head was imagining a creature with the Cold Fire waiting in the bell, ready to strike. She backed away, and then shut her eyes and thrust her hand underneath the bell again, jabbing down on the sharp item, grabbing it, and pulling it out.
Its cold texture penetrated her hand, and she squeezed it tightly. Her hand didn't feel cut, so she peeked out from under her eyelids at the alloy she now grasped, and laughed out loud.
It was a paper clip. A simple, rustic paper clip. One that was worth at least three extra pens from any teacher in the school. Maybe even a new t-shirt, she thought, glancing down at the one she was wearing. She had gotten a point on her record for not wearing her uniform, but she didn't care that much.
A tap came on her shoulder for the third time today, and for the third time it was Celene. "Why didn't you wait up for me? I just went to the Barter Office to see if I had enough credit for a new pair of shoes." She pointed a sneakered toe. "I was thinking of going brighter, what do you think?"
Emma ignored her, and held out the paper clip. "Look what I just found?"
Celene admired the clip. "I've only seen them on my television, never in real life! I wonder if it'd get me a new pair of shoes?" She put on a puppy dog face as other students began rounding the corner. Not wanting the other students to see what she had found, the paper clip took a one way trip to the inside of her deep, secure pocket.
Emma let all of the other students file in through the stone archway before her. Glancing back at the bell one more time, she wished desperately that someone else would come rounding the corner, telling her this was all a bad dream, that the Cold Fire had never happened, that she should wake up now-
But the only person who came was her teacher, who rang the bell in unison with the other teachers in other corridors, and shoved Emma through the stone archway to begin class, which really put Emma in a sour mood.
Plopping down in her colorful chair, she fingered the cold alloy in her pocket, wondering what she could get for it. Possibly a new shirt, like she had thought before, but that was too easy. Maybe a television, like Celene had? But she could go over to Celene's dorm any time she wanted, and borrow the TV.
No, Emma wanted something different. She gazed out the unpaned window, and admired the sun. The sound of birds came wafting through the air, and the fragrance of the outdoors never matched anything her nose had ever smelled. The views she had seen in old books were what she was really looking for, but for now, gazing out the window in the middle of a boring class would have to do.
A shadow passed over the window, just a quick flash, as if someone was running on the balcony outside. Emma blinked, and it was gone. Shivering in her own skin, she jumped back to class, frightened.
Somewhere deep below the compound, something sinister was being cooked up. A shadowy figure was speaking to a white coated woman.
"The first one has just awoken."
The figure nodded. "That's early... it's too early-"
The woman nodded but held up her hand to stop him. "But it shouldn't make a difference. But this one doesn't seem to have the right gene mutation. In fact, it looks like the mutation hasn't worked at all." she quickly held up her hand, for the figure yelled in anger. "It is too early to see what will happen with the others, but if my calculations are correct, about seven of the subjects will wake up early. They shouldn't affect our plan," she said in her Scandinavian accent.
The figure looked reassured. "Just make sure nothing else goes wrong."
The woman nodded, and left the shadowy figure alone.
He turned around, and pressed a button. Another figure appeared on his computer screen that was on the wall.
"All is going according to plan," he told the wall.
The person on the wall did not quite look real. The way his arms moved, the way his lips moved, seemed almost robotic. His voice was unnaturally high. "All experiments worked. Nothing should be wrong. I shall have my Utopia." The screen went dark, and the woman shivered. Her boss was the scariest thing she had ever met. She didn't even count him among the humans anymore.