Cold, aching, my head pounding to a vicious beat, these are not the sensations anyone would want to wake up to. My hand reached about me for a blanket, because surely there must be one, I was after all lying stretched out. No, not stretched but scrunched a bit, curled up in a fetal position. Was this from a bad dream? I couldn’t remember. No blanket could be found and about me not soft sheets upon a mattress but something hard and grooved that my fingers struck causing them to ache. My eyes open to find beneath my cheek a sheet of metal, corrugated. That made little sense to my hazed mind.

I tried to stretch my legs out to ease their ache only to find they hit something boxing me in. I had my shoes on still so it didn’t hurt but the toe of one boot slipped into a hole of some kind and for a moment it was stuck until I struggled to get it released. My eyes open further and as if sight lent it strength the smells of the room washed over me. The smell of blood, metallic and sickening first came to me. The smell of rot – A familiar scent that the zees had given us, which fully woke me to my senses and caused me to struggle to sit up, that invaded my nose and my mind causing panic. I banged my head on something above me and paused to look about at what I was laying upon. A cage – no a kennel like that which a large dog would be enclosed. All about me metal bars. I was trapped, a padlock upon the door to keep me in. The room was large, dark and in the distance I could hear the dead moaning. They sounded close and yet not within the room, a room that appeared to have been sectioned off. The ceiling was high above me and the only light came from skylights that showed me blue skies with no signs of clouds. I was in some kind of abandon warehouse that had been repurposed but for what?

Memories tumbled back, the alleyway, the face with the skull and the robes. I shuddered and bit back a cry before starting to search my arms for signs of a needle mark. I felt sick to my stomach and worry and stress caused me to wonder if it was a sign of the sickness that would turn me into one of the dead. The dead – why was I still alive? Why hadn’t they killed me and left my body in that desolated place? I was fully clothed in the clothes I had been in when they took me. My face ached from where the blow that knocked me unconscious had hit and the dizziness I felt had to have been from drugs. Vague memories of a car and faces, voices talking and arguing surface. Nothing concrete I could grab onto and make sense of my surroundings.

“Here, have some water it will help.” Between the bars in a paper cup a small portion of water was held out to me. Drugged, it must be drugged, or infected or perhaps even poison. Fear caused my reaction and my hand struck out knocking the paper cup from the slim hand of the voice who spoke. A female voice, gentle and kind even. Was it a trick? It must be, everything about me was death and torment.

“Easy now, I’m not going to hurt you. You’re okay. Nobody gets hurt while they are in this room.” Her tone reassured me and at the same time there was a hint of the honest brutal truth. It was safe in this room which means there were other rooms. Rooms where it was not so safe and perhaps people did not return from. I looked towards the voice into the face of a woman in her early fifties. A motherly figure, perhaps like the one who once came to my safe house there to use her reassuring appearance to fool victims of the Cult? “I understand you’re afraid. I am Sirena. Do you remember your name?”

My name – I remember my name. It had not been taken from me. My tone was harsh and cracked from being dehydrated, “Chyram.”

“Alright Chyram, I’m going to give you some more water, please don’t spill it. I only have a little left right now.” She was in a cage as well, though while mine was a dog kennel, hers appeared to be that of a large bird cage like what a parrot would be kept. I watched in silence as she poured out the precious liquid from a flask and passed me the water. This time I took it to my mouth and smelt it a carefully before having a sip. It seemed clean, but I couldn’t be sure. Yet I needed the liquid too badly to deny myself. “So you are Chyram. Somehow I expected you to be more of something. Maybe taller or at least older.”

“You’ve heard of me?”

“Only what Charlie has said in passing. He likes to pace about this room when he’s talking to his goddess. I suppose it’s fitting for him to do so since he claims those in this room were chosen. The last month or so has had him ranting about you.”

I processed that slowly. Charles talks to a deity? Of course he does, he after all seemed to see himself as a prophet. Why not rant out loud. “Chosen? Chosen to do what? To become zees like his other followers?”

“I don’t really understand it. Some have been held here and then turned but he’s kept me in this room for well I’m not really sure how long.” Her tone became philosophical, “seems like months at least. Charlie’s always going on about the grand plan and how I play some critical role. I keep telling him that he’s a fool. Even if he’s hearing someone on the other end of the line they are crazy to think that I’ll either willingly help them, or that I’m likely to last long enough to do any good.”

“So you’re infected then? How long have you been sick?”

She chuckled softly, “oh I’ve been ill since my twenties, least that’s when the doctors told me that I had a few years to live. Irony of it is with this plague I’ve probably out lived most of them, at least those who didn’t escape to the Green Zones. No I have another kind of illness. This crisis has not been kind to those of us needing medicines.” She shrugged her shoulders a bit, “for now I just hold out and wait for a more universal answer to why all this happened. I’m in the right place where I need to be at this time. Maybe I’ll talk some love back into that mad man.”

I frowned at her words. Sick with something else? I could see the pinched look and hints of poor health though nothing showed in her words or attitude. “How can you be so calm about all of this? You’re dying.”

Her expression turned more serious and her eyes settled on me. They were a storm of greyish blue and I could see grief within them held at bay by some means I couldn’t grasp. An inner strength or a practiced skill as she had been sick for a long time, “who is to say I’m calm about this? I’ve had my days when I cried and I’ve had my days when I screamed into the air at how unfair my situation is. Yet others have died in wars and from worse. I have counted each and every extra year I’ve gained as a blessing. A way to see more, do more and to leave a mark on this world so that it’s a better place than where I found it.”

I couldn’t help but snort a bit in distain. “I’m sorry lady, Sirena was it? How is this world any better than the one you were born into? People are dying. People are fighting one another. A mad man seeks to infect those that are just trying to live long enough to see an end to this plague.”

Her lips smiled faintly, “you’re very cynical for your age. I’ll tell you how it’s better. It’s better because of people like you. Those who fight against the bad that has happened and don’t give up. I remember two weeks ago when his face started to appear on the news station,” she chuckled softly. “He was raving so crazy he actually had spittle coming from his mouth. Terrible, I shouldn’t laugh. But he is my purpose I think. I’m here so that I can help him get back his love of humanity. A part of him honestly believes that whoever he thinks he’s hearing, well they are guiding him to help mankind. I don’t know who is deceiving him or why they are keeping me here, but I won’t give up on reminding him the good in people.”

I shook my head and leaned back against the cage, sipping the water before asking, “How do you know he’s actually hearing anyone. It’s probably just voices in his head.”

“You know I thought that at first until I saw the ear piece. He keeps it hidden in his hood most of the time but it’s there. Someone is talking to him. When he receives a message the ear piece gets a little red light that turns on.”

My eyes widen as I breathed out the one word that mattered to me, “who?”

Sirena’s head shook, “I don’t know. As far as I can tell he’s the only one who gets to talk to her. And you could be right. It could be simply a voice in his head. He’ll be here soon. Around noon he comes to check on me and now you as well and to talk to her.”

Steven rubbed at his eyes from the rooftop a block from the target. They hadn’t stopped moving so he was forced to not sleep for nearly four days to keep up. Exhaustion took over by the time they pulled into the compound. He nearly got caught from being so tired. “You know what dead heroes are right? Legends,” Jonathan’s voice grated at the moment with how his head thumped with a dull roar. “You should find a foxhole and sleep. You’re not useful at this point even for recon.”

Hating to admit it, Steven raised his binoculars up to examine the compound again. The vehicle had gone into a large warehouse once it passed guarded gates. There were towers with robed figures patrolling. The whole structure was fenced off with double fences. In the yard were more fenced areas, some holding the living and some the dead. Between the double fences were zees that seemed to act like watch dogs. Any sign of anything living approaching and they would all race to that part of the fence clamouring to get out and tear into the flesh of the object of their affection. It was unlike anything he had seen to date in this crazy world. The dead, nature’s new alarm system.

Steven pulled back from his sniper’s nest into a small lean-to he had crafted on the roof. It was well hidden and would block out the daytime sunlight. A few hours sleep will help set his mind to rights. Maybe at that point some sort of plan could be hatched. At the very least he’ll have his wits about him and he’ll be able to actually do proper recon.

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