Continuing directly from part 2 (here). Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole story for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Technology Park, New Sacramento
December 10th, 2069
Jeff sat at an open window in his apartment, looking out over the streets and buildings. Technology Park was the beating heart of innovation in the city-state. New Sacramento had sprung up around it, radiating outwards over the previous thirty years. Unlike old Sac—the section of the city with a high density of original structures recouped and refurbished from before the outbreak of the original plague—New Sac was a modern-looking showcase of the technologies and innovations in engineering that had led a resurgence of civilization after the apocalypse. A resurgence, at least, for the little enclave of several thousand who lived in the city. Outside, humanity was feral. Jeff, like the vast majority of people born in Sacramento, had never traveled outside the city-state. But in his job as radio operator, searching for communications from beyond their borders, he had been exposed to those who roamed the wilderness and wastelands. They ran a wide gamut. There were the descendants of survivalists who had weathered the first outbreak of plague battened down in cabins or homesteads, eating canned rations, hunting wild game and living with little more than a K-bar knife and a waterproof pack of matches. Now, the grandchildren of those original survivors lived in the same way, many of them unaware that there were still other humans in the world. It was for people like them that the government of Sacramento continuously broadcast their message, in the off chance some of them still had working ham radios from the old days. It was the responsibility of the new government to call the disavouched, hardbitten packs of outcasts back to civilization, and to warn them that the plague they thought was gone was still threatening them in secret.
Jeff hadn’t been there personally to see it, but several years before, the Radio Communications Department had made contact with a religious group that survived “the end-times” by gathering together and hiding in an abandoned federal emergency bunker in Colorado. They had lived underground for seven years when the Sacramento broadcast reached them. But when they replied, establishing contact, it was already too late. VHV had already entered the community—they had found a stranger wandering the mountains outside their compound. He had carried infection into the community. The cult put two and two together when they heard the revelation in the Sacramento broadcast about the evolved virus. It explained the rash of grisly murders that had been tearing the compound apart for months. There was some talk in the Sac government at the time about staging rescue efforts, but it never came to anything. Everyone knew there would be no one alive to save by the time help got there.
Still other people in the outside world were totally wild, like animals. In the decades after the collapse of society, they had reverted back to some atavistic form of tribal existence. The wild people lived, reproduced and died in a shorter timeframe than civilized people, and all the advancements of the human race since the Stone Age had been stripped away from them in a few rapid generations.
But for those in Sacramento, at least, technology created possibilities in their world, to extend their human agency, and extend their potential beyond biological imperatives. Almost every surface Jeff could see from his window was a multi-tasking solar array. The street below him was constructed from interlocking hexagonal panels of solar roadway, with lanes marked by lines of white or yellow LEDs under the surface of the shatter-proof hardened glass. The windows of the office-block across from him were, he knew, fully translucent photovoltaic cells, harvesting energy to be channeled into the grid for use in utility, agriculture and manufacturing. His apartment, like the other modular living spaces in his complex, was small, efficient, and exhaustively engineered. A large percentage of the objects and materials around him were products of 3D printing. The coffee cup in his hand, the paneled construction of his walls. The bikes and occasional cars passing underneath his window. All were 3D printed with computer aided designs for maximum efficiency in the use of energy and resources.
Jeff’s dark, ratlike eyes scanned the people passing by in the street, lingering on each face for half a second, no particular thoughts being sparked. I think I’m depressed, he realized. That’s what this is. It’s like I’m only half here, and I don’t know where the other half is. It was such a dull, insidious feeling that he hadn’t even identified it working in his mind before that moment.
He touched his cup to his forehead and sighed as the coolness of the iced coffee seeped into his skin. He felt feverish—but quickly decided he had only been in the sun too long. He was just moving to rise from his chair and leave the open window when a loud sound echoed in the distance, making him freeze and look back towards the city outside.
It was some kind of horn or siren, amplified over a PA system. Not a sustained wail, just a quick blast that quickly decayed. A tone signaling an announcement.
“Attention,” a male voice began over the PA system. “A vector of VHV has been identified in the Residential District. An emergency vetting of local residents will begin immediately to assess the extent of public exposure and prevent possible outbreak.” The voice wasn’t overwhelmingly loud from Jeff’s vantage point—if it came from the Residential District, he considered, it was about five miles away. Close up, it must have been deafening.
“Please proceed in an orderly fashion to the nearest emergency medical station. They are being set up throughout the district. Bureau of Public Health officials are patrolling. Please comply with their requests, and let them help you get to the closest medical station if you have any difficulties.”
Jeff shut the window. The voice continued to speak, but it was muffled enough that he could no longer follow the announcement. Shit. Shit. He shook his head, and tried to think of anyone he knew in the Residential District who would be affected by the emergency. He remembered his friends Tom and Jen. They lived there. Jesus, I hope they don’t have too hard a time with all the chaos. I know these emergency vetting cluster-fucks are a huge pain to deal with. I saw Tom, what, like six weeks ago? He was complaining about headaches. Jesus. This’ll give him a headache. Poor guy.
Jeff shivered uncontrollably. “I don’t think it’s a fever,” he mumbled to himself, feeling his own forehead. “I might be dehydrated. Too much damn caffeine.” He walked to his kitchen sink and dumped the contents of his cup. I need a week off, he thought.
Outside, the PA droned in the distance.
Residential District, Old Sacramento.
December 10th, 2069
Steve sat up in bed when he heard the alarm klaxon. Abbie looked at him from the other side of the bed, surprised and confused by the sudden blaring sound. Steve knew his cellphone was about to ring.
“That can’t be good,” Abbie said. The official-sounding voice began to speak, announcing the discovery of a VHV vector in the district. Her eyes widened. “Oh my god,” she breathed. Jumping out of bed, she gathered up her clothes and started to dress.
Steve’s cellphone rang, right on cue.
“Don’t worry,” Steve said to Abbie, pausing to reassure her before answering the call.
“Identifying a vector doesn’t necessarily mean a wider outbreak. The fact that they found the carrier probably means it won’t go any further.”
Abbie nodded to him, slipping her sweater over her head and shooting him a pained smile. “I’m not panicking,” she said. “But I want to go check on my family.”
“Of course,” Steve said. His phone was still ringing—it said Sgt. Lillian Morgenstern above the accept and decline buttons. “I’ll see you later,” he called to Abbie, pressing “accept” before the call went to voicemail.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Lilly’s voice said as he raised the phone to his ear.
“Not at all,” Steve said.
“Are you at home? You probably heard the announcement already, so you know the situation. The vectors were a married couple named Thomas and Jennifer Carlyle. The man is deceased. The woman is contained, awaiting disposal. I hate to call you in on your time off, but the vetting is getting underway and it’s all hands on deck.”
“I understand,” Steve said, reaching with his left hand to grab his pants off the bed post. “I’m on my way…”
Residential District, Old Sacramento
December 11th, 2069
The vetting began at 4:45 PM, and wasn’t concluded until 12:26 AM the following day, when census records showed that all 2,574 citizens in the Residential District had been accounted for. In the end, 47 citizens had been separated for state quarantine as a precaution against possible VHV exposure. Two uncooperative citizens had been restrained by BPH agents for blood-testing, and it was determined they were virus carriers. They had already turned—they were bagged for incineration. All told, the reach of the virus during this outbreak had not been severe, and by the end of the vetting the danger had been contained.
At 12:45 AM, BPH physicians and workers were packing the tables, canopies and instruments from the emergency medical stations into the backs of ambulances to be taken away; armed agents were still patrolling the streets, but not in response to any imminent threat. Lilly, walking down the main street, starting to realize how tired and hungry she was in the aftermath of the long, busy day, watched the blue-coated teams of BPH personnel as they worked to break down the vetting stations. They talked amongst themselves, working as quickly as possible to get everything done and go home to sleep. Lilly felt for them. I don’t want to be here anymore, she thought, cracking a tiny smile at her own whininess.
Somewhere down the dark road, she heard loud, slurred voices and shuffling feet. Dashing around the side of a building to get line-of-sight towards the source of the disturbance, she saw a group of about eight men and women clustered together in the street, walking slowly and drunkenly. Their voices echoed against the sides of buildings as they shouted and groaned.
Fuck! What is this? Sweat was beading on Lilly’s forehead reactively as her parasympathetic nervous system kicked her into survival mode; she reached for her radio to order reinforcements, then suddenly realized what she was seeing. They’re drunk, she thought with relief. She sighed deeply and lowered her AR rifle.
She was looking at a group of young adults—primarily male, but with a few women mixed in. They were starting to laugh raucously, and a few of them had started singing The Undead Body, a satirical song, popular among tacky, insensitive assholes who couldn’t understand the world around them. It was set to the tune of Civil War-era John Brown’s Body.
“My eyes have seen the horror of the coming of the horde,” four young men sang in an awful, off-key attempt at a Barbershop Quartet harmony. “They’re trampling down the garden where Aunt Ethyl plants her gourds; They’re eating Grandpa Calvin as he runs for his old sword! The horror marches on!” The girls in the group shrieked with piercing laughter; two of the singers trailed off into drunken whooping and cackling, as the other two increased their volume and belted out the chorus together. “Gory, gory what a helluva way to die! Gory, gory what a helluva way to die! Gory, gory what a helluva way to die—the nightmare marches on!”
“Well, it seems they’ve imbibed,” a dry voice said beside Lilly. She looked over to see Steve Bradford holding his rifle in relaxed arms, standing at her side in the street ahead of the shambling column. The kids were fairly far off and weren’t aware of the two agents yet. But their shouting and laughter was getting closer.
“I don’t blame them, after going through all that,” Lilly said. “I could use a drink myself.”
Steve chuckled. “I’ll buy you one,” he said. “You earned it with the workday you just put in.”
“We all earned a drink,” Lilly said. “But the workday isn’t done. It’s past curfew. These kids really need to get off the street.”
“Makes sense that whoever wrote that song borrowed a tune from another era of mass casualties,” Steve mused. Lilly took a moment to realize he was talking about the melody of John Brown’s Body.
“Yeah, it’s really poetic,” she said sarcastically. “Let’s get these ass-hats indoors to sleep it off.”
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!
Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: email@example.com
And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:
- Bag Men (Volume I)
- Bag Men: Waste (Volume II)
- Bag Men: Trinity (Volume III)
- Bag Men: Vanguard (Volume IV)
- Bag Men: Radioactive (Volume V)
- Bag Men: Origin (Volume VI)
- Bag Men: Hydra (Volume VII)
There’s also artwork and other good stuff related to the series (and other works of mine) on DeviantArt.