18 September 2008

Fatal Cure - Chapter 26

I’m expected to work. The kitchen roster is emblazoned with the false name of Nimrod Jerkweed. A whimsy I won’t answer to.
I enjoyed the HDCs census takers irritation at having to write it down, with ‘no fixed abode’ for my previous address. Officious bastard wanted all the boxes ticked and forms filled in. I inserted random rubbish to skew his statistics a touch. The days of valid and checkable references are gone and good riddance.
There’s a twinge of anxiety as I dirtied my clean slate. If these pricks represented the only organisation capable of raising us from the ashes of yesterday’s civilisation, they could make life hard for me. Then again, I never intended giving an administration of this type a leg up. The new moniker would serve as a ‘fuck you’ until I made my exit. I’d reserve my real name for people I actually respected.
My place of work is in the basement. They have a fine collection of expensive European stainless-steel appliances to cook with. I chop and peel, and play with knobs and gauges whenever a back is turned. Misreading chilli measurements and substituting salt for sugar are regular calamities. The unhappy chefs I serve under are increasingly abused by their customers. I am careful to maintain a facade of dim-wittedness to spare myself harsher punishment when occasionally caught out.
I settle into this role of dopey kitchen hand, keeping my head down in the manner of fellow elderly workmates. They are deathly afraid of angering anyone in authority, believing it’s better to be treated like an animal than to face the horrors outside these walls.
Day to day camp routine is overseen with the iron fists of HDC’s upper echelon bully boys. Like all good oppressive organizations they use fear, misinformation and violence as prime methods for maintaining order. In my off duty hours I watch efficient and uncompromising teachers apply a balance of physical and mental torture to shape the new recruits. Youngsters transform into steroid injecting killers on the parade ground during the day, and amphetamine swallowing party animals at night.
These drugged kiddies are unpredictable and permitted a long leash to practice their trade. We are abashed to learn Hadley’s guarantee of safety doesn’t apply inside the camp. ‘Unfortunate incidents’ occur regularly. Rapes, shootings and beatings, perpetrated by hyperactive teens who happen to have guns. It doesn't endear them to those of us who have none.
Throughout the day Hadley struts and preens about his domain without reproach. His eyes are eagles; his ears hear every whispered word. His spies are many. At least one dissenter is executed every week, usually coinciding with an induction of the most recently gathered survivors. The crime does not always have to fit the punishment. The least worthy exist as unconsenting numbers in a weekly, fatal, lotto draw. At night Hadley retreats into his mobile home headquarters with a few choice women leaving his wolves free to sniff after the lambs.
Illnesses are treated with the utmost suspicion. Parasite possession is still not completely understood and there is a prevailing fear of ‘catching’ a dose. Overeager young guns will cure your sniffles permanently if they decide you’ve been turned. It’s an outrageous stretch of the imagination but try remonstrating with a paranoid, gun wielding psycho.
HDC soldiers patrol the city every other day, sighting few ‘volunteers’ and eliminating even fewer Parasite hosts. The invasion appears to be over. The camp gets restless and Hadley grows concerned. The idea of his army’s obsolescence doesn’t sit well with him. He sends scouts deeper into the city suburbs and beyond, searching for trouble. He is encouraged when some don’t return.
A momentous newsbreak galvanises our little community. A ‘nest’ is discovered. Excitable reports of a huge engorged Queen Parasite and hundreds of hosts in a hive-like arrangement. They infest an underground railway tunnel on the cities outer rim. Hadley is pleased.
The news doesn't encourage me to go sightseeing with the eradication squads who swiftly form up. An attack is planned and launched with great excitement. They are over equipped and under experienced yet the mission is an unqualified success. No prisoners are taken and they fry the Queen with flamethrowers. Jubilant celebrations mean double shifts for me. Rat droppings give their soup a gritty texture.
The attack stirs up the Parasites. We are rudely awakened each night as guards take pot shots at wandering fiends who scour the city for live meat.
More raids are slated. Squads are coming back depleted. Parasites are quick to learn their attacker’s tactics and thin the troops with retaliatory manoeuvres. Officers turn a contemplative eye towards conscientious objectors and malingerers to fill holes in the ranks.
I pat two pockets to ensure my worldly possessions are in place and tighten a resolve to leave before conscription seals my fate.

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