The Parasites have left sentinel hosts scattered around. One of these piloted figures enters the park to investigate the gunshots. I know a host heads my way; normal people are running away in every other direction. I misuse the wide riverside walking track by sprinting up it. As a path of least resistance other survivors have chosen to do the same. I easily overtake the enfeebled and the short of breath with loping strides, giving their beseeching hands a wide berth.
I dimly realise, at this inopportune time, how close my morality fund is to foreclosure, but Charles Darwin had a point. My fitness to survive can’t be debated if you apply his scale unemotionally. Although it would make me pay for this selfishness later, my brain is otherwise engaged rewiring parts of itself to deal with being an unwitting party to murder. It accusingly replays the holes opening in their heads and the looping sprays of blood over and over. The brain is angry with the mind. They blame each other for bypassing a consultation that might have kept blood off my hands. The non-confrontational, pacifistic partnership they’d agreed on until now is in tatters. The confusion allows me to run mindlessly through a pain barrier that would normally be crippling.
More hosts join the hunt. They track our direction of flight from the road above the meandering, tree-shaded path, and wander down a grassy verge to intercept stragglers.
By the time my raw throat and quivering muscles command me to rest I am alone again, and well away from the city centre.
A midsized cafeteria/ticket office for river boat cruises is the closest shelter. The last boat is long gone. Breaking in is easy, a doorway gapes emptily. I collapse and create a sweaty shape on the leaf and dirt littered floor. The foul stench of rotting food comes from open fridges and raided storerooms. The cloud of buzzing insects it attracts prompts me to arise sooner rather than later.
I recheck my belongings and discover my latest, and most useful, deadly possession is gone. Its insecure placement, barrel first, in my back pocket, could be a blessing in disguise. Shoving it in my waistband like a real desperado might look cool, until I blew my balls off or shot myself in the arse. I’d liked the way the shooter felt in my hand though.
There’s a four-wheeled electric scooter plugged into the wall. It’s a bright red loaner for elderly people to use to get on and off the boats.
I have a light bulb moment.
When I unplug it and twist the throttle the little cart jerks forward, crashing into my shins. The attack doesn’t put me off the idea of using it as silent running transportation, especially since sitting is far preferable to running; with bruised shins no less. I cruise out of the building and hum along serenely, bizarrely proud of being a scooter owner.
After a slow, restful kilometre or so, the hosts I’d outdistanced on foot reappear in the scooter’s dinky little rear vision mirrors. They chase a single slow moving blob towards me. I’ve already got the throttle cranked all the way around, so I search the dash display for a button or switch to increase its pace. One says ‘Super charge’. Sounds promising. I brace myself for neck-snapping acceleration but nothing happens when I rock it from the ‘Normal charge’ position.
An obese, red-faced woman waddles past. Her upper body fat-rolls move faster than the blubbery legs underneath can match. She turns incredulous, bugged out eyeballs towards me on the way past, envious of my radical ride no doubt. I duck my head and crouch to cut wind resistance but she pulls away, heaving hoarse gasps of air.
A red light flashes and the motor whines in complaint when we encounter a steep grade. The hosts behind are actually gaining now. I curse when the motor stops altogether. Repeatedly twisting the throttle on and off results in tiny jerks forward. Then it rolls slowly backwards.
A host’s slack face fills the mirror.
I bail off my lame steed and sprint until the fat woman is between me and them again. The wise tactic unsettles my already troubled conscience. We both know hosts will leave a sprinting maniac alone if a slower victim is in sight.