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Authors: Daelynn Quinn

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BOOK: Fall of Venus
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Marcus
and I reach the bridge’s end and breath a sigh of relief before we turn around
to see a white van moving soundlessly towards us. It must be equipped with a
silencer because neither one of us heard a thing.

We
do the only thing we can think of. Run. I tumble down the hill past the bridge,
rolling over at least ten times before coming to a halt. Marcus is right by me
helping me up and pushing me into the forest.

The
sound of honking fills the air and I can hear someone yelling something behind
us. I stop running and pull Marcus behind a tree with me. “What is it, Pollen?”
he asks.

“Shh,”
I say as I hold my finger up to my lips and turn back to face the direction of
the road. I can barely make the words out. “
We’re COPS! We can help you!”

COPS:
Committee for the Oversight of Planetary Salvation. They used to be the
laughingstock of the country, the butt of all jokes. People used to call them
hippies and treehuggers because they would stage peaceful protests against
logging and pesticides and global warming. Even after the summers became so hot
that we were required to use bunkers, they were still discredited, with
government officials saying that this is just a normal pattern of climate
change. In reality, COPS is made up of some of the most brilliant scientists
and medical practitioners in the world. I read somewhere that you have to have
at least two advanced degrees and be published in the top scientific journals
to hold rank in the committee. If there’s any organization I would trust in
this day and age, it’s the COPS.

I
turned back to Marcus, “Did you hear that?” He nods. I start to walk back to
the road when he grabs me.

“How
do we know they’re telling the truth?”

“We
don’t,” I say. “But what are our options? Hiding out in the woods? For how
long? And how far can you really run with your leg? If they really are who they
say they are, I have no doubt they can help us.”

“Okay,”
Marcus sighs. “We’ll go. Together.” Out of the corner of my eye I can see
Marcus checking the clip in his handgun and placing it in the back of his
pants. As we near the edge of the woods Marcus places his hand on my stomach to
allow him to go first in case of danger.

A
woman in her late thirties stands in front of the sliding door of the van,
which has been left open. Her beige shorts and green tank top accentuate how
tall and thin she is, and her wavy blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail. She
watches us through her green-framed spectacles. In her right arm she clutches a
clipboard. She certainly doesn’t appear dangerous.

“I’m
sorry if we frightened you,” the woman says and walks down the hill towards us.
She extends her hand. “My name is Chlamyra Rowan. Or just Myra for short.” Her
voice sounds very authoritative, way more professional than her appearance
would lead us to believe.

Even
though Marcus is still holding me back, I extend my hand under his arm and
shake Myra’s. “I’m Pollen McRae. This is Marcus.”

“Stygma,”
Marcus shakes her hand. “Marcus Stygma.”

“It’s
a pleasure to meet you both. I see you’ve been tagged,” she says.

“Tagged?”
Marcus repeats.

“The
mark on your face,” she says. “It’s the B4K-92 species, the infinity fly. It’s
the government’s way of identifying those with immunity.”

Marcus
and I look at each other quizzically. It’s obvious neither one of us remembers
being tagged. Myra takes notice of our confusion.

“You
were in a camp, right?” she asks.

“To
be honest,” I start, “I don’t remember.”

Marcus
continues, “We both woke up in the woods a few days ago and have no idea how we
got there.”

“Of
course,” Myra looks down, shaking her head. “What’s the last thing you do
remember?”

I
search my memories. I’d never really considered that. I remember playing with
Spooky in the bunker. Going out to dinner with my parents. I remember taking
Evie to the duck pond. But how long ago was that? Then I’ve found it. An
unforgettable memory associated with a specific date.

“I
remember a bonfire. Liberation Day,” I say. Liberation Day is the official
holiday that signifies the end of summer, and therefore, the closing of the Web
for the season. People throw elaborate outdoor parties with bonfires,
fireworks, and loud music. Many people even camp outside and party until dawn.
Glenn and I went to Macville Park, which has a huge meadow to accommodate the
thousands of people who come out to celebrate. We nixed the tent this year and
slept right on the grass. Fresh cut grass smells so divine when you’ve been
locked up in a bunker for five months. My parents weren’t so crazy about me
spending the night with Glenn, which is one reason we didn’t bring the tent.
With so many people around, we wouldn’t have much privacy.

“Happy
Liberation Day,” said Glenn as he opened up a bottle of beer and handed it to
me.

“Happy
Liberation Day,” I said back. “I’m so glad be out of that prison. I missed you
so much.”

Glenn
leaned over and took me in his arms. “I missed you too, Polly.” I hated that
name, but I let it slide with him. He was the only one I allowed to call me
that. I leaned in and we kissed, short and sweet.

“So
does your dad still hate me?” he asked.

“He
doesn’t hate you Glenn,” I said. “He just…”

“Despises
me,” Glenn finished. Pushing him away playfully, I said, “That’s not what I was
going to say. He’s just protective that’s all. And with everything that
happened with Lex, he just doesn’t want me to get hurt again, you know?”

“Polly,
you know I’d never hurt you. I’m still here, right?” he said. I nodded. Glenn
and I have been together for five years now. Even through the hardest of times,
like losing Lex and my brother, he always stuck by me. Things like that are
hard to ignore.

“I’m
not going anywhere, Polly,” he said. And that’s when he shocked me. “Remember
all those years ago, before Lex, before things got really serious? When we used
to sit around and talk about our hopes and dreams and what we want to do with
our lives? My hopes and dreams haven’t changed. They’ve always been about you.
I want to spend my life with you.”

Glenn
dug his hand in his pocket and searched around and pulled something out, hidden
in his fist. Then he grabbed my hand and slipped a ring on my finger. The
diamond was small, tiny in fact. But I still knew what it meant.

“Pollen,
I want us to take the next step. Marry me so we can never spend another summer
apart again.” Being the emotional sap that I am, I cried. Tears running all
over my face made me grateful I didn’t bother wearing makeup that day. Of
course I accepted. And that’s it. That’s my last complete memory before waking
up in the forest.

“Okay,
that was two months ago,” says Myra. “And you don’t remember anything since
then?”

I
shake my head. Then Marcus chirps in, “Just bits and pieces. Nothing we can
really make sense of.”

Myra
turns her head left, then right, looking down the road in both directions.
“Okay. Look, I’m sure you are both aware it’s not really safe for you out here.
And if I get caught helping you...well, I’m not going to let that happen. Come
with us and I’ll bring you up to date on what’s been going on,” says Myra.

Marcus
and I look at each other and raise our eyebrows as if asking whether we should
go. I turn back to Myra, “I’m trying to get home. I need to find out what
happened to my family.”

“You
won’t find anything. The Civilian Enforcement Squad was given orders to check
every home. Any survivors within a five hundred mile radius were rounded up and
sent to Crimson.” She must be referring to Crimson Penitentiary, the largest
prison in this region of North Cythera. “Look,” she continues, “we’ll take you
there if that’s what you want. But I think you may change your mind after we
talk.” I give a brief nod to Marcus and we both climb into the van, followed by
Myra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter
9

 

The
inside of the van is like being crammed into a can of sardines after being out
in the open woods for a few days; constricting and nearly suffocating. But the
plush, smoky seats are an inviting respite from our long trek. The driver is a
quiet, sinewy, dark-skinned man with a shaved head, wearing aviator sunglasses.
A nerdy looking guy with curly red hair and glasses sits in the front passenger
seat next to him. Myra sits in a seat behind the driver facing the rear of the
van, across from us. Next to her is an olive-skinned woman with dark, curly
hair. She has a kind face, like my mother’s.

“This
is Marley,” says Myra, and the woman smiles and nods. “And behind me are Sage,”
Myra continues. The man driving the van raises his hand up in acknowledgement.
“And Curtis,” Myra finishes. The red-haired man in the front passenger seat
turns and says, “Hi.”

“The
day after Liberation Day, a deadly virus was released into the environment. At
least ninety-three percent of the population perished.”

My
heart sinks into a desolate chasm. Does that mean everyone I love is dead? My
heart breaks for Glenn and my parents, but most of all, for Evie. I struggle
with mixed emotions of despair and hope. But if I’m still alive, maybe they are
too, at least some of them, recalling my grave-digging memory.

“So
why are we still alive?” Marcus asks.

“I
can’t say with one hundred percent certainty, but we believe everyone who has
survived contains a rare genetic mutation that gives you immunity against this
particular strain of virus,” says Myra.

My
eyes widen, “So if it’s genetic my parents and Evie might still be alive!”
Unfortunately, my hopes are short lived.

“Possibly,
but so far we think a double mutation is required for full immunity. Our
research suggests that, considering the high death toll, those with a single
mutation are still susceptible to the virus. Our scientists have been hard at
work, trying to find a way to isolate this unique genetic marker. The
government, or those with money and power anyway, are aware of this very
special gene, so they’ve been rounding up all the survivors and sending them to
Crimson. That’s most likely where you got tagged,” says Myra.

I
rub my temple lightly when she mentions the tattoo. “What is it with the
tattoo? What purpose does it serve?” I ask curiously.

“First
of all, it’s a form of identification. By tattooing the infinity fly on your
face you will always be recognized as not only a survivor, but an inmate as
well,” says Myra.

“Wait
a minute,” Marcus interrupts. “What do you mean inmate? You mean we’re
prisoners?”

“Well,”
says Myra, cocking her head to the side slightly, “they prefer the term
‘refugee.’ But once you’re in, there’s little chance they are going to let you
out. And if you do get out, they’ve got the bounty hunters, which I’d assume
you are already aware of, considering your reaction to seeing our van.”

“When
we were in the woods, there was a group of savage men chasing us, trying to
kill us,” I tell Myra.

“Tell
me, did you ever get close enough to see any of their eyes?” Myra asks. My eyes
light up with excitement as I recall the unusual mark in Victor and Lucy’s
eyes. “Yes! They had some sort of eye tattoo!” I exclaim.

“That’s
the mark of the followers of the Trinity. They are survivors, just like you.
But they have agreed to certain terms with the Enforcers. They are allowed
their freedom and in return they must meet a monthly quota of captured
survivors, dead or alive. Of course, there’s only so many survivors they can
capture and if they don’t meet their quota, they lose their freedom. Some
exceptional bounty hunters go on to become Enforcers, but most end up as refugees,
and like I said, once you’re in, they will never let you out.”

“What’s
this Trinity you are referring to?” Marcus asks.

Myra
pauses, looking more serious than ever. “Very powerful people. More powerful
than you could ever imagine.”

“But
what purpose does it serve to imprison such a small population?” I ask.

“They
started a program of genetic testing and vaccine development. They are
collecting blood samples from every individual and analyzing them in order to
develop a vaccine,” says Myra.

“But
what’s the point in developing a vaccine if everyone who is susceptible to the
virus is dead?”

“That,
my dear, is the golden question.”

“What
caused the virus?” asks Marcus.

“They’ve
been blaming the southern territories of Deimos. As you know we’ve been at war
with them for some time,” says Myra. I immediately think about Drake. He was
shipped off to fight the Deimosians last year. He had only been gone about two
months when we got the visit from the Soldier’s Consolidation Group. Three of
the men in uniform appeared at our door with a North Cythera flag, folded up
neatly into a triangle. My mother almost collapsed, but held it together for
Evie’s sake. They were going to wait until a good time to tell her. That time
never came.

“Do
you think they released it?” I ask.

“No.
We have connections with scientists in Deimos who say their situation mirrors
ours. Most of the population wiped out, survivors being contained. I think
there’s something more sinister and underhanded going on. And I believe the
Trinity is behind it,” says Myra.

I
glance outside the window and recognize the towering steeple of a church just
outside my hometown of Endmore. Relief showers me. I’m almost home.

“Turn
right up here,” I say, raising my voice. Myra looks at me disappointed. I
continue to direct Sage to my house, while Myra tries to talk me out of it.

“I’m
going home,” I tell her. “Nothing you say will change that.”

“There’s
something else I should tell you,” says Myra. “There’s something more to that
tattoo on your face. It’s the reason you can’t remember the last two months.
There’s a substance in the ink that becomes activated when it passes through a
strong electromagnetic current. It affects the medial temporal lobe of the
brain and results in short term memory loss. They do this so that you won’t
resist recapture. The good news is that it is only effective one time. The bad
news is that if you are captured again, they will retag you.”

The
van pulls up to my house and stops. The uncut grass and overgrown hedges
confirm the house’s abandonment. My dad would have thermonuclear meltdown if he
saw the house like this. My soul saddens with the sudden awareness that he’s
not here.

“I’m
going with her,” says Marcus, taking me by surprise and lifting my spirits a
little.

As
we exit the van, Myra takes my arm, squeezing it so hard her nail pinches into
my skin and I flinch in pain. She looks me straight in the eyes, unblinking,
and says one more thing, “When you are ready to move on, we’ll find you.” That
sounded a little disturbing, like a stalker to his prey, but I simply nod my
head and thank everybody for the ride. I watch curiously as they drive away,
disappearing behind some trees at a curve in the road.

It’s
a small upper middle class neighborhood. Each house sits on about two acres of
land, backed by a wooded area designated as national parks and conservation
areas. My parents moved here because they wanted a private, quiet neighborhood
to raise Drake and me. And since there was a national park behind us, nothing
would ever be built there.

Our
house is the only white house on our street. Most of the houses are red brick.
My parents always remarked about how they would have preferred a brick house,
but they wanted this neighborhood so badly they settled for the house with
cheap white siding, knowing they would have to repaint it every year to keep it
looking nice.

Marcus
has already climbed the front porch steps and is waiting at the maroon front
door, peeking inside the windows to the side. I follow him tentatively, nervous
about what I may find inside. He turns and watches me cautiously ascend the
five concrete steps; a look of concern drapes over his face. For the first time
in days, I’m apprehensive about being home, afraid of what I may find inside.
As I turn the doorknob it occurs to me that I should go find the hidden key,
but my stomach twists into a tight coil when I feel the click and find that the
door is unlocked.

I
step inside, followed by Marcus, and peer around the foyer and living room. The
house looks undisturbed, just as I remember it. Cobwebs cloak each visible
corner and a thin layer of dust has settled over every surface, as it would
after being empty for two months. Although I’m prepared for no answer, I call
out, “Mom? Dad? Evie?” Sure enough, the reply is dead silence, except for the
ticking of an old mechanical clock.

The
first room we enter is the living room. Everything looks in place. The brown
leather furniture is untouched, although the sheen is dull, due to the furry
coat of dust. The electronics are still in their place despite the front door
being unlocked and welcoming to any looters and curiosity seekers. If it
weren’t for the dust and cobwebs, the house is so pristine it could be featured
in the Great Northern Homes magazine.

I
make my way to the master bedroom, where my parents slept. The door is closed,
which is unusual since my father liked to keep all the doors in the house open
for even air circulation. The door squeaks as I open it, disrupting the broad
silence in the house. Inside, the king size bed is unkempt. The orange paisley
comforter is drawn back with the disheveled sheets and the pillows on the floor
among piles of scattered, crumpled up tissues. There are unusual black specks
on the sheets and pillows. I draw closer to get a better look and the stench of
death consumes me. Falling to my knees I make a gruesome discovery. The black
specks are dried blood.

 

BOOK: Fall of Venus
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