The squirrel chattered at me.
Alton had been quite clear. Squirrels all around the globe were being weaponized with a simple virus. The squirrels had been genetically modified to accept the virus and incubate it for twenty generations before it was strong enough to pass to another squirrel. Once squirrel-to-squirrel transmission began, it was another hundred generations until the virus would mutate and leap to humans. According to Alton, the ninety-ninth generation had just been recorded. The next birth of germs, occurring simultaneously in squirrels around the world, would be able to make the leap to humans. With the squirrel's natural tendency to be everywhere, the transmission to humans would proceed with breakneck speed, and human-to-human transmission would be immediate, unstoppable, and liberating as far as planet Earth was concerned.
I squinted at the calendar. It was no help, but I didn't really need it. By Alton's reckoning, the birth of the ultimate generation was due any day. That was why my captors had changed plans, then. Rather than be killed, I would be infected, and it could be happening at any moment. For all I knew, it already had.
"So you're the weapon of the future," I said, nodding at the squirrel. Could the squirrel understand? No, of course not, not unless the injection simultaneously lifted their rodent-like brain to a reasoning level. But I was a little groggy still, and my mouth tasted like a bird nest. Why would anyone make soup from a bird's nest? Sorry, but my synapses were not making their typical connections. The squirrel looked back at me with that curious cocked head expression of theirs, more like a bird than a rodent. I stared back.
After a moment, I shook my head, half-way convinced the squirrel was daring me to a stare-down. I thought, no, it's a captive, just like me. We were in the same boat. Of course, it had an infection, and there was a chance yet that I didn't. So even if were we in the same boat, we were on different decks. If I hurried, maybe the lifeboats were still picking people up.
I started rocking the chair in which I was bound. It was a slow process, and not one likely to lead to success, but there wasn't anything else to try. The movies and television shows display heroes escaping from incredible situations, but I found the reality to be a bit more difficult. Of course, I didn't have the luxury of a scriptwriter to simply type the magic words, the chair fell with a crash.
The chair fell with a crash. "Ouch," I said, out of habit. The fall had not hurt at all, compared to the throbbing in my head. Since I had closed my eyes when feeling the chair toppling, I opened them. I was now on my side, but the hard wooden chair was still strapped to me tightly with the gray silver tape. I discovered belatedly that my legs were also firmly fastened,ironically,to the chair legs. I was no better off; in fact, worse, because the floor was dusty and dirty; I was breathing it straight in. This'll make sick even if the squirrel doesn't, I thought. The Hendersons had never been known for their cleanliness.
I called for help. Since my situation was hopeless, I decided it didn't matter if my captors knew I was awake or not. There was no way I could free myself, and no way to escape the room, without someone helping me. When there is a slim chance and a zero chance, always grab to the slim one. "Help!" I called again. "In the basement! Somebody! Help!"
I called for several minutes, but no one came, neither to save me nor to beat me.
I tracked the squirrel's moments. It was dashing about its cage like a mad thing, chewing at the wires and struggling. I thought, it wants out, too, probably so it fulfill its mission and infect me easier. No. It was innocent; it couldn't know what was going on. Deep inside, though, I knew that if I managed to escape I would drop a brick on its head.
It stopped suddenly and pressed its head to the wire, its eye fixed directly on mine.
I thought, Dear heaven! Can it read my mind?