Chapter 9

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We come pouring out of the back of the overturned APC like bats out of hell.

The highway is barren. There are no League shooters waiting to gun us down from the ditches. Everyone seems to be on high alert, but as the dust settles, I lower my guard slightly.

"Huh," I mutter.

Father inspects the newly blasted hole in the road. "Must have been cleverly concealed," he says. "Could have been here for years for all we know." Doctor Sandy, meanwhile, checks in on Gail, our driver.

We tally up the injuries. Plenty of bruises. June's mouth is bloody from a chipped tooth and Rusty's wrist might be broken. Connor's ankle is still swollen. Gail has a pretty nasty concussion. Still, there are no fatalities or life-threatening wounds so I consider it a pretty lucky brush with death.

"We're sitting ducks out here," Rusty says.

"Plus we need new wheels," Cale adds as we all make our way to the ditch on the other side of the highway barrier. "That mine totalled the carrier."

"If we can find wheels," June says as she spits out a gob of blood. "We might have to head back the long way."

"Screw that," Jennifer says, "I want to finish this first. I'm sick of this damn war."

"So we're going in at half strength?" Cale asks.

"I'm not forcing anyone to come with us," Father says, "but we need Charlotte back."

Sandy stares at him as she fashions a splint for Rusty. "You're willing to risk your life, not to mention your daughter's life, for information?"

Father glances at me, then back to Sandy. "Knowledge is power, as the old adage goes, and I don't make Regan's choices for her. This isn't about the database...or rather, it's about something specific on the drive."

"Just tell them, Mr. Obscure," I suggest.

The forever-overcast winter sky finally opens up and starts to rain. It seems to make the Kawitzen pretty glum, but I come from a desert so I just smile and close my eyes, face pointing to the sky. Even Father's long-suffering sigh can't break my feeling of contentment.

When you walk on a figurative razor's edge every day, you learn to savour those moments of peace. I open my eyes and notice that Connor is watching me.

What? I ask silently. He looks away suddenly.

"It's a cure," Father says. There is a collective intake of breath, and the inevitable moment of silence as the information sinks in.

"You've got to be kidding," Sandy says.

"It's no joke," I add.

"No," Father agrees, "but it's incomplete. We have reason to believe that innumerable research firms and universities were working on an emergency cure when The Doom came, but so far we haven't come up with anything conclusive."

I notice a subtle glance between Sandy and Cale.

"Try and keep that bandage dry, Rusty," Sandy says before turning to Father. "You don't have a backup somewhere?"

"I'm not an idiot."

"Then what's the issue?" Cale demands.

"Disregarding the fact that your tribe refuses to acknowledge the Doom as man-made..."

"Person­-made," Jennifer corrects.

"People-made, technically," Father continues. "The good doctor might be the only one here who understands the implications of a crazed and violent cult being able to synthesize and modify a virus that makes Ebola look like mild bronchitis. Please tell me the League has no microbiologist and no access to a laboratory."

The patter of rain punctuates the silence between nervous glances.

"I don't know about the first part," Sandy says, "but they certainly have a lab. They've made their home in what used to be a university campus."

"And right across the road was CFB Nanaimo," Rusty adds.

"CFB?" I ask.

"Canadian Forces Base," Cale says.

"Fuck," Father exclaims. "Explains why they're so well-armed. Well nobody is obligated to come with us, but the future of your society could be decided here and now. We may be out...personed and outgunned, but I can't back down, and I'm certain there are enough of you here who acknowledge that this ideological battle between your two factions has long-reaching implications..."

"Way to rally the troops, Dad," I say. "I think what he's trying to say is: we agree that the League are a bunch of assholes. Join us in death or victory."

"I have to look after the wounded," Sandy says, gesturing to Rusty, Gail and Connor, "and find a new vehicle. But the rest of you are free to..."

"I'm going," Connor insists. "I want to see this through."

"Too many lives have been lost," Cale agrees, nodding. "Not to mention the innocents the League still holds hostage. And their idiot converts like Mason. This has to end."

"Well then," Father says, rubbing his hands together, "let's have a briefing, shall we? What exactly are we up against, and what is our preferred plan of attack?"

"Dad. It's off-putting how excited you get about violence."

"I get excited about planning," he insists.

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