25. U.N.

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"What's the matter?" I tried to pry off Farid's hand, which was holding my forearm like a vise. Not succeeding, I looked at the ship and then at him.

"They're military," he said.

"Yes, Chris already said so."I pulled back my arm once more, but he didn't let go. "So what?"

"They're not just military. They are U.N. Look at the flag."

The highest mast of the ship carried a bluish flag moving listlessly in the wind. My eyesight wasn't up to resolving its details.

"That's a good thing, no?"

"I was about to tell you last night when Chris interrupted us. There are people trying to hunt us down."

"U.N. vamp hunters?" I couldn't keep a mocking tone from my voice. He was paranoid and hurting my arm. "Sounds reasonable, but only if vamps weren't a myth."

"Vamp hunters." He huffed. "You'd probably call them that. Only, they're headed by a group of... vampires, too. They're powerful, influential, ruthless, and corrupted. They want to be the only ones like us. They want to control our kind. And most of all, they want to keep our existence secret. It... look, it's complicated, and we don't have time now. Just believe me, those in control of the people on that ship are dangerous. The soldiers, and the WHO people who are with them, believe they are fighting the outbreak of a disease, something like Ebola, but much more dangerous. They're ordered to keep their mouths shut about it to avoid worldwide panic. But the real problem are those who rule them."

"Okay." I narrowed my eyes at him. "The U.N. Peacekeepers and the WHO are secret organizations fighting in a petty squabble between vampire fractions. What a conspiracy theory." I shook my head. "Next thing, you'll tell me to wear a tinfoil hat."

"It's not all of the Peacekeepers or of the WHO who are involved. It's just a small part of these organizations. They're people selected for a permanent mission. And they're chosen for their ruthlessness."

Something didn't add up in his weird tale. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I didn't really care.

"You know what?" I stared at him, looking deep into his dark eyes—eyes that seemed to believe what he was saying. "I don't buy it. And now you'll let me go. Right now."

He hesitated. "Fine, I'll do that if you promise that you won't run to them right away. Let's first watch what happens."

My impulse was to slap the man, to batter reason into him.

"Please." He lowered his head and gave me an upward stare.

The puppy eyes.

I nodded.

He let go of me.

I looked towards the ship. Nita and Chris had disappeared down the slope to the south shore.

"I can't see anything from here," I said.

"Okay, let's get closer, but we'll stay hidden." He gestured south-east, to where the bushes stood close enough to provide shelter.

We descended that way, and soon we had a small ridge between us and the ship.

"Where's Bruna, by the way?" I asked his back.

"I don't know. I guess she ran. Probably not towards the ship but away from it."

When we had almost reached the water, he turned south and approached the ridge separating us from the next bay and the ship. Putting himself flat against the rock, he inched forward.

I did the same.

The shore ahead was the little lagoon where I had swum with Farid, ages ago—when I hadn't heard anything about vampires yet. 

Nita and Chris stood close to the water. Her stance was slack while he shouted and waved his arms.

"Hey, we're here," he yelled.

A dinghy had detached itself from the ship and headed towards the shore—a black, oversized, elongate tire propelled by a powerful engine. It plowed through the waves towards Chris and Nita.

The small crew held tight to their bobbing craft. Some of them wore blue helmets and dark gray uniforms. Others were clad in yellow overalls, reaching all the way over their heads.

"See," Farid said. "They're wearing protective clothing. They think we're contaminated."

The overalls had spherical head sections with dark faceplates, turning their owners into top-bloated, banana-colored aliens.

As the boat got closer, the roar of its engine drowned Chris' excited yelling.

One of the soldiers held a gun.

No, not one of them. They were all armed.

I looked at Farid. He watched the events with an unmoving face.

"What do they have weapons for?" I asked.

"They're soldiers. Soldiers have guns. These soldiers not only have guns, but they also have orders to use them. You can bet on it."

The boat slowed about a stone's throw from the lagoon.

Its engine chucked contentedly as the man at the helm navigated through a gap in the wave-breaking rocks. Once in the lagoon, he stopped.

Chris had ceased his waving and watched the arrivals silently. Nita had taken a couple of steps into the water, steadily advancing as if drawn towards the boat by a magnet.

One of the soldiers produced a megaphone. The thing was green—military green. The thought of camouflaged megaphones made me shake my head. This was not real.

As unreal as vampires.

"You're under quarantine." Even green megaphones produced brassy, distorted voices. "Stay where you are."

Chris lifted an arm and dropped it again. Nita took another step towards the boat.

"I repeat, stay where you are. And you, the woman in the water, please return to the beach. Immediately."

As if deaf to the spoken word, or oblivious of it, Nita continued.

Three of the soldiers raised their guns.

I dug my fingernails into the rock beneath me.

"Stop," the megaphone screeched. "We have orders to shoot anyone approaching us or trying to leave the island."

"Nita," Chris yelled, "come back." He followed her into the water, arms outstretched to grab her.

I wouldn't have expected that from him. But then, hadn't he once said that someone would have to take responsibility for us? At that time, he had been talking about himself.

He had been serious about that.

Nita took another step and stumbled.

Chris lunged forward and grabbed her arm.

That was when they shot—a short barrage, like a firecrackers going off.

Chris and Nita fell—she backward, he hit the water face first.

The silence after the shots was so loud that even the birds shut up.

The two bodies in the water didn't move.

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