Ryan Barry stared out the rain-slicked window at the streets below. Quarantine 4 was the only one without bars on the windows, because everyone in Quarantine 4 had fallen ill and recovered. Everyone in Quarantine 4 was supposedly immune. Escape seemed all too easy. He could throw a chair through the glass and climb down the fire escape. The only problem was that Quarantine 4 was heavily guarded. No one got out alive.
In his first week here, he’d planned an escape with another inmate. The guards never called them inmates but that’s what they were, prisoners held against their own will. They’d almost cleared the fences when Ryan heard the pop of a gun and saw the man fall limp onto the sidewalk beyond the fence. He’d surrendered. Better a prisoner than a dead man.
That was weeks ago, or perhaps months. He lost track of time. Within Quarantine 4, or Q4 as the inmates called it, they could do whatever they liked. They weren’t restricted to certain rooms or activities. Everyone was given an apartment to sleep in, and there was a gym on the lower level, as well as an indoor pool. The building was erected only a year before the outbreak struck–everything was new. Before the Sweats, a one bedroom apartment would have cost upwards of two thousand dollars a month. Food was delivered daily. Sometimes inmates gathered together to cook a large meal and dine in company. Other times, Ryan and the others elected to stay in their own apartments.
Every need was provided for, save their freedom to leave, so no one needed to work. Some of the inmates enjoyed that, but Ryan liked to stay busy. The guards brought him books and a tablet loaded with information–though it had no internet connection–musical instruments, anything he asked for, really. He could tell that some items were used. His violin was scuffed on one side and he’d had to fix one of the tuning keys on the acoustic guitar they’d given him. Who owned these gifts beforehand? Were they acquired legally? At first, Ryan felt bad about using them but he had to ward off boredom somehow.
Initially there’d been a blood drive every couple of weeks. Local authorities believed the blood of survivors might contain antibodies that could help cure others. Ryan eagerly donated. Initially, it was reported that the donations did nothing to help others…and then they started making people sick. Ryan knew that meant the disease wasn’t viral. Viruses just didn’t work that way. He didn’t think it was bacterial either, since he healed with time and fluids, but no antibiotics. He explained this to that reporter, Gene Dockery, who managed to get access to Q4 about a month ago, but he’d heard nothing about it from the guards. The inmates weren’t allowed to watch the news–it was the only show they couldn’t watch. Sometimes though, if he was careful and snuck around, he could hear the guards discussing what was happening in the city and beyond.
Tonight, Ryan itched for an update. He left his apartment and walked downstairs to the gym. This was usually the best place to overhear the guards when they were off-duty, since they lived in the building as well. Ryan lifted weights long enough to break a sweat, then plucked up a warm towel from the freshly laundered pile and walked into the locker room for a shower. After his shower, he went into a changing room and waited. No one else was in here yet but he’d seen two guards working out. Ryan settled on the bench in his changing room and propped his feet up on the opposite wall. There was some risk in getting caught, since locking the door would be a dead giveaway, but in the past, he’d hidden in this very changing stall and the guards were none the wiser to his presence.
Silence settled in the locker room. Sitting this way on a wooden-slatted bench had a numbing affect, and Ryan shifted to let the blood flow to his legs. Voices filled the room beyond the door and he stilled, trying to catch everything they said, though the guards’ conversation echoed in the damp air.
“It was only one of seven explosions in midtown. Things are getting worse out there.”
“We’re really lucky though; did you hear about Davidson in Q3? He got sick–from someone they were going to transition here. If they had, we’d have caught it.”
“What happened to him?”
The other guard didn’t answer, and after a moment, the first one said, “Oh.”
Ryan could feel the silence that followed. Both men were thinking that they’d come close to sharing Davidson’s fate, whoever he was. If Ryan had to guard prisoners during a quarantine, he’d rather guard those who were immune, he supposed. Although Ryan wasn’t sure how immune he was when the disease was neither viral nor bacterial.
“Did you hear about that reporter?”
Ryan pulled himself out of his own thoughts about survival and leaned his head to the side to listen harder.
“The one that came here that time. Dockery. Anyway, he’s published this interview with someone from the CDC. Some recording because they wouldn’t let him film it.”
“Who wouldn’t let him?”
“The CDC. But you can hear the doubt in her voice. They don’t know what causes it or how to stop it. She doesn’t know where it came from.”
“Well that was predictable. I mean, the government can’t even manage the healthy. When was Dockery here?”
“I don’t remember exactly. But he spoke to some of the residents.”
“Neil, Barry, Blanchard, and Sullivan, at least.”
“I wonder what they talked to him about.”
“I don’t know. Anyway, I’m beat. I’m going to grab a shower and then get some sleep. My next shift is in seven hours.”
Ryan waited until he heard neither man in the locker room, and then he waited what felt like another thirty minutes or so, before leaving the changing stall. Neil, Blanchard, and Sullivan…he knew the first two already, and decided then and there to make an effort to get to know Sullivan. He was curious what they told Dockery. From what he heard, the reporter took him seriously, and things were getting worse in the city.