Cale felt raw and exposed, checked over his shoulder as he waited for the door of his hive to open. Rioters had shattered the windows, but, with nothing to steal, had left the building alone. Looters combed the area and soon enough they’d descend on this place, then the Officers would have no safe haven.
The passage slid open and, with his belongings strapped to his back, he descended into the hive’s fluorescent glow.
He found more than two dozen Officers tucked away, lost in feverish shouting. They didn’t notice him as he approached. He tried to spot the men he’d sent to patrol the docks, but didn’t recognize any of them.
“There are rioters out there! We shouldn’t be down here holding our cocks while they take over the fucking city!” one of the Officers shouted at another.
“There are hundreds of them. What good would it do for us to go out there and get killed? Answer me that, Spencer.” The other Officer spoke in a smooth tone, devoid of any emotion.
By contrast, Spencer looked maniacal. His hair had lost its slicked back appearance and came down in loose spikes. “If we stay down here, it won’t be safe to leave! Do we have any supplies stockpiled for this? We don’t have a thing. So we cower and starve? Great plan.”
Cale stepped up through the crowd. “We can’t stay down here. The rioters have already broken the windows above. How long before they’ll find us and kill everyone? We’ll do much better fanned out.”
Both of them turned, ready to direct their fury on him, but he continued, “I’m not suggesting that we try to take them down by ourselves, but if we’re all clumped together, it’s that much easier to wipe us all out.
“We need to get out immediately. The people around here aren’t idiots. Anyone with a lick of sense knows exactly where our hideouts are. I’m sure the other hives are in the same boat. We’ve got a little less than two days before the next round of shipments come in. If we can hold out that long, we’ll have a ticket out of here.”
“If they show up at all,” someone interjected.
“Two days. That’s all I’m asking.”
A murmur spread through the Officers. Cale couldn’t smile, even if he wanted to, but at least he’d won some of them over. He turned to speak again when a high-pitched wail hit the air.
It came low at first, travelling through the room in suggestive tones, then rose into a feverish howl.
“The fuck?” Spencer backed into the wall.
The moaning blotted out any other words as it warbled, sounding like thousands of children crying at once. It reverberated through the space. Cale’s chest tightened and he struggled to breathe.
Then it stopped.
In the prevailing silence, the phantom keening played over in his mind. The anguished faces of the Officers told him they had heard the same thing. Cale went to speak, but his words choked off into a sob.
The switchboard lit up, first two, then five, then the whole thing blazed. One of the Officers, moving more by reflex than anything else, connected a line.
Sobbing came from the headset, muffled but recognizable.
The color drained from the Officer. He stared numbly. His fingers worked as if distracted and he fumbled with the connection as he severed the line, moved to the next. Another fevered voice. He repeated this multiple times before finally letting the connection go silent.
Cale forced himself to regain control, wiping away the tears. Voice cracking, he managed, “What’s happened?”
The Officer, the phone pressed against his head, said in a dull tone, “The children, they’ve all collapsed. They’re dying all over the city, sir.”
Several Officers went to the desk phones, desperately dialing. Cale straightened. “We’ve got two days. I think they’re still people that need our help. Those without families, start answering calls. If it gets too much, we could always use you on the streets. We need to go to the hives, let them know what we’re doing.”
As he moved toward the exit, one of the Officers called after him. “Headed to the docks, Edmonds?”
Without turning, Cale said, “You heard it, same as me. There’s no one to protect anymore. I’m going to check on Terach.”