A CARNAL OBJECTIVE
I waited, muscles knotted into anxious cords, with a steel crowbar ready to kill. I heard her footsteps just beyond the door; and I knew the exact position her head would first appear as she passed the threshold into the lab. I knew where to swing for maximum damage. I adjusted my sweaty grip upon the smooth steel; as my heart pounded beneath my immaculate white lab-coat that bulged slightly near the top from my broad shoulders. That had been her idea. Did she actually find me ... handsome in it? Would that even matter to her? In reality it was my nerves I truly needed to grapple. Not to mention the familiar stiffening that occurred within my dark cargo pants. As it always did; when she drew near – or when I even thought about her drawing near.
My body could sense her approach with an alacrity that seemed to defy the conventional five-senses. As my breathing accelerated; a thin sweaty trickle ran from my tousled, mahogany head of hair, past my sharp brow ridge. I would tell myself, in the other iterations of this identical moment that had occurred so often these past months, that the Hatred was my true lover. Not this nemesis of living Desire that I forced myself to despise. The Hatred was my mantra.
I would have at least this one, small victory. This one, petty blow towards personal liberty.
And there would be many, many more to come; so I hoped. She was responsible for all of it; this laboratory of horrors. The experiments on the cadavers, the imprisonment; the perverse form of inverted slavery that had slipped over the others that had accompanied me to this refuge of shame and pleasure. The vile machines, the preserved flesh surrounding me on cold worktables scattered throughout the chamber where I labored with futility. And the windows of course.
Bullet-proof, triple-layered, reinforced anti-shatter glass. As useless as my struggles had been so far, hitting those windows with the intent of breaking them would prove even more futile. Actually looking at what lay beyond them was out of the question.
If I wanted to entertain even the illusion of survival, of a future.
Everything that I looked upon in the workroom before me served as a stark reminder of why she needed to die. One perversion upon another, leading off on an unwholesome tangent of abominations long past the territories of behavior and innovation that any man had business exploring. Her latest dictates seemed as if she were compounding the degradation and madness that had slipped over me – and the other survivors like a tarnished burial shroud. And it was all so senseless; She didn't really need me for any of the unholy experiments. What was the real reason she kept me around? It wasn't that I was smarter than her, could do anything she was incapable of. Contemplating the possibilities as to why I was even here, why she allowed me this ... this ... research only served to deepen my dread.
My lonely resolve, to never stop until I had killed her was soon accompanied by the merciless certainty that these depraved inventions she demanded removed any possibility of pity. The pity that I longed to give her. The reason why I hadn't acted sooner was not overwhelming force on her part; despite the evil of the experiments, prior to now my own feelings where the true enemy. More to the point, my own lusts. But I had reached a tipping point. Or so I hoped.
I was at peace with the violence I intended to inflict on the one I hated as much as I craved. As usual, I felt the first stirrings before she was even through the door. As always, it started as a tingling in my gut. Like circus-cannon butterflies hopped up on meth. Then, the floating sensation. I had once read a neurology article that studied the brains of people in the throes of the deepest, most prayerful religious experiences, across cultures. An uplifting sensation; the part of the brain that oriented the body's perception of position in space was suppressed. It was Immersive; It was sublime. It was Her.
October 19th, 2076 One Year Ago
Must be a trick of the light. Perhaps the glare. Or the bones. Or the death. It got to all of us eventually. I wanted to be the voice of reason; the sane one out of this accidental band of twelve men that did NOT see the apparition. I wanted to be the one to tell them all that they were letting hunger, paranoia, and superstition cloud the reasonable answers that were there for the taking if one has a cool head. But that wasn't true. Amidst the crumbling ruination of now-skeletal guts of the urban corpse that had once been St. Louis, I too saw the Woman in White scampering through broken cinder-blocks and pock-marked pavement.
She was climbing, as if to get a higher vantage point. She nimbly mounted a smooth curvature of silvery metal that had once been part of the now-exploded landmark Arch to reach a nearby half-collapsed brick wall that formed a staircase profile from the irregularity of its disintegration. What was she looking for? At? If the Woman in White was looking towards us; she would have seen an almost unbearably grim gaggle of desperate men.
Most of us had only been able to scrounge-up old 20th century gas-masks, luckily equipped with modern, sub-molecular filters. But most of our weapons were primitive slug-throwers from that era as well. The woman, or indeed any observer would not have been able to see our faces beyond the mosquito-like countenance of our fully-enclosed respirators. She would have seen that the rest of our bodies were covered by a motley assemblage of padded garments, scuba-diving wetsuits, and thickly wrapped leathers. All with as many pockets-within-pockets as possible; as your basic slug-thrower gun only had a tenth the ammo capacity of a modern pulse weapon. Every bullet precious, and needed. No such thing as a spare clip. That and food. What there was of it.
Oddly, actually getting enough food was often less of a problem than one might have expected in the apocalyptic wasteland that the country – and the world found themselves in. My band had actually survived the eight years since E-day almost entirely on pre-packaged, processed food-stuffs preserved to last for the long haul. But actually eating it was a whole 'nother ball game. Not that all of us that started out eight years ago were still alive.
Even though the woman perched on the broken wall couldn't really make out our faces; just the fact that we were walking, wearing clothes, and even bothering with gas-masks spoke volumes; or at least it should have – to any survivor.
"Sal; we gotta do another Endo check." McConnaught demanded, his voice filtered by his mask into a hollow rasp. Because of her? Because you see some fallout shelter headcase that finally decided living underground wasn't living? Just because she finally snapped and decided on one last breath of 'fresh' air, " I actually made finger-quotes. " - that we need to waste resource testing for T-levels that we all know are too-damn high?" I argued.
"Eh, not like rat skins are in short supply." muttered Garland, our sort-of-doctor. Well, not really a doctor; he had a been a Medical Technologist before E-day; that was the best we could hope for. "It just takes time for the endothelial cell cultures to get started is all."
"No reason to waste that time when we could be making more progress towards this ... Preserve-place they talk about on Short-wave." I insisted. "Let her be. She's gotta be infected already. No contact is the best contact."
"Maybe ... maybe Sal's wrong; Maybe she's the living proof?" said Cleary, as he refuted me, widening his stance as if ready to give chase.
"What, of a cure? Ehhh ... been down this road too many times." grumbled Garland with a dismissive shake of his gas-masked head.
"The only labs big enough for any real hope were the first ones hit!" I snarled; reminding myself time and again of the cause of our hopelessness grated on my already fraying nerves. "You're thinkin' with your little head again." I accused. But Cleary was like that; done a dime in Federal lockup for sexual assault back in 67' Not someone I wanted watching my back; even after all these years of him doing just that. Besides, he could do tricks with a car-engine that had to be seen to be believed. As it was now though, I suppose we couldn't claim to be much better. The real reason, besides all the rationalizations and survival-based excuses about why we wanted to get to this Preserve, was the buzz we'd heard that there were women there. It really was that simple; Cleary was just less shy about admitting it.
Now it seemed, we wouldn't have to shoot, hot-wire, and suffer our way to Wyoming; it seemed that the rarely-acknowledged object of our quest was right in front of us. She seemed healthy enough. From a distance, at least. Some kind of white, flowing gown. Smooth, perfect skin.
Not a tumor in sight. That was refreshing.
No trouble breathing, no crippling pain. But no respirator. No gas mask. That lingering, long-suffering hope for hope itself tickled the edges of my consciousness again; after being so long buried.
"Hold up," cautioned Tannerman, our best sniper. "Maybe she can be our Endo test. Just give it a minute."
"No ... It's been eight fuckin' years..." rasped Nailer, our wilderness-survival expert. " I won't ... won't..." he never finished his sentence. He didn't really need to; we all knew – and felt what he did. Having to perform a biochemical test to know if was safe to feel the sunshine on your face ... Never feeling the wind in your hair. It wouldn't take much of an excuse to say 'to hell with all the precautions'. Like Nailer did.
.... There is more of this story ...