“It’s me! Open up!”
Cassie’s hand hesitated over the lock. The image on the CCTV monitor was clear but in that protective clothing, the caller could have been anyone.
“Cassie! I can’t be sure I wasn’t followed. Let me in.” The caller waited a few seconds before adding, “Cassie-Wassie-piddly-poo.”
Cassie hit the lock. No one but Aidan would call her that. While the locks turned and slid, she pressed the intercom and called him a pig. “What if the neighbours heard you? Calling me that!”
He reminded her there were no neighbours. As far as he could tell, they were alone for a couple of blocks at least. Alone in the penthouse flat they had commandeered when it had become clear that the outbreak was out of control and that civilisation – and humanity too, most probably – was facing its end game.
And losing it.
While Aidan went through the decontamination ritual, Cassie tried to appease Wendy who was grizzling in that persistent way she always did when she was hungry. Which was most of the time. Cassie cooed and tried to distract the child by wiggling her fingers like a puppet. Wendy looked at this poorly executed entertainment with disdain and resumed her snivelling.
I’m nineteen, thought Cassie. I shouldn’t be holed up in here with someone else’s baby. I should be out in the world, off on adventures and making something of myself.
Ah, yes: the world. As far as she and Aidan knew, that was gone too.
Aidan, looking raw and damp from the cleansing, placed two cartons of baby formula on a chair. “That’s the last of it. At least in this district.”
“That won’t last a week,” said Cassie. She glanced at the boxes with the happy, gurgling infant on the front and wondered where he was now. “You’ll have to try harder.”
“Damn it, Cassie. You think I just stroll down to the corner shop. Geez; if you knew –”
“If I knew what?”
She looked at him properly then, searching his bare chest and arms for abrasions.
“There were a couple of – guys. No big deal. I distracted them by chucking half a brick in the opposite direction.” He chuckled but it was mirthless. “Those guys sure are dumb.”
“There’s not a mark on me.”
Grumbling, he obeyed. “See! Not a scratch. You did a good job of patching up the suit.”
Cassie didn’t seem convinced. Aidan remembered something. He picked up the trousers of his protective suit and pulled something from the pocket.
“Look; I found this.”
Cassie recoiled from the filthy square of newspaper he unfolded in front of her. “I can’t believe you brought something so dirty, so… contaminated in here.”
“No, no; it’s okay.” He pointed at some print that wasn’t smudged or stained. “This must have been the last edition they put out before… Anyway, it says here that the scientists believe the plague is airborne. You can only catch it if it gets in your body from a cough or a sneeze. Once it lands, it dies. They recommend avoiding contact with strangers – all strangers – and – Well, that’s all I can read.”
“All the more reason for us to stay here. You said there’s no one else for blocks around.”
“Except those guys…”
She ignored him. “We’re all right here. The three of us. You, me and Wendy makes three.” She played with the baby’s toes to make her giggle.
“I don’t know, Cass,” Aidan rubbed the back of his neck. “Perhaps her mother is still out there, looking for her.”
“You shouldn’t have just taken her like that, Cass. It’s kidnapping!”
Cassie gave a hollow laugh. “So, lock me up.”
“She’ll slow us down. When she cries, it’s too loud. Those guys will hear her. They’ll find us.”
“Wendy’s a good girl; aren’t you, baby?” Cassie spoke in silly singsong. Wendy was unimpressed.
“Listen,” Aidan cleared his throat. “I’ve told you, we can’t stay here. We should head out to the country. We can grow our own food.”
“You don’t know what it’s like out there. It’s all gone.”
“You’ll find something.”
“No. No, Cass; I’m leaving. Right now. You can either come with me or stay here and play Happy Families with the baby.”
He stepped into the protective trousers and pulled them up to his waist.
“No!” Cassie threw herself at him, beating at his chest with her fists. “You can’t leave us! You can’t!”
He held her wrists until her anger subsided.
“Come with me, Cassie-Wassie-piddly-poo,” he whispered. “Baby makes three.”
“Oh, Aidan,” Cassie sobbed, resting her head against his collarbone.
Behind them, in her makeshift cot, Wendy’s button nose wrinkled.