Contamination | Invasion Survivor Book One | Chapter Seven
Paige headed quickly back to her room before finally setting off to find Willow, get her mother out of the Institute, and reunite with her father.
Piece of cake, she thought jokingly to herself as she entered the common room.
It had been deserted when she escorted River out of there but was active once again.
Some girls stared at their phones, talking or texting, probably waiting for their security staff to come and pick them up. Others looked at the screen as if hoping the news would change.
Since no one was coming to get Paige—she was the one who was supposed to get to her family—she would have to get creative on her own and find a way out.
The thoughts about the journey ahead filled her with dread.
Since Brooke disappeared, she’d always had to be the strong one, but could she really do something like this?
Do I really have a choice? she asked herself, even though the answer was quite simple. No. She had to do this because she was their only choice since her father couldn’t.
Back in her room, she rechecked her backpack to see if she had everything she needed. It was impossible to predict every eventuality, so she packed a couple of additional items that could be useful.
Like the pocket knife she’d got from River when they tried going camping. After a failed attempt to spend even a few hours in a tent, they’d checked into a B&B. Afterward, River bought her the knife in commemoration of that adventure. Paige’s survival tool had been bedazzled.
She slid it into the pack and was ready to depart when an engine-like sound, coming from outside, made her dash toward the window.
Her instinctive thought was that it was Willow’s school bus, coming back full this time, but her newfound optimism was short-lived.
Through the window, she could see their own school bus parked near the entrance as infected kids were escorted to it. Those who could walk, that is.
Others were carried out on stretchers.
Paige instantly spotted AJ on a gurney loaded into the back of the bus. His face was beyond pale, but he looked toward her, and he was still smiling. Her heart skipped a beat. How could he still look so darn beautiful, even in his condition? He was probably the only boy in school who could rock the deathbed look.
* * *
Nobody is telling us anything, AJ fumed. But maybe that was understandable. How could a teacher or a college nurse possibly know anything about this virus or the voices inside their heads?
On second thought, maybe that was only him, AJ allowed, seeing that the other students around him who were also infected acted differently.
At first, he didn’t want to lie in the bed in the overcrowded nurse’s office, but over time, he realized that was the smarter choice. And when some man in a protective suit came along, he was relieved, thinking they were there to help, but they wouldn’t or more couldn’t answer his questions.
“How long are we supposed to stay here?” he’d inquired but was ignored, and that frustrated him no end. AJ would have been long gone if the doors weren’t locked. But then he thought of Paige.
Maybe him being locked away where he was “safe” was a good thing if it meant she was safe as well.
The voice in his head ignored him after he flipped it a mental bird, refusing to do its bidding, and he was glad.
The only voice I want to hear in my head is my own, thank you very much.
Not having much to do but think and rest, he opted for the latter but couldn’t quite fall asleep, no matter what he tried.
Opening his eyes again, he let his gaze wander about, taking in all the glazed expressions of his peers until he saw River.
She had been taken to a more secluded area and was pricked and probed by the men in the protective gear while a nurse tried to soothe her. Whatever else those jerks were doing to her, she was not happy about it.
AJ couldn’t decide if that was a good or a bad thing. She definitely didn’t act like the rest of the students but wasn’t as lucid as he was.
This was some kind of an invasion. He’d managed to piece that together while chatting with Francis but couldn’t quite decide how that could be used to his advantage.
“My name is not Francis,” the Nano in his head informed him.
You don’t say, Francis, he replied sarcastically. Did you miss me that much, buddy? I’m touched.
“It is time for you to come home,” Francis insisted.
At that moment, AJ noticed a commotion around him. Some of the people on the beds were being wheeled away.
“What is going on?” he asked one of the men, not really expecting an answer.
“You are being transported somewhere else,” he informed him.
“Where?” AJ wanted to know, but the suited man hurried away, only to return with another. They immediately started wheeling him out of the building.
“Obey the orders and return home,” Francis pressed.
I would love to obey, buddy, but as you can see I am currently otherwise engaged.
They pushed him toward the school bus that would take them God only knew where, and AJ’s eyes traveled toward the nearby building. On the second floor, at the first window, he spotted Paige leaning out. She was back in her room—not that he was a stalker or anything for knowing that—and she still looked good, even healthy.
That made him relieved.
Then all hell broke loose. “Your seedling,” The voice returned with that same urgency as before. “Take her now,” Francis commanded, and this time, AJ felt different. He wanted her again, just like he had that first time. The need was overwhelming, all-consuming, even to the point of madness.
What did you do to me? he shouted and would have sworn he felt Francis feeling smug in return.
AJ gritted his teeth and balled his hands into fists. You know what, Francis? Screw you.
But the need urged his body to move, to stand up and go straight to Paige’s room and snatch her.
“Yes, give in!”
Has anyone ever told you that you sound like a cheesy Bond villain? It’s annoying. AJ refused to give in, even though the pressure now eroded the last reserves of his resolve.
“Collect the Seedling and return to the mothership.”
You already mentioned that, and hell no!
But even while thinking that, his body jerked. He needed her, and she was right there.
An opposite thought popped into his head at the same time.
The guys in suits and masks were wheeling him away. As in far away from Paige, he hoped. And he was overjoyed at not seeing her again.
Game over, Francis, you will never have her now.
The thought made him laugh.
Paige glowed gold as she looked down at him from her window with a strange expression on her face. He wished there was some way he could speak to her one last time to say goodbye. But even if he wasn’t taken away, she wouldn’t be safe around him. Not while there was something inside his head, trying to take over.
This last look would have to do.
“No!” Francis shouted angrily, but that only made AJ grin even more.
He was now more certain than ever that he was different from the rest. He could feel it in the center of his being. He wasn’t sick like the rest of that merry bunch in the bus.
From the start, there had only been a few drops of blood from his nose while others looked like they’d lost at least a quarter of theirs. And he never spaced out, either, or at least he thought he hadn’t.
There was no telling what he looked like on the outside while chatting with Francis.
Speaking of Francis...
Francis? Buddy? You there?
Only silence greeted him, even though AJ was certain he was not alone. He knew how to recognize the difference now.
Ahh don’t pout, he teased.
This would be a long journey with a voice inside his head that gave him the silent treatment.
Oh, the irony.
As AJ took one last look at Paige through the school bus window, he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever see her again.
A part of him hoped he would, but only when he was cured or sane again.
And if he had one regret in his life, it was that he wished he’d had the balls to speak to her, maybe even ask her out, before the world flipped upside down.
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