Dr. Winters paused mid-rush, a sound catching her attention. Perhaps someone was paging her? She grasped at her lapel and realized she’d left her radio back in the office. “Just a moment, Tanaka,” she told the eager but often nervous undergraduate. She left him and walked a few paces back. Turning, she added, “I’ll meet you at the lab.”
A few paces more, and the brilliant woman had another thought. She pivoted and walked backwards. “Which lab is it again?”
Thomas Tanaka still stood where they’d parted. He morphed a rising bemusement into a thoughtful twist of his mouth. “A-23, Doctor Winters.”
She glanced ’round the reflective, night-darkened hallway.
Wil opened her eyes to see her sweet mother’s face peering over the front seat at her. Wil blinked and realized her father’s face also pointed her way. Her mother’s smiled; his sighed and was tired.
“I was awake,” Wil said. She felt stiff as she sat up and looked around the car. “Where’s Jakob?”
Cynthia coughed slightly. “He went inside already, honey. Said he had homework.”
For a reason Wil couldn’t quite recall, she thought to doubt Jakob’s claims. Some encounter at the hospital brushed against her memory. “Reagan,” she remembered.
“Jakob’s going to message Reagan,” Wil said, tact and discretion always far from her first impulses.
Her mother choked on a laugh, which set her to coughing. Rob moved over and held his wife from an awkward front seat angle.
“I’m so sorry!” Wil agonized, but was rewarded with a pained expression from her father’s quick glance. Wil’s face crumpled. She pushed at the car door and stumbled out into the eerie mists of winter twilight. Recovering, she ran.
The world was a barren, cold, and heartless place. Mankind had learned to fight against itself and avoid all semblance of connections; embracing only empty, selfish pursuits. Nina Win knew this, yet also knew that there was no other world for her. She walked on, her army regulation boots stomping so loudly against the frigid cement walkways that they sounded from the many desolate buildings nearby.
A twisting, bulky shape rose before her. A playground. Why not? the ex-Marine thought. She clumped over abandoned, frost-crusted wood pieces and up a slippery plastic play slide. There at the top she viewed the crumbling housing complex. Families had lived here once, she knew. Children had played where she stood; happy children. Had the physical equipment she gripped in her creaking gloves not been present, Nina would never have believed those facts.
So intent was she upon her gloomy musings that she failed to remember her training to be vigilant. A dark movement shifted just under her left arm and began moving toward her. Despite rigid protocol to the contrary, she almost screamed.
The darkness resolved to a human shape. He stopped just beneath her vigil.
“Hi,” said Eric Crandall, the shy boy from apartment 5-3.