After the smoke cleared, the jungle gym was empty. Michael looked around, but there was no sign of the diminutive black-clad forms. He looked to his left and his right, at the fallen bodies of his colleagues, and wondered just what had happened. And how he had survived.
The world around him was deathly silent. For one in the afternoon, this was particularly odd. The surrounding playground was empty, the dark school building a ghoulish remnant in the distance. Checking himself quickly – he wouldn’t be the first to be done in by a minor scratch – Michael was relieved to find his skin intact. Holstering his pistol, he grabbed his fallen hat before heading back towards his car. I guess this call will need to go unsolved for now, he thought.
From a distance everything looked oddly normal, just simply waiting for the use and abuse of everyday life to return. But everyday life had changed, and Michael doubted this particular school would see a class for many years yet. The core cities were safe and clean, with life taking on a semblance of normalcy. The frontiers, though; they were a different story. Squads of assassins still roamed the countryside, faces hidden behind black masks. They could strike without warning, and often it was far too late for any response to make a difference by the time Michael heard about it. This was a unique case, though. He had actually seen them. Their tiny bodies confirmed every rumor he had heard. He did not know whose children they were, but these kids were definitely affected.
He looked over his shoulder at the bodies of his partner and their backup. He knew that they wouldn’t be there by nightfall. The virus worked quickly – regressing age, reducing body mass, reanimating dead flesh with a mechanical precision. The result had the capacity to reason, to choose for good or ill, but simply lacked the compassion and consideration that typically overrode the decision process and helped keep society moving.
Michael reached his vehicle, and slipped into the driver’s seat. Grabbing the radio, he sent off a report. “Sioux City control, this is Michael Adser. I’m leaving the grounds now. We are down three – I repeat, three. Over.”
Static crackled before a voice responded. “10-4, Michael. I’m sorry. Come on back to base for your debriefing. Over.”
“On my way. Over and out.” Michael started the engine, taking only a melancholy moment to lament the loss of his colleague and friend of ten years before shifting into drive and steering the vehicle onto the empty road. The farmland had been quiet during the best of times, now it was down-right abandoned. Only an occasional charred frame showed that people had actually lived here. People forced to torch their livelihood, simply to protect themselves from kids. Michael shook his head ruefully at the thought. To think, that the opponent would take the form of that most precious to society. The mockery it made of traditional human values had already driven many over the brink of insanity.
Lost in his reverie, Michael didn’t even see the figure in the back seat before it was too late. A hand pressed a rag over his mouth, the sweet-and-sour aroma permeating his nostrils. Using his last amount of consciousness, he steered the vehicle to a halt as he fought. There were no trees around to ram, no brick walls to use as a catalyst for Newtonian triumph, just endless cornfields that would be of no help. As he slipped into the void, he was left with a single though. Is this how I die?