THE FINAL CASUALTY- (c)2005 Nathaniel Simpson

I'm the fuckin' final casualty. The dying stopped a week ago, but there's still one left to go. I'm it.

Supposedly I'm a hero. I stopped the dying, so they said on the evening news, by my "courage" in the face of mortal danger. It was my "resolve", said the anchors on the morning shows, that kept the world from ending. One point six billion to six - humanity wins against the Grim. "All thanks to the heroic actions of one Special Branch Police officer, our own Sgt. Anders." Bullshit.

Speaking of which, this meal tastes like shit. It's my last meal - curry, rice, fruit with whipped cream. A half-finished bottle of whiskey and a nice Havana for the finale. The curry burns my tongue, but I don't care. The whiskey goes down like water; I almost don't even taste it. Fuck the fruit and cream. I just want the cigar.

People would kill for my view. The whole of the Windy City is laid out like a 3D map from up here. Sixty floors below me, a boardwalk threads along the lake shore. I walked there before, when I was still alive.

Hell, I was there a week ago. There was blood on my pants then, not mine. It was still wet. And it was blood; not just errant spray from a wave. Yes, I had just saved the god damn world. I haven't been outside since.

Those people laughing in the hallway - yeah, them - they owe me one. I guess they know it, too. They just don't know that I'm in here, or they'd be in here yammering about how grateful they are. But they don't know, so they are going on down the hall now. It's crazy how quickly life goes on as if nothing happened.. The week before last, they were dropping like flies. I thought I was going to drop, myself.

Jeremy and Susan. What a normal pair of names. When you think about a pair of people dooming the world, they should have good Star Wars names, like Darth Destructinator, or Antichrist Version 2.0. What you don't expect is fucking Jeremy, or Susan.

I believe they named the kid Frank. Yeah, I know the name went out of fashion in the 20th century, but history does this looping thing, so now there are Franks again. I think I heard on the news that Hilda is coming back. That is a god awful name. But Frank is alright. It's not as horrible as, say, Bartholomew.

Frank was a pretty normal baby, from the looks of him. He took the usual potshot at the nurse as soon as he could, and got scrubbed and wrapped and cuddled - all the regular baby shit. Healthy lungs, too. He yelled bloody murder. When the doc collapsed, nobody looked twice at Frank; they were too busy calling obscure codes over the intercoms and screaming. It was no use.

From what the witnesses and the surveillance systems show, bloody Jeremy and Susan took Frank home, cuddling him the whole way. The video records show that Susan looked pretty happy, if tired as hell. Susan seemed more happy than Jeremy; I think the damn baby screaming was driving him nuts. The four car accidents and three pedestrian collapses as they drove past were obviously making it hard for Jeremy to pay attention to the road, too. You can't always hear things clearly on the surveillance videos, but the computerized lip reader told us he was swearing the whole drive back.

They got the kid home okay, though. Our tracking systems don't go into private homes without a warrant, so we don't know exactly what happened after that. We have the mother's testimony, in video. She says that they just fed the baby, got showered up, and went to bed.

Emergency Services says that the call came in around 5am. Susan sounds shaken in the call; her voice is choked up and she seems to be panicked. "Hurry! Please hurry!" she keeps repeating. That never makes things faster; the dispatcher has to figure out how to calm the fuckin' caller down enough to get useful info for the emergency guys. If they're even needed; some people will freak out at a cat scratch. Morons.

Anyway, they managed to calm Susan down enough to find out that Jeremy had collapsed. What happened? She swears it was nothing; the baby was crying, they both woke up to feed him, and Jeremy just dropped. She has tears in her eyes, and she looks angry.

It's kinda morbid, because I can imagine Jeremy dropping like a fly that just went near a bug zapper. I guess Susan wasn't thinking about that, though. It doesn't matter; by the time the emergency guys got there, Jeremy was, metaphorically speaking, extra crispy.

Autopsies later said nothing was wrong with him; some blood vessels were burst in his head, and he had apparently experienced a major heart attack. Shame to happen to a young man like that, but these things happen. You know? So they carted Jeremy out on a stretcher, and he was worm bait. Susan was standing at the door hugging Frank to her, and he was screaming bloody murder. Not too good for the kid's first day home.

Apparently Jeremy wasn't the only one busy dying. People were checking out all over the planet. By the morning, it was obvious that people were dying in Beijing, in Amsterdam and Sydney and Rio D. Not so many as here in the Windy, though. By noon the next day, the feds were all over the city. The computers had flagged us as the epicenter of a major health risk; we were the hole in a donut of dead people. The closer to us, the more dead people.

Computers are pretty good at detecting patterns, and by 3pm the machine was telling us that Memorial Hospital was the point of origin, and that god damned Susan and Jeremy's house was now the center of the - well, whatever it was.

The media were calling it a disease, and so were the feds. Only problem was, none of the flies actually had crispy wings - every one of the corpses were healthy, or enough so that they shouldn't have bought it. Not even fat-clogged arteries, many of them. Even at the department, Ignazy dropped; that son of a bitch was fit, and he had passed his physical not a week and a half before.

At first, the feds thought that the house was the cause. They evacuated Susan and Frank, took them to a shelter. Ran all kinds of tests, like the house was some kinda nuke hazard. They were wasting their time. The next morning, half that shelter didn't wake up This time, they evac'd Susan and Frank straight to a Disease Control laboratory.

Still took the feds a while to get it, but after two techs died trying to get a blood draw from the kid, I guess things clicked. It was definitely the kid. So Frank got stuck in an oxygen tent, with a couple of teddy bears for some soft and cuddly company. Nothing like mom, sure, but better than nothing, said the researchers. Yeah right; Frank screamed fucking bloody murder.

The 11 o'clock nightly news was on fire. I bet they haven't had ratings like that since the Kennedy assassination a century ago. "Demon Child Spreads Death" was the gist of it. Literally millions were dead; it was a massive disaster. One or two of the networks even ran photos of that kid and the old "Typhoid Mary" side by side. Me, I thought that was silly. Nobody could even say for sure if the kid had a disease. I did enjoy it, though, when the Channel 6 anchor dropped dead in the middle of his "We'll be right back" spiel. Always found him annoying.

Things were worse, more chaotic by the morning. People were dead in their cars, dead in their houses, dead walking down the street. I wasn't sure why I wasn't dead; I found myself getting my uniform on and dragging myself to headquarters as usual. Only this time, I had to try not to drag my feet too much. I could have tripped over bodies.

When I got in, there was a big meeting going on in the Special Branch ops room. Germain was leading the talk, as usual. I sneaked into the back row, trying to make it look like I'd been there all along, and checking my breath while hoping that I'd remembered to brush my fuckin' teeth.

"Even the father died," Germain was saying. "From what we can tell, the whole Disease Control lab are dead. People are dying everywhere, but proximity to the target just makes it faster." Whoa. Target? I wasn't sure I'd heard right.

"They even brought in two priests from Rome, tried to do an exorcism," Germain spat. "The bitches didn't even get to the 'power of Christ' part." He chuckled. "Now let's send in men instead of boys. I want a six-man team. Sanchez! Ericsson! Smith! Chan! Evans!" And then, of course, he looked at me. "Anders!" Fuck.

"What's the mission?" I asked, knowing that I probably wouldn't want anything to do with it if it was that "demon kid".

"We need this target neutralized. I already have clearance from the State Director; don't argue with it, just do it. And it needs to be a total burnout." He waved some papers at me. Clearance. Ass-covering.

A burnout, of course, mean that we were to shoot to kill, and then burn the corpse until nothing but ash remained. Great for erasing dissenters and maintaining order. Families hate it when there's nothing to identify. Now most families won't easily let you go and get into trouble in the first place. Great system. Anyway, orders are orders and I was ready to go. Just needed to know one thing. "What's the target, sir?"

"Any and all humans inside the Disease Control lab proper. I want them cooked."

My eyebrow wasn't the only one to aim at the ceiling, but you don't argue with Germain. Me and the other guys all went to the armory, equipped ourselves to the max, and headed onto the street. Chan was the team leader, so we all filed in along behind him. I tried not to think about who was in the lab.

When we got to the Disease Control laboratory gate, Evans dropped with a small cough and didn't get up. Both Ericsson and I tried to kick the fuck out of him, hoping he'd wake up, but no such luck. We both swore and kicked him one more time, just for not getting up.

Chan was already opening the lab doors. Sanchez and Ericsson went right at the first hallway, while Chan went straight, and Smith and I headed left.

There were a lot of bodies on the ground. The only live person we found on the left wing was Susan. Smith was interviewing her before I could react, already recording and making notes as she talked. I waited, weapons ready. I heard a baby crying somewhere.

When Smith was done interrogating Susan, he escorted her back to the gate. I followed. We waited there at the entrance, wondering where Chan, Sanchez, and Ericsson were. After fifteen minutes, Sanchez came back swearing. "Ericsson's dead."

Shit. Smith and I looked at each other, and as our eyes met, I watched his roll back into his skull as his knees buckled. The son of a bitch was down. Susan was screaming and Sanchez was muttering every vile word he knew. It was no use, though.

"Where's Chan?" Sanchez asked me. I didn't bother answering, just pulled a coin from a pocket and looked at him. "Heads," he said. I tossed; the bastard came up tails. I showed him the coin, and he nodded. "I've got her," he said, looking at Susan. He just stood there and watched me head in, looking relieved.

I walked straight back through the gate, taking the hall Chan had took earlier. White-garbed bodies were on the floor, arcane gear scattered everywhere. I kept expecting it, but there wasn't no blood. Okay, maybe a little, from the ones that had hit something sharp on their way to the ground, or smacked a nose into the wall or floor. Blood is not the worst thing, though. There was the smell of shit in the air. Great. "Chan?" I called.

No response, not that I really expected one. A quick check of a few side offices and then I was at the Lab itself. The damn baby crying was louder. Shit. I took a deep breath and walked through the door.

Chan was there, of course, on the ground. The baby was in an oxygen tent, screaming bloody murder. The little bastard probably just wanted food. I took a few steps over, then remembered my orders. "A total burnout." I took my weapons off safety, both the machine pistol and the incinerator, and walked around the other side of the tent. Nobody else was there. Well, no one alive, anyway.

I walked over to the tent and pulled back the curtains. "Sorry, orders are orders," I said to the kid. But I couldn't do it. That kid was just screaming, looking scared and hungry and probably wanting his mother outside. I started to switch the safety back on.

That was when it happened. The baby's head pointed in my direction. The scream built into a piercing noise, started to drill into my brain, and I panicked. I unloaded a magazine into that tent before I even thought about it.

So I'm a hero. Bullshit. I'd had the shit scared out of me, and I reacted without thinking. Courage? Try abject terror. Resolve? What about failure to maintain control of a trigger finger near a loaded weapon?

Oh, the dying stopped, of course. The second or third bullet crushed any nerves that would transmit a scream. The demon was exorcised. No more piercing noise. The feds said that the dying stopped around the world at the same moment that my weapon log says I pulled the trigger. But it was too late for me.

I remember stumbling out of the lab. I didn't do the burnout; I waved a thumb at Sanchez and he went in to do it for me. I was puking my guts out, and no way was I going back in. He came back out, awed. "Shit, man, a baby? I don't think I could do it. You saved our lives, man!" I'm pretty sure I punched him in the mouth.

I headed back to the department. I can't tell you what route I took; I don't remember. I don't even remember seeing people on the street, dead or alive. I could have gone home, I guess, but I was too stunned to do that. Susan was in the waiting room at the department; somebody had given her a blanket to wrap herself in since she couldn't go home. And by the look in her eyes, she'd heard. She was on me before I could move, fists and knees and teeth doing their best to maim me. I didn't feel a thing. I got forty-eight stitches. I went home in a cab.

I've been here since. A dead man doesn't care about credit or bank balances; I ordered room service when I remembered that I had to eat. Mostly, I stayed by the window, breathing fresh air. I tried to close it, but then I can't breathe; I feel dirty. And sleep isn't an option. If I close my eyes, I see bullets tearing into a fuckin' baby. A baby, man.

The news people are at it again. "Anders, the hero who ended the..." "Anders, the man who.." They have a picture of me from the department. I look important, uniformed like that. Those gulls outside, flying around - they look cleaner than I do when I look in the mirror. And those bitches are dirty gray.

I pull the screen out from the window and sit up on the ledge, feeling my feet dangle as I look at the ocean. I try to rub my skin, make it feel cleaner, but nothing happens. The water looks refreshing. The gulls are almost white, and the sunlight is clean. I take a deep breath and leap, flying like the gulls. I am the final casualty.