The March

The WestCiv militias were impatient and forced a start to the operation before the National Guard was ready. They started moving south in jeeps, school buses, and pickup trucks, hooting and howling as they blitzed for several miles then came to a complete stop and waited for the National Guard to move out. The WestCivvies filmed it all, oblivious to the buffoonery of their hooting and the absurdity as jacked up pickup trucks sporting machine guns got stuck in traffic, men unaccustomed to four wheel drive ran jeeps into ditches, and sedentary fascists got red-faced and sweaty just from driving with the windows down in the South Florida heat.

The very same day, West Florida went dark. By sunset, the Everglades were red. The bacteria had arrived. Whether by ignorance or recklessness, the WestCiv militias continued to push south. Rumors began spreading that the WestCivvies had weaponized the bacteria and were using it, evidenced by their complete disregard for their own safety as they moved dangerously close to the reddened Everglades.

The bacteria had stopped. The Everglades, the massive preserve of tropical wetland that encompassed most of South Florida and gave precious water, wildlife, and farmland, had halted the aerial spread. Rainforests, swamps, marshes, and bogs were slowing down the rapidly moving red clouds around the country, almost sucking them in and preventing it from spreading. It did not prevent wildlife from getting infected and fleeing. They ran out into the streets thrashing and flailing wildly as they burned from the inside and slowly succumbed, only to have their corpses continue to writhe and thrash after death. People ran over the corpses with their cars and smeared the bacteria on their tires and let it loose once more.

Marlowe had ordered all the classrooms emptied of desks and furniture and converted to makeshift medical rooms. Most of the classrooms could fit barely one or two beds. Others had to have walls torn down between them to be usable. Some doors were removed and replaced with airtight metal doors which proceeded to grind the floor tiles to powder. The rest of the doors just had duct tape applied to the edges when the infected were brought in. Reports were that the Red Death Cloud had arrived in Florida but was somehow being slowed or stopped by the Everglades.

People had been brought in a week early. At first it was people from further out west and south needing refuge after their homes were overrun and behind enemy lines. Then there was a brief panic as the first signs of infection began to appear. Most of the refugees fled the neighborhood while it was discovered that these newly infected people were not as contagious as the others had been. Many of the refugees came back, especially as news traveled of the WestCiv/National Guard offensive moving south towards them.

Then one day Marlowe got an e-mail telling her O5-11 was coming to interview her directly. She spent the entire morning in a panic, waiting for the arrival of an MTF to secure the site, an armed escort to whisk her out into a black helicopter to take her to some subterranean compound nearby where she'd speak to a shadowed figure at the end of an imposing desk in a darkened room filled with glowing computer terminals and maps decorated with light patterns significant only to the O5 Council.

She was in her own office when it happened. A text was sent to her phone, "Make ready for 11". Half an hour later the door opened. It was a young woman, about Marlowe's age, dressed in a gray sweatshirt and jeans. She had reddish-blonde hair and big blue eyes and a ready smile on her pale and pasty face.

"Are you O5-11?" Marlowe asked.

"Yeah." She chirped, shutting the door behind her and taking a seat across Marlowe's desk from her. She even reached out a hand to Marlowe for her to shake. No pomp or technocratic security protocols. Dr. Marlowe had only this woman's word that she was who she said she was.

She sat in the chair and turned it slightly so she was facing away from Marlowe, looking just slightly to her side. She crossed her legs and placed a cell phone on the desk, nudging it over to Marlowe. Marlowe glanced at it. A text was on screen. Something about wolves? And some numbers?

"If you could, please? Foundation portal, SCiPNet?"

Marlowe looked again at the phone, then suddenly understood. She turned to her computer and opened up the Foundation intranet browser. It took longer than usual to establish an encrypted tunnel due to the loss of internet in the area; they had to rely on satellite internet. Once the browser opened up to its normal login page the woman across from her reached over to press her fingers on the keyboard, holding down four keys at once.

"Click 'login'."

Marlowe clicked it and was taken to a new login page. This one had only a single text box.

"Type in what's on the phone."

Marlowe did so, pausing only to ask the woman if some digits were the letter "O" or the number "0". Then it logged her in immediately and took her to a new page she'd never seen before. It was a web portal, but not the one for Level 3 personnel like her. This had to be the highest possible security clearance.

"Click anywhere on the page and take your hands off the keyboard." The woman said politely as she took her cell phone back. It started to vibrate angrily with text messages she swiftly responded to, then pocketed the phone. Marlowe's screen blurred and a speaker icon appeared in the center of the screen.

"I'm going to record this conversation. Is that okay with you?" The woman, O5-11, asked.

"Do I have a choice?" Marlowe asked numbly, gripping the edge of her desk anxiously.

O5-11 laughed, "Of course you do. This is just for my own reference later on. I just want you to be aware you're being recorded and that nothing you say in here to me will be in any way held against you or shown to anyone else. Nothing except the matters at hand."

Marlowe nodded and hesitantly drew her hands away from the desk and into her lap, "What do you want to know?"

"Between Asia and Florida what's changed?"

Marlowe furrowed her brow at the woman. Was it O5 policy to be broad or was she probing her for some hidden information? She shrugged and looked down at her desk, conjuring up as many basics as she could, "Everything we gleaned from Asia, Australia, and the West Coast was that the bacteria was quick and brutally efficient. Almost merciful in how quickly it spread and killed. But something's happened to it somewhere along the way. It's no longer airborne—- or rather, as airborne as it was. The infected aren't burning up as fast as they used to. Not as much thrashing and flailing. Instead they're mostly sick and weary, high fever, vomiting, internal bleeding, diarrhea, dehydration. But they're alive. Some of the first infected we've taken in are still alive right now. We don't know how much longer or how quickly they'd die without treatment."

"What are your working theories?"

Again she shrugged, eyes darting between her desk and the woman's pasty face glancing just off to the side as if facing someone behind Marlowe and to her left, "There's nothing particularly different in terms of our climate or humidity that isn't similar in much of Southeast Asia. Logically there'd have to be semi-functioning communities there with infected living for days or even weeks. It might be the extreme humidity is slowing it down. Other people would probably know more about that than I would."

"Are personnel here at risk of infection or have they been immunized?"

"Uh… There is still some risk of infection but the slowdown has allowed medical personnel to do their work without full body hazmat suits. We've been testing immunizations on D-Class personnel and up until last week we were sharing information with Site-4502 and coordinating vaccine progress. Some of our personnel are going to be immunized starting tomorrow."

"How many people can this building safely contain?"

"I think maybe about three thousand. Three thousand five hundred. A lot of areas are open areas so there's a lot of space that isn't actually secured. Predominantly hallways between the major buildings. The major um, there are separate buildings all connected to each other but we're in the main building right now. That number includes all the sub-units, too. This building alone would probably hold just over one thousand."

O5-11 was barely moving, hands placed in her own lap and voice smooth and affectless. "If you eject the civilian infected how much of your site staff would you be able to contain on-site?"

"Uh, all of them? I don't have that many people under my purview so there'd be enough space for them and the civilian infected. The main problem would be recalling everyone as they're kind of spread out around the city."

"In this building alone or the whole campus?"

"This building alone. Are you planning on evacuating personnel to this building?"

The woman's eyes seemed to flash and her lips spread in a little smirk, "You don't evacuate people, you evacuate locations. We see no need to start congregating personnel in a single location in the midst of a warzone at this time. Things might change in the weeks ahead."

Marlowe quirked a brow at her, "Do you think we have weeks?"

The woman smiled again and looked directly at her, "What do you think?" She asked earnestly.

"I'm just the Site Director here, I don't know about infectious diseases. My area of expertise is space-time, spatial, visual, cognitohazardous anomalies."

"Which is why you were perfectly placed here. Don't worry about the bacteria, it's being handled."

"I, uh," Marlowe hesitated and tensed up as the woman looked directly at her again.

"Go on."

"You haven't asked me anything about Anabasis."

"Do you have anything to say about it? Keep in mind I've read all the reports filed. Lots of confusion. It seems like your staff knows very little about it. One or two have been babying it like it was precious to them. I hope you haven't been telling them it's our last hope. There are no deus ex machinae in the real world. The way out of this mess is a long grind, and a lot of us won't make it. I might not make it."

Marlowe had known deep inside that the Anabasis was a dead end. The testing had been constantly giving inconsistent results. It seemed to contradict its own 'rules', oftentimes showing preference to whichever universe it was occupying, only to then disappear into another. They would have lost it altogether if it didn't come back on its own. A D-Class had supposedly figured out that the settings had to be reset before it was powered down in order to make the merging permanent otherwise it would snap back. She hadn't been willing to risk losing the Anabasis altogether testing that theory.

"…indicated if they were going to evacuate to a different universe, then the evacuees would be limited to the 3,000 or so they crammed into this school building." O5-11 had been continuing on while Marlowe's thoughts wandered, "We're not saving the entire world with this thing. If it's a last hope failsafe, it's only going to be for top level Foundation personnel and anything like that is days away from even being discussed. Weeks away from being implemented."

"I know, I just…" She sighed, "I thought you were coming here to like, make evacuation plans for the O5 Council and top level researchers and site directors to come here and get them all out."

"If and when it comes to that, I promise you will be informed of that." The woman rose to her feet, "Until that time, just stay the course. Yours isn't the only site we have working on this so we're making good progress on a vaccine. These things normally take years so we're very lucky. Just stay the course."

"What about outside of the school?" Marlowe perked up a bit, "The device's range stretches at least up to a mile. We don't need to cluster everyone into the school building unless we plan on taking a chunk of the neighborhood with us."

The woman shook her head, "We lost access to Turkey Point so you're not going to have enough energy to fire at max strength. Not unless you want to risk a few thousand people sustaining some coherency issues. If the time comes… Better to save a thousand of us fully intact than five thousand of us in ten thousand pieces. Restart your computer, please."

Marlowe glanced over at her computer screen. After a moment the blurred icon went away and she went over to close all the windows, disconnect from SCiPNet, and restart her computer. Once it was booting back up the woman smiled and turned to leave. Marlowe huffed and sat back in her chair, looking around her office aimlessly. All the words had been put together properly but something about O5-11's questions and demeanor left her feeling uncertain as to who she was talking to and why. She wasn't entirely sure that was the actual O5-11. It wasn't completely out there to suspect an O5 would send a decoy in their stead, but why so low key? And why to probe for basic information that could've been covered in a secure phone call or e-mail?

Marlowe stepped out of her office and into the frenzy of movement and noise unlike that she had grown accustomed to over the past year. Voices were deeper and more urgent and there were no silent periods punctuated by the ringing of bells. Everyone around her seemed to know what to do and moved briskly from task to task, calling out to one another and confirming status reports, treatments, patients' responses to the experimental vaccinations. All she found herself doing was walking in circles around the school, occasionally pausing to look into a room or direct someone to someone else.

She found herself in a hallway near the southernmost staircase with Locke standing at the bottom of the stairwell looking back at her. She approached her and frowned.

"Where do you need me?" Locke asked flatly.

Marlowe started to respond, then noticed how the other woman looked. She was paler than usual, stiff and unmoving and expressionless. Her fingers were straining and tensing. Marlowe shook her head, "You don't look like you're up to dealing with patients. Just go out front and control the crowd."

Locke nodded and moved away. Marlowe couldn't remember a time where a simple interaction with Priscilla Locke went as quickly and without backtalk thick with sarcasm or contempt. She actually found a subdued and compliant Locke to be very unpleasant.

She turned her head and saw Edgars coming toward her. He was the same as ever, agitated and world weary all at once, a mass of big dumb muscle with a mind finely tuned for math and physics. Started out as a mud-lover, got himself dirty in one of the less reputable Mobile Task Forces until someone noticed his skills were being wasted and got him reassigned to her.

"Locke?" He asked.


"She causing problems?"

"No." She looked him over, confused. What was his problem all of a sudden? He turned and left without another word. Her instincts told her he was going to start causing problems. She turned and went after Locke, finding her standing on top of the steps in front of the school looking over the small crowd bunched up against the security cordon set up around the entrance.

"Hey," Marlowe said to Locke, awkwardly nudging her shoulder with her knuckles, "Maybe you should head home."

Locke nodded without looking at her and went back inside to get her things. Marlowe went back to her office. She opened up the big binder full of Anabasis testing data and skimmed through them. Then she turned to her computer and started to draw up plans to recall everyone to the site by the end of the month. She was tired of waiting for a miracle. If nothing changed until May, she was going to use the Anabasis.

Aurianne dropped down into the chair next to Locke, who was splayed out on her couch. Locke glanced up at her, not moving.

"You were right…" Aurianne said in a strained voice, hand close to her mouth as she suppressed a cough, then went on, "I probably should've brought a mask or something. I knocked over a pile of boxes down there. I could barely breathe. Giant clods of like, thick stringy dusty bullshit floating everywhere."

"What about the room?"

Aurianne wheezed and shook her head, "I couldn't get it open all the way. You're right, it does smell kind of like the room we found Annie in. But that doesn't mean anything."

"You're calling it 'Annie' now?"

"I don't know. I guess."

"What did you see?"

She shrugged, "I shined a flashlight in there. It's kind of hard to describe. Like… they stacked some shelves on the far side of the room, then I think maybe put a wooden board on top of them and stacked some more junk on top of the board? Then the board rotted and cracked and all the junk on top of it came pouring down. I didn't go in, I couldn't fit. You would have to crouch to get under it and inside. But there was nothing else in there. No corpses. Does that satisfy your curiosity?"

Locke pouted up at her, "You were the one freaking out over my dream, wanting it to be real!"

"And you're the one who came up the steps shaking in your boots about how it was just like the room. 'The room', you were whining, 'Anabasis room!'"

"It just shocked me. I wasn't expecting it. It was like, the exact same smell."

"At first maybe, but not exactly the same." Aurianne slowly rose up out of the chair and glanced down at Locke. She stared for a long moment down at her. She was starting to tense up and fidget.

"Listen… I'm leaving."

Locke looked up at her.

"I've requested re-assignment to Tennessee. Marlowe's okay with it. Some high ranking admin came by earlier today so I have a chance to tag along with them. I haven't heard from my family in a while so I want to just go up there and…"

Locke nodded and looked away.

"I'm not abandoning you."

Locke reached up with a hand, "I know."

Aurianne took her hand and Locke pulled her in. She tensed as Aurianne knelt down to her level. They kissed. Aurianne winced and pulled away. Tears were welling in her eyes.

"I know you don't feel the same way towards me," Aurianne grimaced and wiped at her eyes, "I'm okay with that."

Locke nodded again, face burning red.

"I get the very distinct feeling we will never see each other again. I know it's cliche and you already know but it's worth saying out loud at least once. I love you, Priss. You've been more than just my best friend. You've been… the highlight of my life for the last 9 years. I only regret I won't be here with you at the end. But my family, you know…"

Locke nodded again, unable to see anything as tears pooled in her own eyes.

"I know this won't end well for me. But I can't just up and leave this world— this universe, whatever, find another universe to flee to and make a new life there. I can't do that. I've got family here. Brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews. I made my life here and I lived it how I wanted. This is my world and I'm going to die in it."

Locke closed her eyes, turning over to press her face into the couch cushion, unable to stop the flood of tears.

"That dream you had, maybe we interpreted it wrong. Maybe you are from this world, but you don't belong to it. You don't belong here. You should go when you get the chance. Leave and find a better world for yourself. Maybe see your sister again, or some other version of her. Or just start anew. A clean slate. You deserve it. Of everyone I've known and worked with, you of all people deserve it."

Aurianne turned to the door and quietly made her way out. She glanced back at Locke for a long moment. She couldn't think of anything else to say, so she turned and left.

Priscilla Locke checked her e-mail again, refreshing the page every hour or so waiting for a new response from her uncle in D.C, Otis Umber. The last message had been nearly a month ago. She sighed and refreshed again. At some point she would send a response but for now she couldn't do anything. She didn't feel up to reaching out to anyone for any reason. She'd spent hours sobbing, blacking out, waking up and sobbing some more. She was thoroughly drained. She hadn't moved from the couch in hours. It was the perfect mood to be in when someone came knocking at her door and didn't stop for several irritating minutes.

She dragged herself up to the door to answer it. It was the UIU woman, Fatima Cortes, in a tanktop and dress pants, with a small backpack hanging off one arm. She was slightly sweaty and had what looked to be dried blood along her temples. She handed the backpack to Locke.

"The FBI's left the city and headed north. UIU isn't responding to my calls and they abandoned the field office. No one seemed to care about Rhiannon Locke's case except for me and I didn't get too much information." She nodded to the backpack, "I'm giving it to you. That's the original case file they gave me. I also included a tape recorder with some of my own notes and an external hard drive with some other files and video and audio. Maybe the Foundation can do something with all of it when this is over."

Locke stared down at her as she turned and headed down the steps. Her car was almost on the sidewalk. Locke called out to her, "You're leaving?"

She turned to look back at Locke, "There's nothing left for me here! You should leave while you still can!" She called back, then got into her car and drove off.

What difference would it make where I'd go? Locke thought to herself, setting the backpack down on the couch and rifling through it with one hand. The only options were death by anomalous bacteria or death by gunfire. She took out the contents of the backpack and set them down on the coffee table. A case file, thick as a book. She set the hard drive down and connected it to her laptop. Fats had thoughtfully included the USB wire with it. She looked through the case file idly while waiting for her laptop to read the hard drive. Like she'd suspected, the cops had been watching Rhiannon, though not for as long as Locke had initially suspected. There was nothing new in it. All it was was keeping tabs on Rhiannon in the days leading up to Key Biscayne, the night she disappeared. Some of the pages had writing indentations in them, purposefully placed, possibly written on sticky notes attached to the pages but since removed.

She sighed in frustration and glanced up at the computer screen. The hard drive was empty. 128 gigabytes, all free.

"The stupid fuck." She snarled and took out the tape recorder, rewinding the tape and playing it back. It was empty. No sound for several minutes. She fast forwarded a few times. Nothing. The tape was blank.

"The stupid fucking fuck. What the fuck?" She dropped back onto her couch and kicked away the empty backpack. Pain twisted in her legs again and she started coughing from acid reflux. She sat back up after the coughing fit and tried the hard drive again. 128 gigabytes free, none used. Then she flipped over the tape and tried playing it again. She let it play uninterrupted for half an hour. Complete silence.

She looked back over at the case files and spent the night reading through them. She passed out and dreamed she was still reading them. In her dream, the files told a fantastical story of Rhiannon Locke leading police on a wild chase through the state, culminating in a dramatic stand-off and arrest, after which Rhiannon was taken into custody only to never be heard from again. She imagined in her dream that the Foundation had somehow gotten to her and she woke up anticipating a call from Marlowe inviting her to come talk to her sister, who'd been whisked away and contained in a Foundation black site just for her.

She sighed and looked over at the case files again. It had just been a dream. The case file on Rhiannon Locke was over 400 pages with plenty of repetition and wild tangents with only the faintest connection to her or her cult. The timeline of Rhiannon Locke's existence seemed to end with Key Biscayne, over seven months ago.

She picked up the tape recorder and looked it over. She fast forwarded the tape a few times, checking to see if it was truly empty on both sides. Then she rewound it to the beginning and hit record. After a few minutes she played it back. It played back the background noise in her living room, along with the steady hum of the air conditioner. She touched it to her chin and recorded again, "Status report… Might fuck around and… visit another world. What would I do if I found my sister, another version of her? What would I say? I don't know. I never had much to say to begin with."

She played it back. It played back her voice. She frowned. The recording was deeper than her voice usually was and the vocal fry irritated her to hear reflected at higher volume. All at once ideas started flooding into her mind. She went back to the laptop and started to copy files onto the external hard drive.


Traffic had nearly shut down as everyone who could flee was fleeing north. The fascist WestCivvies who had come barrelling out of the city of Fort Lauderdale were now clumsily acting as a security checkpoint. What they were checking for depended entirely on the flabby in-over-his-head WestCiv guy made to stand out in the heat and stop every car. The checkpoints did little to stop people from going around, especially as the WestCivvies had apparently forgotten about the Turnpike and left it "undefended". The backlog wasn't any better there. At some point the WestCivvies stopped stopping people but the damage was already done.

Fats tried taking Route 27, which went straight northwest through Hialeah, as far as she could with the traffic as it was. Then she stopped off at a gas station for a map and began to navigate the back roads past the airport. People were flooding into the airport even though all flights had been cancelled days before. She parked there and slept in her car overnight. When she headed back out she realized most of the cars stalling traffic were simply abandoned. She forcibly pushed some aside with her own and kept going northwest.

She managed to make her way out far beyond the city, continuing north on 27. Cars were abandoned by the side of the road every few miles but the highway was otherwise barren. She realized right away why that was; the Everglades were red. It looked like bright red snow, or more accurately ash, was covering the vegetation as far as she could see. The skies were clear but every so often she saw a strong enough gust of wind dislodge some of the red from a tree or two and the red dust would spill out onto the road. That had to be the "Red Death" cloud. She shut off her car's air conditioning and sealed the vents, then fished out a gas mask she had pilfered from the FBI-UIU office before leaving and pulled it on over her face. She had no way of knowing if it would work but the illusion of safety at least calmed her nerves enough to keep driving.


The highway was seemingly endless and she could see no other cars driving either way. She stopped in the road as darkness fell and awoke late the next morning, her and her car undisturbed. She rushed out of the car to refuel it with one of the gas cans in her back seat. She couldn't hear anything in the Everglades. No birds or insects calling, no city noise or cars from the east. She got back in and kept driving.

Hours passed and she was still driving. She squeezed her eyes shut every few minutes as her eyes began to strain and her legs cramped in the seat. She opened her eyes one last time and she was standing on the side of the road, walking. Her car was behind her and smoking. She kept walking, her legs tired and body numb. Someone was standing several yards ahead of her by the side of the road, apparently trying to make a call on their cell phone. It took what felt like an hour for her to reach them.

"Oy." The man said in a thick accent as she got close, turning to look down at his phone again, then looking back at her as she kept coming closer, "Your car broke down?"

"I don't know." She replied wearily. She felt suddenly dizzy.

"You lost then? Need to call someone?" He indicated his phone.


"Right, then, suit yourself." The man went back to looking down at his phone, "The name's Marvin, by the way."

"Okay." She mumbled.

"Think you might be knackered from all the walking. You better sit down before you fall."

"Okay." She mumbled again and dropped onto the grass beside the road. A small cloud of red puffed around her and she sighed.

"You should breathe." Marvin said casually.


"Take that thing off."

"Okay." She mumbled and put her hand on the gas mask, wiggling it about until she figured out how to push it up off her face and let it drop away. The sky was cloudless but the sun had gone somewhere. It was not yet noon the last she checked but the highway was dim and gray.


"Now just go on and breathe. Slowly, you don't want to burn your sinuses."

"Okay." She slurred, head nodding as she struggled to stay upright. She breathed in deeply and felt a sudden rush of energy go through her.

"Breathe us in. Slowly." Marvin was saying over and over. He hadn't moved from the side of the road nor looked up from his phone. Each breath Fats took gave her just enough of a jolt to keep her conscious but she could tell she wasn't going to make it. She had to breathe faster or she'd black out.

"Oooay." She whispered and fell back into the grass, her vision getting blurry and red.

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