By Seun Odukoya
The man stopped to take in his surroundings.
He had been crawling, walking and running through the undergrowth for most of the afternoon and early evening. Now, his destination was minutes away – and he had run out of brush.
The next few minutes would be the most dangerous.
Crouching under the overhang of what was left of the Third Mainland Bridge, as it used to be called, he peered at the lone highway. The lights from the checkpoint winked and shimmered and he shuddered as he imagined the police standing there with their charge rods and body armor on the lookout for anyone who didn’t belong in New Lagos.
Outlanders. Like him.
The Mainland had become an abandoned wasteland as government after government insisted on relocating everything worth anything to New Lagos, formerly known as Victoria Island. Anyone who could afford it had bought property on the Island and moved – while the not-so-lucky ones had been left behind.
And when the sickness hit, there was no defense.
The man looked back the way he came. Mile after mile of forest, of sand and dust unrolled before his eyes. He hunkered down behind a small shrub and wrapped his scarf tighter across his nose and mouth before opening the dirty brown satchel that hung from his shoulder and pulling a wrapped parcel from it.
He squinted towards the highway, trying to pierce the rapidly-descending curtain of darkness. There was no movement – the police remained as they were, lights throwing red and blue patterns for miles around.
Good, the man nodded.
And then, crawling forward, he chose a spot hidden from casual eyes and unwrapped the parcel. The object inside was flat, sleek and shiny – it’s appearance in total contrast to the man holding it. He turned it over, looking over it carefully for any scratches and dents. Finding nothing, he turned it on.
“GOOD EVENI – “ the automated voice response started to say before the man’s scrambling finger pushed the mute button. He hurriedly crawled back to the edge of the bridge to look around.
Breathing heavily, he returned and whispered harshly to the device: “Show aerial view of the New Lagos Highway.”
Within seconds, a 3D hologram of his request rose from the screen. A small blinking blue dot showed where he was, and he looked carefully at the location of the security, taking extra notice of the 30-foot electrified wall.
“Show lower level.”
Decades before, around 2005 or so, Victoria Island had existed under the constant threat of floods. An intricate anti-flood waterworks had been built miles under the island for emergency flushing, but after the system failed, the government had simply filled in the surrounding water, pushing the ocean back towards the mainland.
The waterworks system was still there, intact, but he wasn’t sure if it was guarded or not. The original blueprints had been destroyed in one of the series of floods – along with plenty other things – and none of the builders were alive.
The man nodded and inhaled deeply. And then, with a slightly trembling voice he said, “Call Ayoka.”
The 3D image dissolved as his nine year old daughter’s face appeared on the screen – at least what she had looked like before the sickness had gotten to her. The same sickness had killed 30 million people within the first week of infection – sweeping the landscape like a vengeful angel – and then moved on, leaving behind dying strains that were uninfectious but deadly to their hosts.
Like his daughter.
“Where are you, papa?”
The man wiped his eyes of tears and smiled. “I’m at work, baby girl. But I’ll be home soon. How are you feeling?”
The little girl smiled bravely. “I’m just weak – but Aunty Salome said you are bringing something to make me feel better.”
“Yes, I am. So wait for me, okay?”
“Okay, pa – “
The loud humming of a moving vehicle drowned out her voice and quickly he powered down the tablet. The hum was coming from his left – from the highway, and it was heading towards the checkpoint.
Without hesitation he broke cover and ran towards the wall, keeping the checkpoint to his right as he moved. There was an abandoned swamp far enough from the wall to be ignored, but close enough to get someone who knew where he was going to the first of the access hatches.
That was his target.
Suddenly, the wall lights came on.
He was well out of their range, but the unexpectedness of it put a stumble in his stride – and he hit the ground hard. His loud “OOF!” and the clatter of stuff in his satchel alerted a policeman.
“Who goes there?” came the challenge.
The man crawled quickly until he was curled up against the highway wall. Looking up, he hoped he hadn’t been spotted. His heart was thumping, he was sweating –
And then, another light came on. This time, from the highway.
The man swallowed and held his breath as the narrow beam of light came closer. He started to scramble backwards, trying to part concrete with his bare hands –
And then his scratching hand sank into something and came up wet.
He had found the swamp.
“Nurse Ella, how is our patient?” the doctor asked the nurse as they made their way past the supply room.
Once they passed, a figure wearing a white lab coat quickly crossed the hallway and entered the room. The figure moved quickly along the shelves, stopping in front of one that held an endless row of vials of glowing blue liquid.
The cure for the sickness.
The man took one of the vials and smiled.
His daughter would live.