Careen Catecher was just a few steps from the front door of the history building when a wave of panicked students poured out, driving her back into the quad. Someone’s backpack knocked her coffee mug out of her hand, and a guy she didn’t know grabbed her roughly by the elbow and spun her around without breaking stride, dragging her with him as he ran. “Come on! Didn’t you hear? We’re supposed to go to the Student Center.”
“Why? What’s happening?”
The first wail of the disaster siren drowned out his answer, and she cringed as they fled across campus in the growing stampede, thinking in a detached way that she’d picked the wrong day to be late for class.
A frightened crowd gathered outside the university’s student center, pressing toward the doors and shouting over the siren. Careen fought to keep her balance in the undulating mob. The shrieking siren cut off abruptly, and in the unnerving silence, phones all around her pinged with incoming messages. She dug hers out of her back pocket.
“Campus alert. Shut up--it’s a campus alert.” The murmurs spread and seemed to calm the crowd. Hundreds of phones played the voice message in near-unison, magnifying the audio so it was easily heard:
“The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense confirmed that a chemical weapons attack against the United States is imminent. Terrorists have released a latent cocktail of poisons into the atmosphere, where it can remain, inert, until such time as they choose to detonate it. You are directed to report to a designated distribution center in your area to receive an antidote that will protect you. Weekly allotments of this antidote will be provided free of charge for as long as the threat persists. The OCSD expects the terrorists to mount repeated attacks, so it is essential that you take the recommended daily dosage. Compliance is a small price to pay for your safety.”
Every face turned toward the cloudless, blue sky as someone’s sobs cut through the silence.
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