Eduardo watched as a postal worker parked his truck, slipped the keys into his jacket pocket, and headed toward the distribution center. That guy’s shaped more like me—XXL. Eduardo quickly memorized the truck’s location and followed the man into a locker room. The man tossed his jacket on a bench and Eduardo laid his beside it, then bent and fumbled with his shoelace.
“You gonna show up for work tomorrow?” another man asked quietly as he approached Eduardo’s target, who responded with a disinterested shrug.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?”
“Didn’t you hear, man? The antidote was poisoned—and it killed the OCSD director! If the terrorists got to him, what chance do we have? Lots of postal carriers called in sick tonight. They don’t want to be involved if this batch turns out to be poisoned, too. Management called in every sub, and we still got trucks with no drivers.”
“I gotta feed my family, so I’ll do my job. Whether or not people take the antidote after I deliver it is none of my business.”
Eduardo shrugged into the other man’s jacket and headed toward the door without looking back. He pushed quickly through the doorway, his hand closed around the keys in the pocket, but stopped short as he approached the parking lot. Flashlight beams pinpointed the locations of the marshals who were swarming through the rows of vehicles that separated him from Tommy and Careen’s hiding place. Eduardo ducked inside the warehouse to regroup and stared with horrified fascination at the scene before him. Scores of workers sorted little white boxes onto conveyor belts, where they were bagged and made ready for distribution to post offices in different quadrants. Seeing so much CSD in one place made him feel slightly sick—and more than slightly angry. He was ashamed to have been so completely taken in by the OCSD’s lies. He’d believed that CSD was supposed to protect people; all the while he’d been unknowingly taking the government-worker placebo, doing his job free of the debilitating effects of the drug. That had worked until—driven by his fear of the airborne toxins—he’d stolen a bottle from his mailbag. Under the influence of the real CSD, he’d had crazy hallucinations.
Someone bumped against his shoulder and he jumped, startled out of his thoughts. A group of about fifty men and women walked past him into the warehouse and approached the assembly line. Someone pulled the emergency lever and the conveyor belts jerked to a halt. The employees looked around, confused.
A man jumped up on the conveyor belt and spoke through a bullhorn. “If you knowingly deliver poison into the hands of innocent people, you're no better than the terrorists. Since we're the ones who’ll have to deliver those boxes to people’s homes, we’ve decided not to take any chances. We’re taking over and shutting this down. Nothing’s leaving this distribution center tonight.”
“We’ll get fired if we let you shut us down,” someone shouted back.
“How can anyone be sure it’s safe? Even the guy who developed the antidote didn’t know he had a bad dose. It’s too big a risk.”
The crowd erupted.
“We have to deliver it. People need it. For their safety.”
“We’re all screwed no matter what!”
“The chemical weapons won’t hurt us as long as we have the antidote, so now the terrorists have infiltrated the OCSD and poisoned the stuff that’s supposed to keep us safe.”
“Maybe that’s just what they want you to think, so when you don’t take your antidote, bam! They’ve got you where they want you.”
The shouting grew louder, and Eduardo was drawn toward the crowd in spite of himself. Some of the distribution employees grabbed loaded bags and ran toward the loading docks, but the protesting postal carriers blocked them, wrestling the bags away. People in the crowd began to shove like they were in a mosh pit, and some of the sorters scrambled up on the conveyor belts, sending little white boxes skidding across the floor.
Then a gunshot echoed in the cavernous space and everyone froze. A squad of quadrant marshals stood at attention in an open loading bay, and Eduardo’s heart sank, knowing this little coup would have gone on uninterrupted if the QM hadn’t been following him. When their commander spoke, his voice carried so well he didn’t need a bullhorn. “All right, everyone, fun’s over. Clean up this mess. You’ll distribute that CSD and deliver it just like always.”
“But what if it’s poisoned?” It was the worried man from the locker room.
The commander looked exasperated. “It’s not your job to ask stupid questions. It’s your job to deliver the antidote until someone tells you to stop.”
Eduardo’s voice rose above the babble of protest. “Here’s a stupid question for you: are you gonna take your dose tomorrow, Commander?” The commander scanned the crowd to see who had spoken, but Eduardo didn’t try to hide. When the commander looked away, he threw one of the boxes and struck him on the back. The commander whipped around angrily and signaled his squad of marshals to attack. They were outnumbered by at least four to one, but they didn’t hesitate to charge the unarmed postal employees who, taken aback, used the bulky canvas bags like shields against the marshals’ nightsticks.
Eduardo pushed and shoved his way through the melee, elbowing one of the marshals in the face as he went. Soon he broke clear and charged out the door toward the now-silent parking lot.
Eduardo claimed the new mail truck, glad to be atoning for his past mistakes. He never realized that embracing danger could make him feel so alive.
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