Authors: James Harden
The Sixth Level
By James Harden
Book 2 in The Secret Apocalypse series
Sixth Level - Definitions:
1. World Health Organization – Phase 6 Pandemic Alert
- Increased and sustained transmission of virus in general population.
- Community level outbreaks on a global scale.
2. The Divine Comedy – Inferno, The Sixth Level of Hell
Within this region is the cemetery
of all those who say the soul dies with the body.
- Dante Alighieri
My mother once told me that this ritual represents the death, burial and resurrection of a person. When you go into the water this is the death and burial of your old sinful life. When you come out of the water it’s the resurrection of your new life.
I don’t know why I'm thinking about this. Maybe I feel like I’ve changed. Maybe I feel like I've died and resurrected.
This past month has been so exhausting, emotionally and physically. So much has happened in such a short amount of time. It feels like forever ago I gave the globally televised interview in that ridiculous penthouse suite in Los Angeles. The interview that was supposed to be an exclusive 'tell all'. What a joke.
It was two days after the interview and I found myself alone and desperate. The penthouse suite I’d been staying in, the suite where I gave the interview was now empty.
There was no television crew, no producer, no award winning journalist.
It was just me and a laptop and a webcam.
I looked at the tiny square image of myself on the computer screen but I barely recognized the girl staring back. She had short, shaved hair and sunken eyes from lack of sleep. I ran my hand over my scalp and tried not to think about how I cried like a little girl when they shaved it off in that lonely quarantine facility in New Zealand.
When I think about how I acted, I feel guilty and ashamed that I cried over losing my hair. It seems so insignificant. People lost so much more than that.
I guess I was lucky to be back in civilization at that point in time. I was far away from the hellish apocalypse that had consumed Sydney and the rest of Australia. I was a refugee in Los Angeles; the city of angels, one of the largest cities in the world.
Home to millions of people.
But I’d never felt so alone. Not even when my father disappeared in the mountains of Afghanistan.
So it had been two days since I gave the globally televised interview. Two days since I heard Kenji’s voice on the radio transmission, telling whoever was listening that they were not infected, that they were hiding in the middle of Sydney. T
hat Maria was with him and she was immune.
I couldn’t get his voice out of my head. It was full of fear and desperation. It was a never-ending echo in my mind.
After I heard that transmission I wanted to go back. I wanted to jump right back into the fire. It wasn't like I thought I could save them and be a hero. I just thought I should be there with them, come what may. I wanted to face whatever evils were lurking in that city and I wanted to face them together. If we died, we died.
I tried to bargain with the powers to be to let me in on whatever rescue mission they were planning, if they were even planning one at all. But they denied me. Of course they did. Who in their right mind would let a sixteen year old girl into an apocalyptic war zone?
But the waiting and the not knowing was unbearable, especially after the initial excitement and relief of hearing their voices. I mean, I just wanted to know that my friends were safe, that they were still alive.
I knew a lot could happen in two days. A lot could happen in two hours.
There was so much I didn't know and the uncertainty of it all was driving me insane. I didn’t even know how they managed to get out of Darling Harbor unscathed. And just how the hell did Jack get all the way back into the city? I think in the deepest, darkest corner of my mind I thought he would’ve died trying to get back to Darling Harbor after he jumped out of our escape boat.
When he pushed me back and jumped overboard I thought he had completely lost it. But I understand now. I understand there was no way he was ever going to leave Sydney. Not without Maria, not without knowing what had happened to her. I’ve tried to put myself in Jack’s shoes, I’ve tried to imagine what it must’ve been like to swim all the way back into the city, running through the streets in the small chance that he would find Kenji. Alive. And the even smaller chance they would find out what had happened to Maria. And just what did he think he was going to do when he got there? Was he going to take on the might of the military all by himself?
What would he say to Kenji? "Hey, Kenji, cover me. I’m going in."
But he did make it back. He did find Kenji. And then they found Maria.
Something big must have happened. Something huge.
The military or whoever those men in black were had captured Maria. So all they had to do was airlift her to a secure location, and hey presto we have the cure or anti-virus or whatever. But they didn’t make it that far; they didn’t even get her out of the city.
That was an unsettling thought. How did the military lose her? Was it so bad now that even the men in black and the military with all their tanks and fighter jets and Apache helicopters and bombs - with all of that, they couldn't even airlift and extract one little girl?
I had no idea what had happened. And it was awful not knowing,
like someone was twisting a serrated knife in my stomach.
So for two days I'd been stressing out and freaking out and losing my mind. I was trying not to think the worst but failing miserably.
And the globally televised interview did not help the situation as I had hoped. In fact it did the exact opposite.
Initially I wanted to let people know what was happening. And at the very least I wanted to tell people about my friends. I wanted to make sure they weren't forgotten. But I slowly came to the realization during the interview that I was being used. I was a pawn in this weird game of chess the military and the US government were playing with global public. I was being used to calm the people watching, to calm the rest of the world. But worst of all I was being used to spread misinformation. I was a puppet and I was forced to paint a picture that said, ‘everything will be all right. The guys in charge have this one under control’.
Ignorance is bliss, right?
In a weird way, I could sort of understand their reasoning. It was simple. They didn't want a global-wide panic on their hands. They didn't want to scare people more than they already were. And believe me, people were scared.
The rumors and stories that kept appearing on the internet, on blogs and on Twitter about the ‘super virus’ that turned people into zombies were enough to do it. People were already starting to freak out.
Now that I look back, I think the whispered rumors that scared people the most were the ones about how the virus robbed a person of their humanity - that it took away their soul. No one wants to believe that death is absolute, that there is no after life. People want to believe their souls live on forever in heaven or wherever. But the Oz virus confronted people with their mortality, with death. Not just death of the body, but death of the soul, the spirit. Complete and absolute. And that scared the hell out of people. Scared the hell out of me.
But the interview was a joke. It was horrible. I felt like they had my throat in a choke hold and my arm twisted behind my back, with my shoulder joint on the verge of popping out of its socket. To say it was a painful experience would be a massive understatement. And afterwards I felt dirty. And sick. But what could I do?
They had threatened me to keep quiet. They told me if I talked they couldn’t guarantee the safety of my friends when and if they found them.
What choice did I have?
So the interview was censored by the military. Basically, as soon as they found out about the radio transmission from Kenji, they controlled everything. I was forced to give only a partial account of what happened.
They had a government advisor in the room. He introduced himself as the Public Relations Manager for the United States Military. He always, without fail had his hair slicked back with about a gallon of hair gel. And he always wore way too much cologne. My God, the cologne this guy wore, it would bring a tear to your eye and sting the back of your throat. He was a man who was overly conscious of his appearance. But I guess that was why he worked in public relations.
Wherever this guy went he was escorted by two armed soldiers.
They arrived at the penthouse suite about five minutes before we were scheduled to start broadcasting. They made sure that Steve, the journalist only asked approved questions. It was a matter of national security they said. The order had come directly from the president. They didn’t want me to cause a panic.
Or a rebellion.
I wasn't allowed to talk about who I thought was responsible or how it started or the massacre at the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I wasn't allowed to talk about Doctor West or Doctor Hunter and the so called 'holy trinity'. I wasn’t allowed to talk about being tied to a bed in a hospital morgue about to have my organs harvested for research or being chased by men in black with machine guns. I wasn’t allowed to mention Kim and how she made it to the New Zealand quarantine facility with me. I wasn't even allowed to talk about Maria, how she a may hold the key to a cure.
They also made sure I told everyone that people infected with the Oz Virus were not zombies. That people weren’t dying and coming back from the dead. They made me repeat this multiple times. Apparently when I was swamped by reporters at the airport, when I first arrived back in the country, I’d inadvertently told everyone people were turning into zombies.
That was a big mistake.
So I needed to tell everyone it was a virus. Like a flu virus. Like Bird flu or Swine flu. And as such, a cure could be developed. And all those infected people could be saved.
They forced me to tell the world that the death toll was unconfirmed and any initial reports that twenty-two million people, that the entire population of Australia had been wiped out was massively and grossly exaggerated.
It was all lies.
For as long as I live the death toll could never be exaggerated. Twenty-two million people. Each with their own story, their own dreams and goals and ambitions were now gone.
There was no saving them.
And no one knew what the Oz virus did. Not even Doctor Hunter or Doctor West and they created the damn thing. It may have killed people and brought them back to life, it may have been a type of rabies, or mad cow disease, who knows? Doctor West said the virus mutated and changed quicker than they could keep track.
So they forced me and everyone in the room to sign confidentiality agreements. If we talked we would be charged with treason. We would be locked up without question. They would throw away the key. The producer of the show and the guy who found the transmission from Kenji were taken away for ‘questioning’.
All I was allowed to talk about was how I got out.
The boat ride.
Nearly dying of thirst.
The New Zealand quarantine facility.
The worst part was they confiscated the notepad I had filled with my story. Top secret it was, apparently.
Billions of people tuned in worldwide because they needed to know what was going on in Australia. Because they wanted the truth.
So much for that idea.