I liked Phoenix, I liked it a lot – the weather, the people, the architecture – it was all just really cool. And Mom was so much better that she was able to get a job in a church preschool program with a reference from Aunt Lou which was nice. It wasn’t quite the responsibility she had had at the one back in Tampa but she wasn’t exactly starting at the bottom either which was a boost for her self-esteem. And when Aunt Lou told some of her and Uncle James’ friends (aka rich business associates) that I was childcare certified in two states (Florida and Tennessee) and was willing to do the same work in Arizona I just about had more work than I could accept. I also developed another stream of income by cooking for people because apparently it was too hard for these busy folks to cook but too expensive to eat out every day. I got paid good money for cooking regular, every day food - about equal to what I was making babysitting - but with less time and effort invested in it.
I turned sixteen right after we moved to Phoenix and while Mom was quite a bit better she still was kind of in outer space when she wasn’t working; I don’t think she even realized I wasn’t going to school but was taking just enough virtual courses to graduate on time. I look older than I am so no one pitched a fit. All people wanted was someone who would work under the table for cheap, not draw attention, and who they didn’t have to worry about bringing the militias down on them – in other words someone that didn’t get the profilers nosey.
Actually I did get stopped a couple of times because of my looks but it was no big deal to whip out my passport and Arizona driver’s license that proved my citizenship six ways from Sunday. And being sixteen they couldn’t even make a fuss about me not being in school. The reason some people gave me the hairy eyeball was that one of my great-great-great grandmothers was Hawaiian while her husband was a red-headed Irish sailor. When she died real young, her only son was raised by his father here in the States. Mom was an ash blonde, Dad had dark auburn hair, and Jack and Jay took after both of them and were identical strawberry blondes. Paulie is a true red head just like Uncle James. I was like the reverse of the red-headed step child – my hair is tar black and I have slightly almond shaped eyes with dark skin – everyone assumed that I was the one that was adopted; it was a hoot to watch their faces try and come up with something polite when they found out I wasn’t.
The only thing about my personal appearance that I didn’t like was the fact that I had inherited the freckle factor. Only my freckles weren’t cute. When I was out in the sun too much I would tan really dark and then have these almost black freckles pop up in inconvenient places. I’ve learned to live with it but if I could change anything it would be that I would still tan, just without the mud spots.
As time went on we were doing fine and working through our grief the way Dad and the boys would have wanted us to. Paulie was thriving in the private school that went with the daycare that Mom worked at. Mom didn’t cry herself to sleep every night, just every third or fourth night. And while the survivor’s benefits were still in limbo on some pencil pusher’s desk up in DC some place, all the life insurance policies had been paid out so we could pay off bills including the funeral and moving expenses that we’d put on the credit card. Money was tight but at least there was money for the offering plate, food on the table, shoes on our feet, and a roof over our head. The duplex we rented was on a decent and quiet street and the neighbors weren’t too bad either. All in all things could have been a lot worse … then they did go that direction.
A lot of kids and people got sick at the church were Mom worked and where we had started attending services. The same was true of the attached private school that Paulie went to. Mom was one of the first to fall ill. The church school wasn’t the only place that was hit; several places in that general area of twon that had nothing to do with the church also seemed to be ground zero for a cluster of sick people. Then they found out what had happened was that someone had poisoned the SRP water treatment facility that serviced that section of the metropolitan area; it was some kind of waterborne viral material though they didn’t know what it was at the time.
It happened so fast. Mom’s kidneys were the first major organ to fail and then it was like dominoes after that. Paulie was one of only a small handful of kids from the school that hadn’t gotten sick. I came out of my shock that night to find that Phoenix wasn’t the only city that got hit. Phoenix was shut down, there was panic in the streets, the hospital staff didn’t know what to do with us; we couldn’t stay where we were yet they couldn’t send us out into the night to face the violence out there.
That’s when the feds stepped in. I would find out later that apparently they had had some idea of what was coming, just not where or how widespread it would be; they had thought they were prepared, they were wrong. In the meantime while they were figuring out just how wrong they were, they took Mom’s body for “autopsy” and hauled Paulie and I off to a special quarantine facility where they tried to separate us into congregate living facilities by age and sex. That lasted about forty-eight hours and after that the staff just gave up and let families figure out some way to room together so long as it didn’t cause a problem for administration.
About two weeks later some administrative type, cold and uncomfortable talking to someone obviously not an adult, handed me a small box.
“What’s this?” I asked her.
“Are you or are you not Dovie K. Doherty?” she asked by way of answering.
Not liking having my question answered with a question I answered her back with one just to be a pain. “Didn’t I already answer that question?”
I heard enamel grinding then her nostrils flared and her lips got all pinched up. “Those,” she said pointing to the box. “Are the remains of a Malissa K. Doherty. If you do not wish to claim them …”
She reached for the box and in my shock all I could do was back away from her holding the box like it was a bomb. She came at me twice with a slightly sadistic twist to her lips the second time until her co-worker said, “OK, it’s obvious the kid understands now. Leave her be.”
She turned to give the man a bored look but didn’t say anything aloud, only laid a sneer on him that would have done the Ice Queen proud. She looked at me, made a check mark on her clipboard, and then they pushed the cart out that held about three dozen little boxes like the one I held, and then continued on their way.
They stopped handing those boxes out a week later. They wound up having to collect as many as they gave away. Paulie and I treated that box with the same respect we would have treated Mom had she actually been there in spirit. It followed us through every move forced on us and right now is inside a bag at the bottom of my back pack.
During our tenure in that facility neither Paulie nor I ever got sick though we watched a bunch of other people in there die around us. Then they figured out how to test for immunity which they dubbed “T--” or what they called T Double Negative. Sure enough Paulie and I were both T--. There were variations on the immunity level such as T-, T-+, and T+-. I still don’t know what the negative and positives correspond to except they have something to do with amino acids and proteins and DNA. I do know that only roughly ten percent of the population here in the States is “double negative” based on factors that align closely to racial and ethnic hereditary lines.
It is when people noticed that that things started to get interesting. Who the virus attacked began to get a lot of play in the news and gave some clues to the origin of the virus, or at least the mindset of its creators. Pure European whites were almost universally susceptible to the virus to one degree or other, meaning greater than ninety percent of them had no built in genetic immunity. The same was true of most racially pure black African people. People of the Middle East swayed back and forth between the double negative and the positive or double positive. Jewish ancestry was just as mixed though leaning more towards the positive rather than any negative yet managed to have a lower mortality ratio for some unknown reason. But when it was really examined it was noticed that people of Asian descent leaned much more towards the double negative. That meant that Paulie and I had most likely inherited our immunity from Dad’s side of the family through our GGG grandmother.
The one people group that was almost universally immune were the Koreans who were genetically about as far from Africans as you can get. Eventually someone did admit that there had been some suspicion that the North Koreans were monkeying around with WMDs, including biowar substances, but it never got beyond a suspicion because everyone thought they were too inept to actually pull it off successfully. Wrong. Especially as it was found out that the Chinese had been helping them. Which of course just took things to a whole ‘nother level.
The war became a no-holds-barred brawl of worldwide magnitude. Three months and the globe was a great big seething mess of death and destruction along both political and racial lines. Then something caused a brief lull in the fighting. That lull turned into a pause. The pause lasted long enough for people to get a really good look around and they got scared. The war got put on hold while governments tried to secure their positions and the support of their citizenry. The war wasn’t forgotten but everyone was taking the time to lick their wounds and prepare for another round when the bell rang which everyone expected it to do sooner rather than later.
During that time is when the civilian population started going bonkers. No battles on TV to keep them glued to the graphic horror, no cause to keep them pacified and pliable. Their minds became occupied with what was – or was not in the case of food deliveries – going on immediately around them. Double negatives were viewed with part suspicion part envy. We were classified, tattooed, chipped, used to test vaccines, and then warehoused. Through it all I was able to keep Paulie and I together and along the way I just picked up the other kids except for Baby. We stayed separate from the adults who seemed to be a mixture of anger and panic 24/7; they tended to lash out at the least provocation. We had a small apartment area to ourselves and I made sure we stayed there. If we needed something like food or hygiene items I would slink down to the medical offices after the adults were all in bed and requisition them from facility staff who were more than happy to have us self-segregate since it made their job easier.
Eventually I noticed fewer and fewer staff around, fewer and fewer cars in the parking lot that was visible from our windows. I knew things were getting shaky and then one day there was a riot down in the adult wing, a fire that had me scared to death that we were going to get fried alive, then *poof* all of the adults were gone, including all of the security and medical staff.