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Spreader Week 2 - A New Plan

*This is a weekly serial blog, it will make way more sense if you start on Week 1 The Escape*

As the overpass loomed above them Parker made an ungraceful grab at the stick that was wedged snuggly beneath their legs. They dislodged it with a lurch that nearly tipped them sideways. As they flailed, one of their legs dipped into the water pushing the stick out of the kayak into oblivion. No matter how much they wanted to try to paddle the boat, they were not interested in chasing after the stick and too busy trying to control their boat as it picked up speed in the water.

Parker plunged their arm into the water in a desperate attempt to paddle away from the looming obstacle that glowed ominously in the gleam from the street lights far above. In some ways, their arm was easier to use than a stick even though it meant more contact with the disgusting, icy water than they would like. They noticed right away that they could change the direction of their boat a little by sticking their arm further into the water. They moved and shifted their body in different directions, trying to understand the flow of the water and how to gain some control. It was something, but it wasn’t enough. The wall of the overpass was already too close and there just wasn’t time to get control in the swirling waters.

The end of the kayak bobbed sideways and made contact with the giant pillar, tossing Parker off to the side. They crashed into the water, barely hanging on to the edge of the boat. They could feel the boat scrape again against the wall and the force of the current trying to pull them under. It was almost impossible to hold on to the slippery, thick plastic, but the alternative was death. Parker struggled to get a better grip with their left hand as their head was submerged beneath the freezing cold water.

The exercise regime they had taken up in their cell over the last few months was the only reason they were still alive. They had started working out to keep from going crazy in the long boring hours of isolation. They had never imagined that it might save their life. Their arm muscles protested as the cold waters pulled at their body, but the strength they’d built up from fifty push ups a day allowed them to keep hold of the boat. Suddenly, something crashed into Parker’s back, knocking the air from their lungs and filling them with terror. They yelled out in surprise and made a desperate forward lunge, swallowing a mouthful of water as they managed to haul their upper body onto the boat. All they could think of was alligators stalking them in the murky water. Somehow this idea, no matter how ridiculous it was (the nearest alligator probably lived about 3000 km south of the Assiniboine River), it brought a level of terror that their real life dangers didn’t quite reach. Parker fought the pulling river and the movement of the boat and dragged the rest of their body onto the plastic craft.

They were shivering and coughing so hard that they could scarcely draw breath, but they were alive. At least for now. Their dip in the river had been a wake up call. There was no way they were going to make it to the Red River and then all the way up the Red River to Lake Winnipeg. Their escape plan had been at least half fantasy and the reality that was setting in made them feel lost and numb. Even if they had managed to hike further down the river and find their parents’ friend’s boatshed, they would have had no way of hauling that boat into the water and even less of a chance of making it along without being seen. For a fleeting moment, Parker wondered if they should just let the river take them. They promised themselves when they managed to escape, that no matter what, they weren’t going back to the Authority jail.

Wasn’t Canada supposed to be a country where people had rights? Parker hadn’t been locked up because they had done something wrong, they had been locked up because the Authority believed they had some kind of rare gene anomaly that made them capable of spreading the paravirus that was currently ravaging the world. As far as they understood, everyone who caught the paravirus could spread it (it was related to the measles and spread alarmingly quickly from what the news had said), but them and a handful of other kids could spread it without getting sick. They were supposed to be the most efficient vehicles for the paravirus, the perfect hosts.

Their mother had told them that back when Covid-19 had been declared a pandemic, a couple years before Parker was born, there had been people that had been asymptomatic but capable of spreading the disease. It had never sounded like those people were shunned or blamed. Even though the virus would not have spread nearly as much if it hadn’t been for the people who were asymptomatic, they weren’t hated the way that Parker and the other spreaders were now.

Or at least that’s what they had been told. All the news Parker had to rely on was from the prison guards (or were they scientists?) that brought them food, water and periodically held them down and gave them lots of injections, or drew so much blood that they wondered if they would run dry. Of the dozen or so workers that had come over the months, most never talked to Parker, treated them like a lab rat that wasn’t capable of thought or speech. Only two had been different. Those two had looked at Parker with pity or sadness and it was from them that they had gotten some news of the outside world. When Parker was taken, the paravirus hadn’t even hit Winnipeg. The news reports were saying that with all they had learned from the Covid-19 outbreak, they were better equipped to stop the virus this time.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t really worked out that way from what Jack and Annie had said (Parker didn’t really know their names, but they reminded them of the characters from a book series their dad had read them as a kid.) Jack had told Parker that the paravirus was all over the world now and was threatening to wipe out some remote populations completely. Annie had told them that this virus affected babies and seniors the most. She had said that more than half of all of the deaths globally had been children under two years old. This was the reason that they had to keep Parker locked up. They had to keep the super spreaders away from regular people. It was for the greater good.

Parker did not want to cause anyone’s death, but they also still wanted to live and be free. Parker had never caught the virus, had never even known of anyone who had caught the virus (which was mostly in India when they’d been imprisoned). They didn’t deserve to be locked in a cell. They didn’t deserve to be floating down a river in the dead of night, wondering how they were going to survive. The idea of being a spreader filled Parker with a leaden kind of dread. They wouldn’t ever choose to make other people sick. They didn’t want to be a danger to their family, or to Omar. They didn’t even want to be a danger to the jerky cool kids that sneered at them and muttered comments under their breath. But, Parker also couldn’t abandon the other kids who were caged and dying under the power of the Authority. Why couldn’t they just be quarantined? Isolated? It wasn’t right and Parker was the only one who could stop it.

They would survive.

They would survive even if it was just to spite the Authority. Parker let out a sob and then a gasp as something thudded into their boat and turned it sideways again.

Time to feel sorry for themselves was not a luxury they had right now. They needed a plan, a goal that was more realistic than navigating blindly for 100 kilometres. The immediate goal had to be to survive long enough to make it to the Forks. They did not want to even try to imagine navigating their way into the Red River, but there was an area, like a little park across from the docks at the Forks where maybe they could land their boat and find a way to hide it without dying.

Parker took some deep breaths and started to experiment with controlling the kayak. It was more stable than they had thought and although they were less worried about capsizing, they were very aware that there was another overpass coming up, which meant another cement barrier that they needed to navigate around (preferably without landing in the river this time).

First they tried controlling the boat by putting a leg in the water, but that mostly turned them sideways and caused more freezing cold water to lap over their body. In the end, they found they had the most control, lying on their stomach with one arm stretched out in the water behind them. This was not comfortable at all and they couldn’t see where they were going and frequently got a facefull of nauseating water, but it did allow them to charter a course through the next underpass without crashing into anything or spinning wildly out of control.

The water slowed to a near halt after the last overpass and Parker coasted into the calm waters right in front of the Forks Market. They felt ridiculously exposed floating along on their kayak in front of the boardwalk with rows of chairs that would normally be filled with people. Parker wished they knew what time it was, what day it was, or even what month. They had thought that it was August, but the cool air and fallen leaves made them think it was either a little later in the year, or that climate change was playing with the seasons again. They knew it was after 10 pm when they had managed to escape from their cell into a dizzying maze of cells that eventually led them to a parking lot near the Legislative Buildings. They didn’t know how deep underground their cell had been and they wondered what other horrors were concealed under the city streets.

Parker rolled over and sat upright in the kayak. Their teeth clattered together and their body shivered so hard that it actually hurt. They desperately wanted to be off of this boat, but at the same time they weren’t sure how they would get warmer or drier. The pale green pyjama-like outfit that had been their only clothes for the past eight months was lightweight enough that it would dry relatively quickly, but if they caught hypothermia they wouldn’t have any chance of survival. Going to the hospital was not an option.

They were getting ahead of themselves now. The first thing they needed to do was successfully get the boat onto land. At least there was more light now that they were in the Forks area. They could see the scrubby little park area where they hoped to land. Too cold to even think, Parker put their hand back in the water and started to direct the kayak towards the shore. It was slow, but surprisingly easy in this calm open area.

When the boat touched land Parker tried to spring out, but stumbled and fell into the muddy water. They managed to turn and grab the kayak before it floated off and using the last of their strength, hauled it up the bank and collapsed onto the leaf strewn ground panting.

“Jenni?” A deep voice rumbled out of the dark as a large featureless man stepped nearer and loomed above them in the dim light. “Is that you?”

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