We were safe. Relatively secure — nothing of obvious danger ever got close enough. Sealed tight. Underground, uncontaminated. We had enough food. We’d last it out. Maybe.
But the problem with lighting a beacon and throwing the doors open is everyone comes, everyone, safe or not.
I had to start keeping tabs, keeping track, asking questions I knew they’d lie about anyway. Not one living being who came through that door could I afford not to know.
At some point, a good third of us I no longer recognized and that disturbed me, because when you see one face sallow and pale with the first symptoms you start to wonder how many faces you -haven’t- seen bear the same signs, and how advanced they are, and how willing they are to cooperate with the grim necessity of their condition.
At that point, I started keeping the ledgers, the rosters, the role calls. I tracked the rations and the occupants. I checked the fortifications. At that point people started to see an authority in me, when all I wanted was to make sure the sub didn’t have any leaks. Maybe not on their tongues but in their minds was “leader” attached to my name, because I was willing to do the paperwork like a time-lost secretary unaware of the chaos come upon us.
I was willing to do anything to keep us safe.
She has dirty blonde hair in a messy ponytail and a denim jacket on and she keeps fiddling with the hemline, the button, a stray strand of hair. She doesn’t look right at me, always off to the side. She’s too pale, and she sweats too much.
“Hey,” I say brightly, clapping her on the arm in a way to ease her, make it less obvious I’m interrogating her to see how swiftly I need to assign a bullet straight to her skull — a when, not an if. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’m good,” she says in a weird tone, low and dry.
“Any chills or fever lately?”
“No, I’m fine,” she lies like I knew she would.
I let her go and look out over all the other faces in the next room, milling about. Sharing food.
I think quickly: are the rations compromised? Who’s touched what or whom? Anyone kissed or had sex?
But I can’t possibly know any of this, and I know no one’s going to be honest where it truly matters, because the greedy, stupid fuckers will endanger us all just to cling to life a few days longer. Why do they always have to be as dumb as they are in the movies? Can’t anyone just say, “Do what you must,” and accept it with some dignity?
I cannot ask, for they will lie. I can inform, and the smart ones will stay safe with my advice. I’m already outlining a conference in my head. I’ll call a meeting. I’ll tell them what to do and what not to do. What to recognize, whom to avoid.
They’ll see the darting eyes, fidgeting fingers, sweating faces, and -know-.
And once they know, they will allow me to begin the purge.
I’m the leader. I do what I must to keep us all safe.