In honor of the nearly-completed and soon-to-be-released second part of The Catalyst Duology, I am posting a chapter a week until the release date. So, without further ado, the first chapter of The Catalyst: Book Two.
The sky above her head was as white as the snow under her boots. Robin rubbed her gloved hand against her nose. For a moment, some of her breath was trapped against her face, warming it until she let her arm drop. She scanned the snow covered parking lot.
She turned away from the sea of white. “Are we ready?”
Amber looked past her to the deserted parking lot. “Addar says he needs you in the back.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Robin left the blonde there and stepped inside the doors, out of the wind. Without heat, the cavernous supercenter was only a few degrees warmer than the city outside. Robin stomped her boots on a thin, gray carpet and looked around. Her father stood off to the left in what had been a small food court. She watched him carefully empty a napkin holder before setting it down and moving on to the next table.
Robin continued on her way. The rubber soles of her boots squeaked on the tile floor as she walked. Overhead, the hundreds of fluorescent bulbs were dark in their utilitarian fixtures. The only illumination came from the doors behind her and the battery powered camp lights set up along her path. Her shadow leapt across the shelves each time she passed a lamp.
She wove her way through the aisles, bypassing the grocery section with its shelves of slowly rotting food. Beyond the liquor and wine aisles was a set of sheet metal doors. Robin pushed through them without hesitation.
The back of the store was colder. The light from a single lamp shone off the polished metal walls. Robin tucked her hands deeper into her pockets. The chill of the concrete floor seeped into her boots.
The back of the store was filled with boxes stacked on wooden pallets. Most were items for which they had no use. Electronics, toys, and fresh food that had been abandoned when the townspeople fled. The building’s heat had lasted just long enough to insure everything in the meat and produce counters rotted.
The unusable and unnecessary things had been moved to the side early on. All of their focus fell on the warm clothing, camping equipment, and nonperishable food. Even with the few survivors at the high school, there was a dent in the supplies. No grocery store would last forever. Especially, when they found more people.
She looked over her shoulder to see Addar studying the items in their sled. From what she could see, he had filled it with canned meats, vegetables, and pasta they could cook on the propane stove. The generator at the school was large and gasoline was precious. They had all agreed to use it sparingly. Only for the lab and a couple vehicles.
“Amber said you needed me.”
Addar raised his head and his silver gaze fell on her. One corner of his mouth lifted into a faint smile.
“Your opinion, if you would.”
Robin crossed the space between them. She looked down into the sled. He had gathered the staples of their current diet. There was not much else to add. Robin started to look up when she caught a glimpse of a brown wrapper half-hidden by a box of pasta. She bent to take a closer look.
“You like chocolate. I remember from before.”
Robin’s gaze darted up to meet Addar’s. “It’s not necessary. I should not indulge when so many…” She gave the chocolate bar a longing look. “But thank you for the thought.”
Addar moved closer to her. One of his large hands settled at the base of her spine and pulled her toward him until they were pressed together. Almost a hug. Robin wrapped her arms around his neck to complete the action. They stood together in silence.
His head dipped and she felt the warmth of his breath as he inhaled slowly and exhaled against her throat. The loose strands of her hair fluttered.
“If I can make you happy, I will,” Addar said softly.
Robin turned her face into his shoulder. She took a moment to gather herself, before she stepped back. Her eyes met his.
“I appreciate it, but leave it out. I don’t want anyone saying we aren’t taking our job seriously.”
Addar’s eyes scanned her face and he nodded. “Very well.”
“I need to check on the others.” Robin started to turn away and paused. She took the step forward to close the space between them. “Thank you for the thought.”
“My thoughts are always of you.”
Robin leaned in to brush her lips over his. It was far too quick to be a kiss, but it eased some of the tension in her chest. She gave him a small smile and left the storage room.
Robin strode through the aisles toward the front of the store. When she reached the pharmacy, she paused. The door behind the pharmacy counter stood open. Nothing on the counter or behind it seemed to be moved, but the lock on the door was absent. Someone had taken the time to unscrew the bolts holding the doorknob and lock in place.
Robin stepped around the end of the counter to get a better look. There was no sign of the missing pieces anywhere. She reached out with one hand to gingerly push on the door. It swung open soundlessly.
The floor of the back room was littered with empty boxes and medicine bottles. Robin raised her gaze to take in the wall of shelves. All of the seasonal medication was gone. Cold, flu, decongestants, and more. All of it was gone and the white shelves stood empty.
Robin paused inside the doorway to listen for any movement, but there was nothing. Whoever had come and cleaned them out was long gone. Robin stepped further into the room. The empty boxes flattened under her boots. She scanned the empty sections of white shelving and checked the locations against her memory.
Aside from the seasonal medication and pain relievers, the antivirals and antibiotics were missing. Robin pulled open several drawers and sighed. The vials of saline and sterile needles were also gone. Some things she could find out in the pharmacy aisles, but the antivirals and antibiotics had to be sourced from a pharmacy.
Robin gently closed the open drawers and looked around for anything usable. After a moment of thought, she grabbed a pair of crutches, an arm splint, and a large ace bandage. They would still need to find another pharmacy before returning to the school. Robin left the back room and headed for the front of the store.
Her father and mother stood beside one of the restaurant tables. As she approached, they stopped talking and turned to face her.
“Good thinking,” her father said. He took the crutches from her and laid them across the table with a box of supplies her mother had gathered.
“Is Amber still working on the clothing situation?” Robin asked.
“Already loaded onto the vehicle,” a monotone voice answered.
Robin turned to see Addar’s second standing just behind her. The woman’s gaze left her to look over the table of supplies. A spark of curiosity settled in her usually blank gaze.
“You anticipate injuries?” Vanor’s gaze moved to her.
“Fortune favors the prepared,” Robin said. She tucked her father’s stack of napkins into the supply box and hefted it into her arms.
“I can carry that,” her father offered, already reaching for it.
Robin shook her head. “I need to add a few things.”
“Can I help, Dr. Kay?” Amber hurried to her side and peered up at her. “If it’s just the cold medicine you talked about I can get that. And some pain pills too, right?”
Robin glanced around. The rest of the group was back at the front of the store. If she let Amber handle the remaining medication, they could load the SUV and get on their way. Her eyes met Addar’s.
“Yes. Thank you, Amber.” Robin settled the box in the smaller woman’s arms and watched her walk away. Vanor followed her, an ever present shadow.
“Why not get the prescription strength medication?” her mother asked.
Robin turned back to the table. “All of it is gone.”
Her father frowned. “Everything?”
“Everything we need.” Robin looked over at Addar in time to catch his glance toward the pharmacy. “We’ll have to go to the one on Main St.”
Her parents looked at each other.
“It will be dark soon, Birdy.”
Robin paused in the act of gathering up the crutches. “I know.” She stepped around the edge of the table with her armload. “But MacDonald needs something.”
She walked through the front doors and into the cold of impending night. Already the sun was touching the tree line. They would be lucky if they had time to make it to the pharmacy and back to the school by full dark. Robin walked straight down the sidewalk to the large SUV parked at the curb.
The driver’s side door opened. George pressed a button on the dashboard, before he hopped out of the vehicle. The door to the back cargo area slowly rose.
“Any problems?” he asked.
Robin let him take the supplies from her arms, watching as he carefully wedged them in beside the box of clothing. “Nothing insurmountable.”
He closed the cargo door. “Of course not, Dr. Kay.”
Robin returned his smile.
When she turned Addar was already at the side of the SUV. As she watched, he lifted the sled full of food onto the vehicle’s cargo rack. George slipped past her to hand Addar the tarp. In seconds, the two men managed to secure the tarp over the sled with bungee cords.
Shannon rolled down the back window. “Is Vivian still in the store?” She looked past Robin and smiled. “Never mind.”
Robin’s parents exited the store with Vanor and Amber right behind them. Vanor handed the box to Amber while she pushed the double doors closed against the worst of the weather.
“That’ll have to ride in the back with us,” George said, nodding his head toward the box.
Vanor took the box back and she followed Amber to the SUV. Robin climbed into the driver’s seat while the others filled in the back two rows of seating. Addar sat next to her in the passenger seat. Just as the last car door slammed, a loud crash rose from somewhere out of sight. It was followed by the unending wail of a car horn.
Robin turned her head to look at Addar. He frowned out the windshield in the direction of the sound.
“Someone must be hurt,” Shannon whispered.
Robin glanced in the rearview mirror to see her parents exchange a glance.