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Dusty walked down the dark street before him. The street lights
above his head had been flickering for some time, warning him that he should get home quickly before they lost power for good. It had been getting dark earlier and earlier lately, a sign of the cold weather incoming. He shifted the large bags in his arms. Baguet
tes awkwardly stuck out the top, and he struggled to make sure that the bag didn’t seem as heavy as it really was. No need to make anybody suspicious.

The walk from Hydro-Free Delights to his home was a long one, but one that he took in stride. He enjoyed the quiet solitude that he had on this trip he made so often, where he could think and not have to put on a show. The scent of the fresh bread wafted up to his nose; he inhaled deeply and let out a sigh. He allowed himself this moment of weakness before standing up stark straight again, looking around cautiously to see if he saw any other people. He controlled his breathing in his attempt to seem normal, unsuspicious.

At least he didn’t have to walk all the way to Good Words Fellowship. It wasn’t really the distance that bothered him, the distance home was almost equal. Rather, he would have been apprehensive walking around the slums and favelas at night with the cargo that he had. Some of the people in that district were skilled at assessing a person’s body language – almost too good. Dusty couldn’t afford that today.

As he made his way past Veriza’s Forge, right across from the abandoned Pizza Hut, Dusty started to walk a little quicker. He tried to continue breathing steadily, to not hold his breath, but his attempts failed. Too many people hung around the Forge for him to not worry. He could hear the banging of hammers on metal, of tablesaws and chatter. He prayed that nobody in his congregation came out to try to talk to him. His slight limp made him easily noticeable even in the faint light that was available. If somebody tried to catch up with him he wouldn’t be able to get away, and if they wanted to chat he wasn’t sure if he would be able to speak as confidently as he normally did.

He could have just gone to the Grain Bin Center. As a pastor, he was always welcome there. He could go into one of the many side rooms, lock the door, have his privacy… that is, unless other people were there and saw or heard him. He wasn’t sure how loud he would be, if he would be loud at all. No, it wasn’t safe there. Somebody would undoubtedly be there and start asking questions that Dusty couldn’t answer. Nowhere but his own home was safe, and even that wasn’t a guarantee. His wife and children were supposed to go out to dinner tonight, but he wasn’t sure when they would be back. He needed to be back before them, and be done before they arrived back home.

He began to second guess his whole plan. How did he get himself in the middle of this? Was he really so desperate? So many people were sicker than him, why did he think he was so important? He reached into the bag, weaving his hand around the baguettes and baked goods to find a danish. He ate it as he walked, admiring the flaky pastry and the gooey apple cinnamon filling. Still warm. He could feel the clouds in his head begin to dissipate as his blood sugar rose back to somewhat normal levels. He thanked whatever gods were out there that he was in a good enough place in life to not have to worry where his next meal came from or if he would have one at all. But that single thought reminded him about the other things he should be thankful for that he often took for granted: his loving wife, his smart teenage kids, his baby on the way, and especially not having the Hydroplague like so many others, especially in his congregation.

He generally thought all of the charity work he did at Good Words would clear his guilty conscious, but it wasn’t enough tonight. What he was doing was selfish, and he knew it. Why was he so determined to do this? It was dangerous, foolish, and terrifying. The people he had to deal with to get his hands on this could’ve used it much more than he, and now they knew his face. He used his congregation to acquire something he wouldn’t use to help them, only himself. What if people found out?

He shook that thought away as best he could as he turned into the Orths Square Apartments, his eyes darting back and forth to check for other people. His unit wasn’t too far into the development, and he was able to be up the stairs and in the door relatively quickly. Nobody was home. He leaned against the door and sank to the floor, letting out a great sigh. He got to his feet slowly, brushing the crumbs off his pants. He walked to the kitchen counter, put the bag down gently, and began to empty it out. Baguettes, bagels, cookies for the kids… and at the bottom the most precious thing. He took out the silver briefcase delicately, as if it could break with a single harsh touch. He carried it over to the coffee table, setting it down gingerly as he sunk into the couch. He turned on his CRT television, grateful that it was working that night. He unlocked and opened the briefcase to reveal dozens of medical instruments, samplers, and medicines. He gulped, praying it worked as he thought it did. He picked up a needle and pricked his finger, a small bit of blood welling out easily, as if it had been trying to escape all along. He pressed the sample onto a plate and started the analysis, hoping it would finish sooner than later.

He sat back, and he waited. He was shaking, his skin was crawling. Relaxation was the furthest thing from his mind. He tried to close his eyes, an attempt to calm down his racing heart. He started to unwind a bit, the tension leaving his body slowly…

The door swung open with a loud bang, followed by another as it crashed into the wall beside it. Dusty jumped up from the couch in fright, but it was too late. A large armored hand grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him back down. Tears began to well up in the corners of his eyes as he felt the barrel of a gun press to his temple. He worked with the wrong people. He had been tracked down by the most terrifying man in all of Columbus, and there was no way out. The next few words, spoken in a deep growl, rang in his head.

“You’ve fucked up now, preacher man, haven’t you?”