The Death-Baiters of the Worldwide Catastrophe Circuit

A man and a woman sat in a hotel room in a city haunted by death. The only noise coming through the window was the sarcastic ---or so it sounded--- instructions of the quarantine drones. They were in that city, on that night, on purpose. Ten thousand casualties had been predicted by the WHO for the year's headline virus, the smallest catastrophe where points could be scored.

Five competitors had managed to enter the city, four of them old hands at the game, the other one walking into her first disaster. She had been the first to die. By a looter, not by the virus.

"Shame about Janet," offered the man to the only other player still in the city. Death-baiters seldom talked about anything but mass deaths, each other, and the scoreboard. "I imagined her doing well."

"You imagined yourself in her pants." Her voice was flat and tense, and it could have been the strain of the game but the man was sure it was distaste. Unlike Janet, Helena had played the game more than once. She had eluded the Amazonian fire fronts longer than him, and had called for exfiltration from the Karnataka civil war just an hour before he had. It was no wonder they were the two highest-ranking players in the Circuit. He had seen a post about them saying they were no longer playing chicken with Death but with each other.

That was, he thought, an idea that got really close to the truth but blinked just before.

They said nothing else for the next hour. Then the woman coughed blood, twice. The virus was highly contagious and incurable. It made for a poor potential pandemic, but great Circuit material.

"Shoot," said the man, raising from his chair. "I guess that means I'll win this year's trophy. Well played, anyway. Any last words for the guys?"

"Did you kill my sister?" It didn't sound like a question she needed answered by him.

"Yes. Nothing personal," he lied. The murder of Helena's sister had had little to do with the game the three of them had been playing for years. Unlike Helena's, whose bottled water he had infected two hours before.

She didn't reply. "There are more quarantine drones than usual tonight." She might have been talking about the weather.

He put on a very expensive hoodie with the hacked wireless ID that would get him through the drones back to the outside world. "Bye," he said. "I know you like to see the sun rise - I hope you live enough."

She said nothing. He left. Still silent, the woman seemed to be straining to hear something.

The drones' voices became suddenly angry, demanding. A few shots were heard and then everything went back to normal. As the woman died, the device she had used to reprogram the man's wireless ID fell from her hand.

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