“A mind not to be chang’d by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav’n.”
~Milton Paradise Lost
Four men armed men walked slowly along the beach, bundled up against the cold winter wind that came in off the ocean. The stiff grass and spindly shrubs that covered the dunes swayed and rattled. Beyond Dunes Rooftops jutted into the gloomy gray sky.
Jared Stone, the official leader of the Survivors on Sullivan Island, looked anything but worried as he walked along the beach bundled against the cold and the biting wind that blew in off the ocean.
At one time, he had owned and ran a Guide and outfitters business, where Ori, Chris, and several other close friends had worked there as well. Every one who knew the tight knit group of friends and their girlfriends had dubbed them the dirty dozen. When the dead had risen that friendship and their skills had helped them survive where so many had not.
“this is going to be a crappy Thanksgiving” Jared said as he walked along the beach, rifle in hand. He, Ori, Chris and Mike were pulling Beach patrol this morning to give the regular crew a break.
“Maybe” Ori said his eyes sweeping the beach and the dunes above them for any threat. Ori his normally unruly thick blond hair covered by a wool cap was not usually known for conversation witty or otherwise, though on occasion he would talk for a few sentences when he really had something to say.
“what do you mean maybe” Jared asked, “ there’s no real maybe about there not being enough food to risk having a community get together. Which has led to whining”
Ori didn’t respond, having spotted a small boat that had washed up onto the beach from the ocean. It looked like an old-fashioned lifeboat or launch from a Cruise liner. Long enough to hold twenty people, a canvas tarp still stretched across the top. It sat there amidst seaweed and driftwood.
They approached cautiously; stuff washing up was not uncommon on the ocean side of the island, the currents and the tide were just right to bring debris right up on the beach.
One corner of the tarp had been unfastened as if some one had pulled it back to climb into the small boat, Ori using the old sign language they had worked out years before, flashed Jared a Message with his off hand. The smell coming off the boat was intense.
Jared nodded and moved to the opposite side of the boat away from the opening then cut the ties that held that side of the covering to the boat. He made sure Chris and Mike were ready then he and Ori grasped the covering, both men took a deep breath and held it, then yanked the tarp back.
The smell that rolled out was enough to turn even the most hardened man or womans stomach, thankfully the cold wind off the ocean blew it away from them and towards the buildings that lined the edge of the beach. Enough hit the men to make an impression.
Inside on the floor of the small craft, was a body that was straight out of a horror movie, its skin blistered and peeling was as tight as old leather on the gaunt skeletal frame, its belly distended by decomposition gasses. Its eyes snapped open, revealing one empty socket. The other eye cloud and dead fixed on Jared, its mouth yawned open as it struggled to get to its hands and knees.
“oh that’s just fragging Gross” Chris said gagging at the smell. He and Mike fired almost at the same time, as Jared and Ori both leaped away realizing what was going to happen. a fountain of gore rocketed into the air as a bullet punched in to the stomach causing the gasses to burst free ripping open its belly like it had exploded.
“oh fuck I got it on me” Chris shouted throwing his Rifle to Jared and ran and dropped to his knees in the surf and stuck his head in the water scrubbing wildly at his hair and face.
“you know, that is probably the grossest thing Ive seen in a while” Jared commented, Ori nodded in agreement as they watched Chris scrubbing at his face and hair. A smile flickered across Ori’s face and Jared Chuckled.
Chris with out looking lifted on hand and flipped them the bird. “next time you get to shoot the damn thing” He called out.
“once we get this boat cleaned out it will come in handy” Ori said turning back to the Launch.
“Pick some one you really dislike to do that job, because who ever does it is going to hate you for getting stuck with that job so you might as well pick some one that already does hate you.” Mike said watching as Chris stood up and walked back to the small group. Swishing salt water in his mouth just in case.
“I know exactly who I’m going to hand this job to” Jared said handing Chris his rifle back then turned to Ori who was looking further down the beach where something that looked like a trunk sat in the sand. “ I think our little spy friend needs some fresh air, at least what she can breathe before she has to clean that up” Jared said with a cold smile. Ori nodded in agreement as they walked towards the truck, waves slapping against its side, each strike pushing it a little further up the beach.
The trunk turned out to contain clothes, some jewelry and a bottle of Rum that Jared placed in his pack. The rest was left to be picked up by a team after their patrol was over.
“so When is the expedition to the Green Briar?” Mike asked.
“Soon, I was going to wait till after thanksgiving, but things came up” Jared said ignoring the questioning look Ori gave him.
“Id like to go with you “ Mike said.
“you sure your ready for it, “ Jared asked thinking of all the hell Mike had been through, not only did he suffer from PTSD, but his wife had woken from a coma as a totally different women who hated him, and had in the end tried to kill him. It was a miracle that Mike had not only not lost it, but had managed to move past it and was now engaged to Ily, a pretty woman from Puerto Rico.
Mike was quiet for a moment then nodded “I can handle it”
“Ill be honest, Mike, Id rather you stayed here, not because I don’t think you can handle it, but .. well because of Ily and the shit you were put through. Buddy you went through hell with Carrie, and barely survived it. you deserve a chance to get away from the that crap out there. “ Jared said.
“Maybe, but I feel like I need to do this Jared. I cant just sit here on the Island doing nothing. I know your worried about my freezing up, or going insane or something but I can deal with it.” Mike said,
they walked further down the beach, no one speaking. Jared mulled over his reasons for wanting Mike to stay. They were all valid but oh hell its not like I don’t have my issues, and Jill and the others would say I need to sit back and take a Breather, let some one else lead this run.
“okay, your in Mike.” Jared said, as Ori pointed to what looked like a body half buried in the sand.
“Thanks” Mike said, as they swept forward weapons ready.
Two former Coast Guard ships, the YellowFinn and the Dallas, stood by as a Tug pulled the Ferry off the beach were a Team of Robs Engineers had been modifying it. Mounted to the front of the Ferry now was a bridge section off a Military Bridge layer, one end was attached to the deck by massive pivots, while cable ran from the other end of the bridge section up to pulleys mounted to a frame designed to hold up to 30 tons. The bridge section was raised and lowered by two winches that had been removed from one of the three HETS, Massive military Semi Tractor trucks, on the Island. When lowered the bridge section formed a twenty three foot ramp allowing the Ferry and Barge to land vehicles on beaches or docks of varying heights.
Rob, one of the Dirty Dozen, had worked with a new Guy named Nolan, who had been a master Welder before the undead, to build the thing. And thought Rob didn’t know it, Jared knew Jill had done more than just suggest the idea.
The system was being installed on the Barge right now and if all went according to plan, knock on Ronny’s head, then they would be able to leave next week, no later than a week and a half. The sooner the better as far as Jared was concerned. This new system beat the old ramp system they had been using which was basically extending heavy boarding ramps and hoping the ramp didn’t break and drop a vehicle into water. not to mention risking people getting fingers broken or crushed if caught under the ramp.
“So impressed yet” Ori asked, coming up to stand beside Jared on the coarse sandy beach.
“Not really, I built something like that with an erector set as a kid” Jared said then grinned as he pulled off his cap and scratched his head. Jill had just trimmed his Red gold hair into some thing loosely like a high and tight last night and the shaved sections itched.
“asshole,” Ori said, “Cross was the one that suggested we use the bridge sections from the Wolverine Bridge layer. Saved us a lot of time, since we didn’t have to build something like it from scratch, and that’s assuming we had all the right materials laying around to make two or more bridges.”
Jared nodded impressed thought he didn’t really show it. his mind was fixed on something else.
“I expected a different reaction from you to be honest” Ori said finally.
“sorry just thinking about the men I dumped on Simms,” Jared said referring to the survivors of the Raiding party that had been camped in Awendaws, holding Lew Moore and five others hostage in exchange for food and supplies. They hadn’t really liked the response they had gotten. Then again they had asked for ammunition, Ori thought with a quick smile.
“You think giving them a second chance by sending them to Simms was a mistake” Ori asked as he ran a hand through his thick blond hair.
“It may be, okay yes Simms has stuck to his word, but its hard to move past the fact he was the enemy and might be again someday and I’m sending him men that he is going to add to his group. Yes Jill was right, and my gut tells me He isn’t a bad guy. But ….”
“But you’re a suspicious, paranoid asshat who should be wearing a tin foil cap and worrying about aliens kidnapping and probing you” Ori suggested.
“I have no clue why I talk to you” Jared muttered then laughed.
“Because I listen to you when no else does” Ori said laughing too.
“there is that” Jared admitted.
“Jared, you’re a good man and you keep trying to do the right thing. I talked to Simms a few times while they were here, and I talked more with his men. Simms is devoted almost fantastically to the Legion, to its ideals.. And the legion has or had a history of taking anyone criminal or not and giving them a chance to become better. Do I trust him not to attack us now, yes. Do I think sending the what six survivors of the raiders to him is a good idea, I’m not sure. But if any one can change those men it will be Simms and his Legionnaires.” Ori said then fell silent. Jared clapped him on the shoulder.
“Thanks Ori, that I needed to hear” Jared said, the two men turned and headed back towards the Fortress that loomed in the distance.
Mary, entered the Gym, and how odd was that, she thought as she looked around the room. I’m standing in a gym we built and on the other side of the water the world is dead and filled with walking corpses, it was a weird feeling to be sure.
Half of the prefabricated building had been converted into a Dojo as Jared liked to call it, where the defense force personnel and any one else that wanted trained in hand to hand combat, the other half was filled with every bit of exercise machines, weight benches and anything else used to work out scavenged from around Sullivan island.
She stopped for a moment watching Jared as he beat the hell out of Bag that was about five foot long and as big around as a person, it was attached to the ceiling and the floor by thick Chains. She felt a bit of jealousy as he torqued into a flawless spinning snap kick and landed lightly, then stopped rubbing his injured leg. she just didn’t seem to have the knack for martial artists.
Ronny had always been a little envious of Jared’s skill to, Ronny was competent at Hand to hand but his skill didn’t extend beyond what he had been taught in the military. And now who knew if he could even do that much. Reminded of why she was here, she walked up clearing her throat to draw attention.
Jared turned, and smiled at her, his skin flushed sweat running down his face and bare torso. The new scars on his arms and chest were still pink and healing. “hey Mary,” He said grabbing a towel off his gym bag. “what can I do for you?”
“I need help” Mary said simply, not wanting to chit chat for fear she might change her mind about asking for help. if there was anyone that might get through to Ronny, it was Jared. Like all but one of the male Dirty Dozen Jared and Ronny had served together in the military and then worked together in civilian world as Guides.
The smile faded from Jareds face,”whats wrong” he asked quietly, his right hand clenching slightly. She saw the reaction and hastened to assure him that no one was bothering her.
“no sorry its not a person, or rather it is, but not in that way. Its Ronny Jared, I don’t know what to do” Mary said sitting on a weight bench, and pulling off her coat. She looked upset, and as he watched she dabbed at her eyes.
Jared gazed at her for a moment then sat on a bench across from her. “whats going on?” he asked. Never in all the time He had known her, he had never seen this side of her, she had always been strong and self assured even when the dead rose, she had never let the fear and panic get to her.
“You need to talk to Ronny, He isn’t.., well he may look happy, and act it. But Jared he is depressed, he has been drinking a lot and determined to avoid you and the rest of his friends. Maybe if you talk to him?” She asked hopefully.
“Why is he depressed” Jared asked, then wanted to face palm himself. Ronny had almost died after being taken by surprise and shot several times and breaking his leg. He had to feel like he had failed, or could have done something different to have changed the outcome.
And Jared had suspected Ronny was dodging Jared and his friends since he had been allowed out of the Medical shelter. Jared has seen him at the Party to Welcome Casey and Lauren, and maybe twice after that, the last time had been a week ago, when Ronny, Ori and several solders went out and recovered the Airplane Ronny had wanted so badly. Ronny had been right , the twenty passenger craft set up for search and rescue, and could be switched from floats to tricycle gear was just what they needed. But since then Ronny had barely even climbed into the planes cockpit or dropped by to shoot the shit.
Linda the Former Nurse turned Doctor, had spoke a little to Jared about Ronny’s injuries knowing how close the two men were, but she had left out details. But had mentioned Ronnys reaction to the fact he might have the limp for the rest of his life.
“it’s the limp right” Jared said remembering Ori talking about how frustrated and Angry Ronny had gotten when they had gone to recover the Twin Otter Aircraft and Ronny hadn’t been able to keep up on the run to reach the plane, and two of the soldiers had half carried him to the aircraft then covered Ronny while he and Lee got the plane ready to be towed back to Sullivan where it could be examined in safety and repaired if needed.
He knew Ronny well and not being able to keep up and having to be carried would have grated. And the fact that he had over done it and placed himself right back in the wheelchair must have just added insult to injury.
Mary nodded, “it was bad enough before he went after that plane, but he might have made it worse that day. Linda says when he broke it, the leg got twisted around and tore up a lot of stuff, and that it will never heal right, then he goes and lies telling you and Ori he is right as rain and aggravates the damage making it worse.
Since then, well he goes out scrounging up bottles of booze and sits there drinking and watching the waves roll in.” She told Jared, “ Jared he thinks because he got shot up and broke his leg, that he failed me, failed his friends and he blames himself for Pappy’s death.” She paused taking a deep breath to steady her nerves. Jared reached over and took one of her hands.
“Linda told him that the damage to his leg had been pretty bad, and it would probably never heal right. He is going to limp for the rest of his life. That he has a serious mobility loss” Mary said, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. “Ronny, well he thinks is going to be a burden on you and the rest of his friends. And I’m afraid he might do something stupid Jared”
Jared nodded slowly that explained why Ronny had been supposedly working on his physical therapy late at night when Every one else was gone from the Gym. He didn’t want Jared or anyone else knowing how bad off he was. He probably came in here and just sat staring at the wall, angry at himself and the world.
“Ill talk to him Mary, but you know how stubborn he can be.” Jared pointed out. Mary nodded absently brushing hair out of her eyes. “and don’t worry about his doing anything idiotic.”
Mary gave a Jerky nod wanting to believe that but he hadn’t seen Ronny sitting there with a bottle all night. She wiped at her eyes and forced her self to smile. “thanks Jared.” She said then stepped to his side and hugged him tightly.
Ronny entered the Gym checking to make sure it was empty then rolled over to the leg press machine and tossed his bag on the floor glaring at the machine, rubbing his thigh as he made himself stand. At least he could get the hell out of that stupid chair, that was something and he really wanted to tell Linda to go fuck herself for insisting he keep using it till he was better.
But look at what happened the last time you did what you wanted asshole you made it worse, He told himself angrily half tempted to reach for the bottle of Rum in his Gym bag.
Linda insisted he keep doing physical therapy but there had been no real improvement and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to keep trying. In some ways it really pissed him off that Jared got shot in the thigh not to mention other places, gets cut and stabbed more than once and was recovering well,
and I get my ass surprised and shot up by a nut job, and here I am limping around like a cripple. Okay so maybe it wasn’t quite so bad, at least I can walk and halfway function but I will never be able to keep up on a long hump with a full load out, or maneuver fast and hard in combat with out my leg giving out, and that makes me about as useful as a tits on a boar hog.
He knew he was feeling sorry for himself, he knew it was even mostly unfair but that didn’t really matter. The one time it was up to him to save the day, some Rank fucking amateur takes him down and made it look easy. And now thanks to that, he couldn’t even keep up to cover his friends asses, the one thing he could do right.
“probably doesn’t matter if I can keep up, I screwed the pooch I don’t need to be running with Jared and the others, probably get them killed like I did Pappy” Ronny said angrily to the empty room.
“way I heard it Pappy got killed after you were shot, not because you fucked up” Jared said from behind him.
Ronny turned slowly to find Jared leaning against the wall his arms crossed over his chest. There was a look of concern on his face, but Ronny didn’t see any signs of Pity in Jared’s Emerald eyes, pity would have pissed him off immensely.
“your getting as bad as Ori” Ronny said as he limped over to a bench and sat down.
“thanks Ill take that as a compliment” Jared said, as he straightened up and walked over to sit beside Ronny. “I hear you need to talk. And no you don’t have a choice Brother.” Jared said.
“Mary sent you” Ronny said it wasn’t a question.
“yep, she says your being a knucklehead” Jared replied.
“That’s a lie, she would never use a word like knucklehead, asshat maybe, dumb shit probably but knucklehead no.” Ronny replied a ghost of a smile came and went.
“okay got me on that one, now you tell me whats going on.” Jared said calmly. “I have all night”
Ronny rubbed his leg, frowning. Jared was his best friend but this hurt so much, bothered him so badly he didn’t want to burden Jared with it or sound like a whining little school girl.
Jared sat there silently, waiting and Ronny knew Jared would be an asshole just follow him if Ronny got up and left. Finally he sighed deeply and admitted to himself there wasn’t one reason in the world not to talk to Jared other than his own pride and shame.
“Jared that guy took me down like I was an amateur, made it look easy.” Ronny said finally getting it out. “Mary, was up there Jared, counting on me to deal with the problem and I failed her, hell I failed Bridget and Sharon too, and their babies. And Pappy dragged his ass up there and got killed saving my ass. I failed every one that night Jared.” Ronny snarled angrily. “ and if that’s not enough, God or who ever adds insult to injury and I end up crippled.”
Jared said nothing, did nothing but sit there and listen. He knew what Ronny was feeling, he had his own scars and his own failures.
“I’ve been in this damn chair for almost a month Jared, Mary treats me like a kid, I don’t feel like her fiancé, boyfriend, husband anything but a burden. And every time I see you…..” his voice trailed off, god he hadn’t meant to go there. He knew it was stupid to feel jealous of Jareds being whole, of pulling through with only scars.
“you wonder why you were so unlucky when I’m the dumb ass that keeps leaping into the middle of hell and walk back out the other side, with only a few scars” Jared said.
Ronny nodded ashamed, it sounded even worse hearing it out loud. like he wanted Jared to be crippled or to have died, but that wasn’t it at all.
“ I got lucky, not just in pulling through but the thigh wound and the side were through and throughs. None of my knife wounds hit a vien, artery or organ. And as fast a healer as I am, I’m still not a hundred percent, I just hide it well.” He paused for a moment thinking about how Ronny had almost died on those stairs. And I was out of it on a bed because my dumb ass let my injuries get infected, when I could have been there to help.
“I have scars you never see Ronny, “ Jared said softly. “I know this isn’t a movie where I can say the perfect sentence and everything changes and your life turns wonderful and all that crap. But the truth is, wounded or not, limp or not, I trust you to have my back anytime, I know you will be there when I need you if there is any way possible.”
Yeah like I was there for Mary, while I lay there bleeding out on the floor trying to reach a weapon Ronny thought angrily.
“guess we both have issues “Ronny said after a long pause.
“aint that the truth Brother, and we aren’t going to solve yours or mine in one conversation, but it’s a start.” Jared said.
“ Ill try, okay no promises but Ill try” Ronny finally said, he meant it, but he just didn’t see how he was going to get past this.
“Ronny, truth is, even if you only had one leg, I would trust you to have my back anytime” Jared said, gazing at his friend. “Just don’t give up hope, weve had a few miracles around here, including the fact we are still here and alive, but every time you start to doubt think about how Kevin finally got out of his wheel chair, or how pappy should have been paralyzed completely and yet wasn’t. Maybe theres some grand plan, maybe some one really is looking out for us, maybe every one here is just to damn stubborn to give up,
So don’t you give up, and even if you end up with that limp for the rest of your life, youll still be the same brave, obnoxious, formally womanizing asshole I’ve known for years and trust” Jared said wrapping an arm around Ronny’s shoulders.
“I really hope this isn’t leading to a kiss or you humping my leg.” Ronny said after a moment trying to get in a good mood at least for Jareds sake, and maybe if he could play the part convincingly enough he might even fool himself into believing it for a day or two.
“well we are alone” Jared whispered back, then laughed. “now lets get your ass working on rehabilitation. We only have a week and a half before we load up and blow this taco stand.” Jared said, as he rose to his feet. “and Ronny, never think you cant talk to me, I know just how bad it sucks to keep stuff bottled up inside with no one to talk to” Jared said. “it can kill you” he said softly, almost to soft to be heard.
the days passed quickly as suppliers were gathered, ammo was allotted, the list of people going were approved and people worked to assemble the gear and other items they might need out beyond the island during the winter months. Every one knew they had to seize the supplies and get them back to the island as fast as possible. To stave off food shortages and possible starvation till crops could be planted and harvested.
Though there was some hope that the two large greenhouses that were being built might actually start producing before spring time and take some of the stress off. Even as Jared and the others were preparing to leave, another group led by Casey were learning how to sail the tall ship schooners they had recovered from the Harbor. One of the fishing boats was still out trying to bring in as much as it could catch. While the other stayed docked to conserve fuel for now.
Jared tired of worrying, tired of planning and tired of his thoughts chasing themselves around and around, decided to get out of the Huge house that the Islanders had insisted he and Jill move into, it was called the Castle and even looked a lot like one inside and out. His only condition to moving into the damn thing was that he bring along a few friends. He grinned he had damn near moved in every friend he had, only a few had stayed in their the homes they had claimed as their own. He did wish that Ronny and Mary had moved in and Bridget and Sharon, but even with out them the house was full of people he loved.
With Nibbler trotting beside him, he walked around the occupied areas, the hood of his jacket pulled up, as he looked at all that had been accomplished he couldn’t help but feel pride for the people who were busting their butts, they had worked miracles, now he needed to work one or two himself to keep them safe and alive. Hearing motors, and shouts down near the beach below the Fort, he headed that way.
A small crowd had gathered to watch as the vehicles and supplies were being loaded for the trip north, and Jared joined them standing behind Rob who amazingly was showing a incredible dictionary of obscenity that Pappy would have been proud of.
“steer right or you’ll drop the damn rig in the water” Rob shouted into the radio, as he watched the HET being driven up the new boarding bridge. his foot tapping on the sand as he listened to music on his MP3 player. “no your other right you dumbass” he added. “ god how did he survive the coming of the dead.”
Jared burst out laughing as he shoved his ice cold hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“when did you get so Butch” he asked the shortish, dark haired Rob, who was nothing like a stereotypical gay man. In fact none of the small group of gay men on the island looked or acted like the stereotype.
“Kiss my ass Jared” Rob said surprised to find Jared standing behind him, Rob grinned, “ assuming these pansy asses don’t sink a vehicle we should have them all loaded by tomorrow evening, most of the supplies you are taking are already loaded, the last of the supplies will be loaded just before you head out. :”
“Great thanks Rob, you’ve worked another miracle as far as Im concerned” Jared said watching as an ELSORV was loaded up, the other ELSORV had gone with Eric and his team when they had left.
The last few vehicles still waiting to be loaded included Jared’s Van and the Toyota Tacomas that the former SF guys had modified, and those were being readied for loading.
“Just wish I was going with you, you might need me you know” Rob said. Then turned to face Jared pulling his toboggan cap down low over his head.
“I’m sorry, I thought about it a lot, and to be honest Your far to damn valuable to the island to risk getting you killed. Now me, Im a gunslinger there’s one in every bush these days. But people like you not really.” And the last time around you almost lost it mentally after having so many people you knew and liked die around you. no way in hell am I going to put you through that again. Stay here and be safe, I owe you that much Rob, Jared thought gazing at one of the last of the Dirty Dozen.
“I’m not going to argue with you about it Jared, and I wont lie and say part of me is relieved at not having to go back out there in the Deadlands, but another part of me is furious, insulted and feels abandoned.” Rob said, kicking a foot in the sand like a little boy.
Jared wrapped an arm around his friend. “Im sorry Rob, but Ive made up my mind. You’ve turned out to be our Scotty and Mcgyver rolled into one. Im not going to risk you again.”
“Is this the part where the gay guy is supposed to cry and bury his head into your big strong straight shoulder.” Rob asked shaking off the slight depression.
“not really this is the part where I give you the awkward straight back pat and then back away so I don’t catch the gay gene” Jared said, putting words into action and stepping away. Rob chuckled with real humor for a moment.
“Promise me you will not get wounded and stay out there and almost die again.” Rob said,
“I promise, and no I do not have my fingers or anything else crossed” Jared replied
“okay, well then why don’t you get the hell out of here and let those of us that have work to do get to it.” Rob said shooing Jared away from the beach.
Jared grinned and head up the beach, already missing his van, but in two more days he and his van along with the RV would be heading up the coast to their drop off location in Virginia.
There was a much larger team going with him than he had wanted but Ashton had insisted, and Jared had ended up agreeing with him. They had to haul out as much as they could while they were there. Who knew if it might still be there when they went back. And since they needed to haul so much they were going to need Semi Rigs and Drivers. Currently He and Ashton believed they would need Ten Tractor trailor rigs to bring enough back to make a difference, which meant a driving team for each rig, and spare drivers just in case they lost a few along the way. And with the limited space to transport vehicles, Jared was planning on picking up the needed rigs along the way.
Going along as their resident miracle worker would be Lee, who was a competent Mechanic and technician, and three helpers. Mike and Ily, though Jared had tried to talk the couple out of the trip, Chris and Shelly, Ronny who would be flying support in the Twin otter, once they reached Virginia. There was also Ed and Paddy, Steger, Logan, Thor Jansen, Garret, Lany and her Husband Grimmson. Talk about the oddest couple Jared thought picturing the lithe tiny teen ager and her huge blond Viking looking Norwegian helicopter pilot husband. At their instance he was also taking Jorge and Zoe two knew arrivals who had escaped Charleston with Ori’s help.
He probably should take some of the canoes and kayaks, just in case, and the ultralight again just in case, and….
“Are you going to actually come to bed, and make love to me? or sit there doodling and going over who all is going on this little jaunt.” Jill said from the bed, where she lay sprawled seductively her long dark hair spread out around her head on the pillow.
“might be the last time for a while, you remember what its like out there right.” Jill said.
Jared smiled and closed his note book, he could work on that in the morning if he needed to, with a wide smile he started for the bed, if undressing were an Olympic sport Jared would have taken the gold for how fast he shed clothes In the ten feet between desk and bed.
Jared woke as the sun was rising, slipping out of bed with out waking Jill he dressed quickly and headed down to the Kitchen and found most of the residents there preparing breakfast.
“so I hear Ori is going” Chris said, he looked exhausted Jared noted. Shelly her long hair pulled back and dyed a dark brown shook her head and went back to eating.
“yeah, I couldn’t talk him out of it.” Jared said as he grabbed a can of soup and opened it, he sat down across from Chris and began to eat the cold soup.
“we leave at 0600hrs tomorrow morning, so make sure you have all your gear together. And then we get to enjoy a week long winter boat cruise up to Virginia.” Jared said.
As Chris and the others expressed their incredible joy at the prospect, sarcasm not missed, Jared finished his soup and tossed the empty can into the recycle bin. Recycle, no longer a green dream but a harsh reality where we can not afford to waste a damn thing. It will be years before we can get mills and mines back up and running, years before we can make our own tin and aluminum and steel in any real quantity at any rate, he amended.
He rose to his feet, he had a few things to do today then Jill was going to get his full attention for the rest of the day. He buckled on his weapons belt grabbed his rifle and head out the door.
It was almost noon, when he finished collecting the stuff he need and was heading back to the Castle, hearing the noise down on the beach where the last of the vehicles and major supplies were being loaded, Jared decided to go take a look before heading home and getting frisky with Jill.
Jared wandered down to the beach and gazed out at the loaded vessels that would be taking them up the coast to Virginia. He tried not to think a lot about the dream, but it was hard not to. Stay here and out of the darks hair and for a while the battle between the living and the dark would by pass them and he would get to see his Child grow up. he hated it, the Dark knew exactly where to strike him. But he wasn’t willing to pay the price that bargain would demand. In the end it would be worse far worse than dying and leaving his child and Jill alone, well not alone there would be his friends assuming they were still alive then.
He forced the thoughts away looking up to see three gulls circling overhead. Three gulls he thought wondering if there was a significance to the gulls, or was he just starting to lose it and see Occult numbers in every day life. Next Ill be finding goats to read their entrails, or sacrificing virgins to rain gods. He thought with a snort of self contempt, not every thing in life these days has some kind of supernatural meaning.
Tomorrow morning they would be leaving and to be honest, Jared wasn’t looking forward to this trip out. The plan itself was simple, adhering to the KISS, keep it simple stupid, principle. Minimum number of vehicles, maximum number or people. Every Civilian diesel vehicle they could scrounge was in the line up and a minimum of military vehicles. The HET, one of the ELSORVs, a Hemmit Wrecker fitted with a Slide in camper, the LAV for Daws and half his squad, the other half would be riding in one the Bradley’s that had arrived with Cross. Daw’s squad now went by the nickname Jareds Red headed step kids much to the amusement of every one else.
They would take the Ferry and the Barge loaded with vehicles, both vessels would be towed by tugs they had secured in the Charleston harbor and escorted by the Yellowfinn, a Coast guard Cutter, just in case of pirates. He grinned for a second at that thought, but Ashton had, had a point. If they passed an island or area with people he had pointed out who thought they could take the supplies onboard, they could use small craft to sneak up on the boats and attack. it wasn’t likely but it could happen. and the Cutter would discourage any one feeling froggy from approaching.
Once they reached Virginia, they would disembark at any area they could find that had little to no undead and then head to the Green briar stopping at any truck stop close to their destination and picking up rigs to haul the supplies they would pick up at the Green briar then it was back to the rendezvous point for pick up and return to the island.
What he was really worried about and he and Ashton had discussed at length was that Kronnen would find out from his spies that Jared and a large group had left the island and would launch an attack while Jared was gone. They had planned for that as much as they could, and Cross would be leaving with teams taking the Cutter Dallas and several other boats and try to clean out what they could find in the rubble of the Terminal, there had to still be tons of munitions laying around there.
“Hey, Jared, a moment please” A man called out from behind him, he turned to see nine men in winter ACU’s walking towards him. it took him a moment to place them, then realized it was Benton and the rest of Thor’s old squad.
“What can I do for you men today” Jared asked as they drew close and stopped their hands shoved in the pockets of their coats.
“We want to go with you” Benton said as the rest of the squad nodded in agreement. “we cant let the Sarge go running around out there alone, he isn’t the Sharpest pencil in the box you know. Look at what happened at the terminal when he sent us out on the Barge, he isn’t safe by himself”
“there are already sixty people going” Jared pointed out, watching their faces. He liked Jansen, Thor was a good man. But seeing the loyalty he had inspired in his squad made his respect for the Sergeant go up considerably. “ but what the hell if you idiots really want to go back out in the Dead lands with us, be here at 0600hrs tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks we will” Benton said, then stood there like he had something else he wanted to say.
“Anything else?” Jared asked giving the man an opening if he needed one.
“Not a thing, other than it will be good to be back together with the Sarge” Benton said as the squad nodded in agreement “ see you at 0600hrs, and don’t tell Sarge. We want to surprise him” Benton said as he turned away and the small group headed back into town.
Jared shook his head for a moment, wondering how many others were going to volunteer, he already had a line of people wanting to go, and till now he had said no. Maybe he should reconsider a few of them and allow them along. And they were going to have to load another RV. Seventy people we cant really take any more after that and Rob is going to pitch six kinds of fits when he finds out they need to load another RV and I think one of the Up armored FMTV’s with the personnel shelter carrier mounted on the back.
all night men and women were transferring supplies to the vessels, Rob was as upset as Jared had thought. Talking about how they were going to have off load ever vehicle on the barge and then reload them all to balance it correctly so the Barge didn’t just roll over and sink, like Guam was supposed to do according to an idiot congressman.
They finished up just before dawn.
The twin otter bobbed on the water, a dim light shining from the cockpit windows, as Ronny went through the preflight, Little Ben would be flying with Ronny this trip, acting as copilot to gain more experience, Roger the other more experienced pilot on the island, had been putting the teen ager through ground school over the last few months, and wanted Ben to get some first hand experience.
a cold wind blew across the island, as a line of fire traced its way along the horizon as the predawn light grew brighter. Men and women were silently boarding the Ferry and the old Cutter, while Jill talked quietly with Mary. Jared turned away when he saw Tears streaming down Mary’s face, giving her some privacy and a bit of Dignity. It was he realized the first time he could really remember seeing her cry. Finally she hugged Jill and walked away, Ori lingered with Beth just holding her close not in any hurry to get on board.
I wish I could have talked them all into staying he thought, Jill included there was not one damn reason they needed to go back out there into the land of the dead not one. In fact he would be less worried about leaving the island if he knew they would be here. But like Jansen’s squad his friends would not leave him if they could help it.
His thoughts were broken when Jill slipped her arm around his waist and leaned against him she didn’t say anything for a moment just enjoyed being close to him.
“You know this isn’t good for morale right, all those lonely single guy’s seeing you hanging all over me.” Jared said lightly.
“Would you prefer I go lean on a couple of them, that Guy with the spikey black hair is cute and has an awesome body,” Jill said.
“How can you tell he has an awesome body under all the winter clothes” Jared asked.
“Public showers remember.” Jill said with a smile.
“I’m changing that when we get back” Jared vowed.
“Then you wont be able to oogle other women and have an excuse” Jill pointed out.
“Damn my plans are foiled once more” Jared said grinning for a moment then it faded. “so hows Mary doing”
“she’s still worried about Ronny, and she is upset that he is leaving and would be upset if he stayed behind and wasn’t able to help us, you know the usual.” Jill replied. “ and she made me promise to keep him in line and behaving.”
“Good luck with that” Jared said with a half smile praying Ronny would be his usual obnoxious ass self. Ronny hadn’t been thrilled when Jared had Given him the leg brace that he and Rob had sat down and designed, a couple of pieces had to be made on the Mini CNC but the use of fuel had been worth it. Ronny might not have been happy at seeing the thing but he had started wearing it, and called it part of his mad max outfit.
“lets get our gear on board.” Jared said as he scooped up his pack. Behind them some one shouted and then wild barking Jared turned to see Nibbler streaking across the grass, being chased by Bridget who was supposed to be watching the dog while they were gone.
Nibbler charged past Jared looped around leaped on him, licked him on the face once then was off again running up the boarding plank and onto the cutter. “I guess she is going after all” Jill said, waving Bridget off. “its okay Bri, I guess we are taking her.”
“so we have at least another thirty minutes before we leave now since we have to get dog food loaded.” Jared said, frowning.
“You know you love that dog” Jill said with a smile.
“Some times” Jared agreed then smiled as he saw the dog poke her head above a rail, no doubt checking for pursuit.
By the time they were pulling out the rim of the sun was rising over the horizon, lighting the steely water in fire and gold.
Jared smiled as he the sound of kids cheering reached them across the water, he looked across the water to see tiny hands waving from the walls of Sumter
Jared waved back then turned his attention to a Three masted Schooner, that drew up along side and paced them as they left the Harbor then veered away with the wind, as Casey continued the training of the Tall ships crew.
“lets get settled in, I have it on good authority that we have been assigned a private cabin” Jill said waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
“Well almost private” Jared added pointing to the dog.
The days passed as slowly as the coast, Most on board so used to the island, were shocked to the core again as they saw the reality of the dead citys and towns along the coast line. Myrtle beach looked much the same as it always had, till the undead drawn by the sound of marine engines began appearing on the beach, staggering and lurching into the water, and slowly vanishing under the waves, trying to walk out to the boats that held the living.
Jared ignored them his attention fixed on the huge glittering solar array that the island was supposed to be salvaging by the end of the month. There were panels there to power most of the inhabited area of Sullivan, and when they stripped the boeing Plant of the 180 thousand panels on its roof, there would be power to spare on the island, and then rebuilding would speed up.
He made a few notes, only to look up hearing some one clear their throat. “can I ask you a question” Garret asked, the teen had almost begged to come along on this trip.
“Sure ask away.” Jared replied closing the note book he had been writing in.
“I was just curious why we don’t get some of the oil wells and a refinery running, so we can get fuel for the vehicles and a power plant back on, instead of using solar, tidal and wind for power.”
“its simple, I have no idea whats involved in operating an oil rig, much less a refinery. And I have asked around and no one on the island has a clue either. We might never learn how. But what we do have is a way to get power back on in six months or less, and a way to start making our own fuel in a year so that wont be an issue.” Jared said. “we talked about securing and turning on a reactor too, but unless its as simple as turning on a switch its safer and simpler to use other means.” Jared replied.
“What do you mean make our own fuel, if we don’t have a refinery or something” Garret asked, confused
“there’s a group we picked up near the terminal, they were holed up in a college. Any way they had built a wall of tires and crap around the back of one building and a green house, and one of the little projects the College were working on in that green house aside from growing food was an alternative fuel created from algae, one of the guys in that group was an assistant on the program and knows where all the notes and papers are kept, and we have access to all their equipment. So we can strip it out of the green house, bring it back to the island set it back up and enlarge the whole thing.” Jared explained his gaze drifting back to Myrtle beach that was now to the south and slowly vanishing behind them. “its not a matter of old politics and social issues like being Green, but using the simplest technology we can for now and the green stuff is the simplest to get up and running.” he added.
“I think there is now way I could think of half the stuff you do” Garret said,
“bullshit you could come with this stuff too because you would cheat like I do. see to be honest, I have a lot of people around me making suggestions, Im sometimes even smart enough to listen to them so people like you get impressed with how smart I am” Jared said smiling, then clapped the boy on the shoulder. “speaking of impressed, in case you didn’t know it My Brother was really impressed with you, and that takes some doing,” Jared said changing the subject, “ I haven’t been able to impress him since the whole Clown incident back when we were kids.”
And that was the plain truth Eric had been highly impressed with Garret’s calm demeanor and can do attitude. Impressed enough to ask those special force retirees to take an interest in the teen and offer some special training to him.
Which Garret was continuing as much as possible here on the ship under the guidance of Reynolds and Campbell who were both along on this trip.
“I liked your brother he is pretty tough, and smart too.” Garret said not used to praising any one much less an older man.
“you should have seen him at your age, I wanted to kill him.” Jared said with a grin.
“is this a private convo, or can any one join” Ori asked walking up.
“its open to the public I guess, unless Garret here wants me to keep heaping praise on him.” Jared said as Garret blushed.
“Don’t mind Jared he loves embarrassing people as often as possible its one of the key psychological failings he has.”
“when did you learn a word like psychological.” Jared asked acting surprised.
“Bite me” Ori replied then looked at Garret. “ see what I mean, he cant help himself.”
Jared tried to glare but it didn’t seem to work on Ori who just ignored him completely.
“So what was the conversation about anyway” Ori asked.
“fuel, refinery’s and stuff like that.” Jared said.
“aah the great algae fuel debate” Ori remarked as he leaned against the rail and looked down at the water. If Garrett expected him to say more he was left wanting.
“Ori here was the one who pointed out that late 2009, several companies got together and developed a process to make fuel from plants and had one fuel processing facility built along the Mississippi river with plans to make twenty or more Facility’s over the next few years, all in an effort to be more green and to cut fuel costs for the boats and barges that used the River to transport goods and materials. All of the plants used in the process already grew along the banks of the river and no one would have to stop growing food crops to grow the plants that naturally grew wild along the river where no one farmed anyway. Its something we plan on building ourselves.”
“Ive already started” Ori added. “part of the distillery Ive been building is going to produce fuel, add that to the algae process and we will be fuel rich in less than ten years. and maybe by then we can figure out how to refine oil so we can start making lubricants, plastics and other things we are going to need.”
Jared nodded in agreement there was no way, Green myth making aside, that they could keep a modern civilization going with out oil. But for now there was enough by product laying around waiting to be collected they didn’t have to be in a hurry to figure it out, and it would be centuries before there were enough humans on the planet to need even a tenth of what had been used just a year ago and who know what might be developed or discovered by then.
Garret was silent for a moment “that’s why I like you guys, before we joined up with you, no one really made plans, we thought it was all over, why make plans when we are all going to die. Then we link up with you folks and things changed. Its like we all have a reason to want to live now instead of sitting around waiting to die from the undead, Starvation or lack of doctors.” The Teen said.
“Not to dampen your enthusiasm, but our making this work isn’t Guaranteed. We could still starve or the undead could get on the island, or a thousand and one other things could happen to destroy us.” Jared said softly.
“Yes, but we now have hope that things will work out and we didn’t have that before you came along” Garret said with a shrug.
“great his head is going to swell till he cant wear a hat. Thank you Garret.” Ori said punching Jared in the shoulder.
Garret chuckled for a moment at the pained look on Jared’s face. “Anyway I promised I would meet Lany and Harald in the galley, Thanks for answering my question” Garret said.
“Your more than welcome” Jared replied, watching the teen head for the hatch. “there are times, I wish some one else had stepped up to the plate and run things, and then times like now I am glad it was me”
“Most of us are glad it was you” Ori remarked. “look at that” Ori said drawing Jared’s attention to a ship that had appeared on the horizon.
It was a green peace boat, rocking from side to side, it looked like it had been badly damaged during a storm or storms. Its radio masts had been broken, cables dangled over its deck and undead clustered along its rails. The apocalypse was not picky about who it destroyed, priests to atheists. Liberals to conservatives. Kids to scum bags. Who said life wasn’t fair he thought with morbid humor.
“Well looks like they finally got their wish and whaling has ended for now” Jared remarked.
“Makes me wonder if PETA protested the sudden shift from eating animals to eating neighbors and loved ones” Ori said.
“you always were the least witty one in the room” Jared said with a laugh.
day six, 0900hrs.
It was a beautiful day on the water, the early morning sun hung in a crystal clear blue sky, and if the wind had a winter bite it, it did nothing to stop men and women from stepping out onto the decks to enjoy it.
Following the coastline, the small flotilla entered the Chesapeake and approached land, shutting down their engines before they were close enough to land to be heard. Every one crowded the windows to get a look at what had been one of the largest US Navy yards in the Continental US.
Naval Station Norfolk covered over four miles of land the only thing they could see from the water were huge blocky buildings, Loading cranes, massive Docks and wharves, and even now after the end of the world, several Navy ships were berthed there, their crews long dead. Jared swept his binoculars across the area noting that the Carrier CV-75, The Harry Truman and the Lincoln CV 72 were docked, the Arlieigh burke, DDG-51 a guided missile destroyer was there as well as the USS New York LPD-21, a amphibious transport dock, built with steel from the twin towers, and a host of other craft sat there dead and silent.
“There it is” Jared said spotting a fueling center they could dock beside. “I can see a few undead on the wharf, but there has to be undead on those navy ships and they will come pouring out the moment we get close enough they can hear the motors”
“There should be a dolphin out here, a couple of them actually” former Petty officer David Probst commented. “ Sorry a floating refueling dock is called a Dolphin.”
“Okay that makes more sense to me” Jared said thankful he had never joined the navy. Every time he heard the term Captains Mast he thought it sounded like porn movie Title, a gay porn movie title at that. “Here you take a look you know what your looking for, I have no clue” Jared said passing the former Sailor his binoculars.
“if there isn’t one here, I know two places the Coast Guard used to refuel at. And I think one has limited access because the shore side is fenced off.”
“ I think we might be better off heading there then” Jared said watching a group of maybe a hundred undead appear from between huge buildings and staggering down the road that ran long the docks.
“There’s going to be more fuel here, that’s the one plus.” Probst commented.
“I have a feeling there’s a lot less fuel than you think” Jared said. “off and on since last October, we have picked up occasional Radio messages from Navy ships. How much do you want to bet they have come back here a couple of times to refuel? And according to a survivor we found at the munitions terminal some one hit the place and removed several tons of supplies and munitions, in the span of a two days. Im betting it was that Task force”
“Which ships?” Probst asked surprised and excited.
“The Reagan by name, but if a Carrier is there, then her escorts would be too. And Im thinking what ever still exists of the US Navy probably banded together, and is probably somewhere in the Bahamas or down around Puerto Rico and Vieques.” Jared said.
He hoped so at any rate, he loved the idea of a few thousand US Navy personnel beating the odds and still alive after so long. At one point he had sat down and thought about how many people might have survived, and the numbers were actually mind boggling, it was possible up to three to five million might still be alive in the US, New York city had held eight, so five million scattered across the US would be hard notice when you only had two here, ten over there, and another five in another place with maybe a hundred or more miles between them.
Five million was a really small percentage of the previous US population and still one hell of a large number. Linda and a few others argued for higher numbers based on all sorts of factors, from Preppers to the Military evacuation of at least two bases they knew of.
Just looking at the number of survivors who had reached Sullivan, he wouldn’t be surprised to find out a hundred thousand people still lived up and down the East coast, scattered across every town and city from Tampa to Bangor. And the numbers of survivors would be larger in the rural areas, where there had never been a population high enough to totally overwhelm the inhabitants in sheer numbers of undead.
“lets check out the other fuel areas, I have a bad feeling about Norfolk” Jared said suddenly, as yet another band of undead appeared moving along the dock almost like they were patrolling.
In minutes the Cutter and tugs were firing up their engines and began to move once more. None of the living noticed the zombie that stopped moving and turned towards the water watching the flotilla head deeper into the Chesapeake.
“Stone left the island with about seventy men almost a week ago” Proctor announced entering the penthouse Kronnen was using as his quarters in St. Louis. Watery sunlight spilled through the floor to ceiling windows.
Kronnen stood looked down at a map spread across the odd looking white modernist looking Table that blended well with the minimalist interior design style. What little furniture was in the place was all cheap looking futuristic styled crap that had been popular with people who had to much money and very little taste.
Williams who sat at the table, nodded a mysterious looking smile played across his lips for a moment. Proctor ignored Williams who was about as creepy as they came sometimes.
Kronnen grunted absently and held out his hand for the papers that Proctor was carrying.
“We should have struck while Stone was on the island” Williams commented as he rose and walked to the window. He loved looking at the streets of the dead city. Turning away from the window, he walked around the room, examining the art work that hung from the white interior wall that separated the living room from the modern kitchen, never a fan of Cubism or Picasso he was less than impressed with the crap that hung there that only an American would have wasted the millions it must have taken to buy.
“is there any idea of where, he went” Kronnen asked as he read through the messages.
“Mount Weather was mentioned at one point, but our spy suspected that wasn’t the final destination or rather the main destination.” Proctor said.
Mount Weather Virginia was as classified as Area 51 and just as well known Proctor thought.
Any other places mention, or do I have to guess” Kronnen asked irritated.
“D.C., apparently Stone has some dream of looting the Smithsonian for things they might be able to use” Proctor said derisively. “Mt. Weather is only fifty miles from D.C, I think, I need to check a map, but its close at any rate.” He added.
“There is also a large concentration of Military bases, and supply dumps around D.C.” Williams said as he pulled a Warhol painting named Campbell soup cans off the wall. This one he remembered some fool had paid a 100 million dollars US for this piece of excrement. drawing a knife he cut it into pieces and tossed it onto the floor. He truly hated Warhol whom he considered a no talent fool, whose fans had the taste of a two year old. Mother Russia had produced artists, and literary giants, that Americans had never been able to match.
Proctor nodded in agreement, looking at Williams and the ruined painted disapprovingly, not that he was an art fan he wasn’t. but Williams seemed to revel in destruction for its own sake and no other reason.
Proctor knew Kronnen suspected much the same thing as he did, That Stone had some kind of intel about something useful located in DC. No one would waste time with sacking a museum for the crap inside, no there was another reason Stone was going to DC and Proctor bet it was something Jared Stone had found out about from his Brother a special forces soldier, who had been tasked with retrieving highly classified material from a Senators down aircraft.
As much as Proctor disliked the General who infrequently contacted Kronnen, the man had shared a lot of information about Stone and His brother. That he was playing his own game by casually mentioning Eric Stones orders to retrieve Classified material, was a given. Just he had mentioned that data contained locations of critical military supplies, and suggesting that Eric Stone had passed that data to Jared was another sign.
He was dangling that data out there to encourage Kronnen to go after Stone and gain the list himself. As much as Proctor distrusted the General, and doubted the truth of his info, the fact remained that Stone had at least mentioned going to DC several times, with the goal to recover something that would help the island, that it was items from the Smithonian was laughable. Which only left the list that Bedford had talked about as the possible motivation.
“I want a scout team sent there, as soon as possible, they are to locate Jared Stone, and his people then follow them. That man left his island for a reason, and I want to know what it is, and then take it from him. Before we take a few other things from him.” Kronnen said with a slight glance towards Williams. “Also lets get Macs People Down there, if they get a good opportunity they can lay an ambush or two, but Mac is not to get in a stand up fight with Stone, hit and Run only.”
“I will go with the scout team, then return to help lead the other surprise we have planned for Stone” Williams announced, there was more than just hate in his voice when he said Stones Name, which intrigued Proctor but not enough to really ask it wasn’t his concern. However certain other things around here were Proctors concern as Williams was about to find out.
“One more thing Sir,” Proctor said, “ your guest here, raped and abused one of our women night before last. And that has many of the women upset, which we can not afford at this time for many reasons not even counting I despise rapists” Proctor said rounding on Williams who looked totally unconcerned.
“She was sent to me to satisfy my needs, I happen to enjoy very rough sex” Williams said with just a ghost of a gloating smile.
“You broke her arm, dislocated her shoulder and almost crushed her larynx, after she said no. You sick fuck” Proctor snarled. Proctor wasn’t a good guy, nothing he had done since the dead had risen would even suggest such, but he did have a code such as it was and he didn’t waiver from it
“Yes she was a lively one” Williams said that smile flashing again. “she is going to die like the rest, what does it really matter. If they give you trouble, shoot them problem solved, the rest will fall into line and do what they are told.” His accent grew thicker as he talked.
“You are a guest here, and YOU will abide by our rules, or you can camp outside the area we control. Am I CLEAR” Proctor said angrily, then fell silent as Kronnen laid a cool hand on his shoulder.
“Let it Be Proctor, our guest will follow our rules from now on, will you not Mr. Williams” Kronnen said calmly.
“If that is what you wish, fine, I will abide by your rules.” Williams said but the look he flashed Proctor promised there would be a reckoning for his daring to talk to Williams in such a manner.
“Thank you” Proctor said, then turned back to Kronnen dismissing Williams from thought. Then turned back to Kronnen and finished his report. “we have secured a natural gas supply and have managed to seal off this entire area against the undead, only losing ten conscripts and three of our men. As you ordered I have called up B company and two platoons from C out of Denver. They should be here in less than a week if nothing goes wrong on their trip here”
“Good, the only problem still unresolved is the Hunter.” Kronnen said mildly, his tone didn’t fool Proctor, his old friend was furious that the Hunter had escaped.
“He crossed the river at a point we knew nothing about, we know he stayed at Thebes for several days then he and his group left.” Proctor said.
“I’m well aware of the old news, I want new news, Like we have located him and his head is on the way here now in a barrel of salt.” Kronnen snapped.
“He could have gone anywhere from there Sir, and we do not have the men to spare to look, not if we were and are going to keep up with the training we need.”
“And if the Hunter somehow stumbles across Jared Stone, he knows enough to seriously hurt us” Kronnen said calmly.
“Yes he does, or did. We have changed the way we do things, our Guard units are trained back up to standards and the rest of our men aren’t the untrained criminals they were. Our trainers are satisfied at the progress the men have made and I can say I’m barely catching any of them being as lax or stupid on Guard duty as we used to. The Hunter was a good way to drive home that sentry duty isn’t just a way to screw with people you don’t like. To be honest Sir, Im less worried now about anything the Hunter might be able to share. And we both know that Stone is aware of our existence, since Kylie tried to assassinate him and his wife.”
“Its good that he does, that means he will be worried about you”Williams commented.
“How is that good.” Proctor asked him.
“ Because men can only stay on alert so long with out anything happening, before they begin to think the threat is not as big as they had originally assumed and then they relax letting down their guard. By the time we go after our Target it will be safe to do so.” Williams said, his face lighting up at the very thought of the results of that Mission.
“I want Bradley to take his people to Mount weather as well. This will be a perfect time for them to practice their observation and evasion skills, let Macs group do the actual work of tracking and attacking. Call it a test run before Bradley leads is men on the Operation that should crippled Stone and his people and it will allow Mr. Williams here to get used to working with Bradley’s men before he gets to go on his revenge run.”
Williams smiled, though he had no plans on doing anything that Bradley wanted, he had his own agenda and Kronnen was well aware of it, and that the power they served approved. His speech was more for Proctor, who might balk at the final goals of their plans.
That he hated Jared was a given, and there were others in that group he planned on killing as well, but not before he made Stone and his closest friends suffer, I will take from you the things you love, I want you to hurt, I want you to bleed, and I want you to Know I am coming for you and when you can take no more I will kill you
The launch cut through the water, throwing up spray as it approached the long dock a Coast Guard cutter was still berthed in the number three slot, but the rest of the berths were empty.
There were only ten zombies they could see, and those were up near the open gate, where a burned out station wagon sat. a few skeletal bodies lay along the dock showing some one had fought the undead. But whether they had won or lost would never be known.
As the launch came up to up to the dock, the Team leaped out and swept down the dock heading for the undead, while two men stayed behind and tied off the launch.
“Don’t let them cluster” Jared called out. “ Mike, Ed, take out that gangway so we don’t have to worry about undead coming down from the cutter, Logan, Jill and Ori, with me.”
They moved quickly down the dock, boot heels clocking on the chipped cement. Ori paused only for a second as he aimed his crossbow and sent a bolt hissing down the dock and into the forehead of a Nude zombie, whose skin dangled in shreds revealing ravaged muscle underneath, he slung his crossbow on the run and fell in beside Jared.
The First zombie Jared reached, was a wearing a ripped and blood stained Coast Guard coverall. It rushed, as much as zombies could rush, at Jared its hands outstretched, mouth yawning open, revealing broken blood stained teeth. Jared side stepped swinging his Tomahawk around and chopped into its neck, the tomahawk designed to pierce metal clove easily through the rotted flesh of its neck and shattered Vertebrae, he pulled spinning the zombie around and brought the Khukri in his off hand whistling down into its skull that broke with a loud crack.
He kept moving even as the corpse fell to the dock with a thud. Ori stayed glued to his right hand side, Jill to his left as three zombies came on. Jill tried to ignore the fact that the female zombie looked a lot like her sister. If you didn’t count the bite marks on her neck, shoulders and arms.
Thankfully the only one she would have to worry about was the chubby guy in spiderman boxers, with a gaping hole where his belly had been.
as Jared ducked low to avoid the clutching hands and smashed his tomahawk into the knee of the dead man in the suit, who fell to the ground, Ori stepped forward his sword smashing into the woman’s kneck staggering her.
Jill glided to the left dangerously close to the edge of the dock her Katana whispering from its sheath, sunlight flashing on the blade as she brought it up slashing from left hip to right shoulder, cutting through muscle and tissue with ease. A twist of her wrist and she reversed and took its head in a diagonal slash that reduced any resistance that bone might have offered.
Jared planted his Tomahawk into the skull of the business man even as Ori brought his sword down into the woman’s head, dropping her to the ground. Blood dripping from a slash of fingernails along his bicep.
“I hate these things” Ori muttered, blackish goo and gore in his hair and splattered across his face.
Jared didn’t respond he was moving in on the last few undead, but could already see more undead beyond the fence moving towards them. They had to reach the gate and get it shut, or they wouldn’t be able to use the dock to refuel.
And right now they had a chance to take all the undead out while there was still some separation between them. So Jared went right for the center, Cripple then kill the order of the day. He snapped kicked the knee of the first zombie he encountered shattering its knee, as it tumbled to the ground he slide to the right and spun into a foot sweep taking down a second zombie, then brought his tomahawk down on its knee. He never stopped moving that was part of how you fought the undead. you never stopped and allowed them to swarm you. He didn’t need to look to see Jill and Ori, he knew they were by his side, and Logan was covering his rear.
His third zombie, a man in a speedo, poor bastard it must have sucked to die in a speedo jared thought as he broke its knee with a strike from the tomahawk and broke its ribs with a front kick that sent it hurtling to land on its back. He spun to the left, and brought his tomahawk down on the head of the first zombie he had taken down, while Logan smashed the skull of the second zombie he had crippled.
A head and arm bounced off the dock as Jill waded into a fourth zombie, Ori took down a fifth with a combination knee and head strike. And the sixth zombie went down as Jill and Ori both struck it at the same time. Destroying its head.
“Get the Gate.” Jared called out as he broke into a run. He raced off the dock leaped over a large coil of rope and scattered boxes, Ori at his side. His thigh burned, not fully recovered but good enough he thought as he reached the gate and slammed it shut dropping the hasp into place. “lock” Jared said, as a zombie came around the station wagon and grabbed the gate and trying to press its face through the chain link, one eye popping out of its socket from the pressure.
“Damn that is gross” Ori said as he passed a padlock to Jared who quickly slipped it into place and locked it. Jared didn’t reply he was already turning away.
“ Dock secured send in the first tug.” He transmitted. “lets get that genie hooked up so the pumps have power, Logan you watch that gate and the fence just in case.” Jared said as he ran back to the launch gathering Ed and Mike.
As the first tug, approached the dock, the four men got the genie placed and hooked up. “here’s to luck” Mike said as he pushed the Button. The Genie roared to life, and a second later the pump came to life, pulling fuel up into the fuel lines. “yes” Mike said.
The tug reached the dock and men leaped out tying off the tug, then dragging the fuel line over and pulled the lever, instantly the smell of fuel reached their noses, the undead at the fence started slapping at the fence, shaking it.
Jared walked over and pulled his combat knife and pushed it into the face of a zombie who was pressed against the chain link fence. “come on lets thin the number out before they collapse the fence” Jared said. The rest of the team moved up and for ten sickening minutes they just stabbed through the fence dropping undead. till a low wall of undead had been created on the other side.
The tug continued to refuel, and the activity and the sight of the living, got the growing number of undead agitated, they shook the fence and soon there were enough of them that cleaning them out was a necessity.
“how long is this going to take” Ori asked as he stepped back from the fence, where even more bodies lay. .
“As long as it takes, is all I can say” Jared said.
The first tug pulled out and the second tug moved in, and the process started all over again with the team moving up and down the fence line putting down zombies.
“Is it just me or has the fun gone out of killing the undead” Ori asked trying to be funny
“Not just you Brother,” Jared said stepping back from the fence.
“I don’t think I’ve ever found it fun” Mike commented.
“Then you were not doing it right” Ori said.
“How do you kill zombies wrong” Mike asked shaking his head.
“Its all in the wrist”
“Are you still talking about zombies or jerking off?”
“I have a wife” Ori reminded Mike with a smile.
“Having a wife doesn’t mean you have sex” mike said with a laugh
“Good point, Jared want to leap in here”
“Hell no Ori, I have no idea what your sex life is like” Jared replied, chuckling
“Hang on, what about the zombies.” Mike asked trying to get back on subject.
“Sex with zombies now who is sick.”
“Good god, you guys shut up” Jill actually chuckling. “even the zombies are starting to get annoyed with all the jokes.”
“See even Jill thinks the idea of you having a sex life is a joke” Mike added, then winced as Jill reached over and gibb slapped him. “ do not end up acting like my idiot husband and his idiot friends or Ily will kill you.”
“I am not an idiot, why do people keep calling me that” Ori complained. “its your fault Jared.”
“If the pointy cap fits wear it” Jared said feeling the emotional drain with drawing some.
Finally the tug pulled away and the cutter pulled into position. At that point Daws and his squad disembarked and replaced Team one on the fence.
Team one fell back to the launch and waited till the cutter had topped of her tanks, then Daws and his men shut down the generator, unhooked it and hurried back to the cutter. Once they had board and the boarding ramp was being pulled up, Jared and Team on climbed into the launch and in moments were heading back out into the Cheasepeake where they waited to be picked up by the cutter and continued on their way.
All over the bay, derelict boats drifted with the currents or were beached on sand bars and beaches. At one spot an upscale tourist area had burned to the ground, and undead wandered through the ashes as if looking for their long forgotten homes.
The flotilla forged ahead drawing ever closer to the Potomac river.
As evening approached dark clouds began to pile up on the horizon and as the sun set behind a veil of thunderheads, a curtain of rain rolled over them. Obscuring the coast line from sight.
Ori entered the Galley, not happy with the pitching motion the cutter had decided to use to annoy him, and found Jared sitting alone, a guitar in his lap as he practiced chords.
“this is what the 12th time you’ve decided to learn how to play” Ori asked as he walked over and sat down across from Jared.
“Yeah something like that, but this time I’m going to learn it, I already know three chords, how hard can it be to learn the rest.” Jared replied absently as he adjusted his fingers and tried again.
“Almost got it that time” Ori remarked.
“what’s the matter, couldn’t you sleep” Jared asked.
He flexed his fingers and the put the guitar aside for a moment to take a break.
“Not with this thing rocking and rolling like this.” Ori said. “what about you?”
“Jill is working on something so I thought I would give her some space and practice.” Jared said.
“Working on something with Jansen?” Ori asked.
Jared gave him a look then shook his head. “ No, something for Rob.”
“She’s a hell of a smart women” Ori remarked.
“She is that” Jared agreed as he reached for the guitar again.
“so what’s with the sudden desire to finally master the guitar,” Ori asked curious. Jared had messed around with guitars for as long as Ori had known him, but had generally never wanted it bad enough to learn.
“Have you ever woke up and realized that theres not a lot of time left in your life and you had better start trying to do and learn all the things you’ve put off.” Jared remarked.
“not really, I wake up every morning, happy I have beth, happy I can still get it up and Ive lived another day in a world ruled by the dead.” Ori remarked. “my only real regret, is I never found Susan last June. I loved her you know, nothing like I feel for Beth but she was a good woman and deserved better than being eaten by the undead, but so did every one else even the assholes.”
Jared nodded in agreement, but let the subject drop he didn’t want to get into the reasons he felt the way he did. He was up against the clock, and time was running down, he might have another couple of years to a decade or two. All he knew was he had to get as much done as he could before death came calling but even if he didn’t manage to get it all done, he would have at least spent every moment of it with Jill. after that two men sat in silence only the way two very good friends could, as Jared practiced.
Dawn brought a gloomy gray light and rain, as the Flotilla slowed coming almost to a stop. With the rain visibility was almost nil, and only gray shapes and shadows could be seen on the shore.
Jared reached the bridge to find Ori already there talking to Probst acting captian of the Yellowfin and two other former Navy guys. “whats going on” Jared asked as he closed the hatch and pulled off his hat. Absently he ran a hand over his thick red hair.
“we need to go back and take the Rappahannock river” Probst said turning to look at Jared. “the amount of wreckage and derelicts is getting worse, and if we land along the Rappahannock, there’s less population to deal with compared to the Potomac. Which means less boats.”
Ori nodded in agreement “ I looked at the maps for the area, he is right, and it allows us to go around Fredericksburg”
Jared thought about it, he wasn’t about to argue with a man who had spent most of his life on the water, and if Ori agreed with him that was a clincher.
“if you think it’s the best way, lets do it. Who am I to argue with the Captian,” Jared said. “how long till we reach an area we might be able to land on?”
“No later than 1000hrs, assuming little to no undead.” Probst replied.
“Ori do me a favor and spread the word, lets have every one ready to go before then.” Jared said thinking about how much fuel was being wasted but it was better to waste fuel than to sink which is what would happen if one of the vessels in the flotilla struck a sunken wreck or hit a derelict that did a lot of damage.
The flotilla entered the river an hour later, though it was hard to tell at first with the river being a three and a half miles wide, they would according to Probst have to put in between the mouth and Tappanhannock Virginia, after that were hundred foot cliffs along the river, then towns, a military reserve and finally Fredericksburg. The river itself ran for a 194 miles up into the mountains but was impassible by Tug and Cutter so wasn’t an option..
It was eerily quiet on the historic river, occasionally a small boat would appear out of the rain and drift by the flotilla, at least twice a mast could be seen sticking up out of the water like an accusatory finger.
They hadn’t been on the river longer than an hour when the cutter lurched, and the sound of splintering fiberglass and twisting metal filled the air. The wreckage of a boat spun away sinking quickly. A quick survey showed no damage and Probst placed a look out on the bow to try and avoid another collision.
As they drew closer to the area where they were going to disembark, Jared had every one going ashore, transfer by small boat to the Ferry and the Barge where they climbed into their vehicles and waited.
The Tugs pushed the Barge and Ferry into place, the 24 foot bridge sections that had once been attached to a Wolverine mobile bridge laywer, began to lower, creating a bridge from vessels to the river bank. The sound of idling vehicles changed as the first vehicles moved forward and rolled across the bridges to the Bank spreading out under the trees to allow room for the following vehicles. The crack of gunfire rolled through the rain as the first few undead appeared drawn by all the noise.
Vehicle after vehicle exited the vessels till the entire convoy was assembled and ready to roll out, the zombies had at first had staggered out of the woods in ones and twos, now the numbers were growing first ten then twenty, forty. The minutes ticked past as the bridge sections were winched back into place. As soon as there was no possible chance the undead could use the bridge sections to get on board the Barge of Ferry, the convoy rolled out. Tires slinging mud as they headed towards the road.
After being left to itself last summer then having suffered through storms including a tropical storm, a hurricane, and one of the worst snow storms in a decade or more, Tappanhannock was a ruin, with no people left to clean up, or repair damage each storm had added its own damage to the damage left by other storms, it had started with the first few storms blowing around everything that had been dropped or left outside when the dead rose, but as the damage grew, the debris and items from inside damaged buildings had been added to the mix. Now, it was a town of shattered windows, damaged roofs, leaning walls and fallen trees and the undead who wandered it streets.
They turned west, sticking to state roads trying to avoid highways but they couldn’t avoid I-95.
Jared drove slowly up till he could see the interstate clearing, “oh shit” some one muttered from the back of the van it sounded like Logan but every one in the van felt the same way. The interstate was a parking lot, filled with vehicles as far to the north and south as they could see, but it was the thousands of undead that had gotten and deserved the comment. The thousands of undead that began to move towards the sounds of motors with one thing on their minds, feeding.
“Pull back, there is no way we are getting through that” Jared transmitted as he backed the van up and turned around.
The other vehicles responded and vehicles quickly turned around and sped back the way they had come.
“so now what” Ori asked.
“not sure no matter which we go, we have to cross this interstate” Jared replied. “ But I think if you feel like picking some music, I might have a plan.” Jared said then changed channels on his radio.
“Goatman, alpha one, I need you to look over the interstate, find us a thin spot.”
“Roger, Alpha one, Goat man acknowledges, stand by” Ronny replied.
The column pulled back five miles pulling into the parking lot of a some kind of factory, at least that was the assumption, the sign was long gone, and the large metal building covered over an acre of land. There were few undead around, but that would change the longer they waited.
“ Alpha One, Goatman, get a pencil ready, I have a route for you.” Ronny said fifteen minutes later. “you need to leave your current location proceed two miles, turn west on what looks like a state road. proceed across 95. from the looks of it some one bombed the hell out of the area, you will pass whats left of an amusement park, assuming you enjoy rides that end in Craters and burned out buildings and some undead you might want to stop and spend the day.. undead are thin here so a diversion probably want be needed unless you hang around at the park.”
“Roger Goatman, and copy” Jared replied then repeated the directions. “all right people you heard the Goat man lets move out” Jared ordered. A minute later they were moving out.
Jill stared out the window watching the heavily wooded country side, through the rain and the occasional break in trees, she saw old farm houses and fallow fields. Lightening flickered for a moment as they passed the sixth farm and the scarecrow she had been looking at suddenly lowered its arms and began to stagger towards the road.
She shivered, Jared hated clowns, and she had always found scarecrows creepy, and what she had just seen scared the crap out of her. she knew it was a zombie though why it had been standing in a field with its arms spread wide she didn’t know, which was almost as creepy the illusion of a scarecrow coming to life, its stray filled burlap head with its twisted painted on face watching her, hunger in its lifeless painted eyes. Stop it she chided her self.
The Amusement park, Kings Dominion as it was named on the map, looked eerie as hell in the rain and lighting. A huge roller coast, shadowy and indistinct could be seen in the rain, part of it was gone. Some kind of cylinder that had been a ride, jutted up into the storm leaning to one side like the leaning tower of Pisa. They couldn’t see much else, and to be honest none of them wanted to.
But just up ahead, was an intersection pocked with craters. The interstate, was a jumble of broken bombed slabs of asphalt, some tilted at extreme angles. The undead were thinner here, a few hundred as opposed to the few thousand they had encountered before.
The vehicles wove around the craters and broken road, running down zombies, a sudden explosion rocked nearby vehicles as a Silverado, instead of following the vehicle ahead of it, decided to have some fun and go straight over the mound of rubble, striking what Jared assumed had to have been an unexploded cluster munition.
“son of bitch” Logan said from the back of the van, Jared agreed whole heartedly, turning pale as he thought about all the munitions that might be waiting just up ahead for them drive over.
“shouldn’t we stop and help them” Jill asked, almost angry at the fact that Jared just kept driving.
“they are dead,” Jared said looking back in the side view mirror at the burning truck. “and even if they were still alive, we would lose more men to the undead trying to save them.”
“how do you know they are dead,” Jill asked anxiously she didn’t want to leave any one behind ever if she could help it.
“Because whats left of the truck is burning Jill, the explosion killed them” Jared replied, just wanting to drop the subject. He hadn’t even thought about un exploded ordinance as a hazard till now. Another set of deaths that’s your fault due to poor planning.
She fell silent, tense as every one else till they left the Rubble of the Interstate and turned onto State Highway one with out losing another vehicle.
“ looks like a couple of trains collided down there” Ronny said suddenly. “ there are a lot of cars scattered around off the tracks. Doesn’t look like a lot of undead down there if you want to check it out”
Jared was tempted but I 95 wasn’t that far away, and the longer they were in this area the greater the chance of being swarmed by so many undead they might not be to escape.
“no just guide us out of here, and lets find a nice safe place to set up camp”
Jill paid only cursory attention to the dead small town, or the massive train crash they passed. She watched Jared carefully, seeing the grief and anger on his face. She shook her head, knowing there was no way she could convince him he wasn’t responsible for what had happened.
By sunset they were miles away, and into the foothills of Virginias Blue ridge mountains, camping near Syria Virginia. The vehicles had torn up, the pastures around the old lodge. Which had five bedrooms. Daws and his squad had peeled off around Lake Ann, where Ronny had landed, spotting a place where the plane could be pulled out of the lake, and have its floats exchanged for the tricycle gear, or the skis depending on how bad the weather turned, that had been carried in one of the Trucks. They would both guard and help Lee do the work.
“We stay here for two days,” Jared said climbing out of the van, as the few undead around the place were put down fast and silently in the falling snow. “I have a couple of Topo maps for this area, we took a group up hiking and camping through here. I think we should take the skyline drive, and stick to the mountains for a while, head to Mount Weather and check it out, then head west to the Green Briar.
But we can debate that later, first thing we need to do scout out the town of Culpeper and see what we can find, especially fuel.” Jared said as they walked towards the old farmhouse not even noticing the corpses of the undead that lay sprawled around the Building, slowly being covered by snow.
In St. Louis, Kronnen watched as a helicopter was prepared for a long distance flight, it would carry the strike team he had chosen into position where they would wait at the Middleton place till Williams and Bradleys people arrived and then launch the attack that would hurt Jared stone and His closest friends badly. Then the real game would start. He smiled coldly, death came to every one sooner or later, his job was to bring it sooner rather than later. But he couldn’t help playing with his victims a little and Stone was the type of man and NCO he had hated in his old life.
He turned to Proctor who stood behind him. “ any news?”
“Bradley says they haven’t been spotted in the area, but he has men watching every approach to Mt. Weather, if Stone does show up there they will spot them, but he wants to know what to do if Stone doesn’t show up in a week.”
“Tell him I want him to wait a week and a half, after that he is to take his men and Williams to the LZ so they can be taken to the Launch point for our little operation against Sullivan island.” Kronnen said.
He had debated with himself on sending Bradley or allowing Williams to go to Virginia, considering the fuel it was going to cost flying them in, then taking them back out and flying them all the way to south Carolina on the other side of Charleston. But giving Bradley’s men experience in the field and hopefully being able to observe how Stone operates first hand, was well worth the fuel. Now if they could only locate the Hunter and that damned annoying Brother, Eric Stone and his Special forces team he would feel much more confident in his over all plan.
“when you finish relaying my message to Bradley, send a message to General Bedford and ask him if he has the team ready that he promised me to hunt down Eric Stone and his men. I will feel much better knowing that particular piece has been removed from the board.” Kronnen said, Proctor nodded and headed for the Hotel and the Sat coms inside.
Kronnen watched him go, regretting that in the end his oldest and best friend was going to have to die like every one else if the dark won. But that was the Price for the power that was given to Kronnen, who was no longer wholly the man he had once been.
Across the land of the dead, people still survived, barely hanging on most fought and scraped for every bit of food and supplies they could find to try and make it through the second winter. Death walked amongst them and if a few dreamed of some thing dark that capered madly through their dreams with flashing knives and sibilant laughter they woke to a world they knew it couldn’t follow them to.