“Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.”
December 10th, 2000hrs.
Jared slammed his feet into his boots and dragged on his coat as the tenth alert of the evening came in, every band of undead had been larger than the one before it and if it kept up they were going to have to pull a bug out boogey.
He slung on his web gear and rushed out the door into the ice cold night, waving at Ori to stay seated and spend time with Beth and the kids, it went with out saying Ori was supposed to protect them. Jared actually grinned at that that thought, Beth had turned out to be far tougher and inventive than they had ever realized. Neccessity is mother of invention he thought
The mine complex was covered in shifting shadows that the moonlight and stars did nothing to dispel. But its selling point was its distance from a major population center and the fact that the entire complex was fenced in and that meant he didn’t have to worry about the undead a lot since they could only come through the gate and the guards could spot them easily before the undead were any where near the parked vehicles.
He leaped out and strode towards the HET where Benton and Toliver were on guard and slowed his pace as he saw the Vehicle pulling into the yard. It was the Big military looking Motor home that Darius and his Crew were using.
“ every one spread out just in case there’s undead following them” Jared said thinking that was the smartest move and the best one just in case Kronnen had killed Darius and his people and was using the MANKAT as a Trojan horse.
The 8×8 parked beside Jareds Rv and shut down. “Jansen, id appreciate it if you cover me” Jared said almost to the door of the MANKAT, the interior lights came on and Jared saw Kafil and Quentin up front.
The door opened as he was reaching for the knob and Darius stepped out, turning up his collar then placed his cowboy hat on his head pulling it a little lower than usual. “you know I have this sudden Urge to light a cigarette” Darius said with a lopsided smile. “I don’t smoke but it would sure go with the image”
Jared chuckled softly, like Darius he was keeping an eye on the open gate. “I take it went well”
“oh yeah, Kronnen is going to be furious, so I hope you were really hoping to be chased because that’s what going to happen. tomorrow or the next day he is going to send out teams to start looking, maybe call in the helicopter that I’ve seen with them use on rare occasion. Once he figures out where your at he is going to send everything he has after you. Sorry us” Darius said.
“its going to take more like a week, he lost his advanced base and took heavy casualties in men and lost critical equipment that will have to be replaced some how” Jared said shrugging. “at most he will send out scouting parties, but he doesn’t really have to either he knows where I’m going” Jared said,
“the spy” Darius asked.
Jared nodded sharply “ exactly” he replied.
“Jared, I really hope you have a plan” Ronny said limping up, rifle in hand.
“have you ever known me to not have a plan.” Jared asked then held up a hand before Ronny could respond.
“I know, forget I asked. But yes I have a plan” Jared said.
“mind if people crash in your RV thing there” Jared asked Darius.
Darius shrugged, “don’t mind at all Ace.”
“good, lets get people transferred and bedded down before another damn band of undead show up.” Jared said. “some of us are going to camp up there in the office where I need to have a talk with some of you.”
The office of the mine works sat forty feet above the yard on tall metal legs six feet of deck around all four sides, catwalks, ran from the deck to the various elevated tanks, platforms and mills. Conveyers ran from the huge mine shafts in the side of the mountain to a structure that Jared had no clue what it was, but he had posted guards up on the conveyors, from that position they could see the entire mine yard and fence line as well as the road.
With the vehicles pulled up tight around the stairs, Jared had some of the people moved up to the office. Once the windows were covered, lanterns were lit and a heater was fired up it only took a short bit to carry what they would need up into the office.
Twenty minutes later what Jared had started calling his command staff were sitting around the camp tables set up in the main office area. The four side offices were already claimed as sleeping areas by Beth and Ori, Ronny and Mary, Ed and Paddy, and the kids. Jared like Beth and Ori didn’t want them down below in easy reach of the undead or any one else.
Beth and the Kids were sitting in the very back of the room, the kids refusing to be out of sight of Jared and Ori. Lloyd, John Graham and Brian were also present talking quietly and sitting near the kids.
“….. when we left the rest of the relief force and that thing they call the behemoth was coming around the corner.” Darius said in that slow Texas drawl as he finished his story. “ I really hope you have more of those Javelin missiles. I have one left out of what you gave me. And reloads for that M20…:” he paused for a moment
“202” Ori supplied.
“that’s it.. those things are finer than hell” Darius said leaning back and sticking his legs straight out one ankle crossed over the other.
“we have a few reloads, and might be able to get more on the way back to the camp” Jared replied looking around at his assembled friends.
“so what’s this plan you have” Ronny asked getting down to the meat of it.
“Might as well tell them” Jansen said drawing surprised looks from Ori and Ronny both.
“He knows” Ronny said sounding hurt.
“Yes, so does Ed” Jared said, drumming his fingers on the tabletop for a moment. “I needed a fresh perspective, you and Ori think a lot like I do, so I need to see what some one else had to say.” Jared explained then shrugged. “I’m going to D.C.”
“what are you F’ing nuts”
“Why in the hell would you go there, it was bad enough when the people were alive.”
Jared waited till the uproar died down, hoping it didn’t drawn in zombies from twenty miles away.
“I have a few reasons, Tyler was constantly quizzing people over the real Reason I wanted to go to D.C., Beth was asked a couple of times about D.C” Jared said nodding towards Beth how had Mikey on her lap.
“it was subtle,” she said.” You know how people beat around the bush asking a question with out really asking trying to act casual about it. that’s the way Bradley did it.”
“So, that’s no reason to head into a city filled with those things” Steger said.
“No normally it wouldn’t be, but in this case it is. That’s one of the reasons I poked Kronnen in the nose, I think he believes I’m after something in D.C. besides what I talked about on the Island and I plan on using that. if he is chasing me then he wont be heading to Sullivan” Jared stated “ and that allows me to pick the ground we fight on.”
“Jared, have you even thought about the undead. we cant fight a conventional fight with the undead around, and if we trying zooming around in vehicles which every side can shoot out enough tires, blow enough tracks or find anti armor weapons wins.” Ori pointed out.
“True, but I plan on using the undead to even the odds” Jared said with a humorless smile.
“how exactly?” Steger asked.
“we use them as both obstacles and weapons,” Jared said but didn’t elaborate. He was still working that part out, but it was the one thing that would even the odds in his peoples favor and he was going to use it.
“I still say your insane” Ronny muttered “and I’m still pissed off you didn’t ask my opinion.” Jared sighed and dropped into a chair, Nibbler instantly leaping into his lap, her tail slowly wagging as she watched the Beagle and the Eddie who lay sprawled at Brians feet.
Jared didn’t have to look at Ori to know Ori was as annoyed as Ronny. “Okay I’m tired, and I’m tired of beating around the damn bush. Ronny you were melting down at the time, I know your handling it better now, dealing with the nightmares and the stress and all but you weren’t then or at least not real well. Ori till today your mind has been on rescuing Beth, if I had mentioned this to you then you would have gone off about how she was being held hostage and nothing else mattered. And no I wouldn’t have blame you for it and I don’t now. So both of you suck it up and realize your opinions are important to me, but at that time neither of you were in any kind of shape to help me plan this.” Jared said almost angrily. ”and I swear if you start crying Ronny I’m going to spank your ass”
Ronny glared at him for a second then Mary Gibb slapped him. Rubbing the back of his head, he nodded slowly. “I understand, I do. But don’t think I can just get over my best friend leaving me in the dark when he was plotting mean and nasty things to do a crap bag that deserves the very best we can give him.”
“I don’t know if I’m going with you” Ori said quietly surprising every one but Jared. Who had expected Ori to make the decision to protect his wife and the kids.
Beth placed a hand on his arm then silently rose and led the kids into the office where they would be sleeping, ignoring their protests as she put them to bed.
“why in the hell not” Ronny demanded, feeling even more betrayed now than before.
“I want too Ronny, God I want too but I have Beth and the kids to think about. I cant risk them being kidnapped again or worse.” Ori replied.
“You cant just walk away” Ronny said starting to rise but Mary shook her head , he sat back instead and falling silent.
“If that’s your decision Ori, I for one support you” Jared said ignoring the spluttered protest from Ronny. “in fact who ever in this screw up outfit wants to head back, you can.” Jared said looking around. Beth with the kids in bed returned to her seat beside Ori, she glanced at her husband absently twisting a strand of blond hair around her finger,
“I want you to stay” Beth said suddenly dropping her bombshell, the room fell silent. “ I want to go too but I cant, the kids would never go back with out me. I’m not like the rest of you, all bad ass cigar chomping, asst kicking soldier types, but I want to help take Kronnen out and the only way I can help do that is to make sure you go Ori.”
“did she just say ass” Ronny asked Mary who glared at him. “no really when did she start cussing”
“I’m going back and she’s going with me” Ori said determinedly.
“Ori” Beth said just as determined.
Oliver appeared in the door way looking worried, having only heard part of the conversation. The kid looked scared and determined as he faced the adults, “if Ms. Beth is staying so am I” he stated “ I can fight ask her”.
The kid had a crush Jared realized and after their escape probably even felt like her protector, Ori in a love triangle with a ten year old, this will not end well he thought almost smiling despite the barely suppressed tension in the room.
“Oliver go to bed and let the adults talk” Beth said walking over to the door and shooing the boy inside then shut the door behind him.
Jared sat back and let Beth and Ori hash things out, if Ori returned to the island Jared would be both relieved and upset. He was used to Ori having his back, but damn if he didn’t understand where Ori was coming from.
After a minute Beth led Ori into the office they were going to be sleeping in and shut the door.
“Well that was awkward” Mike commented.
“Okay seriously, you think that going to D.C. is really the best move” Ronny asked, rubbing his leg absently to say he was worried was an understatement. He was worried about whether he could hack it, worried that he couldn’t keep Mary safe, worried that they would fail and this would have all been for nothing.
“yes,” Jared said with conviction. “ if we can ambush and kill the SOB all the better, but even if we cant, even I die trying it keeps him away from the island for a while longer and that gives Ashton time to train the men longer, and that’s invaluable.”
Darius pulled the cowboy hat from his head and looked around the room at the group, then shook his head slowly. “the only problem with Ya’lls plan is that Kronnen had a lot more men than those with you saw with him, I cant even give you an accurate number to be honest.”
All eyes turned to the former bullrider who suddenly looked uncomfortable. “every where he forts up he calls up men from another place to come help secure it, its one of the reasons he grabs every survivor he can find, and why he doesn’t let his men go wild raping and killing, he needs them. In Denver it was forty, add those to the survivors he gathered, not kidnapped, gathered and there were almost a hundred there.”
“okay he gathers one group but kidnaps others, I don’t get it” Ronny said
“think it through Ronny” Jared prompted.
“god I’m dense” Ronny said suddenly. “any one who resists joining or might be a threat is snatched. Sorry I guess I’m just tired.”
“no problem, its been a long year and half, most of us aren’t thinking real straight on a day to day basis” Jared said, “Look at Jill she married me.”
“definite sign she wasn’t thinking.” Ronny muttered with a chuckle.
”what about with Kronnens main group” Mike asked cutting in before the two men entered a joke fest. “the one he always travels with”
“ that’s hard to say, since he usually splits it up into three units, who only get together at a rendezvous point before they hit what ever city he plans on seizing. But judging by what I’ve seen five hundred maybe more.” Darius said.
“five hundred men, under arms?” mike asked stunned.
“give or take” Darius admitted. “I know he has a National Guard company that Kronnen started out in, another company he picked up in New Mexico, a few militia groups, and about three hundred convicts he freed from two prisons back in the first month or so. Not all those are with him of course, and that’s not counting all the others” Darius said then dug through his pack and pulled out a battered notebook and passed it to Jared. “the reason I cant say for certain is I have never managed to locate the rendezvous point when the three units get together before moving on to what ever city or base they plan on seizing.”
Jared opened the notebook scanning the lines of neat handwriting. “every note I’ve taken since I started hunting them is in there.” Darius said
“Jared we have what two Squads and forty some odd civilians with us, and you want to take on Five hundred men plus men.”
“yes” Jared replied. “that’s why an ambush, and if you had been paying attention My brother and his and a few others are going to meet us in D.C.”
“oh so we may be seventy some odd men and women facing five hundred, I gotta say that’s a relief” Ronny said dryly.
“any one that doesn’t want to go, can wait till we get back to the bunker and then head south or stay at the bunker. Kronnen wont be able to pry you out of the bunker and I doubt he will try once he finds the doors shut.” Jared said, looking around the room.
Ronny was still shaking his head, but Jared knew he was in and Mary wasn’t going to let him stay behind with out her the rest looked worried but he didn’t doubt they would follow him to D.C. even if common sense told them not to.
The back office door opened and Ori stepped out looking upset, followed by Beth who had been crying. “I’m in” Ori said wrapping his arm around Beth, “She’s going as far as the Bunker, after that if we have the fuel and Ronny is willing, She and the kids will fly back to Sullivan.”
Ronny started to say something but three women leveled a glare at him and he remained silent.
Lloyd Caldwell looked around the room, then sighed Heavily. “I’m in, there is a band of Kronnens men sitting on Newfound Gap road, looking for a way in. if we do enough damage they will get pulled off.” He looked at John Graham who nodded his agreement.
“Probably already have been, we killed quite a few of them in that ambush” Darius said a cold smile playing across his lips for a moment.
“Then its mostly settled, those of you who haven’t made up your minds you have till we reach the bunker, were I plan on stocking up with more ammo and weapons before heading to D.C. “ Jared said deciding that all of them might as well leave for the island from the Bunker. They would have to retrieve the twin otter as well, just to have a second plane in case of emergencies, he rose from the chair he had been sitting in and stifled a yawn. “Get some sleep, we have a long ride back to the camp, and a few things to do along the way” Jared said as he and Jill headed for the door.
Outside it was cold and crisp, a thousand stars glittered bright and clear in the black sky above them. Jared stopped on the platform and gazed at the stars for moment as he turned up his collar. “ every month you can see more of them” He commented,” stars, I mean.”
“So what are you getting me for Christmas” Jill asked with a smile. “it had better be expensive and glittery.”
“you really area gold digger aren’t you. It sucks your married to a penny pincher.” Jared replied with an unseen smile.
“If I had known you were so cheap, I would have thought twice about it, but at the time being Ammo rich was important.” She said with a shrug.
He turned to face her then cupped her chin with his hand tilting her head back so he could look into her eyes. Blue eyes that glittered in the starlight. “I’m fuel rich to” He whispered.
“oh I love you” she said melting against him. “tell me how many gallons you have.”
He laughed then kissed her. “Take me to bed and let me roll around in the fuel estimates or lose me forever” she whispered when he was done.
“you are a shameless gold digger” he said smiling then led her down the stairs heading for the RV.
December 14th 1025hrs.
It was cold off the lake, and the sun vanishing and reappearing behind the ragged clouds that crossed the sky did nothing to warm it up.
Reese sat at the table in the RV watching out the window while Chris Wolff one of Jareds old friends went over the inventory list, muttering to himself.
“you know I never did paperwork before the world ended” Chris said shoving the ledger to one side.
“no good deed goes unpunished” Reese said as he glanced at his watch, Chris flipped a lock of dark hair out of his eyes and frowned.
“Everything is low, except fuel but even that isn’t going to last for long.” Chris said rising as he heard motors in the distance. “Did Jared say how long it was going to take them to get back here”
Jared had called on the sat phone four days ago, letting them know that Beth had been rescued and that they had a wounded kid.
“all he said was the child was stable, and they had some errands to run and party favors to set out for Kronnen, and that it might take a couple of days. I assume that since we haven’t gotten another call and that they haven’t shown up the kid is okay and they have been busy.” Reese replied with a shrug.
“I wonder how much Damage they did rescuing Beth” Chris said, “I’m betting Ori didn’t just leave with out shooting a few of them.
“I have no idea, he didn’t get into details” Reese said.
Chris eyed the ledge then rose from the table, he needed a break of he was going to kill some one.
“how does it feel knowing you’re a twin” he asked suddenly.
“weird as hell to be honest, I’m surprised your dealing with it so well some of your friends seem to be having problems” Reese said.
“Jared you mean, don’t let it bother you. Jared and Steve were about as tight as two men can be with out being lovers.” Chris said then laughed. “ there were a few times, that women they were dating or interested in thought Jared and Steve might just be playing both sides of the field. Steve would go ballistic about it till Ori pointed out they argued like a married couple and even finished each others sentences.”
Reese laughed for a moment, “I had a friend like that,” he said a sad smile crossing his face. “ he made it Desert Storm 2 and a bunch of other Bull the politicians created, and was killed by a punk during a car jacking while on leave in Florida.”
“sorry to hear that” Chris said,
“thanks but it happened a while back now, I’m glad in a way at least he didn’t live long enough to see the world die.” Reese said.
“we have incoming vehicles” Cooper called out from the Command room,
“On the bright side we now have a working surveillance center” Reese said realizing he liked Chris.
“There is that,” Chris said walking through the doorway into the surveillance area of the motor home, where a soldier sat watching the screens. “who is it” Chris asked just as the Sat phone he had placed on the console buzzed. It seemed so surreal to hear that he thought as he reached the phone.
“Hello” he said feeling stupid, the first call he had answered since the world had ended and the best thing he could find to say was hello, I am so lame he thought.
Reese had been the one to answer the call three nights ago about the rescue of Mary and having a wounded kid, I wonder how he answered the thing.
“We are almost to the camp, just wanted to let you know” Jared’s voice said in his ear.
“No problem Ill have Justin standing by for the kid, and we will have the gates open for you.”
“Gates?” Jared asked
“you’ll see” Chris said and hung up.
“Jared is on the way in.” he told Reese as he headed for the front door of the Motor home.
Reese, climbed down out the now mostly operational C and C motor home and studied the defense’s he had, had the remaining men erect while Jared was gone with the others.
Using the phone book that Jared had Secure, he had sent a team into Coeburn and returned with Rolls of barb wire and chain link fence, as well as Gate panels and chain link kennel panels. Using fencing staples(or U shaped nails) and hammers they had strung a eight foot high fence around the boat ramp and parking area with a gate at the road and across the boat ramp itself. The front gate was clanked by two of the tower deer stands and the one at the boat ramp gate had one deer stand.
To reinforce the fence he had parked the few remaining vehicles as close to the longer stretches of fence as he could just in case.
They had worked all day the first day and till almost 2200hrs yesterday but had finally finished it, while fending off small roving bands of undead. whose bodies they had dragged out a hundred yards and tossed them into a pile that was still smoldering.
With the generator on the C and C working now, they had set wireless cameras to watching the front and side fence lines, and one camera on the gate and another on the back gate. The place wouldn’t hold off a horde but it would damn sure keep individual and up to a couple of hundred undead out before the fence gave way.
In the distance he could hear motors, “Benton that should be Jared and the others” he called out to the soldier at the gate, then looked up as something wet struck him in the face, snow was beginning to fall again.
“I’m really getting to hate snow” he muttered missing the warmth and hot showers in the Underground shelter of Mount weather, for a moment he really missed his friends and Angela, the woman he had been messing around with for almost a year.
He reached the gates just as the HET appeared, followed by rest of the vehicles including a battered Stryker with DHS painted on the side, two trucks an SUV and two more RV’s.
No wonder it had taken them so long to get back, they had stopped to pick up a few things he thought.
Benton opened the gate and the convoy pulled in, Reese guiding them to park along the fence as much as possible eventually leaving a large open area in the middle of the vehicles.
Jared climbed out of the Hummer he had been riding in, Nibbler leaping out and staying close, and walked over to Reese as he eyed the newly erected fencing. “ when I left in charge I didn’t expect this” Jared said, then smiled. “ Good job. Especially since we are going to be here for a few more days, the vehicles need some basic maintenance.”
Reese nodded as he watched the men and women climbing out of vehicles, a slight smile on his face as he saw the kids who were dragging two dogs.
“How’s the wounded girl” he asked Jared.
“About the same, which is another reason I want to spend a few days here” Jared said as he saw Justin emerge from the medical RV carrying the big red Paramedics bag. “give Justin and that annoying as hell medic time to get her better.”
“Damn” Reese said spotting the slender, blond in skin tight sky pants and a jacket climb out of the SUV and follow the kids, the wind off the lake tossed her hair around her face. “That’s Ori’s wife right” Reese asked. “ because if she isn’t I’m so hitting on her”
Jared nodded “ that’s her, Beth and oh hell I didn’t think to warn her” he said.
Beth was smiling at something one of the kids had said, and looked up to see Jared then the man beside Jared. Her smile faded, her eyes widened and she looked confused for a moment.
“She knew your friend Steve right?” Reese said, it wasn’t really a question.
“Yeah” Jared said as Beth mad a beeline right for them.
“I know I am not going insane, so this cant be Steve” she said looking Reese up and down slowly, while the kids gathered around Reese.
A little blond girl wrapped her arms around Jareds leg and stared at Reese from under the bottom of Jared’s coat.
“ Beth this is Reese, Reese, Beth.” Jared said as he scooped Sally up in his arms and held her close.
“its amazing, you look just like Steve, almost identical.” Beth said after a moment then shook her head. “welcome to the group” she said as Ori joined them. Ori looked tired and worn out, his blond hair sticking up in all directions where he had been running his hand through it.
“Thanks” Reese replied “ I didn’t know you wore glasses” He said to Ori who shrugged.
“Been wearing my contacts a lot lately, I had to take them out yesterday because they were making my eyes hurt.” Ori said sliding an arm around Beths waist..
“well lets get every one …” Jared said then paused as Justin and Brian carried a stretched with Kathy on it past him heading for the Medical RV. “lets get settled and relaxed,” he continued “we are going to need men or cameras out along the road just in case we were followed apparently we pissed Kronnen off pretty badly.”
December 16th, 1500hrs.
The man known as Jon Williams was angry as he stared down at the camp below. Where did Stone get Cameras, and what happened to the rest of the convoy for that matter. This couldn’t be his main camp, which meant.. it meant he thought that most of Stones people were probably still camped at that Hotel.
He had spent two days probing the edges of the camp using every bit of stealth he had to stay hidden, and had been detected twice. Thankfully the men doing the searching were not half as good as who ever had been watching the camera’s Williams had slipped away both times with out being seen.
He rolled over on the rock he lay on and dug a bag of stale chips out of his pack and munched on them while he thought over his little problem.
They had some sort of Commo vehicle down there too, a civilian rig with Police painted on the side and two telescoping antenna masts that rose from the roof, so they had to have short range as well as long range radios to use.
But he knew from experience in thick woods and with mountains and ridges around them, the ranges of any radio would be limited to half or less of their stated range. A radio with a two mile range could be cut down to a hundred yards in this kind of forest.
He finished the bag of chips and rolled back on his belly and scanned the camp again with his binoculars, they were keeping the undead thinned out along the fence they had erected around the camp. Mostly using poles with knives attached to push through the gaps in the fence, once the undead were finished off they would gather up the bodies into a truck and haul them off to be burned about a mile from the camp.
Luring the undead down to the camp was a good idea especially if he could use a bomb to blow a hole in the fence to let them inside.
He heard motors start up and hunted around quickly and saw four vehicles with smoke coming from their exhaust. The odd looking Military jeep thing, a Red and Black Suburban like vehicle, the package truck and that Big ass Military Diesel with the cattle catcher on the front.
He watched as men and women loaded up and two minutes later they were rolling out the gate. He packed up his gear quickly, slinging on his pack he slid down the ten feet to the ground and set off moving silently and as quickly as possible. If he hurried he might be able to beat them to the junction and figure out where they were going.
the town of Coeburn was dead, it even looked empty, but that could change at any time as the sound of the motors echoed off the buildings. The CVC Pharmacy like most sat on a corner. Jared Parked the ELSORV at the door and glanced at Mike was staring at the building but seeing another CVC in another town months ago. “you okay” Jared asked.
“sure” Mike Replied “ five by five” Mike said giving him a thumbs up.
“Good I want you with Ronny, if he starts to wig or what ever you’re the best one to help him.” Jared said as he opened the door.
“What if I wig out” Mike asked seriously, it had been a while since he had been hit so hard that he froze up, but it could happen. god knows the night mares still came.
“hope Ronny can talk you out of it or cover your butt till you recover” Jared replied shaking his head. “Steger, you have the big gun today” Jared called out “its just a clear and snatch folks in and out fast” Jared said feeling happier to see the Demo kit hanging off Ori’s side. No need to worry about keys or anything else to get into the pharmacy..
“Jansen your squad has the exterior” Jared said wanting to keep the trained soldiers with the HET gun truck in case the feces hit the aerial motivational device.
They stacked and entered like normal, sweeping the aisles quickly, finding only two undead in the store, the pharmacy cage was as expected closed and locked and unlike in the movies they things were not easy to get into, specifically designed to keep people with sledge hammers, pry bars and other tools from gaining access. It could be done with those tools, but the store would open for business and the cops would have shown up long before they actually got a hole big enough to enter the pharmacy.
They were not designed for military grade explosives, which Ori was carrying and knew how to use.
“Mike, Ronny cover the back door, Jill, Logan watch the front , Ed and Steger stay near me.” Jared ordered as Ori worked quickly.
“ready” Ori said leading Jared and the others to a safe distance. “Fire in the hole” he called out turning away from the Pharmacy room and triggered the detonator.
The detonation shook dust out of the ceiling tiles and off the floor to hover in a band at the back of the store. Jared moved quickly to the security door and found it hanging open by one hinge, the re enforce door frame bent and twisted. Jared moved inside and saw a corpse sitting against the counter, its eyes opened and it started to rise, but he slammed his tomahawk into the top of its head and put an end to the threat, Ed and Steger moved past him, and found another zombie in the back, a girl in scrubs, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth Shue.
Steger butt stroked her to the ground then placed a boot on her throat to hold her down while Ed planted an axe in her head. “hey, that was pretty damn close to my foot” Steger complained as he headed back to the front where Jared was laying out empty black gym bags. “you two just load stuff, pain killers, antibiotics are priority.” Jared said, then held up a piece of a paper, “ I have a list for my stuff.”
Jansen stood on the Cab of the HET watching the streets, something was off, it was a gut feeling but one that was growing stronger with every passing minute. He took a deep breath but couldn’t smell the undead, you couldn’t miss the smell they were rank, rotting meat, Rotting blood and something else all combined to turn a mans stomach inside out.
“Hey Sarge where do you think they went?” Benton asked raising his voice just high enough for Jansen to hear.
“I have no clue,” Jansen said as he climbed down into the gunner’s position on the HET. Feeling better with the armored angel wings on the weapon mount covering at least the front of his body. “keep a sharp eye out” He said over the radio.
“Got a bad feeling about this” Baker muttered.
“Then stop playing with it” Tolliver commented.
“Got movement” Baker said suddenly, “12 oclock, ducked behind that laundrymat.”
Ducked, has to be human, Jansen thought double checking the Ma Deuce. Hundred round belt, check, ready to fire, check again, clean underwear in my pocket check.
Ronny leaned against a shelving unit, his leg hurting, he ignored the shaking in his hands. “your still upset aren’t you?” Mike asked quietly as he examined the rows of work out supplements and protein drinks that still remained on the shelf beside him. .
“Yeah” Ronny replied, “I understand why he didn’t ask me, but it still pisses me off” he said, scooping a couple of vitamins off the shelf he stood by and dropped them in the cargo pocket of his BDU pants.
“I know” Mike said then cocked his head as if he had heard something.
Ronny fell silent and listened closely, and heard it himself a soft rattling noise like some one trying to move a chain quietly.
He pointed at the back door and Mike nodded moving in a crouch to one side of the door his rifle at high ready.
“Might have visitors at the back” Ronny transmitted.
“Roger, keep frosty” Jared replied.
One moment it was quiet out front then the next, a shot rang out and something struck the angel wings in front of Jansen, as if that had been a signal more shots rang out, from three buildings across the street.
From the sounds, several of the weapons on the other side were 30 30’s and at least one 30 06. as he swiveled the Ma Duece, and tripped the butterfly trigger he heard two AK’s.
The boom of the .50 had to be shock to who ever this was Jansen thought as he walked his shots across the front of the Barber shop, bricks and glass exploding, the old fashioned barbers pole shattered. Seeing no muzzle flashes inside the ruined Barber shop he switched his fire to the Laundry mat.
A man either braver than his buddies or to scared to think straight, ran out of the laundry mat as Jansen and his men were busy walking their fire from on end to the other, the bad guy fired from the hip spraying and praying with the AK he carried. He was cut down before he could take five steps.
“Now that’s just stupid” Benton said over the radio having switched to VOX, “bad guys are pushing vehicles across the road behind us.
“Teach them the error of their ways, but don’t waste to much ammo” Jansen said.
What the attackers might have thought when the heard the buzz of the minigun no one would ever know, they bolted towards a building on the corner hoping to use it for cover but the rounds from the Mini Gun following them like a storm front punching through the flimsy civilian vehicles and cut them down well before they reached shelter again.
Mike saw the door crack open, his rifle snapped fully into the ready position, finger light on the trigger. Who ever it was, as brave or desperate as they might be were stupid, the door opened outward, the first man through was wearing ragged clothes, and skinny as a rail, a wild face with even wilder hair. he died before he could fire his shotgun, Mike hammered out two bursts into the men behind him, and then Ronny added his own fire to the mix.
Bullets snapped past Mike shattering bottles on the shelf behind him, glass fragments left bloody trails on the back of his head and neck. The shooter couldn’t be more than fourteen of fifteen. The image of a little girl waving at him from a school bus window flashed across his mind, no god no he thought he paid for the hesitation. Something punched into his torso just below the heart, sending him sprawling.
Ronny saw Mike go down, his own fear boiling up, No I will not give in he thought as he heard shots and saw the heads of the dead in the doorway explode in a welter of Gore. A second later a fifteen year old kid stepped inside and leveled his AK at Mike. Ronny shot him down, hating himself for it. a woman screamed out back, but Ronny didn’t pay attention to it he couldn’t. he let his weapon drop on its sling and pulled out his only grenade, pulled the pin and tossed it through the doorway.
Weapon in hand he was up and moving for the door as the grenade exploded, “got your back Brother” Jared said from behind him.
Ronny only nodded, as he moved across the doorway firing a burst , to crouch beside Mike who was still breathing, but was unconscious. Beyond the door he could see seven people four men three woman, a couple might be alive, the rest were dead and already starting to twitch as their bodies reanimated. He checked Mike over and breathed a sigh of relief at finding no wounds.
“cover me from the doorway” Jared said gliding past Ronny, who felt a twinge of jealously seeing Jared move so easily and quietly out the door like a hunting cat.
The Parking lot was clear as far as Jared could see but that meant nothing, there were thousands of places for men to hide, out front the shooting was dying down to single shots as Jansen and his men put down the newly created undead.
Jared slung his rifle not wanting to waste a bullet, and used his Tomahawk to finish off the corpses, a couple were just starting to sit up. “HGT one I need a truck and your medic back here behind the building we have three wounded aggressors, the rest are dead. Fully dead, not kind of dead.” Jared said looking around but saw no undead. where were they all at he wondered.
The Hummer a cargo/troop carrier version, essentially the front looked like a standered Hummer from just behind the font doors a truck bed had been added, appeared around the corner and stopped beside the wounded, Haslom leaped out and immediately began to inspect the wounded, “ do you want to waste medicine on them?” he asked..
Jared nodded “I’m not that big of a bastard yet” Jared replied eyeing the wounded who looked like they hadn’t eaten much in months.
“Just asking, this guy here wont make it no matter what I do, lots of shrapnel in the belly. If he did live, and he wont, The asshole would be shitting steel for a month if he recovered” Haslom said pointedly.
“You’re the medic, do your job. if he wont make it then we give him an OD so he goes out peacefully, I’m not Kronnen we aren’t leaving him to die out here alone, and I’m not shooting him till he dies.” Jared said angrily. Haslom just shrugged
“You’re the boss” He said as he set to work stabilizing the wounded for transport. “Ill give him a chance just to be sure” Haslom said.
“yeah, aint that the damned truth” Jared said bitterly watching as the two soldiers in the Hummer took over guarding Haslom then turned to Ronny who looked pale and in pain but okay.
“you okay” Jared asked “your head on straight.”
“I just killed a kid that looks like he hadn’t eaten in a month, hell no I’m not okay” Ronny said as the combat rush was fading and what had happened soaked in. he angrily shoved his shaking hands into his pockets
“Id like to say it gets easier but it doesn’t we both know that “ Jared said “they could have talked first, but they didn’t, they attacked. You pulled the trigger but they killed themselves” Jared said softly.
“how do you do it Jared, stay this calm.” Ronny asked. “I try and I cant do it”
“Maybe I am just a cold blooded asshole” Jared said then shrugged. “ truth is Ronny, I’m not calm not on the inside, I see this and think what a damn waste of life, and then I think how lucky we have been, we had the Camp and laid in supplies, we had hope and the right men and women to get us from the Camp to Sullivan, we were lucky finding out about the Terminal, and we were lucky that we didn’t run into more of this kind of crap on the way to Sullivan. “
“its going to get worse isn’t it” Ronny asked.
Jared nodded, glancing at Mike who was sitting up with Eds help.
“my honest opinion, yes, I can feel it, like a clock ticking down again, I think things are coming to a head and the dark is going to twist and warp every mind it can to throw at us, it wants Sullivan gone, and it wants me, you and the rest dead and walking.” Jared said watching as the three survivors were loaded into the truck bed. “and that’s another reason I’m heading to D.C., the longer its concentrated on me, on Us the longer we might be able to keep them from the island and maybe what ever is coming will be good for us, for all of us.” Jared added.
“might want to hurry, the undead are on their way” Jansen reported. “took them long enough.”
“lets get this stuff loaded, and secure those doors when we leave, so we can pick up the rest on our way out.” Jared said.
During the night the temperature had dropped steadily as the ice had built up, trees either from the weight of the ice had fallen across the road out of the camp or had exploded with loud booms. By dawn snow was falling again and it promised to be a gray dreary day.
Scouts had been sent out to investigate, and the news wasn’t good, the majority of the vehicles were not going to be moving across the ice covered road, and
Jared exited the RV, and stood there staring at the mountains where trees glittered like diamonds in the light of the rising sun, listening to the chainsaws as three men cleared the two trees that had fallen across the fence last night, while rolls of fencing waited to replace the damaged sections.
He headed towards the Medical RV, but smiled and shook his head as he saw some one had hung an American flag on the side of the C and C vehicle.
The medical RV was warm thanks to the propane heating system,
Haslom sat at the table, reading a playboy, looking up as Jared entered. “ Justins in the back with the kid” He said.
“How is she doing” Jared asked
“Good, looks like she will pull through, I hear we are stuck here for a few days longer” Haslom said.
“till the ice melts some and we can clear the trees,” Jared said smelling coffee, his nose twitching. He walked over to the coffee pot on the stove and grabbed a cup. “ try to stop me and I will shoot you before you can stand” He warned Haslom with a smile.
“how much do we have left anyway” Haslom asked not risking a Coffee addicts wrath.
“Cases of the stuff to be honest,” Jared said then took a sip and sagged against the counter in reveling in the pure caffeine bliss that rolled through him.
“Figured we needed to start rationing it from the beginning and make it last, till we can figure out how to grow our own coffee beans.” Jared said when the cup was half finished.
“Pray you don’t get shot, before we get back to the island” Justin said stepping out the back room seeing the cup in Jared’s hand.
“Pray you don’t need me to rescue you, if your going to be stingy with the coffee” Jared said watching as Justin checked the other three patients in the beds in what had been the living room section of the RV.
“then cough up another sealed bag of the stuff and Ill make sure not to leave sponges or tools inside you” Justin said finally joining Jared.
“deal” Jared said with real humor his gaze settling on the three survivors of the attack, the woman looked mostly okay, mostly skin and bone with lots of lacerations but otherwise fine, the man beside her looked worse, swollen eyes, skinny as a board his arms bandaged. But the third guy was hooked up to an IV, he looked pale almost white and was strapped down to the bed.
“How are they” Jared asked.
“all three are in bad shape from not eating which makes recovering harder but other than that the woman is fine, she lost two fingers on her left hand, but the rest of her injuries are minor. The guy next to her lost a lot of blood, but will pull through and will have bits of metal in him for the rest of his life, but the last guy, he isn’t going to make it. I’m not a surgeon, and even if I was we don’t have the equipment to operate on him. I have him sedated but its matter of time.” Justin said he started to say some thing else but turned away his mouth tightening angrily. “I’m just wasting medications on him.” Justin got out feeling ashamed.
Jared nodded, it was apparent the man was dying and from the way he moaned the pain killers were not helping.
“you heard what he said” Jared asked.
She nodded slowly, watching the dying man. “ he wouldn’t want to linger, and he wouldn’t want any one to waste resources that might help some one else.” she said her voice weak. “if you can do it painlessly” she said as if she were reading Jareds mind.
“Do what you gotta do” She said “he wouldn’t have lived this long if he had made it back to our… spot anyway.”
“does he have any family left alive” Jared asked,
“a boy and Girl, and believe me he wouldn’t want them to see this,” The woman replied. “Ill make this simple for you mister, your wasting medication on a man that wont live no matter what you do, and he is going to die in pain.” She stated meeting Jareds eyes unflinchingly
she was Right, Justin was right. It was a waste of medications. But they had so much back at the bunker did it matter at this moment. yes it did they were heading for at least one battle and people would be hurt, injured in the fight and those who could pull through would need every bit of the Medical supplies they had. the man moaned almost on cue, his eyes fluttering rapidly. He was flush and feverish and it was only going to get worse as the hours passed. Prolong the mans life for how ever many pain filled hours he had left or end it, take away the pain and save supplies for those would live if they had it.
“Justin, set it up.” Jared said “Ill do the deed, no one else has to” Jared said, looking at the woman who didn’t look hateful or angry just tired and worn out. He knew Justin believed it was the right thing to do, but he couldn’t do it, Justin saved lives not took them, Haslom believed the same thing, and if Jared were laying there on that bed, his guts open to the world and filled with metal fragments, ripped and torn bowels and bllod vessels he would much rather die than linger on himself.
“You sure” Justin asked not happy.
“Yes” Jared said.
It took Justin only a few minutes to get the stuff needed, he filled a syringe and passed it to Jared. “Insert the needle here in this port and push the plunger it should only take a few minutes” Justin said then turned and walked out of the RV.
“is he sure this guy cant recover” Jared asked Haslom who was watching with something like respect in his eyes and something else that Jared couldn’t define. Haslom nodded. “ the mans guts are torn up Jared the grenade did a number on him. I doubt even a trauma team could save him with a fully stocked ER I know we damn sure cant.”
“if I don’t how long can he last like this” Jared asked knowing he was hesitating and unable to stop himself.
“Today maybe, I doubt he would make it past tomorrow” Haslom said.
“Do it” the woman said from behind Jared. “we’ve been dying for weeks now, barely any food, he would want to go fast not linger on” she said angrily “to many of us lingered on and on in pain and dying just do it, Please!”
Jared frowned but he committed and inserted the needle into the IV port and pushed the plunger, and felt nothing at his own actions. That shamed him more than he would ever be able to admit.
“Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.”
Jared said quietly as he made himself stand there till the man drew his last breath, and was surprised to see the man smile there at the end.
“here” Haslom said holding at a thin knife. “better than blowing a hole in the floor or wall more respectful too.”
Jared nodded and took the blade, stepping up beside the bed he didn’t hesitate he slide the blade into the mans eye and up through the brain pan and into the brain beyond. He twisted and then with drew the blade wiping it off on a old rag on the small table beside the bed.
“Thanks” he said softly passing the blade back to Haslom who nodded silently then stepped out side to tell Justin it was over.
“Why did you bother to save us?” The woman asked suddenly, tears tracking down her dirty face.
“because I don’t leave people to bleed to death or be eaten.” Jared said how do you explain that the only way your staying sane is to be as decent as possible in the face of madness with out getting yourself or others killed that there was so much blood on your hands and because of that you knew you had to save at least a few people even enemies.
Because that was the only real solace you could find, or maybe it was just stubborn refusal to become like the rest of the trash out there whose true colors had finally come out showing they had only paid lip service to all that they had once claimed to believe. It was all that and none, Jared couldn’t even explain it to himself but to do any thing less than what he believed made him no better than Kronnen.
“as soon as your up and able, we can drop you back in town.” Jared said, turning his head to gaze at Justin who entered the Rv and fixed himself a cup of coffee.
“so your going to kill us anyway” She said bitterly. “there’s no food left there, we would starve to death in a matter of weeks”
“I would offer to let you go with us, but you wouldn’t trust us, and I’m not sure I can trust you.” Jared said. “My compassion and mercy only goes so far.”
She lay there quietly thinking that over. “ How could we earn your trust” she asked suddenly.
“I don’t know” Jared admitted then turned to face Justin, “Ill have him buried “ he told the former paramedic, who shrugged not even looking at the corpse.
“Then could you give us some food, we have children” she said the tears running again.
“How many besides the two you’ve already mentioned” Jared asked knowing he wasn’t going to just leave them all behind, starving, with kids they were just trying to survive. Damn me for being a softhearted fool, he thought.
“ six kids, that’s all that’s left.” She said. “ I can take you to them,” she offered sounding desperate.
“how many armed adults” Jared asked trying not to believe her.
“before you … we attacked you, seventeen adults.” She said
Justin watched Jared and knew the man was going to go after the civilians, he still wasn’t happy about killing the wounded man, even though it was necessary if for no other reason then to save medicine for those who might be hurt and could pull through.
“Ill offer to take you and yours in to the camp because of the kids, step out of line, betray the group and you and yours will wish you had stayed there starving.” Jared said his emerald eyes cold as the arctic.
“I wont, we wont.” She said desperately.
“even though we killed some of your people” He asked.
“I don’t hold it against you. I cant speak for the others, but you were just defending yourselves.” She said starting to cry again. Jared resisted the urge to roll his eyes,
“your going to have to speak to them and for them from now on, and if they don’t want to come, your still invited.” Jared said.
“Jansen, I want the ESLORV, and the Stryker readied for a trip” Jared transmitted. “if your lying to me, people are going to die,” Jared told the woman..
“have her ready to travel in two hours” Jared told Justin, “if she’s not lying the sooner we can get those kids and survivors back here the better their chances of pulling through”
“are you sure you want to bring in total strangersJared” Justin asked.
“don’t Justin, I don’t need another conscience” Jared said not wanting to debate this.
“Haslom help me get the body outside, so we can bury him” Jared said
“his name was Pete.” The woman supplied.
Jared didn’t respond there was nothing he could say that would make a difference, Pete was dead, and Jared would live with the guilt of his decision and his actions till he died. .
Together he and Haslom got the body on a stretcher then outside, they carried it almost to the fence and sat it down on a grassy area. Where Jared got on the radio and got men over to help them dig a grave.
By the time the body was buried, Justin had the woman, Wendy, ready to go. She was weak but she didn’t have to do anything but sit in the ELSORV, Reese and his squad were waiting in the Hummers ready to go. Spacey gave Jared a thumbs up and smiled.
Wendy, dressed in a new coat, and new clothes, looked cold which wasn’t surprising considering how little meat she had on her body to act as insulation. Her eyes widened as she saw Nibbler trot up and leap into the open door of the ELSORV. Her ash blond hair hung limply from under the toboggan cap she wore,
Darius, and his people stood in a cluster irritated that they were not going but, Jared wanted them here just in case something happened while he was away.. Which was why he hadn’t wanted Reese and his people to go, but apparently Reese and his squad were busy being selectively deaf.
“Angela, is driving the Stryker,” Spacey called out from the window of the Humvee, “ she’s not the best with directions so we are coming along to make sure she doesn’t get lost”
“Thanks, I’m sure she appreciates it” Jared replied with a soft laugh then turned to Wendy, who was still staring at the all the vehicles filled with gear and the men and women who obviously had enough to eat, this was real wealth to her. what she and her people had been denied for months if not for over a year.
“Ready” Jared asked. She nodded, tears glimmering in her blue eyes. Whether it was fear or joy he didn’t know.
the trip back to town was slow, they stopped several times and chained up fallen trees and pulled them out of the way with the Stryker when they could, other times the trees were either to big or there were to many and they just drove around them.
By next winter this road might be impassable Jared thought, as they rolled past the few homes scattered along the mountain road, Wendy looked nervous, but was absently petting Nibbler who refused to take no for answer. Shoving her head under Wendy’s hand every time the woman stopped stroking or petting the dog.
“Jared, what are you going to do with these people after we rescue them” Jill asked from behind the drivers seat out of the corner of his eye he saw Wendy dart a look at him.
“when we get out of this camp, our next stop is at the bunker to get more ammo and food supplies, I think it’s a good place for them to stay for now” Jared replied thinking that it also might be the best place for Beth and the kids to stay as well, there was no way Kronnen would be able to get inside, assuming he even knew it was there. Which he probably did.
“The bunker” Wendy asked, the first time she had talked since they left the camp.
“You’ll like it, even if it is under ground. Plenty of room, lights, food, hot showers stuff like that.” Jared said. “as long as no one dies with out any one knowing its safe too.”
“Government built, its made to withstand a Nuclear weapon” Ori offered.
“Food,” she said her stomach rumbling. .
“Enough to support your entire group for a couple of years if need be” Jared explained. “I have men guarding the place, so you wont be alone there, and I plan on sending more people there around spring time.”
“you have more people” She asked, stunned.
“close to a thousand, maybe more by now.” Jared replied.
“a thousand…” She said wonderingly.
“we left Nashville on day two or three, to be honest I don’t really remember, stopped at my old camp where we ran into more people, we headed for the coast right around Halloween and ended up on an island off of South Carolina. Cleared it of undead and have gotten power back on to a few buildings, people have been showing up off an on since then, individuals to small groups when we headed back out to secure the Bunker there were seven hundred some odd folks” Jared explained.
“it wasn’t as easy as he makes it sound” Jill said dryly
“lots of fighting, people dying, things I didn’t feel like getting into” Jared said.
The town was just like they had left it except for the new snow and ice and the undead that had returned. Jared drove around a fallen creosote pole that had once held power lines, running over a elderly female zombie in a bloody and ragged house coat.
Wendy moaned softly as the zombie vanished under the front of the vehicle with a thumb. “ I knew her” she whispered.
Jared didn’t say anything for a moment, things like that hit every one differently. Finally he asked. “ why were there so few zombies in town yesterday.”
“they roam around town in a large group, sometimes you see individuals that fell out of the pack, or you find a small group in a store or building almost like they were waiting for people to show up and shop or something. But mostly they just circle the town.” She said softly.
“Like they are patrolling or looking for people” Ori muttered.
“that’s what Ralph says… said that is “ she said, looking out the window as tears welled up again.
“turn up there” she said a minute later to a street on the right just up ahead.
They rounded the corner and saw the street was filled with undead,
Darius brought the axe down splitting another log, letting the work keep his mind off what was coming.. D.C. was Jared insane, that would be nothing like Knoxville. I am a bull rider not an action hero, he told himself then shook his head slowly as he placed another log on the stump then stepped back, and brought the axe hurtling down splitting the log.
“Hey Darius” he turned to see Quentin leaning against a tree
“I thought Bears hibernated” Darius said, eliciting a laugh from Quentin,
“so how does it feel to be part of a larger group and not the leader” Quentin asked as he gazed past Darius and into the wooded land beyond the fence.
“I both like and hate the hell out of it” Darius replied sinking the axe into the stump then wiping the sweat from his forehead, then pulled on his coat “ and I think going to D.C is both a great idea and the stupidest thing in the world.” Darius said tilting his hat back on his head. “there are a couple of times I’ve been tempted to just jack slap the shit out of Jared, then the asshole turns out to be right” Darius said laughing at himself.
“hate it when that happens” Quentin said dryly.
“I take it you have a reason for coming out here and it wasn’t just to talk.” Darius said.
“ well actually Bwana, I do” Quentin said as he shuffled his feet in the snow for a moment.
“and?” Darius prompted watching this oversized friend who looked decidedly nervous.
“ I think Nate is going to slip away soon,” Quentin said after a moment.
“why?” Darius asked quietly.
“little comments, the way he has been checking out maps when he thinks no one is around, and the fact that he stopped talking about his wife, till Knoxville he brought her up at least once or twice a day. Now not a word and we both know he didn’t just forget about her.”
Darius nodded slowly, he had been waiting for this for a while. Nate was happy that Darius had gotten Kate and some of the others away from Kronnen but couldn’t rest till his wife was rescued and Darius couldn’t blame him. Only he suspected that when Nate found out what had happened to his wife it would shatter him. as far as he knew of he was the only person Kate had told, and if Nate found out he would go on a one man mission to take Kronnen out and that as much as Darius would love to help Nate do just that, couldn’t be allowed Nate would at best be killed, at worst captured and he knew Jared’s plan and Kronnen could not be allowed to find out that Jared was yanking his chain to get Kronnen to follow him right into a trap and away from Sullivan.
“Ill talk to him” Darius said slowly knowing this was going to be a confrontation he wasn’t going to enjoy.
He left Quentin and walked slowly across the camp to the MANKAT, not really noticing Kafil and Jim saying good morning.
He climbed into the Rv, barely even noticing the heat. Nate was sitting at the table a closed atlas beside him, cleaning his pistol.
“I think we need to talk” Darius said coming to a stop in front of Nate, his thumbs hooked behind his belt buckle .
Nate brushed a lock of dark hair out of his eyes and looked up. “what about?”
“your planning on leaving” Darius said cutting to the chase, he never had been a man who cared to beat around the bush when being direct worked so much better.
“yeah I am” Nate admitted with a shrug. “You got Kate back, and most of the rest, but Fay and the others are still there and I cant wait any longer. Jareds way means another month or two, maybe even longer, shes been in Kronnens hands to long. “
Darius felt for the man he truly did, and he understood the need to go after his loved one, Darius had done it and killed a lot of men to get his sister the others back. But now there was something else that needed to be done to free them all and that was to kill Kronnen and his main command group and Nate couldn’t be allowed to endanger that.
“I cant let you go Nate” Darius said regretfully.
“why in the hell not Darius, doesn’t it matter to you that Fay is a prisoner, and half our friends.” Nate snapped half rising. “you cant stop me with out killing me and you don’t have it in you.”
“Nate, listen to me if you go and you get caught you will be tortured and you will talk, every one does sooner or later and when you do you give away the plan. This is our best bet to wipe out not only Kronnen but his main Lieutenants and for all we know Fay and the others are with the main group and we can free them when Kronnen is dead. If not we can find out from the prisoners.” Darius said as close to pleading as he could get.
“Sorry Darius, you may be my best friend. But I am getting my wife back” Nate said. “nothing you can say is going to change my mind.”
“I’m sorry to Nate” Darius said drawing the Sawed off .12 ga he carried in a holster on his thigh. “Kafil, Jim, come in here please.”
“you son of a bitch” Nate growled as he lunged for his rifle. Darius didn’t fire he jumped the three feet to land on Nate and slammed the .12 ga against the side of the mans head, Nate twisted and punched him in the stomach.
Darius tossed the sawed off away, and grappled with Nate pulling him off the bench seat and away from his weapons. Nate punched at Darius rapidly landing four more blows, Darius slammed an elbow in Nates jaw then kneed him in the groin, Nates breath exploded out of him with a woof, his eyes looked glazed.
Kafil and Jim Burst in and saw the two men rolling around on the floor exchanging blows.
Jim reached down into the brawl and grabbed a shirt and pulled. Nate was ripped away from Darius and found himself flying down the middle of the RV only to smash into the floor. Darius lunged up and went after him only to be snatched back by Jim.
“enough, you two are friends” Jim shouted.
“not any more” Nate said angrily.
“What are you fighting over” Kafil asked , his voice soft and soothing, the man was a diplomat at heart Darius thought.
“Nate is going to slip away to find his wife and we cant allow that, if he gets captured he can spill the entire plan” Darius explained.
“shes My wife Darius, I cant leave her there, ” Nate said as he climbed to his feet, and for the first time Darius saw Tears in his friends eyes. “she’s all I got Darius, I just cant.”
“Nate, please, stick with the plan, and I swear Ill help you hunt her and the others down and get them out. But for gods sake help us Kill Kronnen” Darius said.
“he wont capture me Darius” Nate said with out moving.
“ I thought the same thing Nate, and he caught me and beat me down so hard I almost died from it. I would have too if Quentin hadn’t show up and killed the three guys Kronnen had left to execute me, and then nursed me back to health.” Darius said “and you have a huge disadvantage, they know you. You wouldn’t make it ten feet into their camp before some one recognized you and they would turn you in so fast you wouldn’t even know what had happened till you were in front of Kronnen.”
Nate looked down at the floor, his shoulders sagging in defeat. “ I cant leave her there Darius” he said again.
“we will get her back Nate” Darius assured him, Nate didn’t say anything he just turned and walked to the bathroom shutting the door behind him.
“Keep an eye on him, don’t let him leave” Darius told Jim, not completely convinced that Nate wasn’t going to slip away and try any way. he collected his sawed off and stepped outside, rubbing his jaw where Nate had landed a good punch, the man can punch good enough Darius thought with a regretful smile.
“you know something about his wife don’t you” Kafil said stepping outside.
Born diplomat and a good people reader Darius thought regretfully. He nodded slowly “and I cant tell him or any one else Kafil. It would destroy him.”
“at some point he will find out if he lives long enough to rescue her.” Kafil said “and he will hate you for not telling him.”
“sometimes doing the right thing means losing a friendship or even a loved one” Darius said.
Kafil shoved his hands in his pockets and shivered, born in Africa and until a year and half ago he had only been a tourist here, he didn’t deal well with the cold.
“You show the world a hard man, but you are not as hard as you act in some circumstances.” Kafil observed.
“maybe not, but I have to be so I am.” Darius said, wondering if Jared did the same thing.
“tell him Darius, he has a right to know” Kafil said and walked away, leaving Darius torn between doing what he thought was right or telling nate the truth and destroying him.
Abe Wilks was happy to be riding scout for Kronnen’s convoy, it kept him as far from his volatile boss as possible. It had taken days to get a safe camp set up and reorganize the fighting men and every day that had passed had seen Kronnen growing angrier. Almost a week later Wilks and his team had been sent to scout out the way to some hotel called the Greenbrier and to hopefully locate Stone along the way.
Wilks had to admit he wasn’t happy either, for over a year they had just pushed through and hammered down any opposition that came against them, and had thought they were tough. He didn’t know about Kronnen but he, Abe Wilks had just learned a big lesson about the difference between tough, and competently trained soldiers and tough just wasn’t enough.
Bradley and that National Guard Trainer had finally started gaining ground with a lot of hold outs who had thought tough was enough, but Wilks was honest enough with himself to realize that he and most of his criminal buddies just didn’t have it in them to buckle down and become soldiers. Tough men yes, but they would never equal the team work and training of the men on the other side.
Bradley had once commented that only if they had just the pure numbers to roll through the fire and over Stones positions would they win, what was that quote that Bradley had used it went something like quantity has its own quality or something like that. Some guy in Europe or somewhere had said it once back in the day, Wilks thought.
“almost to Kingsport” his Driver, Dumb Dave said. Dumb Dave was probably the stupidest person on the planet and unlucky, in fact he was so dumb even the cops had felt sorry for him. Once he even got mugged on the way back from robbing a house and lost all his loot. His last job had gone flawlessly, except for the fact that he didn’t bother to check and see who he was robbing, and the FBI agent who had come home in the middle of the burglary hadn’t been amused.
That was David, he could score the biggest haul in history only to find out he had left his wallet at the scene with his license in it, or drop the hope diamond down a drain when he stopped to pee. Which was why he drove, it was the one thing he had a hard time screwing up.
“guess Stones guys are kind of bored” Dumb said pointing to a sign that some one had spray painted over the original Message of Good food and good service eat at Moe’s to , “ go back now or face your doom”
“there’s another one” Dumb said leaning forward to read the sign which read in big paint drip print “ its almost too late”
Wilks felt his gut clench, he opened his mouth to tell Dumb to turn around but saw the third sign “ To late, your toast.” Behind him he heard an explosion and looked back to seen the Deuce and half two vehicles back burning as it fell over on its side, spilling burning men out onto the pavement.
“what the hell!” Dumb said as he did the only thing that came to mind, he hit the brakes it was his bad luck he did it three seconds too late.
There are a few bad combinations in life, and one of those combinations is a pissed off man with explosives training and a wife who had been kidnapped combined with a munitions plant that had every thing said pissed of man could use to cause trouble.
As the lead vehicle passed the first sign it triggered a countdown that armed the explosives hidden across the road at the first sign while instantly arming the trap at the third sign, the explosives at the second sign were wired the same way, the pressure plates on all three were set so that only the weight of a vehicle could trigger the detonation to keep the undead from setting off the trap before a vehicle could pass.
Dumb Dave, Wilks and the six men in the back of his truck vanished in a fireball as the HMX explosives, a new high yield grade of explosives detonated creating a wave of hot rapidly expanding gas, a shock wave, that smashed into the truck and ripped it apart what was left slid along the highway as a flaming wreckage, the second truck had passed the second line of explosives with out knowing they had missed becoming toast by a mere two seconds, but as the truck behind them blew up and the one front become burning confetti and falling body parts, the driver slammed on the brakes and then backed up, the passenger in the cab with him, survived only because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt and the shock wave throw him out the window to land on the side of the road with plenty of scrapes and bruises, and at least one broken leg.
He probably wouldn’t survive the zombies that were staggering out of the flames, but before he tried to escape he saw painted on the back of the second sign, “don’t back up, ooops too late”
Jared hit the brakes and veered to the left to keep from slamming into the crowd of undead that stretched down the street as far as he could see. It was possible the Stryker could center out so he would rather not risk it in a crowd that was shoulder to shoulder. And stretched that far. He turned and headed back down the road, the other vehicles did the same followed by the undead.
“okay is there another way” he asked Wendy who looked scared and was biting her lower lip.
“yes turn up here” she said two blocks later and pointing.
“I want the Stryker to lead, “ Jared said pulling over to let the 16 ton vehicle roll past, then fell in behind it. “turn right at the Hamburger joint on the corner.”
“What now?” He asked making the turn behind the Stryker.
“Keep straight and…” she stopped and closed her eyes picturing the route in her mind. “At the church turn left and go two blocks.”
“Alpha six actual, we have pus bags up ahead not as many as before but quite a few” Angela’s voice said in Jared’s ear bud.
“Copy that Sierra One, run them down as long as you cant get centered.” Jared replied.
With Wendy directing them along a circuitous route they finally found themselves rolling up in front of a high school halfway up the mountain to the west of the town, the place looked abandoned. A sign proclaimed cheerleading camp June 20 through the 24th.
A few undead pawed at the windows but that was till the crowd what was probably still following the sound of the motors arrived. .
“déjà vu all over again” Jared muttered.
“What, how do you mean?” Wendy asked.
“we rescued a bunch of Kids out of an elementary school the first week of the apocalypse” Jared said as he eyed the school. “ we probably don’t have a lot of time”he said then keyed his radio. “ I want the Stryker to stand by to pick these folks up, I’m going to the doors and let Wendy talk them out.”
He drove forward slowly, then stopped under the brick and steel rain shelter that extended out for the front doors. The undead instantly heading to the ELSORV which was the closest vehicle.
“Give us a minute to clear them out” Jared said, as he opened his door and stepped out leaving his HK racked in the ELSORV.
Jill and Logan were out and by his side instantly, Logan brandishing his Axe, Jills hand just rested on the hilt of her Katana, as the fifteen undead staggered up.
Mike still stiff and sore from the bullet his Vest had stopped, stood in the ELSORVS gunners position he held his fire unless they needed it.
Ori put the first one down with two arrows in its skull, its fell over. Losing its one remaining shoe.
The next up was a former high school student, wearing all black with a thick chain running from its belt to the wallet in its back pocket, studded leather braclets still around its almost skeletal wrists and plenty of other Goth touches.
About half the zombies were cheerleaders, most were badly mauled.
“I wonder if it was the football players who ate them” Ori mused as he drew back an arrow and sent it winging into the almost untouched face of a once pretty teen aged girl, Jill surprised every one by spluttering a laugh.
Jared didn’t reply, he was in the zone gliding forward in a crouch, the Tomahawk licked out and hooked the Goth zombie behind the knee a quick pull it fell over on its back. only to have a Khurkri smash into its skull as Jared moved past it, Logan to his left putting down a grey haired woman in a blood and mud stained flowery dress, her skull split with a pop like an over ripe melon, he wrenched his axe free and kept moving.
Jill stepped forward the katana hissing from its sheath, edge skyward, she slashed the cheerleader in front of her from left hip to right shoulder a twist of her wrists and the blade hissed back in less time than it took to blink and cut into the neck at the required angle allowing the blade to cut through soft tissue and bone, the head bounced off the wall as its former body crumpled to the ground.
Ori got off two more arrows then dropped his bow and drew the Machete strapped to his left lower leg.
Jared cut down a man in blue work coveralls that might have been a janitor or a mechanic, only to have a zombie slip past the falling corpse and grab him by the collar, he twisted and spun bringing the Khurkri down on its wrists, severing them, then in a rising strike backhanded the Tomahawks but spike into the girls head dropping her like a rock.
Another zombie came in low trying to grab his legs only to have the point of a katana enter its ear and out the other side, Jill with drew the blade and sent the next zombie stumbling back as she launched into a spinning kick.
In less than three minutes every zombie out front was down, with out a shot being fired.
Jill pulled the Katana from the head of a corpse and wiped the blade clean with a cloth before sheathing it with a quick spin and flick, her eyes never stopped looking around her.
Wendy with Jared’s help Climbed out of the ELSORV she looked at the bodies for a moment then turned away and Jared was pretty sure she had know some of not all of them.
“its your turn, tell them what’s going on, and what I’m offering. But hurry up, I’m betting we don’t have a lot of time before the rest of town shows up” He said then stepped around the ELSORV and retrieved his HK from the rack.
He listened to her explain what had happened, knowing that it was going to upset the people inside, but he wanted them to hear the truth, and he wasn’t even sure he was being smart in making this offer but it was his way. Good or bad, he wasn’t turning his back on his beliefs like the bulk of the survivors outside of his group seemed to have done.
“..we made a mistake, but they are willing to take us in, they have food, medicine, a Doctor, and power. Please listen to me” She said falling silent waiting for a answer.
“contact” Reese said over the radio, he was parked a hundred feet down the road watching the approach.
“I see more behind the buildings across the street”Ori said suddenly.
Jared looked and saw a long ragged line of dead maybe a half a football field away, they were slowly stumbling closer.
Jared waited a few minutes longer, then shrugged. “lets mount up, we are leaving” he said.
“you cant leave, what about helping them.” Wendy asked turning to face Jared and saw just how close the undead were, in another minute or two the ones across the street would be in the school parking lot, and there were more coming up the road.
“what do I do, prove how nice I want to be by busting down the door, so the undead can get inside too. No we can come back later, but we are leaving before my folks are endangered” Jared said, Wendy turned away from Jared and ran to the door and pounded on it.
“Damn it we don’t have time for this” Jared said starting around the ELSORV, half tempted to leave her.
from inside the school, gun shots suddenly rang out, and then kids screaming. Wendy began to pull on the doors but they were locked from the inside. “Get that Stryker over here, back it into the door” Jared said. “ Bravo Six Actual, hold the pus bags back as long as you can but do not endanger youself or your squad.” Jared said hearing the Stryker’s motor roar as it surged forward.
That woman has turned into the Mario andretti of IFV’s Jared thought as the Styker raced around the ELSORV swerved into a tight turn, stopped facing the parking lot then backed up fast. Jared only barely managed to snatch Wendy out of the way of the vehicle turning and using his own body to shelter hers as the Stryker hit the doors.
The doors and the plate glass windows to each side were nothing against 16 tons of vehicle. The metal frame bent and tore, glass shattered. The Stryker came to a stop. “Keep the Ramp up till we get the survivors out to you” Jared transmitted as he led his team inside.
The large lobby was cloaked in shadow, it held all the usual trophy cases, banners and flyers announcing this or that activity and it was rank, smelling of sweat, fear and urnination.
The office sat in the middle of the back wall of the lobby with two dark hallways that ran off behind the office. “this way” Wendy said, pointing down the right hand hallway.
“stay behind me” Jared said turning on the light attached to the rail on his HK and moved forward so quietly it took Wendy a second to realize he had even moved. More gun fire could be heard and Jared knowing they didn’t have a lot of time, stopped worrying about being quiet and ran towards the sounds.
At Wendys shout they turned right down the next hall way which was pitch black except for the two lanterns that hung from the ceiling barely lighting up an area two feet around them. But in the beam of the flashlight Jared could see two skinny zombies dressed in rags slapping on a door at the far end of the hallway. “contact two” Jared called out.
“Bruce” Wendy shouted as she recognized one of the zombies she fell to her knees sobbing.
“Jill, Logan Stay with her” Jared said as he dropped into a crouch rifle snapping up into the firing postion, he dropped a bead on the closest zombie, a blond man whose face looked almost skeletal, but the blood on his shoulders was fresh, so he was a new made zombie.
“hey, you” Jared called out biting off the insult he almost tossed at it, thinking of Wendy’s reaction to the two zombies. It turned, its mouth yawning open in a silent scream and lumbered towards him in a slow jog, its cloudy eyes almost glowing in the beam of the Jareds light.
He stroked the trigger twice putting it down with ease, then shifted his aim to the second zombie that was still pawing at the door. It was to fixated to be drawn away so he just shot it down where it stood. The contents of its skull painting the wall in a long smear.
“two down, clear” he added a second later.
Jill stood over Wendy, staring down the pitch black side corridor feeling anxious, and as a pale face materialized in the darkness before her, she shivered but wasn’t surprised the growing smell had alerted her already , she pushed Wendy away and stepped forward launching into a round house kick, her heel shattering the things jaw, its dirty lanky hair flew about its head as it pitched over backwards. She bounded forward, speared in the Light that Logan shown down the hall she could see clearly, she drew her katana and brought it point down into the skull, flesh and bone parting easily. She twisted the blade then pulled it free.
“one down” She called out. “and Clear “ She said.
“come on folks we are running out of time” Jared said hearing gun fire towards the front of the school. It was like stepping back in time he thought as he approached the door. “ Hello inside, US Army, if you want food and a ride out of here, open the door and lets go or we are going to have to leave you.”
Logan helping Wendy looked down at the first zombie Jared had shot and almost threw up, some how the entire brian had been blown out the back of the skull intact, it sat there on the floor at the end of a long smear where it had slid before stopping.
Ori who was standing against the wall saw where Logans light was pointing grunted. “its rare but sometimes that happens, there’s a name for it called the Kronlien shot or something like that” Ori said then sighed as Wendy sobbed even louder seeing the body and its brain. “move your light away Logan damn son, she doesn’t need to see that” Ori barked, thinking about how Beth would react if she were looking at his body.
“I’m sorry, he was… my boyfriend” Wendy said getting control of herself, “I’m not normally like this”she added.
“you’ve been wounded lost friends lived through hell I think your entitled to a break down” Logan said “but you need to talk to your friends inside.” in the distance they heard some one shouting for them to hurry.
“This is Wendy, they aren’t lying, they have food and power and gas and they will take us out of here, but the zombies are almost here and we have to hurry” She called out still sniffling.
“these are the people you went to raid, sure they are here to help” A man said from the other side of the door.
“forget it lets go “Jared said starting back down the hallway.
“For gods sake Wade open the damn door or I will shoot you where you stand” A woman shouted from inside the room. “ we have no food, starving kids and three of our friends just died and tried to kill us, and I am not going to stay here to starve to death so I can do what our friends just did and try to eat who ever is still left. so open THE DAMN DOOR”
The door was thrown open and almost instantly a woman with huge pistol that Ori recognized as a Desert Eagle .50 emerged, it was far to big a weapon for her in fact for most anybody, her small hand couldn’t even fit completely around the pistol grip. The moment she fired that hand cannon it was going to fly out of her hands Ori thought.
She looked around for a second but then her eyes fixed on Wendy who was wearing faded but new clothes, compared to the rags she had been wearing when she had left. she hugged Wendy tightly till Jared growled a warning about the need for speed. .
“come on kids” She said “ we have to hurry” She said. The kids ranged from six to fifteen Jared noted. Four boys and two girls, all of them looked better fed than the adults which suggested to Jared the adults had been making sure the kids ate better than they did. Cant be all bad then he thought as he started back towards the front. “ we might have to fight our way out” he called out.
Wade, who looked angry and embarrassed emerged carrying a bag in one hand and a 30 06 in the other, his hair patchy from malnutrition, no wonder he had stayed behind Logan thought the man was almost skeletal, the fact he could move was a miracle.
The last person in the room was a dark haired woman whose eyes sat in sunken pits, she had only slightly more weight on her than Wade
“God” Logan muttered, suddenly realizing just how lucky he, the group had been. “come on Ill help you” he told the first woman who glared at him.
“I can do this on my own” She snapped, but her voice was weaker than it had been moments ago, she was running on her last dregs of energy.
“Coming out “ Jared transmitted, half way back hoping it would reach through the walls.
“Roger, you need to hurry” Angela respond the transmission staticy and broken but it was there.
“Drop the ramp” he ordered hearing the weapons fire outside intensify.”
The stepped into the main hall and the weak light form the outside was a welcome relief, the ramp was lowering as they approached spilling weak electric light out in a fan around the opening, something the survivors behind him hadn’t seen in a year and a half.
“if your going to get the ELSORV and your dog, you need to get out there now” Angela said loudly from inside the vehicle.
Jared nodded. “wendy ride with your friends, Logan go with them” Jared said as he ran past the Stryker and outside.
The others followed him and it was well they had the undead were at the edge of the Rain cover, six feet from the Drivers side of the ELSORV, Nibbler was barking wildly, Reese and his squad were pouring fire into them the but numbers just seemed to keep growing. “mount up from this side “ Jared said firing over the hood of the ELSORV, Jill yanked open the front passenger door and climbed into the drivers seat, which was not as easy it it would have been if the ELSORV had been a civilian vehicle.
Ori slide into the back and tapped Mikes ankle “don’t freak its just me” He yelled up to Mike, who had been manning the Weapon mount, he slammed his door closed just as Jared dove into the passenger seat and shut his own door, Nibbler leaping happily into his lap trying to lick him in the face.
“lets go” he transmitted. The Stryker pulled free of the door way just as the undead swarmed around the ELSORV, Jill gritting her teeth gave the ELSORV Gas and pushed through the undead slowly speeding up till she was right behind the Stryker riding in its wake.
Jared climbed out of the ELSORV and stretched in the falling snow, then walked over to the Stryker and waited till the ramp was fully down before stepping into view to face the obviously scared people inside.
“okay folks, this isn’t home, buts a far sight nicer than where you were just at, Id like our Medics to look you over, and Ill have food and water brought to you, as soon as our medics are sure our okay to move around, you can get showers and clean clothes.” Jared said half enjoying the stunned looks on their faces, and the hope that flared to life after a second.
“some of our people tried to kill you” Wade said staring at Jared.
“but they didn’t, and seeing how hungry you folks are, I can understand why. I know it wont be easy for some of you, but let the past be the past, I’m sorry we had to kill your friends and family,” he said thinking of Pete, “this is the only way I can try to make things right.” And keep even more blood off my hands Jared thought.
“and here he is now, Justin these are the new folks, check them out, and lets get them fed” Jared said. “Ill be in to talk with you folks when your settled.” Jared said leaving them with Justin and Haslom.
December 18, 0830hrs.
The Land was fully in winters grip, Jared thought as he studied the road through the chain link, lots of Ice and snow, it looked like over a foot of the stuff but if the weather channel was still on the air they would be saying something like six inches.. total idiots he thought watching as a zombie appeared out of the woods, it slipped and staggered towards the camp where motors were idling as the group packed up what they were taking with them.
Jared had made the decision to move out before they got trapped here all winter, it was going to be tough driving the motor homes on the ice and snow covered crumbling roads but with the Stryker and the Semi with the Holmes Tow rig they should be able to make it, and if those failed the winch on the HET was more than capable of pulling a motor home out of just about anything.
He looked up at the snow-covered trees that marched up the flanks of the ridges and mountains knowing he was going to miss the view. He started to walk to the ELSORV then stopped as he saw two kids standing beside the Grave where Pete had been buried.
A boy and girl, they stood there for a long moment holding hands then turned and stopped seeing Jared, Tabitha who was sixteen frowned then led her younger brother to the RV they would be riding in with out another look at Jared.
Jared stood there in the snow watching them board the RV wishing there was something he could say, but there wasn’t. Their father had died trying to get more food for them, and Jared had been the one who had ended it.
An arm draped around his shoulders, “it’s a tough, but you did the right thing” Jansen said, he had appeared so silently Jared was almost certain there were Ori Genes in Jansen’s family history.
“I know” Jared said shaking his head, it might not feel like the right thing to have done now but it had been.
Jansen pulled his arm away and the two men walked slowly through the snow to the waiting vehicles.