Chapter Nineteen

“Live, when the ponderous pyramids of earth
Are crumbling in oblivion !
Live, when, wrapt in sullen shade,
The golden hosts of heaven shall fade ;
Live, when yon gorgeous sun on high
Shall veil the sparkling of his eye !
Live, when imperial Time and Death himself shall
die!”
~ A,Tennyson

Jan 2nd 2012, 1212hrs

Ed anxiously paced the living room of the farmhouse worried about the rescue party as well as Ronny and the others that had been on the plane. Ronny was a good man, though annoying sometimes, but Mary was a good friend and if he were straight he would have been very interested in her, except for the whole Dominatrix side of her life.

He looked over at Nate Darius’s buddy who sat at the table they had dragged into the room playing solitaire, the man was about as pissed as a man could be with out killing some one and had at least twice made comments about Ed just to provoke a reaction. Ed had ignored them of course, no real point in beating the crap out of the man and Ed was still enough of a cop not to step over the line for some personal satisfaction.

“might as well sit down and save some wear on that rug” Darwin McClane said gesturing to the chain beside him. “aint going to speed them along”

“probably dead anyway, and a waste of time to wait” Nate muttered. Darwin and Ed ignored him.

“and when they do get back” Darwin said pointedly, glancing at Nate. “Jared is going to be pissed that we are still here”

Ed shrugged “I made the call, he can take it out on me.”

“trust me I plan on Narcing you out two seconds after he walk’s in the door” Darwin said with a laugh.

“Thanks I really appreciate that.” Ed said chuckling, his eyes drifting to the window hoping to see Jared and the others walking up on to the porch.

“I really appreciate your willingness to fall on your sword for us” Darwin replied.

Nate swept up his cards and shoved them into a baggie, his lips curled down angrily. “you two act like Jared is some kind of king or something.” He said as he shoved the deck of cards in his pack. “he doesn’t own the vehicles outside and he doesn’t control you”

“look Buddy, whats your dysfunction?” Darwin asked.

“I am not your buddy,” Nate snapped. “my problem, I have a wife being held as a sex slave and no one wants to help me get her back, and your fearless leader refuses to let me leave to do it on my own.  Lastly I am tired of every one fawning all over Jared Stone like he is the Second coming.”

Ed didn’t show any reaction to the outburst to be honest he wasn’t much surprised, Nate had been just a little closer to snapping than most of the people in the group and he had good reason as far as Ed was concerned.

“your new to the group Nate, Jared would risk his life to save you if you needed it, he would do it for any one.” Ed replied calmly. “ and he has talked to me about your situation and the biggest problem we face is actually finding Kronnen’s main camp, which you and Darius both know stays behind his forward force and the Man takes great pains to keep its location secret. Did you know where it was at when you were pretending to be one of them?”

“No but I would have found out, except Darius showed up and I had to choose between finding my wife or letting a man I thought was a friend die.” Nate replied.

And you let Kate and the others rot in those cattle trailers with out doing a thing about it Ed thought having heard the whole story from Darius one night. Darius hadn’t thought about that way but Ed sure had. And Ed was starting to wonder if Nate wasn’t going to end up becoming a problem for the group as well.

As much as Ed could understand the mans feelings, he was quickly heading into loose cannon territory and Jared and Darius had a good point about what would happen if Nate ran off and got captured.

A sudden whistle from outside sent Ed to the window, the sight that greeted him almost made him weak with relief. “They’re back” he said with a smile

“big damn deal” Nate muttered as he sat back down at the table arms crossed over his chest.

Upstairs something broke, and Nibbler began barking wildly. He grinned widely,that damn dog had been running upstairs to look out windows hoping to see Jared since the rescue party had left.

The cry was taken up by a whimpering, woof of Eddies and the loudest baying bark he had ever heard as the Beagle celebrated the return of its master.

He heard Nibbler pound across the floor upstairs like a herd of elephants then thundered down the stairs barking happily.  She tried to stop but slide across the floor bouncing off the door seconds before it opened.

The other two dogs came racing down the stairs a moment later, Old guy sliding on his butt as he hit the ground floor.

Jared opened the door and went over on his butt as a hundred pound pit bull leaped on him wiggling happily and licking his face. “get off me you flea infested fur bag” he laughed pushing the dog off, then hugged the dog before he rubbed her between the ears. “missed you too” he said with a smile.

“I swear you might as well call that dog your wife” Jill muttered as she stepped past her husband and the excited dog and into the farm house instantly sensing the tension in the room. She hugged Ed, “he cussed you the last half mile when he realized you were still here, he could smell the smoke from the stove.”

“well his other wife demanded we stay” Ed replied watching as the party entered, there were missing faces and eight new ones.

“I would stick with that story” Jill laughed, ignoring the glare that Nate tossed her.

‘we lost some didn’t we?” Ed asked scanning the faces of the arrivals.

“yes, Stephen and Dale, almost lost the rest too, they were holed up in a cabin that the undead were tearing down around their ears, which is how we met Jess, Moses and their friends.” She replied.

Ronny was half carried into the room by Mike and Steger, then placed on the couch. His leg had finally packed it in five miles back.

Brian knelt on the floor beside the wood burning stove and petted Eddy, while Old guy threw himself on his back and waggled his front paws demanding attention. The Former priest chuckled and scratched the beagles belly.

“I thought I told you to leave yesterday” Jared said closing the door trying to ignore the bouncing dog that was begging for attention from her person.

“Are you sure it was yesterday, I really thought it was tomorrow” Ed said. “at your age, memory can do some funny things.”

“I thought you were going for Nibbler made me wait” Jill asked.

“I was under the impression he was going to selflessly fall on his sword and take the blame for the rest of us.” Darwin added.

“blaming it on Jared’s poor memory seemed wiser” Ed replied ignoring Darwin .

“coward” Darwin said smiling.

“I think I can forgive you this one time. but Next time do what the hell I tell you to do” Jared said shaking his head. “but honestly glad you stayed.”

Ed nodded, happy he had stayed as well, his gaze shifted to the eight new arrivals who stood nervously off to one side. All eight wore new clothes, Ed knew they were new because he personally carried some of those clothes to trucks after removing them from store racks and shelves.

“they were trying to save Ronny when we got there” Jared explained, “that’s Jess, their Leader more or less” he said pointing to the thin blond man. “and his best friend and well I’m not sure, Moses” Jared said.

Moses looked like a younger better version of Daniel Craig, Ed thought hiding a smile, the man had close cropped dark hair, a mustache and beard. He was as thin as the rest of his friends but seemed to have more energy.

“they lost everything in a fire last winter, except what they were wearing and what few supplies they had stored in a cave behind the cabin they had been living in” Jared said.  Then explained how Jess and his buddies had been up at Jess’s Cabin for a Week long bachelor party, fishing trip when the world ended.

Jess had his friends had told Jared and the rescue party the whole sorry tale while stripping the supplies out of the UV before heading for the Farm house.

“they had no cell service and didn’t even know till a bloody and dying Game Warden showed up on their porch, the zombies chasing him showed up a few minutes later and killed two of their friends.

It was down hill for them after that, and losing the trucks meant they had to walk ten miles just to reach town, a long walk with little food, little ammo and lots of danger.” Jared said as others fell silent listening.

Even Nate seemed interested in the story, Jared noticed as Jess stepped forward. “ there were twenty of us at the beginning, this is all that’s left, we lost some to the undead, others to illness, a few to suicide, and three walked back to town and we haven’t seen them since.

Till your plane landed we thought we were alone and haven’t moved more than a couple of miles from the cabin in a long while.  Going to that plane was a the longest trip we have dared to take since… the .. world ended.” Jess said. “we just hopped you could take us out of there,”

“and they haven’t seen a women in two years Ed, hint, hint.” Ronny said with a laugh.

“can it Ronny,” Jared said. Seeing the discomfort on the eight mens faces, Jess hadn’t really discussed the more private issues but Jared had gotten some strong indications on what had happened in the group who had till a few day ago had honestly thought they were the last people on earth.

God that must have been rough, to sit there day after day, not really knowing what had happened in the wider world while watching and waiting for help that never came.  No planes, no military, no nothing. just the dead wandering around. Jess had said at one point early one before they lost the trucks , he and a few others had gone down to town to check on Girlfriends and wives, only to find they were truly alone now which was something Jared just couldn’t wrap his mind around.

“anyway, offered to set them up with Kit and take them out here, They know about the whole Kronnen thing and still want to go along.” Jared said after a moment.

Ed ran a finger along the edge of the table feeling the rough grain of the wood through the thinning veneer thinking about what the new guys had gone through while Jared walked over and sat beside Ronny draping an arm around his friends shoulders. “Tomorrow we are taking a trip out to the local airport to see if we can get the parts we need to get the plane flying again.”

“There’s an Airport” Darwin asked surprised.

“More like an Airfield,” Jared admitted.

“What was wrong with it?” Ed asked, “the plane I mean not the airfield.”

“Some one sabotaged it” Jared said levelly.. “ rigged the fuel pump to fail and took a knife to some of the wires shaving them down, so they would over heat and melt apart.”

Ed couldn’t help it his eyes darted to Nate who sat silently ignoring every one.

“I left the plane three times before we had to bug out, but there were always guards and the camera’s” Sarah said, knowing she was probably a suspect.
Jared hadn’t missed Eds quick look at Nate, but Jared knew Nate had been in the MANKAT the entire time.  He would have to take Ed to one side and say something to as not to stoke the fire in that direction. “I think who ever Killed five of our people was the one who sabotaged the plane, in fact I think when Toombs and the others sent out to check for an intrude, it was the saboteur leaving the area.” Jared said refusing to say who he thought it was, it was still to far fetched even now.

“Look I don’t pretend to know planes, I can barely work on Cars, but wouldn’t the fuel pumps on different planes be different than the fuel pump on the UV” Ed asked Jared who nodded.

“Probably, we just need one close enough we can modify it to fit the UV. And we need some wire to replace the ruined wire in the Harness,” Jared said.

Ronny cleared his throat drawing Jared’s attention. “your both wrong and right, planes are like cars in a way.   Some planes use the same engines and parts of others.  I liked the PT-6, the UV that is for years before the dead, and its engine has been used in dozens of other aircraft. I think the TW otter uses the same type of engines or maybe it’s the PT 12’s engine the otter uses.  Any way the odds are decent we can find the right pump.” Ronny said.

“ so if Ronny can get the thing running the only task we have left is to find a metal shop with sheet steel and torches.” Jared said.

“sure why not just hop on the net and look it up on google..” Ed said shaking his head.  Then saw the look on Logan’s face and realized what Jared was about to suggest. “Hang on for a second” Ed said walking out of the living room. Jared looked puzzled, then broke into a laugh as Ed returned carrying a Phone book, which he tossed to Jared.

“read my mind” Jared said with a grin as he opened the book and began to turn pages. Logan and Ori both mouthed a silent thank you at Ed who smiled back at them.

***************************

“you know they are just playing you, Jared needs more soldiers” Maggie said, Nate rolled over and saw his sister sitting in a chair across from his bed. He sat up and smiled crookedly at her.

“probably so, but not much I can do about it” Nate said comfortably having grown used to the weird dream conversations with his sister.

“Darius is one of them now you know he doesn’t care if the rest of your friends are freed or not.”

“Id rather talk about something else Maggie, just tonight please.” Nate said climbing out of bed and walking over to the dresser to stare the picture of his wife. He touched it gently with a finger, imagining he could feel the soft silky skin of her face, feel the heat of her breath and hear her gentle laugh.

“you know how hard it is for me to come see you Nate, we have to talk, you have to free her, do you know what they are doing to her Nate, shes already had one baby because of them and she is pregnant with another now. Doesn’t that bother you.”

Nate turned angrily, “you know it matters to me Maggie, she is my wife I love her, I will die for her”

“then listen to my big brother, you have to disable all but one Vehicle that you can use to escape after you kill Jared stone and Darius.”

“Kill Jared and Darius” Nate said stunned that his sister would even suggest such a thing, yes Jared and Darius had no intention of letting him rescue his wife, but they were not bad men, not like Kronnen, no one was like Kronnen.

“Yes, if you kill them especially Jared, you will end up saving hundreds maybe thousands of lives Nate, he will become a butcher” She said eager to get him to understand, she was also fading and that meant the dream was going to end. Nate looked at the picture of his wife again, knowing that when he woke the face of the woman he loved would become nothing but a blur again.

“I will think about it Maggie, that’s all I can promise” Nate said.

“Jared lives, she dies, thousands die you can save her, save them Nate, you a guy who used to sell cars, the butt of peoples jokes. You can make a difference.” She said, and faded from sight, he managed to touch the pictured one last time as his old bedroom dissolved into a mass of swirling colors and vanished into darkness.

He woke shivering and sat up, his hand on his pistol. Across the room Brian sat watching him.

***************************

January 2nd, 0700hrs. Monterey Virginia.

it had stopped snowing outside, but the temperature still hovered around 15 degrees, which was going to do nothing to clear the two feet or more of snow outside the farm house.

With no sign of the undead, the small group sheltering in the farm house, sat at the table or around the wood burning stove, while two of their number were upstairs keeping watching on the front and back of the house from the windows upstairs.

“Jared, you don’t get it”Ronny said, showing his old determination. Being stranded and having to face his fears had done a lot to bring the old Ronny back, he wasn’t even rubbing his leg as much Jared noted. Which wasn’t going to stop Jared from pushing the issue.

“why not just try to get one of the planes at the airfield running, I’m willing to concede that you were right that a plane has been incredibly valuable to us, but Ronny if we don’t have to go back up the mountain to work on that old clunker, why do it.”

“Because that old clunker is the best plane for the world we are in now, its one of the best bush planes around and we live in the bush now Jared.” Ronny argued. “no other plane can take off or land in such short distances, no other plane can land at the altitudes that one can. And If I had to switch planes I would say lets go get the twin otter we left sitting at that industrial park because that’s almost as good as the UV, and damn sure better than anything we are going to find at that airfield.”

“why not just forget airplanes and get on the road” Nate said suddenly.

“Because a plane has allowed us to spend a lot less fuel wandering around trying to find our way around obstacles and towns full of undead, has helped us avoid blocked roads and even saved our butts a few times”Ronny said so hotly that even Sarah laughed.

“now your sounding like an dyed in the wool addicted pilot” She said after a moment, her eyes sliding over to watch Logan walk into the room and sit beside the stove.

“Kronnen has anti air missiles, that plane isn’t going to do much good finding him or his camp” Nate pointed out, stifling a yawn.

“it might, it has lidar and Thermal on board and a weather radar, which I tried to warn you about the weather front heading this way” Ronny said turning to look at Jared who shrugged.

“I wasn’t planning on being stuck here looking for a downed plane and its crew.” Jared said.

“anyway, it can go high enough that its possible we can detect Kronnen’s convoy or his camp before they even realize the plane is in the area.” Ronny said smugly, then took Marys hand and squeezed it.

Jared sat there for a moment thinking drumming his fingers on the table, something he rarely did Jill thought watching him closely.  He was about to give in partly with Ronny she thought.  Ronny knew Jared even better than she did and he had to know that when Jared drummed his fingers like that he was weighting the consequences of compromising.

Finally he looked Ronny in the eye “here is what we are going to do, we will go up there and look for the wire and parts, Jess says there is a county road that passes about four miles from where the plane is at. Ill give you one day, to make this work. That includes cutting and make the ski’s for the wheels, If you don’t get it running, and I mean where you can take off, at the end of the day, then we will strip it of ever bit of gear on board, and get another plane flying that you will use to go get the twin otter and bring it back. If you do get the UV running you are still going to go get the twin otter and bring it back, so we have two planes, and you and Mary will no longer fly together, till you’ve learned everything you can from Sarah, and if your baby ends up crashed again, we will have a pilot and a plane to go looking for you. Got it” Jared said.

Ronny nodded, at least Jared was giving him a chance to get the UV back in the Air, and recovering the Twin Otter would be a major plus either way.

“good then lets get the show on the road,” Jared said rising to his feet. “because I really want to be out of these mountains in a couple of days before we get snowed in or trapped by a landslide.”

As every one headed for the Door, Brian followed by his dogs stepped in front of Nate who gave him a suspicious look,. “ yes” Nate asked Stiffly, worried that maybe he had been talking in his sleep.

“I just wanted to offer to listen if you need to talk, I may not be a priest any longer, but I can still see when a man is troubled and might need a friendly ear.” Brian said” Ill even consider under the seal of confession so you do not have to worry about my revealing anything you say.”

“Thanks, but I’m fine” Nate replied “And I am not catholic”

“Neither am I any longer” Brian said, with an odd tone to his voice. Nate just shrugged and walked out the door.

“That is one Lonely and desperate man” Brian told Old guy, the Beagle wagged its tail briefly then followed Brian and Eddy outside to the waiting SUV.

*******************************

at 26 Mai, was slender, and toned after two years of almost constant physical activity, she was in fact in the best shape of her life, or was she thought running a hand over the slight bulge of her stomach. Until last week she had been the only Asian American survivor, The new women was named Ai, a mainlander Chinese as opposed to south Korean which was Mai’s heritage

She paced back and forth hoping something would occur to her, something that would help her with the wounded, but Jeb, her fiancé’s, face kept rising ot the surface of her thoughts, she hoped he was okay out there doing what ever it was that Jared had them doing in Virginia.

And none of that helped her with her problem, she thought returning to the table, exhausted and worried she sat down and rubbed her eyes, then turned her attention back to the Medical book and began flipping through its pages trying to find something that might save the wounded men in the Forts infirmary.

The Siege of the island had intensified, after the raid that had taken out the advanced unit sent by Kronnen, the reinforcements that had arrived shortly after the Raid by the SF men, were more determined than ever to make the Islanders pay.

They had hit the Isle of palms bridge and Barricades three times now and had been repulsed all three times, but the last time had resulted in several wounded, that with out help were going to die from infections.

The penicillin that had been cultivated so far was not enough to treat all the wounded, and if she didn’t find something soon, fifteen men were going to die.

Tired and needing a break she rose and walked over the Bed where Linda lay, the former Nurse was awake and thankfully recovering from both the surgery and giving birth. Unlike the wounded Linda had been housed in the Medical shelter because of the high tech instruments and that had kept her from being exposed to the bacterial infections the wounded were suffering from.

“how are you feeling” Mai asked with a smile, that did nothing to hide the dark rings around her eyes or the slump of her shoulders.

“better than you from the looks of it” Linda replied. “whats wrong, can I help”

most men would at first glance consider the former nurse turned Doctor plain faced, till they saw her eyes, light brown with green flecks that radiated warmth and friendliness that made people feel comfortable and at ease around her.

“I wish you could Linda, but unless you have a stash of really superior antibiotics somewhere I doubt you could help” Mai said sitting on the stool beside the other womans bed and explained what she was trying to deal with.

“what about the medical supplies from the Bunker?” Linda asked.

“still enroute apparently, The Dallas was able to bring the people but the barges had to be anchored because of the weather. Ashton sent the Dallas back to pick up food and as much of medical supplies as they can load on board, but she wont be back for another weeks at least. And those men will be dead long before that, and probably so will the wounded from the next attack.” Mai said.

Linda patted Mai’s hand, a thoughtful look on her face. “how cold is it outside” she asked suddenly.

“low forties I think why?”

“this is going to sound odd as hell, but bear with me okay. I want you to send as many people as you can to old flowerbeds, and old gardens, even the areas we cleared. And bring soil samples back from each spot, give them something to put the soil in from each location. Then bring it back here, or where ever you have microscopes.” Linda said as she grabbed the control unit for her bed and raised herself up into a sitting position.

“what exactly am I going to be looking for and how is that going to help my patients” Mai asked puzzled and clearing thinking that Linda must bet loopy on her meds.

“nematodes” Linda said “back during the civil war, I think it was the battle of Shiloh, there was a mystery, wounded men lay on the battle field for two days in the rain, during the night some of them noticed that their wounds glowed in the dark.. those men recovered better and faster than the wounded who didn’t have glowing wounds.” Linda said.

“it’s a myth Linda,” Mai said shaking her head in disbelief.

“no its not the mystery was solved a few years ago, the soldiers spent two nights in clod rainy weather laying on muddy ground, and became infected with Nematodes, Nematodes puke up a the Photorhabdus luminescens bacteria which produces chemicals that amongst other things kills microorganisms and produces a blue glow.

Normally the human body is to warm for nematodes, but when suffering hypothermia the nematode and the bacteria that it produces can survive. if it works the men should recover.” Linda said.

“you want me to place these men outside, to essentially lower their body temperatures then infect them with nematodes, on the off chance it might wipe out the infections they have.” Mai asked not even sure how to react to this insane plan.

You don’t have to place them outside, one of the old bunkers in the fortress should be cold enough, or you can make Ice in one of the RV freezers and cover the men in it.. but essentially yes.” Linda said. “they are going to die anyway if you don’t do anything, this might save them.”

Or I can have rob hook up water and power to an ICE Machine Mai thought, surprised she was actually considering this insane idea.

“your right, Ill try it “ Mai said after a moment, “if this works, well as primitive and as odd as it sounds, we will have another treatment for infections, or least some times of infections. But I have to ask what happens once the men heal.”

“the immune system will kill the nematodes and flush them out, or they will die when the patients temperature comes back up. the worst that can happen is they end up some some ulcers but even that’s rare.” Linda said. “now go get things organized, the sooner you can starter the better, and there are microscopes in the school labs if you don’t know of any others.”

“your right, but just one more question Linda, exactly what does a Nemaatode look like” Mai asked, she had read about them some where, and knew they were essentially really tine worms or something like that.

Linda smiled “it just so happens I have a book that will help” she said.

******************************“

Waynesboro Virginia, Jan 2nd 1000hrs,

“you had better hope they perform as advertised” Kronnen said, watching as almost a hundred of his men in two lines, advanced down the street, wearing body armor and carrying riot shields, armed with machete’s. behind them were men warmed with spears. Crude ten foot poles with spikes or blades attached, M113’s flanked the spear men and two came up behind the line covering the back of the infantry.

Besides their spears and Machetes, each man had a slung rifle and holstered pistol just in case, but this was the first time Kronnens men had been ordered to use the new tactics. Just in case vehicles waited to race up and let the men board under cover of machine gun fire if things went wrong.

Kronnen rode atop his RV, watching as his men met the horde of undead, locking shields and hacking with Machetes, while the spear men thrust their weapons between the shieldmen taking out zombies with each thrust.

They had been drilling for months at every camp the group had made trying to perfect the maneuver.

“as long as we don’t come under attack from humans with firearms, it will work well.” Proctor said, “and it saves using all those bombs and bullets, for better targets like Stone and groups like his.”

He broke off as one of the .50s on a M113 opened up, as a group of zombies staggered out of a store that the shield wall had just passed. “later, we can train them to march in a phalanx which will keep that from happening to” Proctor said calmly, the Phalanx had been the superior and standard formation for centuries made famous by Hopolites allowing them to cover front, back and side to side instantly,

It would also put them ahead of the game for the day ammunition ran out, by then Kronnens army would be approaching the tactically flexibility of the Romans, while the rest of the world was back to screaming and charging waving knives and sticks. Proctor thought with some satisfaction. Assuming of course. Proctor thought, that no other large group didn’t realize the same thing and start building and training an army for the same eventuality.

Kronnen was rather impressed actually, not that he really cared about being able to kill undead eventually his men would die at the hands of the undead that was after all their fate, all humanities fate. If of course the Dark won, which on occasion he doubted.

If the Scribe won, then it was pretty much over for the dark which was where Kronnen was supposed to come in, if he could clear all opposition like Stone early and reach the scribe before the end, then he could crush the Trinity and win the war for the dark. If how ever the scribe won, Kronnen would still be in place to act for the Dark in the new world and for either of those two to happen he had to have an intact army.

“ I have to admit old friend this plan is working far better than I had thought it would,” Kronnen commented, he was also growing bored he had that sweet little blonde from the radio station to break in and a transmission to make to Bedford.

“call up the squirters and lets end this for now, excellent demonstration Proctor, good job’ Kronnen said as he moved to the hatch that would take him to the waiting teen ager below.

Proctor relayed the order, and as Kronnen vanished into the rv the Converted fire trucks rolled up and began to spray a combination of chemicals over the undead that dissolved flesh as the shield wall and spear man fell back to their Rides.

As soon as they were secure, the squirters fell back and the heavy vehicles began to push through the still large crowd of undead clearing a path for the rest of the advance force to follow.

*******************************

Jan 3rd, 1000hrs.

“son of a Mongolian hooker” Ronny muttered as he rubbed his head. “that’s going to leave knot.”

“beats being eaten alive” Jared said his eyes scanning the wood line. “how long does it take to change a fuel pump anyway”

“if you would quit asking me questions every five minutes not as long as its taking” Ronny replied.

“score one for the Gimp” Jared said laughing quietly.

“this gimp is going to kick your butt” Ronny shot back.

“let him kill a butt load of zombies and he gets froggy” Jared said smiling, happy as hell to mostly have the old Ronny back.

Ori was still pissed about a variety of things but he would work through it like always.

The minutes ticked past, with the occasional snap of a cross bow or bow as a zombie was taken down entering the field.

“got it” Ronny said.

“you sure” Jared asked.

“as sure as I can be, I guess Ill have to wait and see if the plane starts, and if does I will find out if we fall out of the sky again.” Ronny said wiping his hands on his pants.

There had been almost seventy planes of every make and model parked willy nilly on the air field. Which was nothing but a long snow covered rough field with a single building and a fuel truck which had been empty.

The few undead around the airstrip had been put down with no loss of life which after the last couple of days was better than he had hoped for. Once the dead were out of the way It had taken Ronny two hours to find a fuel pump that looked like an exact match.

“well that’s it” Ronny said, stepping back. The regular landing gear with the tundra tires had been reattached along wth the Skis they had made. “I don’t think those ski’s are going to make much difference.” He said with a shrug. The floats had been carried back to the waiting vehicles and hopefully be repaired or a new set found.

“Times wasting Ronny, Start her up, or leave her” Jared said tapping his watch.

“remember that time in Stuttgart.” Ronny said but stopped as Jared tapped his watch again then pointed at the sky.

“I want to be out of this damn area today Ronny one way or another before any more snow falls, or undead hordes show up.” Jared said firmly.

Ronny opened the door, and climbed stiffly inside, his leg still hurting.

Nervously he started the preflight, when he reached the engine start, he hesitated, then shrugged not starting the engine would be the same as it not starting so heres looking at you tits, I mean kids, he thought with a grin as he saw Jared standing clear of the plane and tapping his watch.. Tap this Jared, he thought.

The engine whined, he tried again, there was a pop and a cough and the engine roared to life. “UV For the WIN” he shouted as the power built up then stabilized. He hated to waste fuel, but he let run for a few minutes while Sarah loaded her gear and Steger and Ed climbed aboard, both looked green around the gills, knowing there was a chance the plane would lose power and go down again.

“Take her for a spin, if she holds together, you go straight to the twin otter and retrieve that plane then meet us at the rendezvous site by sundown. If you have trouble again, used the damn flares this time” Jared said over the radio.

“Roger that Alpha one six, Good luck” Ronny replied

Jared watched as the UV 20a turned and began to roll down the clearing, snow blowing around it. in moments it was in the air, Ronny waggled the wings then flew North west.

*********************************

By 1200hrs, the small group of vehicle were on the winding State 250 climbing up the shoulder of Jack mountain to almost three thousand four hundred and six feet, before steadily dropping down into a narrow wooded valley carved out by Crab run curing around Doe Hill mountain then Little Doe Hill before entering, the burned out ruins of McDowel that lay in a Valley with Bullpasture mountain rising to the east behind the ruins.

A few undead wandered the ruins, the charred and blackened corpses stumbled towards the vehicles that rolled through, and soon left them behind entering a rocky landscape of mountain summits and Knobs with names like Maple knob and Hutts hill, dropping down back down into Cowpasture valley then climbing up Shaws Ridge, before cutting down the steep bluff on the others side. Descending from twenty four hundred feet to two thousand forty feet into the town of Headwaters Virginia that sat in the valley, the road passed through the small dead town that lay buried and slowly collapsing under the snow before snaking back up int the Mountians on the other side of the narrow valley.

Their passage would have been much slower, but the Main Column had cleared the road days ago when they had passed through. Jill sat watching the forested mountain flanks, mostly brown with splashes of green in the midst of the winter nude trees.

A few of the bridges they drove across would probably be gone in a few more years, in a hundred years there would be little left of most of the towns and homes they had passed.

That depressed her, it would be like erasing the proof that those people had ever lived, what ever mark they might have planned on leaving to mark their time on earth would be forever gone, no family, no kids, nothing.

Her mind drifted to the men and women she had worked with before all this, Slade who had been about to get Married to his High School sweetheart after ten years of being apart, Karen who had just given birth to her first child and had wanted nothing more than to be a mother and excel in her field.

“you okay” Jared asked softly glancing at her and seeing the trickle of tears that ran down her face..

“yes, just thinking about things” she said wiping the tears away.

“one day this is going to end Jill” Jared promised her.

“I wish I could be as sure of it as you are” she said softly, trying to get the surge of emotions under control.

“you cant feel it? its like somethings building up and there’s this sense of time running out at the same time” Jared said, Jill shook her head. “maybe its my imagination, but I don’t think so, I think what I’m feeling is as real as those odd dreams most of us have had”

she didn’t respond but reached over and took his hand for a moment and squeezed it tightly.
Jan 2nd 1200hrs

The Rendezvous had been planned Churchville, just outside of Staunton The town lay just outside Jennings gap as they came out of the mountain.

The Town spread along State 250 and lay in an area of Ridges and rolling hills, just off the road to the North behind buildings and trees lay Jennings Branch Creek, which was more of a river at this point, some of the buildings had been torched recently judging by the smoke that still rose from the charred beams and broken brick.

The main road had been littered with unmoving corpses, from one edge of town to the other, Jansen hadn’t needed Darius to tell him the shot up truck with the three black birds painted on its doors belonged to Kronnens group,

The truck had sat in a parking lot of a small radio station, the glass in the windows was gone, there were bullet holes in the coping and brick walls. Bodies lay scattered around the lawn and one even hung half off the roof.

Jansen had sent three men to take a look inside the Station but had found nothing, there were signs that some one had recently been in the building.

He stepped outside the Volunteer fire department into the cold and watched as Men emerged from one of the bay doors carrying gear that they might be able to use, flashlights, spot lights, oxygen tanks and masks, medical supplies, Radios, batteries and chargers and much more.

It wasn’t the only place that he had sent men to clean out, yesterday they had cleared out the oddest business in Town, a Medieval supply company, the kind of place he would have expected in a large town or city, but not in a small town like this one.

Either way Jared would love it, Drinking horns, Goblets, Medieval clothing, Tents and Pavilions had been taken from a store room, a few swords and some Armor, boots, cloaks all kinds of things that’s might come in handy, Hell if you didn’t have a coat a cloak would just as welcome. But the real bonus had been the collection of how to books, which showed everything from how to make Dies for leather and cloth to waterwheel run mills.

What they couldn’t find in the town was Food or fuel, the Grocery store had been looted and burned, Standard Kronnen procedure according to Darius, and the Gas station had been treated the same way.

Kronnen burning anything that his potential enemies might be able to use was effective, Jansen decided but it would ultimately work against him. the Warlord would have nothing to fall back on if he had to retreat.

What they needed to do was locate his main camp and teach him a lesson about logistics.

Behind him the Door opened and Benton Stepped outside. “ Hey Sarge we have two planes coming in and they need a place to land.”

Jansen turned a smile flickering across his face “ They found Ronny, that’s good news.” He said then paused. “you said two planes”

“Apparently they got the UV flying again, and then Jared sent them to pick up the plane we left behind at the camp in the Industrial park.”

“nice” Jansen said quietly as he turned and looked down Main street. .

“Get a vehicle out, I want those power and phone poles cut down, shove the vehicles out there off the road so they have enough room to land, and tell Reese I need his patrol pushed out a little further, if Kronnen is still in the area, they might spot the planes coming in and I want a good lead time before any attack.” Jansen said trying to stifle the emotions that did a slow roll at knowing Jill wouldn’t be far behind the planes.

He mentally kicked himself, he had no business loving her, as corny and melodramatic as it sounded Jared was her life, you only had to see the look in her eyes when she gazed at him to know it and if something did happen to Jared, which he truly hoped didn’t happen, no one would ever be able to replace him in her heart. So get a grip and move on he told himself.

***************************

the sound of chainsaws, men talking and a engine, pulled Emily out of her hiding spot, she moved quietly through the dark Radio station, a pistol clutched tightly in her small hand , afraid that a zombie would lunge out at her from around every corner and open door.

Finally she reached the small lobby, winter sunlight flowed through the open door and spilled into a pool of gray light on the blood stained carpet and overturned furniture.
She almost crawled across that dirty bloody carpet to the door and peered outside her eyes widening at the sight of men in Army uniforms cutting down power poles, a Huge truck like a tractor trailer that was armored and had some kind of odd looking plow on the front was just starting to push vehicles off the road.

Could they be Army, where they out looking for survivors to take back to a place where people still lived and worked., was it finally over, that thought almost caused her to break down. Oh please let it be over, she silently begged the universe. But she knew that it wasn’t, it would never really be over for any one that had survived and because of that she couldn’t risk being seen by those men and risk being killed or more likely raped. Becky’s faced flashed through her mind for a moment but she pushed it away, there was nothing she could do for Becky or her parents.
Finally they finished and she ducked back as the Truck and men entered the parking lot of the Radio station, the truck shut down, and the men stood there talking excitedly, she couldn’t really hear the words clearly but the emotions behind them was obvious.

She started to inch back into the building, when she heard a sound that stopped her dead in her tracks, it was familiar but she couldn’t place it not at first. Then it struck her, and the hope she had almost managed to quash soared again as she realized it was a plane, she resisted the urge to run out and look up waving her arms wildly.

And as it turned out she didn’t have to, the sound grew louder and louder and then suddenly there it was a strange looking Airplane dropped down and landed on Mainstreet, it rolled for almost five hundred feet then turned into a parking lot an shut down, then a second plane landed this one bigger and more familiar looking and it had the coast guard symbol on its side. .

“Emily” Sierra hissed from the darkness of the hallway, “whats going on.”

“Planes, two planes just landed.”

“who are they” Sierra asked walking towards Emily right into the light fully exposed in the doorway for a moment if any one had been looking into the building.

“I don’t know get down” Emily snapped as quietly as she could hoping that no one outside had seen Sierra.

Baker blinked, he had turned his head to check behind them for undead a habit that one either developed or they died and for a second had thought he had seen a rather pretty woman standing in the lobby of the radio station.

Either I am more sexually frustrated than I realized and am hallucinating women, or there might be a zombie in there. which sucks if that was a zombie it was a really hot looking zombie, he thought as he lifted his rifle and took a step towards the building, waving at Townsend and Benton to follow him.

The two Girls scrambled behind the counter, terrified now, they heard the men entered the lobby, boots crunching on shattered glass. Emily tried to keep her breathing slow worried the men would hear her breathing. Sierra pressed against her shivering almost uncontrollably.

“Id Swear I saw some one in here” a man said. “ A woman, pretty good looking too”

“Oh hell Baker, get your hormones under control” another mans said his accent sounded like a friend of Emilys dad who had been from south Carolina.

“it wasn’t my hormones Benton, I’m damned sure I saw a woman in here” Baker replied.

“well she aint here now” a third man said, “your seeing things Dude, we cleared this building remember, and it wasn’t a zombie they don’t hide, it would have just come out the door and tried to plant teeth in your hairy ass.”

“I knew you watched me in the shower” Baker said, “maybe I did imagine it. Damn that sucks she was hot.”

“doesn’t mean she would like you, besides your taste in women has been pretty questionable in the past.” Benton said. “Remember that chick in Columbus”

“don’t start she was hot”

“she had a beard Baker”

“no she didn’t”

“she had more than a Beard Id bet” the third man said laughing.

“Bite me townsend, your last date was nothing to brag about”

“she wasn’t imaginary at least” Townsend replied.

“hang on” The man called Benton said. There was silence for a moment, and Emily felt her heart speed up so fast she worried she might have a heart attack.

“Sentry just reported in, Jareds rolling in.” Baker said.

“about Time, I like Jared but damn he took his time getting here.”

“you like his wife,”

“now that is a hot woman” Baker said in agreement.

Glass crunched again and their voices faded.

Jared, that was the guy the Raiders had talked about’ the one they seemed worried about. It had to be him how many Jareds could there be.

“wait here, or go back to the room. I’m going to see if can see this guy they were talking about” Emily told Sierra who was more than eager to go hide in the room.

She waited till Sierra was heading down the hall before she crawled up to where she could peer out the door with out being seen, it was odd to see people outside in such large numbers, unreal to be honest. A group of vehicles was just pulling in and parking near the second plane that had landed, where a woman, Emily saw with surprise, was climbing out of the plane.

Men and another women climbed out of the newly arrived vehicles , and were shaking Hands and talking quietly. Her attention became fixed on the two women, the pilot who looked underfed, was talking to the woman who had gotten out of the odd looking Jeep like vehicle with the big gun on top, that one was definitely a military vehicle but she had no clue what it might be Called. Long dark hair pulled into a pony tail, she wore some kind of armor over a Red and Black Leather Motorcycle suit and had a sword on her side as well as two pistols and an army looking gun in her hands.

Many of these people were smiling and even laughing, she didn’t know what to make of that, they all moved with an easy confidence and if they were scared of being attacked by the undead or even other people it didn’t show.

A red head in a North Face jacket stepped away from the crowd around the vehicles and slipped his arm around the dark haired woman’s waist and kissed her on the top of the head, and that more than anything else told her how different these people were from the raiders that had taken her parents and her cousin and killed so many others here.

The news of their loses dampened the groups enthusiasium but not as much as it might have before, the world being what it was, death was accepted and people moved on, what ever grief they felt would be explored later when they had the time and luxury to deal with it, at the moment they were happy to have the group reunited again.

Jared watched the men and woman around him for a moment, wishing they were done, wishing the dead were gone and life was getting back to normal, but it wasn’t. the road to the end still had a few more miles on it, and getting to D.C was going to be the hardest part of all, the Dark was not going to just let them walk in and if it could help it Jared and the others were not going to just walk out even if they made it into the city.

He truly suspected the one of the main reasons that undead seemed so sparse on the ground out here, was most of them were in and around D.C. the Dark was going to try and end it there. I don’t know if killing me will actually do much to help the Dark win, Jared thought, but it sure as hell will hurt those I love.

This was were most liberal and pacifists would fall apart, if you could run from a fight they would say Run fast, Run far and don’t look back and sometimes they were even correct. But some fights couldn’t be avoided, if he didn’t do this here, the fight would move to Sullivan, Kronnen and his men would sweep down there to bolster the few men he already had in position and the dead would sweep in from every direction.

Either Kronnen would break into the island slaughter Jareds people or the undead would somehow get on to the islands, most likely Kronnen would blow the barricades to allow the undead in, then lead his people away from the area, till it was safe to come back and loot everything Jareds people had gathered.

Jared’s duty was to protect the People of Sullivan, and sometimes Duty required you die, you couldn’t talk men like Kronnen out of violence and words didn’t stop bullets or the undead. As a Soldier, now as a leader Jared had learned that lesson and embraced it. He didn’t want to die, no Soldier did, but sometimes there were things that were worth dying for.

“Okay folks the area might be clear at the moment but it wont stay that way, Show us where the camp is and lets get things set up,” Jared called out.

********************************

by night fall the camp was completely set up around the Volunteer fire station, there were better places in the area to be sure, places with private rooms lots of trees, even wood burning stoves, but the group need the bays the fire trucks had been pulled out by the HET and into a Parking lot down the street, and then vehicles needing tune ups or any other work were pulled into the bays where Lee and his Helpers went to work, Scavengeing Teams had gone out and returned with Tires and Rims, and any spare parts they could recover, some they had to take off cars left in the streets.

Two patrols worked constantly all day to put down the small groups of undead that wandered into town drawn by the planes and the noise.

Jared spread his maps out on the table they had sat up one of the bays that had been set aside for the people in the group then sat down looking at the group of men that had become his friends. “we all know we facing problems, the biggest of which is manpower” there were nods from every one. “and the closer we get to D.C the greater the odds we will end up encountering Kronnen, who I believe, despite his wanting what ever it is he believes we are after will not hesitate to bleed us every chance he gets.”

More nods and tightening of expressions, there were just not enough men to take even minor losses now and they all knew it. right now the numbers of undead were growing in the area and this had been a sparsely populated area, the closer they got to the major cities, especially the capitol mean even larger numbers and the greater the chance of losing a man here and there and that best case.

“we need to do this smart, and that means I need input from every one of you, I may be the idiot you folks are following, but I’m not a super genius and I do not want to lose any more than we have to achieve our goals. Hell I would love not to lose any one but we all know that’s not a likely outcome. So we need to work this out to minimize our losses and the first step is to spend more time in each camp, training, doing necessary upkeep on the planes and vehicles. that means more scouting to find the best locations we can to make our camps in and to avoid Kronnen until we have the upper hand and can engage with every advantage we can come up with.”

There were more nods and at that point several people through out suggestions,
Jared listened, even making notes, but then proceeded to shoot each idea down. “don’t take me wrong folks, some of these Ideas have promise but we need to work them out. Like Ronnys idea to use the Potomac to enter D.C. Great idea till we get off the boats, canoes or kayaks. Because the Vehicles, the supplies they carry, the speed of movement and weapons most of them out are our greatest assets. Against a city sized Horde, being on foot is a great way to get killed, and we can not guarantee getting vehicles we come across running or being able to secure fuel for them to keep them running, and that’s assuming we are not under fire from Kronnen or trying to escape the undead while doing all that.”

Before Leaving Sullivan Jared had actually decided against entering D.C for many reasons, not the least was the warning from the last Dead vistor in his dreams. But that had changed now and they had to figure out how to do this as smartly as possible with the minimum of resources and loss of life. No more just racing around to reach their goal, from here on out they had to play smart, collect what they needed, improvise what they couldn’t find and avoid excessive risks.

For almost two hours Ideas were being bounced back and forth, turning into a pretty lively conversation. Reese ignored the looks Jansen kept giving him, they had discussed this a few time over the last several days. Reese hoped that some one would have a better idea than his own. His idea had its own risks, not to mention it put him in position to have to betray his oath to duty. Even though it might just save the very people he had tried his best to protect.

Finally he gave in, there was probably few if any people left alive in Mt. weather by now, and those that were would need help. “I have a solution that cuts a lot of the overland dangers out of the equation” he said not loudly no but he didn’t need, he was long use to pitching his voice to carry over the din of combat so the men he was responsible for could hear his orders clearly.

All eyes turned to him, the group waited speculating on what he had to say, and nothing they thought might be on his mind would be close to he truth except for Ori he thought with a slight smile.

“Mt. Weather” he said knowing he had their complete attention at that name. “ there’s a way into Mt. Weather and once inside there is a way to get to D.C. with out all the dangers we would face trying to go overland. No mines, not wrecks, no ambushes, just straight in to the city and we can take our vehicles.”

“you have my attention” Jared said leaning forward.

“The train” Ori said suddenly, almost bouncing in his seat. “its not a rumor the train really exists doesn’t it?”

Reese nodded. “What the hell is he talking about, what Train” Ronny asked.

“I don’t know when it was built, I just know that under Mt. Weather is a train, that runs straight to D.C. , its how major supplies were delivered when they didn’t want any one seeing stuff. Supposedly the tunnel runs to a few other COG Facilities. All I can say is there is a station that Trucks can access from the old mine, and that we had guards stationed down there before it all went to hell and the blast doors were shut. But its big enough to drive every vehicle we have down the tracks.”

“I knew it” Ori said grinning, enjoying the I told you so moment.

“It could be filled with undead” Jansen pointed out.

“Maybe, more likely it will have some but not a lot. Since I doubt any entrance to the a top secret COG Train System, would have been left standing open on a daily basis and especially not when the the world was collapsing around them. First order would have been to seal every entrance for the duration of the emergency.” Jared said thinking about it.

“Considering how our last visit to Mt. Weather went I doubt they are just going to open up and let us in.” Jill pointed out.

“Oh well we just tell them we are passing through, need to use their bathroom and borrow their train, I’m sure they will just open their doors to us.” Ronny said with a half smile.

“This is where your going to have really trust me or tell me to leave” Reese said. “ I can get us in, but only a small group. If the Colonel or the Sar Major are still alive and in command then I think you can convince them to let you in. if they are dead, then we can open the blast doors to the mine ourselves and let the rest of the group inside, and use the tunnel anyway. Because if the Colonel isn’t alive that means those idiot politicians succeeded in their coup and I don’t care how many of them we kill.”

“Even if we go with Reese’s idea, we are still going to need to plan each stop of our trip to Mt. weather and what ever fight your planning on when we get to D.C and that means more time out here, scouting around securing supplies and more of a chance of encountering Kronnen” Jansen pointed out.

“Darius what do you think” Jared asked the cowboy who leaned back in his chair and shoved his cowboy hat up on his head.

“I think if we stay off the main roads our chances of encountering Kronnen go down a lot” Darius said in that slow drawl.

“Why raid this town then?” Ronny asked, once Jansen had mentioned the truck with Kronnens symbol it had taken minutes to get around the group.

“it’s the way he doest things, I’ve told you that and its in my notes too. He sends teams out from his main route to find not only supplies but new slaves and possible recruits. Ill bet he followed I 81 instead of following us through the mountains, probably did nothing more than send a couple of men to spy on the Bunker too since that would have pulled him away from his Goal of finding out what we want so badly in D.C.” Darius said.

“I think maybe its time, Me and mine start hunting again while your people do what you need to do. Like you said take the fight to Kronnen keep him off balance and hunting me instead of your group.” Darius said.

Jared didn’t miss the way Nate sat up suddenly his eyes bright with excitement. “and if we find his main camp, we can raid it, torch his supplies and free any one we find.”

“You wont have us as back up most likely,” Jansen said thinking about the distances that might be involved. .

“never had you folks covering my back before either, but knowing that if we need it, I might be able to call in more help even it takes an hour or two to get there is a lot better than it was before.”

Jared almost protested, manpower was already low, but Eric should be arriving in the area in a few days and it would Do something to keep nate calm and convince him that Neither Darius nor Jared had any intention of not rescuing the men and women Kronnen held as slaves.

“Okay sounds like a plan, but.. I want you folks to take a couple of days of rest before you head out, lets get your supplies up, arrange comm. channels, codes, and do some planning so I know we can support you if needed.” Jared said, ignoring the instant look of anger that came and went on Nates face.

The meeting broke down into conversations about what would be needed, for their mission, threats they might face no matter how remote. Jared let them talk, he sat back and reached under the table to hold Jills hand.

The drum beat of war had begun and as much as he hated it, he looked forward to it and it was the one thing he truly excelled at. The end of the nightmare lay ahead, whether he would actually live through it was something else entirely. He squeezed Jills hand, just give me a enough time to see our child born if nothing else, you owe me that much Jared thought refusing to let the sadness that flared in his heart to spread. If he let it he would end up dying inside trying to face the greatest loss he could imagine.

Jan 3rd, 0230hrs.

Mikhail slide forward maybe an inch then paused, every sense alert. The number of undead had been increasing in the area, but the numbers were still low at this point, no real threat to Jared and his men, but a very real danger to Mikhail as he worked stealthily towards the Two Air planes that were parked in a parking lot across from the fire station.

Apparently his sabotage of the one plane had not gone as planned and had resulted in Jared getting a second craft.

The number of sentries on the planes were nonexistent as they had been last time, so either Jared was getting sloppy, or they did not suspect sabotage for the problems the one plane had experienced. This time, he wasn’t going for subtle, this time he planned on both planes going up in flames.

He lay there with the light snow falling around him, letting it build up on his ghillie suit, which only added to his camouflage for almost twenty minutes before he moved again this time maybe a foot before laying still again.

He kept his mind as still and blank as possible, he needed no distractions, there might not be sentries, but he could bet there was at least one of those wireless cameras out there, and it was probably night vision capable. The sentries could be just out of sight waiting to be told to move in and getting careless at this point would get him shot.

After ten minutes he slid crawled forward another two feet and paused, it might take him most of the night to reach his targets but that was of little consequence, reach them he would and then he would deprive Stone of his aircraft.

****************************

“You cant go out there” Maggie said as she stood in front of the window, blocking the view of the silently falling snow outside.

“What do you mean I cant, Darius is finally going to move against Kronnen, and I can get …”

“You think he is going to let you rescue your wife, you’re a fool Nate. Jared wont let him” Maggie said cutting him off in midsentence. “Your only chance is to kill them both and strike out on your own, you know you will be saving lives if you do, and she will love you even more for it” Maggie stated.

“What happened to you?” Nate asked picking up the picture of his wife trying to memorized every curve, and angle for when he woke. “you were never like this before”

”Before what Nate, before my heart was ripped from my chest by your nephew and the last thing I saw in this life was my boy eating me. You don’t think that makes a person angry and wanting justice.” Maggie said, Nate flinched both her tone and the mental image that appeared in his mind, his Nephew had been a kind kid, a total nerd, a boy who loved lord of the rings and Star trek, a boy who wouldn’t have hurt a fly, to see him even in Nates imagination smeared in his mothers blood eating her heart was almost enough to hurt.

“Who do you think killed me, he was bitten on the arm, I took him home because the news was saying stay away from the hosptitals, he died in his room, killed his sister then me.” She said angrily. But there was something off, he knew it could feel it but not put his finger on what it might be.

he placed the picture back on the dresser and turned towards her, “give me time Maggie, let me think it over” Nate said.

“you don’t have time Nate, the moment you leave here, it begins, if you let Jared live, thousands will die. Thousands Nate do you want that on your conscience, if you ever loved me if you love your wife do this thing Nate” She said and with out warning the dream world shattered and he woke up drenched in sweat.

“you okay” one of the soldiers on guard duty asked, it was one of the annoying things about traveling with Jareds group, some one was always on guard just in case some one died in their sleep and had to be put down before they could kill any one.

“yeah” Nate got out his voice hoarse. “I’m fine” he muttered. “just one of those damn nightmares where I get eaten alive.”

“those suck” the guard agreed.

Nate rolled over, pulling his sleeping back up over his shoulders half expecting to see Brian watching him. he fell back asleep and this time thankfully there were no more dreams.

******************************

there it is” Brock said pointing, Jared leaned over the monitor and nodded. “good job, who ever he is, he is hard to spot.” And a pro Jared thought the man had been creeping up for almost two hours now, Brock had first spotted the intrude two hours ago but the man had been moving so slowly that for a while Brock wasn’t sure he was really seeing a person, the snow made it harder to define and Jared couldn’t blame Brock for holding off on alerting Jared, but the intruder had slipped up and moved to far to fast, pin pointing his position.

“Ori, he is forty feet from the UV, seven feet to the left of the Tree. Behind the decorative planter. Don’t shoot not yet.” Jared said. “ Reese I want your squad to go back behind the block and run two hundred feet down then cut back across and get behind him., use NVGs and be as quiet as you can be,I want this asshole”

“Brock, do nothing no alarms no flood lights nothing till you get the word from me.” Jared said heading for the door. “Ori how do you feel about a little practicing sneaking around” Jared said as he walked out the door of the CnC vehicle.

Reese was pretty satisfied with his squad as they slipped out the back door of the station, and moved quickly and quietly behind the buildings out of sight of the intruder. Reaching a burned out building a hundred and fifty down the block they went low and slipped across the street hidden by the darkness and the snow.

As long as they didn’t run across a zombie they would be able to get in close before the intruder even knew they were there.

Mikhail froze as gunfire rang out on the east end of the town, Stones patrol must have run across more undead well just keep them off me for just a little longer he thought as he moved forward again sliding around the planter and behind the next planter in the row.
He stopped moving searching night with his ears and eyes, it was too quiet, to still.
Something was wrong, he could feel it and he had learned years ago to trust his instincts,

He was ten feet from the door to an insurance company, thirty feet from the planes, if there was a sniper on over watch, he would be either down the street in the church steeple or on the roof of the Fire station. Moving carefully, he pulled a flash bang from a pouch on his left side his body shielding the movement from any one on the roof of the fire station, the planter keeping any one in the steeple from seeing him, slowly he shifted his hips and rolled his left hip up enough to remove a smoke grenade. Luckily had planned for this, which is one of the reasons he had picked the route he was using. He worked quickly using only his left hand keeping his movements hidden by his body.

Finished he searched the night around him, and froze in place as he saw a man climb down from the top of one of the vehicles that made up the wall of Stones camp and walk slowly across the street to the planes.

As the man drew closer Mikhail recognized the man by the way he moved, only Jared Stone moved with that easy flowing confident grace, Mikhail didn’t need any other clue, he had been seen and this was a set up, he tossed the flash bang at Jared, even as he rolled towards the door of the Insurance company leaving the now active smoke grenade laying by the planter.

Ori, lay on the rooftop, saw the movement, saw something arc towards Jared even as his Target rolled away. the flash from the grenade dazzled him, but the sound was not an issue this far away, Jared how ever, was not prepared, blind his ears ringing he stumbled and fell against the plane, shaking his head. Waiting for the bullet that would end his life.

“there” Cooper shouted and fired a burst that missed the running figure but shattered the window beside the man. Thick smoke was already billowing up into the night obscuring the front of the building. The squad bounded forward, covering each other and their areas of responsibility.

And then an explosion ripped the night apart, Spacey went down, as shrapnel tore into his calf, he was back on his feet in a second, but two of the squad were calling for medics.

Precious seconds passed, allowing Ori and Jared to recovering their eyes sight, bells still rang in Jared’s ears but not as loud as before.

“Nice move Mikhail, it is Mikhail isn’t it,” Jared called out “After what I did to you on that roof top, I’m not surprised you don’t want to face me” Jared called out.

Poshyol ty’ Svoloch Mikhail thought, smiling with cold amusement. He had hoped that Stone would figure out it.

What the hell was Jared talking about Ori asked himself as he heard Jared down below, there was no way that was Mikhail that mans head still sitting on a roof back on Sullivan.

His plans were shot, but he still had two bombs to use, he smiled as he knelt beside the door and placed the first bomb, then moved deeper into the building to place the second. With that done he pulled out the MPK he had taken off a walking corpse.

“Sosi Hui” he Called out. “you’re a real Svoloch aren’t you stone” Mikhail called out.

“I’m sure that if I understood what ever mongrel language your spewing I would be righteously outraged” Jared called out as he took four running steps and dove through the smoke and through the shattered window.

He hit the ground taking the impact on his shoulder immediately tucking into a roll and coming up on the balls of his feet rifle in hand. Mikhail fired a burst from the MPK as he rushed across the hallway and into a door.

Jared fired a burst, the muzzle flash bright in the dark building, he grunted as a bullet smacked him in his ribs, his body armor took the blow, but it still hurt like hell.

He fired into the wall beside the door his attacker had run through just in case Mikhail or who ever it was hiding there then advanced in a crouch,

“want to try this again, you shit. I don’t know how you came back, and I don’t care.” Jared called out, something flew out of the door way striking the opposite wall and bounced, Jared dove behind a desk closing his eyes and opening his mouth. Light flashed and sound boomed, but he was still active.

Reese and his men were circling the building to try and cut off any retreat when a rifle fired from across the river, the bullet striking Cooper in the chest as he came around the corner. Coop when down like he had been pole axed. .

Mikhail hearing the gunshot out side called out. “you must still be upset about the boy. He cried for you to save him till the moment he died”

“really, kind of like you begging to live there at the end” Jared replied,

Mikhail heard running steps, then silence, stone was going to try and rush him. he thought, and his friends should be showing up any moment now.

“I never begged Jared, that was a poor attempt to goad me. I did how ever enjoy shooting your wife, tell me does she have a scar. Do you think of me every night when you make lover to her.” Mikhail said. “I wish I had, h ad the time to rape her when I took her from your camp in the Drive in theater. Left you the soiled goods”

The Hk Fired, bullets blowing through wall, Mikhail grinned and lobbed a frag grenade into the hallway, bouncing it off the wall opposite the door and towards jareds position.

As soon as the grenade detonated he rushed out the door and across the hall into another office, where he flipped over the desk and crouched behind it. He should be just out of the blast one, he thought, hearing Jared move down the hall, He fired a burst from the MPK, enjoying the small weapon that was better than the Machine pistol he had once carried.

Hearing a grenade detonate, Ori gave up on trying to snipe the intruder rising he left his .308 on the roof and jumped down on the Stryker before leaping to the ground , unslinging his HK as he ran for the Insurance office where more gunfire rang out. At least Jared is still alive Ori thought, almost to the door, he saw a flash of light, he barely had time to close his eyes and then pain as brick and glass battered him unconscious.

Jared taken by surprise, not that a warning would have helped, was slammed into the hallway wall then tossed down the hall by the shock wave. He lost his HK somewhere, he realized as he hit the floor while ceiling tiles rained down on him. dust hung in the air.

I am an idiot he thought groggily, I should have taken a team with me. His vision blurry he saw a man rise from behind an over turned desk, a small compact weapon in his hand. “ I’ve looked forward to this Stone” Mikhail said, then stumbled back firing at the man who rushed in from the hallway an AR 15 in his hands.

“Move Jared” The voice was familiar, but Jared couldn’t place it, not at the moment, he didn’t try either he scrambled out of the line of fire putting a wall between him and Mikhail.

Mikhail blinked the room was empty, there was no man, what.. the Dead interfering again he thought angrily as he raced for the door.

Jared had gotten to his feet just as a man rushed out of the office, he saw the weapon swinging towards him, his own hand moved, drawing and firing, even as two more bullets slammed into his body armor, knocking him back against the wall.

Mikhail gasped in pain as the bullet smashed into the right side of his face and ripped a bloody furrow; he smashed into a door frame, the pain incredible as the vision in his right eye faded.

“I will gut you for this” He snarled in Russian as he managed to get through the opposite door and found himself in another office.

“all your going to do is bleed to death” Jared called back his voice harsh.

**********************

Ronny limped across the street, rifle at the ready, the two patrols were already reporting a growing number of zombies appearing on the edge of town, drawn by the gun fire and explosions.

Jill stayed to his left, Logan to his right which made him feel a little better, Mike, Ed and Steger were securing the planes, While Sara and Mary prepared loaded their gear and prepared to take off. Good luck baby, he silently said to his wife.

Forty feet from the door he found Ori, laying the snow blood flowing down his face from multiple cuts, he managed to kneel ignoring the pain and checked for a pulse breathing a sigh of relief when he found a steady pulse.

“ Ori is down” Ronny transmitted, “ we need a medic.”

*****************************

Jess and Moses rolled out of their bed, hearing the gunfire and men shouting at every one to get up and be ready to move.

Jess spotting a man he recognized called out “whats going on?”

“Some one started shooting and setting off bombs, the undead are swarming into town its time to go.” Darwin replied. “you folks can stay put for now, unless you left gear outside the RV”

“we don’t have gear” Moses muttered,

Jess sat back down on the bed feeling helpless, no ammo for their rifles, just the clothes on their backs, it was like the first days of the Rising all over again.

***************************

Darius raced across the street, Kafil and Quentin, behind him. Seeing most of Jareds team guarding a downed man, he moved past them till he reached the hole in building where a door and plate glass window had once been.

Jill not wiling to leave Jared in danger followed Darius ignoring Ronny who told her to wait.

“Wait out side “Darius said as more gunfire rang out, with out waiting for answer he entered to the building, and found himself in what had once been the main office, the explosion had ripped apart desks, shattered a load bearing beam, causing the roof to fall into the front room, he moved around a Condenser unit that lay in the middle of the room, debris crunching under his boots.

Jill started to follow only to have a very large hand appear in the middle of her chest holding her back. “please wait” Quentin asked her.

Jill let her rifled dangle by its sling and smiled, the next thing Qeuntin knew he was on his back and Jill Stone was entering the building her rifle up and ready. Kafil chuckled, he had seen Jill practicing martial arts many times now, and had never suspected it was for show.

“Jared” Darius called out, hating that he had to give away his postion, but it was better than being shot in the head by the man he was trying to rescue.

“Stay back, he has grenades” Jared called out. To punctuate that point a grenade sailed out of an office, struck a wall and bounced off to fall closer to Darius.

Darius was no soldier he had been a bull rider, and admittedly stupidly brave on more than one occasion usually fueled by beer and the presence of a woman he really liked. But grenades, who the hell was this guy, he asked himself.

He ducked back and threw himself away from the hallway entrance just as the grenade detonated. “you would like to stay back No” another voice said, the accent was thick but Darius had heard it or variations of it on Tv for years. Russian. “Americans, all ways the cowboys”

Jill had seen the grenade just in time to duck behind the condensor unit, hoping it would provide some shelter. Which it did, or the grenade had been to far from her to get her in the wounded radius.

“Son you can kiss this cowboys hairy ass,” Darius hollered, as he climbed to his feet “I am the real thing” he said running into the hall before he could change his mind, he saw Jared sitting on the ground leaning his back against a wall.

I am I believe a total dumb ass, Darius thought as he passed the door where the grenade had come from he started firing into the room hoping his Arnold schwarzeneger spray and pray routine would keep the intruder ducking, it seemed to work since only two shots were fired back an both missed him.. “Yippy Ki yay Motherfucker” Darius yelled as he to a stop beside Jared who looked like crap but was still alive.

Mikhail surprised himself by laughing at the man, he had heard that line before on an old movie, that once again showed Americans as being tough as nails and able to single-handedly take out huge numbers of men with only witty one liners and a pistol. It hurt to laugh, pain like jagged bolts of lightening flickered through his eye but he couldn’t stop laughing for a moment.

“I will give you that you have balls” Mikhail said, as he finished preparations for his escape, only training and professionalism kept him going. The pain in his head was intense. “But you are just going to die with him”

Darius ignored the Russian, who ever he might be. “you okay” he asked Jared as Jill appeared at their side, he suppressed a cough from the dust that hung in the air. Darius could almost feel the disapproval rolling off Jared’s wife.

“Good, a broken rib I think, and there are a few thousand little assholes in my head with really big hammers whaling the shit out of my brain. Oh and it hurts to breath” Jared said as he slowly climbed to his feet.

“so in others words, a normal night at a bar hitting on other guys girlfriends” Darius said causing Jared to chuckle then give Darius a go to hell look that he switched to Jill who stood beside Jared looking worried and ignoring his obvious displeasure at seeing her here.

“You shouldn’t be here” he said softly.

“that makes three of us, Lump.” She admonished him softly, and she was right if he had done this with a team at his back, neither Darius nor Jill would have had to Race in after him. he had let his hatred of Mikhail get the better of him and if it cost the life of his wife he would just eat a bullet if he lived through this and she didnt.

Quentin and Kafil fired from the hallway entrance, putting rounds into the office, but the threat of more grenades had both men hesitant to move any deeper into the hallway.

“I’m sorry I screwed this up” he said softly, as Darius fired around the door frame into the office. A return bulled plowed through the wall right beside Darius’s head spraying bits of sheetrock on the side of his face, pale he dropped into a crouch. Jared could hear Mikhail humming inside the office, a classical tune no less.

“Yes you did, and I know why you did, but don’t ever rush off alone again, or you will have to worry about me shooting you” She warned him.

“My word” Jared promised, as two more round through the wall over Darius’s head.

“I have a bad feeling about that” he muttered as he changed mags in his pistol. Jill her face a study in tension nodded, to say she was scared was an understatement, but like any vet of soldier, in truth like any survivor now, she held it under control. “he is playing for Time” Jared added as he prepared to rush the room.

“Jill you get better looking each time I see you” Mikhail said as he inserted the detonators then turned and smiled as he set the second device that he had planned on using on plane, on the top of now bullet scared desk. Then fired a couple more rounds into the wall, to keep Jared, his bitch wife and the Cowboy down.

There was more return fire from towards the front of the building, and the cowboy popped up and fired two rounds around the door.

Unlike in the movies the bomb he had placed on the desk had no LED display to tell its victims how long they had. Though the psychological torture of such a display would have been fun, sadly it also told people to run so he never used them, few pro’s did.

“I had really hoped to spend some nice private time with you at one point Jill, but now. Now I prefer you dead. And Jared, this has been much more entertaining than the last time” Mikhail taunted as he checked the demo charges he had set on the brick wall. He stepped back and triggered the charges blowing a hole in the wall, overhead the roof creaked, then creaked again with a sound like bolts popping.

Dust billowed out of the doorway like a cloud and as the noise of the explosion subsided, Darius popped around the doorframe and fired his rifle into the cloud of dust just as the intruder leaped through the hole that now connected the insurance agency to the building next door. He had no idea if he hit the man or not but he sent a few more rounds chasing after the man. .

“You might want to run now Jared” Mikhail yelled back into the insurance agency. “I left you a bomb and you have twenty seconds, or is it ten. My mind is not what it once was.”

“Lets go,” Jared said as he started forward, but he was still a bit wobbly.

Darius looped an arm around Jared’s waist and almost carried the other man down the hall shouting. “bomb” at Quentin and Kafil who turned and raced for the door outside.

They raced through the rubble of the outer office, the invisible clock ticking down, a cold wind blew in through the hole in the front wall chilling the sweat on jareds brown, only the sounds of their footfalls and shifting Rubble broken the preternatural silence.

It was about to happen, Jared could feel it, “run Jill” Jared barked, pushing her forward.
Jill listened with out arguing and in a second was ahead of them and out into the falling snow.

Behind them a small computer device, happily noticed its timer had run down, it made a connection and ceased to exist. The blast blew out the walls of the hallway, the ceiling fell in and the already weakened brick wall the agency shared with its neighbor collapsed.

Darius leaped out still holding Jared as a dust and debris cloud rushed out and enveloped them.

***********************************

Jan 3rd 0730hrs.

Jared sat on the bunk while Justin finished bandaging him, listening to Jansen deliver his report, Cooper, Spacey, Pennington, wounded but not badly, Body armor had saved Cooper, Spacey and Pennington had been far enough from the booby trap that they had received painful but superficial injuries, Ori of course, who sat across from Jared, had only cuts, scrapes and a lot of really impressive bruises, + most of the cuts and scratches were minor but one had required stitches. Ori was only happy he hadn’t lost his contacts in the explosion.

The patrols had put down almost two undead before sunrise, but the town was secured more or less, the insurance company building was a gutted ruin, and the fire that hard started inside had burned itself out. Of Mikhail or the man who believe he was Mikhail no one had seen him escape, but a search party led by Jeb had found no sign of the blond man, or his partner who had shot Cooper, thankfully in the chest, and put rounds down range keeping Reese and his men occupied with returning fire long enough for Mikhahil, or who ever to almost Kill Jared.

Jansen finished his report, then stood there glaring with his arms crossed over his chest. “something else Jansen” Jared asked.

“yeah there is, if you ever do something that stupid again Jared Ill leave. You may not like it, hell you may not believe it, but you are to damn valuable to this group to go running off and getting killed. Ill admit there are times you have to, need to even, but this was not one of them, not even close, we could have captured both of the intruders if you had used team work.” Jansen said then leaned close his voice dropping to a whisper “and Jill didn’t deserve that kind of Stupidity especially from a man who loves her and knows fucking Better, read me” Jansen said angrily.

Jared gazed at Thor, and nodded. “Loud and Clear Sergeant.” He replied his lips quirked, but the smile stopped there.

Jansen couldn’t believe he had just lost control enough to Lecture Jared on how to treat Jill, but damn it, it had been a stupid thing to do and she had risked her life going in after him. Jared placed a hand on Thors shoulder. “you’re a good man Sergeant, I mean that” Jared said then slid off the bunk and pulled on his shirt. “and I will work to stop being stupid.”

“good luck with that” Ori said causing a ripple of laughter to sweep through the wounded and others crammed into the Rv.

“if your done lounging around pretending to be sick , we have work to do” Jared told Ori.

“as soon as I’m satisfied he is okay to go out, he can leave till then you can do with out him” Justin said as he sat down, totally exhausted. .

“your going to take a break just to point out I’m at your mercy aren’t your?” Jared said.

“yep” the former paramedic said lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back. “even dictators are powerless before the power of the medics”

“till the medic is shot for being a gloating ass” Jared warned.

“tyrant” Justin muttered smiling.

“quack” Jared shot back as he headed outside, and saw Jill waiting for him, Mary standing beside her and Ronny no where in sight.. this is not going to be good, Jared thought.

********************************

it was quiet outside, Emily thought as she opened a can of raviolis. Her nose wrinkled in distaste at the smell, but she stuck a spoon into the cold congealed mess and ate mechanically. Trying not to notice the taste. Sierra sat against the wall wrapped in a blanket not hungry this morning and angry that Emily was going to go out and spy on the men and women camped down the street.

after the massive gunfight last night, Sierra was sure they were all bad news and wanted to wait till they left before leaving the room. Even if that meant sitting here in the dark all winter wrapped in blankets to keep from freezing.

Her spoon scraped metal and she looked down in surprise to find the can empty. Picking up the flash light she handed it to Sierra. “don’t keep it on all day, Ill be back as soon as I can” Emily said ignoring the butterflies in her stomach and the tingles of fear that raced up and down her arms and legs.

“please Emily, don’t leave me” Sierra said.

“Sierra I have to, if these folks are even half way decent, I would rather go with them than stay here waiting for the day that the undead finally bust through the wall and get us. Just give me a chance, okay.” Emily said, Sierra nodded but said nothing. Emily sighed then walked over to the wall and slowly opened the section of wall that covered the hole into the room.

Before she could change her mind she stepped out and closed the panel and walked quietly to the open door, where she could see a pale fan of daylight that spilled down the hall.

She stepped out into the hallway and took two steps before she smelled it, a zombie she looked up as the light from the lobby dimmed her mouth opening in surprise. .

Baker, stepped into the radio station, moving quietly. He was tired of the guys giving him shit about seeing a woman in here and he was determined to prove she was real, even if she was a dead woman.

He took a deep breath and the reek of the undead assailed his nostrils. His rifle snapped up, “this is Baker, I’m in the radio station, there’s at least one pus bag in here.” he transmitted as he checked behind the counter, then stepped into the hallway, just in time to see a woman, no a girl her head came up and her eyes locked with his, then she screamed as the pus bag behind her, grabbed her hair and pulled her back towards its mouth.

Baker rushed forward as the girl flailed around trying to pull free of the zombie, a man in a cheap blood crusted and dirty suit whose face looked like some one had used a cheese grater on it.

Baker crossed the twelve feet in two long strides and shoved the barrel of his rifle over the girls shoulder right into the things mouth, it bit down and he pulled the trigger, blowing its brains out along the hallway behind it. it fell over but didn’t release its grip on the now terrified girl, Baker drew his knife and slashed it through her hair. only to be attacked for his trouble.

She slammed her fists into his chest, sobbing and screaming. He let his rifle go and grabbed her by the wrists trying to calm her down. “its okay, its dead, your okay” he said as he heard vehicles pulling up out front.

“let me go, let me go” She screamed kicking him in the shins and then drew back and laid a foot right into his testicles. His breath whooshed out of him and stars danced before he is eyes as he let her go and sank to his knees.

“Look at that, Baker found himself a girl” he heard Tolliver say behind him.

“looks like he tried to ask her out too” Benton said with a laugh.

Emily grabbed the pistol out of the holster on the downed mans hip and pointed it at the men at the end of the hall. “don’t move” she called out her voice trembling.

“You might want to step back from Baker there Miss” A red headed man said, he was dressed in an Army uniform she saw. “he might just ..”

She screamed as her legs were swept out from underneath her, she landed on her butt hard and the pistol was wrenched from her hands, she had no idea Baker was being gentle he could have broken her trigger finger.

“girls should not play with guns” Baker snapped angrily as he holstered his pistol.

“Baker, go out to the Hummer. Before the GIRL, puts you down again” Benton said chuckling.

“Saved her life and she kicks me in the balls” Baker mumbled as he backed down the hall then stepped past Benton and Tolliver.

“Call the camp and have one of the women come out here” Benton said as he watched the trembling girl.

************************************

Mikhail, had no idea how he had gotten back to his camp, the pain had become so intense that he had blacked out at least twice after returning, now he lay there his head pound with a fevered pulse.

“Your going to lose that eye” Julie said calmly as she tended to his wounds. “but aren’t you used to it.” she asked.

No, he had never lost an eye, how could he, he had two… confused he tried to bring his swirling thoughts together, he felt fragmented incomplete. What was wrong with him, deep in his mind something stirred, and rose to the surface pushing aside the fear and confusion bringing a crystal clear clarity, he fell into unconscious seeing a veranda beside the black sea where a full moon hung over head, bathing the corpse of a goddess in silver light.

Julie smiled down at the unconscious man, Jasper had truly created a work of art with this one, she thought, Dark laughter danced in her eyes as she tended her patient.

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