Chapter Twenty

“hell is empty and all the devils are here”
~Shakeespeare

December 31st 1500hrs

Bound at elbows and wrists and Knees and ankles, Becky lay on the carpeted floor, watching the woman in the skimpy lingerie clean. The small bedroom in the motor home. she was maybe four or five months pregnant and moved mechanically as if her mind were some where else far away where it alone had escaped the hell she was physically locked in.

Sunlight slanted through the blinds over the windows on either side of the room, barely doing a thing to dispel the shadows that clung to the room like bats waiting for the night.

The door opened suddenly, Becky twisted her head around and saw the Dark haired leader of the raiders, a wide smile on his face. “Good your awake” He said jovially, the woman cleaning the room stopped what she was doing and walked over and knelt before the man, who still grinning rubbed the woman’s head like she was some kind of pet. “no, I don’t need servicing at the moment, today is introduction day for the new woman ” he said then turned his attention to Becky again who lay there trembling.

“You are a pretty one” Kronnen muttered as he squatted in front of her, his arousal evident. “sadly I do not have the time to train you as I have my other woman. So your probably not going to enjoy what’s about to happen to you., but I will” he said as he flipped Becky over on to her back, grabbing her bound ankles he lifted her legs into the air, as he opened his pants one handed.

She screamed into her gag, and tried to wiggle free, almost blacking out when he punched her in the jaw. she lay there dazed as he raped her, tears running from her eyes. She had no idea how long it lasted, any time she struggled he would punch her in the belly or face stunner her. when it was over she only knew that the sun light spilling through the windows was fading as evening drew on.

He rose to his feet and pulled up his pants smiling down at her. but her attention was riveted on his eyes, one was blue but the other, was a dead and cloudy.

“Ah yes” he said “ I lost my contact while doing you. No matter. You wont mind my eyes after a few months, She doesn’t” he said jerking a thumb at the pregnant woman who still knelt on the floor, head bowed. “but sadly I have to send both of you back to the main camp in the next few days. Keep me happy till you leave, and I promise no one will lay a hand on you at the camp. Make me angry or displease me and you will service every soldier I have, every hour of the day till you die from it. and honey, remember this was your choice,” he said then grinned “and Happy New Year”. Laughing he left the room leaving her laying there crying and full of shame, praying she didn’t get pregnant.

What was he, only the walking dead had eyes like that, and he was stronger than any guy she had known.

The pregnant woman was crawling around on the carpet staring at it intently, finally she picked up something, a contact Becky saw as the woman closed her hand around it.

“Do not make him angry” the other woman’s voice was low and raspy as if she rarely spoke. The pregnant woman never looked up, never looked at Becky who stared at her pleading with her eyes for the other woman to free her. “he..” she stopped her mouth working as she were trying to work up saliva. “he eats people sometimes, ones that upset him”

Becky shuddered in horror, what kind of person did something like that, she wondered. if anything she felt more violated and fouled than she had before with that knowledge that her rapist was as big a monster as the things out there.

“he has a friend that visits in the night, a thing, a shadow.. it tells him things, he thinks I don’t know. but I ..” the woman fell silent her eyes glazing over she rose to her feet and resumed cleaning the small room after placing the contact in a case.

Becky lay there watching the woman clean, her only sense of time was the fading light as it grew darker outside. She finally rolled over and wiggled across the carpet to the wall and worked herself into a sitting position then froze as she saw something move in the corner where the shadows were thickest, her heart thundering in her chest, her blood ran cold as she saw a shadow, all spindly armed and nightmarish sitting in the chair watching her. She screamed into her gag as it smiled at her.

Jan 3rd, Churchville Va.

Emily didn’t know what to expect as she stood there in the dimly lit hallway, watching the men at the end of the hallway, who sounded like soldiers, even acted like soldiers. She felt a little bad for kicking the one man in the nuts, but she had been pretty scared at the time and he had scared her almost as much as the zombie he had saved her from.

She waited shuffling her feet on the floor trying to ignore the corpse behind her, the only reason she didn’t bolt for the secret room was, she wouldn’t be able to open it get inside then close it off again before these guys got into the old office and saw the wall closing. And even if they were to slow they would not have a hard time figuring out to look behind the walls of a room she had vanished into with out coming back out the only door.

Besides she had come out here to go and talk to them any way and she tried to hold firm to the belief that these guys had to be better than the raiders who had taken her parents.

“Hey, kid” the shorter white soldier with red hair said with a friendly smile. .

“My name is Emily and I am not a kid” she replied trying to sound firm like her mother had at the end.

“Okay, Hey Emily, do you want something to drink” the redheaded soldier asked.

She shook her head even though she was growing really thirsty. For all she knew what ever he gave her could be laced with a date rape drug or something. And as much as she wanted to trust that these people might be okay, she wasn’t going to just trust them with out thought. “no” she said, then relented a hair to try and be polite in case that make a difference. “ thank you” she added.

“have it your way” the soldier said and fell silent. Minutes later she heard another vehicle pulling up outside the station.

Emily could hear some one walking across the tile in the lobby and felt her stomach knot at the sound of heavy boots.

“You found a teenaged girl” a woman asked from in the lobby.

“Baker found her, just before she kicked his nuts.. er testicles up into his throat” The red head said stepping into the lobby and out of Emilys sight, leaving the huge black soldier to watch her.

“I think I’ve heard much worse than the word Nuts, Benton” the woman said. “seems that I’ve spent some time around Pappy sloan and soldiers” Emily heard several men chuckle then heard the footsteps again this time approaching the hallway.

Two women stepped into the hallway, one wore a red and black leather outfit, with some kind of armor attached that looked like it had come out of some super hero cosplay thing, she even had a long and a short sword stuck in her belt along with a holstered pistol on each hip.

“I’m Jill and this is Mary” the woman in the superhero outfit said, Mary was the woman who jeans, a jacket and knee high insulated boots and a really big military gun in her hands, both women were pretty, though she thought Jill was prettier.

“Hello” Mary said sounding friendly; she even slung her rifle across her back and waved.

“her name is Emily” Benton said from behind Jill as he struggled not to check out the shapely leather encased butt in front of him.

“I think Benton she can tell me herself” Jill replied. “Go guard the door, If we mere women need you guys manly help, Ill scream okay.”

“We have to strip down into lacy night gowns for the full effect” Mary muttered.

Jill shook her head slightly then smiled as she looked at Emily. “are your parents around here.”

Emily tried not to cry, she didn’t want to not in front of strangers, but tears trickled down her face anyway. “no” she managed to say with out whimpering which was a victory in her book.

“I’m sorry Emily, all of us have lost friends and family.” Jill said, as the image of light glittering on her sword and a her sisters head tumbling onto her living room floor flashed through Jills mind. she pushed a ringlet of dark hair that had escaped her pony tail out of her eyes, eyes that shone with pity.

“They were kidnapped” Emily said angrily. “by people kind of like you.”

“People with three black birds painted on their vehicles” Jill asked quietly thinking of the truck outside.

Emily nodded, she wanted to trust these people she really did, but it was hard. When she had started out to go talk to them she had thought she was ready, but then faced with one of them all she had been able to see in her mind, was Becky being carried off into a cattel trailer screaming, her clothes were still out there in the bushes along the side walk where the raiders had tossed them. .

“I am sorry Emily, those are some really bad people.” Jill said. “and nothing like us. Id like to help you if you would let me”

Emily wanted to believe it, needed to really. The men dressed as soldiers hadn’t even tried to rape her, and they could have if they had wanted to. But in stead they had asked two women to come talk with her, trust them, a voice in her head urged. She bit back a sob. “can you rescue them, they were going to rape my cous…” she blurted out and to her shame she couldn’t complete the final word, saying it out loud made it far to real for her. She couldn’t even imagine what was happening to Becky, and if these people could help, she would do anything they wanted.

Something changed in Jill’s face, her eyes were still warm but now there was a hard light that glimmered in their depths.. “I don’t know but if we can we will Emily. My husband will do his best to get your family back” Jill said and if Jared argued about it, she would let Mary loose on him.

“lets talk some, and I hope you can end up trusting us,” Jill said settling down for a long day, if the girl ended up not trusting them, she would be left behind and Jill hated the thought of leaving a girl alone in a dead town, in the middle of a dead state.

Jared stood at the table looking at the pile of wet clothes, the disgust he felt showed on his face as he saw they had been cut off the woman who had been wearing them.

“Two teen aged girls” he said finally turning to look at Jill. He wanted to ask what they were supposed to do with two teen girls while heading to D.C to fight battle. But he didn’t, he wasn’t about to leave them here if they wanted to leave. It was his one major weakness, as Steve and Ori had both pointed out several times.

“Yes, they have been hiding in a open space in the walls, Emily’s dad set it up as a safe room. They were the only ones to make it to the room when Kronnen’s people attacked” Jill said.

Jared stared at the clothes on the table, hands clenched at his side“God I hate this asshole” he finally said.

“more than you hate the guy claiming to be Mikhail” Jill asked she refused to believe that the man they had fought last night was who he claimed he was.

“I wouldn’t have thought it possible a few months ago, but yes” Jared said, not arguing about whether the intruder had really been Mikhail or not. Jill could tell he was struggling with the idea of taking the girls, not, she knew, because he wanted to leave them alone but because of what the group was heading into.

“The Girls can be useful Jared, at the very least they can load Magazines and learn how to clean weapons, and I plan on teaching them both basic self defense and see what happens from there.” Jill told him.

“they aren’t pets” Jared said drawing a go to hell look from his wife. “you really don’t have to promise to feed them and potty train them either”

“do not make me call you an asshole” Jill commented. Jared managed a weak grin and held up his hands in surrender, but the grin faded to a scowl as his eyes went back to the pile of clothes on the table. “I want you to talk to them, and then I will talk to you about this.”

Jared nodded as he reached down and picked up the cut up clothing and tossed it behind some boxes so the girl Emily wouldn’t have to see it.

Emily was a attractive brown haired girl, with a willowy figure and dusky dark eyes, she was, he thought, the classic the pretty girl next door type, but her friend Sierra, looked more like one of the women he used to see on commercial’s, shoulder length golden blond hair, a oval face with delicate features and pouty lips that had a hoop through bottom lip,. she easily could have passed for twenty back before the world died. And he suspect a lot of twenty plus men had hit on her.

They entered the room and sat at the table, he knew they had to be nervous and scared and he didn’t blame them in the least. Emily seemed to the be braver of the two, since she looked Jared directly in the eyes instead of staring down at the conference table.

“I’ve heard the story from my wife, and now I have to ask you some questions, your not going to enjoy it, because it will bring back bad memories. So lets get down to it,” Jared said

the questions came hard and fast, and many times Jared returned to questions he had asked earlier, trying to coax any detail out of her that he could. She cried every time she had to relive moment Becky and her parents were dragged away but he helped her remember little thing that she had overheard while hiding. Finally he seemed satisfied.

“are you going to rescue them” She asked, hoping, praying he would say yes. “my family that is.”

Jared glanced at Jill who still stood by the door, then back at Emily. “we are going to try” he said.

The group of men and women who sat around the conference table two hours later were not what Jared would called thrilled at his newest idea.

“are you nuts” Jansen asked. “we have a plan, lets stick to it.”

“I have to agree with Jansen” Ori said quietly.

“this isn’t open for debate, I think it’s the best option we have for several reasons, one as you have pointed out before Jansen, they had far more men than we do, even with Erics help.”

“I think your killing your own idea by pointing that out” Jansen said.

Jared shook his head. “Kronnen is apparently ahead of us now, but his main camp is always behind his advance.” Jared said looking at Darius who nodded in agreement.

“the problem is Jared I’ve never managed to locate his main camp, I know they set one up, but that’s it.” Darius said.

“its going to be with in sixty to eighty miles of his advance units” Jared stated, “and probably along the main axis of advance.” People began to talk at once, most disagreeing rather loudly.  

“I have to ask, how did you come up with that, “ Jansen asked, he wondered if Jared was finally starting to lose it, first thinking a dead man had come back as another person now magically locating the camp of an enemy that they, frankly, knew little about.

Jared unfolded the Map of Missouri and laid it on the table, circling three areas. “look, Darius you say they usually split up into three groups and advance along three different routes, scavenging and gathering followers and slaves. But somehow, according to your notes, when they have suffered losses they have gotten reinforcements in a day or two. We all know how long it takes to travel any kind of distance on most of the roads these days. Its taken us six hours to go ten miles on occasion.”

“that only shows they were using radio’s “Darius pointed out but the speed of the reinforcements had surprised him several times.

“Ori whats the range on that base unit we took off Kronnens men at Greenbrier” Jared asked tossing a look at his friend.

“Twenty miles in good conditions, in these mountains and with the forests around the area no more than files miles.” Ori said.

Darius listened quietly he had no idea how or why radios worked, only that sometimes they worked other times they didn’t.

Jansen frowned then nodded silently as he reached the conclusion Jared knew he would.

“they are placing men on the highest points they can with relays.” Jansen said. “which boosts their range accordingly, so they are getting closer to twenty miles than five. Assuming they are using the same type of radios or relays. So say a fifteen mile range os more accurate, further if they had the right antenna’s”

“Exactly and I’m betting Mac had a man stationed up towards the peak of the mountain That Darius first found him on. He probably left the man there when they moved camp, because they moved to a high elevation on Kates Moutian so any of their broadcasts
would have been picked up by the relay.” Jared said.

He leaned over the table and pointed at the circles he had drawn on the map, “these are the places they would most likely have set up Relays in Missouri,” Jared said, “The problem with all these sites is you can not guarantee access to all of them or the safety of the man or men you leave behind so they wouldn’t want to try and stretch out the relay chain too long.”

“They only have to have a relay to the next search area right.” Jorge asked.

“do we” Jared asked,” We have a ham unit, A short wave and a sat phone to stay in contact with Sullivan, they will keep their main camp with in range for their relay chain in case something happens and they have to come running back to defend it.” Jared said.

“And that means sixty to Eighty miles behind their Main unit at any one time.” Jansen said thoughtfully.

“which explains why they take so long moving through a particular area when scavenging.. they search, find what they need and send it back to the camp. And again they would want the camp to remain close, or they would waste to much fuel driving back and forth. And I would bet they probably move their main camp every few days to keep it close to the main column in case of emergencies.”

“that explains something I always found odd” Darius said. “ two of the units would spread out along the main route, which was always an interstate, and search the countryside. The main group, Kronnens always cleared as much of the interstate as they could, till Fort leonared wood I had always assumed the main camp traveled with Kronnen. Once we freed the prisoners that were with Kronnen, is when I found out that there was a fifth column the main camp. But as you can imagine they didn’t see much from inside cattle trailers or tents, but the did tell me that the camp took up a lot of room. So Kronnen was clearing the route for the main camp to follow along, and his group would locate the each location the main camp would use.”

“and placing the camp along or at least close by the Interstates makes the camp locations easy to find, just look for the farm, or the campground or what have ever, at exit such and such or between mile markers this and that.” Jared added nodding in agreement.

“I hate to point it out but we don’t have the fuel to go cruising along I 81 from Kingsport north” Lee said. “ not to mention we are going to need to replace some tires soon, we need more parts and of course another fuel run.”

“we don’t need to drive up and down the interstates” Jared said, knowing this was going to be the hard sale.

“considering how much you hate to fly you’ve gotten to like using that thing a lot” Chris said, he looked older Jared thought, and felt bad that he had spent so little time with one of his oldest friends. “aren’t you forgetting kronnens men have Stingers”

“No I’m not, but even Stingers have a max range” Jared said looking at Ronny who didn’t look thrilled at the idea. Mary was the one of course to go off on Jared about the dangers to her Husband, he listened quietly for a moment then rapped his knuckles on the table.

“Mary, you know I love Ronny like a brother, but let me tell you what at stake here, not just our lives, not just your babies lives, but the lives of every man, woman and child on Sullivan, and once Sullivan is gone, who knows how many more will die. Kronnen is part of the Dark, whether he just serves it freely, was tricked or is even part of the Dark trinity what ever that maybe, I don’t know. But we are whats standing between the Dark and who ever the light is using to oppose them. “ Jared rose to his feet and looked around the table, some knew the whole story, others didn’t. he had no idea how many believed it..

“most of us know about the Trinity, we may not know who they are, or what exactly they have to do, all we know is that its important to the human race, and no matter what their job may be the Dark wants to destroy them before they can do it.

But what the dark can not do is directly attack the trinity, or directly influence them. Instead the dark has use those it can warp and twist or those who willingly serve to attack the trinity. And we have been constantly standing between the Dark and trinity, we have been keeping the Darks minions from moving directly against the trinity and we have killed them.

There was a reason the Dark didn’t wont us to come here, why it tried to lure me away from the bunker it had plans for this area, and what ever plan it had was directed at the trinity.

So we have a choice here, to make a stand once and for all against the dark, not for just ourselves, or the island but for the other groups like ours scattered across the country, caught up in some weird eternal war that has spilled over into our world, or we head back to Sullivan and hope that Kronnen just moves on against the trinity and leaves us alone. That Mary is what I’m asking Ronny to risk his life for” Jared said.

Mary gave Ronny a look, her hand settling on her rapidly apparent baby bump. She knew Ronny, and she knew what he would do, she gave him a smile, hiding the fear and worry she felt that’s all she had to do to tell him she wouldn’t argue or fit the decision was his. And no matter what Ronny needed this, he needed to not only feel needed but learn he could still make a difference for her for the group.

“whats the range on a stinger” Darius asked breaking the silence, he was curious as the rest on finding out the answer..

“Three miles” Sarah Conner said from where she sat in the back of the room.

“so to fly over their camp, I would have to be at about 20,000 feet” Ronny said thoughtfully. “just to give me some wiggle room on the range which Ill bet is a guesstimation.

“that’s not a lot of wiggle Room” Sarah pointed out.

“any higher, and it would be point less to even try. I can get with in say four or five miles at a thousand feet, and that wont help us a lot, so Ill have to fly over the place to get the Intel we need and to get digital pictures and map it with LIDAR and that means I have to be as close to the Three miles as I can get and hope that its not three and half miles or four miles.”

“Jared no disrespect to Ronny but I have the experience to fly this, he is a good natural pilot and learning more every day,” Sarah said.

“No” Jared said cutting her off. “ you need to be somewhere else and the reason you just stated are why. We cant afford to lose you, you have skills to pass on to people like Ronny, and Ill bet dollars to donuts you have at least one degree in Aero space engineering, damn near every Wing nut Pilot I’ve ever met especially senior officers did.”

“Actually I have three, a Masters in Aero space and mechanical engineering and a bachelors degree in physics.”

“not to mention calculus and Trig and shit load of other math stuff” Ronny said. “ lots of calculus.” He added again for emphasis.

“Yes I know how to do all that, but I do not hold a degree mathematics, I didn’t need it, its implied I knew all that and more with the degrees I do have.” Sarah said looking embarrassed.

“oh you and my wife will have a lot of long conversations back on Sullivan” Jared said, as Jill shot him the bird must to every ones surprise.

“so folks this is what I want to do, first we are going to split the group again, Chris I want you and Reese to head north along the sky line, and wait at that Lodge we were at before. Jansen and first squad will be going with team one and Darius’s folks to attack the main camp assuming we find it. it shouldn’t take more than three days to find the place, get a firm plan for the attack and commit. So lets say a week and a half, and we should be able to link up with Eric and his people during that time since they should be here by now. Now for details..” Jared said getting down to business.

Jared walked out of the Fire station and stood there in the area blocked off by the RVs and other vehicles, effectively making the Stations drive way a courtyard. He took a deep breath of winter air and looked up into the blue sky where the sun was starting its slide towards the horizon soon to vanish behind the Shenandoah mountains.

The meeting had gone better than he had thought, though he knew Mary was not going to forgive him for putting Ronny in Danger. He felt bad about that but she still looked at things as a civilian, and to be honest Jared was glad she could hang on to the belief that there was always a better way if you only spent the extra time to do find it.

He didn’t have that time, not really, he knew they were running out of time, and when that silent clock finally ran down, well he didn’t really know what was going to happen, other than things would change.

“mind if we talk for a moment” Ronny said from behind him. Jared turned to face his friend, who had a little silver in his hair these days and some crows feet. God we are all getting older, he thought. Mary nodded to him and then headed to the RV.

“not at all Ronny” Jared said watching Mary for a moment then turned his attention back to Ronny.

“she will get over it even if I get killed, She loves you like family Jared you and Jill.” Ronny said watching Mary disappear into the RV.

“I know Ronny, She’s one of the sisters I never had” Jared replied. “funny how tight our group is and was, I couldn’t have asked for better friends” he said his voice softening, he smiled sadly then shook away what ever thought was in his mind. “so other than possibly dying because I’m asking you to do something insane, what do you want to talk about.”

“I’m going to do this for you, and for the reasons you stated. Mary doesn’t really understand some of the things we do and why we do them but she wouldn’t have us change either Jared. I was a good soldier, and I may not talk much about Doing my Duty or honor, I believe in them.”

“I know Ronny” Jared said, he had always known, Ronny might be a clown, might be a kinky SOB. But the things that were important he would die for.

“When I.. I got my ass ambushed by that shit strider, Jared, I failed Mary, our friends and you. I couldn’t deal with it, not for a while, and becoming crippled didn’t help my self esteem any. The dark has been messing with me, it started while I was recovering, it got worse after the drinking and the pills, but it didn’t completely stop after you helped me dry out. But since the Crash, its stopped, and I think that’s because I found myself in the one situtation I was scared as hell at having to face. Being crippled and having to defend Mary and our baby with out you and Ori having my back. but I found I can cover some distance carrying a pack, I can still fight and I might pay for it with pain and not being able to move a lot later, I can do it and that’s made all the difference to me.” Ronny said as seriously as Jared had ever heard him.

“the dark wanted me to give up, it wanted me to believe I couldn’t protect Mary or myself and especially not our baby. It wanted me to kill myself Jared, it pretended to be my daughter, the daughter that I failed to protect so she died along with Mary. “ Ronny stopped talking and swallowed, pain and grief lingering in his eyes at the remembered feelings of failing the ones he loved the most.

“What ever it is, it tried to warp and twist my love for Mary and our baby and use that to get me to kill myself, and I want it to pay. I want to spit in its damn face and keep it from killing any more kids, from… well from destroying the one good thing in life. So if that means I risk dying from a stinger, or being shot or eaten playing grunt so be it, just promise me you will not keep me from helping because I’m not as fast or agile as I used to be.” Ronny said intently,

Jared stood there under a blue sky, for a long moment then extended his hand to Ronny “I Promise Ronny, welcome to the fight Brother, I’ve got your back to the end”
“wouldn’t miss it Jared,” Ronny replied as they shook hands.

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

Jan 4th, off of I 64 Virginia.

Things were starting to spiral out of control Proctor thought, as he walked to the Semi that pulled the trailer they used for a mess hall. Every one was nervous with the number of undead in the area, that were just on the other side of the vehicle wall pawing at the side of the vehicles trying to find a way through, so nervous most were staying in their campers and RVs, just in case.

Add in two men vanishing out of the camp over the last three days, and it was a situation that promised to blow up sooner or later and the worst part was Proctor suspected Kronnen had been behind the disappearances. It wouldn’t be the first time that some one that had truly pissed Kronnen off or made him suspicious had vanished with out a trace leaving his gear behind . but what had kept men in line months before seemed to be working against them now.

Proctor grabbed his Breakfast, dehydrated egs, a can of milk, and a piece of something that was supposed to be toast.. what he wouldn’t do for a hamburger, or even better a Steak.

An atlas landed on the table in front of him, he looked up to see Bradley, standing there, having returned to the main group three days ago, he had kept himself and his men scarce, Kronnen still wasn’t happy about the whole Knoxville fiasco.

“I need your help” Bradley said as he sat down at the card table in the trailer. “I was against taking this route when we left Staunton, but I think there are a few things that make this route advantageous to us, and I want you to convince the boss, to check out a few things.”

The plan such as it was , was to take I 64 to just outside Richmond then head north towards D.C on I 95. Bradley had only expressed his reservations once, forcefully, pointing out the problems, which mostly where the huge numbers of undead they would encounter then had closed his mouth and let the cards fall as they would supporting the final decision happily

“He doesn’t listen to me as much as he used to” Proctor said, which was true and something that was starting to worry him. “but tell me what you want to bring up and Ill do my best.”

“first here on I 95 is Fort AP, I think we should check it out,” Bradley said, not showing how much Proctors comment bothered him. Things were not getting better in the group, in fact they seemed to be getting worse, the National guard men were no longer the apple of Kronnen’s eye, not like they had been, more and more the boss was relying on the scum bags who almost to a man had a total dislike of the Guardsmen, equating them with the cops and the old system. The Guard for their part returned that dislike ten fold.

Adding to all of that was, recently a few people had begun to ask why they were busy hunting down a group of people they didn’t even know instead of trying to build a safe zone for every one that Kronnen had rescued over the last year and some odd months, one of them Tucker Smith, a popular guy with the civilians had some how been crushed when a jack stand suddenly failed, the fact that Tucker never worked on vehicles was something only whispered about and only in the civilian circle not where the thugs could hear about it.

The civilians firmly supported the Guard who had rarely used the comfort women, as some had begun to call them, and that made them more respectable to the civilians who had become to hear rumors, that the despised program was not staffed completely by volunteers, but that many of the women and the few men had been pushed into serving the sexual needs of thugs because someone close to Kronnen liked them.

And with the recent surge in numbers of comfort women and lets be honest men too, there was a growing disquiet in the ranks of the civilians, who had once been hard line supporters of if you have no real skills your not going to be a freeloader, serve in the only capacity you have left. It was amazing to him how many of those early supporters had been able to reconcile their so called religious or humanist beliefs with what amounted to forced prostitution, sex slaves to put it bluntly, simply to appease their I worked for it its mine and I don’t want to share attitudes.

Bradley himself had been all for survival of the fittest, building a tougher society from the ashes of the old, till he had seen the realities of where that led. Now he just kept his mouth shut and stayed as far away from commenting on or participating in the things he had grown to hate. But he had his teams and despite his earlier misgivings, the SF styled Team that Bradley had trained, had grown more tightly knit and united than he had once thought was possible, even the former criminals in his unit were coming around which impressed him. now if he could somehow hold them together and keep them from being wiped out for some worthless goal and return the loyalty and trust they were beginning to have for him he would be happy.

Despite all that Kronnen was still the only game in town, he told himself, what little he had seen of stones people, showed they were tough and resourceful and even decent fighters, but with far to few men to fight, and in the end they would be swallowed by Kronnen, and truth to tell Bradley was not going to defect to a group that might be closer to his way of seeing things, only to end up captured and tortured to death by Kronnen and his thugs.

Nothing of his thoughts showed in his voice or face as he pointed out the installations and locations that could be of importance to the group.

Proctor himself didn’t seem thrilled by the list Bradley was pushing, which led to Bradley wondering if Proctor was starting to see things the same way his Guard company was. and if that was the case, this whole outfit might end up killing itself before stone ever got around to trying.

When he finished detailing what he thought they needed to do, to give them an even greater Edge over Jared Stone and his people, Proctor looked up from the map a frown on his face, that swiftly vanished. “ Ill talk to the Boss, but don’t hold your breath, he wants to reach D.C and find a place to hole up before Stone arrives. This would add weeks to our time.”

“But the ammo and munitions we can recover are priceless” Bradley said, not even sure why he was pushing it. had he really come to this, that he was scared of being found disloyal that he was suggesting things and supporting things that he didn’t like or believe in to keep breathing another day.

“I know, assuming of course that its all still on site. ” Proctor replied, but wasn’t able to hide his reluctance. “like I said Ill pass it on” of course I’ll pass it on, if I don’t some one in here eating right now, who knows Bradley is on the shit list will rush to take the news to Kronnen that I had a long talk with Bradley over breakfast, if I don’t mention this Ill look like I’m conspiring with Bradley. When the hell did this group turn into this.. this semi fascist state.

“Thanks” Bradley said as he half rose “and one more thing, I’m going to need more rations and fuel for the upcoming mission. See if you can wrangle me more.” He didn’t expect approval, but if he didn’t ask it would seem odd, and of course asking could be deemed as bad to. There had been enough defections since the beginning of the year that Kronnen was always looking for signs some one was going to run.

Proctor sat for a few minutes longer after Bradley had left, poking at his eggs, then passed his half eaten tray to a man sitting at the next table. “ here, my stomach is just not cooperating this morning.” He said rising and waving off the thanks of the former serial killer.

Might as well go and present Bradleys idea’s now as opposed to later, he decided, not sure why he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of more supplies as well as weapons and ammo. PTSD maybe he thought, not that PTSD would be accepted as any reason to fail to do your duty and since I have two women who are trusting me to keep them safe and fed, I guess Ill just keep on doing my thing till I get killed by my old best friend, a stranger or the undead.

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

Jan 5th 0100hrs

Jared stood on the steps of the Capitol building under a bright blue sky, he could see down the national mall, which was eerily empty of the thousands of tourists that had once roamed there.

“its quieter than the last time we were here” A familiar voice said. Jared turned slowly and saw Mark standing there, dressed in cargo shorts, flip flops and that god awful tie dye shirt he had worn around D.C the last time they had visited the capitol for a friends wedding.

“I kind of like it like this” Jared said turning to look down the mall again.

“you would” Mark said softly. “I doubt your going to like what it is like now. Whole damn place has gone to hell. The politicians actually roam the halls and streets, at least they are actually mingling with the masses now.”

“damn, dead and still politically pissed” Jared said with a laugh that was swallowed by the silence as if had never been.

“Sue me I hold a grudge,” Mark said “come on, I have some time” he said starting down the steps.

They walked in silence passing the General Grant statue, wandered through the Botanical Gardens to the south then along Jefferson drive passing the various museums that Jared was itching to go inside. Especially the National Air and space Museum and the Smithsonian.

Eventually they crossed 15th street and walked across the neatly mowed lawn around the Washington Monument.

Jared turned and looked south across the Tidal basin to the Jefferson Memorial then west across the reflecting pool where the Lincoln Monument loomed.

“you know I’m pretty sure you didn’t just take time out from being dead to come and wander around the old capital with me. “ Jared said after a moment. “don’t get me wrong as weird as it may be I like being able to spend a little time with you, that’s not all doom and gloom, your going to die, its going to be painful and you need to stop whining speeches.”

Mark smiled for a moment then pointed to the White House to the north of them. “ want to go look inside.”

“Maybe one day, when I’m actually here.” Jared said. “so since your not really into small talk, do you want to tell me what we are really doing here.”

“well for starters, everything you could ever need to rebuild society is right here, in and around this city. I mean the knowledge and in some cases the very tools. Just wanted to point that out to you.” Mark said brushing a hand over his close cropped dark hair.

“and…” Jared prompted. “look Mark, Id honestly rather wait till I’m dead to talk to you guys, if all its going to be is cryptic shit while I’m still alive. so lets get to the meat of it so you can get back to Drinking Heavens Brew with Steve and making fun of the Patriots.”

“Well they do suck,” Mark said, as he looked up at the empty sky. “Listen, Jared, some things going on, I don’t know what, and if I did…”

“You couldn’t tell me because of rules.. yeah yeah I got that part.” Jared said sighing heavily.

“Steve’s right you really do have a lack or respect for the dead.” Mark said.

“yes I’m evil.. lets move on. . Help me Obi wan, you’re my only hope.” Jared said “ I need to know if that blond asshole the other day was really Mikhail, I need to know where Kronnen’s camp is, and I need to know that Ori, Ronny and Chris makes it through all this.”

“Can’t tell you, cant tell you, and I don’t know but couldn’t tell you if I did.” Mark said.

“Well at least thanks for the rescue, you made that man crap his pants when you charged into that room” Jared said smiling.

“I wondered if you realized it was me.” Mark said, grinning. “it would have been a lot more fun If I could have shot his butt for real.”

“Wasn’t hard to figure out, you came out of nowhere, you were too short to be Steve and I cant picture any other dead guy saving me.” Jared said. “ so back to what you can tell me”

“Not much, really, the Dark is on the move, and you for your sins are standing right in its way.

“More like I’ve drawn a line in the sand and said this far and no more” Jared said seriously.

“Well the Dark has decided to move you Jared, its Trinity, champions if you want to apply that term, are gathering and when they do.”

“They will die” Jared said with total conviction. “I may die in the fight, in fact I probably will. But they will not survive to do anything else for the Dark. Kronnen’s men and this dark Trinity will not get past us to get to the scribe no matter what happens” Jared vowed.

“I hope so Jared, I do, but for the moment man, you need to get your people rolling you’ve spent to long where you at.” Mark said “ and when you reach D.C. be careful, there will come a moment that you cant be distracted by Jill.” Mark said. “you’ll know when it comes, and that’s all I can say.” Mark said slowly fading away but as he did he pointed to the capitol building smiled and then was gone.

The sunlight faded as dark clouds rolled in, covering the sky the warm summer day twisted in a way Jared could have described if he wanted to, and in its place was winter, and a dead city that had once been the heart of a nation, he stood in ankle deep snow in front of the Washington monument where Cars had run off the road trying to escape the traffic jams, only to crash and be abandoned by their owners.

Snow was falling steadily, hearing Bells, Jared turned slowly towards the capitol building and saw a figure scuttling forward long spindly arms swinging by its side. A wide shark like smile on its face its dead eyes danced with a dark amusement from under the rim of its bowler hat.

“I hope you like my city Jared, I’ve worked so hard to make it a welcome place for you to die in.” Jasper Brown called out as he capered around a Black Suburban.

Jared woke gasping; he rolled out of the bed in the RV almost landing on Ori who was asleep on the floor beside the bed. “ wake up, we need to get rolling” Jared told him.

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

it was almost dawn, as the last of the gear and supplies were being loaded and the planes were being preflighted for take off.

Jill finished loading a box of canned goods in the back of an FMTV, and turned to go back into the fire station to pick up another one and saw a zombie stagger around the corner of the building next door, it broke into a slow shuffling jog heading right for the line of men carrying the last boxes of supplies to a Waiting Rv,

“contact one” she called out Drawing the Katana, gun fire would draw more undead, she thought as she raced towards the zombie, she was the closets to the threat and she was not going to sit back and let her husband or some one else deal with the danger.

Seeing her, the rotting male corpse veered towards her, its hands grasping air in anticipation of rending her flesh. Its mouth opened and she could see teeth through its shredded lips.

She lowered her blade to her waist, point out towards her left, edge towards the zombie, and at the last second she stepped to the right out of the zombies reach, bringing her blade up from left to right, Severing the left arm at the elbow, the right arm at the shoulder. She stopped and spun reversing the sword in her hands with a spin and brought it slashing down at an angle to sheer through the things neck the blade slicing between the top vertebrae and the base of the skull. Its head bounced and rolled in the snow, its body ran on for two more steps then fell.

“Jill, Watch out!” Mary shouted pointing past Jill.

Jill turned and her blood ran cold, eight more zombies had just come around the corner and were heading straight for her. She drew the shorter blade she carried which was no more than a slightly cut down Saber fitted with a straight hilt and guard much like the Katana, Rob had made the weapon for her months before. With a weapon in each hand she moved to meet the closest zombie.

Before the dead had risen there had been a talk amongst zombie fans about the best weapons to use against the living dead, the Katana had been high on the list due to its popularity from movies and urban myth. So called experts had at once descended on the masses with their proclamations of katana’s can not cut through limbs or toros. Katanas are no sharper than other blades forged in the same time frame.

And the So called Experts were wrong. What ever their reasons they time and again ignored display of skill after display of skill bent only on pushing their opinion. Jill how ever knew a true blade in the hands of a trained warrior was more than capable of severing limbs and beheading.

The Katana in Jill’s hand was a true blade and had been a gift to herself when she had mastered Nitojutsu, she had paid over ten thousand dollars to have this blade forged by one of the last master Sword smiths in Japan and it had served her well since the world had ended.

She struck the lead zombie, the shorter blade cutting through the things knee, sending it tumbling to the ground even as she spun towards the next zombie taking a hand at the wrist , then its head before she flipped into a reverse roll out of the reach of the third zombie.

She came out of the roll onto the balls of her feet then lunged to the left and struck at the fourth zombie taking it down with a feet sweep and spinning up and into stop thrust that shoved the point of her Katana into the skull of the third zombie, pulled the blade from its skill and with a flick or her hand brought the blade up and then down taking the head of the fourth zombie as it struggled to rise.

Dancing back from the remaining four zombies, she saw five more undead were coming around the corner of the building, she spun the blades in her hands, flicking black gore off the shimmering steel.

She glided from side to side getting the four closest zombies to spread out then lunged in at one, bring both blades down in a crossing motion that scissored through the neck of the portly zombie severing its head then glided back out of reach of the rest, as she picked her next target.

The whole trick was to keep them from being able to mass around her, restricting her freedom of movement, pinning her in place, if that happened she was dead.

Emily in the RV stared out the window of the RV at the lone women who stood against the undead with nothing but swords in her hands. Jill had offered to teach Emily and Sierra had to defend themselves and till this moment both girls had thought it was kind of stupid. But now watching the attractive slender woman take down the undead like she was some kind of Action Movie star Emily changed her mind.

A hand grasped her arm, Jill twisted breaking free of the skinny zombie with the blood matted hair and missing lips, she stomped down shattering the zombies knee and foot in a single scraping strike. She followed it up by driving the Saber into the back of the things head as it pitched forward off balance.

Suddenly Jared was beside her, Khurkri and Tomahawk in hand, Logan to her right. In seconds the three of them had put down the next three zombies and backed away leading the next five and beyond those were more, far to many more.

“to many and no point to being silent now” Jared said as he crushed a skull with his Khurkri. “ fall back” he said.

The three of them turned and ran back for the vehicles, clearing the firing zone. Jared ordering the planes to take off as he ran. .

Bodies tumbled to the ground as two Ma deuces ripped them apart, small arms fire added to the maelstrom, the roar of aircraft engines added to the mix and the undead responded to the noise, pouring out from between buildings and from the side street.

“get the HET and Stryker over there, Keep them off the main Road” Jared transmitted as he slid behind the wheel of the ELSORV. “Chris are we fully loaded”

“Roger, that the last of the supplies are loaded and we are ready to roll.” Chris responded.

“Good, cover the planes then we get the hell out of here.” Jared said, silently thanking mark for the warning as the HET Rumbled by.

The HET and the Stryker plowed through the undead, crushing bodies under tires, or tossing them aside

The Twin otter raced west down Churchville Highway otherwise known as State route 250, a swarm of undead staggered after the plane, filling the road behind it, which was exactly what Sarah and Ronny had hoped would happen, The UV swung out onto the road and headed east, it needed even less distance to take to the sky than the Twin Otter, and today thanks to the wind, and assuming he didn’t crash it was going to take even less distance than normal.

Jared watched the UV race down the street, directly towards a crowd of undead that came to greet it. with out even realizing it, he was chanting “go, go, go” under his breath as if he could will the plane into the sky.

Suddenly far short of its normal take off point, the nose of the UV came up, pointing at the sky, it seemed to hang there nose almost straight up engine screaming and then it leaped up into the blue sky above, escaping the undead who had chased it.

“I have no idea how he just did that, but damn that was cool” Ori said from the back seat echoing every one else’s thoughts.

Jared nodded, it looked cool and had burned a lot of fuel he was sure. “Lets move out” he transmitted. In less than a minute the entire convoy was heading east blowing through the undead that stood in their way.

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

Eric Stone crouched and picked up a book out of the snow that had blown through the broken window, he shook the snow loose and saw the title. “The Hobbit” he read smiling in fond memory of his childhood, then looked around the bedroom, where a model of the USS enterprise hung from the ceiling, painstakingly assembled by the boy who had lived and died here.

All around the room were Star Trek models and Toys, on the once neat bookshelf, Dungeons and Dragons game books, the Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion and other fantasy books, there were also Star Trek books and even a few Star wars books.

The kid had been a nerd, like Eric had once been, and in some ways still was. There was a kinship between himself and the dead boy down stairs, and that explained the feeling of loss he felt just thinking about the kid and what he had gone through there at the end of his life as he was slowly starving to death with his parents in a house surrounded by undead.

At the end the father had shot first the boy then the mother as they slept a drugged sleep, then sat down wrote out a letter telling their story and asking for forgiveness before taking his own life.

Eric rose and shoved the book into his pack, not even sure why. As he headed down stairs to rejoin his team, he heard motors in the distance.

“Hollywood, Ross and the others are inbound,” Bailey transmitted before Eric could ask for an update.

Cade Ross and twenty other men and women had been part of Jareds team that had gone on the Supply run to the Bunker, for what every hair brained reason they had stayed behind when the supplies and the rest of the group had headed back to Sullivan, and had spent weeks prowling around the area of the Rendezvous site till they had managed to get Eric on the Radio two days ago.

As long as they werent total idiots, Eric was thrilled to have twenty one more people to add to his group that was supposed to reenforce Jared for what was probably going to be one hell of a dust up in D.C. assuming of course the plan worked out, if not that gave Eric and Jared quite a few people to harass Kronnen’s forces all the way to Sullivan and help lift the siege.

Assuming that Adjutant Simms and his men hadn’t already ended it, he smiled grimly. Ashton had been worried when Eric and his volunteers had been shipping out to help Jared, but the night before Cal Simms had gotten into contact with the island on the HAM about his coming in for some R and R and supplies. Eric wasn’t sure how many men Simms had gathered in the last few months, but even with just his core group of Legionnaires, Kronnen’s men were going to be very unhappy to meet the man called the Dark Angel of the abyss from the Congo to Kosovo.

Add Major Campbell the other Retired SF still on Sullivan who were going to link up with Simms, and there was about to be one hell of a can of whoop ass unleashed on the raiders.

Making sure his men were in position just in case this was a trap, Eric stepped out said trailed by Lew who was damn near his shadow these days and watched as a white ComCast van came down the road leading two school buses and an ambulance.

Just stay safe Jared and get here soon Eric said silently as he watched Cade Ross leap from the van. The man had bandages on one arm and around his neck, his clothes were dirty, but other wise he looked right as rain as Erics mother had used to say.

“god you area sight for sore Eyes” Cade said with a smile, as people began to climb out of one of the buses.

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

Jan 6th, Grottoes,Virginia, 0900 hrs

The camp had been set up in private campground along a river in the foot hills of the blue ridge mountaints that loomed over the camp. Ori trudged into camp pulling the a travois that held the two deer he had killed at down up in the foothills, Jeb walked beside him occasionally glancing back at Darius and Quentin. Quentin the gentle gaint as Ed called him, was pulling his own travois that held the wild pig he taken down with jareds home made spear after ori had put three Arrows into the thing. Jebs eight turkeys rode beside the pig. All in all they had ended up having a great hunt this morning.

Half the camp was up already, soldiers were double checking the fencing and portable walls that had been set up last night to make sure they were going to hold up. the others were working on getting pavilions set up for tables and chairs, they would only be here a couple of days, but Jared wanted all gear checked, clothes mended, weapons cleaned and every empty magazine in camp was to be filled.

“still think we should try to catch some fish” Quentin muttered, “ I wouldn’t get this bloody catching fish”

“ever tried to fish in the winter?” Ori asked.

“you would be closer to the truth if you asked him if he had ever fished before” Darius said flashing a grin at Quentin.

“Remember I’m dating your sister” Quentin said.

“all the more reason to make fun of you. As her Brother its myjob to run off men who are interested in her.”

“can you believe this high school crap” Quentin moaned dramatically.

“sure can, hang out with Jared, Ori and Ronny, between Ronnys fart and sex jokes, Ori’s really bad jokes and Jared who can sink as low as any one I’ve ever met, its pure highschool.” Jeb said trying not to smile as he goaded Ori.

“my jokes do not suck” Ori stated.

“Ori the last joke you told was a knock knock joke” Jeb pointed out.

“so”

“you used Cheese whiz in a knock knock joke” Jeb said.

Darius and Quentin laughed as Ori sighed and looked put upon. Jeb grinned, “ at least learn a good blond joke, I know your blond but those are not hard ones to remember”

“I will shoot you I the knees when you least expect it, just wait, Mr. Former Porn star ” Ori stated as they reached the fence where men opened a section of fencing and let them inside.

“ I know I recognized you from some where” Darius said suddenly.

“I’m sure if I walked around with my pants off you would have been able to figure it out’ Jeb said with a laugh. “to the regret of the women in the group I am off the market” Jeb stated grandly.

“Its true” Jill said as she walked up, “ Jeb found himself a woman to settle down with” she said picking up two of the turkeys.

“one of his former co stars.. Betsy the goat from Barn yard bang” Ori said with a grin that faded when no one laughed. “ oh come on that was funny. “

“agree or he will go to knock knock jokes” Jeb said with a laugh.

“Damn that’s a haul of good meat” Jared said stepping out his RV, “lets get it cleaned and in the smokers,.” Jared glanced at Ori then at Jeb and smiled. “been cracking on him about his jokes again?”

“every chance I get” Jeb said with a grin.

“cheese whiz” Jared said. Jeb nodded as Darius and Quentin started laughing again.

“I swear I will shot both of you in the knees at some point” Ori stated.

“Yeah, till then lets get these animals strung up and drained so we can get to cleaning them.” Jared said with a grin, at least for a little while it felt almost normal around here.

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

Julie drove slowly down the road following the tracks of vehicles in the snow, occosainly glancing at Mikhail, who sat slumped in the passenger seat, wrapped in a blanket and shaking with fever. Foul smelling Puss oozed from the covered empty eye socket, and any little movement caused him to moan in pain.

She rather hoped he would recover it would make her job so much easier, if not well as entertaining as he was as a lover she would just leave his body on the side of the road to reanimate. It was she reflected her greatest strength she had no real attachments to any one, except for Jasper Brown who had led her into a world she had craved, had dreamed of for years before that fateful meeting.

When he had come to her in her dreams for the first time, it was the night of the 23rd, telling her to flee her home. she had left her boyfriend sleeping in their bed, she had planned on ending him soon anyway there far more exciting things that called to her and she didn’t have the time to do him properly, Murder should never be rushed.

over the months jasper had come to her most every night leading her to people that needed a bit of her special TLC. Guided by Jasper she traveled across the dead lands from place to place, state to state, leaving dead men and even a few dead women in her wake.

And Her friend and mentor had finally sent her to Mikhail, the man he had molded and mastered, together they were to Kill Jared Stone and his wife. The plan had been to strip him of his friends, ruin the trust his people had in him and then when he was as beat down as a man could be, she was to step in and kill him, leaving his headless and emasculated corpse where it could be found by what ever followers remained. But something had gone wrong with that plan, she had no idea what, other than it had something to do with a cripple and a blond man who had failed to follow the scrip written for them.

Well Julies scripts were always easy to follow, she killed the problems and moved on, Just as she would do to Jared Stone, Jasper wanted him dead, and Dead he would be.

Mikhail whispered something in Russian from the passenger seat, so he was still alive she thought with a quick glance, half tempted to just open the door and push him out. But if he lived he would be valuable to her, not to mention the good sex.

If there was any man she had ever bedded that came close to being a man she could like, it was Mikhail, who knows maybe after Stone is dead, she might spare Mikhail as long as he remained her lover and aided her in killing. Which should not be a problem he enjoyed killing as much as she did. But that was the future and he had to live to make it to that point.

Speaking of dreams she thought, I hope tonight I dream of Jaspers city again, even if I fail to get close enough for Mikhails tracker to work, I know where they will end up.

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

Jan 7th, the River camp. 1000hrs

Jill stretched trying to work the stiffness out of her muscles, Emily and Sierra had stopped complaining about how cold it was and had finally gotten down to seriously working to master the Moves that Jill had been trying to teach them.

Over the last year, she had trained so many people and had finally discovered the same joy that Alan her last sensei had felt for his calling. Especially watching the realization dawn in two traumatized teen aged girls that they really could fight back if they had to.

She almost laughed as Sierra tried to be cute and ended up gasping for air as Emily slammed her to the ground using a hip throw, Jill corrected Emily’s stance and showed the girl each move again, as slowly as she could then stepped back and let them go at it again.

The smell of roasting meat drifted through the camp, setting her mouth to watering. Jared had gone out hunting with Ori’s hunting party this morning and was definitely in his he man, cave man hunter mode, she had to admit if he got naked and beat on his chest , with one foot on top of his vanquished prey, she would probably jump his bones. But with out that, he was just amusing. But they had done good, two more deer and twelve more turkeys.

The hunters were laughing and yucking it up like it was the good old days before the dead had risen, and currently Ori was the object of abuse as they tore into him for yet another bad joke. She suspected sometimes, Ori did it on purpose just to lighten the mood but he had never admitted it to her or any one else either.

“are we really going to flown somewhere tomorrow” Emily asked suddenly, then doubled over as Sierra landed a kick to her stomach. “time out , stop damn it” Emily gasped. Sierra backed off almost but not quiet smiling.

“I’m not sure to be honest, I know Jared wants to send you to the bunker to be safe, but I think he plans on waiting till after we try to free your friends..” Jill said almost saying family but stopped her self so as not to upset Sierra, whose loss was still raw. “but after that, I think all of you will be sent to the bunker to get you out of the way of whats going to happen after that.” Jill said, as the girls gathered around her.

“whats the bunker” Sierra asked.

“its underground, it has power, hot showers, even movies and a bowling alley. And its made to keep things out.” Jill said, then tried to explain the bunker in a way that didn’t make her sound like an idiot tour guide speaking to hyper active toddlers.

She explained why it had been built, as much of the details she thought they might be interested in, and anything else that she thought they might find usefull.
“… its by far the most incredible place we’ve been since all this started” Jill finished. Then spent twenty minutes answering questions, only to end conversation when she saw Jared and Ronny sit down with Guitars, and Ori with his fiddle.

So many people before the dead, would have scoffed at the idea of people actually doing anything not survival related in a situation like there’s, but those people had, had no clue back then what it would be like, the day by day grind, slogging around with the constant fear and stress, wondering if today might be the day you slipped up and got eaten, or got a cut that ended up infected and taking your life. Moments like this were necessary to keep sane to keep from losing hope and above all an escape for how ever long it the party might last. And with the meat, real meat, hot dripping red meat, they had collected, deserved a little party, even if it drew in some of the undead in the area. The fences would hold them off long enough to get loaded and leave.

“come on you two, time to relax and dinner will be ready in a short bit” Jill said taking their hands and leading them over to the growing crowd of people.

the music was mostly Irish folk, a few traditional pieces and a smattering of country, and Jared to her delight actually played several of the songs tonight with out any noticeable mistakes, his skill with the guitar was growing. At least no one cringed anymore when he picked up a guitar, she thought, that reaction had always mildly amused her, but lord could he sing.

There was another reason for the party she knew, in the next few days, the group would be splitting up some going with Jared to link up with Eric, and possibly attack Kronnens main camp, the main part of the group would be heading back up into the Mountains to stay at the old Lodge on the Skyline and wait.

Dinner, was mouth watering good, so good, it made most of them want to go out and wipe the undead from the face of the earth just to sample a hamburger again or eat Italian food.. anything but the crap they had been eating for so long now.

The party wound down around eight, she grinned at that, Jared was still trying to teach her military time, but she just didn’t care to use it and it bothered him.

Only a few undead had wandered up to the fence during that time, so the mood was still pretty good as ever one packed up most of the gear outside, just in case and then retired.

In the RV, Jill curled up beside Jared and could feel the tension radiating off of him, he was worried about Ronny flying the scout mission tomorrow and Sarah would by flying a mission as well, she was going to take Chris and fly to the rendezvous site, where Hopefully Eric would be waiting.

She fell asleep in his arms, wishing that tomorrow the undead would be gone from the world.

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

Virginia, Jan 8th, 1200hrs

Ronny banked around till he was heading south and popped up to nineteen thousand feet, just out of range of the stated range of a stinger missile, not that he trusted anything official when it came to flying exploding things. But it was the best he could do, and it allowed him to see a much wider swath of ground than he would have been able to at lower altitudes.

“Every one okay back there” he asked turning his head to look back at the men riding along as guards if he had to land.

“as long as you don’t crash again, we are great” Will Easton replied.

“No problems, but if you hear screaming from up here, something like Oh god oh god we are all going to die, assume the worst.” Ronny said with a grin that was much more natural than it had been a two weeks ago.

“Asshole” Will said shaking his head, his lips curing in a half smile.

“That’s me, the man who holds your life in his hands.. oh if any one can read I need you to get the manual in case I need to be talked through landing again.” Ronny said as he turned back to the world outside the windscreen.

Jared was determined to find Kronnen’s main camp and soon, and personally Ronny didn’t think that was going to be a problem, he decided on a standard search pattern basically a spirally box each pass drawing closer to the center.

The plane droned on for almost an hour, Ronny keeping a close eye on the fuel gauge, at least he knew where three fields with fuel were, and one had almost a full tank beside the main hangar.

He turned north deciding he would land and fill up to be on the safe side, as he flew over what he was certain was I 64, he spotted something, a thread of smoke, almost invisible to the naked eye from a spot just on the edge of a small town.

He came around and passed over the area, activating the cameras to take pictures and smiled as he saw the thermal image. It was a camp all right, right beside a lake in a heavily forested area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge,, set up in a series of boxes inside of boxes like one of those Russian nesting Dolls. The outer box seemed to be composed of Semi Trucks, and military vehicles, then what appeared to be delivery trucks, the next smaller box were all RVs and trucks pulled Fifth wheels, then pick ups, Jeeps and other smaller vehicles formed a box around eight cattle trailers parked in the center of the camp.

An alarm wailed on the console, one he wasn’t familiar with, but he was pretty sure he knew what it meant, some one was lasing the UV, he pulled back the yoke and climbed steeply up to 23,000 feet just short of the Uvs top ceiling envelope of 25000 feet.. The steady pulse of the alarm speeding up till it was a long continuous wail.

Lets hope a Stinger can not reach this height after all, Ronny thought as he turned north again, even as something raced towards the UV riding a Tongue of flame.

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

Master Sergeant Ben Cross looked up as Sergeant Hank Higgins entered the room he used for an office, Ross Clark a civilian dressed in Bdu’s followed.

“yes, Clark Cross said rising from the card table he used as a desk. Higgins waited by the door acting as a guard. To many times over the last year had seemingly normal rational people had just suddenly committed acts of sabotage or murder

“The Raider team has set up in a house that gives them a good view of the barricades” Clark said looking around the small room, its walls covered with maps of the Isle of Palms. “Id like permission to attack”

“negative, if you can get your men in position with out being seen then do so, but till we know if they are using radios, I don’t want the raiders to know we are on to them.” Cross stated.

“But Cross..”

“its Master Sergeant thank you Mr. Clark, I earned my rank and would like the respect due it.”

Clark gritted his teeth and nodded. Military nonsense he thought. “ Master Sergeant, we can not let them spy on the barricade especially it they are using radio to stay in touch with their main group.”

“Mister Clark, simply put we cant kill them if they don’t attack, so let me make this clear and I hope you understand, I want them to attack the barricades, I want them in plain sight and in range of our weapons. I hate the idea of possibly losing this island but once they are here, they cant hide from us any longer and we can wipe them out”

Clark stood there for a moment thing about that then nodded once sharply in total agreement with the Master Sergeant. “all right Master Sergeant, Ill keep my men out of sight for now.”

“Thank you, and Mr. Clark, the moment the enemy is at the gates you can engage your target.” Cross said.

Clark nodded once more then turned and left the room. “Higgins, I want the mortar Tracks moved into position in two hours,”

“Yes Sergeant” Higgins said then turned and left the room

Cross sighed and rubbed his thumb slowly along the sharp edge of his jaw as he studied the maps on the wall. The Barricade on the mainland side of the cause way was going to be lost there was no question of it. the enemy would be allowed to cross the bridge which was not mined no one wanted to risk damaging a bridge they couldn’t repair.

He didn’t mind losing the swinging gates on the box barricades, they would still have the sliding gates that were the back ups to close when the fighting was over, assuming of course the mini fortress that covered the island side of the bridge wasn’t wrecked in the fighting. Robs little surprise would tear the shit of the enemy when they finally attacked

The only thing that could go really wrong with his plan, was the enemy might get smart and retreat and once they got back to the mainland they could hide miles from the water using only scouts to keep watch on the approach to the island.

He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, he was so damn tired and there was so much to do he only hoped Jareds plan worked out long and short term. He sat up and got back to work studying his defense plans and trying to work up every variation he could think of.

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

Army of Kronnen, main camp 1300 hours.

Former National Guard Sergeant Ray Watts, now Captain, stood on top of the wooden tower they had built from Creosote poles watching the sky. They were not really sure if the plane that had flow over the Camp had actually been hit by the stinger or not. The lack of a fireball in the sky pretty much assured him that it had been a miss.

“What are we going to do Captain” Former Private, now sergeant Brian Sloan asked.

“Not much we can do, I’ve already contracted Kronnen, who wants us to stay put till they locate another camp site, Kronnen is certain that Stones people are ahead of him still heading for D.C and that the plane is of no concern.” Watts said caustically. He didn’t believe that for a moment, no one was going to waste fuel checking a hundred miles behind them, not these days.

Fuel was of course another Reason Kronnen didn’t want the main camp on the move, with out a destination, it would burn up their supplies of fuel quickly.

The problem is it didn’t matter, the main camp was just to large to set up just anywhere, so they were stuck here till a suitable site was located and reported back to him.

His attempts to talk Kronnen into allowing the camp to break and go mobile at times like this had always been met by pointing out the lack of fuel. Keeping the camp and its supplies safe and secure justified the use of extra fuel in Watts’s mind.

And here on the east coast that was particularly true, at least along the main travel corridors where the fuel stations had been emptied by the fleeing populations, he suspected there was fuel in the more rural area, in his opinion that was one of the reasons Stone stuck to traveling in the rural areas. And none of that did a thing to change his situation here and now.

Watts suspected that no matter how justified they had been in the past to just sit tight at the camp, sitting tight against Stone was going to be a different story.

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

Jared drove up the hill, catching occasionally glimpses of the Building they had come searching for. The Main group was waiting down the road for the new camp site to be cleared and Ronny thankful was in bound with pictures of what he was sure was Kronnen’s main camp. Which was good news as for Jared knowing that Ronny had not been shot out of the sky and had found the camp, it was one less thing to worry about.

None of that mattered at the moment he thought as the road emerged from the trees into an overgrown field, Jared parked the ELSORV in front of the old Victorian styled building that had been a bed and breakfast, situated on the outskirts of a small town atop a hill a thousand feet above ocean level, there was just enough overgrown field beside the place for the UV to land.

He stepped out weapon in hand, watching Nibbler who cautiously jumped down beside him. her tail down, ears back as she stared at the building as the rest of the group dismounted.

Jansen and his squad started towards the building but Jared stopped them. “ its our turn” He told Jansen who frowned but didn’t protest. Jared was tired of being protected and didn’t care if Jansen knew it at this point.

“Lets go Team one” Jared said as he started towards the door. “ Jansen take first squad and sweep the area around this place, then get the UV landed. Jorge, Zoe, and Jeb form up with Darius and his people, as soon as we start clearing the first floor Darius you lead your people to the second floor and clear” Jared said, as he had his team stack outside the front door, giving Darius ad his people a chance to get organized and formed up on the steps.

“Ready” Jared asked Ori. Ori nodded the worried anxious look faded replaced by his game face.

“Go” Jared called out, Ori tossed the Door open, Jared was the first inside, followed by Ori, they swept out of the Small foyer and into the Central hall or room with a stair case that led upstairs. A small conversation group sat in the middle of the room, all antique chairs around a once highly polished round coffee table. Period style pictures hung on the paneled walls, and a antique chandelier with dusty crystals dangled from the high ceiling. Jared went right, “Contact two,” he called out seeing an elderly woman, missing an ear and part of her nose standing in the middle of the doorway ahead of him,, a younger woman missing hips and legs lay on the floor, nails scratching the wood as she started to crawl towards him. he stroked the trigger, putting two rounds into the older woman, who went down in a mist of goo and bone.

“Contact one” Ori called behind him, Jared shifted Targets and put two more rounds into the crawler as he moved forward in a crouch towards the doorway calling out “Clear” followed by Logan and Jill.

Ori, Ed and Steger went through the sliding door to the left of the foyer, while Darius and his team entered and headed straight upstairs.

The open doorway, led into a sitting room complete with piano, dead flowers in a ceramic vase on the piano top. A dead man lay on the antique looking blood stained sofa a bullet hole in his head. To the left of the door way, he saw another door and moved purposely towards it still in a crouch weapon tracking across the room searching for threats.

Using his off hand he slid open the next door which moved stiffly, dust and dirt had built up in its track, no sooner than the door was open ten inches than a pale hand reached out and grabbed the barrel of Jared’s HK. “ Contact” he yelled pushing the weapon up trying to get the barrel in line with the things face, Logan stepped to Jared’s right and fired through the gap, the hand on his weapon let go and vanished back into the room on the other side of the door.

“Clear” Jared said, glancing at Logan, who should have been in place the moment he started to slide the door open.

“sorry” Logan said.

Jared didn’t respond he just stepped into a dining room right out of southern living, it was the kind of place that would have hosted formal dinners, a little bit of elegance for the guests of the bed and breakfast. There was a door in the left wall that would open to the hallway and a swinging door straight ahead.

The second floor was as elegant as the first, Darius thought, it was decorated the way his mom had liked, she had kept a really neat home with lots of antique furniture and decorations that had been passed down through the generations.

He had no idea how military guys did their thing, so he just did what he had done since the beginning; he opened the first door on his left and looked into the bedroom. There was no place to hide but under the bed, covered by Quentin he headed for the bed and knelt using his rifle to lift the bedspread and peer underneath.

“looks good “he said as he rejoined them in the hall and began to work their way through the bedrooms on the second floor.

Jeb hung back, keeping an eye on the hallway, assuming they lived through this, he planned on asking Jared to teach darius the best way to clear a room. It was like watching a Scooby doo episode he thought almost laughing at the mental image that thought provided.

Finally Murphy put in appearance, Darius and his people had grown a little to confident after finding nothing but empty rooms, as Nate opened the last door, which led to a communal bathroom, a zombie, naked as the day it had been born and died lunged out, having been drawn to the door by the sounds of footsteps, and voices from downstairs.

Nate managed to get his rifle up under the things Jaw, keeping it from biting him as they both toppled over onto the floor. The zombie ripped at nates arms and chest, leaving bloody furrows, its teeth snapping close to his throat.

Jeb started to move forward, but was blocked by Brian who drew his knife and stepped up beside Nate. He grabbed the thing by the hair and pulled its head back and rammed the point of his knife at angle into one of the things eye sockets driving the blade up into its brain. The zombie jerked and twitched for a moment then went limp.

Nate shoved the corpse off, and climbed to his feet with Brian’s help. “thanks, I owe you” he said.

“Anytime” Brian replied as he sheathed his knife.

“Leaves just the third floor, then” Darius said as he headed for the open door at the end of the hallway where a set of stairs led up. Jeb shook his head; he was even more serious about getting Jared to talk to Darius about how to clear a building as well as a room.

Once the bodies were taken out and stacked in a tool shed out back, it took them an hour to get the man group up to the building and get a good camp set up, and to bring the UV in for a landing.

Ronny climbed stiffly out of the UV, grinning from ear to ear as he shook Jareds hand, before being smothered by Mary who ran up and leaped on him.

Jared watched them for a moment smiling, trying to figure out what he was going to do with Mary, she really needed to go back to the Bunker, but he was pretty sure if he suggested it Mary would nail his balls to a chair.

Once he was disentangled from Mary, Ronny passed Jared a Thumb drive before heading into the Camp with Mary.

An hour later Jared was sitting with Darius, Jansen and the others studying the printed out pictures of Kronnen’s main camp. “ I still cant believe you found it” Darius said again as he used a magnifying glass to try and pick out more details.

“next time a zombie apocalypse occurs find yourself a pilot to help you travel” Jared advised the cowboy who shook his head.

“I’m hoping that if there is another one I will be long dead before it happens” Darius said as he picked up another picture.

Jansen was silent as he took five pictures and taped them together to produce one large picture of the camp. “I see one problem with attacking this camp” He said, Jared looked up at him resisting the urge to frown.

“do tell” Jared said sitting back in his chair.

“in a normal raid, we would rush in destroy their supplies, kill the defenders that don’t surrender. The usual stuff. But here we cant” Jansen said calmly. “one we need the fuel they have, two. We need the supplies they have for the new bodies we are going to be getting when we free the prisoners, three. Are we just going to leave the survivors, mostly civilians, there to starve.”

“he has a point Jared,” Ori said.

Jared had already been considering that, and the truth was he had no idea, taking those supplies away from Kronnen was the one sure way to cut down the threat the man and his people posed. He had hoped that he would come up with answer before they attacked but it still wasn’t happening.

“To be honest, I’ve been thinking this over and I don’t know. So Ill shift the responsibility to you folks to come up with an answer.” Jared said, “guilt by committee as it were”

“Asshole” Ronny muttered with a grim smile.

“We target only the people who fight back, and then take the rest with us” Mary suggested.

“Cant far to many mouths to feed” Reece pointed out.

“We could just blow up their fuel and ammunition and leave them.” Ronny pointed out.

“Trap them there to die when the swarms of undead show up after the fight.” Jared said. “ I don’t think so”

“Send them to the bunker” Zoe said quietly, the first time she had ever spoken during any of the impromptu meetings. “what if, some or most of those people want to get away but haven’t been able to. We could arm the prisoners we free, and let them escort the whole lot of them back to the bunker, its got to be big enough, and its got the supplies to support them right.”

“You could send Nate with them as a leader” Darius said knowing he was on thin ice, Nate was not all that popular with Jared and the others.

Jared gazed at Nate for a moment, nothing of his thoughts showed on his face. “Nate and Mary, along with the two girls and Jess and his people”

“You realize your just risking losing the Bunker to Kronnen right” Steger said.

“I’m not going” Mary said flatly.

“yes you are, no debates even if I have to tie your ass up and send you back taped to the top of a vehicle.” Jared said. “and yes it’s a risk” he said acknowledge Steger.

“Jared” Mary said.

“Enough” Jared said cutting her off as he slammed his hand down on the table shocking her into silence. “Mary, you don’t get what’s going to happen in D.C., its going to be a war, and I refuse to let you jeopardize yours and your babies life going along to something that will most likely get a lot of us Killed. I wont allow it, and Your not going to talk me into it.” he paused seeing the shocked look on her face, Jill was as shocked but that didn’t matter either. “Mary, your brave, gutsy, smart and every other positive damn thing I can think of. But I wont, cant let you risk your baby.” He said flatly, Ronny was probably going to pay for the look of approval he flashed Jared.

Mary glared at Jared, but she knew had lost and part of her was relieved and ashamed at the wanting to accept the loss and head to safety.

Nate sat listening, the words flowing over him, underscored with his sisters message that Jared had to die, were these people in that camp the ones Maggie had been talking about, would his wife die if Jared hit the camp, or were the words and actions he was seeing here real, and did it matter if they were millions could die from good intentions as well as bad.

He didn’t know what to think or what to do, beyond the one that had driven him for a year, to get his wife back he wouldn’t allow anything to jeopardize that. If Jared had to die it would be after Nate’s wife was safe, not before.

12 thoughts on “Chapter Twenty

  1. I usually don’t leave comments. But, you sir are a incredible story teller. I love reading, do it every night to the tune of about 1000 pages a week, and I look forward to reading yours over most everything else I read. Keep it up!

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