Chapter 16

“Now is the time darkness comes,
With deafening sounds like silent drums,
Church bells ring,
And choruses long dead sing,
Spirits fly,
Through a blackened sky,
Now is the time the living die”
~Ashley Dickerson

Rob wiped the sweat from his brow, and looked down the line of vehicles. Then up at the sky where the sun was sinking towards the horizon. They had maybe another two hours of daylight left, and even with the additional hands, Rob wasn’t sure they could get every vehicle checked out before dark like Jared wanted.

If nothing else Rob would make sure that his little mechanics team got up at O Dark thirty and finish the job before 0800hrs, which was when Jared wanted to roll out.

“Contact, east twenty Stinkys” the shout from the sentry on the roof caused Rob to flinch in surprise, though it shouldn’t have, ever since their arrival more and more zombies had been staggering up. Two of the Humvee’s sped out to deal with the group of zombies as far from the airstrip as possible.

He grinned as Brittany spears boomed from a speaker on the roof, Ori strikes again he thought as he heard Jared cursing Ori’s choice in music. Wiping his hands on his coveralls, he walked over to the Beast and eyed the trusty vehicle. The old Deuce, battered and dinged up as it was, was still reliable.

The knee cappers affixed to the rims, needed some work but were still functional, he had reinforced the cattle catcher and improved the hydraulics that lifted the catcher up and out of the way to make driving easier off road and on debris laden streets. the louvered armor that covered the windshield and door windows, really needed to be replaced. He doubted it would be of much use in the coming battle, assuming they made it that far and the Beast at least it gave them something to haul supplies in, but against a real honest to god battle the thing wasn’t going to be worth much.

Rob looked down at the ground for a moment, wondering if he was brave enough for what was coming. He pushed the thought away, he had been facing death every day for the last year and some odd months, this at least would be a cleaner and mostly painless way to die. Yeah painless death for the win he thought morbidly amused.

He looked up with every one else as the sound of a helicopter suddenly came to his ears, he had always heard that the special forces types had helicopters that were damn near silent, and this one was till it got close.

He watched as the Blackhawk swooped in over the trees. Hovered for a moment then settled to the ground, near the ops center. The engine shut down and as the rotors slowed, three people leaped from the interior of the bird. Rob started towards the Helo to see what kind of Goodies they might have brought back. Eric had promised to get them a few things, and personally Rob couldn’t wait to see what it might be.

He did vaguely remember a time when he got excited over getting a new laptop, or even a seat cover, these days He cheered when given Assault rifles, grenades, and bite proof underwear. Which reminded him, he really needed to sit down with the CAD and redesign the damn things, you couldn’t sit worth a shit wearing them.

By the time he reached the Blackhawk, Jared, Jill, Eric and the female arrival had vanished into the Ops building. “You would think they were officers” a one of the men in ACU’s said as he pulled a box out of the helo, “ Corporal Cole” He said by way of introduction. “ And that’s Private Perry.” Cole said tilting his head towards the round faced, slow looking soldier.

“I’m Rob, and why officers” Rob asked. Perry laughed.

“Notice how they vanish when real works needs to be done” Cole said then looked around. “ Where do you want this, stuff.”

“ Depends on what it is” Rob said wanting to rub his hands together like scrooge mcDuck facing a money pit.

“Ammo, gear, parts and tools.” Perry replied, then grinned as Rob whooped in excitement. “ You might want to keep loud noises down though buddy, we spotted a lot of undead to the south, maybe 12 miles away.” Perry warned him. “So you can bet theres other smaller groups that could be near enough to hear.”

“Shit” rob said aloud his mind racing as he did the math, assuming they undead were heading here, they would be here sometime around eight or nine in the morning, and that wasn’t counting the ones already in the area, it was, he decided, going to be an interesting night.

“Jones, Get over here, we need some help” Rob called out, as he rubbed his chin absently, he tried to figure out how to speed up the work that needed to be done, but there just wasn’t enough people.
Jared looked out the open door, watching the men unload the Blackhawk, off to one side, in the back of a truck Jones had gotten four people to sit and reload ever spent and half empty magazines of the group. While five more loaded all the new mags that had come with the new weapons

. If it wasn’t for the upcoming battle with Simms, they would be sitting pretty for ammo, assuming they didn’t have to use a lot of it on the approaching horde of undead, and what ever amount of undead they were going to encounter along the way Jared thought.

The Ten HK 416’s were a blessing in disguise, they were hands down better than the AR’s, many were using, and Eric had even scored several Barrett’s and Drums of ammo for them, He and his men had hit the Barrett company three weeks ago, and picked the place clean, and even, according to Eric, taken all the gun smithing tools.

Ori was all excited about getting his hands on one of the M82a1 sniper rifles, the addition of a BORS system on it, made it damn near impossible to miss, and considering what they were rolling into, Ori was more than willing to set aside his dislike of using Tech Gadgets to make sure he rack up the maximum amount of kills if he had to.

The body armor, combat vests, helmets, and other gear would go a long way to improving the odds his people faced when they finally confronted Simms.

The ammo for the SAWS and the .50’s were damn great, but what they really needed was to get the hell out of this area and back into the hills and mountains away from the cities and suburbs, which would take them out of the areas the huge hordes were at.

Well what ever happened, it happened, if they had to use every bit of ammunition before they reached the Terminal he would hit Fort Bragg and take what was there. End of the world experts be damned, most of the munitions on a base weren’t stored in the armories, they were usually in bunkers in a secure part of the base, that was rarely seen by any one but security forces, and the men and women that worked there.
Jared turned to face the Eric and Kat, whom he admitted was one attractive woman, with legs that went on for a long way, she had long blond hair, that actually looked styled.

“So this is my future sister in law” Jared said with a grin, trying very hard not to look at the woman’s very lush and curvy body. Thank God Ronny wasn’t here at the moment, Jared decided. He would open his mouth and Mary would gut him like a fish, he thought with a silent chuckle.

“Lets not rush things Jared, we aren’t as desperate to get married as you were” Eric said with a grin, Kat only smiled as she laid a hand on Eric’s Forearm.

“If you want to hit him, slap him in the back of the head it seems to be a tradition in the family” Jill told Kat who laughed softly. No doubt Jill was itching to get some female bonding time in with Kat, to snoop around for useful gossip, Jared still had no idea who all Jill got information from or how, but she, to turn a phrase had her finger on the pulse of the group, and could usually tell to with 90 percent accuracy how the group was going to respond to something Jared wanted to do.

“Eric, thanks we needed this stuff. Even though I’m pretty sure you have another reason to help us out. And while we are on the subject of good deeds, you need to send a helo to the Opryland convention center in Nashville. There’s a group of people living on the Riverboat beside the place, I’m betting they really need some help.” Jared said.

“Ill get a crew over there and check it out” Eric said, “ but …” He stopped composing his thoughts for a moment. “My Team and I plan on going with you, which is one of the reasons I had all that stuff flown in, increase the odds of making it. but the Helo’s wont be available most of the time. Nothing I can do about that its not my command.

Jared didn’t answer at first, he was thrilled to have his brother stay with him, and he wasn’t really worried about not having the Black hawk on call, he could have Black hawks on station once they got closer to Sullivan if needed. He only needed to establish communications with the Yorktown, and the offer of hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammo and other supplies was more than worth the spent fuel to Dean and his people.
“I’m not worried about the Helicopter’s, I have access to a few myself, and I’m not going to ask you what your orders are, at least not yet, as long as you promise me those orders wont place my people in any kind of danger,” Jared said, there were several things that bothered him about Eric and his team, but he trusted his little brother no matter what. He picked up the AN/PRC-148 MBITR, one of the SOF’s radios, and smiled as he passed one to Ori.

“Jared, I promise you that they don’t, and if I think that changes at any point I will give you the brief. And I promise that I’ll share as many details of whats happening out there that I know of.” Eric said holding out his hand, Jared took it and the two brothers shook hands

“Sounds like Ronny’s back” Jill said hearing a plane in the distance.

“Good, I need to talk to him about a few things,” Jared replied, as he picked his weapon up from the table and headed for the door, with Jill at his side. “ Might as well make him feel special by meeting him on the strip.”

“Your Brother is a good man” Jill said watching Jared as he walked out and waited for Ronny to taxi up to his position.

“He is, I know,” Eric said.
************************

as the night rolled on, the undead in groups of five to fifty continued to enter the fields around the airstrip, attracted by the arc lights that been set up so people could work on vehicles in preparation for their withdrawal in the morning, the sentrys on the roof using NVG’s kept a watchful eye out and sent out the Ready teams the moment they saw any undead, it was a good system and effective against the numbers that they faced, but like anything else it was dependent on Human nature.

At 0300, Pete Mars, had sentry duty, yawning he paced the roof, trying to remain vigilant, he stopped and leaned against wall of the small control tower that jutted up ten more feet above the roof of the building. nothing moved in his field of vision, so he closed his eyes for just a moment.

Rob woke to shouting, and the sounds of gunfire. Leaping from his bunk in the back of the truck he used as a mobile shop he pulled on his boots then rushed to the door and threw it open and found a man standing on the bottom step of the small fold down steps he had installed. The man looked up as the dim light from the trailer spilled out, and Rob saw the shredded flesh, on the left side of the mans face, and the eyeball that dangled down his cheek.

“Holy shit,” Rob shouted in surprise, as the zombie started up the steep steps, its hands reaching for him. Rob stepped back and lifted his AR, and tripped on a tie down ring mounted on the floor, he fell firing a burst, one slammed the zombie in the shoulder, the rest went skyward.

The zombie was halfway up the steps now, its torso and head perfectly framed in the door. Rob steadied his rifle, controlled his breathing and pulled the trigger again, this time one of the three rounds struck the zombie in the forehead and sent it falling back to the ground. He got to his feet and leaped down the stairs, and stepped out on the drivers side where he saw legs sticking out from under the Beast, and a man and a woman crouched over who ever it was. Rob ran forward kicked the woman in the head with a steel toed boot, her skull cracked loudly and she fell to one side. He pushed the barrel of the AR against the head of the kneeling man, who had a bit of intestine dangling from his mouth as he chewed, and pulled the trigger.

Breathing hard he looked down and saw Cally Biel, one of mikes group laying there, her chest still rose and fell, and tears glittered on her cheeks. She tried to speak but nothing came out. They had ripped her belly open; he saw and had been feeding on her guts. He looked around and saw nothing close to him; he waited till she stopped breathing then put a single bullet into her head.

He heard Jared shouting near the op center building, and more gunfire, Rob stood there with his own tears running down his cheeks, he had liked Cally she had been sweet as hell and eager to help, if he hadn’t asked her to stay up to get more vehicles ready, she would still be alive he thought .

“Rob, buddy I need some help here” some one said, Rob turned to see Mort, gripping his forearm, blood leaking between his fingers. “Don’t let me become one of those things Rob, please don’t let me become one” Mort pleaded as he leaned against the truck, then slid to the ground. He was already fading fast, rob saw, his skin was turning white with a bluish tinge, and his eyes were starting to cloud over.

Rob almost broke right then and there, but he managed to hold himself together. He could see more of the groups fighters moving between the vehicles, searching for more undead, and to the east there were still occasional shots, as more undead were spotted and put down.

Kneeling he put a hand on Morts Leg. “ I got you man, you wont become one, I Promise” Rob told him, Mort gave him a pain filled smile.

“ Always thought you were a good man even if you do like guys” Mort said his voice soft and laced with pain, he tried to smile but it turned to a grimace of pain as what ever it was inside him spread thru his system. Rob could see something misty starting to form in Mort’s eyes, slowly forming the all to familiar milky cloud over the eyes. There was desperation and pain in Mort’s green eyes, and resignation as well, he knew it was over for him. Tears spilled from Mort’s eyes tracking down his cheeks.

Who the hell was on guard duty Rob asked himself angrily, determined to kick some ones ass, he let the anger spread through him, if only to keep the grief he felt from dropping him right there.

Mort leaned his head back, his breathing ragged. “ damn never thought it would hurt this much” Mort said, then stopped breathing. Before he could lose his nerve Rob placed his rifle barrel against the side of Mort’s head, to keep from shooting the truck, and put him down before Mort’s body started twitching.

“Rob, you okay” Jared asked coming up behind rob he had seen what Rob had done, Jared placed a hand on Robs shoulder, Rob hadn’t even heard him approach. I could have been bitten because I wasn’t paying attention, Rob thought.

“I’m good, I only had to put down two people I liked, because some asshole couldn’t pull sentry duty with out fucking up.” Rob snarled as he rose, “and I’m going to kick his fucking ass”

“No need” Jared said softly, Rob saw the pain in Jared’s eyes and it damped his anger down a notch, “ it was Pete Mars, his second time on sentry duty, he saved three people, one of them Jill when some zombies came around a truck behind her he shot them down from the roof. Ori had just reached the roof top to snipe, and he told Ori then he told Ori that he had fallen asleep leaning against a wall that all this was his fault and then shot himself in the head before Ori could stop him.”

Rob remembered Pete, he was a quiet guy, and had only recently volunteered to help with guard duties, his anger started to fade, “I’m not even sure how to respond to that” Rob said after a moment.

“It’s a damn tragedy all the way around” Jared replied, “we lost four people tonight but it could have been worse, and all because I wanted the vehicles checked out, tuned up and ready to go by tomorrow morning.

I could have moved us to a better location, or delayed our departure by two days, so we didn’t need to work in the dark, so this is my fault when it comes right down to it” Jared said almost to calmly.

Rob studied him for a moment worried then shook it off, nothing he could do about what ever Jared was feeling. “Maybe so, but Ill have every one of the vehicles left on the list ready to roll by 0800 Jared, for Cally and Mort if for no other reason,” Rob said, he felt that if he didn’t make it happen, they and the others would have died for no reason.”Ill do it for them Jared,” Rob added. Jared nodded and squeezed Rob’s shoulder before he turned and walked away. Leaving Rob to wonder just how much could one man bear before he broke, what as Jared’s limit.
**************************
Rob, closed the hood on the K5 otherwise known as a Blazer, and wiped the oil from his hands with a rag that had seen better days. what conversations there were, were muted. Every one was shocked and upset by what had occurred just hours earlier.

And with all that going on, Jared, Ori and a few others had been busy loading survival supplies into the Helo, for delivery to the Riverboat, and while more people were rushing to make last minute checks to ensure that every thing was loaded in its proper place on all the vehicles before they pulled out.

He watched for a moment as the Special Forces Helicopter head lifted off, sending dust and dirt swirling around like a miniature hurricane. It hovered there for a moment and then sped off into the distance with its care package for the people on the riverboat. He wished those people good luck.

He stifled a yawn, He was tired as hell, after the events of last night and working half the night, not to mention the emotional storm he had been through, but they were going to meet the Deadline, he thought as he turned to Mike who stood nearby.

“This one is ready to go” Rob told Mike, who checked it off on the list he carried. The sound of gunfire drew his attention, his hand instantly grasping his weapon, as the ready teams took down a large crowd of zombies that had attempted to cross the fields on the south side to reach the people and vehicles around the ops center of the small airfield. he forced himself to relax.
.

Ronny’s plane was almost ready to take off; the collapsible emergency fuel tank that Chief Danson had supplied was finally installed. The tank would extend the planes time in the air by a considerable amount but cut down on the payload it could carry.

There had been some debate on whether to keep the floats attached but Jared had finally decided that they needed to stay on. Which mean its rough field landing capabilities were pretty much nil at the moment. But being able to land on water out of reach of the undead was a benefit Jared couldn’t ignore.

“How many are Left “ Rob asked having lost count of number of vehicles they had gotten up to snuff overnight

“Two” Mike replied consulting the list. “One is a Hemmit with the personnel carrier box attached.” What some referred to as the no bones RV. “The other is Steve’s RV, and your boy is almost done with that one. he said it only needed basic maintenance till we can finish the upgrades on it.”

Rob smiled faintly, since Jared’s brother had shown up most of the people had started referring to Robs, boyfriend Erik, as your boy. It cut down on confusion at any rate.

“I still have the new transfer case to install as well as the snorkel. But it can wait till later” Rob said as he thought about the rest of the upgrades that Jared and Steve had wanted on the RV. It was slowly becoming a real off road RV, he particularly loved the Hydraulic lifts that gave it six inches more clearance when activated.

Thankfully they had been able to integrate many of the parts they had picked up on Campbell, with only a little welding and alteration to fit different bolt patterns. If the world was still up and running, he could easily make a million plus off the RV from the mods he had installed and in some cases designed.

“I’ll have help Lee get the Hemmit up, its only basic maintenance, we will be good to go for pull out.” Rob said watching as more zombies entered the fields spread in an arc across the north, west and south side. The ready teams were already ripping over to deal with them and the sentries at the ops Center were ready in case any slipped past the Ready team. After last night every one was determined to stop the undead as far from the group as possible. He grabbed his toolbox and jogged over to help Lee finish the Hemmit

“Fire em up and lets get ready to roll” Daws called out, casting a look towards the advancing undead. The ready teams were racing around the field running down zombies. Shooting the few they couldn’t reach while they were busy running over those they could.

The UV roared to life, and a moment later was rolling down the Taxiway. People climbed aboard their vehicles and Team three finished their sweep of the Ops building, to make sure they had left nothing behind that might be of use. As soon as they came out of the building they were covered by the new Team one, Jared had made several changes, in all the teams. But One and three were the most Drastic.

Ori, Jeb, Mike, Jill and Logan composed team one under Jared, Team Two led by Daws, had Paulson, Jones, Perry, Angela, and Cole assigned. Team three, was led by Steger, with Ed, Ryan, Paddy, Arthur, and Hector.

With Steger in charge of Three, Jared knew that the Former swat team member would get the new guys up to snuff quickly.

A bright bit of news was now that they had access to a portable xray device, Sandy had discovered that Spacey didn’t have a broken leg, but a nasty bone bruise and could be back on duty in a few days.

Eric waved as he climbed into the Second ELSORV, “ Better hurry it up Bro, you don’t want to get your ass eaten off ,” he called out before he closed his door.

Jared climbed into the ELSORV, letting Ori drive this time, God save them he thought with affection as he watched the UV take the sky, wishing not for the first time he had a few more planes and Helicopters.

“Lets go” Jared told Ori who nodded and lead the convoy towards the gravel road, and unknowingly away from the surprise that Williams had placed on the main road. Jared turned his head to gaze out the window at the four graves next to the Ops building, then away. Rest in peace he thought mentally sending the prayer winging skyward.

The convoy pulled out passing into the woods, the undead followed shambling across the fields of weeds and onto the airstrip, where the smell of fuel and oil still hung in the air, focused only on the vehicles that finally disappeared from sight.

The back roads were not in the best of shape; all the storms of the last year had hammered them hard washing them out in places. by Noon they were past Gallatin, and were heading towards Lafallette. Gravel crunched under their tires as the miles passed them by. The sunlight slanted down lighting the world in friendly yellow light that tinged the trees and grass, and brought to mind memories of better days.

“ I think we might want to stop” Ori remarked an hour later as he slowed down, the road had been passing thru fallow fields, and empty farm houses, but up ahead they could see a line of trees, that marked a creek, there was tractor sitting on the side of the road, and a overturned truck, just beyond that was the remains of a bridge.

Jared and his team climbed out, waiting till Eric and his team pulled up and dismounted. “ Daws, you guys get ready to deploy if we need you” Jared said over the radio, as the Stryker pulled up, but stayed buttoned up.

“Logan you sure you can handle this” Jared asked as he eyed the bandaged arm of the former college student.

“it only hurts when I breath I’m good” Logan assured him with a smile. “never realized getting bitten by a dog could hurt so damn bad.”

“Hang on I got the perfect music for this” Ori said as he turned back to the ELSORV.

“Ori, I love you man, you know that, but if this is another Lady Gaga song or Brittany spears or anything thing else I cant stand, I’m going to shoot you, let you come back as a zombie then shoot you till I run thru a magazine or two, before I finally put you down” Jared promised, as Jill smiled, she knew Jared was trying to bring up the Morale of the group, and it was working, she thought as she saw a few smiles here and there and even a chuckle or two that surprised the issuer.

“I saw him put the soundtrack to mama mia in the Cd player before we left” Jill narced. As Jared’s trigger finger stroked the side of his HK with anticipation.

“go ahead play it, test me little man” Jared said, as Ori grinned.

“you sir have no taste in music” Ori grumped as he and Jeb walked down to the water under the watchful eyes of the others.

“I have plenty of taste in Music, you just haven’t picked good music” Jared called out. “and I will burn thru a magazine on your sorry ass with out killing you, if you play that soundtrack” Jared vowed.

“oh I have the perfect song for you later” Ori promised as he and Jeb waded into the slow moving water and started across checking depth and for any rocks or debris.

“Soft bottom, but shouldn’t be a problem if we let the lighter vehicles go first, and offload the 88 before the HET crosses.’ Ori said as he climbed back up onto the bank, seemingly unfazed by the cold water.

While the 88, was offloaded, Eric and his people recon’d the both sides of the river bank and a quarter mile beyond spotting only two zombies.

Eric watched one thru his binoculars, it was elderly man dressed in black with a preachers collar, he couldn’t see any sign of wounds, so either the man had lasted long enough to change clothes, or he had died naturally. Either way the end result was the same, what was odd, was this zombie had stopped and was watching the men, it stood there for several minutes, its milky eyes fixed on Eric, then suddenly its face twisted, its mouth yawned open, and it came at him hands out grasping at air, as its teeth snapped together. “shit never seen one move that fast” Martinez commented.

“Mine” Eric said dropped his binocs and brought his weapon up, to all appearances he barely even glanced thru the sight on his weapon before it barked once, and a single bullet took off the top of the zombies head. It staggered to a stop, then fell to its knees where it tottered for a moment before falling face first into the weeds.

Eric shifted his weapon and shot down the next zombie with another single shot, then slung his weapon. “Getting Rusty Vato, normally you could line them both up and take two or three out with a single shot.” Martinez said with a grin.

“ I wish,” Eric replied. “lets head back now” he said turning back towards the creek, with out another look at the body of the first zombie that had acted oddly.

The 88 was the first vehicle Jared had cross, but he had it cross further down where most of the other vehicles couldn’t, once it was on the far bank, its winch and boom rated to move Main battle tanks was more than capable of getting any of the other vehicles in the convoy unstuck, if they should become bogged down. All in all it took almost thirty minutes to get every vehicle across, and only Steve’s Custom semi RV came close to being stuck, but it only bogged down for a moment, then surged forward with a roar.

Once they had the 88 back on the HET’s trailer and chained down, they got back on the road, the distant Rim looming over them.

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

Jared, sat in the passenger seat, thinking, which probably wasn’t the wisest thing to do all things considered, he was worried about the new team shaking down, worried about Eric’s SF team, worried about Steve, and still haunted by the death of little Billy. And now he had four more deaths on his conscious, deaths that could have been avoided, but he had gotten to comfortable, and those people had paid the price.

He had half expected little Billy to show up in his dreams, and Jared didn’t know if he could deal with that, but so far it hadn’t happened. Did that mean the kid couldn’t rest in peace, till the freak in the bowler hat was dead, or was there another reason?

He knew that the kid’s death wasn’t his fault, not really, but the blame was still his. He had let the kid get close and that had marked him as a target. Just like Steve, Jill, Ori and Probably Ronny as well. might as well add Eric to the list while your at it.

And you can bet your sweet hairy ass, that the thing still wants to kill all the kids, if for no other reason than to destroy our hopes for the future, hell just to destroy our hope period. Maybe that’s all it ever wanted to do, was to make us feel desperate, hopeless so that we would give up.

He watched the country side slide by as they drew closer to the Rim, not really seeing the golden sunlight that splashed down on the occasional fields and trees, about the only thing that he really noticed were the homes of the dead, and felt the weight of emptiness on his soul.

It was something he had tried not to think about, in the hundreds of miles from Nashville to Sullivan, thru dozens of towns that had once boasted hundreds to thousands of people, skirting citys that had once held tens of thousands to a million or so. And all they had encountered was maybe seven hundred people all told scattered across hundreds of miles.

It was so hard to really grasp just how empty of life the world was know, there were not millions in Europe just waiting for Tourists to show up, China was as empty as the US, so to was Russia, and every other country. Just judging by what he had seen, there might, might be two thousand scattered up and down the east coast, from Maine to Florida, where once there had been millions of people.

How many might be alone or in groups of two or three, thinking that no one else was left alive, Like Lew and Katy, or like Amy had been at first, till she had met Mike and his small group.

The road began to climb as they rode up onto the rim, Jared had always like seeing the rolling ridge tops, covered in trees, the rocky overlooks, the creeks that flowed down their rocky channels, in a series of falls and fast moving streams to the Basin below. But today the sight stirred little joy.

As they entered LaFallette, they saw the that fires that had burned Drakes group out of their shelter had spread and consumed the west side of town, leaving nothing but ash and blackened beams, tumbled brick walls and burned out vehicles. He smiled as they passed the still standing gas station remembering the huge zombie, and the cluster fuck that had ensued, it was funny now. but it had been less than amusing then.

They stayed on 52, to Webb Town, where the last of the Jared’s group waited, having left Clarksville base this morning. As they drew closer he noted that Ori was doing his best not to smile, and Jill was acting suspiciously casual. Even Mike seemed to be in better spirits

Ori was the worst liar in the world, and the worlds worst at keeping a secret and Jared knew that there was a secret involved, Ori was damn near bouncing in the drivers seat, studiously ignoring Jared’s glances, in fact the little shit turned up the boom box so that Creed singing Higher, made casual conversation impossible. Jared shook his head, finger tapping in time to the music on the doorframe and actually found himself relaxing, and singing along to the song. He was determined not to ask and give Ori the satisfaction of saying no. So let them have their little surprise, he thought as he really belted out the song, enjoying himself for the first time in a while.

Jill smiled in the back seat, listening to Jared sing, at least he could actually sing pretty well, unlike Ori, who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket with a crane to help. She had heard he did have some kind of musical talent, but so far he hadn’t show it. Probably plays the spoons or a washboard, she thought with amusement as Ori slowed spotting the Rendezvous point, and Jill watched Jared closely, as the waiting vehicles came into view, in the parking lot of a small church just outside Webb Town.

“son of a bitch, My Van” Jared said breaking into a huge smile as the ELSORV came to a stop.

Jared slid out of the ELSORV and walked to his van, making himself not run, he didn’t want to look desperately in love with the van. Chad, climbed out of the drivers seat and. “ How, when did you get it back.” Jared asked, running his hand along the side of the massive black Custom Off road Van.

“Day before Yesterday, you can thank your brother, he had his Helicopter fly over and check out the area, and then carry Me and my team to Mikes house to pick it up. Then covered us as we got the hell out of there. Nice van by the way” Chad said, as Jared hugged him grinning stupidly.

“Like a kid who just got laid for the first time” Ori remarked Watching Jared as he climbed into the van, then climbed back out then walked around the van checking it out.”

“I gave up on being Jealous of the Van a while back, but I swear Ori if he humps the tires, I’m going to have him fixed” Jill said, Ori laughed with her.

“Why do you folks get to stand around cracking jokes and we get to pull guard duty so often” Steger asked, as he got his team into position, to keep an eye out for undead.

“ because, we are special, you were just a cop before all this.” Ori replied.” Consider it like a stake out minus the donuts.”

“ I got your stake out” Steger growled, then chuckled.

“Who put swampers on my van?” Jared asked, eyeing the new tires.

“I did, we got them out of a tire shop on Campbell. Your old tires were shot to hell” Chad replied. “stocked up on tie rods, UV joints, gaskets, oil filters, and other things. Knowing how rough you are on vehicles.”

“Thanks man, You shouldn’t have risked your lives for a van, but thanks and don’t do it again” Jared said thinking about all the ways retrieving the van could have gone wrong.. he calmed himself down, then noticed the new folks. Who had arrived with the last of his crew.

Garret, the former high school student, his dark hair sticking out like he had been asleep, bright brown eyes, boyishly handsome. The seventeen year old was built like a gymnast, and had been a cheerleader and one of the top ranked in the Archery Team of his school. He stood ready with the heavy compound bow he favored, next to him was Jennifer another teenager from the Archery Team, the slender, cute, dark haired girl, with the heart shaped face and full lips, who looked nervous and upset. Jared couldn’t blame her, she had grown up in LaFallett and he knew how bad it sucked to be so close to your home and know that there’s nothing there but the dead.

The last of the new folks, Were Mel and his wife Terry, who had been part of Mikes group, and had decided to leave Clarksville base at the last moment. Mel, a slender, tallish black man and his Caucasian wife had probably been something of a novelty in their old hometown. Jared and most military men and women who had served in the last twenty years were used to seeing interracial couples so it was a total non issue in his book. Mel had actually been a civilian mechanic who had worked on Big rigs most of his life, his wife Terry had worked in a small insurance office, but her hobbies had included canning as well as Bee keeping.

“Keep driving her for now, but that’s my house again. So no messing up my bed” Jared told them. Eyeing the two teen-agers, who had the good grace to blush. Though if rumors were right, they weren’t a couple, Jared thought, rumors my ass Jill information net is more like it.

“no problem with that” Chad said as he climbed back into the van.

Jared turned and looked at Eric who was watching from beside the ELSORV he rode in, his little brother grinned at him and Jared smiled back and tilted his head in thanks, then jerked a thumb towards their destination. “ lets get the hell out of here, we have a long way to go before we stop for the night.”
*****************************
Sheamus stood silently, watching as the last wave of undead tumbled to the ground, under the hammer of the machine guns. There were more, many more of the undead in the distance, but they wouldn’t get here before the last of the wrecks that blocked their way had been removed.

He couldn’t fault Simms for his use of the interstate and the state highways, that were clogged for miles around ever major city and large town, none of them knew the back roads, and weren’t willing to risk going miles out of their way, to find a dead end or have to waste more fuel to work back towards their route, but this was getting old.

First they had attempted to cross the mountains using the Newfound gap to strike at the Farm, and found the road blocked by landslides, scouts sent ahead on dirt bikes, had discovered a second landslide, and Simms had decided that reaching the Terminal was the best option, and from there they could reach the island in a couple of days, or faster if they took a ship south.

But this entire area was thick with large towns, whose entire populations seemed to be swarming the highways and interstate. They had lost ten men, when one of the APC’s bubba had acquired, had broken down. The men had tried to reach the next vehicle in line but there had just been to many undead to reach it.

“We have to get off the main roads, even if it drags out our time, we can find fuel to keep us going, but this delay might work against us” Sheamus said, as Simms looked at him from the command seat.

“You think we are being pursued” Cal asked, Sheamus nodded. “its likely, assuming you are correct that this Jared stone, will come after us for my rash action of shooting his friend” Sheamus said, swallowing his pride in describing his action as rash.

“Im heureux de voir que nous pouvons encore travailler ensemble le sheamus,” Cal said switching to French, not wanting to talk openly in front of Malone and Hanson. “we have had our disagreements, but I count on you to act as my second” Cal said continuing in French.

Sheamus nodded, “ you know you can count on me” he told Cal, who wondered just how much he could count on the former IRA terrorist. In the legion a mans past was just that, but more and more lately Sheamus had been acting more independently, and pushing actions that were more reminiscent of his days as a terrorist.

Cal studied him for a moment, he had heard whispers already about Sheamus approaching others about forming his own unit. But nothing suggested that he was looking to take over. Cal had enough to deal with as it was, trying to get all the militia commanders to do things his way was almost as bad as herding cats, he didn’t need Sheamus throwing a wrench in the works.

What really bothered him though, were two things, two things he didn’t dare talk about to others at least not yet. The first were the nightmares so many of the men talked about quietly, when they talked about them at all. All one had to do was sit up on watch most of the night and listen to men whimpering in their sleep to know their dreams were not the friendly type, and many were having dreams of the Hat wearing shadow man. And that struck Cal as ominous.

The second thing was the way the men, and the families following along behind them were getting more and more nihilistic, and violent. And he couldn’t shake the feeling that the both things were linked. Only some of his original survivors seemed to be like their old selves and as dedicated to him now as they had been.

One of the three marines that had joined up with him during the escape from Afghanistan had jumped ship just west of Knoxville, and Cal had been surprised that it didn’t bother him. While he was being honest with himself, in a way he wouldn’t mind it if Sheamus jumped ship. Theirs had been a rocky working relationship, nothing he could call a friendship. But any loss in combat power before the attack on Sullivan could be detrimental to his plans.

Increasingly he had wondered how much of his plans, were really his own, how much had been slipped to him in a dream so subtly he believed it was his own idea. And why the game playing, he despised being manipulated, and that’s exactly what that thing was trying to do, and now it appeared to have shifted its efforts to the men around him. Either in hopes they would force Cal to fall in line, or so that when the time came they would just go wild and kill every one on the island and at the forts.

He looked up from his thoughts and saw Ivan watching him speculatively, their eyes met and then Ivan shrugged and pulled his helmet down and leaned back in the seat to catch another nap.

“Wreckage is cleared” a voice on the radio reported.

“Scouts out, Column prepare to move” Cal said, noting the frustrated Look on Sheamus’s face smooth as if it had never been there.

As soon as the scouts were far enough out, Cal gave the order for the Column to advance; he had already decided that once they reached the outskirts of Greenville, they would use one of the back roads to get around the city. he would have LeCleric and Harald, fly ahead following the road scouting out the route they needed to use, while the column waited to make sure it connected to one of the main state roads or highways marked on the limited maps cal had. What they needed to do was to find one of the Small State highway county offices and recover the maps there. Which would have more detail then the standard maps they had on hand.

He settled back in the command seat, and listened to the hum of the electronics and the rumble of the engine, and felt himself getting sleepy. Might as well grab a nap, might not be able to get sleep later, he thought as he pulled his cap down over his eyes and made himself relax. In Moments he was sound asleep

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

The convoy had actually made good time weaving the forested hollows and ridgetops of the Plateau, never heavily populated, the roads, were mostly clear, the only real obstacles were washed out bridges, and the occasional rock or mudslide. They rolled thru the empty towns, occasionally spotting things that made them think other living beings might actually be living there, but never once saw an actual person. Even the undead were thin in numbers up here. Maybe at some point he would get some people together and send them here to set up a colony. He laughed silently never in his life would he have believe he would be in a position to send out colonies hell to even seriously use the word outside of a historical context.

The sun was sliding down in a riot of glorious color, as they passed to the north of the city of Oakridge sprawled across four valleys between low misty ridges, ahead barely seen in the distance and lit to flame and gold by the sunset, lay the foothills of the Appalachians.

Jared had always loved driving through this area, with its dense forests, rolling ridges and balds. It was a beautiful area, especially for a city, or what had been a city. in another hundred years it would only be tumbled dirt and vine covered ruins, vanishing back into the forests.

The Weather Radar in the UV had already picked up a possible storm front and the first of the out riding clouds were scudding across the sky, out of curiosity Jared had decided to send Ronny to Check out the nuclear facilities to the south.

. Ronny had swung south and followed the clinch rivers bends till he saw the nuclear site and altered course to fly over. The buildings closest to the road were dark and abandoned, but further back well out of sight of the road or the fence were more buildings and parking areas, Ronny flipped on the FLIR and other visual aids, and noted several of the vehicles below glowed hotter than just the heat of the sun could account for and on the roof of the complex human shaped blobs of heat paced around on the rooftop.

The complex itself glowed with heat as well, and behind that large building The NV showed them several acres of fields that had been tilled and planted. Who ever was inside, were surviving and had power, all in all a good thing. Jared on hearing the news decided that as soon as they had the whole Simms issue settled he was going to send one of the Black hawks from the island to the Plant and try to talk to the people there.

By sunset they had crossed I 75 and as the sun vanished below the horizon they pulled into the Big Ridge state park, to camp for the night, Jared was tempted to drive on, but headlights would draw ever damn zombie for miles, and if they hit an obstacle that needed to be clear, using lights would just keep drawing undead down on them whiel they attempted to clear the road. it was better to stop for the night, than to risk constant attack by the undead drawn by lights.

Big ridge state park, was not a large park all things considered, but the 3, 687 acres of heavily forested park, nestled amongst three low ridges, with a narrow beach on Norris lake was easily one of the prettiest of the state parks in the area. Jared had decided against using the 19 cabins, and instead had decided to use the Group hall, a 20’x40’foot building as their campsite.

There would be no pitching camp, the vehicles would park around the hall, bumper to bumper if possible and what food and gear needed to cook it would be taken inside, where most of the convoy could relax and even sleep if they desired it. at least that was his plan.

They scouted the park using vehicles, and found that others had already been through the park, the bodies of undead lay everywhere. From the looks of them, they had been there for a while. The RVs left in the Rv campsites, had been stripped, the things not needed by the scavengers had been piled outside the doors of the RVs and left to the weather. Jared doubted that there was much left inside to make searching them worthwhile.

They passed thru the Tent and Cabin area and found the same thing, who ever had come thru had been thorough, and must have had at least package truck at the very least to haul off all the gear, Jared thought as he turned into the group camp area and found out he had been wrong.

A Ford F100, sat in front of the Group hall, a nice one in Jared’s book, a roll bar with fog lights mounted on it, jutted up from behind the cab, a brush guard made of four inch diameter pipes, with a large winch was mounted to the front. Some one had added 30 inch off road tires and a six-inch lift kit. About twenty zombies were pawing at the walls, windows and doors. And a ribbon of smoke drifted up from the stove pipe chimney on the roof.

As the vehicles turned in, most of the zombies turned away from the building and began to shamble towards the Convoy. Jared stopped and climbed out, slinging his HK and grabbing his tomahawks.

“Team two a bit of an assist if you don’t mind” Jared said over the radio, smiling to himself as the Stryker rolled past, then stopped as the rear ramp dropped, and Daws led his people out.

Vehicle lights and spotlights illuminated the scene, casting the approaching undead in stark white light, making them look even worse than normal.

Jared strode forward, with his team spread out on either side of him, a Female zombie, all of 18, dressed in cargo pants, and a once white tshirt black with old dried blood, lunged at him. Jared used a round house kick to send her stumbling into a knot of four other undead, sending them all to the ground as he put a tomahawk into the head of the zombie that had been behind the female, this one an elderly man in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, he still wore one sandal and the remains of white socks.

A teen aged male zombie, wearing only a shredded shirt and the waist band to a pair of long dead shorts, tried to get at him, but Jill took its head, and then slid left and took the arms of a pot bellied zombie before she used an overhead strike to its skull dropping it.

Daws using an Etool led his team into the zombies on the left of Jared and Team one, in moments all twenty lay scattered across the ground in front of the Hall, Eric drove around behind the hall to make sure there were no remaining undead, then joined Jared who had come to a stop ten feet from the door to the hall.
“Hello, still alive in there” Jared called out, he waited a few minutes then slowly approached the door to the hall, he knocked loudly, listening but still heard nothing.

Steeling himself, he motioned for Ori to assume position and lifted his HK to High ready, waiting till the entire team had assembled, “ Go go go” Jared called out, Ori threw the door open and Jared went thru swinging right, while Ori went left. Cans, boxes, and bags were piled against the walls.

Oh son of a bitch Jared thought as his light flashed over the two bodies sprawled on a double sleeping bag, the blood had only begun to congeal, so they hadn’t died to long ago. The girl who might have been fifteen, had been pretty in life, but bullet hole in her fore head gave lie to the peaceful expression on her face, next to her was a boy about the same age, a pistol clutched in his hand. A bullet hole in his temple.

All you had to do was hang on for half an hour, thirty fucking minutes and you would have been safe Jared thought bitterly. Nothing to do for it now, but get them buried and see if there was any ID on them so at least they would have names.

In the end, the two teens were buried behind the hall, in an unmarked grave, their names unknown, that simple fact depressed many in the group.
Blaine sat down at the small desk in the mobile medical center, and made a few notations about his treatment of two of Jared’s people, who seemed to be suffering from allergies.
He looked up, hearing some one start up the ladder, “hows it going” Jared asked climbing into the Clinic. It was the first time he had actually talked to any of the team with out Eric being around.

“not bad all things considered” Blaine replied, curious as to why Jared was here. “I think the two men I saw earlier are suffering from allergie’s, and not the flu or plague. No promises but that’s what I think is going on.”
“Good glad to hear it, half the group are in the RV, watching a movie. I figured it wouldn’t be a waste of fuel to provide some entertainment tonight, after what happened last night” Jared said as he sat down on the edge of one of the beds. “they are in there right now, eating popcorn and watching a chick flick.”

“Eric must like that” Blaine said laughing.

“oh he is in the hall, with the other half of the group cleaning weapons, and talking shop” Jared said. “My little brother would rather castrate himself with a dull knife than sit thru, sleepless in Seattle.” Blaine chuckled, knowing Eric as well as he did, he would have to agree.

Jared was silent for a moment, and Blaine knew Jared was working up to something.
“What can I do for you Jared, its pretty obvious you’re here for a reason and I don’t think its to ask to Join the 5th.” Blaine said closing his notebook, before turning to fully face Jared. “so whats your problem” Blaine asked, curious.

“I’m not here to talk about my problems, to be honest its for some one else, some on Sullivan.” Jared replied, he paused as if considering his words then got to the point. “Linda, the woman who has been acting as our doctor back on Sullivan, has a problem, and I want to make sure, that I do everything I can to help her out. which means, honestly I need you to keep yourself alive and to go to Sullivan when this is over with. You see she has a condition, and is pregnant, and this condition most likely will kill her, while giving birth, with out some one who has a clue on what to do. And that’s where you come in, in one of the trucks the complete medical library from Fort Campbell. In case you need reference materials” Jared said. Blaine gawked at him for a moment then closed his mouth smiling.

“ Your brother said you were different, not many people would have thought about taking a medical library” Blaine said, “tell me about her condition, as much as you know” Blaine said leaning back in his chair, as Jared began to talk.

********************************
Ori sat on the roof of the RV, watching the sun rise, his HK across his knees, Eric had delivered a lot of gifts with that last Helicopter visit, and this was by far one of the best in his opinion, it was the newer model of the HK 416, his wasn’t all tricked out, but then Ori really didn’t care for all the gadgets and gizmo’s so many people had attached to their weapons, in his book if you couldn’t shoot accurately with out all the gizmos, you shouldn’t be using a weapon in the first place.

He waved to Jill as she came out of the Hall, dressed in her usual morning work out clothing, sweat pants and a t-shirt that clung to the curves most men really wanted to see.
He chuckled to himself, at his own thoughts, she didn’t dress to draw attention he knew her to well for that, she just wore what she liked, and if men liked it, no biggy, if they didn’t she couldn’t care less. It was funny how at even the end of the world, fashion was still a topic of discussion.

She was joined by Mai linn, Chad, and several others for their morning Martial arts practice, not that they had long to do so, Jared had already stated he planned on being out of here no later than 0800hrs.

Some of Eric’s men were gathered off to one side watching the Civilians as Jill got them organized, ran them through a series of moves, and then paired them off to spar and practice the newest strikes,blocks, and throws. Ori wandered what the special forces guys thought about it, but so far they had pretty much kept to themselves.

Jeb Climbed up to relieve him for the last couple of hours of watch. “see anything” Jeb asked, as he pulled his Stetson off and brushed at his hair for a moment.

“only one zombie about an hour before Dawn, took it down with the crossbow.” Ori replied. “ other than that its been quiet.”

Jeb nodded as he lifted his binoculars and scanned the wood line. “what do you think about the idea of taking the Terminal away from this Simms character.” He asked Ori suddenly.

“I don’t disagree with the idea, if that’s what you mean” Ori replied, as he stretched. “Truth is, out of all the people out there that might have survived to this point, the only one I trust to take a place like the Terminal and actually use whats there to Rebuild with out becoming a tin plated little dictator is Jared. Hell I don’t think I could resist the temptation of doing what I wanted, knowing I had the power. Ever notice Jared really meddling, or tossing out orders that’s not combat related.” Ori asked.

“not really and I agree with you about Jared, but I keep thinking it’s a trap.” Jeb replied.

“could be I know Jared thinks its possible, and I know he has made a few plans that he hasn’t discussed with any one but Myself, Ronny and Jill, and the only reason he did that was to see if we thought he was being to paranoid” Ori replied then snagged his cross bow, “Im going to get something to eat have fun”. Ori said as he headed to the ladder to climb down.

Jared sighed as he rubbed his eyes, and sat up in his own bed in his van, to someone knocking on the side door to the Van.

“There had better be a horde of zombies eating half the camp” he called out, he had hoped too actually sleep in for another hour, for the first time in three years. But noooooooo.

He opened the door to find Ronny standing there grinning, “get the hell up you lazy ass, your wife is being drooled on by the soldier boys, and I’d swear your little brother is flirting with her.” Ronny said,

“Let them, hell let Eric flirt too, if Jill says yes to him, she can beat my ass if I object, and if she says no and he pushes she can beat his ass too.” Jared said as Ronny held out a cup of coffee. “you are a dick you know that” Jared said, as he slid back and sat on the bed, letting Ronny climb into the van.

“You know people are going to talk now” Ronny said shutting the door and motioning to Jared’s unclothed state. His eyes drifted to the tan and white pit bull asleep on the bed, she lay under the covers with only her head exposed where it lay on the pillow.

“ So they have thought you were gay for a while now, and mary only dates you because she gets to spank you on a daily basis” Jared replied, as he pulled part of the sheet over his groin. “there happy now” Jared asked. the dog looked up at Jared for a moment, then went back to sleep.

“man Id almost forgotten how much of non morning person you are” Ronny said sitting in the bucket seat. “glad you got this thing back, it fits you like it was made with you in mind”

“yeah, funny how It feels like home now too. Kinda of sad, but it damn sure tells us just how much the world has changed” Jared said.

“I know that feeling all to well,” Ronny said then fell silent for a moment. “do you think this shit will ever end” He asked suddenly.

Jared looked thoughtful for a moment then nodded, “ I do, one way or the other its going to end, probably our lifetime.” Jared replied.

“hopefully before I’m to old to take advantage of the lack of zombies” Ronny said seriously. “I think Id like to fly to all the places I’ve ever wanted to see, and not being eaten while there would be nice. Like the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Ankgor Wat, Tokyo, though many of the reasons I wanted to go there are gone now. “ Ronny said.

“Mary would kill you if you went there to find a Geisha” Jared noted with a grin, then fell silent while he absorbed some coffee. “ I still hate you for waking me up. I wanted to actually sleep till 0730 hrs” Jared said as he cradled the coffee cup between his hands.

“true, but it would have been fun” Ronny replied with a smile. Then grew more serious “listen, I diverted down towards the farm yesterday evening, and got Lloyd on the Radio, he said a Huey scouted them out a few days ago, and his and Grahams scouts on the New Found Gap road, spotted a line of vehicles that made it as far as the first Landslide before turning back. I know I should have told you last night, but you seemed to be in such a good mood talking with Eric the others, I didn’t want to mess it up” Ronny said heading off Jared before he could ask why Ronny had waited till now to tell him.

“did you get him to relay my message” Jared asked.

“better than that, Grissom, one of Deans pilots was there dropping off a load of shrimp and parts and picking up butchered hogs and corn, Lolyds people have been out rounding up livestock that got loose and have been living Ferally so they have plenty of meat for the moment. Anyway I talked to Grissom for a short bit, and he is going to relay your message to Dean and Ashton, but can promise Dean will say yes.”

“I would have rather heard that part last night, it would have made my evening” Jared said with a smile, Simms was going to find himself in a bind soon. “did he know how Steve is doing?” Jared asked

Ronny shook his head, “he hadn’t heard anything beyond what I relayed the last time” Ronny replied, shifting around in the chair trying to get comfortable “ and, maybe I should have told you last night, but I didn’t, sorry” Ronny said, as pulled off his cap revealing a shaved head. Jared laughed heartily for a moment at the sight of the gleaming scalp.

“Don’t laugh, Mary tried to trim my hair and ended up gapping a huge spot right down to the scalp. It was either look like I had the mange or shave it off.” Ronny said with a grimace.

“how’s she coming along as a pilot” Jared asked suddenly, curious, Mary was like a little sister to him, and beyond being brave as hell, she was smart and he was thrilled she was looking into becoming a more valuable member of the group.

“Pretty good actually, better pilot than barber at any rate. I scarfed some training books I found at the airfield when we landed to take on Margo and her baby, shes fine by the way, and Mary has been pouring over them. I really think, Jared, we might just be able to pull off keeping civilization from sliding back to far.” Ronny said as he slipped his cap back on.

“all this because Mary is reading training manuals” Jared asked mildly amused.

“No, because I realized how much knowledge we have been spreading around, and if you want something to knock your shorts off,” Ronny paused and looked at the sheet across Jared’s lap. “ Assuming you were wearing any, you need to have a talk with Rob before we head out about some of the things he has been up to. your going to be amazed, and he has been training others to do the same things as well. He says Ryan is by far one of the brightest he has been teaching”

Jared wasn’t surprised by that, and it only made him want to remove Ryan from the combat roster, just to keep the boy from getting killed and wasting the talent and knowledge the boy, no man, was amassing.

“I think I’m going to pull him from the teams and assign him to Guard duties with the convoy, and helping Rob.” Jared said reaching a quick decision. “and Stephanie will be thrilled as hell about that when she gets up and about again, at least till she finds out I’ve pulled her from the teams also, she really wanted to fight after Henry was killed”

Ronny nodded, the former flighty sorority girl had damn sure come a long ways since they had first met her, she had taken to hand to hand with a passion and excelled at it and Firearms training.

Jared sat there for a moment then looked Ronny in the eye. “ do you ever regret following me off of Sullivan?” he asked,

“hell no Jared, your one of my best friends, I couldn’t just let you go tromping around out here with out a babysitter!” Ronny exclaimed, a slight smile on his face that faded, he knew exactly what was eating at Jared. “brother listen to me, Steve knew the risks, and he accepted them. we all knew that we could die out here, from zombies or other people. Bridget and Sharon don’t blame you, and they know you will do your best to bring who ever shot Steve to a rough end. It’s the only kind of justice left to us these days buddy.”

Jared gave him a half smile. “ I’m not feeling pity for myself, I just wanted to make sure your not regretting being out here.” Jared replied.

“Why gonna try to bench me like you keep doing to Ori, to keep us safe.” Ronny asked.

“no I learned my lesson on that, besides, no matter how safe I want my friends, I think a lot of people would die if I benched all of you, so I cant do that. not even with Jill, because god Help me Ronny, I don’t think I would make it with out her.” Jared said, surprising Ronny with that last part.

“drink you damn coffee and get some pants on, and If I see morning wood, I’m going to wack it with an Etool.” Ronny said grinning, as he grabbed a pair of jeans and tossed them at Jared.

By eight the Hall had been stripped of all the supplies the two dead teens had collected, Garret had asked for the Truck and Jared had agree, so they had added yet another vehicle to the convoy. By 0840hrs they were back on the road.

***************************
“I wouldn’t have thought of using these to travel by” Castor commented, “your brother aint no slouch” he added looking out the window at the Power tower they were passing.

Eric nodded, as he put away his map cards, “ no he isn’t” Eric replied,

When Jared had told them this morning they would be following the power lines, every one had gotten the “oh I should face slap myself for not thinking of that” look.

The power companies had kept the area under and to each side of the towers cleared, and even had a dirt road along the path so that they could check lines, and they ran for miles and miles. The best part is, there was no traffic to go around or move and no zombies. And most ran past not through towns and communities, their power fed into town by lines running to secondary towers for distribution into the towns.

The vehicles even the RV built on an extended tractor truck frame had done well going cross country and by lunch time they had reached Greeneville Tennessee.
The city of Greeneville lay nestled in a valley between Bay mountain to the northwest and the Bald mountains to the southwest, it had never been an overly important city, with a population of around 16000. Jared gazed up at the bald mountains, which were part of the crest of the Appalachian’s remembering hiking the AT there were times, he really missed the old world.

“we are going to have to take a side route, to get around the town, theres a road that will skirt the outlying areas and hook back on to highway 70, which, assuming no landslides, we can take across the mountains till we get just north of Marshall North Carolina, then we cut east, till we enter mount mitchel state park, where we camp for the night, If Simms is still using I 40, he is going to end up going thru Asheville, and I can tell you from experience a city is the last place you really want to spend any time in.”

“After the state park then what” Eric asked eyeing his brother curiously,

“then we get ahead of him and set a few traps for him, I want to whittle down his forces before he even reaches the terminal. His vehicles are one of his biggest assets, especially that Huey, and I want to deprive him of as many assets as I can.” Jared said.

“I suppose you have a way to do all that” Eric asked, watching as Jared folded up the Topo map and slipped it back in the case.

“sure do, if we cant get ahead of him using vehicles, then we use the UV, I just don’t like the thought of being stuck out in the middle of zombie land with out all the extra ammo and supplies. but if we can slow him down long enough for the convoy to get past him, then it will be worth the risk.” Jared said, and my little surprise will be waiting near the terminal anyway, even if we fail, Jared thought. “and I have a plan to get my little brother the Special Forces weiner to help plan and execute operation asshole ambush.”
“yes I will help you plan this, I just found my big brother again and I damn sure don’t want to lose him a second time because he plays amateur SF.” Eric said laughing for a second at the op name, “so lets not take any really stupid chances again.”

“Ill try that’s the best I can do” Jared said with a grin. “now mount up, Hollywood”

“damn them” Eric muttered, “ I told them no Team names” Jared only laughed as he climbed into the ELSORV.

Skirting most of Greeneville, wasn’t that hard, but reaching the southern side, they had to drive thru a built up area, that wasn’t on the map, and full of undead. Which meant the undead headed straight for the sound of the motors, to make it worse, the streets were full of vehicles that had crashed, or been abandoned, so they had to slow to a crawl to get thru the area.

Jeb was driving, now, and didn’t seem bothered by the bouncing or the sickening sound of snapping bones and popping bodies that could be heard occasionally, Jill almost lost her lunch when she looked out the window and a saw a crowd of little kids had gotten close enough to shamble alongside the ELSORV, to beat on the windows and doors, their mouths hanging open, as their mangled bodys moved jerkily along keeping pace with the slow moving vehicle.

How many of those kids were killed by their parents she wondered sickly as she turned away from the sight, her hand falling to her stomach for a moment. Some in the group still believed there was some scientific basis for all this, a bio weapon, a new disease, something that had came on an asteroid, but she wasn’t one of them, not any longer.

She glanced at Jared who seemed totally oblivious to the horror outside the ELSORV, he was like a rock, and she used that to steady herself, turning away from the hideous sight outside till finally they pulled away from the kids.

“Look at that shit” Jeb muttered. As he slowed, up ahead, were burned out bullet ridden vehicles, beyond they could just make out two Deuce and a half’s. “convoy hold” Jared said over the radio, one of the new tactical MBITR radios Eric had given them. “we are moving forward to check this out”

Jeb pulled into the ditch, and then up to drive along the cleared slope along side the road. the ELSORV at a sickening angle as far as Jill was concerned, looking out to see grass that she was sure she could reach out the window and touch, it only took a few minutes to reach what was a road block.

“Looks like the guard was deployed here, to keep people out of Greeneville, and found out the threat was behind them” Ori said studying the lay out of the roadblock, all the defense were facing away from the town. “Id guess they started to panic as people started trying to flee the town, telling them about what was going on back home, and then that wreck happened.” He said motioning to the three-car pile up in the gap. “after that who really knows”

“Maybe lets check,” Jared, said as Jeb pulled up. “ Get the 88 unloaded and get up here, we have to clear the road block to get past” Jared said over the radio, “ and Daws get up here with the Stryker and give us some cover while we scavenge.”

As soon as the stryker rumbled up, and with Cole manning the secondary .50, Jared and team one dismounted, and flittered through the wreckage, ignoring, childrens toys scattered on the ground, a baby carrier over there, with bullet holes in it, Purses, baby bags, carry on bags, packs, and a thousand and one other things dropped by terrified people trying to escape a slaughter. There were even a some skeletal remains, people or zombies killed by head shots during the slaughter.

They ignored the personal items and moved into the roadblock area, “found a belt of .50” Jeb called out, “ still attached to a Ma Deuce”

Jared only nodded as he watched Mike who had started towards a second sand bag position with out showing any signs of hesitation, guess we will have to wait and see when zombies show up, or we get in a fire fight Jared thought, then whirled around when he heard Logan shout.

Logan backpedaled as the zombie in the back of the covered deuce almost fell on him, “ son of a bitch, what is it with everything trying to bite me lately” He shouted as Jill swept past him and took the zombies head.

“Your just tasty is all,” Jill remarked, as she used the tip of her sword to draw back the covering, and saw another zombie in the back. Like the first this one was a NG solider who had probably been bitten and tried to hide from fate in the back of the truck.

Logans weapons slid up and into position, he stroked the trigger twice, sending six rounds at the zombie, it was using a more bullets than necessary but the zombie died from at least two bullets to the head, the rest ripped apart its chest.

“feeling better now” Jill asked. Logan nodded, then rubbed his sweat slicked jet black hair.

“I’ve missed teaming up with you,” He told her, grinning.

“Your such a flirt, wait till my husband finds out.” She warned him with a wicked smiled, as she stopped over the body of the first zombie, and wiped the blade of her sword clean on its uniform shirt before sheathing it.

“oh he wont mind, Ill give him something for his van and he will forget all about it” Logan replied, cupping his hands so she could step up into the back of the Deuce.

“For some reason I don’t doubt that” she said looking around the back of the truck. “Looks like some cases of MRE’s, a few packs, not much else” she called out.

“Great, more MRE’s” Logan commented.

“it does beat starving” Jill pointed out, Logan grudgingly admitted she was right.

In the distance they could hear the roar of the 88, as it advanced down the side of the road, it could easily have rolled over most of the vehicles, but at the risk of throwing a track, Rob had opted to use the side of the road.

Jared Looked up towards the mountains that loomed ahead of them, once they got up there into the tree shrouded slopes, they could only go on, turning around would be hard as hell with some of their vehicles. They could use the crane on the 88 if worst came to worst to lift and turn some of the vehicles, but hopefully they wouldn’t encounter any rockslides, once the 88 was on scene, they got the boom lifted into place, and locked down before hooking up the cables, once ever one was clear, the first wreck was lifted out of place and moved to the side.

An hour later they were on the road again, the mist-covered mountains rising around them. almost all the traffic leaving Greeneville had split off from 70, as most of the people had tried to flee to Newport on 321.

The slopes of the mountains were covered in trees, some of which were already starting to show their fall colors, a splash of orange, red, golds and even pinks were scattered thru the green woods, from the road, they could see occasionally, splashing creeks and glittering falls in the bottoms.

Jared had been up here a few times, mostly hiking thru, but never in Del Rio, not to be confused with the Texas border town of the same name, Del Rio Tennessee, surrounded by the Appalachian mountains, sat on the banks of the French Broad river. Del Rio had been a small town, no more than a couple of thousand people scattered all over the river valley.

Ori had wanted to cross over and take the road thru Lemon gap, next to the Max Patch Bald, but Jared had opted for once to stay on a major road, 70 shouldn’t be to bad, considering how sparsely populated the area had been before all this, but if they took the other road up into the mountains they would be on a narrow road that wound along the flanks of mountains, and steep angled roads down into the hollows and bluffs. The likelihood of rock slides, were much higher there, and even a small wreck blocking the road could stop them completely with no way to turn around, unless they let the 88 led the way, and that would slow them to a crawl. No for now 70 was the best bet.

The Pisgah National forest which covered the area, had once been owned, or at least part of it had been owned, by the Vanderbilt’s. It was one beautiful area with thousands of creeks and small rivers, country church’s dotted the landscape, marking towns lost to history, only the scattered farms had kept the churches alive, and the few small towns in this mountainous area, had, had populations ranging from the tens to a couple of thousand. And all over the area, moon shiners had once plied their trade, who knows Jared thought as they rolled along, maybe some of those moon shiners and their families might have survived all this.

The road began to drop down into the River valley that over the millennia the broad had cut out of the mountains, Jared watched the glittering river water, and gazed at the distant bend, the road rose once more onto a spur of mountain and he knew that on the other side, it would bend sharply to the left to follow the river, on the opposite bank lay Del Rio, which had little to offer, other than quaint mountain charm, or at least it had once had that charm, like everywhere else these days, the only charm one could wish for was a lack of undead.

As the road came up out of the hollow and crossrd the saddle, Jared got his first look at the Town, and its twenty or so buildings. far to the south he could see Max patch Bald mountain and Snow bird mountain, their summits hidden by fog. To the East were the bald mountains, and to the west, Stone mountain. And behind the convoy to the north lay Neddy mountain and Meadow creek mountain.

Most of the traffic had passed thru this area once upon a time, carrying the traffic from Asheville to Knoxville. Then I 40 had been built and the thru traffic had slowly died, leaving the town to whither away.

They descend down to the river valley floor again and as they passed the turn off to the bridge that spanned the Broad, Ori who manned the Gun, knocked on the rooftop. “ hold Up” Ori said over the radio.

The convoy came to a halt, every one peering out windows checking for undead, there were a few, maybe ten in all scattered along a half mile area, but that was it. “look over there by that white building” Ori said.

Jared lifted his binoculars and panned them across the town on the other side of the river and finally saw it, a man stood on the roof of an old building made of field stone with a flat roof, he was waving a white flag on a pole, and Jared could make out a few zombies at the door, and clawing at the windows.

“Good eye” He told Ori, “ Team one is going across the bridge, the rest of you hold here, Daws your in charge, Eric, if you don’t mind keep your team over here to lend a hand to Daws if he needs it”

“Copy, Jared we don’t mind helping out your man Daws” Eric replied.

“Thanks for the baby sitter boss” Daws called out.

“Just don’t let him change your diapers, I know from experience he can be a perv” Jared commented as Jeb whipped the ELSORV around and headed across the bridge, he wasn’t thrilled with the delay, but there was no way he was going to just pass by some one asking for help, unless of course it was a trap. And great time to think of that you idiot, Jared told himself.

as they turned towards the stone building, Jared lost sight of the man on the roof, but not before he got a good look at the dark haired forty something male, dressed in a UPS uniform, that struck Jared as odd, but considering he wore old BDU’s more than jeans and other things these days he couldn’t say much.

They came to a stop twenty feet from the building, Jeb parked in the middle of the leaf strewn street. “Jeb stay here, just in case we need a quick ride out of here.” Jared said as he opened his door and climbed out.

A cool wind off the river swept over them, the zombies in front of the shop turned and began to stagger towards them, “ melee weapons only, don’t need to draw the rest of the town down on us just yet” Jared said as he drew his Tomahawk.

With Jill to his right and Logan to his left, Ori and mike to the right of Jill, Jared strode forward, noting with approval that mike didn’t hesitate once, as he lifted the axe he carried.

The first Zombie Jared engaged was a man who had been in his thirties with graying hair, wearing a post office work shirt and jeans, a ragged chunk had been taken out of his left thigh, Jared slid forward, lashing out with his tomahawk, sinking the blade into the side of its head, Logan dropped the blue haired old lady in a floral print dress with his bat, crushing her skull, and looking like he wanted to puke. Jared wrench his tomahawk free and spun to the left driving the butt spike of his off hand tomahawk up under the jaw of a beefy looking farmer in overalls, the point piercing the roof of the mouth and into the brain.

Jill waded into a set of undead twins, corn fed, tow headed 20 year olds, who looked like they had been attacked by a shredder from the neck down. as she was cutting them down to size, Mike and Ori took down a heavy set man, who had probably used a hover around back when he had to breath to move.

They ganged up on the last four sending them to hell in a moment, then Jared covered by Jill, approached the door to the old stone store, “Hey, we saw you waving the flag, we killed the zombies out here, you can leave now if you want to”

There was silence from the store, Jared had a sudden uneasy feeling, but forced it aside. He doubted this was a trap, and he really didn’t think the guy had waved a flag and then run downstairs to kill himself after attracting help.

Finally the door opened and double barrel shotgun was poked out the door. “ you can back up mister if you don’t want your privates blown off” the quavering voice of a small boy said. Jared stepped back slowly, it really could have been funny, being held at bay by a shot gun toting tiny tot, but even if might mite was blown on his ass when pulling the trigger Jared was probably still going to be shot, and that wasn’t funny.

“Look kid, we came to help” Jared said as he stepped back into the road giving the kid lots of space. Then knelt to put his eyes on the same level as the boy’s. the kid couldn’t be over eleven and Jared doubted that. Dressed in a dirty camouflage hunting overalls, and boots, a Feed store ball cap on his head, he was doing his best to look brave.

“How come you saw the flag and waited so long to help” the kid asked him angrily, Jared blinked in confusion. “ you could have helped us before daddy….” The kid chopped off what ever he had been about to say.

“kid we saw the flag turned around and crossed the river, it took us only a few minutes to get to here.” Jared explained. “where’s you dad, was he the one waving the flag.”

“yeah my dad was the one with the flag, but he died in April.” The kid said, tears suddenly flowing down his cheeks, and his lips quivered, but other than that he kept himself under control. “Because you didn’t come back then.”

“That’s impossib…” Jared cut himself off, there was no reason for the kid to lie, not one single reason. Except that Jared had just seen the man with the flag,

“He died and me and my sister managed to run back into the store and lock the door, before he got up like our mom and tried to eat us.” The kid said almost shouting

“look, I don’t know who I saw on the roof there waving a flag, but that’s why we came, we have a lot of friends waiting on the other side of the river, with food, lights even movies. If you want to come with us, and bring your sister” Jared said, the boys lips tightened, and Jared could almost hear the thoughts of pervert, running thru the kids mind.

Jill chose that moment to step in and start talking softly to the child, Jared could only shake his head in wonder, as she soothed the boy , and finally talked him into getting his sister and their things together. “ Chad, bring the van over here, we have two that need to be picked up” Jared said over the radio as the boy returned to the building, still clutching the shotgun that belonged to his dad.

As the van rolled up, the boy exited the store, leading a nine year old girl by the hand, and pulling a wagon loaded with cans of food, pillows and blankets, the girl, pale and dark haired, and cute as a button clutched a battered looking teddy bear. She looked terrified at the sight of the heavily armed men, and Jill being much less dense then the men around her stepped in and immediately had a calming effect on the girl.

Jill lifted the girl into the Van, and then climbed in with her, the boy, started to unload the wagon but Jared smiled and picked it up and passed to Chad who stowed it in the back, He turned to the kid and knelt “ your safe now okay, we wont hurt you”

The boy looked at Jill for a moment then turned his head and Jared shocked at what he saw could only stare as the boys eyes become black pits in his face, and a mocking smile spread across his face. “ Your not safe Jared Stone, no ones safe, I’m coming for you, coming soon, and hiding wont help, its time the living died” the voice that came out of the kids mouth wasn’t his, it was deeper, but shrill, filled with contempt.

Then as suddenly as it had come the kids eyes returned to normal and he stared at Jared his mouth working, then he began to sob. Jared badly shaken, picked the boy up and handed him to Jill who looked pale.

“I heard it too,” she assured Jared, as she took the boy and tried to comfort him. But he could see the fear in her eyes too. And now Jared had to wonder if they could trust the kid or should leave him and his sister out here in the wilderness to die, no choice really, the kid stayed.

Jared turned to see Ori staring at one of the zombies they had killed, one more shock didn’t kill him, but Jared was damn sure ready to pass out when he saw the man on the ground and recognized what Ori had already seen, it was the same man who had been on the roof waving the flag that had brought them here.

“What in the hell is going on?” Ori whispered.

Advertisements

thanks for reading please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s