Chapter 20

“The earth is full of anger,
The seas are dark with wrath,
The Nations in their harness
Go up against our path:
Ere yet we loose the legions —
Ere yet we draw the blade,
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, aid!”
~R. Kipling

Lee like every one else wasn’t in the best of moods, the funerals for the fallen, had taken place just after sunrise, right after Ronny had landed. Jared, Ori and Ronny had talked off to one side, after the funeral; what ever Jared had told them had rocked both men to the core. Ronny usually a total smart ass, was quiet and withdrawn, his Fiancé or wife, Lee could never remember, Mary had buried herself in doing inventory with Jill. Ori had taken his new vehicle out to recon. But Lee was under the impression Ori just wanted to get away from every one for a short bit.

The people in the convoy, their confidence already shaky was teetering, at the Reactions of the Core group that had kept them all together. He didn’t know what had happened, but he was sure it went beyond the fourteen dead.

He climbed the fold down ladder into the 40 foot Mobile mechanics shop mounted on a trailer and saw Rob sitting at his work bench, the usual group of assistants were absent, three had been killed yesterday, and Rob was obviously taking it hard.

The Mini CNC machine was humming away as it worked, a generator, sat on another bench, next to a barrel like object with a fire box, heavy pipes ran from the barrel apparatus to the Genie, it was project he and Rob had been working on, trying to set up Generators to run off a Gasifier system. It had met with limited success, Rob had been tinkering with it trying to isolate the problem for the last month.

“You okay” Lee asked sitting on a crate.

“ I’m good” Rob said quietly, as he picked up a pencil and started adding to the schematic in front of him.

“You don’t seem like your good” Lee commented.

“What do you expect, three of the folks who have been helping me just died, I had to put one of them down while I was driving. Then……” His voice trailed off. “ and Now I found out Steve died.”

“Steve, Steve died.” Lee asked, he hadn’t heard a word about it. Ronny must have brought word when he landed this morning. No wonder they hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, Steve dying on top of the other losses was like a double tap.

“Jared’s taken it pretty damn hard, and well, we didn’t want to add that to every one else’s load.” Rob said as he reached under the bench and pulled out a box, reaching inside he pulled out a bottle of scotch which he placed on the bench, then reached back in the box and dug around till he found two glasses.

He was silent as he poured two, then passed on to Lee. “ I need some one to drink with” he said simply. Lee wondered where Robs boyfriend was, but didn’t ask.

He took the Glass of amber liquid, as Rob held his own glass up.
“To Steve, Rest in Peace buddy” Rob said as they touched glasses and drank.

Jared stepped out of the Van, nibbler at his side, the dog looked around with interest, as Jared began to stroll from vehicle to vehicle, stopping to talk to the people at each one.
It tore at him to see the reduced numbers of the convoy, but he didn’t let that show either. He could see the difference in people as he moved thru them, they had been worried that things were even worse than they believed, namely because out side of the Dirty dozen, and Eric, he had decided not to bring up Steve’s death. They didn’t need that kind of news.

Over in front of the church, Eric was with Mai Linn, teaching some of the basics of Mag Krava to those interested. He noticed Jared and gave him a smile that didn’t quite touch the eyes. Eric had always like Steve and the mans death had touched him as well.

He smiled back, not really feeling amused in the least, He studied the LAV, he had no real idea how to run a mechanized unit. Give him ground combat and he was aces, he had to find a new way to do things, or he was going to get every one killed. Like he had gotten Steve, Billie, Mark, and so many others killed.

Not helping, he told himself, ignoring Blaine who walked up and stood there silently. Finally, annoyed at the silent presence of the SF man, he turned to face him.

“Some thing on your mind” Jared asked.

“No but it appears there’s something on yours,” Blaine replied calmly.

“Don’t tell me you have a degree in Psychology” Jared said, almost but not quite sarcastically.

“Actually yes, but I don’t normally get a chance to dig into peoples brains though” Blaine acknowledged. “one of three degrees to be honest”

“I’m thinking your fellow shrinks, might not find ‘digging around in peoples brains’ a technical term” Jared said with a ghost of a smile.

“no but they were a bunch of stuffy assholes” Blaine said with a laugh, that managed to get Jared smiling for a second.

“Eric told me about your loss” Blaine said softly. “need some one to talk to”

“not really, to be honest, Ill wait till after this is over to go nuts. I’m to busy to lose it” Jared said trying to make a joke out of it.

“Jared, Ill be blunt here, no reason to beat around the bush, you’ve done a fantastic job, but your winging it. and you know it, and every loss you take you blame yourself because your winging it.” Blaine said.

“I think I can depress myself without your helping” Jared replied turning back to the LAV.

“You can, or you can use us, Jared, that’s what we do. We help, we teach, Direct action isn’t our primary mission.” Blaine replied.

Jared nodded; Mai Linn had already said she had learned more from Blaine in a four days than she had in the last few months with Linda and Justin. I’m just a glorified first aid practitioner Jared, we are just lucky as hell we ran across Justin and now Blaine she had told him a few days ago.

Jared looked thoughtful, as he turned to see Daws running his team and Chads thru drills, practicing entry using the Church. It felt wrong to use a church that way, but there wasn’t a real choice at the moment.

“Your right, and it seems to me you people have been helping us lately.” Jared said, “my training is out of date, what I’m good at is survival,” he said squatting and plucking a plant. “ This is wild onion, over there is wild garlic, on the edge of the parking lot is Sassafras. How to integrate ground pounders with Mech is not my forte, or how to keep people from killing each other out of boredom, or how best to structure a new society. Or how to keep the damn innocents in the group from being killed because I cant figure out a better way to do something like cross a bridge. Hell if we had taken even a bit more time, I would have remembered that train bridge or at least noticed it on the maps and we could have blown thru the area and crossed there, with out the losses we took.”

“Bullshit Jared, if you had taken more time, they would have been on top of us, and reasonably organized in minutes, and we would have lost more. Using the fog, Diversion and speed was a good call.

If we had waited, we would have been spotted coming down the mountain and been under fire the entire way, and that LAV and the other Stryker would have chew our asses off.” Blaine told him, “ and we would have been bogged down, when that other force of theirs showed up and struck us from the other side. You made the best call possible given the situation, your data and the conditions.” Jared nodded, he knew all that, but it didn’t change how he felt.

He also couldn’t let it affect him or the group, better or worse till there was a coup or he quit, he was still in charge.

“Your right, and my standing around looking morose isn’t helping anyone. Tell My brother I expect him, or who ever is best suited to help, to join me around noon, we have some planning to do, there wont be any more rushing around with out a solid plan in place.” Jared

Ori drove slowly up the path, or really overgrown dirt road. the grass had been trampled down by feet, lots of feet. He had to swerve to run down the few crawlers on the path. Jeb had been quiet since they left the camp. He had been the one to spot the tire tracks that had diverged from the track that had been trampled down by the previous nights horde.

The scout finally passed thru an open gate in a chain link fence, and emerged on a leveled off area, surrounded by woods, in front of a bluff on the mountain flank with two huge mine entrances that had been cut into the rock face. Heavy vehicles sat scattered around, as well as more than a hundred cars, trucks, an ambulance, two fire trucks, and three sheriffs cars.

A make shift wall had been erected at the entrance of one of the mineshafts, and a wooden gate stood open in its face. a few Dead heads emerged from behind vehicles and equipment and stumbled towards the scout.

“I count six” Jeb said as he scanned the area. Ori concurred, but wondered if there might be more in the mine shaft. He suspected there wasn’t, but who could know for a fact with out going in. the wide footpath they had followed led directly to the wall off mine shaft.

I guess we know why you didn’t spot any” Ori remarked as he picked up his crossbow and parked the scout. “cover me”

Ori climbed out, ignoring the stench that still hung in the air from all the dead that had been confined here. The closest zombie was twenty feet away, a pot bellied old man, with a shock of dirty silver hair that suck up wildly from his head, half his left arm was gone. Ori sighted and pulled the trigger. The bolt hissed out and struck the old mans skull with a crack of breaking bone.

He recocked the crossbow slipped in another bolt and turned to the next, letting it get closer before he put the former house wife, a few curlers still in her hair, down.

Over the next three minutes he put down all six and then waited to see if any more appeared. Thankful that none of the undead had been children, that was starting to really drive him nuts.

Jeb climbed out, his CAR ready, Ori took only long enough to sling his HK, then with cross bow still in hand the two men moved slowly forward, across the gravel covered ground, eyes sweeping the area for threats. Here and there they could see the remains of fire pits, abandoned luggage, a childs toy, a shoe laying on its side.

“over there” Ori said pointing to a spot by one of the ambulances, “ fresh tire tracks, who ever it was parked there.”

Finally they reached the wooden wall that rose up only a third of the height of the mine entrance, a mere twenty feet, he thought. the mine entrance was huge, easily forty wide by sixty tall. A normal sized door had been placed in the center of the wooden wall, it stood open to the outside world. Ori approached cautiously and looked inside. Sunlight lit up the shaft for the first forty feet, beyond that it was to dark to see from here. But what he could see, made him shake his head. two huge trailer mounted Generators, a fuel truck and empty MRE boxes were scattered around along with several fire pits, camp chairs. Cables snaked across the rock floor to the stand lights creating a snakes nest of lines.

The poor bastards from the valley and maybe another town as well had gathered here, with all the supplies they could find, and holed up in the mine shaft to wait for the danger to pass. They must have gotten desperate when the food started running out, he thought. Then finally some one had died in there, bitten one or more people and the end had finally come for every one.

Who know how long they had been inside, but who ever had driven up here, and parked had opened the door, and then fled, he could picture it in his mind, the undead silent and waiting at the wall, drawn there by the sound of the engine, and then the sound of a man moving around checking things out. he had opened the door, and the tide had began to flow out, but he had fled to his vehicle and left in a hurry, the undead had followed along long after they had lost sight of him and the noise of the motor had faded away, but there had been lights and noise in the distance, where the camp was being set up.

“I don’t think it was an accident” Ori said suddenly, hearing a noise like the shuffling of feet in back in the darkness of the mine, Ori shut the door. “help me out here” he said, moving to the nearest car, opening the door he reached in and put the car in neutral.

As they pushed the car against the door, Jeb asked. “what makes you say it wasn’t an accident.”

“How many times has it been that someone just happened to be watching us?” Ori asked. “and then we get attacked. Jared keeps tell us that it’s a war, and the other side has its own soldiers,” Ori said as he put the car in park and engaged the emergency brake. He shut the door and wiped his hands on his pants

“Why would some one do that” Jeb asked, he couldn’t wrap his mind around any one wanting to help wipe out the last of the human race, assuming that’s what they were really doing.

“Why did that Russian bastard follow us all the way to Sullivan, he had never even met Jared or any of us, yet he knew Jared’s name, Jills name, probably even mine. And now here we are originally heading back to the island, and another man is after us, and think about the fact we just happen to run into Eric, whom we are searching for, and lo and behold he even Knows the guy we are in fight with. Coincidence, I don’t buy it.” Ori said, looking towards the wall where something bumped against it.

“Okay I admit that part does stretch the bounds of coincidence, but whats the point to it all, why would the other side be after Jared, I mean I like the guy, even respect him, but Christ like he isn’t.” Jeb replied.

“its not Jared the other side is after, I think he pissed it off to the point it really wants him dead, but I think its what we have been doing that made it, the devil or what ever pay attention to us.” Ori said, “we have been trying to save people, and we have been giving people hope.”

Jeb looked at Ori for a moment, thinking about it. he finally nodded to himself as he reached his own conclusions. “Maybe your right, I don’t know. But you did help us out on Sullivan, gave us our honor back, and your right you did give us hope that things might just work out in the end. Regardless of what the goals of our stalker has or the devil, Im not going to just stand by, I’m a soldier.”

“ to defend the constitution against enemy’s both foreign and domestic, and the supernaturally evil” Ori said, with the first genuine half smile of the day.

Jeb looked at him for a moment “Steve was right, you suck at cracking jokes.”

Ori shrugged, almost angry that Jeb had brought up Steve, then actually smiled, Steve had impacted more lives than just the dirty dozens. No sense in getting pissed about it, Steve liked Jeb too. Hell Steve liked, had liked, a lot of people.

“I’m going to miss that asshole” Ori said as he strode towards the Scout, rest in peace Steve, I promise we will get the guy that shot you he said silently. For a heartbeat he half expected to hear a response, but there was only the wind.

“so did you ever hear the one about the priest, a hooker and two nuns” Ori asked as he climbed into the scout. Determined to get one of steves favorite jokes right, Jeb groaned as he shut the door, wondering if maybe it would be better inside the mine with what ever undead were left.

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

The Camp on the mountain where Sheamus had expected to find Jared had been empty when they arrived. They had no sooner dealt with the few zombies that wandered around, when one of the M113’s had belched smoke and died. Sheamus cursing ordered the company to set up around the Main hall. Like an old fashioned wagon train, the larger vehicles and tracks were parked bumper to bumper in a square around the campers and travel trailers of their family members and followers.

Sheamus had picked the Cabin beside the Hall as his space, and had bedded down with Maggie, or had tried to. He was up and dealing with problems more often then he was seeing to Maggie’s needs. By sunrise, he had risen yet again, dressed and stepped outside determined to get his company into shape and on the move early.

Maggie stepped out of the cabin, and took a deep breath of clean air, as she gazed across the old airstrip. Something about it stirred a memory, for a moment it danced on the edge of her mind, almost but not quite visible. Angrily she forced it away. She wanted nothing to do with her old life, her old self.

Sheamus was talking angrily with the so called Mechanic of the Unit, next to the APC the man had been working on since last night. it appeared they were now short a vehicle.

She glanced towards the main hall, where several military style semis were parked, their flat bed trailers carried chained down travel trailers. Other camping trailers still attached to trucks were parked around it. women and children, who looked dirty and under fed were busy working on the meager breakfast.

This was the face of the modern world, a nomadic existence, constantly moving to keep away from large concentrations of undead. The militia units, as they liked to call themselves, were more like the old gypsy clans, their familys tagged along behind the fighting force. Bubbas unit, had originally been, a loose collection of Neighbors from a small town that had fled when a wall of undead from Asheville had been heading for their town. all of them had been pro gun, anti government yahoo’s with more brawn than brains.

They had packed up their “old ladies” as they called them, most weren’t married, packed up their brood of curtain climbers and hit the road, taking what they need from the rich thieves they stumbled across. Occasionally they had bumped up against a Real guard unit that was still trying to maintain control in an area, and hightailed it away. But as the months had crawled by, the rich thieves had vanished, and many of the places that had been holding out were gone, overrun or abandoned they didn’t know.

They had been King shit on Turd mountain, till they had come up the mountain one night and attempted to raid Jared’s camp. They had been so badly mauled that some of their number had bailed, slipping out in the middle of the night.

After that it had been one disaster after another, till they had gotten a call promising, weapons, ammo, and food in exchange for help.

She smiled as she remembered the fear on bubba’s face, when Sheamus had taken the unit away from him, and the relief Bubba had felt when Sheamus had let him stumble out of the camp.

His screams a moment later were enough to scare even the most hardened of men. he had met her patron, her friend. the one who had helped her escape, of course she couldnt tell these clowns that, they would have broken and run if they knew whom they served.

Bubba was still out there, his mind locked in a rotting shell of a body, knowing what he had become and who he served and there was nothing he could do to stop it. life can be grand she thought with malicious humor.

Nothing of her thoughts showed on her face as Sheamus walked up. He had hoped to capture Jared and destroy the convoy, so he could present the red headed bastard to Simms, not finding Jared and his people here had put a major kink in his plans, he had been so sure that Jared would use this campsite, since it was so close to his last known location.

“We will be moving out in an hour, I plan on scouting up the highway, its possible he hasn’t even left the Smokies yet.” Sheamus said. “Cal can keep running to the Terminal, but I plan on finding the threat and dealing with it as soon as possible.” he said

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

Jared sighed, and wiped sweat from his forehead, as he sat yet another box on the pile. Jill and Mary had been right, they needed to go thru their supplies after the fight at hot springs and he was glad they had. They had found six water barrels shot up and empty, several cases of canned goods had been shot up. And various other supplies had been hit.

Rob had insisted on salvaging as much as they could, and Jared had to agree, anything they could find a use for kept them from having to risk going into built up areas to acquire new ones with the exception of the barrels they used for water, but he had a few ideas on that as well, there were other options than barrels and those he should be able to find at some of the bigger outfitters.

He wished they could take the time to search around Charlotte when they left here, he was certain there was a Wal-Mart Distribution center some where around the city. but between the threat of the undead and of Simms reaching the Terminal before He did, was to great, that much ammo, assuming it was still there, would make their survival long term, damn near a sure thing.

He stood there for a moment watching as Buddy and Jessie, carted out more boxes and stacked them to one side. At least the two men that they had captured outside of Hot Springs seemed like decent types, the jury was still out on the two men as far as Jared was concerned but so far, they both seemed thankful to be out of the Prophets control, the woman how ever was the meanest piece of white trash Jared had seen in a long time.

Ori had suggested give her a canteen and a days worth of food and leaving her, if it weren’t for the Undead Jared would have done just that. Sooner or later though he was going to have to reach a decision he couldn’t keep her handcuffed and secured in the back of a Shelter carrier indefinitely.

Picking up his T-shirt he wiped the sweat from his chest, half expecting a suggestive comment or two from Jill, but Steve’s and the others deaths were still to fresh. He was just about to climb back into the container when he heard the radio crackle, “this is Ori, coming back in”

Jared walked over to where he had set his gear, and pulled on his combat vest. Taking the time to hook up his throat mike and ear bud to the radio, with that done he slung his new HK and headed for the gate.

Paddy and Ed pulled the gate open, letting the Scout roll into the camp. Ori brought the Scout to a stop and parked it next to the ELSORV, and climbed out as the two men closed the gate.

“As far as we could tell, the area is clear up to three miles out.” Ori told Ed as Jared walked up.

“That’s what we thought yesterday,” Paddy muttered, not looking at Jeb. Who colored but held his tongue.

Ori gave Paddy a look of warning, then turned to Jared. “ We found out where all those Deadheads came from.” Ori said. “ it looks like a lot of people from the area, holed up up in an old mine shaft that they had closed off the opening with a wooden wall that they had placed a door in it. Sheriff’s deputies, Paramedics, pretty much every body, and they died there.

It looks like some one was parked up there, and opened the door to the mine, and then bugged out.” Ori told Jared.

“How do you know they didn’t die up there.” Ed asked,

“Simple a set of tire tracks headed up the mountain, and a fresh set came down.” Ori told him.

“so it might have been an accident then.” Ed commented.

“no, I don’t think so. But I’m paranoid.” Ori replied.

“I think I’m going to use the working assumption that it was on purpose.” Jared said. “ to many times, we have had some one following us, and watching. And we have been hit way to many times out of the blue by zombies for me to believe its all just coincidence. Hell Mikhail managed to stay on our ass for a while.”

He eyed the gate, and shook his head, till they got a better system going to close up any gapb between and under vehicles, he wanted to start using a vehicle as a gate, at least it would be stronger and couldn’t just be thrown open to let in the undead.

He turned as he spotted the boy they had picked up in Del rio, so far no one had seen or heard anything else odd from the kid, Joshua, was his name, his sister, Shawna, never left the RV, hiding behind furniture most of the time, according to Jill.

he watched the Dark haired, gaunt faced child with the haunted eyes, for a moment. till Mai Linn appeared and asked the boy if he wanted to help set up the camp kitchen for a late lunch.

“So what’s the plan Jared” Ori asked quietly.

“I’m sending Ronny out tonight, to scout out our route, and to see if he can spot any signs of Simms’s column, using the thermal. I think its time we took the attack to them.” Jared said.

“I take it talking to them first is out of the question.” Ori asked, Jared shrugged a frown crossing his face.

“I’m considering it, but that’s a big risk Ori.” Jared replied.

“I know, it just doesn’t sit right with me to just attack, I mean so far they haven’t done a ….” Ori’s voice trailed off as he remembered the sniper who had shot Steve. “never mind, you do what you think is right, and I will back your play.”

“Thanks Ori,” Jared said as he looked at Paddy, Ed had been teaching Paddy, how to shoot and anything else he had thought might of use, and now that Martinez was providing Training, Paddy had leaped at the chance to learn anything the Special forces trooper wanted to teach.

He wouldn’t ever admit it to any one but Jill, but he knew he had screwed up several times, and it had gotten people killed. With people looking for him to lead them, he couldn’t let his doubts, hell his fears show. It would only hurt the group over all, so he kept it all locked away.

He showed the world his Billy bad ass face and let them think the Bs, the danger, and the problems just rolled off his back, but it didn’t, he felt every death, like a part of him had died. he agonized over every plan, every decision looking for ways to keep the group safe, even when he knew he couldn’t.

He had toyed with sending the entire convoy running for the farm, which was closer than Sullivan, while he led the real fighters after Simms, but he couldn’t even do that, he would worry constantly that something might happen to them, and he wouldn’t be there to do something to try to save as many as possible. And lets be honest, many of those people would flip you the bird if they thought you were trying to send them to safety while you charged ahead into danger.

Ori paused when they were out of earshot of every one else. “ how bad is the supply situation” he asked pointing to the PLC’s with containers and the two M949’s that had been hauling the supplies.

“Not as bad as I expected, but not great either. We lost about a quarter of our water barrels, I’m thinking we might need to locate a water tanker and take it, it would be easier to get one tanker than to hunt down and replace all the barrels who lost, and safer to boot.” Jared said, eyeing Ori knowing something else was on his friends mind. “ food wise not to bad, not great but not bad either. I’m thinking about turning you loose to hunt at our next campsite, just to replenish our fresh meat.”

Ori nodded in agreement, fresh meat wasn’t just a luxury it was a moral booster. And now that it appeared that game had returned, they needed to stock up while they could. Jared let the silence linger for a moment before speaking.

“what’s on your mind, Ori” He asked, watching his friend closely, he knew Ori far to well to miss the apprehensive set to his shoulders, or the way he kept cleaning his glasses and fidgeting around.

Ori looked around, trying to figure out how to say what he was thinking, then took the plunge. “I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this shit. Its starting to really get to me.”

Jared was silent for a moment, “do you want to go back to the island, Ronny can fly you out tomorrow if that’s what you want.” Jared said softly.

“Hell no, just needed to talk to someone about it.” Ori said, “No need to waste fuel anyway. Its just, well even if we stay alive and win one for the good guys, I feel like we are going to lose to. we cant just keep putting those things down with out getting scars, you know what I mean.”

Jared nodded, one of the few things to be thankful for were the lack of nightmares, they had killed so many of the undead, that if he had nightmares it would just be one unending sea of dead around him, and the kids were the worst.

“I know exactly what you mean” Jared said thinking of Steve, sucks to be haunted not only by all the undead he had to put down, but it was even worse to know you were responsible for his best friends death. Ori hadn’t expected any magical answer to make things all better; he had just needed to get it off his chest.

“Ori, you and Jeb go get something to eat, I need to talk to Eric about some adjustments to our plan.” Jared said as he strode towards Steve’s Old Rv that now more or less served as the command vehicle for the convoy.

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

The convoy rolled out the next morning under a rose-colored dawn sky, with a hint of orange and gold at the very edge of the horizon. They skirted Morgonton, using the back roads, crossed I 40 on 226. The interstate was a full of abandoned vehicles and wandering undead. Jared had carefully mapped out the routes on a map for each driver.

Jill rode silently in the ELSORV, while Mike drove, occasionally he would hum a song to himself but mostly he was silent. They turned east onto 182 at polkville, the real hard part was just staring, the convoy moved fast down 182, which held little in the way of abandoned vehicles, and at the moment even less undead, but 77 was a different story, they barely stayed ahead of the mob that tried to bury them, it was only a short three mile jog south on, or rather beside 77 to reach 52, which after crossing 85, took them past empty farms, overgrown fields, and through small dead towns, where even the zombies had moved out from boredom. It was close to noon by the time they reached Rockwell, they were damn close to the National forest they were going to camp in for the night.

The woods were glorious, this time of year, as the trees were beginning to change color. Last night there had been a bite to the air, the kind she really loved. Especially come October when snow was right around the corner and the smell of wood smoke hung in the air.

They rounded a curve, the forest to her right opened up to almost twenty acres of over grown pasture, her eyes centered on three zombies that stood in the field, they didn’t move just watched the vehicles pass, then just before she lost sight of them, one lifted an arm and pointed.

She felt a shiver of fear go through her, then the significance of the number three hit her, could it be some kind of warning, she had seen to much, been through to much to dismiss it out of hand.

“Did you see that?” she asked Mike, hoping that he had seen the odd behavior of the zombies.

“See what?” he asked, with out looking at her.

“The three zombies in the field that just stood there, not moving” she replied, not wanting to mention the one that pointed.

“No I didn’t, are you sure you…..”he fell silent, not wanting to insult her.

“Yes I’m sure” Jill said almost snapping at him, she managed to keep her voice level and civil, but let the topic drop.

She felt a sudden stab of concern for Jared and the others, and hoped that it wasn’t a warning. This group would fall apart if something happened to Jared and Ori. she didn’t even want to consider how it would affect her.

She glanced at her watch again, and saw they had maybe thirty more minutes before they reached the National forest, she forced herself to lean back in the seat and at least pretend to relax, absently petting the Pit bull that sat in the floor board between her legs. “he is going to be okay” she whispered, not sure if she were assuring the dog or her self.

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

The first warning the Militia units had that they were being stalked was, the simultaneous eruption of music from a rooftop and an M113 exploding as some kind of bomb exploded underneath the Vehicle.

Then gunfire erupted out of the night, aimed at specific targets, telling Simms that Jared, and it had to be the red head, had good Intel on his people. Simms had been rushing towards the Command Stryker, when he suddenly found himself on his back, where the shock wave of the explosion had deposited him, the Stryker, or what was left of it, sat burning, a thin reedy scream of man trapped inside could be heard.

Cursing in Swahili, French, Russian and English, he rose to his feet, shaking his head to try and stop the ringing.

Gun fire still rang up, but now the few heavy weapons in his own group were in the mix, he knew the chances of doing any significant damage to Jared’s men was limited. But his choice of targets suggest that Jared was trying to delay and or stop them. he had deprived Simms of long range comms, at least three vehicles now, and a fuel tanker.

He listened for a moment, realizing the only people firing now were his own.”stand down” He ordered over the radio. A moment later the gunfire fell silent as he looked around his camp taking in the burning and heavily damaged vehicles.

Jared’s men were gone, only the music still played from the roof, and who ever had chosen Debby Gibson, was going to die when Simms got his hands on him.

“we need to be moving ASAP” Simms barked, “Move it, and get it done as fast as you can” He called out knowing the undead would already be on their way, drawn by the short battle, and with that damn boom box or what ever up there, the zombies would just zero in on the music. A double attack using the undead as a follow up, The red head really is a bastard Simms thought with a grim smile.

Camp was at least easy to break down, and in less than eight minutes, the last of the supplies and gear was being stowed, even as the first of the undead appeared down the street, he had chosen this unfinished and un opened subdivision for just this reason, a zombie horde.

“Save your ammo, run them down.” Simms ordered, as he jogged over to the IMF set up Stryker.

All around them in a massive semi circle of undead drew ever closer, a massive rotting lurching crowd. The military vehicles, both tracks and wheeled spread out in a Wedge, the civilian vehicles pulling the travel trailers that their families lived in formed up inside the wedge.

Bones cracked, flesh tore and ripped, under the treads and tires of the military vehicles as they forced their way out of the subdivision, once on the main road, half the Military vehicles waited blocking the rear, while the rest moved down the road clearing it for the civilian vehicles that followed. As soon as the last civilian vehicle was on the road the rear guard fell in and followed.

Simms was silent as he studied the maps he had gathered on the road, they should be able to reach the Terminal in two days, even with the fuel loss. Not to mention that Jared’s people now had Sheamus behind them. things should get really interesting for them soon enough. Now if only he could figure out a way to untangle himself from his deal with the devil.

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

Williams crouched, in the brush watching the Line of vehicles as they rolled out into the foothills. He had hoped that they would have lost more people, after he had let the undead in the mine loose, but he would take what he could get. If he noticed the part of his mind that screamed in protest at his thoughts and actions he gave no sign.

He glared upwards in annoyance as that damn plane flew overhead once more. Soon he was going to have to take that little toy away from them. Something though he realized wasn’t right as the plane made a third pass.

He slipped back into the tree line and started towards his jeep, hearing the plane change course, growing louder as it came closer. Thermal, that plane has thermal imaging, he realized. why they hadn’t been using it till now was beyond him, but they were.

You really taught me well Russian he thought, sarcastically, as he sprinted for the Jeep, knowing that there were probably men on the ground heading this way right now.

He threw the door open and leaped inside, ramming his key into the ignition and twisting. For a heartbeat he half expected it not to start or to see some one in the rearview mirror just before they shot him, but neither happened, the engine coughed once then roared to life. He threw it into gear and slammed the pedal down. The Jeep surged forward, and then swept around in a tight turn as he headed away from the highway. Something struck the side of the Jeep, as it turned, a window shattered.

He hunched over the wheel and gave the jeep more gas, he had to yank the wheel to go around a big rock and the back end fishtailed out and slammed into a tree crumpling metal, even as more gunfire erupted. In moments he had lost them, and was back on the gravel road, till he heard that damn plane bearing down on him once more.

Thermal and a cloud of dust, I cant catch a break he thought as he sped up. And this time that protesting part of himself could be heard, maybe it was time to stop, stop this before it cost him his life. But I’ve already killed or help kill so many, if there is a hell I’m headed there already.

The jeep started to shake and the engine noise of the plane grew louder, and louder, till the windows in the Jeep vibrated. It grew darker as the plane swept over the roof of his Jeep at what had to be four feet if it was an inch, then it pulled ahead, and he suddenly saw a man lean out of the Side of the plane and wave at him, the man vanished back inside. A moment later, something fell away from the plane, it hit the ground and bounced, and then bounced again.

Williams only had time for his eyes to widen, and to slam his foot down on the brakes, before the Explosion ripped apart the daylight.

Ronny pulled back the stick and climbed rapidly, “could you close the damn door back there” he called out, a moment later the plane responded more smoothly, he leveled off and circled back as Logan climbed into the Co pilots seat.

Below they could see the jeep where it had rolled several times, shedding pieces, boxes and other debris, smoke eddied up from the broken jeep that lay on its side. “damn thing has a roll bar” Ronny said as he saw it, the figure of a man dangled from the seat belt.

“Think he is dead” Logan asked, “ I could drop another bomb.”

“Doesn’t matter, he wont be following us for a while and we need to go pick up the Advance team that hit Simms earlier, they should be half an hour from the pick up point.” Ronny said as he banked away. “just enough time to get there before they do”

“what music do you think Ori picked for this assault.” Ronny asked.

“I have it on Good authority, it starts with Debbie Gibsons greatest hits and ends with the extended cuts of the Village people hits.” Logan replied.

“God Jared is going to kick his ass” Ronny said laughing.

“I want to know where he gets that stuff, I’ve seen his IPod and MP3 player play lists, and nothing he puts on those Zombie tracks is on either one of those devices.” Logan said.

Ronny checked his instruments; double checked his bearing and then turned to Logan. “I will let you in on a secret, Ori has about 30 thumb drives, loaded with music, six of them are labeled Music to annoy Jared with.”

Logan wasn’t sure if Ronny was telling him a joke, or if he were serious. But he could halfway believe Ori would have thumb drives labeled like that. it just sounded like Ori.

Ronny laughed and reached over and clapped him on the shoulder, “I’m serious man, Steve started it, Ori just kept it going. And now I guess Steve’s twisted sense of humor will live on.”

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

Jared moved slowly, in full camo and kitted out for combat against humans, and for the first time in a year and two months. Their surprise attack against Simms column had been a success, and they had even managed to escape and evade the undead who swarmed over the area, with out being spotted.

It felt odd not to be in command of the unit, but it was Eric’s team, and neither Jared nor Ori had been trained the way they had. What I get for refusing to even consider going SF Jared thought, as he watched Eric appear for a moment then vanish a step later. He felt a lot of pride for Eric’s accomplishments; his baby brother was on hell of a good soldier. Even if Jared did suspect that Eric’s Orders weren’t as simple and basic as he claimed.

Two clicks sounded in his ear bud, the team stopped they were seventy yards from the extraction point, instantly as pre agreed, Ori and Castor headed forward to scout.

The rest of the team waited in a circle their backs facing inwards, it allowed them to keep an eye on 360 degrees around and kept things like the undead or angry ass hats from sneaking up on them.

Jared was eager to get out of here and to the next point, not so eager to be back on board an aircraft. Eric and the SF had set down with Jared last night and they had hammered out this plan, especially after Ronny had been sent up around midnight and using thermal had detected not one but two forces. One to the east, which was Simms main force, and a small force lagging behind to the west, Jared tired of being the one stalked and hit had decided to take the attack to the enemy, he was going to decide on the battle field, and Eric and his team were the masters at guerilla and counter guerilla warfare.

At Eric’s suggestion, Jared had the convoy move south to the Uwharrie national forest, the area where the SF held their final acceptance tests called Robin sage. A week long event that put the all the new skills of the SF Candidates to the test, and according to Eric the exercise actually ran thru several counties and towns as far down as Lumberton.

In fact Eric was banking on there being surviving SF guys down there in those woods and the mock camps that had been set up deep in the woods.

Whatever the case, it got the convoy away from the trailing enemy force, and for that Jared was thankful.

Ori glided forward thru the trees, as much a part of the woods as the trees around him, Castor was to his right, even though there was nothing that gave away the mans position, Ori knew Castor was staying close by.

Something moved ahead, Ori only saw a flash of movement, he hunkered down, so close to the ground that he could smell fresh earth, which was a far sight more pleasant then the smell of death that pervaded so many areas these days.

Just on the edge of the tree line, he saw movement again, this time he got a full view, of a man in torn and ragged pants, a dirty t-shirt covered his emaciated frame, Ori’s weapon had already shifted into fire position when the way the man moved registered. He moved furtively, keeping to the brush and trees, watching the field. He was definitely not one of the living dead, and unlike some Ori saw no reason to just kill the man.

He approached the man moving slow and silent. Till he was mere feet behind the stranger, who was watching the field intently, and seemed full of Nervous excitement, and here Ori could see what held the mans attention, the UV sat in the waving grass, with ten zombies pawing at the doors.

“Id really not move If I were you” Ori whispered, the stranger froze, in complete surprise and shock. “Jared, the plane is on the ground, but we have a problem, Ten of them to be exact and what looks like another ten at the far end of the field. And we have a guest” Ori said over the radio. Quietly he listened to Jared’s response watching the stranger who seemed scared, and yet still excited. As soon as Jared signed off Ori scanned the area around them for undead.

“want to tell me who you are and what your doing,” Ori asked, quietly.

“Sam White, and I’m watching the first plane I’ve seen in a year, two months and three days, ‘what are you doing?’ what kind of fucked up question is that.” the stranger replied his voice even lower than Ori’s. “Now keep it down, there’s more of them of them here in the woods.”

“more of who” Eric asked from just behind Ori, who had heard him coming for the last ten feet. Sam White looked startled and surprised as heavily armed men appeared around him.

“the living challenged.” Ori supplied.

“Aah there always are more of those things.” Eric said, “we cant fire we might hit the plane, so it looks like its hand weapons and close quarters pissing.” Eric said studying the undead around the plane.

“what’s he doing Here” martinez asked quietly leaning close to Ori,

“are you people stupid, god I hope you don’t run with those rifles you might trip and shoot yourselves. What I’m doing is looking at a plane,” Sam said in total disbelief, his voice almost rose to danger levels but he caught himself in time. “trust me, any one living in ten miles of here, is probably trying to find the first plane they’ve seen or heard in the air since last year.”

“Ori keep an eye on him, while we deal with that out there” Jared said indicating the Undead.

“Id hurry” Sam said, seemingly unfazed at the all the rifles around him, and the fact he was a virtual prisoner of said armed men. “there’s a shit pot of them things down the road and heading this way, your boy, I’m assuming its your boy flew right over the town where they were all at.”

“shit” Jared said as he rose to his feet, slung the HK across his back and drew a tomahawk and the Kukri that had he had started carrying again.

“Well don’t just stand there go kill those things” Sam muttered “if I had to do it Im going to be almighty pissed off.”

“You do realize I have a weapon pointed at you” Ori said, almost laughing at the weird mans behavior.

“I had noticed that,” Sam said as he watched Jared and the SF men sweep across the field whistling and waving at the undead to draw them away from the aircraft.

“That’s twice lately people don’t seem to notice I have a gun pointed at them. what, am I not scary enough” Ori asked.

“Would you feel better if I shivered in abject fear for a moment?” Sam asked.

Jared loped across the field, his first target was a heavy set older man, half his face a melted wreck from acid, Jared slid to the right, pivoting and drove the tomahawk into the side of the things head, continuing the movement he spun away, from the falling corpse, then lunged forward, and drove the Kukri up and around, the heavy blade designed for cutting, and chopping sheared thru the soft rotted flesh of the Female zombie, who still wore the apron of the grocery store she had once worked for, the blade, at an angle sheared thru the spine, the zombie tumbled to the ground, its eyes darting from side to side, its mouth opening and closing.

Jared stomped down on the head, ignoring the stomach churning crunch of its skull. He tried not to wonder if she had been some ones mother, or wife, no real point in it. but his mind really wanted to rub his face in it.

Castor coming up from behind watched Jared wade thru the undead, he was smart about it, he would dance forward and draw them out one or two at a time into his range then engage. Jared already had four down, Eric had dispatched two. He was impressed despite himself.

A hand Grabbed Castors ankle, the damn thing had been laying in the tall weeds, Castor realized as he drove his knife down into the skull of the zombie, by then Ronny had opened the door to the Plane and was hitting the few remaining undead from behind.

Kneeling Castor, wiped his knife clean on his pant leg before sheathing it and then brought his rifle up and began to take down the targets that were clear of the plane and coming up from the north side. there were a lot more than he would have thought but luckily they were far enough back that they were easy to take down.

The planes engine rolled over, and then roared to life, Castor turned and looked back down at the other end of the field and saw undead, oh you have to be fucking kidding me he thought.

“Move it, we don’t have time, we have to go.” Ronny was shouting, as he climbed back into the plane.

Ori balanced on the balls of his feet, read to run, but he paused watching Sam the smart assed stranger, who looked hopefully at the plane then at Ori. Ori could see the large number of undead at both ends of the field, but his wandering if the man could escape on his own was answered when he heard wood snapping behind them, Ori looked back and saw more zombies appearing in the woods behind them, pushing their way slowly thru the brush, ragged clothing catching on branches and stickers.

“If you going to go, lets get a move on” Ori said grabbing the back of Sam’s shirt and pulling him to his feet.

“Two coming in, and we got numbers behind us” Ori snapped over the radio as he damn near hauled Sam out of the woods at a dead run.

“God I hope you don’t run with scissors” Sam gasped as he ran behind Ori, but Ori’s Iron grasp on his wrist kept him going. The men were now firing into the mass of zombies on both sides, and to Sams amazement he saw a woman in the cockpit.

“Lets go” Jared shouted at the others as Ori dragging the stranger, passed Jared and pitched the man inside. One by one the SF men fell back into the plane, tapping the man in front of them as they did so. Finally only Jared and Eric stood side by side, then both men turned and dove into the plane.

Jared’s stomach was already cramping and he had broke out in a cold sweat, as the planes engine roared and the plane turned slightly to line up, and then Eric was slamming the hatch shut. The plane lurched forward, bouncing over the rough ground, Jared paled as he grabbed a tie down strap and held on for dear life.

Ronny checked his instruments, trimmed to ten degrees, as he applied more power, undead were now pouring out of the woods on either side, he watched the mass, dead ahead, and realized that they had already entered the space he needed for a proper take off.

“ What do we do?” Mary asked as the trees flashed by on either side. “ theres not enough room to take off”

“Well, we have two choices” Ronny said, as he prepared to try for a short take off. Either he plowed into the undead and got stuck on the ground or he tried to take off almost a hundred feet short and possibly crashed. He ignored the voice in his head that tried to tell him that the odds were against his actually taking off.

He did the math quickly, the formula was simple time x speed, to all appearances he was totally calm, he adjusted his speed, set his angle of attack and then pulled back on the stick, the plane bounced, once, then the engine roared and the plane clawed for the sky, he kicked the rudder right to compensate for the left drift, and watched silently as the plane zoomed over the heads of the undead and the trees at the far end of the field grew larger, and larger then began to fall below his angle of view. Something slapped the underside of the plane, and then they were climbing over the forest. He adjusted his rate of climb and speed to something more normal and retracted his flaps. Then let out a heavy sigh of relief, not even wanting to consider what, if anything, had happened to the landing gear.

Eric wasn’t even tempted to grin, at Jared, he knew what it took to overcome the sort of Fear Jared had about flying, Jared rolled over on the floor of the plane, then shrugged off his pack. “I really hate to fly, god I really hate to fly” he muttered.

“at least there weren’t any clowns” Eric said.

“That’s only slightly reassuring” Jared responded, as he strapped down his pack then got into a seat and strapped himself in.

“Okay, at least there aren’t any clowns in this plane” Eric said grinning this time.

“I can’t believe I actually went looking for you during a zombie apocalypse” Jared muttered, glaring balefully at his younger brother, who only grinned at him.

“Jeysus boy, you look like your about to pass out and throw up at the same time” Sam said watching Jared. “ Make sure you aim for the scary blond guy with the big gun”
Laughter erupted in the Cabin.

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

Williams, dragged himself out of the wreckage of the jeep, and looked around relieved to see no undead in the area. Spotting the Draganov laying the grass, he half crawled half stumbled over to the weapon; he reached out and then stopped his hand hovering over the weapon.

“Stop fucking around and pick it up” a voice said, it might have been his voice, or it might have had a Russian accent. He couldn’t tell anymore.

“Your going to make him angry, and you don’t want to do that” the voice said, his voice he thought.

Williams checked the holster at his side and the one in the small of his back and found that both pistols were still in place, as were the pouches containing extra magazines.

“Pick it up Pizdi” the voice said, almost desperate.

“Why, tell me why, where did it even come from, I don’t remember finding it.” Williams said aloud looking around trying to ignore the grinding of broken ribs.

The only answer was the sighing of the wind, the ping of cooling metal and the rustle of tree limbs. And then a branch snapped, Williams worked his way over to his pack that lay twenty feet away. He was starting to hurt even worse, and part of him hoped that he was dying, anything to escape this nightmare, well anything but being eaten.

He pulled on his pack, and then struggled to his feet, and only then saw the zombie, a male dressed in a filthy blood crusted slacks, its button down shirt ripped and torn, no more than rags over its dead white blue tinged skin. It lurched towards him, hands outstretched fingers grasping.

“Pick up the rifle and you will be safe” the voice said, Williams stood there trembling and in pain, tears ran down his face, he didn’t want to touch that rifle, he couldn’t have explained why to any one, but now the thought of touching that rifle made his skin crawl.

“No” he whispered as he turned and began to stagger away, another zombie emerged from the woods on the other side of the gravel road. Williams turned away from it stumbling, the pain intense, and then another zombie was ahead of him, he turned, and turned again, as more zombies appeared. The first zombie loomed ahead of him, and he had to duck under its grasping hands, and then tripped.

He hit face first and the pain was intense, but nothing compared to the pain in his ribs, and right leg. He tried to get to his feet, and managed to get to his hands and knees. He was surrounded by zombies, men women, children, in every state of dress and undress, bankers, lawyers, farmers, housewives, and school children. The circle shrank around him, hands reaching.

But Williams only stared at the Rifle that lay before him, his moment of defiance ash in his mouth as he realized he had been herded right back to the rifle, and coward that he was, he couldn’t deal with the other option as cold hands grasped at his pack, something grabbed his ankle, He reached for the Rifle, fearing it might be to late after all.

His hand closed on the stock, and instantly the zombies turned away. Their attention fixed on something in the distance. He sobbed in relief, hating himself for feeling that way. As the zombies in front of him spread away, his gaze was drawn to the only zombie still watching him, taut mottled white skin stretched over its skull, sunken white eyes peered out from under the brim of the old-fashioned bowler hat. Thin lips smiled under the huge beak nose, it wore old-fashioned clothing, like turn of the century stuff, maybe early 1900’s.

Its oddly shaped head cocked to one side as if considering him, there was a coldness in its dead eyes, and a glint of intelligence. It squatted its eyes locked with his, and Williams pissed his pants. He hadn’t been this scared since he had first seen it at the creek. It was angry, and he couldn’t miss the silent threat.

He lifted up the Draganov, and cradled it to his chest, watching as the thing rose to its spindly legs, then turned and shambled off, the image that sprang to Williams mind was a man out for a country stroll whistling his favorite tune. Where it had squatted was the box of ammunition for the Russian sniper rifle.

He knew that the immunity give him from the undead wouldn’t last for long, it never did so he wasn’t going to waste it. He remembered a house not far away, there might even be a vehicle he could take. Like it or not, he had to catch up to the Red head. he started walking, and if anyone had been watching they would have mistaken his stumbling pain filled walk for that of one of the walking dead.

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

Jill wasn’t thrilled at being separated from Jared once more, not in the least. But he was right, some one had to stay with the convoy, and she was the logical choice, since she was as respected as Jared and the remnants of the Dirty Dozen.

Jill still wasn’t sure how that had happened, but she was here and she was going to do the best damn job she possible could and if that shit Derek Findler mouthed off one more time about female bosses she was going to shove the butt of her rifle so far up his ass, his teeth would be in her shoulder the next time she fired her weapon.

She glanced at the her watch, noting the time, Jared and the others should be on their way to set up the second Ambush site, assuming there weren’t a ton of zombies in the zone, and assuming Simms hadn’t decided to speed or take a secondary route that Jared and the SF guys hadn’t anticipated.

If things went as planned Jared and the others would be back here landing behind the camp by sunset, and tomorrow morning, at Oh dark thirty they would be heading out to the terminal. Jared had hinted at having a surprise waiting for Simms, but so far he was tight lipped about it. what ever it was he felt confident it would tilt the odds in their favor.

She watched for a moment as Justin and Mai linn entered the Medical clinic shelter, wondering how long it would be before they both realized that the entire camp with the exception of Ori, Jared, and Jeb knew Mai was pregnant. Morning sickness was hard to hide in a group this small, Jill thought with a smile. For being so tough and observant when it came to danger, those three were about as blind as men came, about women.

The others were hard at work, some were building the new interlocking walls, that when finished would be erected around the camp each night, it was she admitted a rather ingenious design based mostly on old Roman military camp plans, with a modern twist. The sections would be transported on a flat bed and assembled when needed. the old design walls sections were being torn apart and used in the making of the new.

The campsite tonight had been chosen by Eric, a large fenced in compound, tucked away in a wooded area, it looked more like a camp you would see in a war movie, the few buildings in the compound were all ramshackle and built from anything that could be scrounged, it was one of the areas used during the Robin Sage exercise.

Ed had immediately place men in the guard towers flanking the gate, had the LAV crewed and parked at the gate, and then set up a roving patrol along the fence line of the camp, with the Stryker ready to roll up in support if needed. If the undead showed up in mass, the camp would be safe for a while, at the very least the fence would keep the undead out long enough to get the vehicles started and on the move.

Eric had also told them of a place where there might be Hemmit fuel trucks used during the exercises, and She had already sent Chad out to check. With orders to avoid combat against any humans, on the off chance any one they encountered, were SF survivors or Civilian Contractors who had fled to the exercise areas to escape the undead at their homes.

she paced in front of the RV, considering their situation and trying to make plans for anything that might happen.

Chad dismounted from the Hummer, his eyes scanning the area for threats. The ware house, sat behind a chain link fence topped with Razor wire, to the left of gate, was a small cinderblock building that had once acted as a gate house, its single window was dark, and there were smears across the glass.

He had come along ways since last June, he thought feeling the reassuring weight of the trusty cricket bat on his back, that sucker had saved his life, and he wasn’t about to ever lose the old blunt object. It was a hot august day under a deep blue sky, but even with the brilliant sun light and the fluffy clouds over head, the color in the compound seemed washed out, grayish.

He was no longer the cocky College football player who scored with all the hot chicks, he was just a survivor, one who had seen a lot and been in a ton of fights to keep living. What he was not was a soldier.

He motioned Ryan forward, covering the Teenager as he used a pair of bolt cutters on the padlock, then pulled the gate open, he looked scared as he looked around the small compound. Chad stepped in and stood by Ryan waving the Hummer into the compound followed by the deuce that carried another four men and two women.

As soon as the Deuce had cleared the gate, Ryan closed the gate and locked it with the new padlock he carried; Chad held one key, Ryan the other.

The two vehicles moved towards the warehouse, while Chad and Ryan followed on foot, Chad kept glancing at the parking area, where several cars and trucks were parked, he had seen enough crawling zombies to worry that one or two might be under the vehicles.

The rest of his team, were climbing out of the hummer, nervous looks being replaced as they put on their game faces. I’d kill to have a few cheerleaders right not, Chad thought with a smile.

“okay folks remember, don’t fire unless fired upon. Jill thinks there might be some SF survivors and contractors running around, and Eric would be really ticked if we shot any of them.” Chad announced, not even trying to keep his voice down, hopefully the sound would draw out any zombie not locked in.

“I think we will be lucky to not be shot by them,” Ryan joked, but it fell flat, as the others gave him a shut the hell up look.

“We are to make friends if possible, if not we are to haul ass away from them, no killing unless we have too. Got me,” Chad asked as he looked around the assembled group. he held no illusions about their ability to fight any special forces trained men. They might do some damage but the end result would be pretty bad for his folks.

“Okay Lets see if those tankers are inside,” Chad said leading the way to the delivery doors.

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

Fort Bragg was empty, but it looked as if a hell of a fight had taken place there. Bodies and burned out vehicles littered the streets around the gates. Simms stepped down, onto the pavement, his nose wrinkling at the smell of death that came to him on the wind. The clouds were beginning to pile up on the horizon, and he thought they might be in for a thunder storm or two.

The supply area, located using a base map in the MWR offices, was empty stripped clean of every thing that might be of use, only tons of office supplies had been left behind. The last of Simms scavenger teams were returning empty handed, with reports of undead scattered across the base, so far in small numbers but that would change.

And with Fayetteville so close, this wasn’t a place he wanted to spend the night at, there could be thousands of those things here by tomorrow morning. His men were nervous, jumping at shadows, the ambush this morning had really put the fear of god in them, and that had been the point he thought. Nervous men made mistakes, and mistakes get men killed.

and they are worried about another ambush, and sooner or later we are going to hit another ambush, that’s a given, Simms thought, then looked up as the Huey flew low over head.

The red head was taking the fight to Simms now, either out of desperation or Revenge, Simms didn’t know, and he suspected that Jared knew exactly where Simms and company were bound for, Simms suspected he knew how they had found out. that Evil little bastard that had been haunting Simms since last June, had probably made sure Jared found out. Maybe to teach Simms a lesson for not falling in line, or to make sure that the Jared got in Simms sights.

Either way didn’t matter, Simms was going to take that island, and for that he would have had to fight Jared, so at the terminal or even here was as good a place as any for a battle that would decided who ruled that little safe zone. But no way in hell was he going to sell his soul to anything for power he could take himself.

It wasn’t personal for him, but he refused to fight any one else’s wars, this time around he would be in charge, he would pick his wars, and to hell with any cops, US military or any one else who wanted to force people back under the Yoke of the so called free country, that had more laws, and more of its people imprisoned for than any other so called first world, free nation.

He snorted at himself, none of that mattered anymore. That world was dead, and there was no way a handful of die hard patriots could bring it back. Jared couldn’t have more than thirty, maybe forty men and women under arms, and maybe only ten or so that had actual training and combat experience.

“Time to go” Joe Mulligan said, sunlight glinting on his bald head, since Sheamus had seemingly turned against Simms, Mulligan had become even more dedicated, as had most of his original men. Ivan, had elected himself as Simms Bodyguard, and though Simms would never admit it to any one, he felt safer with the Russian at his back.

“Fucking place is dead and empty boss,” Mulligan said, as a cold wind whispered down the street. there was something almost oppressive, dark even about that wind. “the only things left here worth taking are the porn mags, and to be honest I’m about sick of porn.”

Simms nodded, the Militia units had their familys and a few others tagging along behind them, and in all that group there were only seven single adult women, the other females were either daughters or wives of the fighters. And there had already been one fight that had almost ended in a gun fight when one of his men, Wiezbeki, had started flirting with an admittedly pretty seventeen year old.

Her father hadn’t been kind about his response. But Simms had come down hard on his man, and laid down the law on the rest that the dependents were off limits, or Simms would castrate and then cripple who ever didn’t listen. That had calmed the situation some what, but there were a lot of fathers who kept a weather eye on Simms’s men now.

“All right lets mount up, we have a rendezvous to reach before nightfall.” Simms called out. his mind considering why the base had been stripped clean of food, medical supplies, and ammunition, and he wasn’t really happy with the idea that floated through his mind of who it was that might have stripped the base clean.

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

The train pulling a line of flatbeds, and two passenger cars, sped down the tracks only slowing each time the tracks entered a town. Zombies were frequently waiting at the crossings and on the tracks, drawn by the noise and vibration of the train.

At first their passage had been swift, using the lines that they had cleared earlier, but once they move beyond the range they had been scavenging in, they moved more slowly having to stop on occasion to clear the private vehicle wrecks on the tracks, and clear out the undead around the wrecks.

They were behind schedule and as they approached a curve that wrapped around a hill, they were about to become much later.

Eric using all the aerial intelligence Ronny could supply, had planned out a series of points to booby trap and possibly spring ambushes. Some of the booby trap locations were written off as to risky when the number of undead in the area proved to be more than could safely be dealt with.

Other locations were dropped, when the team wouldn’t be able to reach them in time to set IED’s before the train and convoys reached the general area. Ronny had been busy flying from one location to the next, making short, rough field landings as close to the spots as necessary, wait for the SF team to place the IED then take off again to fly to the next destination.

Ronny’s only regret was how much fuel they were burning, they would need to replenish their supply of Avgas in another day or two if they kept up the heavy flying, assuming of course that they lived thru the next day or two.

The Train, emblazoned with the Cross and Dragon, rocketed around the bend, and rolled right over the trigger, pushing the two small plates together closing the circuit that set off the IED. Smoke and flame bloomed from the hillside above the tracks, the explosives being home made were not powerful enough to really damage the train, but it was more than powerful to dislodge the boulders and rocks. A huge chunk of limestone broke free and tumbled down the hillside, dislodging other boulders and breaking free more rocks. The rock slide bounded down the slope, tearing up trees to add to the mix, and the whole mess crashed into the tracks sending dust into the air. The train braked hard, and for a moment it seemed it wouldn’t stop but smash into the rock slide and derail, but luck or fate lent a hand and the train stopped with inches to spare.

With a drop off to one side and hill to the other, they would have to back the train up almost ten miles to offload any vehicles, or spend hours clearing the landslide. In the end the train began to back up, either way they would be late for the Rendezvous with Simms.

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

Smoke curled into the sky, as the column came to a halt in the grey desolate ruins that had been Ashboro. The gutted buildings, the result of a wild fire that had swept over the small town, when a Passenger liner had crashed into the town center, rose brokenly over the streets.

Sheamus climbed out of hisHis command vehicle, he loved that word, and eyed the two burning APC’s. only three of men from both vehicles had survived, the others were cooking away inside, the reanimated corpses, shot down as they staggered out of the hatch. They lay there smoking, fat still bubbling and popping as the bodies cooled.

“How, how did they figure out where to ambush us” he asked no one in particular.

“doesn’t matter lover, they did, and we have to find another way around, something not obvious” Maggie said joining him, seemingly unfazed by the smell of burnt flesh or the sounds from the bodies.

Sheamus was furious, he had made promises to these men, and now this asshole makes him look like a fool by setting an ambush.

“Its pretty easy how they figured out,” Maggie said, “our route,” the pause had been so short no one really noticed. She had almost said your route, but didn’t want Sheamus to think she didn’t consider herself a part of his little clique. No that wouldn’t do at all. “they used that plane, it has a lot of search and Rescue stuff on board, I remember them talking about some kind of heat sensor or scope or something.”

Sheamus, eyed her for a moment, still angry. “why didn’t you mention that before” he asked, his voice deadly calm.

“I did mention the plane, several times. But the only thing they ever used it for was scout ahead of their route. That asshole Jared was always trying to avoid fights” she replied.

Sheamus let it drop, beyond her body, he was growing tired of her, and at this point there was no reason to kill her, or get into an argument over this. He and Simms were still playing nice, even though they both were starting to realize that there was no patching things up, and because they were playing nice, he knew about the Rendezvous, and he was pretty certain Jared would be putting in an appearance.

Well Sheamus would make sure he was there but out of sight, so that when Jared sprung his ambush, Sheamus could sweep in from the flanks and finally end that bastard’s life.

He smiled at Maggie, never even really questioning why he had come to hate Jared and his people; it didn’t really matter to him. He had an enemy again, and that meant he had purpose again. a man needed a purpose in life.

He was just about to order the column to move out, when he spotted a dirty old ford pick up, in the distance weaving slightly. Sheamus lifted his FAMAs to his shoulder and waited, every weapon in the column was trained on that truck.

It stopped twenty feet from him, the door swinging open. “Bastardo”He muttered as he saw John Williams climb out of the truck, Williams was covered in cuts, scrapes and bruises, his clothes were ripped and torn.

Williams looked around at the weapons pointed at him, a slight sneer on his face. there was something different about the former Hippy sheamus thought. But he couldn’t place it. Williams stepped forward, almost gliding but favoring his side.

“I’m here to help” he said with just a hint of an accent.

Sheamus wanted to say something dismissive, but he couldn’t. His eyes were locked on the truck, where for just a moment he had seen something, peeking over the dashboard, something with white eyes, and a old fashioned hat, and then it was gone as if it had never been.

“Welcome aboard” Maggie said, placing a hand on Sheamus’s Elbow to keep him quiet.

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

Storm bands were starting to sweep across the east coast of the US, those still living thought nothing of it, unaware that to the south and out over the Atlantic the waters were storm tossed, Hurricane Irene had already rolled over the Bahama’s, it had turned slightly and set its eye on the outer banks of North Carolina.

The massive storm was throwing off bands of weather that would sweep across the coast of the Former US, heralding its approach, but this time no one was preparing, and the damage that might not have been as bad in the past would be magnified now.

The first of those outriders were already over land, and as the shadows of the rolling clouds marched inland covering the land in dim light, the undead began to move as if called to follow in its wake.

Clint Saran, stood on the deck of his boat as the waves grew larger, his crew were hastily hauling in the nets, they wanted to get back to Fort Moultrie ahead of the storm, but didn’t dare let their catch go, to many survivors on the island needed the food they were bringing in.

Clint eyed the dark clouds to the east, feeling uneasy. He had spent most of his life fishing these waters, and had the instinct of a professional fisherman, there was a bad blow coming, and this time of year it could be bad, maybe even a hurricane. Not to long ago, there would have been a national weather service to keep on eye on things. Now all he had was the Radar on his bridge and his long experience on the water.

As the last of the haul was brought in, he turned and strode back to the bridge. Moments later the boat was turning towards port, as the crew stowed the nets. The wind was gusting, and drops of rain were already pelting the deck, as the boat plowed thru the rising white caps.

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