Chapter Thirty one

“BEAT! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet-no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums-so shrill you bugles blow.”
~Whitman

The days had ticked by with no sign or word from the party that Darius and Ori had led out to set up a diversion. The weather had grown warmer during the days, with the temperature dropping again during the night. The was no doubt that the spring was around the corner but spring no longer promised new life or rebirth it just meant warmer weather in the land of the dead.

For century’s mankind had seen the turn of seasons as a war between light and dark, between life and death. With each spring Life triumphed over death once more driving the darkness back into hiding, but this year the Light was on the ropes, hanging on with bleeding fingers as the dead tried to drag it down and drown it before it was fully born. .

But there was still hope that shone like a guttering light on a dark, stormed tossed night drawing the survivors forward, one exhausted step at a time towards an uncertain future.

February 23rd, 2012 somewhere under D.C.

Ori crouched in brick lined tunnel keeping close to a row of pipes to his right that ran off into the darkness. The Night Vision goggle at least let him see, somewhere up ahead he could hear the steady drip of water, behind the soft breathing of the three men that were still with him.

“I think we lost them” Jeb whispered as he slipped up behind Ori leaving Tobias to keep Quentin on his feet.

Ori wasn’t so sure about that, but it seemed like they had. The trip into, what had turned out to be steam tunnels, had become a nightmare only hours after entering the Tunnels.

They had just finished placing a charge in an intersection when undead had swarmed out of one of the tunnels and taken down two men, the group had become separated and fled different directions. Darius, Kafil and Ryan had escaped going one way, Ori and the others had been forced to go another. Jorge and Zoe and headed in yet another direction.

That had been days ago and they had been dodging the undead ever since. They would have already gotten out of the tunnels by now except that Quentin had broken his leg as he climbed up a rusted ladder mounted on the wall to a hatch that they had hoped led to the street. Quentin had almost reached the top when the rusted rung he had been standing on broke sending him falling to land awkwardly on the tunnel floor breaking his leg..

“Maybe” Ori whispered back not wanting to lay odds on how long that would remain true. “Stay here, I’m going to scout ahead, if the dead catch up, follow me as best you can, Ill leave chalk marks on the walls every sixty feet and at intersections so you know which way I went.”

Ori didn’t wait for a reply he just glided forward in a crouch, confident in his skills to keep from being detected if any undead were up ahead.

Cold had a smell; most people never really noticed Ori thought sniffing at the cold crisp winter smell over laying the smell of mold and mildew, oil and Metal in the tunnel. There was no stench of undead and for that he was grateful.

He moved silently through the darkness, reaching a four way intersection he knelt for a moment listening and sniffing, then scouted a hundred yards up each corridor checking for undead.

Down the south bound corridor he found an old metal door, risking noise, he opened the door with a squeal and found a small room maybe ten by twenty feet lined with old metal shelves, replacement pipes and parts and a work bench.

Perfect, Ori thought, they all needed rest and this was the best place so far, of course if the dead filled the corridor they would be trapped but that was a worry for later at the moment they needed a place they could seal up and get some sleep.

He back tracked and was soon back with the others, “found a room, lets go” he said curtly not wanting to talk.. Frankly he had done more talking the last six months than the last five years and his vocal cords were sore.

The others must have felt the same way, in total silence they got Quentin to his feet and started down the Tunnel, Quentin hissing in pain every time he accidentally put weight on his broken leg. Tobias struggled to keep the much heavier man from falling but didn’t complain once.

As soon as every one was inside the room, Ori shut the door and broke out a lantern.

The light revealed a room that had been used since the early 1900’s judging by some of the gear and equipment on the shelves. Working quickly they got Quentin settled down on his sleeping bag and moved shelves to create a barricade just in case the undead got inside the room.

“Eat up while we have the chance” Ori said as he dug an MRE out of his pack and sat down with his back against the wall, rifle across his knees.

They ate in silence that Ori was thankful for, he didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions he probably wouldn’t have a correct answer for anyway.

Finished with his meal, he gathered up the trash from the MRE and said “Jeb take first watch, then Tobias your on second, Ill take last watch and come morning I’m heading out to finish the job.”.

Jeb’s lips tightened slightly but he didn’t argue with Ori’s plan, he just watched silently as Ori spread his sleep system on the floor, crawled in and went to sleep.

I’m not letting you go alone, Jeb thought stubbornly, Tobias can stay with Quentin to help keep him safe but some one has to go with you too Ori. He had never expected to become so close with Jared and his friends, but he had especially with Ori and there was no way he wanted to have to tell Jared or Beth that something had happened to Ori while he sat hiding in a Maintenance room.

February 24th, National Mall.

The Mall ran east to west from the Capitol building to the Lincoln memorial. Most Americans had only an incomplete image of the Mall from pictures, Tv shows and movies. It was almost two miles long, from the capitol building to the Washington Monument was a mile and a half.

Originally it had been intended as a garden on a scale that put the old Aristocratic estates to shame, it was still that with its reflecting pools, rows of trees along both sides of the long lawn that stretched all the way to the Potomac.

But the mall was more than a reflecting pool, more than the museums along the tree lined paths as wide as streets and the grass covered mall, it was more than the monuments to great leaders and to those who had given their lives for their country. It was and might still be the heart and soul of a Nation, and of the ideals that lay at its core.

For the last several days Eric had watched the comings and goings of the small group of well-armed men who had been slowly stripping the military vehicles scattered along the mall working their way towards the largest concentration located before the steps of the capitol building.

“They are going to be really pissed when they find most of the stuff down there is gone” Castor commented quietly as he watched the strangers move toward a group of Strykers and Hummers that had been parked at the edge of the capitol buildings grounds. . Eric smiled grimly, he had sent half his team down there to strip out everything they could use over the last three days, the strangers had a schedule they stuck to and Eric had taken advantage of it to send his own people down during the strangers absence. Using two wheel barrows from a grounds keepers building in the botanical gardens had made the job much easier, dodging the undead and getting the supplies up on the roof with out drawing a crowd of undead had been slightly harder.

“I’m thinking your right, I just wonder about their reaction to the note that Boom Boom left in the Command Stryker.” Eric replied. They didn’t have long to wait, the strangers opened the door of the Hummers or walked up the ramps into Strykers racing to loot before the undead could converge on the area only to come back out moments later and cluster together, Eric could see some of their lips from his position and saw they were talking and from the looks angrily. he grinned as he saw a note thrust into the hands of a sandy haired man in black Khaki pants and shirt. He looked paramilitary and having watched him for so many days Eric was sure the man had been trained by the military probably the British military.

“Think they will agree to the meeting” Castor asked.

“Probably, if for no other reason than to try and ambush us, before we can ambush them. They know some one is poaching their scavenging grounds now and have no reason to trust we have no ill will towards them.” Eric commented.

“Well we will have to deal with them sooner or later” Castor pointed out. “preferable before Kronnen arrives.”

Eric nodded, odds were Kronnen would just wipe them out, but the last thing he and Jared needed was for this group to join with Kronnen. Granted a handful of men joining the already large force Kronnen led wouldn’t matter much fire power wise, it was their knowledge of the area and the training Eric suspected they had that would make a difference.

“I don’t like the idea of you meeting with them alone” Castor said after a moment

“I wont be alone you and the rest of the team will be covering me just like their guy will be covered by his people, so we both die when the bullets start flying.” Eric said almost cheerfully.

“Your as perverse as your brother” Castor said shaking his head sadly. “if I remember correctly you will be inside the conservatory.”

“Which is a glass building” Eric pointed out. “so both sides should be able to kill us pretty easily.”

“There are times I wish the chief had been put in charge of our team, at least he wasn’t insane.” Castor replied.

Eric chuckled softly, then grew serious again as he noted the strangers fade into the shadows under a line of trees as a shambling crowd of zombies staggered out of the Hirshorn museum, the undead stumbled west away from the strangers. .

“They are good” Eric observed not for the first time. “probably have men with radios in OP’s.” yet another indication that at least who ever was in charge had some training and was passing it along to his men.

Eric and his men had yet to spot any observation post, but he was sure some one in the strangers group was watching the mall. They showed enough tactical sense and just like a moment ago, reacted to the emergence of the undead before they could have possibly observed them.

Not knowing where the Observer was bothered Eric, knowing where they were at would have lessened the odds of his people being seen as they scouted the area and stripped the vehicles the last couple of nights.

Of course if his people had been spotted stripping the Vehicles, the strangers might not have even bothered to show up and go look, that was a lot of risk for no return. Either way he wanted to know where that spotter or spotters were for future reference.

“Get the drone launched, I want to know there those spotters are.” Eric said. The sound of the drone engine was low enough that the soft wind and distance should hide the sound. Once it reached altitude no one down here would be able to hear it. and it was worth the risk of being heard regardless.

Castor slipped away to pass the order to Parks leaving Eric alone at the edge of the roof buried in the shadow of the old dome on the museums roof. He continued to watch the tree line for a while, but the strangers never reappeared. They must have called it a night he thought, especially now that they knew someone was in the area and probably watching.

February 25th 2012, Ivy City rail yard.

Jill sat on a box beside the Black van oiling the blade of her katana as she watched Jared talk quietly with Thor Jansen and Reese. “he is worried about Ori” She told Nibbler who sat beside her. The dog cocked it head ear quirking up at the sound of her voice. “I know its sad that I am talking with you, the dog, but I don’t have Mary, Sharon, Bridget or Beth to talk to so don’t let it go to your head.” She said with a sad smile as the dogs tail wagged.

No one had said it yet, but the odds of getting out of here alive were slim and this dog, this totally innocent and completely devoted animal would die right along with them. It deserved better. They all deserved better, they had fought and struggled to against the dead and against everything this new world had thrown at them. She refused to cry as she rubbed the dog head turning her gaze back to her husband. How odd to say that even now, she thought her smile fragile with emotion.

Here at the end of the world, she had finally met the man of her dreams. He hadn’t had the kind of job she would have thought or lived in the type of place she had expected. And if the world hadn’t ended she might not have grown up enough to see him for what he really was, a good man, who lived what he believed not just pay those beliefs lip service like so many others had..

She couldn’t imagine him laying dead and lifeless, much less seeing his corpse rise and if there was any justice in the world she would be dead before that happened.

Hearing boots scuff on gravel she turned to see Brian “hows Eddie” she asked.

“Getting better, I kind of think he will have a limp for the rest of his life.” Brian said “how’s your husband?”

“Why?” Jill asked.

“He is a man with a lot of responsibility and worries and keeps it bottle up.” Brian replied.

“Offering to let him confess his sins” she asked lightly.

“I am not a priest any longer, but if I were I doubt I have enough time to listen to the full list.” Brian said laughing. If there was tension in that laugh she didn’t detect it.

“From the stories I’ve heard, he would have a somewhat long list.” She agreed as she absently stroked Nibblers head. She was silent for a long moment as she gazed at Jared again. “he believes he is going to die before our child reaches eighteen.”she said.

“Since you two don’t have a child, I don’t see how that’s a problem at this point.” Brian said.

“The problem is Brian, I am pregnant and I cant tell him. Because if I do…” she said her voice trailing off not even wanting to say it. it felt so damn good to actually tell some one else about this,

“Because if he finds out his belief might become a self fulfilling prophecy” Brian said, understanding her fears. “I take it you don’t want me to repeat this” Brian said with that soothing voice of his.

“No the only other one that knows is Blaine, because he is a medic.” She said.

“Jill, I cant begin to say I understand what is happening to the world. But with all that we have seen and experienced can we doubt that something outside our world, our beliefs is at work here and if that is true then not telling Jared about your child might not stop him from dying if that’s whats meant to happen.” Brian said softly, resting a callused hand on her knee.

“Do you believe in fate or destiny” Jill asked, not wanting to believe in it her self.

“I think sometimes a man or women is placed in a position to make a difference, whether grand or small and their fate at the outcome is not set in stone.” Brian said not pointing out all those in the past that had been said to be destined to make the changes they had, had all died. Instead he said “I can understand your reasons for not telling him right now Jill but lets assume that there is fate, by not telling him Jared might take risks that place him in danger that he might have avoided if he had known.”

“Or by telling him, he might become distracted by worrying about me and our unborn child and make mistakes he might not have made otherwise.” Jill said. “I would rather he didn’t know till after this fight with Kronnen. He has so much on his mind right now Brian. How to escape this place, whats happened to Ori and especially Kronnen.” She said determined to keep her pregnancy a secret. She hated not telling Jared, knowing how thrilled he would be but the possible result was nothing she was willing to risk.

“Jill, I cant tell you what to do. I cant even tell you what’s right or I can only tell you what I feel is the right thing to do. But ultimately the decision is yours to make. I will how ever keep this under the seal of confession.” Brian said patting her knee.

‘For some one who is no longer a priest, you certainly seem to be doing a lot of counseling and taking confessions of late.” She said as Nibbler, Jealous of Jill getting her knee petted, tried to climb into Jill’s lap for her own share of attention.

”a Priest has always supposed to have been not only a man of god but a part time shrink and there is still a need for people to talk to some one who will listen and not judge, some one who can point out things they may or may not have missed when making a decision and some one who will not spread their business around like cheap gossip in a whore house.” Brian said with a slight grin.

“You will make a great husband for some lucky woman,” Jill said shaking her head with a slight smile “assuming you swing that way of course.”

“ I do, giving up women was one of the hardest parts of becoming a priest. Many a night while in seminary I lay in bed thinking I should have become a Methodist.” Brian replied with a laugh. “Now I can only regret the life I missed and can never have now thanks to the dead walking and the world I grew up in being dead..” Brian said. “But my life and its problems are not why I am talking to you.”

“I know and thank you,” Jill said with feeling. “if we make it out of here I will have to think about this more.”

“We will make it out of here, I have faith in that.” Brian said with total conviction. But some of us will die, he thought remember his dreams of the last several nights. Fate and destiny were determined to have people start believing in them, he silently decided. I suspect Jared’s out look on the whole thing is probably closer to the truth. Fate only places a person at the right place and the right time to make a choice to do what it ever is demanded of them or to walk away and let it play out.

“For a man who no longer believes, you seem to still believe in something higher” Jill remarked curiously.

“I lost faith in my religion, which I have discovered is far different than losing faith that something, someone higher is up there. Just the fact that the dead are walking and there is something Dark driving them seems to support something on the opposite side of the spectrum who sends help in odd but supernatural ways.” He paused, lips twisting into a wry smile “ And maybe in the end this will all turn out to be a fevered dream and I will wake up in the hospital and find I have been in a coma.” Brian said smiling at that last.

“I hope not, I would hate to wake up and find out I had never met Jared and loved him or become pregnant with our child” she said her voice dropping to a whisper at that last as she turned her gaze back to her husband. “or lost the friendships of all the remarkable people I’ve met since this started. Though a hot shower and a good steak dinner at my favorite restaurant would be more than welcome.” She said her mouth watering at the memory of her favorite dish.

“I have to say Jill, that is one of the best confessional dodges I’ve seen in years.” Brian said with a gentle tone. “I wont push you, but you need to think about your decision and decided if its best and I will leave it at that”

Jill shrugged “I thought it was a skillful way to maneuver you off topic, apparently it wasn’t as skillful as I had hoped”

“try doing confessions with sixteen year old girls who reek of gum and perfume, for eight years and you learn all the tricks.” Brain said then smiled as Jill laughed.

“I wish, we had my old platoon here,” Reese said as he watched the civilians drill under the watchful eye of the soldiers who were trying to bring their skills up to what they considered a minimum military standard.

“those are good men and women who are used to fighting the undead and raider, drilling is only taking the rough edges off.” Jared commented as he watched a squad of civilians rush forward, to take cover behind a pile of pipes while two squads covered the flanks and rear, and a third watched the rear area. It might not seem like it sometimes, but the number of civilians both in the convoy and back on the island were larger than the number of soldiers, and all but a handful of those civilians had learned to fight in the hardest school around, the survival school were passing grade meant going on living.

“I’m not slamming them,” Reese said quickly “don’t get me wrong. But you know what I mean I trusted the men in my platoon like you do your friends. Most of them are dead now.” He said sadly, his mouth tightened with memory of dead friends and the horrors they had faced in those last moments of life.
“I don’t think we could do much better than to make a stand with these people by our side” Jansen said with approval, as he watched one of the men stumble and almost fall. The men on either side of him grabbed the man and carried him forward till he could get his feet back under him again and run on his own.

“I agree with you on that” Reese said feeling something very much like fatherly pride seeing what had happened. These men and women were coming to together as a team, Eric and his people had done a knock up job on Sullivan with them.

Jared turned his gaze to the fence that surrounded the yard, his thoughts on Steve and Mark, and now Ori who may or may not be dead. At least if Ori was dead, he no longer had to deal with the madness that had swallowed the world. the only thing that kept him from truly believing Ori was dead was the fact that Ori hadn’t appeared in his dreams. He snorted in self disgust at his reliance on dreams of the dead. Next will be consulting goat entrails and Tea leaf readings given by some woman in a mumu and wearing a Turban with a dirty crystal ball.

He burned to gather up Ronny, Logan and Jansen and slip out to find his friend. In fact every one in camp knew just how hard it was for Jared to sit here day after day, with no word from Ori, and not go charging off to the rescue. He stayed for them and every one of them knew it and their respect for him grew.

“I think when we leave we need to go through the wall, where ever the number of undead are lowest, maybe lure as many as we can to a spot opposite where we plan on leaving from” Reese suggested.

Jared nodded absently, then drew himself up to his full height casting aside the doubts and worry at least for now. They would come screaming back down on him later but this was some thing he needed to focus on with a clear mind.

“Sounds good, but we are going to have to move out in a day no more than two, I really doubt the fence is going to last much longer than that,” Jared replied, “make sure everything is loaded up before nightfall and have every one stay inside the vehicle’s. Place the guards on top, if that fence comes down I don’t want any one having to make a run for a vehicle and possible letting the undead inside a vehicle as they scrambled inside for safety.”

Reese nodded, it wasn’t general knowledge but they had already found spots where the boards and tin were starting to become loose from all the hand pawing at them from the other side. The obstacles and fencing they had set up inside the construction yard would only slow the horde down not stop it once it got inside.

“You know my first job right out of high school was construction,” Reese said then flexed a thick arm to show off a bulging bicep. “body by home building” he said then laughed. ‘ did that till I was almost nineteen, then I went and joined Uncle sugars stepchildren. Best decision of my life really” Reese said as he watched the drill coming to its conclusion. No matter how much Reese looked like Steve they were two different people, Jared thought missing his old friend so intently it hurt and that led his mind back to Ori, where was he, was he alive and in trouble waiting for Jared to come to the rescue.

Jared shook his head at that, Ori wouldn’t be waiting for any one to rescue him that wasn’t his style, he would do every thing he could to get out of any situation by himself but knew his friends would show up to offer their help at some point.

“mind if I ask why your sharing this?” Jared asked to keep his mind off Ori and the friends he had lost.

“Just thinking that if I hadn’t joined the military, I wouldn’t have ended up at Mt. Weather to survive the end of the world, “ Reese replied. “and I wouldn’t be here watching as American Citizens train to fight against a Slaver and warlord, while the Walking dead are beating down the walls around us. Its funny how life turns out”

“Aint it though” Jared replied as gazed into a face that looked almost exactly like Steve’s face but wasn’t. “no matter what happens Reese, I want to say thanks for doing your best for us even though some of us made it hard for you in beginning.” Jared said then shrugged. “let me be honest I made it hard for you.”

“yes, you did but I understand, it would bother me and freak me out if some guy that looked just like my dead best friend just showed up in my life. Just the pictures that Jill showed me gave me the creeps seeing me with people I didn’t know at places I have never been. So don’t sweat it Jared, it was a rocky start but its worked out since then.” Reese said reaching out giving Jared’s shoulder a friendly squeeze. “looks like they are finished, lets get them rounded up and back aboard their rides.”

“Lets” Jared agreed

Mikhail put away his tools, not even glancing at Jared and Reese as they walked across the yard to the men and women who had just finished practicing the zombie fighting combat skills. In the past he might have sneered at their tactics, but the reality was it worked for them at least in lower numbers than what was outside the fence right now. Which was the main reason he hadn’t blown up anything just yet, he need this people to get him out of here and they were good at what they did.

He really hated Jared Stone who some how seemed to convince every one around him, he was some great leader, a compassionate, honest and fair man who stood by his own. Mikhail had learned at an early age that Leaders were vain, greedy liars who used the people for their own enrichment and pleasure.
For an instant another memory stirred from another life, he shook his head forcing aside the alien thought jagged pain like a migraine flashed through his mind. then it was gone as if it had never been.

You bowler hat wearing bastard what did you do to me, he asked silently, there was no answer only the sound of hands on wood and tin from the fence.

0700hrs February 26th, 2012. some where under DC.

The darkness in the dank tunnel was nothing to Night Vision Goggles that Ori and Jeb wore as they moved through a area filled with cob webs and dust. Ori stopped for a moment at an intersection and consulted his compass, then turned right into a tunnel with dark age stained brick and what might be soot stains on the ceiling.

It had been hours since they had seen the last zombie down here allowing Ori time to plant the last of his tunnel charges, the rest of his gear would be used to bring down one or more buildings up top assuming they could get inside to place the HMX charges and get out. With HMX he didn’t have to use precision placement, he only had to be able to spot the load bearers to bring the place down and that he could do. No way in hell normal construction was going to stand up to HMX.

They slowly made their way down the long disused corridor they were as silent as ghosts, but Ori could hear his own breathing and heartbeat and knew that it could probably be heard all the way to NYC.

Two hundred feet later they encountered an old metal door set in the tunnel wall, “might as well try it” Ori whispered, the were down to one set of charged batteries for their NVG’s and he really didn’t want to lose the one advantage they had down here. “if it leads up top, we can take a look and try to radio Jared.”

With Jeb watching his back, Ori tried the door and found it was unlocked. He pushed against the door. After so many years of neglect the door was hard to move but finally it ground open with rumbling noise that was sure to draw any undead in the area. Expecting hands to grab him Ori stuck his head into the room beyond and looked around. The room, covered in dust, was empty of anything useful, old newspapers; bits of wood and rusted tin cans littered the floor. At the back of the old brick room was a set of shallow steps that led up to another door.

“Jeb stay there at the tunnel door and keep an eye out for any undead in the tunnel while I open the door at the top of the stairs,” Ori said thinking at least if there were undead beyond the upper door, they could flee into the tunnel and shut that door behind them.

He climbed the steps slowly, a pit forming ins his stomach as his mind tried to conjure every night mare scenario that could be on the other side of the door that loomed before him. he found himself running his hand through his hair and forced it back to the pistol grip of the HK he carried slung across his chest.

Just let Beth and our kids live, that’s all I need Ori prayed silently as he reached out and grabbed the rusting metal handle and turned it.

The door opened with a groan, revealing a second room. Its walls were discolored old brick, trash and old debris littered the floor. Over in one corner, a ragged sleeping bag lay in a space that had been cleared of the old trash on a box beside the sleeping bag, some one had placed an unlit candle, a stuffed panda bear, and two books a stack of magazines sat on the floor beside the box. Cds hung from pipes on the ceiling like some baby mobile from a dystopian movie set. A duffle bag, and several fully loaded garbage bag were piled in the opposite corner.

As he stepped into the room, he heard movement, Ori turned to the left weapon snapping up to his shoulder, only to see a figure dressed in Rags crouched beside the rungs of a ladder that led up to a hatch.

The man, with a bushy beard that put to shame many of the backwoods types Ori had known back home, clutched a knife in one hand and a baby doll in the other. He growled at Ori and lunged the knife aiming right for Ori’s heart. Ori stroked the trigger sending a burst into the raggedly dressed man, dropping him like rock even as it registered the growling had actually been the mans voice, cracked and almost inarticulate. The words were like a hammer “don’t eat my baby” Ori’s mind conjured up night mare images of what had snapped the poor bastards mind and hated himself for having to kill the man. .

“oh shit” Ori muttered wishing there had been some way to end the threat with out killing the man. He checked the room for any other threats then lowered his weapon. At least the silencer still worked, he thought as he moved over and checked the downed mans pulse and didn’t find one. The corpse still clutched the baby doll and was already starting to twitch as it began to reanimate. Ori picked up the fallen knife and drove it into the space between the last vertebrae and the base of the skull right into the brain.

“It didn’t have to be like this” he told the corpse, the man must have lost it a long time ago Ori thought as he quickly searched the corpse then the things in the room. Most of it was crap, stuff that in the mans deranged mind had made some sense. Baby bottles, diapers, old baby clothes. Clothes, blankets and other things that must have come from dumpster’s and thrift shops.

Inside one of the trash bag was a smaller bag holding porcelain figures of angels and small boys, Christmas ornaments and wrapping paper and many other things. There were plenty of candles of all shapes, sizes and scents so that was good.

The duffle bag was filled with bottled water, prepackaged, vacumn sealed foods, cans of food like soup and vegetables, boxes and bags of cereals and chips, as well as drink boxes.

He returned to the room he had first entered and had Jeb shut the tunnel door, then both men headed into the final room where a dead man lay. Jeb gazed at the corpse on the floor but said nothing as Ori lit the candle on the box and sat down on the floor. “we have an hour before sunset, Id rather wait till dark to go out that hatch.” Ori said, the dead had as much trouble seeing in the dark as the living, and it was one more advantage they could use.

February 26th 2345hrs, National Mall, US Botanic Garden green house.

The Botanical Gardens were south of the SF teams position and to east of the Native American museum. Located near the Garfield circle. Moonlight glimmered off the glass dome and walls making the entire building appear to shimmer with eldritch light. .

The front of the conservatory was tan cement, but a massive sixty foot oblong glass dome loomed over the entrance, a smaller oblong dome was to the right and behind the main dome a low pitched glass roof could be seen.

It had taken Eric almost two hour to work his way across the weed choked Mall to reach the entrance of the building and slip inside.

Eric was amazed to find that many of the plants were still alive inside, islands of life amidst the dead plants. He waited in the garden court with its two reflecting pools flanked by dead trees that flanked the entrance to the courtyard. The Court itself was filled with beds with both living and dead plants.

Having seen the strangers come and go from the building over the last week, he was sure it was empty of undead but to be doubly sure his team had cleared it earlier in the day and secured every door into the place but the entrance.

Time ticked down to midnight and he finally heard a door open. A man entered the court and stopped seeing the dim blue light that glowed beside one of the pools. The stranger glided forwards his weapon ready for any ambush that might be sprung on him. Eric waited till the man was ten feet from the light then cleared his throat.

“Stop and turn towards my voice slowly, and I would appreciate it if you lowered the L8, I don’t think I would enjoy being accidentally shot or having to kill you if I were shot.” Eric said in a normal tone of voice, his deep voice rolled across the distance clearly.

“I think I would appreciate being able to see you before I blithely disarm myself” the man said with a thick British accent..

“All right” Eric said as he stepped out from the darkness and turned on another blue light. “Lets start with names, I am Sergeant first class Eric Stone, US Army, fifth special forces and you are?”

“Ollie Windsor, Chief of security of Her majesties US embassy. Rather I was the Chief of security. The walking dead seems to have put an end to my gainful employment” The man replied “I trained with a few of your chaps when I was with the SAS, now retired, you blokes were not all that bad. Not on par with the SAS of course.”

Ollie was five nine maybe five ten, looked like he was around fifty, what ever fat he might have built up over the years since his retirement had been trimmed off by the apocalypse diet. He looked hard, lean and fit and handled the L8 like it was a long lost friend. Gap toothed, thinning hair that was tinted blue in the light, his eyes were narrowed suspiciously.

“Before you start fishing for information about us Ollie Ill share this with you, My ODA, is covering your men and this building, a full twelve man Special forces ODA” not entirely true, Eric thought with out a flicker of his thoughts showing on his face.

“so its true, our last intercepts indicated several US military units were falling back to secured locations, I had hoped you blokes would be coming back when there was still enough people left here to still call it a human city.” Ollie said unfazed at the idea of facing special forces soldiers.

“Better late than never and its just as bad every where else.” Eric replied.

“I assumed so from the news before they went off the air.” Ollie said. “might I ask exactly what you want to talk about, SF or not, these are not trusting times Sergeant Stone. and I hold in reserve, judgment that you are what you say you are.”

“ All right business first then,” Eric said “ the reason I wanted to meet with you was to find out who you and your men are before a small army arrives and your either wiped out or decide to join with them. It a long story so Ill make it as quick as possible. This army is led by a man named Kronnen, who comes from out Nevada way as far as I know of, and along the way….” Eric proceeded to lay out the whole story about Kronnen, the slavery the slaughter, and as much as he felt safe revealing about Sullivan island and Jared’s reason for going to war with Kronnen.

When he finished, the Brit was quiet for a long moment. “I do not know what to say at this point” Ollie finally said “ hearing there are over a thousand survivors, and growing, to our south living on an island, other settlements of survivors scattered between here and there and some wastelands warlord rampaging across the US like Cromwell reborn is all a bit much to take in at one sitting. Especially knowing there might be a two hundred people left in all of DC.”

“I can tell you there are more than that in one location here in the city, but I wont tell you where, only that we encountered them a little over a week ago.” Eric said. “ I’m sorry if that sounds like I am being a dick, but till I know they don’t mind others knowing where they are at I wont break their trust or put them in potential danger by revealing their location.” Eric said.

Ollie’s eyes had adjusted to the dim light and he took the time to study the man before him. Stone stood completely at ease, his rifle held at what the Americans called low ready.

He carried himself with an inborn confidence that gave him a spine that most men had lacked pre dead. The world had been to soft back then, confidence born out of a lack of trial had all to often fooled men into thinking they could handle anything till the lights went out and the gloves came off. But Stone was one of the rare breed, Ollie thought, as he recognized a kindred soul. This was a man who had been there and done that as the Americans had liked to say, and Stone had survived to do it again and again. Ollie believed the man was who and what he said he was, but whether he was threat or not was still to be determined.

“I see, very noble of you. I presume you intended that to inspire some kind of respect and admiration if not trust for yourself. Sadly I am a cynical Wanker with a broken emotional response according to my former wife.” Ollie said with a gap toothed smile that was, if not friendly, at least genuine

“I was hoping it would yes, it beats killing each other and having our men kill each other. But understand this Mr. Windsor, when Kronnen and his men get here there will a battle. I don’t care if you join us, avoid us or ignore us all I want is for you to not join Kronnen or get between us. Outside of those two things I don’t care what you say or do.” Eric stated, “and if I were you, I would avoid Kronnen at all costs, the man has a habit of killing or enslaving any one he runs across.”

Ollie paced back and forth for a moment, he hadn’t liked what he had heard about Kronnen, but he also wasn’t sure he fully believed it. It wasn’t a question of whether people could fall so far in such a short time in his ten years in the SAS, he had seen the worst of mankind to often. Slavery and mass murder were not surprising, many men and some women tended to fall back on brutality when things got rough. No his problem lay in believing Eric Stone any one would paint their enemy in the worst possible light for a variety of reasons.

Yes, I want to trust this man, I do believe he is Special Forces, and I even believe he has a team watching the building. But is he a cowboy?, is he still under orders? gone rogue?. Even good men in times like this can lose sight of their moral compass. Ollie thought about all that and more as he paced.

He still had what was left of his security team to look out for, and the survivors hiding in the embassy, he couldn’t endanger them. It had taken months of scrounging to keep clothes on their backs and food in their mouths. Finding the military vehicles, with their loads of ammo and supplies had been a god send, but they didn’t have near enough to fight a war either against this mans people or some other army, that if Stone was to be believed, numbered a couple of thousand men.

He did believe there was a battle coming Between Stone and this Kronne, the reasons and truth behind it didn’t really matter to him. his goal his only goal was to keep the last few citizens of the United Kingdom safe and unharmed, that he would consider a victory. When you got right down to it, no matter what the politicians said, no matter what the generals might say, a true soldier of a decent nations only duty and was protecting life and now, like no other time it was obvious to all but the most stupid, mad or power hungry people left in the world.

“I will say, me and my mates will stay out of any battle that might be waged around here. But a word of warning, the undead are thin in this area but to the south and north east the undead are gathered in massive groups as well as around the entire outer edges of the city. The moment you start shooting, the whole mass of them will bloody well fall on you and your men.” Ollie said.

“That’s what we are counting on Ollie” Eric said cryptically. “but we also need every bit of equipment left on the mall, so I need you to leave it alone and we wont have a problem, after the battle you and Jared, My brother, can hammer out a deal to split whats left of Kronnen’s stuff or scavenge what’s left on the field if we all die.”

“I suspect we will be scavenging” Ollie said, wondering what drove this man and the men who followed him into a battle he seemed certain would get them killed.

“Probably, but then we won’t care and you’ll find a few maps that will get you and yours to Sullivan if you feel like visiting peacefully. I think they would even invite you to stay if you wanted to.”

“That might be nice, especially if it gets us one step closer to returning home” Ollie replied, then waved a hand around at the gardens and the building they stood in. “ I will tell you this much about my plans. We intend to use this building to grow food in, once we have a food source secured we were planning staying long enough to build up a store of food before finding a boat to take us home.”

“It’s not likely you’ll make it” Eric commented.

“Anything is possible I suppose” Ollie said, “But we will try to return home.”

“If you make it to Sullivan, there is a Russian sailor, a Norwegian chopper pilot, a man from Africa and a few others that might be willing to help you get there. They want to get home too.” Eric said.

“sounds like your island is the bloody UN” Ollie said shaking his head. “but back to your concerns. I can promise that we will not get involved or support your enemy. Leave this building and the grounds intact and we will be thankful. But screw us, try to take food or supplies from us and I promise you mate, you will know you were in a fight no matter what the outcome. ”

“you have my word we will not try to take your supplies Ollie, my word might not mean much to you, since you don’t me but its all I have left. I can also promise we wont use this building in the battle, but what Kronnen and his people do I couldn’t say.” Eric replied.

“that’s good enough, though why you want to fight on the Mall is beyond me, using city streets would be more advantageous in a running battle against a mobile force.” Ollie said. “and with all the undead on the ground a mobile force is really the best and smartest way to go.”

“I can only say there is a reason why the mall was chosen” Eric said, how can I explain rationally that its all because of a dream of a dead man, Eric thought not really wanting to believe it himself. “by the way Pippa wouldn’t happen to be with your group, one of my men is infatuated with her butt.” Eric said suddenly a grin spreading across his face.

Ollie snorted in amusement, “it seemed half the men in the world were, but no she is not amongst my group. If how ever you run across Prince Harry, I had it to understand he was in Las Vegas when the dead rose, I would appreciate it if you could send him our way.”

“If I end up out that way I will look around for your” Eric said almost laughing. “Maybe if we find him, you can find Pippa and we can make a trade at midnight on a bridge somewhere like the old spy stories.”

Ollie actually chuckled a the poor joke, that really sounded more like something Ori would have said, Eric thought with amusement that faded as he wondered how Ori was doing.

February 27th, 0500hrs North west, Washington DC.

Ori crouched beside a overturned truck, Buried in its shadow he peered down the street. it was one of those DC streets you see often in movies, tree lined, with old brown stones. Vehicles were parked along the curb, several had been smashed into by other vehicle that had pushed them up onto the sidewalks or into the trees.

He eyed the buildings that were wall to wall, wondering why they were called Brown stones, since most of the ones he had seen in the past were red, Tan, beige or white.

They were all three stories with three to four windows on each floor, a set of steps led up from the sidewalk to the front door. A few had a narrow tower like structure to the left of the front door that rose up all three floors. Most were just flat faced with little no decorations, or a narrow stone balcony on the second floor. He seemed to remember Mark once saying they were also called row or terrace houses. Either way it would drive him nuts to live cheek to jowl like that.

He waited while Jeb crossed the last twenty feet, moving from Car to car and joined him beside the wreck. “two” he whispered, pointing at the two zombies he could see. One would walk forward and bump into the wall of a brownstone. The other was sitting in the street beside the abandoned ambulance, amidst the five skeletons beside the vehicle. it was slapping weakly at a skull, who knew why.

It had been a nerve wracking trip across the city, dodging roving bands of undead, sometimes hiding in dumpsters, or under vehicles. but they were only blocks from his destination.

He lifted his crossbow and took aim, he stroked the trigger and the string snapped forward, the silencers deadening but not killing the sound as the bolt hissed across the space between him and the zombie. before the dead he had been a great shot, but in the two years since, he had become a phenomenal shot, it was amazing how well a man could improve when his life was on line he thought as the zombie toppled silently over to lay still amidst the skeletal remains.

He cocked the crossbow and slipped a quarrel into the slot then moved towards the idiot zombie who was bouncing off a wall. The zombie never even heard him, as he got close enough till there was no chance to miss.

The zombie fell silently, well they were always silent weren’t they, not the like movies he thought as he pulled the bolt from the back of its head. Another three blocks, he thought, and it will take two hours to cover if we keep moving this slow. The only other option is to find a vehicle that will start and get there in minutes.

Once the sun rose moving around would normally be suicidal, but he knew from the last time he had been over this way, the undead were thin on the ground, well thin compared to say the horde around the construction site. Brody and his people worked hard to keep the dead out of the area with sound traps and teams acting as bait.

“I say we run, its about three miles right, we can make that distance easily before the sunrises, with time to spare.” Jeb whispered.

Ori looked down the empty street, knowing that the buildings could be hiding hundreds if not thousands of the dead, but running was a lot quieter than a vehicle. he thought remembering the wild ride on the dirt bikes that had drawn more undead than running would have.

He nodded his agreement, “buddy check” he muttered as he turned away from Jeb to let the other man check his pack for anything loose that might jangle, when Jeb finished Ori examined the other mans pack then patted him on the shoulder.

“Lets go, Jared and the others have been waiting for to damn long” Ori said as he rose to his full height and set off at a run, Jeb right beside him.

February 27th, 1045 hrs, Expeditionary Base East, Virginia beach.

Kronnen, walked across the loading deck of the LCAC, Landing craft air cushion, military assault hovercraft. He could hear the weapons fire of his men holding the gate against the undead in the distance. The ramp that contained the LCACs was huge, surrounded by support buildings.

A LCAC was a hovercraft, a box measuring 88 feet by 47, that sat in the middle of an oblong air cushion, or plenum, with a two massive fans with rudder on each side of the stern gate, and a much larger bow gate. It could carry according to the manual sixty tons normally, 75 tons if overloaded. The one Troop carrier Configured LCAC they had decided to use could carry 180 men, Kronnen had managed to squeeze 200 into the thing with gear. They wouldn’t be moving around a lot but it would get them into DC

Twenty of the LCAC’s had been waiting for his arrival days ago but they would only be using ten of the twenty. In the time that it took to loot the area, fuel and repair the LCACs as well as hold back the dead at the gates to the ramp area, he had lost sixty men.

But now they were finally ready to depart. Every M113 and the four marine LAVs they recovered here were loaded and ready to go, along with the beaters, the sprayers, and every vehicle and piece of equipment they would need to scout out the city, find Stone and kill him and his people.

A powered barge had been recovered to carry the Behemoth and the fuel trucks, it would follow behind the LCAC’s to the tidal basin on the National mall which was the best and frankly only place that barge and the LCAC’s could land and offload the vehicles in the city. And frankly with the weapons and ammo load outs that had already been on the LCAC’s his men could wipe way a large crowd of zombies in the landing area with out expending any of Kronnen’s supplies.

I so hope Stone is close enough to engage my men while we have the LCAC’s, Kronnen thought as he stepped onto the bridge. “ Call the men at the gate back. as soon as they are loaded we leave.” He ordered as he took on the what could only be described as a cockpit, with its glowing screens and digital as well as physical controls.

He would he realized miss the high tech lifestyle of the old world, but the power he could wield here in the new, far outstripped that loss, he decided as he turned his gaze on the man who was to pilot the LCAC he was on. Formly overweight, balding, and a perpetual squint, Wiseman was one of the few brave enough to volunteer to pilot one of the LCAC’s.

Now if Wiseman and the rest of his men could actually operate the LCACS with out tripping on their own dicks he would be happy. The manuals had been on board and it only took a crew of five to operate one of the hovercraft not to mention they had been operated by marines, so how hard really could it be. he thought with disdain as well as making an assumption about who drive the LCAC’s. Navy craft were operated by navy, whose only job according to Marines was taxi the corp from place to place.

“Boss, I aint so sure I can drive this thing” Albert Wiseman, convicted get away driver and rapist said as he nervously eyed the yoke and pedals that he was supposed to steer the LCAC with.

“You read the manual?;” Kronnen asked icily his temper already on a hair trigger.

“Well Yeah, but its complicated.” Wiseman explained.

“Those things are written to teach idiots how to use this thing, your telling me your dumber than some southern backwoods white trash cracker.;” Kronnen asked nastily..

“I’m telling you its not like driving a car Boss, that manual is full of formulas and big words.” Wiseman said almost pleading for Kronnen to understand.

“Tell you what Wiseman, you do the best you can, if you can keep from wrecking or sinking us I promise not to kill you.” Kronnen said angrily but knowing he had to offer some incentive to get the man to at least try. .

“I will try boss” Wiseman said sounding less than confident and still scared, as he donned the headset he would need to get instructions from the well-deck near the stern gate, which would act more or less like an Air traffic controller for the driver.

Ten minutes later the rear guard vehicles rolled up the ramp of the LCAC waiting to take them up river, the ramp raising as the horde of undead appeared from around the buildings along the staging area.

“Lets get out of here, we have places to go and people to kill” Kronnen said.

The huge fans roared to life, air flowed down lifting the craft up, the skirt filling out. and for the first time Wiseman attempted to maneuver the LCAC.

He tried to go left and found the LCAC drifting to one side and slowly spinning across the ramp, it bounced against a low cement wall and went the other way slamming into the LCAC closest to it setting off a chain reaction of spinning, skittering LCACs as untrained men did their best to learn in minutes what normally took months.

Someone unable to take the spinning threw up behind Kronnen, who ignored the smell as he slapped Wiseman upside the head. “Reduce power and stop pressing on the pedals you idiot.”

If the undead could think many of them would have panicked as two LCACs drifted up the ramp and onto the service street in front of the buildings that had once housed parts and support for the vessels, the street filling with undead. they drifted into the crowd, knocking down and flowing over the undead. it was like a mad mans pinball game on a grand scale.

Wiseman did as he was told and slowly got control of his craft, almost grinning now he inched the power up and slowly turned the hovercraft in the direction they need to go. “Congrats Wiseman you get to live another day” Kronnen said.

Rob “Hambone” Moore wasn’t so lucky, he had actually made it out onto the water when another LCAC had slammed into his right rear quarter. As his LCAC began to spin he accidentally slammed the throttle to the stops and the out of control craft smashed into pilings ripping a gash in the LCACS Plenum, the LCAC began to list to the starboard as it still spun wildly water washing over the deflating starboard plenum and onto the deck.

Moore’s luck only grew worse, the men tasked as deck crew, untrained and clueless had improperly secured two vehicles, the tilting deck and fast rotation put to much strain on the restraints and two restraint’s came free. The force of the spin sent a Deuce and a half sliding free of the few remaining restraints, killing two men, where it tilted over and crashed against the vessels interior wall the shift in weight turned the spin into a wobble, like an off balance washing machine, that tossed men on the deck off their feet.

Some where down on the deck, Moore heard, over the roaring fans, a loud metallic snap as a chain broke and the catastrophe was complete as a second vehicle broke free and crushed five more men. The engines on the LCAC died, and in the silence there was a single gunshot from the pilots cabin.

Half an hour later nine LCAC’s and one barge moved across the water, one LCAC under tow while the men on board tried to figure out how to repair the craft they rode. Kronnen furious paced the deck between vehicles, his men avoiding him as much as possible.

They had learned some hard lessons, and it would take an extra day for the pilots to learn how to maneuver enough not to end up sliding up the banks of the Potomac and into homes and cars. Unlike car’s and boats a LCAC took a lot of room to turn, 2000 meters to be exact and 500 to come to a stop. Trying to hard turn like his pilots had down only resulted in an uncontrolled craft, bouncing off anything they struck and spinning like a dervish.

The LCAC’s still drifted side-to-side, and behaved erratically but they were moving forward, towards the rivers mouth and that was a plus. Hopefully by the time they reached DC the ride will have smoothed out, he thought as he settled a glare on a hapless national guard soldier who blanched and vanished into an M113.

Sixty men died getting us to the damn LCACs, and twenty five more died on board the lost LCAC, at this rate I will not have a fighting force left when we reach DC, he thought angrily. and that damned Moore killed himself before I could skin him alive and eat the bastard.

Calm down, the men need a morale boost instead of being scared of you, the voice in his mind sounded to much like Proctor. The one man who had done his best to reign in Kronnen’s temper, the man Kronnen had trusted above all others. Kronnen felt the pain of loss and betrayal again, but the advice Proctor had given him had been right more often than wrong Kronnen knew.

In a rare moment he wondered if what he was doing was right, had he gone so far that it had destroyed the trust of his best friend. but the unassailable sense of righteous superiority roared back in washing away the doubt. Right or not Proctor had proven to be weak, and weakness couldn’t be allowed to taint the society that Kronnen strove to build on the ruins, a society that would be doomed when the Dark won. In the end Proctor would have died along with every one else as humanity was wiped away, but if the light won, if the scribe was victorious and the Dark was sent packing.

I can what if all day, it changes nothing if the dark wins, I and those I rule will work to wipe out every survivor is left till we too are devoured and with us ends humanity, or I will survive the darks fall and found an empire. Either way I’m happy with., he told himself almost angrily. even if the dark fails I will serve it, I will sow chaos where I go and the weak will fall leaving only the strong, or the slaves in its wake.

He stormed over to the RV which he had refused to leave behind, it was his home and had his woman on board, and by god he was the warlord he deserved his simple luxuries. The large vehicle barely fit in LCAC and it took up so much room that only four M113’s were able to ride along with it.

There was only one way to keep is mind off the things he didn’t care to think about, and that was his woman, his slave now if he were honest. He climbed inside and shut the door which didn’t stop the noise or the vibration. The sight of his woman, tied up and naked and heavily pregnant helped him push aside his anger, but it the sexual tension that replaced it was just as bad.

He had trusted her, and like Proctor, she had betrayed him. Unlike Proctor she hadn’t escaped him, she would live only as long as it took to give birth then, she would end up on a plate where he would savor her one last time.

But for now, he thought with a nasty smile and finished the thought out loud. “ I hope you enjoy being raped” he said as started towards her, hands fumbling at his trousers. Bound and gagged there was little she could do, but the hate that shone in her eyes was like a balm to him. he was only gentle enough to keep from killing the child she carried, but there were more ways to brutalize a person than just beating on them and he taught her a few things she had never known or thought of.

When he finished, she lay on the floor blood running from every orifice. He hummed as he cleaned himself up then fastened his pants. “I feel like a new man” he said with a laugh. “I will miss you when your gone, you have given me over a year of pure pleasure. But don’t worry, I will replace you with a younger prettier model, whom I will break down then rebuild better than I did you. You have shown me I will have to modify the training to remove any thoughts of rebellion and violence. I cant have another whore who tries to take a knife to me.”

She didn’t respond, couldn’t have if she wanted to. She was barely conscious, I should have restrained myself, if she dies she will go to waste, he thought feeling the hunger stir deep inside as he gazed at the bloody and bruised flesh, what ever horror he might have once felt at craving human flesh had long since vanished.

“time to put up my toys and get down to business” he said as he lifted her up and carried her into the bedroom where he dumped her on the floor. “Trust me tonight will be a night you remember.” He promised her smiling lustfully as he stepped back into the living room area, the smile had changed, becoming darker and full of malice.. “we are coming for you Stone, and I can not wait.” He said aloud as he shut the door and headed to the communications set up.

February 27th, 1100 hrs, The Oval Office, White house.

Bedford placed the headset to the comm. unit on his desk, his desk he thought again running his hands over the Desk that was as historical as the building it sat in.

Kronnen would be arriving in tomorrow or the next day, that was good news. Once he arrived he could move in and deal with Stones men. Well the men who survived Bedford thought with a cold smile of pleasure.

Stone had cost him a surviving Marine Base, Sullivan island, taken the Terminal and in general had just plain pissed him off. Not to mention wiping out several Militias that were to have been key to taking and holding the Vital area’s on the coast.

Tomorrow he would relay orders to the team of Rangers he had sent to keep an eye on the rail yard, at noon they would put a few rockets into that fence and blow it hell, letting the undead swarm in. sheer numbers alone out to trap the convoy inside the yard, maybe a few would escape but not many and he was sure that Stone wouldn’t be one of the ones who escaped, he was just that kind of man, stupid and clung to outdated codes of honor that tied him down with his men where he would die.

He looked up as SSg Gomez entered the office, the Delta force trooper looked grim, but then they all looked grim constantly. “Yes, Staff Sergeant, you have something to report?”

“Yes sir, it appears that some one reconnoitered the grounds last night in addition, one of our scouts spotted a Raven drone circling the mall at dawn, it went east and landed before he could get position to spot where it landed.

“Sergeant First class Eric Stone and his people I assume.” Bedford commented a he leaned back in the surprisingly comfortable desk chair. “unless of course you think there might be a survivor wandering around out there that has the skill to evade your spotters and security gear.”

“The Captain, thinks it was probably SFC Stone as well, Sir, but he wanted to inform you of the matter and asked me to impress upon you the need to vacate the White House till Stone and his people have been dealt with.” Gomez said tonelessly.

“I have no intention of leaving the White House just yet, SSgt, but you can tell the Captain that if some one attempts to breach the White House before tomorrow evening we will leave via the tunnel system. I am brave but not a fool, I have a lot to do to bring this country back I wont risk that by being stupid and getting killed.” Bedford said. Gomez snapped a salute, only turning and leaving after Bedford returned it.

“well I am here, what now” He said to the shadows in the empty room then smiled as he saw his daughter appear. Tall and slender, with ash blond hair, she was as much a beauty now as when she had been alive. the light of his life, and the one regret of his life that his carrier had kept him away from her for to long.

“its almost over Daddy,” She said with a dazzling smile. “when Stone is gone, you can finally move against the remaining Traitor, the man who calls himself the Scribe.”

He smiled and took her hand, what little time he and the rest of mankind had didn’t matter at the moment only the cool hand and love of his daughter.

February 28th, Ivy city rail yard, 0900hrs.

Jared sat on top of his van, watching the fence. Over the last two days, the undead had managed great holes, but none large enough to enter through. But along the south wall, rotting arms stuck out of the fence, waving around, hands clutching at the air.

It was only a matter of hours, maybe a day and they would be inside. he thought, we cant wait for Ori any longer. That Ori was probably dead, was something he tried not to think about much. but he couldn’t stop it from hitting him at night when he tried to sleep.

“Reese get that crane running, you have some presents to offload.” Jared transmitted; his only reply was the sound of the engine on the crane coming to life. Bless you Lee, Jared thought as he turned to watch Daws and his men hook up cables from the platform they had built onto the cranes massive hook.

He watched as Steger and three other men climbed onto the platform that was nothing more than pieces of scaffolding that had been welded together to form a ten by ten platform with a rack holding acetylene tanks in the center. Attached to each acetylene tank was a box that was the key to the whole weapon.

Slowly the platform was lifted into the air till it reached a height of eighty feet then the crane began to turn swinging the platform out over the veritable sea of undead on the south side.

The convoy’s engines began to turn over and all the additional noise seemed to drive the undead berserk, they were pawing and tearing at the wall in a frenzy now. Jared actually saw a piece of tin peel away leaving a hole in wall, the only thing that stopped the undead from spilling inside was the cross bars in the frame that the tin had been screwed to.
The hands were tearing at the smaller holes now steadily expanding their size.

“Get ready to blow the charge in the north wall, once we get between the parked trains we can pick up speed and use the speed and weight to plow through any undead in front of us” Jared transmitted.

Steger hooked himself to the rail then lifted his sniper rifle up and peered through the scope at the undead below. “never thought when I joined SWAT, I would end up sniping moving corpses in an apocalyptic world.” He muttered, today his job was to just guard the three men who would be dropping the homemade bombs into the crowd below.

Jared was still worried that Bedford and his men might be in the city, or that Kronnen had sent scouts in to find and Harass Jared’s people. Walter, Kris and Tony unstrpped the first tank, set the timer, then pitched over the side of the platform to plummet down into the crowd below.

“woot, got one” Kris laughed as the heavy cylinder pile drived a zombie into a pulpy mess on the ground.

At Walters signal, the Crane turned bringing the platform some eight feet from where the first tank had landed. The three men readied the second tank and dropped it.

the plan was for the crane to move enough to place four in a row, then it would move towards the fence stopping so that a second row could be placed a safe distance behind the first row, then advance as close to the fence as possible allowing the men to lay a third and final row.

They were just staring on the third row, when Steger say a flicker of movement on a roof top in the row of business along the road to the south of the rail yard. He snapped his rifle up to his shoulder, but it was too late. A shot rang out, and Tony stumbled back, a red blotch appearing on his shirt. His knees struck the rail and he pitched over silently falling into the crowd of undead.

“Down, Get down.” Steger shouted as he spotted the sniper, Walter was babbling into the radio as Steger took aim, sliding into the zone like the professional he was. he stroked the trigger, and the sniper fell backward his head halo’d in a red mist even as his second shot blew through Kris’s leg in a welter of gore. Kris fell screaming onto the platform, clutching his ruined leg. Steger died in mid curse as the second sniper, the man he hadn’t seen shot him mercifully between the eyes.

Jared heard Walter screaming over the radio as the Crane backed up and was turning its boom trying to get the platform back into the construction yard, He couldn’t believe it, Steger was dead, the man had been a rock since they had first met seemingly years ago but it had only been a little over a year now.

Tony was dead too, and from the sound of it Kris was crippled, Walters panicked voice chopped off abruptly, Jared looked up just in time to see Walter plummet from the platform as the thing that had been Kris tried to grab his legs. Walter his arms and legs wind milling smashed down into a stack of pipes and lay still. a shot rang out as some one put a bullet in his head before he could reanimate.

Fingers of ice clamped down on Jared’s heart, four more good men had just died because of him, more blood on his hands. It didn’t matter they had volunteered for the job, and volunteered to come to do DC, they were killed following him and that made it his fault.

He checked his watch; thankful it still worked and saw they had five minutes before the bombs hopefully detonated. “get ready to blow the wall, we are leaving in four minutes” Jared said as he slipped down off the top of the van. A minute later he was in the drivers seat ready to go..

MSgt. Clingman, smiled hugely as the last man died. If they had been able to get in position earlier they could have stopped Stones people from dropping off their IEDs, But he was happy to settle for the kills regardless. How’s that for to old to be running around in the field, he thought, to old my ass. Take me out of the field, force me towards a desk and retirement. Well I am back where I belong.

As long as the rest of the team was in position to take Stones Vehicles under fire when they came rolling out after their bombs cleared a path, the day would be a short one.

He rose to a crouch and started across the roof, and died before he reached his next position.

Ori lowered his rifle anger flickered in his eyes. “Got the bastard’ he said as he ducked behind cover near the hatch in the roof before any return fire could be sent his way. “Alpha one six Actual, hold tight, Darth Vader and his storm troopers are about to lend a helping hand.” He transmitted.

Down on the street, a modified ice cream truck rolled out of a side street, the small speaker it had started life with had company, two massive speaker boxes, stripped from a car with a ten thousand dollar sound system. Brody had never cranked the system to its max, there had never been need, but today he was trying it out. They needed to be heard much further than normal. Since they couldn’t get as close as he would have normally wanted but this crowd of dead was far to large to risk getting close. But they really didn’t need to get to close, the whole point was to lure as many of the undead away with music as possible and with this sound system they could be heard a mile away.

At his signal a generator inside the van came to life, a second later music roared out. Close by any windows already cracked or damaged, shattered under the sound assault, the ground itself vibrated.

It had been a popular song in 2010, which meant it set Jared’s teeth on edge, but it wasn’t one of Ori’s, music to piss Jared off titles. But it might as well have been, Katy Perry’s “California gurls” was almost as bad as the gaga monster.

The undead at the rear of the horde, turned and started towards the volcanic eruption of sound, then more behind them. The dead streamed towards the vibrating ice cream truck which began to back down the street, before turning and slowly moving away, leading more than half the horde after them.

“I am going to kick his ass, right after I kiss him for being alive” Jared said. Laughing with relief at the sound of Ori’s voice over the radio.

“that music sounds close” Logan said from the back of the Van.

“Cant be that close to many undead out there.” Jared replied shaking his head. It didn’t matter right now anyway, he could ask later when they were out of here. . “Blow that wall, we are leaving” He said wishing he had ear plugs to drown out the music.

Captain Rich Carpenter, snapped out Orders as he saw the a huge number of undead leaving the area, but there were still enough undead to do the job if he moved now, blowing the wall to let them inside, instead of waiting till noon. He keyed his radio. “ Sergeant blow that damn wall, now before the rest of the dead decide to follow that music.”

There are times that situations and events merge together creating a whole that was so much greater than its parts, as the rockets from the Military launchers raced across the distance to smash into the wall, more than 2./3rds of the IEDs that had been planted detonated six seconds later, the shock waves whipsawed and crippled a huge number of zombies, the convoy was already on the move and north wall blew seventeen seconds after the bomb and rockets. Fire laced smoke, Dust and debris rose into the air as the sound followed the shockwaves rolling out across the area. The HET roared through gap in the north wall, parts of the still standing fence, dead grass and other things were burning. Out side they found the dead on the north side had thinned out considerably as most of the dead had moved slowly to the east and west over the last couple of days, drawn to the sound of motors and work that were closer on those two side,

Then more had left to follow the ice cream truck as it rolled away like some pop diva pied piper.
.

On the other side of the construction site, the undead poured through the gap in the south wall, but the defense’s that the Sullivan island folks had erected days earlier slowed the horde, funneling them away from the fleeing vehicles. The crane operator no longer having to worry about getting the men on the platform to safety first, climbed out and leaped onto the last truck as it came along side the crane and slowed for him. then it too raced after the other vehicles through the fires that still burn around the gap in the north side wall. .

Carpenter using his binoculars, peered through the hole his men had created and saw only undead, no truck, no people and there was no gunfire. Stone had some how escaped, and there were only two ways, through the north wall, since Carpenter could see the east and west ends and knew they hadn’t escaped either of those ways, or they had fled back into the train tunnel that the General had told him about.

“We need to change positions” he muttered but with the number of undead down there in the train yard there was no way his men could get around to the north side with out fighting every step of the way and they did not have the ammo or armor to do it with. He had deployed his men to cover the actual gates and the south side, and to be honest he didn’t have the men to cover every side, if he had spread his men out around the yard, he wouldn’t have had enough concentrated fire power to do much more than annoy Stone and piss off the undead. No he had chosen the best option available but whether the general saw it that way or not was the question.

For the first time in his career, Carpenter decided to that lying was the smartest course of action, if he couldn’t find a way to locate Stone. his story would be that Stone had left a handful of men at the yard as a diversion and had taken the rest of his group out before the horde had arrived. His men would back that story, knowing that an angry Bedford was not known for well-reasoned responses to failure.

“Pack it up men and rendezvous at point Aa we will probably be spending a few days letting the number of dead dwindle before we can safely escape the area.” He transmitted then crouched there for a long moment preparing him self then switched frequencies and called in his report.

Jansen swore heavily as the HET bounced and side swiped a train car on the passenger side. For a second he could see out the window, the peeling paint and pitted and rusting on the metal, mere inches from his eye, then the Big vehicle was back in the middle again, its hand made blow flipping the zombies out to either side to crash against the rail cars, breaking arms, legs and sometimes even necks and spines.

From the reports every vehicle was in place, which was a relief, the charges placed on the tunnel entrance Ori and Darius had used to get out would be detonating in minutes sealing off the tunnel and keeping the dead from getting inside, where survivors might be hiding and giving Jared and the convoy another possible place to retreat to if needed. Assuming the tunnel were more or less empty of undead of course.

Now all he had to do, was to come up with a brilliant strategy to kick kronnens ass all the way back to Nevada, keep Jared and by extension Jill alive, as well as many of the convoy as he could. What I really need is to get laid, he decided as he bounced off the passenger door as the HET took a sharp turn around the end of the train, it bounced over the tracks and slammed into a knot of undead, the plow blade shedding the undead like a pulpy rain of bloody flesh to either side.

“Coming to get you brother” Jared transmitted.

“Negative Alpha one six actual, stay with the unit, I have my own way out” Ori replied. “Head towards the death star, some where along the way, Vader will let you know where to meet him and leia while the sound truck keeps the horde busy for as long as they can.”

“Roger that,” Jared replied. Then another voice broke into the conversation.

“You tell Leia to wear that gold bikini, damn that would look good on her” Ronny said.

“Shut it Soldier” Jared said trying not to use names over the air and trying even harder not to laugh and most importantly not voice any agreement. But Ronny was right, she would look good in that outfit.

He was grinning like an idiot as they finally cleared the multi city block rail yard and entered the city streets again. he glanced at Jill and realized she had been suspiciously quiet since Ronny’s outburst. Even Nibbler seemed subdued. He looked over at his wife and saw the look she was giving him.

”Is there something about your trip to, ‘the death star’ your not telling me” Jill asked, half amused, half annoyed.

“Well, yeah.. see there was this hot klingon chick, and then there was the female ewok who was just cuter than hell, I mean those ears that furry belly. And Ronny hit on this woman with tentacles on her head and..” Jared said laughing, partly out of relief at knowing Ori was safe.

“Have I mentioned I married an idiot lately” She said, smiling.

From the back Jared heard Logan “no not lately but trust me I love to hear it every time you do. He needs some humility.”

“I can stop and drop you off at the next corner” Jared threatened.

“try it, Jill will beat you up”

“I hate it when the kid is right.” Jared muttered

“I am sure you do, so tell me about this woman that Ronny is fixated on.”

“Fixated is such a harsh word, one that would get him killed by Mary if used casually around her.” Jared replied as Logan laughed from the back of the van. “you had better not be laying on my bed.” he added.

“Jared you know I don’t get jealous, just fess up.” Jill said exasperated.

“okay, okay, she was young, and I have to admit she was good looking, smart and pretty intense in an odd way. youll have to meet her to get that.” Jared said.

“Was that so hard” Jill said.

“Yes, it makes it sound like I go around oogling other women, truth is she doesn’t compare to you no one else does” Jared said truthfully.

“I know you don’t, I was just having some fun Jared and I plan on gibb slapping Ronny the first moment I see him. for Mary of course.”

“Of course its not because you just like abusing my friends.” Jared commented.

“Well there is that too, but this one is for Mary” Jill chuckled, her humor fled a moment later as she finally looked out the window reality slammed back in drowning her good mood at finding out Ori was alive, with the sight of the dead city and the undead in its street. but what curdled her blood, and sent a thrill of terror through her, was the spindly limbed shadow that slipped through the throng, carrying something in its arms that looked like a … looked like a baby, it stopped on the sidewalk, lifting a hand to push its bowler hat up and back at a jaunty angle. For a moment, she could see its dead, cloudy eye, the long beaked nose on its triangular face with its sharp pointed chin.

She couldn’t drag her eyes away from the leathery mottled skin, or the intelligence that glittered in it eyes.

The thin lips spread into a smile that revealed shark like teeth as it lifted the child up and bit down into soft flesh, blood sprayed up and over its face and into the air. In her mind she could hear a baby scream in pain and terror bowler hats eyes never left hers. Then he and the baby were gone as if they had never been there. It was a threat and a promise to her alone she realized as a sound that was part gasp of horror and part scream slipped from her throat.

February 28th

Something dark hovered over the city of Washington D.C. something that reeked of spoiled blood and rotting meat. A shadow of senses that felt nothing in any way that humanity would recognize. Its time was almost here, it could feel it like a tidal surge in eternity as the Scribe finally reached a decision that would in the end decide the fate of humanity here once and for all.

Like a gathering storm it cloaked the city, where only two of the three servants it had recruited still worked towards it’s goal. The Dreamwalker’s final tool was in place, no matter the final outcome of its plan for humanity, that tool would remove Jared Stone even if it took years. If it could feel satisfaction, it was in way something human would not recognize.

Mikhail sat quietly looking out the window paying no attention to the driver, a scared looking 35 year old American with dark hair, who was probably the only person left in the world with dermatitis.

His hatred of Americans had waned, not because he found them any less arrogant or ignorant but because long exposure to them had shown him a side that he had never really seen, or at the very least had never allowed himself to see in them. They were in their own way, at least those who survived in this group as brave as Mikhail had ever seen.

He also come to understand that their greatest strength was their belief they were meant to be greater than they were, it allowed them to rise to incredibly heights at the oddest moments. It was arrogance surely, but it was also a form of innocence and it had power.

It would not stop him from killing those who got in his way, nor stop him from killing any who stood between him and his final target. No matter what Jared Stone would die.

He ignored the quiet voice deep in his mind that asked why, a voice that wasn’t his and stirred memories of alpine meadows, and pristine lakes and a love of nature was as strong as Mikhails love of killing.
He was damned and doomed, no matter what god might be in charge. That he was certain of, he carried the mark of Cain, a phrase he rather enjoyed, it was like a badge of honor to a man like himself.

He was what nature had made him a killer, a hunter of men and he wouldn’t, couldn’t change it or he would no longer be himself.

‘but are you, who you think you are’ the voice deep inside asked. That of course was the real question he actually live or was he only a shadow of who he had been. that was what ultimately haunted him one he didn’t like to examine to closely.

He closed his eyes and once more stood on a wide veranda under a star studded sky. A magnificent mansion behind him, the black sea before him its water spangled with the stars and moon beckoning him to step into its embrace and float away. it was the place he had first met his destiny and his goddess the whore, a woman who had haunted him as true a love as he had ever known, she was both death and beauty and the one constant in his long life.

It was almost time, he knew. Even here in this nether world of the past and eternity the storm was poised to break over this city. And when it had passed either Stone would remain, or the war band led by Stone, that now protected the scribe would be gone.

Washed away as if it had never existed and Kronnen and the dark would move on to destroy the scribe before he could face the darks final challenge. It was the final curtain in the play of life, he thought as another unwanted memory bubbled up but this one was fitting and he rather liked it.

“Out- out are the lights- out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.. “

Occasionally an American poet was better than a Russian one, he decided.

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10 thoughts on “Chapter Thirty one

    • Thanks for reading Chris, and thank you for the thinking of my mom. she is both better and about the same, with lots of Dr. Appointments but Im hapy with any improvement no matter how minor.

      Have a Happy new year and thanks again for reading.

      Like

  1. Nice! Thanks for another one! Two days until the end? Or are you taking a vacation before you continue this as a post apocalyptic tale? Whatever, you deserve the time off! Happy New Year, O’Kelly!

    Like

    • as much as I hate to admit it, I plan on taking a vacation LOL Ive been writing steadly for a long while now.

      Then I plan on getting down to editing The clock and possibly getting it published, with all the pages and pages I ended up cutting out. I do plan on, time and life permitting, writing several side stories some during the ZA but several more are going to be Post apocalyptic, not only on sullivan but other places, and staring new characters.

      I really hope time and life permit me to get that done, I am looking forward to exploring the aftermath of the ZA.

      Like

  2. awesome..iv been checking every night for this i love the way your biulding up to the showdown.makes me not want it to end but anxious to see how it turns out keep up the awesome work man

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    • apparently those two sentences are really clunky Sigh.. oh Rob, is it true the new Navy paint scheme for ships is the same one Yellow cab uses? LOL

      Go Army.. >Grin<

      I know, I know, clowns are in the mail. LOL

      Like

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