Chapter Thirty Two

“I knew them all — a gallant band,
The glory of their native land.
And on each lordly brow elate
Sat valour and contempt of fate,
Fierceness of youth, and scorn of foe.
And pride to render blow for blow.
In the strong war’s tumultuous crash
How darkly did their keen eyes flash !
How fearlessly each arm was raised !

How dazzlingly each broad-sword blazed !
Though now the dreary night-breeze moans
Above them in this Vale of Bones.

What lapse of time shall sweep away
The memory of that gallant day,
When on to battle proudly going,
Your plumage to the wild winds blowing,
Your tartans far behind ye flowing.
Your pennons raised, your clarions sounding,
Fiercely your steeds beneath ye bounding.
Ye mix’d the strife of warring foes
In fiery shock and deadly close?
What stampings in the madd’ning strife.
What thrusts, what stabs, with brand and knife,
What desprate strokes for death or life,
Were there ! What cries, what thrilling groans,
Re-echoed thro’ the Vale of Bones !”
~Charles Tennyson

The sun was sinking low in the sky, lighting the bottoms of the clouds in red fire, as shadows slowly filled the streets like a dark polluted tide that lapped at the bases of the buildings going to ruin.

There was a feeling in the air, like electricity, a harbinger of the storm poised to sweep over the city of the damned and the people who still lived there.

The silence of the street was shattered by the roar of heavy motors as a line of vehicles swept through George town, rolling down a four lane, two way street filled with once ritzy clothing shops, restaurants, and every other type of business that had once boomed in this area where the whose who of DC had lived and shopped. Cars were still parked along the curbs, wrecks still sat where they had occurred, an ambulance had crashed into a store front on another block. A zombie lay trapped half under the car that had killed it so long ago, futilely trying to grasp the vehicles as they passed.

The massive military semi called a HET, slowed then stopped as a truck pulled out of a side street to the HETS right, a man in the bed of the truck pointed to the left of the HET, which slowly rolled into a turn and went half a block before another man stepped out and waved at them to enter a parking garage.

“No way most of our vehicles are going to fit in there,” Jansen transmitted as he watched a man roll up the security gate from inside the garage.

“Block off the street in both directions with the bigger vehicles, the ones that can enter will go inside.” Jared replied from his Van. “Besides, I don’t think we will be staying long” then Jared added. “I want scouts put out, the moment the undead number start really growing I want to know, I’m not getting trapped here.”

“Roger that.” Jansen said then changed channels and transmitted to the ret of the convoy.
” Let the smaller vehicles pass, every one else park and block off the street.” Jansen said, wondering if they were going to stay the night or move directly to the mall from here.

The Van rolled into the dim interior of the parking garage, following a man who was dressed normally. He led them to the second floor then directed them to park beside a black sedan that looked suspiciously like a police car.

Jared parked the van then climbed out, noting the temperature was dropping. It had been in the low sixty’s today, but would probably hit mid forties tonight. Nibbler leaped out behind him, and raced around the Van to greet Jill as she got out.

The passenger door of the sedan opened and a grin spread across Jared’s face as Ori and Jeb got out of the car. “Damn its good to see you both again” Jared said his grin vanishing as no one else that had left with Ori exited the vehicle. “What happened to the others?”

“we lost three that I know of for sure, Quentin broke his leg and is hiding in a room with Tobias waiting for some one to come back and get them. Every one else got separated when zombies hit us in an intersection. I saw Darius, Kafil and some others escape down one tunnel, Jorge and Zoe went down another and that’s all I know.” Ori said, then quickly told Jared the whole story as Brody got out of the cop car.

“I’m sorry Jared, we tried.” Ori said absently rubbing a hand through his hair. “we tried to radio the camp when we finally got up on street level, but I guess between the distance and all the buildings you couldn’t receive our transmission so we headed here, it was closer and this area has a lot less undead to avoid.”

“Don’t feel bad, we lost Steger, Walter, Tony and Kris.” Jared said bitterly. “and we would have lost a lot more but you showed up just in time.” Jared added then looked at Brody who had come to stand beside Ori, “thanks for the assist, I owe you for this” Jared said.

Ori didn’t bother to reply, he had shot the man who had killed Steger. He and Steger had become pretty tight over the last year and some odd, The former Swat sniper had been a good man it was a heavy loss but nothing he could do would change it and more good men and women were going to die in the coming fight.

“let your doctor come visit, and we are even” Brody said with a shrug.

“I will send one of our medic’s back with you, But I cant spare Blaine till after the fight.” Jared replied, to be honest he couldn’t spare a single medic, but he owed these folks. “I think Ori just mentioned we owed you some fuel, so I will throw in a hundred gallons and then we are even.”

“A hundred” Brody said his eyes bugging slightly in surprise.

“we have a lot at the moment, and once this battle is out of the way we can locate more pretty easily” Jared said, thinking that there had to be a fuel supply yard somewhere in or on the edge of DC that would most likely have fuel or a fuel bunker somewhere on one of the military bases around the city. Even if he counldnt find anything local to replace it, a hundred gallons was worth having his peoples ass pulled out of the fire in the nick of time.

“I wish we could put you people up in the center, but, well, not every one is comfortable with that idea. They want to get to know you better first.” Brody said apologetically then added, “Till I saw that Semi out there and some of the other big military trucks you have with you, I thought this place would be the best for you to camp in.”

“Its fine, I don’t blame your folks for not being sure about us, as it is we probably wont be staying here the night any way, its time we got our positions set up and ready for when Kronnen arrives,” Jared said.

“I don’t understand, how do you know where to set up if you don’t know where he will enter the city at.” Brody asked.

“He has one of two goals at this point, he either wants what he thinks I am looking for in DC. Or he just wants to kill us and move on toward his ultimate goal, to accomplish either of those goals, he has to find us. So it doesn’t matter what direction he enters the city from, he will fight on the ground I chose.” Jared explained.

Body shook his head for a second, he had never been in the military or even played table top war game, his only familiarity with combat and tactics came from movies and the occasional book he had read. “What if he doesn’t come after you?”

“Then we go after him and hit him from behind bleed him as much as possible for as long as possible till he turns around and fights. I’d actually prefer that since we can inflict serious losses on him with out as much risk to ourselves. But when I came up with this plan he was already tracking us to attack anyway.” Jared said.

At the time Kronnen hadn’t shown any inclination to avoid Jared and go straight for the trinity. But now, Jared suspected that Kronnen felt that same uneasy feeling that time was running out and that a change was coming. Only now Kronnen couldn’t just avoid Jared. The man might be a slave holding, murderous slime but he was no fool. Kronnen knew what would happen if he left Jared behind him and because he did Kronnen knew he had to engage and destroy Jared’s people before he could move on.

Jared’s only task was to destroy as much material and equipment as he could, Kronnen’s men couldn’t survive with out it and depriving of them of gear and vehicles was as effective as trying to wipe them all out. But he would settle for killing them, every single one of them that crossed his sights, his disgust and anger at the thought of letting slavers, rapists and killers escape was like a fire in his soul.

“Brody, the only thing I am going to ask you do for me now, is to hide. I don’t want Kronnen knowing you people are here. if he finds out he might attack you before he moves on to us, and if we fail and he discovers you he will sweep down on you to take slaves, food and what ever else you have that he might want or need.

So keep hidden in that convention center, its not a place he would search since its not a store, armory or warehouse so its one of the best places for you to be.” Jared added, something about the look in his eyes told Brody to take that advice seriously and the younger man did.

“ I will and I will warn the other two groups we have been on contact with to hide,” Brody replied, noting that Jared didn’t look surprised at that revelation. “you already guessed we knew other groups didn’t you.”

Jared nodded. “yeah, I saw the fresh vegetables in the kitchen area during the tour, I never saw a garden on the roof or any where else in the center and there were to many vegetables to be from a small plot and lastly since its winter, they had to have been grown in a green house. That would have bothered me till I remembered hearing about two or three community farms in the city on the news a few years ago, so I figured some one was running one or more them.”

“ And the fact we are all nerds and know shit about farming or gardening” Brody said with a slight laugh.”

“I didn’t say that, but I wont argue with you.” Jared said with a slight smile.

Brody laughed for a second then grew serious. “if you survive this fight your heading for, I will see what I can do about the others meeting you. I think they will all be excited to hear that there is a place with more than a couple of hundred people, you and Sullivan island will be as popular as that boat that came down the Ohio canal last summer.”

Ori could almost see Jared perk up at that bit of news. “I had forgotten all about the canal system’s, those things are old too. How did they get past the locks, and how many people were there.” Jared asked rapidly.

“There were ten of them of them on one of those house barges, two family’s, I think one of the men was the brother of the other guys wife, not really sure. But I do remember them saying that getting through the locks had been a pain and pretty dangerous.
They hung around for a couple of days before heading back up the canal.

Betty, who leads the group who first met the people on the boats would know more since she spent several days talking with them, I only met them the day before they went back and they asked as many questions how we survived the dead and what was it like in the early days as we asked them.

All I really remember is they live on barges and boats and stay on the water as much as possible to stay out of the dead’s reach.

Betty said they were part of a small group of people, maybe fifty to a hundred whose families had worked the canals for generations.” Brody said, trying to remember details but nothing really leaped out.

Ori could see the wheels turning in Jared’s mind as considered the possibilities. Last year Jared had suggested that when the undead finally went away, that the most of the new communities would be along the coast, or along rivers that connected to the coasts so that they could use the water for trade routes like their ancestors had once done. Ori could see that, but he wasn’t sure how many people would actually pack up and move to a new area with out some kind of community already established. But Jared was the well read history buff not, so Ori wasn’t about to take a stand on the issue.

“Sounds like we will have a lot to talk about if I survive this” Jared said, in a tone that hinted he wasn’t sure he would, but Brody either didn’t catch it or decided not to comment on it. “get on back to your people Brody, you’ve done enough, hunker down and hide till its over.” Jared said. “I will have the fuel loaded up on a truck that brings our medic to you. Keep him safe too.”

1600 hrs, Japanese American Memorial.

Mort, or rather the thing that had been Mortimer Hayden Clark the III, staggered down the street in the mindless haze that it had inhabited since Jun 25th 2010. His once perfect suit and polished shoe, it had lost the other three hundred dollar Italian shoe chasing a little girl, now ragged and caked in mud.

It staggered down a walk way through the once immaculate landscaped gardens and into the Plaza, it paid no attention the tall Vermont marble pedestal in the center where two incredibly sculpted Japanese cranes caught in Barbed wire sat on top, one wing of each bird was spread to the sky the opposite wings, were pointed towards the earth caught in cruel barbs that kept them from soaring free and above the death and destruction, But the thing that had been Mort didn’t notice any of that nor did it notice the semi circular wall that curved around the pedestal.

The thing that had been Mort stopped as it saw a mouse dart across the plaza. The Mort thing’s throat worked but no sound came out as it saw the mouse disappear into a hole in the ground where the . it hand rose far to late, and if could have felt human emotion it would have felt anger and disappointment.

It walked into the wall then stepped back, teetering as it tried to bend over and reach into the hole. so intent was it on getting to the mouse, it didn’t hear the sounds behind it for a long moment. Finally the sound of foot steps and a odd ringing noise pushed through the mush that had once been a brain that had made millions of dollars.

It turned and saw a figure walking toward it, a long coat swirling around its legs as it walked boldly across the Plaza, the Mort thing stood there for a moment, it took a while for any kind of psuedo thought to work its way through the decaying matter of its brain. Then suddenly it was moving towards the man as the hunger flaring to life. It arms came up, the cuffs of the once expensive suit stained with the blood of hundreds as it stumbled towards the fresh, bloody meat it so craved, like it had once craved pieces of green paper.

It mouth yawned open in anticipation, and the reek of the grave rolled out of its blackened rotting mouth.

Darius Zane McAllister, just kept coming, at the last moment he grabbed the arm of the zombie in the ragged dark suit and pulled it forward as he stepped aside and stuck his leg out. The zombie tripped and fell heavily.

Darius turned quickly and hooked a foot under the side of the zombie and rolled it over, with nothing but contempt he dropped on its chest breaking ribs and drove the bowie knife he carried into its left eye and up into its brain. “kiss my Texas Ass” he drawled as he rose to his feet and wiped the blade clean.

He looked around for a moment to make sure no other undead were nearby then took a deep breath to calm his nerves. It had been a while since he had walked alone in the land of the dead and he had almost forgotten just how nerve wracking it could be. he pushed his cowboy hat back on his head and looked around at the buildings to the West and south, some where over that way, he knew Eric had set up a camp to watch the Mall, it was the safest place for him to go for help, there were so many undead heading north back towards the rail yard he would never make it.

I’m probably close enough, he thought as he pulled the radio from his duster pocket and lifted it to his face. Might as well use my new name in case those shit bags of Kronnen’s are in the area, he thought. “this is the Hunter, to…” Darius paused trying to remember what code name Eric was using, it took a moment and he wasn’t sure he remembered it correctly. “Charlie, Baker one, five….,” he paused again not sure then said “ fuck it you know who you are and who I am. I have a situation that’s tango uniform and need some assistance” he said, weirdly pleased at himself for remember tango uniform.

Minute ticked by, Darius slowly turned keeping an eye on the area around him, the last thing he wanted was to get bit in the butt while standing with a radio waiting for help. he could see standing at the pearly gates, with a bleeding ass explaining how he had just been stupid for only a second. He could already hear the laughter.. and St. Peter condemning him to an eternity of driving a Chevy, and then his grand father would ban him from the heavenly mansion for sure at the shame of a Chevy driver.

Just what I need, he thought as he saw two more zombies stagger into the plaza. One was a nude woman, her body bloated and rubbery looking like she had been underwater for some time, judging by the bits and pieces of cloth that dangled around her neck and wrists what ever clothing she had once worn had rotted off. The other zombie was or had been a man, wearing a dark suit, with a ragged red tie till around its neck. Dark suit must be all the rage for the undead in DC, he thought.

A small blood crusted American flag was pinned to the things lapel. I be damned, it is a small world, Darius thought as he recognized what was left of the things face, what are the odds of meeting my undead senator, especially since I never could stand the lying sack of crap.

Knife or rifle, knife he decided the noise of the rifle would draw in zombies from miles around. He drew his bowie knife, and raced around behind the wall, then crept around till he was behind the two zombies that were still staggering towards the area he had disappeared from view at. As quiet as a cat, he slipped up behind his least favorite politician and rammed his knife into the back of the things head. He wasn’t Jared or Ori, with those slick well placed attacks, No he was a blunt force kind of guy and the Bowie knife was perfect for his style.

The large knife, almost two feet long, entered the skull and sliced through the brain, he twisted scrambling the mush inside then pulled the blade free. he whirled to face the woman and found she was reaching for him. He reached out and grabbed her forearm, his fingers sank into soft pulpy flesh, gagging he pulled hoping to get her off balance so he could trip her. her arm came free, some of the skin sliding off the flesh of her arm to dangle from her shoulder like some disgusting empty shirt sleeve. .

He was used to all kinds of gore, any one who had survived longer than three weeks was, but this was knew to him, his stomach erupted sending the MRE he had eaten spewing out.

He dropped the arm and backed away, his eyes stinging from the smell of stomach acid, his mouth and throat burning. This is a scene you never saw in a movie he thought, as he sheathed his knife and pulled he rifle from his back, our lone hero, scourge of the undead heaving his guts out. He reversed the rifle and strode forward swinging it like a baseball bat.

The butt struck the side of her head, and with a sickening ripping sound the head came free and flew across the plaza to land with a splat and roll into a flower bed filled with dead plants.

I am not going to throw up again, he though as his stomach once more tried to climb up his throat as he saw the head blinking slowly as its mouth opened and snapped shut again and again.

“Charley Baker one six, to Hunter, follow the yellow smoke road just don’t look behind the curtain. Be careful the walking pus bags are stirred up.” the sudden eruption of the voice from the radio speaker startled Darius who was thankful, he didn’t have to add peeing his pants out of surprise to the list of shame after throwing up like a little girl.

He looked to the west where Eric and the others should be, then finally saw what looked like yellow smoke rising up into the air. “got it, leaving munchkin land now.” Darius said as he started walking again, with a quick prayer sent heavenward for a working F350 to be waiting for him along the way.

1700 hours,

Lew, crouched in the darkness, keeping his breathing steady and slow, as he watched the undead stagger down the street. the sun was almost completely down and the smoke from the smoke Grenade had finally dissipated, torn to shreds by the breeze. He tensed as a zombie came closer to his position behind a FED EX delivery truck. He let it get closer and closer, his hand resting on the K-bar sheathed on his combat harness. He had never risked one getting so close. But it seemed not to see him there in the shadows and he would be satisfied if it just passed on by.

The stench of the dead grew stronger, almost overwhelming but he like every one else had grown used to it. it passed him no more than ten feet away, and never seemed to notice him. he watched it stagger off down the road, bouncing off a few cars.

Suddenly the undead he could see on the street all ten of them, turned towards the corner to the north, and with one will started silently towards it. the sound that attacked them finally reached Lews ears. Foot steps, either it was Darius or some one else had just decided to check out where the smoke had been coming from.

He lifted his rifle up to his shoulder, and peered through the scope in time to see a man wearing a duster and a cowboy hat, carrying what had to be the biggest knife Lew had ever seen walk around the corner.

Darius rushed toward the closet zombie and rammed that big knife up under it jaw, it slid into the rotted flesh into the mouth, the roof of the mouth gave only slight resistance before it too gave way to the knife that then punctured the brain.

The Zombie lifted up on to its toes, then sagged down almost tearing the knife from Darius’s fingers. Lew laid the red dot in his scope on the back of the skull of the Next closest zombie to Darius and fired a burst. The Military grade suppressor kept the noise level down to a loud cough.

He had always been told that suppressor, never really quieted the weapon and had believed it till Eric had issued all the New recruits to the team their equipment. When Lew had mentioned that suppressors didn’t work all that well, Eric had quickly fitted one to his weapon and fired a couple of near silent rounds at a target then explained that, in the early days that had been correct. But in the last several years, the technology had improved dramatically, never assume that common knowledge is accurate, it rarely is, Eric had said after his demonstration.

The zombies head exploded, showering Darius with bits of bone and rotting brain, but it gave him enough time to pull his knife free, and take down the third zombie, while Lew took down the fourth and fifth, Melody took down the sixth, as Darius moved against the seventh.

It was over in moments, the street clear of undead for the moment, Lew flashed a light and waited till Darius reached his side. “aint you a sight for sore eyes” Darius drawled.

“wheres the rest of your people” Lew asked, having been told there should have been fifteen or sixteen people with him.

“Four of them are waiting for me to come back with a ride, four are dead, and the others are or where lost some where in the tunnels. We got separated when we were attacked by undead.” Darius replied. “where’s your ride?”

“We walked” Lew said, feeling absurdly proud at that fact. It took skill to walk through the city with out attracting the undead.

“great, well we need a truck or something to pick up the rest of my crew” Darius said, remembering to keep his voice down.

“I’ll call Hollywood, but my orders are to escort you back to our position.” Lew said, crouching again and turning on his radio.

Darius stood watching the street and the surrounding buildings, while Lew talked to Eric stone, trying to spot who ever else was out there working with Lew. Thanks to the ear piece, the conversation was only one sided, but he got the impression that Eric wasn’t happy about the situation.

“all right,” Lew whispered after he signed off. “I am supposed to escort you back to Hollywood, then we go pick up your people. Hollywood says he knows where a vehicle is that we can use.”

“Then lets get moving” Darius said, “the longer they have to wait the more chance the dead will stumble over Kafil and the others.”

Lew nodded and gave the signal, instantly the rest of the fire team appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Darius hid his surprise, and had to rethink how good the former civilians actually where.

They traveled quietly through dark streets stopping and hiding every time they saw undead, twice Lew and the other had to use their weapons to clear the way, but they were making progress.

Finally they reached crossed a street and to stand beside a white stone building that almost glowed in the darkness,

1830 hrs, Parking Garage camp, Georgetown.

Brian walked up to the ramp to the third floor of the parking garage, his foot steps echoing hollowly off the walls of the mostly empty garage. The warmth of the day was giving way to a chilly night as a cool wind blew through the windowless openings on the second and third floors of the parking garage.

His skin crawled at the images his mind insisting on conjuring of things in moving in the darkness beyond the beam of his flashlight. He half wished that Jared hadn’t changed his mind about not staying here tonight, but Jansen and Reese both wanted one last check of weapons and equipment before the convoy moved out. Brian had to agree, at least two of the Ma Deuce machine guns were out of service, their barrels to worn to be safely used and Jared seemed to think a lot of Personal weapons were probably on the point of failure and wanted them double checked and repaired if needed.

Jared sat on the hood of a car looking out over the street, Brian could only describe his posture as slumped, he looked not so much beaten but like a man at the end of his rope. “you look like you need some one to talk to” Brian said walking up and sitting on the hood beside Jared. Nibbler who lay sprawled across Jared’s legs lifted her head giving Brian a look of irritation at being disturbed then settled back down and closed her eyes.

“Nothing to talk about” Jared replied his eyes fixed on the dark sky line of the city.

“I’m sure there isn’t but humor me so I feel like I’m needed” Brian said.

“Your persistent, I will give you that.” Jared said with out the humor he would normally have displayed. It was Brian knew his coping mechanism; it was a common one among Soldiers and most of the survivors in Jared’s group.

“okay since you don’t want to talk about it, I can make up things and if I get it right just nod.” Brian said as he pulled out a pocketknife. “I have all night” he said as he opened the knife and began to clean his fingernails.

“Or I could just sick my dog on you.” Jared said.

“There is that” Brian said with a chuckle that faded out after a moment.. “Your burning out, your close to the edge and you are doing your best to hide it from every one.”

“You just don’t give up do you.” Jared said shaking his head in irritation..

“No I don’t,” Brian said. Down stairs something crashed to the ground. “That is going to be heard for a ways away.” he commented it.

Jared nodded silently as he stroked Nibblers head, “you know, two year ago the future stretched out forever. Plenty of time to do all the things a person planned for, plenty of time to learn all the things you wanted too be able to do like play a guitar or piano, or dive the blue hole in Bermuda, Marry and start a family.” Jared said making it sound like an off the cuff remark, but Brian didn’t miss the tension that stiffened Jared’s shoulders or the regret that flickered in those emerald eyes.

Jill was right, he realized Jared might not talk about it now, but he did think he was going to die and soon. He had heard to many comments just like that from terminally ill patient in the time he had been a priest.

Brian didn’t say that that it only seemed like people had all the time in the world, but death could come at any moment with out warning, nor did he offer any other platitude Jared knew all of that, what he was dealing with was regret for not having done any of those things earlier that was his real problem. Like so many who wake up one morning and realize the number of days and years ahead of them were shorter than the number behind them.

“Why didn’t you marry earlier?” Brian asked.

“I could say I never found the right one, which is true as far as it goes. I could also say I was being picky or that I was to busy living the life I loved, a life that most women would have demanded I stop instead of joining me in living it and all that is true too,” He said then shrugged. “but the truth is I was waiting for Jill, have been since I was in high school.”

“you knew her in school” Brian asked surprised. .

“No, we didn’t even live near each other back then” Jared said with a shrug. He was holding something back, Brian thought. “I can only say I waited to get married because I knew that when I met the right one I would know it. I know a lot of people say that and end up dying alone, but in my case it was true. Thankfully it was true.” Jared said smiling for the first time in the conversation. It vanished as quickly as it had come. “I only wish we had met and married before the dead, just to have a few more years together.” Jared said then fell silent for a moment. He looked up at the sky where stars burned in the black velvet of the nightsky “your right you know, I am burning out. I’m tired of killing and killing, living every damn day knowing that there will be more undead, and then more after that. I need a vacation, a long one and I wont get it. if it wasn’t for Jill and knowing I cant afford to fail, I would just toss My HK and head to an island. But that Island is some place I will never get too, its for some one else.” Jared said wistfully.

“why do you think that” Brian asked.

“just cant stop being a shrink can you?” Jared asked, with a slight smile that faded quickly. “why do I think it, Because I have a little more road to walk and the end of the trip doesn’t involve me kicking back on an tropical island. When I’m finished, others might have that chance. At least I hope because if they don’t that means all of this, all the deaths, everything we, and others have gone through and done will have failed” Jared said with total conviction.

1930 hrs. the roof of the Natural History museum.

The SF men not on watch were gathered in the small office/lab they had commandeered for their quarters. Parks, sat watching the monitor that carried the feed from the Drone as it followed a small band of men who were slinking around the mall down near the Washington monument. He didn’t look up as Eric climbed through the window form the roof and walked over to sit beside him.

“So you found a new group” Eric asked.

“it cant be Ollies people, these guys aren’t that good. To bunched up, their wood craft is barely passable, and they are carrying everything from AR 15s to M16’s.” Park said a he touched a icon and the Night vision camera on the drone zoomed in, so close that Eric could make out faces, as well as gear.

No uniforms, he noted, civilians most likely. They looked like they were looking for something. He watched as they stopped beside a burned out M113 and two hummers. As two of the men looked inside the vehicles the others spread out in a loose circle around the vehicles to keep watch while the searcher did their jobs.

Something about one of them seemed familiar to Eric, who studied the man intently but from this angle it was hard to get a really good look. For ten minute he watched the man, till finally the stranger looked up at something and Eric got a good look. “son of a bitch, that Tyler” Eric growled.

“The guy who was a spy for Kronnen” Park asked.

“the one and only,” Eric replied as he reached for his radio. “ Jared needs to know that Kronnen’s scouts are in the city.” He said. “and he will really want to know that Tyler is here.” He said as he looked over in the corner where Darius and his crew were spread out trying to sleep. “He will want to know they made it here too.”

2000 hrs, Parking garage camp, George town.

“we are going to have to move fast to set up our defenses” Jared said looking around at the men and women gathered in the parking garage. “we will also be under observation by Kronnen’s scouts, Eric confirmed that half an hour ago.” Jared didn’t mention that Eric had spotted Tyler, he didn’t need any one breaking away to hunt down the traitor.
But when the time came, Jared would make sure Tyler paid for what he had done.

“I take it you have a plan,” Reese asked calmly.

“Kill them all, is not a plan” Ori pointed out, before Jared could respond.

“yes I have a plan” Jared said ignoring Ori, “First I’m taking Team one. With the exception of Ori, I’m also poaching Jeb away from your squad again Daws.”

“as rarely as he operates with my Squad you should just assign a new guy I can actually use” Daws commented.

“I will thanks,” Jared said with a grin. “team one and,” he paused for heartbeat feeling stupid even saying the name, “Jared’s own will be the bait.” He ignored Jills very girly giggle and Ori’s laugh.

Jill for her part hated giggling but it wasn’t something she could control, and it was funny seeing Jared so uncomfortable using that name. “Ori, and Jeb will be sniping,’

“No” Ori said, “this time Jared I’m going to be right there on the ground beside you, like a good grunt.”

“Ori, we lost steger, that means aside from losing a good friend we lost a sniper I need you up there to keep me informed on whats going on and picking off targets.” Jared said.

“Jared, they will be inside vehicles, all I am going to be doing is watching. Besides you have Eric and Castor to play sniper and Eric has that ungodly damn anti material rifle. I’m on the ground, that’s final.” Ori said stubbornly.

Jared sighted but nodded, he had hoped to get Ori up and out of the death trap on the ground but there was no talking him into something when he got like this. Especially when he strung so many sentences together in a row.

“okay, Okay. I Yield, have it your way, your with me.” Jared looked around hoping that no one else would argue, then launched into detailing his plan. Jill passed out the tourist maps of the Mall so people could familiarize themselves with the Mall and the locations Jared wanted booby trapped, blocked or covered. Reese and Jansen both had suggestions and Jared added those in to the overall plan.

“what about Darius, I thought his people would be using the M202’s and the remaining Javelins.” Mike asked as he looked up from the map he had been studying to memorize it. “with out them, we need some one else to handle that part of the plan.”

“Darius is with Eric, sorry I should have told you. Eric had some of his men go pick up Kafil, Jorge and the others, so they are in already in place we just have to get the weapons to them.” Jared said.

“how many undead are in the area” Logan asked nervously, his normally live complexion pale in the lantern light.

“at the moment its light, but that will change once we start racing around the Mall setting up.” Jared told them. He suspected that even if they were as quiet as a mouse, that the dead would swarm the area just before Kronnen arrived.

‘you really think sitting up between the reflecting pool and the Capital building is the best place” Daws asked.

“yes, it gives us plenty of room, with some protection. The capital building holds the eastern flank, the Ulysses S. Grant memorial with and the reflecting pool to the west will guard our front. That only leaves the north and south flanks completely open with out obstacles and we can fix that, if we can drag enough abandoned vehicles up with the HET to at the least create a series of obstacles that the undead and attackers will have to weave through to reach us.”

“you just a few years ago, I thought the only way I would end up at the capital building was to take a tour, now I get to fight a war in front of it.” Mike commented.

“okay another thing, I suspect that this time around the Dark is going to pull out all the stops. It will try to scare us, swamp us with undead, hell we might even see things that aren’t there. defend yourselves, and remember that the men and women on either side of you are counting on you to cover them do not freak out, do not run.” Jared said, wanting to lay it all out for them, by now they could all had that feeling that time was running out, and that something was about to happen and they needed to be prepared for the what ever might happen.

Jared didn’t hold out any hope that what ever was coming might mean the end of the undead, chances were they would be facing the dark and its threats for a long time to come. But that he didn’t say, they had enough to worry about with out dwelling on the fact that no matter what happened here, it make no real difference to their lives in the long term.

“okay so the only part of the plan we haven’t discussed, is where are we going to get beer to celebrate after we kick Kronnen’s ass” Ronny asked, speaking up for the first time.

“do you know how many bars are with in five miles of us, I think we can scrounge up a few cases of beer and some whiskey too.” Jared said with a false smile. That might have fooled every one but Jill and his close friends. Thank you Ronny for helping keep them postive, Jared thought

“I’m holding you to that” Ronny replied then smiled. Jared wished that Ronny and Ori had gone with their wives to the bunker and dragged Jill with them. But he was also glad as hell he had them covering his back. at the very least between them and Jansen, Jared could make sure that Jill was protected as much as possible. She would find that insulting he knew, but it had nothing to do with her skills and capability. Just his own desire that she survive even if he didn’t. I really hope your listening up there, if this is the place I die, then let her live let as many of my people live as possible they deserve it for what they have been through, he prayed silently there was no answer but he hadn’t expected on either.

It took almost two hours to get every one familiar with the their part of the plan, it wasn’t complicated, Jared was adhering closely to the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid was the key to most operations. it could and did lead to more deaths than a more intricate plan might negate, but intricate plans were far easier to disrupt, once one element of the complicated plan failed the rest of the plan unraveled and if a commander wasn’t quick on his mental feet it could result in defeat.

As the group broke up and returned to their vehicles to sleep, Jared accompanied by Nibbler headed up to the roof top parking area for one final look at the dead city before he got some sleep. Thankfully no one, especially Brian followed him he needed to be alone.

It was silent up there, with only the wind and his dog for company, the dark bulk of the buildings loomed over the streets under a sky filled with what looked like a million glorious stars that glittered like diamonds uncaring at what was occurring down on earth.

For the first time in a long while Jared remembered the international space station and wondered if the fireball he had seen falling to earth so many months ago had been the station. Or was the Station and the men who had been aboard, still up there, surviving some how, hoping and praying that one day they could return home and walk on grass under a blue sky.

The temperature suddenly dropped, and the light seemed to dim. Jared turned unsurprised really as a presence, dark and oppressive covered the roof top parking area. Nibbler crouched down growling low in her throat as the smell of spoiled blood and rotting meat flowed over the roof driven by an icy wind.

He had expected this, more or less, actually he had thought it would be in a dream not on a parking garage roof top.

He gazed around, till he spotted pale fingers slipping around the post at the end of the wall that kept cars from driving off the side of the ramp that led down. Fitting really the first time any one saw him, was in a parking garage, Jared thought as he looked on the leathery moldy face of Jasper brown, dead white eyes peered from under the brim of the bowler hat he wore. The face was thin, triangular, with high cheek bones and a huge hooked nose.

“Might as well forget the games and get to the point” Jared said no longer scared of the thing that had been, possibly the most prolific serial killer in history.

Bowler hat stepped out, a mocking smile on his ravaged face “I so would have loved to meet you as an adult when I was alive” Bowler hat said, his voice low and menacing.

“Can we just move past the cryptic hints and threats and get right to the point.” Jared said stepping past nibbler who seemed terrified but determined to protect Jared from the thing she didn’t understand. “I need some sleep before I kill your man.”

“You might, yes you might kill the Warlord.” Bowler hat agreed as he scuttled forward staying in the deep shadows. He moved jerkily like he was one of the undead. “and another will take his place, and the scribe will still die. you can not win Jared.”

“maybe not, but I suspect if there was no chance we can win then you wouldn’t have tried to get me not to leave the island last November, and you wouldn’t be here now. Why care if I go after your tool. No I think if we win here, you don’t have another tool, and then the Scribe is free to face what ever it is the scribe is supposed to face. And my part in all this is finally over.” Jared said.

“Your part is over when you die, that’s your destiny isn’t it?.” Brown said with only his face appearing out of the pool of darkness he had stepped in. it floated there bodiless and obscene, a blot on the world.

“So I have been told, so what.” Jared said “that’s the price I pay for taking a stand against you and the Dark.”

“and miss the birth of your child, she’s pregnant you know” Jasper whispered then laughed cruelly the sound like broken glass. “and how do you die, in your sleep maybe where you can come back and devourer her and your unborn child, maybe she dies at your hands, her blood smeared on your face as you rip and tear at her belly with your teeth trying to get to the small living body inside.”

He lied, Jared thought, Jill would have told me if she were pregnant. He wants to put me off balance it was one of his games,

“You doubt me, not that I blame you of course. If I were you I would doubt me as well, I would not want to believe that the love of my life had lied to me about something so important. Because if she would lie about bringing another life into a world of such., “ Bowler hat paused then chuckled darkly. “Danger and evil. Evil like myself, yes, then what else might she lie about. Another man perhaps. ”

The face faded from view and it was silent for while, “but I don’t lie, she does Jared.” the voice, cold and full of dark amusement whispered in his ear. Despite himself, Jared jumped forward surprised then almost instantly whirled around and saw nothing. “my offer is this, leave here, the dead will let you pass. If you leave here, you can return to your island in peace to wait for the end. Your child might even be born before it all comes crashing down. Stay here, and you die, then your people die screaming curses at your name for leading them to this disaster. for this is my city Jared, I have prepared for you. If you insist on fighting then you and your friends will not leave this city alive.

I will make sure your unborn child is ripped from her still leaving body as you lay dying. You will get to see the child eaten as the life slips from your veins. Your child will be a fine Appetizer before the entrée of your wife.” It hissed. “ Oh to be alive for such a feast, but that is not my part any longer sadly. But you, oh yes, You will die knowing you failed every one you cared for. You will die with the vision of your wife and child being eaten and know it is your fault.”

Nibbler was turning rapidly trying to find the source of the voice, her growling sounded like murderous thunder. She stopped suddenly focusing on a Lexus parked thirty feet away.. Bowler hat flowed out from behind the car, scuttling on all fours into a pool of darkness vanishing from sight once more.

Like a loathsome roach, Jared thought as he kept a tight grip on his anger that was slow boiling through his veins. “Thanks for the warning and the offer, But I think I will pass the only thing you have succeeded in is telling me I am right. If you fail here, you don’t have any more tools like Kronnen to threaten us or the scribe with. And if dying is the price I have to pay to remove scum like Kronnen from the world then its worth it..”

“Have you forgotten Mikhail, I can assure you he hasn’t forgotten you. He is but one of my tools, There are others like Mikhail, who can deal with the scribe, put an end to the trinity. Maybe poison in their water supply, a bullet in their hearts while sleeping so they rise and kill those who still live, in that school they hide in. I have ways to reach him Jared. ways you cant stop.” It said as it slowly appeared out of the darkness, a shadow of an oddly put together man with dead white eyes.

Jared opened his mouth to speak then closed it abruptly as a smell wafted over the roof pushing away the nauseating smell of the dark. It was like a bright summer day that smell, golden honey and some kind of sweet smelling flower. The unnatural darkness that covered the top of the parking garage seemed to retreat, giving ground before the smell of the Lost summers, golden light and wild fragrant flowers. .

Jared felt the anger flow out of him replaced by a profound peace, bowler hat suddenly looked bothered, possibly even scared. “its over Jasper, I’m not buying what your selling” Jared said, as he felt a presence behind him and what almost felt like a hand that came to rest on his shoulder. He smiled as he smelled the cologne that Steve had used to wear.

Suddenly it was over, Bowler hat and that dark presence were gone with out warning with out drama and the natural night swept back over Jared.. “thanks Brother” Jared said as the presence of the light faded away like the golden summers of childhood, leaving only a pleasant memory , “Ill buy the first round when I get there.”

0654 hrs, February 29th Georgetown

Shortly after dawn, the convoy moved out, pushing through the crowd of undead that had gathered over night. the dead were crushed under wheels or battered and broken by the cattle catchers.

The convoy rolled through the silent dead city, down streets of brownstones and tree shae sidewalks, streets that were strangely devoid of undead. Reaching 9th , they went south till they passed the FBI building and turned onto Pennsylvania Ave, Nw, just a few blocks east of the White House.

The FBI building was Huge blocky, even monolithic, like so many other federal buildings from its time, it loomed over the street, dark windows looking out from an off white walls that seemed to shine in the early morning sunlight.

Around them Government buildings loomed, and far down at the end of this street, called America’s main street, lay the capitol building. This was the place were parades had marched as well as protestors, it was home to the old post office pavilion with its soaring clock tower, peaked roofs and Romanesque revival architecture style. The buildings along this street were a was a mish mash of styles, from the modern Federal triangle complex to the to the Post office building, it was the past and the present with no future.
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Jill stared up at the FBI building she had seen in so many movies and Tv shows over the years,. for some reason seeing it now, now it that it was probably filled with undead, depressed her and drove home the reality that her home, her nation was dead. Before that dead she had never thought much about who she was beyond her job and what she wanted out of her life, but now some indefinable part of her finally died and the loss hit her hard.

Leaves, old newspaper, trash, water logged purses and briefcases swelling from moisture lay scattered in the street and along the sidewalk. A testament to the panic that had sent people fleeing from their offices in a mad rush to escape. Many of the people who had worked in DC rode trains and buses into the city to work, and that meant they had run straight into the dead as they ran for Union station or Metro stops and stations, or tried to flag down cabs that had probably roared past with out slowing.

“I hate cities even more than small towns” Jared said, his eyes never leaving the road. “a small town you can almost pretend that there are people just out of sight, but in places like this. You look around and see the dark windows, the trash that has blown up into doorways or see the wrecks and the abandoned cars in their thousands and you cant fool yourself no matter how much you would love too.”

“There are ghosts here” Logan muttered from the back.

“Ghost everywhere” Mike added.

“Can it both of you” Jared said, “ we have enough to worry about with out adding scary stories to the mix, and if you get started then Mister Gimpy back there will start in on how he believes Vampires might be roaming the night.”

“Mister Gimpy?” Ronny said sounding hurt.

“Would you prefer, I called you Mr. Limpy” Jared asked not referring to Ronny’s leg and the others knew it. Logan laughed, surprising himself.

“I can prove different.” Ronny challenged.

“if you pull that thing out I swear I will leave you here” Jared warned half smiling glad that the little byplay had broken through the fear and uncertainty that had crept over the men and Jill.

The capital building sat atop Capitol Hill in the middle of sixty two acres of formerly landscaped lawns and garden before the dead the area would have been pack with tourists strolling the tree shaded paths, or sitting on the benches reading or talking

The first defensive position was set up between the two walkways that had once been carriage paths leading up to the wide grand staircases that led up to the west side Terrace. The Army had during the initial days of the crisis, set up a command and defense center, with sand bagged positions, several large tents, and vehicles that had sat open to the elements.

“they did their best to hold the infected back while the Capitol complex was evacuated” Reese said as he joined Jared at the base of one of the massive stair cases. “I had friends here, General Crawford was in charge.”

“I’m sorry” Jared told him.

“thanks, it might not have ended badly. I want to think that maybe once the politicians and their staffs were evacuated, probably on the trains, that Crawford and his men were pulled out on the trains as well. I know the odds are they are all dead though.” Reese said as he looked up at the Terrace and the sand bagged positions and shelters that had been set up on the terrace.

“Lets get busy, who knows how long we have” Reese said, putting aside the thoughts of old friends and a good commanding officer.

By sunset they had dragged every vehicle around the Mall up creating a maze of vehicles behind the bollards and the memorials that any attack living or dead would have to thread, or slow down to plow through in the case of armored vehicles. no one could believe that only a few hundred undead had but in an appearance during the day, with all the noise they had been making half the city should be out there trying to get in after them.

Snipers, Darius and his men, and twenty other volunteers were hoisted up on to the rooftops of the American Indian Museum, the air and space museum on the south side of the mall, and the roofs of the two buildings that made up the National gallery of art on the north side. All four covered the final approach to Union Square from the Mall and the Capitol grounds beyond. .

Every bit of supplies, and equipment Jared’s main force could spare had been placed with them in case the worst happened and they become stuck up on the roof tops. Jared wanted them to have a fighting chance of surviving and escaping if every one else on the ground died.

The undead hit them with more numbers, maybe thousand in one horde the next morning, but they were easily dealt with as the HET and other heavy vehicles crushed them under their wheels. precious bullets were fired carefully taking down the members of the horde that escaped the vehicles and entered the naze of obstacles trying to get to the living in the middle. It was not the last of the groups of undead to attack that day, but it was the largest. In the end, their defense work was slowed to a crawl as they repelled waves of undead, but it never fully stopped and as March first came and went the tension built, as the men and women of Sullivan island, far from home and safety tried to sleep.

Worried about the undead in the city around them and wondering when the battle, if the battle would take place. The sun slid down out of sight leaving only red gold fire on the horizon like a beacon of war from the old days then that to slowly faded away leaving a dark night in the city of the dead where the storm finally began to move in.

0030hrs March 2nd a roof top on 3rd street and C St SW.

Tyler, slid out of his sleeping bag rubbing his eyes, still not fully used to sleeping all day and using the night to move around in. it was quiet tonight, no sound of motors, not hammering or welding from the direction of the capitol building. Jared must have finished setting camp.

He had chosen this building because of its proximity and view of the capitol grounds to the northeast, there was no tall buildings to block their view, just some big park or garden kind of place that covered couple of blocks. The view was still not the best but it was the closest to the Capitol grounds he was willing to go especially after seeing men being pulled up on a Museum roof top, a roof top that he had almost put his men on.

He glanced up at the night sky, still amazed at the number of stars that he could see now that the worlds power was off, then moved over to crouch beside Leon, a tall skinny former guardsmen. Moonlight shined off the mans bald spot as he peered north east with a pair of binoculars.

“Can’t see anything” Leon said quietly, then yawned. “if they are using lights, they are keeping them shielded. We should hit the ground and scout their camp, before the undead put in another appearance.”

“No, trust me on this, Between the six SF men, a drone, night vision goggles, cameras and battery operated motion sensors, we will be spotted long before we get close enough to make out details.” Tyler said shaking his head. “I’ve tried to talk Kronnen into scavenging some of that stuff up for our use, but so far no go”

“No wonder they have done so well against the undead.” Leon muttered as he passed the binoculars to Tyler.

“You know I don’t like them” Tyler said, which was true, but lately he had to admit to himself he did respect Jared and his people. “but they have more than gadgets, they are pretty tough and have worked out some pretty good methods for dealing with the dead and the living.”

“I hope Kronnen hurries up and arrives before they get to settled in over there.” Leon said, he had survived the ambush in Knoxville by the skin of his teeth and wasn’t real eager to find himself on the receiving end of another attack by Jared.

“he will be here soon” Tyler assured him, every night Tyler had used the radio to report in and though he hadn’t passed it on to the others, he knew that Kronnen had was taking his time so the drivers of the navy hovercraft could gain more skill, Kronnen had decided that it was worth the extra day or two now that he had decided to keep the craft for use here along the coast especially for use against islands like Sullivan, the other cause for the delay was about a change in the overall plan but Kronnen had passed no details.

“well another day or so and those people will be hard to dig out of that camp.” Leon muttered.

“Hard isn’t impossible and I was given to understand that Kronnen found a few things that will be force changer.” Tyler said but what those things might be hadn’t been shared over the air. Not to mention that Kronnen’s forces outnumbered Jared’s people something like five to one at this point or even better. A large number of Jared’s people had been supposed to return to Sullivan after they left that hospital so Jared didn’t have as many as he could have had. Granted the numbers he had seen lately looked more like they had stayed with Jared instead of returning to the island, but that only gave him ninety or so men, and Tyler had seen only fifty at any given time, he was assuming ninety possibly a hundred based on the sounds of men working out of his sight.

and he hadn’t seen Daws in the camp either, I probably killed his worthless ass, Tyler thought with cold amusement. So smug and self assured, God he hated that man.

“Did you tell Kronnen, we lost six men” Leon asked.

“No, didn’t think about it and frankly they were dumb asses, didn’t even close the door, they deserved to get eaten.” Tyler said, Kronnen would agree with him. The dumb asses had been setting up a snipers nest in a fourth floor room, to watch Jared, and to snipe from when the boss arrived. The building had been clear, so they hadn’t bothered to shut the door of the room they were in. During the night, undead had entered the building using the unsecured front door and had fallen on the men as they slept.

Why Kronnen suffered total idiots to serve was beyond Tyler, but he supposed it was for cannon fodder to preserve the strong of the Army.

They sat in silence for a while, then Leon yawned again. “before I go sleep, I saw that blond guy with the glasses you were looking for, just before sunset he was looking around the area with binoculars. I can promise he didn’t see me, but thought you would want to know.”

“Thanks, keep an eye out for him, he is one of the most dangerous one in that group at least long range, That’s Jared’s Buddy, Ori, a natural born sniper to hear Jared tell it. the man is one hell of a shot and loyal as a dog to Jared.” Tyler told Leon who didn’t seem impressed.

“My experience those natural born shooters are usually not as good as people think.” Leon said as he rose to a crouch and moved towards the area they had set up their sleeping bags.

Tyler didn’t say anything, he had seen Ori shoot, Leon would learn the hard way if he under estimated Ori. Tyler knew better, if he could get the drop on Ori he would kill him, but he couldn’t and if he even thought Ori was near by he would get the hell out of dodge till he could return with the upper hand.

0200hrs Capitol grounds Defensive position number one. .

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The sun was high in the cloudless blue sky as Jared sat on a rock, looking out over a valley where he could see a creek sparkling down there amongst the trees.

He sighed with pleasure as a warm summer breeze blew over the sun kissed skin of his bare chest, it carried the scent of flowers and honey that soothed his nerves.

“you look entirely to comfortable” Mark said sitting down beside him. he looked like he had always looked, muscular, dark haired and boyishly handsome as Sharon had always said.

“I’m taking advantage of the moment” Jared said, feeling his hear skip a beat. It was almost over, he didn’t need Mark to say it in this dream, he could feel it.

“I remember the first time we came here” Mark said with a smile of perfect white teeth, “ you overbalanced, tripped on a root and rolled halfway down that slope over there.”

Jared laughed remembering the moment, “ I seem to remember it was one of Ori’s practical jokes that caused the whole thing” he said with a smile as wide as Marks.

“yeah, I miss the little shit.” Mark replied. “no one can butcher a joke like Ori. Remember the time he told a joke about a Rabbi, a Hooker and Nun to that guy in the group we took the Grand Canyon.”

Jared laughed again “how could I forget, the man turned out to be a Rabbi.” Jared said as Mark nodded laughing with Jared.

“one of the few times he got a joke halfway right and the funniest part wasn’t the joke” Mark added. “it was a Jewish youth group, it made sense at least one of the men chaperoning was a Rabbi”

“To be fair I hadn’t thought about it either” Jared said still smiling but after a moment the smile faded. “I guess its time to get down to brass tacks, once I’m dead we can chat for a long while.”

“Your right,” Mark said, not acknowledging the unspoken question of Jared probable fate as he gazed out over the woods, where tree limbs swayed lazily in the breeze. “He is almost here, and the dark knows time is running out. Kronnen has to crush you and move on pretty fast if he is going to reach the Scribe in time to interfere. You know what you have to do hold him here, or chase him down if he runs.”

“I know, no matter the cost he doesn’t leave this city.” Jared said, facing squarely the fact his decision could cost Jill and every one else he cared about, their lives. He wouldn’t go so far as to say the fate of humanity rested on his people, no that was for the scribe to win or lose. But if Kronnen reached the scribe and killed him it was over for all of them so in its own way this battle was just as important.

“some times after dawn, he will arrive Jared. I don’t know how it will turn out. But I know you will put up one hell of a fight no matter the outcome.” Mark said.

“I would love to never have to put up a good, bad, or even indifferent fight again” Jared muttered.

“I know, but you’re a soldier, its what you were supposed to be, what you chose to be.” Mark said.

“the only thing I wanted to be was a man that defended others, fought for what was right and didn’t abandon my beliefs for money, pain or convience.” Jared replied. “your right I know, but how I ended up here,” he said with a shrug. “ I will never know.”

“you chose to end up here Jared, Like Gail chose to end up writing that book, or how Ori ended up by your side. Its who you are, who you wanted to be, and who you were meant to be.”

“well damn, haven’t you become the ghostly Yoda to the living” Jared said honestly amused.

“no respect for the dead, you really need to work on that” Mark said with a laugh.

Jared almost asked Mark if Jill was really pregnant, but decided he didn’t want to know. If she was, there was nothing he could do about it. he would have to taser her unconscious and have her carried out of the city and she was as likely to take the taser away and ram into a very dark place in his body before pulling the trigger. The hazards of marrying a woman tougher than I am, he thought half amused.

“I wish I knew when I made that particularly stupid decision, so I could go back in time and become a bee keeper or a porn star.” Jared said after a moment.

Mark was silent for a moment, probably trying to find a way around another unspoken rule that Jared wasn’t supposed to know about. “The dark has spent decades grooming people who would serve it when the time came to put this” he said waving a hand around indicating the world. “into motion. Only a few like were like Jasper brown. Anyway, the light did the same thing, it chose those who were most suited to serve its cause, unlike the dark it didn’t warp and twist people to suit its needs. You were one of those it saw and marked even when you were a kid. When, “ he paused searching for the right words “when that circus came to your town, there was some one with the circus who served the dark even back then, willingly and knowingly. The light saw how you acted, and knew you were one of those would fight.”

“The clown” Jared said a dangerous angry light in his eye’s

“Yes the clown:” Mark agreed, “I hate the fact I had to die to find out why you hate clowns so much and to be honest, if that had been me, I would have ended up in prison as the first serial killer who only targeted clowns. I would have left a trail of dead clowns behind me that a blind man could follow from Nashville to Los Angeles.”

“I always wondered what happened to her,” Jared said softly as the long forgotten pain rose up inside. “Jenny, the girl who vanished that first night.”

“She was killed Jared, he killed her the night he took her.” Mark replied.

“I always believed that, I just had hoped I was wrong.” Jared said. “so it all comes to an end at Dawn.” Jared said getting back on target.

“the waiting ends, the fight will just be starting.” Mark said. “I know as a dead guy I should be more peaceful and full of brotherly love, but Kill a few of those raping slavers for me too.”

“You’ve become the spirit of fiery vengeance let me tell you.” Jared said grinning as Mark flipped him the bird already fading away. “guess times up, Hold me a seat at O”Halloran’s I would kill for one of their steaks.” Jared said as Mark faded from view.

0530, March 2nd, Potomac River

A gentle wind blew across the Potomac, bring a chill with it. it was silent on the water, a silence that the river was only starting to get used to once more, for years the area had been alive with the sounds of man, that Nature had almost been forgotten.

Now that silence, was broken once more by a distant noise that grew louder, and louder till it was harsh roaring noise, and ten oblong shaped craft skated on cushions of air on the rivers surface.

Kronnen’s forces had reached a fork in the river, a fork with three branche. One would take them up river towards Theodore Roosevelt island, passing under the bridge that carried I 395 and several other lower bridges that carried road traffic. The middle fork would take them straight up before hooking slightly west and ending at the Tidal basin, and the third angled east passing Buzzard point park, a bridge and then passing the Washington Navy Yard.

Two LCACs with Kronnen commanding peeled off and headed east with to drop its troops and vehicles at the Navy yard. The men would do a quick search for weapons and supplies then link up with the company that Kronnen had sent overland two weeks ago.

The main force would land and engaged Stones people on the Mall, once the battle was raging, and Stone people were focused on the main landing force, the force at the Navy yard would sweep up and hit Stones people on the flanks. Kronnen was certain that Stone would not be expecting a pincer movement, and if successful it would end the battle quickly.

It had to be quick, The shade called Jasper Brown was insistent that they rush. So Kronnen had to engage and defeat Stone in hours not days, or he would be forced to break off and retire under fire hoping to lose Stone in the withdrawal and rush to reach the trinity before Stone could interfere. There was the risk of defeat and the risk that Stone would have enough men and vehicles left to follow and harass Kronnen’s forces all the way to where the trinity sheltered where Stone could join up with the Trinity and end Kronnen’s plans once and for all. Either could happen but if Kronnen didn’t engage here, it was a guarantee that the second option would happen and Stone would be at full strength instead of weakened from battle losses.

I should have listened to Proctor and avoided Stone from the very first, his threat assessment of Stone had not been defeatist or inspired by fear but dead on the money. Kronnen thought as he watched the two LCACs vanish down the far right fork.

It didn’t matter now, Proctor had left, Stone was an enemy and he was where his actions had led him. He was an agent of Chaos and chaos had created this mess that threatened to ruin his plans of destroying the trinity.

“Take us up to the yard” Kronnen said hoping that his boat pilot had actually studied the maps, they had found in a locker..

Kronnen watched the shore as the LCACs of the main force moved up the central fork, passing the national war college that sat in the the once manicured grounds of Fort McNair. Even as his own craft headed east, he got one look at the gutted buildings and burned out vehicles in parking lots on McNair and then it was gone, out of sight. There had been a battle there.

His former Commanding officer had attended classes at the war college, back when he had been active duty but Kronnen had never been allowed that privilege, he suspected that to attend you had to be either from a wealthy family or well connected in both the military and political scene. A middle class National guards man like Kronnen had never stood a chance of attending. It never occurred to Kronnen that other issues, might have been the reason for his never attending the prestigious institution.

None of that mattered the wrongs of his past life were as dead as the world that had existed back then now all that mattered was the outcome of the battle, and his answer would come in Fire and death the only worthy test where the strongest and smartest survived to become the victor.

0630hrs March 2nd, National Mall, Tidal Basin.

Eight LCACs slid across the Tidal Basin, past the Jefferson Memorial and up onto the lawn of the National mall. They stopped eighty feet from the tidal basin, stern ramps dropping, Vehicles and men raced down the ramp and spread out, to keep Stones people from killing large numbers of people and vehicles that were clumped together.

Behind them the barge at full speed ran aground with a loud grinding noise, the Behemoth came to life with a roar and trundled forward, aiming for the steel plate that would allow it to climb over the bow as slaves ran out the second steel plate ramp. The plate would buckle under the weight but it would still make it easier for the behemoth to get to the ground with out tipping to far forward or getting stuck half on and hall off the barge. The weight of the behemoth pushed the bow of the barge down into the ground, damaging the hull badly.

Two slaves, took to long securing their end of the plate, were crushed to death as the behemoth trundled up and over the steel plate ramp in the barge and over onto the outer steel plate and down onto the ground, where its treads tore holes in the dead overgrowth.

Two more vehicles followed, then the fuel trucks and the troops who had been aboard.

The number of undead on the Mall was so low that they could engage in an almost traditional manner. Only having to pause to put down their own dead before they could rise. And that meant they could bring their numbers to bear against Stone, and at five to one odds, they were going to win.

The whole mass turned and headed east, small arms fire taking down the undead in their way, the vehicles on the edges running down any undead in their path conserving their ammo for the humans they had come to destroy.

Rooftop, Natural history Museum.

“Where in the hell did they get LAV’s” Parked said looking west as the wall of men and machines swept around the Washington Monument like a wave. .

“I’m thinking the same place they got the LCAC’s” Eric replied. “Probably Little Creek, I remember a Message intercept that the Marines were being gathered there help relieve Washington.”

“aint that just peachy,” Bare ass Bailey, said shaking his head then ducking his head below the lip to keep from being seen.”

“Make sure your laces are tied” Parks suggested.

“Get to your positions, we don’t have long.” Eric said wanting to wish them luck and say a last good bye just in case, but he wasn’t going to jinx them. “Boom Boom, you in position” Eric transmitted, thankful they had the Secured SF coms that Kronnen couldn’t listen into.

“yeah.. I mean roger” Lew replied.

Every one was in position, leaving nothing else to do but wait for Kronnen and his men to reach the halfway point, and then all hell was going to rain down on the piece of crap.

0700hrs, Washington Navy Yard.

Kronnen stood watching the shore, where buildings, boat slips and other buildings slid by, his men should be landing right about now, he thought. that will keep Stone occupied to the west, while I lead the element that will take him in the flank and crush him between the two forces.

“whats that?” The look out asked, then yelled “Ship ahead.”

What it was, was a landing ship, under power. Who was on it, Kronnen had no clue.

“Some locals that survived maybe, another band of survivors exploring the river” Kronnen said. “Doesn’t matter, if they get close, man the guns and sink them.” A couple of M2’s should easily punch holes in the side of that thing and sink it he thought..

The ship grew larger as the LCACs approached, but by then it was apparent that no one was on board and it was sinking as water rushed into the huge gaping opening on its bow.

The LCACs moved to port giving the sinking ship a wide berth. As they went past the stern, the ships still turning screws rose from the water as the ship started to slide bow first into the river.

It hadn’t taken long to sink a couple of minutes or less, Kronnen thought, as he looked towards the shipyard, some one had been aboard that boat, some one who was still alive and on dry land, He thought. “Every one had better be on the guns I think we are going to need them”

0800hrs, National Mall, Air and Space museum.

George Cole, was a happy man, they had it made this far with out a shot being fired. He gripped the spade handles of the Fifty caliber mounted on his track, just waiting for a target. Stone probably didn’t have the man power to put more than a couple of people on the roofs of the Museums on either side of the mall, and those few had to be close to his position on the Capitol grounds in order to assist the defense.

He had seen real combat before the dead, as a corporal. After the dead, it hadn’t been so much combat but slaughter but he had climbed the ranks in the shredded company as Kronnen rebuilt it. today he commanded his own track, an M113A2 it felt good going back into combat against men, the dead were scary sometimes, but stupid, and no real threat as long as you were buttoned up inside armor.

That had been the mistake early on, when this had all first started, soldiers had been determined to stop the dead and most noncoms and officers had been slow to order their men back to the safety of their armor. As the early days had dragged on, they had learned, in blood and lives not to let the dead get close, fall back, button up and grind the dead down under the treads.

He was still smiling happily, when the M113 beside his, went up in flames, the heat seared the left side of his exposed body.

Only by accident had he seen the launch, only instinct made him swivel the fifty up and around and rock the butterfly trigger sending a burst up onto the roof.. he was still firing when he saw a man pop up to the right of where he was firing, with a box like device on his shoulder, pointed right at Georges track. George desperately swung the .50 around to acquire the target, he fired two seconds too late.

The explosion blew him out of the track, his burning body was dead before it hit the ground, that was the only mercy he received. His crew and the men he had carried didn’t get that mercy, they cooked in the flames screaming to the end.

A LAV exploded then a second. LAV followed the first into mechanical death. A third wheeled around bringing its 25mm bushmaster to bear on the threat while the remaining LAVs, all four spread out and popped smoke.

An explosion rippled out from the National Natural history museum as the doors were blown free. Nothing happened for a moment, then the dead began to pour of the building, heading straight for the tracks and the infantry that supported them.

Eric, felt sick as the LAV fired on Parks position, but it didn’t affect his abilities as he calmly sighted on his target and fired the 25mm Anti Material rifle. He fired twice, imagining the second or so of surprise of the men in the LAV as a fire ball blossomed inside the turret, the second round he fired was anticlimactic and probably pointless. The LAV veered off, smoke streaming from the vehicle..

He calmly fired on each Target, his spotter called out, till someone down there figured out about where he was at and a .50 raked the edge of the roof. Eric grunted in pain as a flying stone shard slashed across his face, and the blood began to flow freely.

Darius lifted the Javelin, which was far heavier than he would have expected prior to actually handling one, he had to laugh now at the stuff in videos where men would leap out of a tank with a Javelin and fire it destroying an enemy tank. He doubted a Javelin would even fit inside a tank, and you were not going to be leaping off anything and firing unless you were falling off a building and nothing left to lose but try and take one more out with you.

He saw something dark in the white smoke down there, nosing forward and then yellow orange flashes of light strobed as the vehicle fired towards Jared’s defensive position. Darius targeted, and fired, the missile or rocket, he couldn’t remember which to call it, Leaped out of the tube. At a preset distance from the launcher, the rocker started to tip its motor angling towards the ground then its motor ignited and it streaked forward riding flame down into the smoke below. There was a flash of light, then the smoke was shredded by fire and shock wave revealing a now burning M113, and several burning bodies that moments before had been living men close by the track using it for cover. In another minute they would be up and moving again, burning undead looking for food.

“Last clip” Kafil said as he reloaded the M202. in the case of the 202, clip was actually the appropriate term according to Eric when he had run them through a quick training course so that Kafil and the others didn’t kill themselves instead of the enemy. .

“Save it for either the undead, or the living when the smoke clears” Darius said, angry that he had wasted a javelin on the old APC. The LAV’s were far more dangerous.

0805, The Grant memorial.

Jared watched as the LAVs fired chewed into his defenses, luckily they were not killing any one yet, as soon as Eric had reported the vehicles, Jared had ordered his men back and told them to hide, till he gave the order.

So far the undead coming in on the flanks of his position were fairly low in number and easily dealt with, but that should change here soon with all the noise of explosions and gunfire echoing across the city. The problem was the undead were keeping men he needed away from where he really needed them.

“What do you think they are doing in all that smoke? they should be rolling up on us by now” Logan asked, his normal olive complexion, pasty white with fear.

“At a guess, keeping hidden, dealing with the undead that Eric let loose on them, and maybe having tea.” Jared replied. “could be anything, but only a few things are likely.” Jared said then clapped Logan on the shoulder. “you can deal with this, I have faith in you Logan. Just stay low and move slow as much as possible.”

“That obvious Huh?” Logan asked embarrassed.

“Trust me, every soldier, except the really stupid ones are scared in combat, some even piss their pants or worse. Most just hide it pretty well.” Jared told the younger man. Then looked back at the battlefield where the sounds had changed. “here they come” he said, as smoke grenades flew out of the wall of smoke to extend its reach. Then a hurricane of gun fire from Kronnen’s men lashed the Defensive position as the grenades added their smoke to the mix giving the enemy a little more space to move forward under its cover. .

Jared waited, hearing the bushmasters firing at the defensive positions that should have held men. The moment it stopped, he knew they had stopped firing to keep from shooting their own men.

“All right, back to your positions” he transmitted. Men and women leaped up and raced back to the their assigned positions just in time. Kronnen’s men raced across the reflecting pool, then up the steps on either side of the Statue of Grant.

“What about the mines” Logan asked.

“I want them to send another charge across and get the idea there is noting there but water, then we arm the mines to wipe out their third wave.” Jared said assuming they tried a third time, there was no promise they would try a second, they could fall back, board tracks and retreat then come back from another direction that might not be as well defended.

Still crouched behind a derelict Hummer, Jared looked up the statue of Grant, “now would be a good time sir, to help, or do I need to ask General Lee” Jared muttered.

Ellen Chantile, Michael Ross, and Cliff Armstrong where the first to die, as a 40mm HE grenade dropped into their gun position, they had joined Jared’s own and raced all the way from Sullivan to die, but they didn’t die in vain..

Miguel Vega, who manned the .50 in their weapons pit, was badly wounded but still lived. He ignored the dead, bodies of his former friends, there were men just behind the position whose job it was to put down the dead before they rose. Instead he sighted, something he had always heard was impossible with a .50, but that had been civilians who only know hollywood weapons facts, Eric and his people had shown them the truth, and now he put it to good use, he fired single shots at every shape he saw in the smoke, then as men and some undead emerged from the smoke charging his position, he used the Ma deuce like it had been meant to be used. He cut them down, the weapon thumping in his hands the sound battery his ears. Tears of rage streaked his face as he cut down the men behind the first not for the light, not even for Jared, But for Ellen, Michael and Cliff, they had been good peoples better than the scum in front of him. .

“We have a penetration, left side, position six.” Edgar Rice reported over the radio.

“Roger, Team one moving to intercept” Jared said, “lets go people” he said racing in a crouch along the line of derelicts they had placed for just this reason. .

They didn’t have to hunt; the intruders were easy to spot, most where jeans and leather coats, somewhere in uniform, most had scraggly beards. Jared flowed out, like an eddie of smoke and fired on his first target then vanished back behind the derelict car. Logan didn’t hesitate; he darted around Jared and across the opening between derelicts then popped up firing into another target.

Jill pulled out a grenade, pulled the pin, and only just remembered to yell “grenade” as she lobbed it over the old car she sheltered behind and into a cluster of men.
Ronnys P90 was firing two derelicts back along with Mikes M4.

Kronnen’s men, though expecting to be shot at were still taken by surprise by the grenade that killed five and wounded seven. CueBall Mahoney saw one of the defenders, pop up and fire, the younger man looked like an Eye tal E an as Cueballs Dad had pronounced it. he fired and grinned as the other man went over backwards.

Jared saw Logan go down, I told you to stay low, he thought as he popped up and fired, taking out two men. Jill tossed another grenade taking out four more men. Then the HET rolled up and the SAW and Ma Deuce mounted on the gun box raked fire across the enemy killing several the rest broke and ran.into the smoke.

Jared rushed to Logan’s side, relieved to find him alive, the man had two wounds, one between the left shoulder and upper chest and the other a bloody furrow along the side of his neck. “I screwed that up” Logan said hoarsely.

“You did good, you just need to practice ducking faster,” Jared told him as he started binding Logans wounds.

“Ill take him” Haslom said appearing at Jared’s elbow. Relieved Jared moved aside and let Haslom and his small band of volunteers get Logan on a stretcher and carry him away to the makeshift ambulance that would take him to the main defensive position where a the wounded were being treated..

He glanced at Jill and felt a tremor of fear surge through him as he saw the blood on her face and arm. “just flesh wounds” Jill said hastily seeing Jared’s concerns. “from the glass in that car we were behind.”

He nodded, not trusting himself to speak if he did, he would order her out of the battle and that would lead to a fight. Instead, keeping down he moved to the Dead stryker that they were using for a command center. the battle still raged but now it had dropped to the level of men behind cover trading shots.

“sit rep” Jared said as he entered the vehicle, he wished Lee could have gotten the thing running, but the electronics were shot, and the engine needed an overhaul, with out the parts and more importantly the time it wasn’t possible to get the thing working.

Proctor, and Eklof sat across from Reese looked concerned, and he didn’t doubt they were. Proctor had it in his head that he should be able to save the last of the men he had served with. Jared didn’t see that happening and from a few comments Eklof had dropped during training, neither did he.

“even with the .50 ammo we salvaged from the abandoned Stykers and Hummers, we are already down half from where we were at the beginning of the fight, “ Reese said. “Kronnen’s men penetrated in two places, and were repulsed. The Behemoth and its escorts have stopped down by the monument, and it looks like the most of the remaining armor has joined it. The undead presence out of the south is increasing, and Eric reports more on the streets north of his position. We have ten dead, seventeen wounded, ten of the seventeen can still fight and are insisting on staying in position even if all they do is pass grenades and shout insults.”

“Massing for another attack is my opinion” Jared said, “at least it’s the most likely, I don’t see them turning and running at this point.”

“neither do I, but what I suspect they will do is stand off and try to take out as many of us as they can before attempting to charge us again.” Reese said.”pretty much what they are doing right now.”

“they will load up the men and will come in the tracks this time, the M113A2’s have the armor upgrades and can resist small arms fire, but your .50’s should be able to chew through the armor.” Proctor offered. “and supported by the Behemoth, they have massive fire power.”

We don’t have the ammo, to waste” Jared replied. “we will have to use the mines,”

“We have the ammo,” Reese stated,

“Not if we are going to have any to mow down the undead when they get here in force,” Jared pointed out.

“We still have all the supplies we placed in the fall back position on the western terrace” Reese pointed out.

“not enough to make a difference against the numbers of undead that will swarm over us.” Jared said. “if we use the mines, and Murphy doesn’t bend us over with out kissing us first, we should have enough to for when we fall back.”

“its too soon to fall back” Reese stated.

“if they charge us again Reese they are going to find out we don’t have a whole lot of anything but spit and determination. Darius, has one, Count them one Javelin, and three rounds for a single M202. oh yeah he has a shit load of pipe bombs that he whipped up in a day, but those wont stop armor, not even M113’s, and if those LCACs move up and join the party we having nothing to stop them,.” Jared said hating that it sounded like he believed they would be defeated, but the original plan had called for Kronnen to have to battle every step of the way through the undead and no one had expected him to pick up extra vehicles with heavy weapons them either.

But it was the undead that was the real problem, No one had expected so few undead to put in an appearance on the mall, they would have been useful in the beginning of the attack but now if they showed up Jared knew the bulk of them would head straight for Jared’s people.

“Jared you placed me in charge so trust me” Reese said softly. “I know your trying to save as many men as possible, but if we are going to win, we have to accept the casualties.” Reese stated. “ I wont waste their lives Jared, but I will give the orders that will get them killed if it will stop Kronnen.”

Jared nodded, not speaking, he had known the cost going in, but knowing and facing it were two different things. “they volunteered Jared, they knew what could happen, and if they didn’t, they damn sure knew the cost when this fight started, and not one man or women has backed off or bolted.”

Jared reached out and snagged the headset off the bench beside Reese, then flipped the radio over to the General unit channel. “ this is alpha… This is Jared,” He said into the mic. Renewed gunfire and shouting could be heard from the direction of the mall. “I’m sorry, I led you into this. But I am also proud as hell of every one of you. I couldn’t ask for finer men and women to call friends or comrades in arms.” Jared said.

Ori listened to Jared speak from his position on the Terrace, he knew many of the men down there couldn’t hear, but Ori could solve that little problem. He turned to the massive sound system they had set up using the stuff they had found in a Truck behind the band shelter. A push of a button and the generator came to life, he flipped a few switches and moved some sliding levers. And suddenly Jared’s voice was booming out over the mall, loud enough to be heard a mile away.

“… stop them cold here and when we are done, we will head to St Louis and drive them out, and keep moving till every Shit bag that serves this clown is dead from here to Las Vegas” Jared said, casting a glare over his shoulder at the Capitol building where his voice boomed from massive speakers. “we stand here, defiant, faced with a grim task, far grimmer than that of the man whose monument we stand behind. We can not fail, this is the task we have, to Keep the Darks forces here, away from the trinity. I know how insane, how idiotic that sounds, but it is simply the truth.”

The Washington Monument.

Raul Garza stood on the top of his LAV, replacing the comm. antenna that had been stripped away by an explosion, he could hear Jared Stone over the rumble of motors and the gun fire that was supposed to keep Stones people down and demoralize them. It didn’t seem to be working, he thought, then stopped and turned towards the capitol building, beyond the smoke, the undead and the trees feeling something like shame burn in his heart as he heard. “We are still Americans, Maybe even the last American’s. and here we will make our stand at the heart of our country..”

Raul found himself wiping a tear from the corner of one eye, as he remembered Oaths taken and better times, when he had felt pride in what his country stood for and had the determination to stand up for it. But those days were gone, Kronnen was right, softness had rotted the heart out of America and only the strong could rebuild it. But exactly who was the strongest was now in question.

“The Drummer with his drum
shouting, Come! Heros, come!
Forward march, Nigher, higher!
When Veterans turned pale,
Bullets fell like hail
In that hurricane of fire
Beat his drum
Shouting “Come!
Come! Come! Come!”
In the fife,
In the strife,
Joined the drum, drum, drum
And the fifer with his fife, and the drummer with his drum,
Were heard above the strife and the bursting of the bomb.”

Raul almost, but not quite laughed as who ever was operating that sound system mixed stirring music in behind Stones words. The man travels with is own PR firm, Raul thought but it still struck at him, it was still emotionally powerful and for the first time, in a very long time, he wondered if possibly he had made a mistake in following Kronnen.

He didn’t get the chance to reflect on that, the order was given and men and machines lunged forward into the wall of smoke, racing to beat the tide of dead, so they could break the line and behind them the behemoth came on. And over it all the words of a long dead poet recited by a man, just a man that men followed boomed.

“Clouds of smoke hung like a pall
over tent and dome and hall,
hot shot and blazing bomb
cut down our volunteers,
swept off our engineers
But the drummer with beat his drum
And he beat “no retreat!”
With his drum
Through the fire
Hotter, nigher
Throbbed the drum, drum, drum
In that hurricane of flame and thunder of the bomb,
Braid the laurel wreath of fame for the hero of the drum”
The hero of the drum
Drum, drum, drum.”

They came behind a wall of fire, men and machines entering the reflecting pool as Stones people fought to repel them. A band of men all hardened criminals, murderers, thieves, former drug dealers, discovered they knew nothing about war, it was nothing like, drive by shootings, or even shoot outs between gangs, it was nothing like shooting down a man who tried to protect his wife from rape and death. They learned War was truly hell, and Stones people were teaching them the lesson in the only school that counted. But they were dying too, not in tens or twenties but in ones or twos, the training that Stone had insisted they get on a regular basis for the last two years and the limited experience of fighting raiders was paying off. ..

Reese was staring at Jared as he sat down the head set, Music boomed out from the Capitol buildings western Terrace, Today Ori was not playing music to annoy Jared. “where in the hell do you pick this stuff up at” Reese asked as Jared headed for the ramp.

“if I live ask me when this is over” Jared shouted as he raced out of the Stryker followed by Team one heading for the line.

The line was falter, Jared saw as he reached the second line of Derelicts that had been set up as both cover and obstacles. “hold, Hold the line” he bellowed as he ran crouched around a truck and slid up behind the low marble wall then fired into the skirmish line of men as they rushed the steps.

Daws, positioned on the south side of the line with is men, crouched behind a sand bag position watching as a M113 appeared out of the smoke. Smoke that clung to it like streamers as the Manned fifty caliber on top swung back and forth, wasting more rounds than necessary.

His men returned fire, that rang off the gunners shields, the Gunner ducked down out of reflex. But that wasn’t going to stop the APC.

Got this” Spacey called out, as he pulled the slung ATGM from his back. he knelt calmly like he was at the range as he set up the bipod, glanced behind him to make sure no one was in the way of the backwash, then took aim, just as the Enemy gunner pulled his testicles up with straps and rocked the butterfly trigger of his Ma Duece, sending the thumb sized fifty caliber rounds down range again.

The ATGM spoke with thunder sending its wire guided rocket screaming across the short distance. The problem with wire guided munitions was that the operator had to keep his or her sights set on the target till detonation. Private Murphy finally caught up with Spacey, two National guardsmen, saw him and recognized the threat he posed instantly. They opened fire, but it was too late.

The M113 went up in a ball of fire, debris raining down on the area. But James Spacey was no longer alive to see his victory. Daws furious at seeing Spacy his best friend die, used his iron resolve to keep from do some thing stupid like charge, but he did lay down heavy fire, his squad joining him as they cut down the men who had just killed one of their own.

Bradley Stewart, a former car salesman now a volunteer soldier of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment as they had named themselves, his comrades pinned down, by heavy fire, about to be overrun, couldn’t take it anymore, angry and scared he only wanted his friends to live. He rose to his feet and charged forward weaving and dodging. Miraculously he made it forty feet, as he was shot down he managed to sling the satchel charge he carried into the path of the M113, that clanked over the device that detonated a second later, destroying the machine and the men inside. Stewart lived a hearbeat long enough to see his victory and died knowing he had finally done something worthwhile in his ultimately short life..

Suddenly the attack was over, fresh smoke was popped and the survivors of the assault fell back, the fire from the defense position shifted to the dead, putting down the newly risen dead with practiced ease.

Jared sagged back against the low stone wall, taking deep calming breathes. As some of his men moved amongst the dead and putting them down before they could become a threat. Ed sat facing him, putting a pressure bandage on a wound in his side. The badge he wore around his neck was dented where a round had struck it.

“I have a feeling I am not going to make through this one” He said calmly, his hands covered in his own blood.

“To hell you are” Jared said as he got up and moved to Erics side and pushed the other mans hands away. “let me do this” Jared said, quickly checking the wound. He reached into the small pouch on his combat vest and pulled out a tampon that he inserted into the wound, then placed a fresh pressure bandage over the tampon.

“Medic” He shouted, “Ed You stay right there, don’t move okay.”he said more quietly “I promise you are going to make it.”

“don’t make promises your butt cant keep” Ed muttered, his face pale.

“I mean it Gay boy, or I will kick your ass up between your ears.” Jared told the other man.

A minute later three men rushed out, two of them carrying a make shift stretcher. They got Eric loaded up and carried him away.

He glanced at his watch and saw that the battle had been going on for three hours now, it seemed like only minutes had passed, several very vague, terror filled minutes, but not three hours since Kronnen’s men had launched the first attack, till now.

Where were the dead, they should be swarming the area in massive numbers, not in the small dribs and drabs that had been appearing all morning. he checked on Ronny and the other remaining team one members, every one had minor wounds, mostly scrapes and cuts from ricochets and shrapnel. Not caring what any one thought, he hugged Jill tightly for a moment then kissed her on a dirty cheek. “your so hot” he muttered,

“your such a lair, I’m filthy, I stink, and I look a mess” She said knowing he was trying to help her distress during the lull in the fighting .

“just the way I like you” He replied with a smile that held nothing but grief and pain for the people they had lost.

“Jared, Reese wants to see you” A man said running up.

“No rest for the wicked or idiots who lead their people into a cock up I guess” he said rising to his feet. “lead on, and if you call me sir or give me some idiot rank, I will shoot you in the leg” Jared warned the man as he bottled up his grief and become the wise cracking soldier every one was used to.

“you know, if we could some how convince Kronnen’s men into dressing up as clowns, we could sit back and watch Jared win this fight single handedly” Ronny said, watching Jared walk towards the command position.

“I think that would be against the Geneva convention” Mike said, “at least what Jared would do to them would be against the accords”

“aint that the truth” Ronny laughed, along the line, Jill saw a flickers of amusement, that turned into laughter as men and women suddenly realized they were still alive and were determined to enjoy it, they could be dead in another minute..

Rooftop of the National Natural history museum.

Fires raged across the mall where smoke curled up from burning M113’s, in places the burning wrecks had set the grass around them on fire, and in one case a tree.

Kronnen’s forces had pulled back once more to just behind the Washington monument, and looked like they had no intentions of going anywhere for the time being. The silence that had fallen with the quieting of the guns, was a brittle thing, but it was welcome to the ears.

both sides were more than willing to paused shocked by the ferocity of the battle, both sides took advantage of the lull to regroup, resupply or just say a quick prayer to who ever might be listening, Kronnen’s men had been hammered hard, but Stones people already heavily out numbered at the start had taken heavy casualties as well. Kronnen knew that he still out numbered them 3 to 1 and that meant he still had the manpower to win, as long as the undead didn’t swarm the battle field.

On the roof of the Natural history museum, Blaine knelt beside Parks waiting for the man he had served with to pass, he didn’t cry, it wasn’t his way when this was long over he would drink a beer or a shot of whiskey to the memory of his Brothers in arms, but here and now he couldn’t allow himself the luxury to grieve.

Parks passed silently, slipping gently into death. “We had six good years together on the teams,” Blaine said his voice rough with emotion “rest in peace” he said softly as he used to a knife to make sure Parks didn’t rise again, then went to check his other patients.

Eric Stone, had watched silently, once Parks was dead and put down, he turned cold eyes towards the distant vehicles of the enemy. “Castor keep an eye on them, I have a call to make” Eric said as he headed towards their camp in the Lab/office and the sat com that sat on a desk.

S. Capitol Street SE, two blocks north of the Navy yard..

Kronnen cursed heavily as the LAV he rode in slowed, who ever that had been back there in the shipyard, had been good. They had taken out the LCAC with most of his troops first thing, the fight against his vehicles, had been less successful, one LAV was a burning wreck on the docks, a second was damaged but still mobile but the other two had escaped completely unscathed.

The remaining LCAC wouldn’t be taking any one anywhere again, he thought, the new enemy had shredded its fans and plenum with machine gun fire as his remaining men and vehicles had raced away, gratefully leaving the LCAC to its fate.

That wasn’t the end of the bad news either, from what he was hearing over the radio, Stone was mauling his main force. The odds were still against Stone, but his men seemed unable to take the momentum of battle and keep it. At least they were not running, Proctor would have retreated by now calling it prudence.

I wonder if Proctor is with Stone, he asked himself angrily. Well I will find out soon enough. He thought. Stone was not going to expect the direction of the Attack I am about to launch.

If we can ever get there, He fumed silently as the LAV slowed even more, “what’s the problem” Kronnen called out barely keeping the anger and impatience he felt out of his voice. .

“Stink bags, everywhere, most of them are just standing in the street looking north, watching the smoke and fires I guess” the driver said over the intercom. “I[‘m going to try a different street.”

“no, they aren’t watching anything, they are waiting” Kronnen said with a smile, for once that Capering clown in a bowler hat had listened to him. the dead were being kept just far enough back to be out of sight. He chuckled darkly, when the second prong of his attack fell, Stones people would die, they didn’t suspect that a huge threat lay under their feet.

In the darkness of the 3d street Tunnel that passed under union square, and in the other tunnels under the capitol grounds undead waited, patient as only the dead can be. The force that controlled them, waiting for the right moment to unleash the living dead on the Humans who dared stand in defiance of its will.

7 thoughts on “Chapter Thirty Two

    • I hear ya man… how am i suppose to waste company time? Sheesh… its like Okelly wants me to work or something… We must plot to kidnap him, handcuff him to a chair and force him to continue writing on a steady diet of red bull and hot pockets.

      Should be easy… we’ll just show up in clown suits and he’ll be paralyzed in fear. Easy pickins

      Like

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